Sunday, December 15, 2019

Kalleq on the Pond

I needed a new paddle after the Gales, I needed to replace my primary paddle. I love my Lendal, but it is definitely a backup. I've been using sticks far too long to go back to lollipops.
My Brink paddles have been excellent. He is a master craftsman and makes a mean paddle. They are strong and precise in the water. They feel good in the hand and they look good.

Still, I have broken three of them.
I still have a demo model Cricket stick that is 15 years old and I use specifically when going to do ugly paddling that is still in one piece. It is too long nor is it as precise or smooth in the water - but it is tough. Sadly, Cricket only made one of these as a test and does not sell them.
I looked at other sites that make Aleutian paddles or Greenland paddles, but none of them really caught my attention. Few of them sold a split paddle either. A solid paddle is sturdier, but they are a bitch to transport.
I considered finishing the laminated paddle I started years ago, or just making a solid paddle. It would only take a few hours. However, none of the paddles I made ever felt very good or lasted very long.... I am a kayaker, not a woodworker. There is a half finished playhouse in my backyard to attest to my construction skills.
During my search, I thought the unthinkable. What about carbon fiber? I knew that there were companies that made CF traditional paddles. After a bunch of research I settled on GearLab. They have a good reputation and while they don’t make an Aleutian paddle, they offered a wider bladed surf paddle that looked like a good fit for me.
Then I saw that they were introducing a brand new paddle that was designed to hit the sweet spot between power and efficiency. It was $100 more than their other paddles and it is rare that any design actually finds the sweet spot. Like kayak designs, paddle designs are usually master of one or master of none. Jack of all trade designs usually suck equally at everything rather than shine at anything.
I pondered for a long time. The Aries is a play boat at heart, so the wider power optimized paddle would be a better fit. However, the Aries is amazingly also good on long open water paddles, so maybe taking a chance on the new paddle made more sense....
After looking at the specs and the paddle profiles and reading any review I could find, I decided on the new Kalleq paddle. It is only marginally narrower than the surf paddle, but comes in a wider range of lengths. The surf paddle only comes in 200 and 210. Given the width of the Aries and my height, I really need a 215. That is the length of my broken stick.
Now I had another decision to make... The Kalleq is only available in 210, 220, or 230. There is no in between sizing... Do I go long or short? If I go short do I go with the less expensive surf paddle to save money? Over the course of a week I drove H to drink measuring and remeasuring my broken paddle, my arm span, my Cricket paddle,  and my Lendal paddle, then checking the specs on the Aries and then comparing those numbers to any paddle sizing guide I could find. The first thing to know is that there really is no definitive guide to how to size a traditional paddle. Most experts boil sizing down to find what feels good which is easy enough to do when you are carving the paddles out of $20 two-by-fours. When you are dropping a few 100 dollars it helps to be sure. Based on the GearLab chart, I was comfortably in the 220 range. I still felt like I should go shorter rather than longer....
In the end I ordered a 210 Kalleq and waited.
After 10 days, my paddle showed up. It was pretty and felt super solid. However, it was a 220...
H talked me out of immediately calling to return it. What harm would giving it spin cause? If I didn’t like it, I could return it then. One paddle wasn’t going to damage it.... She makes such good sense.
That weekend, I, and the rest of the family, went over to Walden pond to give the paddle a try. H and K planned on staying huddled in the bus, but H couldn’t let me be on the water in cold weather without someone to watch over me. It didn’t matter that the watcher couldn’t see the water and would be busy entertaining a 9 year old...
The paddle was nearly perfect. The nearly is just because I need more time with the paddle to really acclimate myself to it. The paddle is more sensitive to small adjustments than my older paddles.
The blades provide a strong pull on the water while remaining some of the same flex of a wooden paddle.
The sharp edges slice through the water. That is one of the things to which I need to adjust. My other sticks are butter knifes compared to this thing.
I could get more power out of the blade than I can with my other sticks when I need.
The extra length, on balance, is a good thing. The shorter paddle would force me into either a very vertical stroke which over a long day would get tiring or force me to hit my knuckles on the deck all of the time.
I cannot wait to get more time on the water with this paddle. I know that after one or two paddles me and my Kalleq will be mighty.

Friday, November 01, 2019

The Gales Claim a Mighty Stick

I love Greg Paquin's Autumn Gales event. He brings in some great coaches and provides a great forum for allowing paddlers to push themselves in conditions. I always try to do one day of three day event. (I love the kid dearly, but she makes it hard to spend three days paddling....)
Being in November, the weather is always interesting. Most years the winds are blowing or the rain is coming down. This year we had the remnants of a hurricane blowing in and I wasn't even sure there would be paddling on my day... Not that a little wind or rain was going to stop me from attending.
The morning planning session offered a few interesting options that were safely in my box and one crazy option that was on the edge of my box. Two groups were going to reasonably protected areas to work on skills with one of the two groups getting a little more exposure. A third group, that was all coaches and 5 star paddlers, was going in the belly of the beast for a nice long paddle. I did actually pause and talk to Greg before deciding to saddle up and ride out into the worst of it. I don't get many chances to really paddle. I have been taking (mostly reasonable) risks all summer in a vain attempt to prove to myself that I am not turning into some soft in the middle old guy (which I am). If I was going to get into trouble being surrounded by 5 star paddlers is a pretty safe to be.
We paddled SE out of the harbor to the far side of the inner sea wall. In the harbor the swell was a few feet high and making forward progress was tough. The seeds of doubt were beginning to creep in, but I kept them at bay. This was nothing I hadn't paddled in many times before - granted it usually wasn't in November when I needed a jacket to keep from getting cold....
When we got to the sea wall wave were breaking over the top of it. The only "safe" place was directly behind the wall. The space between the wall and the point was a surf zone with particularly nasty breakers near to the wall. Beyond the wall was giant swells that often became breakers. I was definitely questioning the sanity of my decision, but it was too late to turn back....
I paddled out beyond the wall, sure to stay out of the roughest of the surf near the wall to test out the conditions. It was big and scary, but not too bad. I worked on hold my position, doing some basic boat control stuff, and then caught a decent ride back inside the wall to a spot where it was easy to get out of the surf. There was one small moment where I saw myself breaking into pieces on some rocks, but I managed to steer the Aries out of danger.
Feeling a little more confident, I headed out for another round. I figured by lunch I might work my way up to trying the big stuff near the wall. I got out beyond the wall into some big swells, started to turn the Aries into position to catch a wave, and went to use a quick low brace to stabilize myself against a swell. Then SNAP. I was paddling with two sticks when I should have had just one... DON'T PANIC... TAKE A BREATH... ASSESS THE SITUATION... DETERMINE A COURSE OF ACTION.. The brace worked well enough to keep me upright and the larger piece of the stick was big enough to be useful for bracing and possibly enough to mange a surf ride inside the wall. If I went over it was unlikely that I would be able to execute a roll. I did not have enough leverage with the stick pieces to do any significant maneuvering in the wind and swells. A coach was within earshot. I shouted for help which was quick to arrive. We pulled out and assembled my spare Lendal. Then we stowed the remnants of the stick and separated since I now had a fully functional paddle. How was the coach supposed to know that the last time I had used this paddle in anything more serious than level two trip on a windless day was a fading memory or that when I last used it in a pool rolling session the results were hardly consistent....
DON'T PANIC... TAKE A BREATH... TAKE A STROKE... FEEL HOW THE PADDLE MOVES IN THE WATER... REMEMBER THAT KAYAKING IS ABOUT MORE THAN JUST THE PADDLE... THIS IS JUST A STICK OF A DIFFERENT SORT... I managed to get myself settled and the Aries under control. I paddled around in the big swells a bit, lined up for and then backed off a few surf waves. Then I just went for it and surfed into the safer zone inside the wall.
It took a while for me to work my way back up to venturing into the big zone again. I took some time inside the wall to reacquaint myself with my old friend the Lendal Kinetic Touring (which is IMHO the best Euro paddle ever designed). There were some smaller waves to catch inside the wall.
After some goading from the others in the group, I did make my way out past the wall again. It was hard to catch rides because the surf was not clean unless you were in tight to the sea wall and that was not where I was going. It was an excellent test of my skills. I didn't catch any spectacular waves or do any awesome rolls in monster swells. I managed to stay upright and in control of my kayak in big conditions with an unfamiliar paddle. It was enough.
The coaches were doing some spectacular stuff near the wall. They were catching big waves and taking monster runs. There was also plenty of rolling up when a surf run went bad. It was a sight to behold.
As always Greg offered just the right little pointers and words of encouragement. He noticed that I was not punching through the top of my stroke as much as I could. After he pointed it out and had me focus on it, I definitely had more power for punching through the swells without using much more energy. It probably gave me the edge I needed to make it through the day.
After lunch the conditions evened out. They were still big, but more predictable. We played in the surf a bit more. Then we headed out beyond the sea wall towards the western end. From there we crossed over to sandy island. It was interesting going. Behind the wall things were choppy and bouncy. The crossing to sandy island was mostly big following seas which required a lot of energy but provided a lot of nice long rides.
The paddle down sandy island and back to the put in was a slog. The back side of the island was shallow water and the wind was in our face the whole time. I couldn't get a good grip on the water and the wind had plenty of grip on the big lollipop paddle I was swinging. Once we turned and headed back into the harbor the wind was not so bad. It was a strong quartering wind, but the shore blunted a good bit of its force.
Back at the launch I had the usual conflicted feelings. I was pooped and ready to get out of the boat, but still reluctant to set foot on land and call it a day. Being back on shore always feels like a small loss; an ending of some small moments of joy and the return to the real world of work and the small everyday indignities. If I could just stay in the boat I could continue being the guy who had pushed the envelope of skill set and survived in the face of difficulty.
Of course, the loss is not real and I am still the guy who pushed through a tough challenge. The small indignities of life are all just challenges that must be faced and pushed through. It is just that on the water they feel bigger and more heroic.
So, the Gales lived up to its name and once again gave me a forum to push myself surrounded by excellent coaches. It also gives me a chance to upgrade my stick.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Rock Wall Face Plant

I could not get away to paddle this weekend, but I did have a few hour free to take advantage of the nice weather. The girls were at church, so I decided to worship in my own way: mountain biking.
I decided to wear some extra clothes because it was a little chilly which made me feel a little off. I also hadn't been on any big trails in a few weeks so I was a little rusty. I was in general a little nervous about getting hurt while riding solo (Imagine me being conscientious). So, I decided to ride the hard part of the Western Greenway from my house.
The initial hill is always a bitch. I can never quite remember where the turn is an it is a steep hill, so I'm rarely in a good gear and my front tire always feels likes its gonna bounce off the trail. Today there was the added challenge of leaves all over the trail. I spun out about halfway up.
After the big up hill there are some steep, narrow, twisty down hills before you come to a junction that where you can choose to go over to the part of the Greenway I always ride or to go down the path less taken. I was feeling a little off and out of my depth, but also full of adrenaline and the need to make the most of my brief bit of solo time.
I took the path less taken. In some ways it was a smart choice because there are less hills and more jump out points. The way I usually go is at least 6 miles and mostly uphill until it levels out and then there is the call of the water tower.... The other path is a lot of down hill at the beginning and the YMCA is only 4 miles in and makes a perfect bail out point if needed. After the YMCA things do start going back up hill, but it is gradual and only for about two miles or so I remembered.
So I made the turn and headed down the hill. It started off fine. I was solid but nervous, so I did my best to keep it slow and keep my butt back.
About half way to the YMCA there is a section with a turn at the bottom of a hill that leads to a quick hop over a low gap in a rock wall. I have done this feature a few times with no problems. I have done several features much trickier with no issues. Today I hit the gap just wrong. The front fork compressed, the tire stoped, and I launched over the bars.
The landing was less painful than I had feared. My I had jammed a finger, banged up my knee, scraped a shin, and avoided smashing my head into anything. I was shaken, but not enough to stop.
It is funny how things work sometimes. The fall should have probably made me more nervous and cautious which would have led me to likely more falls. Instead it did the opposite. I relaxed and my riding got more smooth. The trail from that point is also a little less technical, so that helped the not falling, but I just felt more relaxed. The worst had already happened.
It turned into a great ride. I finished off the back part of the Greenway. It was not a piece of cake, but a nice burn.
After I passed through the Paine Estate I locked out the front shocks and headed down Forest Street with the intention of going straight home. I didn't want to push myself too hard...
Then I got to the turn where I could go straight home or go back into the woods and take the long way home.
Straight home is a short, steep hill followed by a fun downhill.
The woods are flat(ish) but about 3 miles longer.
It is sunny.
I'm not feeling wiped out. A few more miles would be more than I planned, but I have gas in the tank.
I unlocked the forks and dropped into the woods. When I passed the water tower run, the wheels started drifting towards the start of the trail. I restrained myself and stayed on the flat ground. I rounded the bog, used a what was left of my self control to stay on the main trail up to the 1st road crossing.
I forgot that after the road crossing was a long low incline. It is not a hard or technical climb, but it was the end of a longish ride when I am out of shape. I enjoyed it, but I also took a break. I was glad it was a short section with an escape hatch at the end.
The hardest part of the section is the steep scramble at the end. I started the climb strong, then my back wheel spun on some leaves.... I was glad that the road on the top of the hill offered a flat, straight shot to my house.
When I got off the bike, I felt the burn. I was totally gassed. It felt good.
As I was putting my gear away, I noticed a pointy dent in the forehead of my helmet. When I hit the wall, I must of hit a sharp rock with my head and never felt a thing. The dent went through the plastic and into the foam. There is nothing as good as a good helmet.
I don't know what is about me and a mountain bike... I get swept up in the rush and play on the edge of the box...
It is better than being on the couch....

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Rock (and not so much surf) Clinic

Osprey had an open spot on their Rock and Surf Clinic today and I had a free day to play. I figured a day of excellent coaching in the rocks and surf would be perfect.
I was a little bit sad to find out that Carl wasn't teaching, but he and Sam always hire the best coaches around. I was not worried about the quality of the instruction.
The coach was a little surprised to see that I showed up with an Ares for a rock class or that I would also bring a stick. He figured only fools would be looking to smack a glass boat into a rock.... What is an Ares for if not playing in rocks and surf - as long as you don't hit the rocks too hard. Besides, if I broke the pumpkin I could just leave it with Carl and he'd make it good as new - if not better.
It was a small class: just myself and one other paddler. The other guy was pretty new but could hold his own.
We took off from Sakonett and headed out past the point to the rock garden. The conditions were good for getting comfortable around the rocks. The water was pushy, but not so pushy that you couldn't get in close.
We spent the morning in the rocks getting pointers about technique and timing. My rotation was a little bit off. I could pay attention to what my feet are doing a little bit more. I could try a few different edging things. It was all good advice and minor tweaks. Exactly what I was looking for while also getting to play.
When it came time for surfing, we were out of luck. The conditions just were not happening. The waves were trickling up the beach. We did spend some time talking about boat positioning on waves to maintain control. Without practicing it, most of what was talked about flitted out of my head. I do remember that you want to stay in front of the wave so it doesn't trap your stern, but you can't stay too far ahead because then you won't get a push. Basically, I think the take away was that long boats are not great for surfing....
Fortunately for me, the Ares is not a very long boat.
On the way back to the out in we played in the rocks some more. Then we packed up headed back to the shop.
It was a great day on the water and I always recommend classes with Osprey. They have never let me down.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

What Have I Done?

It is sort of amazing how much I mange to actually do given the amount of panic and anxiety I inflict upon myself on a regular basis.
I think it is fairly well know that I am in near constant fear of having a heart attack. In fact, there have been several recent bike outings where I have been nearly paralyzed by the readings of my activity tracker. It says I did a strenuous workout, or that my heart rate strayed above the normal max rate for a male my age, and I seriously question my fitness to drive home without keeling over. Then I spend several days waiting to keel over. This is true even if I finish the ride feeling totally gassed or just moderately tired. I also worry about being poisoned by random toxins just free floating in the environment and an array of slowly developing chronic and totally deadly ailments (cancer, etc.). These are just on top of the standard daily anxieties caused by daily life and chronic low self-esteem.
The fears do not stay contained to my own body. I also spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about Bug's health. I'm pretty sure I woke up several times a night to check on her for her first two years of life because of SIDs. I still worry about her suffering a dry drowning incident after she goes swimming.
I do not share any of these fears with her. My anxieties have no place in the life of a child. I'm sure she will develop her own set of crazy.
This is a long intro to a very short story.....
Today was supposed to be a NEMBA kids ride and Bug really wanted to go because it was going to be her third ride - T-shirt!!! So we get up, see that it is a beautiful day, pack the truck up, and head out. The ride was in Ipswich which is about 40 minutes away, so we made sure we had plenty of time to get there.
When we arrive at the designated meeting spot, we discover a paucity of cars. There are maybe four cars in the lot and none of them have bikes on them. They belong to the group of people playing ball on the field.
Confused, I call Heather to see if she can check the NEMBA site. While I am calling, Bug hops out of the car and heads into the field to start doing cartwheels and other tricks.
It turns out that Ipswich was recently designated a high EEE area and that out of caution NEMBA cancelled the ride. H also tells me that they had done arial spraying and that the town had not really done much to curtail activities....
Now I have to do a quick risk assessment and figure out what Bug and I should do. My first thought is to head back to our area and find someplace near there to ride. But, she is already out of the car.... It is mid-morning and we have commercial strength bug spray and are wearing long sleeves and she has long pants on.... She really is not ready to get back in the car after spending nearly an hour driving and spend another hour in the car.... There are people out on the baseball diamond and a guy riding a horse... There is no standing water....
We decide that a short ride followed by ice cream is the plan.
The bike ride is short and reasonably fun. There do not seem to be any bugs.
The ice cream place serves good quality ice cream and has several customers and no bugs.
We get home and unpack the car and Bug starts itching the back of her leg.... She got bitten....
Since then, I spent a lot of energy worrying. I, of course, spent an inordinate amount of time on the internet researching EEE. It is apparently fairly rare in humans, and often does not cause much more than mild flu-like symptoms. Except for the cases where it doesn't and results in neurological damage or death.
Also, Ipswich was designated as a high EEE area not because anyone there had actually gotten EEE or because any birds or mosquitoes in in the area had tested positive for EEE, but because one person who had traveled through Ipswich had contracted it.
None of this is going to help me sleep or feel better about my decision this morning. It is going to be a long week. It can take up to ten days for symptoms to show..... It is more likely that I will get sick from lack of sleep and stress than that Bug will even get the sniffles. It is more likely that she will sprain or break something doing gymnastics or dance.
None of that matters because my anxiety and fear are not rational. I will, however, get through and not let her know because that is what needs to be done. Life goes on, bills get paid, children are loved and made to feel safe.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

The Once and Future Level 5

The dissipating hurricane promised big conditions this weekend. To take advantage of the expected fun Tim M. posted two Level 5 paddles. One on Saturday in the Bay to experience big open ocean conditions. One on Sunday to experience big surf and big rock interfaces.

I was busy on Saturday, and H banned me from paddling in obviously life threatening conditions, so Sunday was my chance to get out.  Because it was a level 5 paddle, I made sure to e-mail Tim to make sure he felt comfortable with me participating and that my skills fit his plan. Whenever I plan on attending a level 5 paddle, I think it is important to check in with the coordinator before showing up. Level 5 paddles are usually where the serious paddlers in the group plan on paddling in serious conditions. It isn't an "I think I'm a pretty strong paddler and want to push the envelope" paddle; it is an "advanced" paddle.
After some e-mails, Tim and I agreed that based on the plan and the expected conditions, we were both comfortable with my participation. It might be on the outer edge of my range, but nothing that I could not handle. (Being an old and infrequent paddler has really narrowed my window....)
H and Bug planned on doing Newport while I paddled, so I had some company on the ride down and knew I could play hard without worrying about having energy for driving home.
I needn't have worried too much. Whatever conditions the passing hurricane threatened never appeared. The wind was calm and the swell small. We were still going to be able to find some places to play; the whole area is full of play spots.
What we found was mild at best. There were small waves interacting with rocks, but nothing too exciting. I was just happy to be on the water...
We did find some decent surfing near lunch. It was small surf, but big enough to ride. In the Aries, pretty much any bump in the water is big enough to ride...
After lunch, the wind started to pick up, so after a little more surfing we made a bee line home. We all took opportunities to find places that had interesting features. Mostly though it was just a pleasant paddle back into the harbor.
H and Bug showed up shortly after we returned. It was near perfect timing. Then we all headed to nice little farm stand/tea house for a post paddle snack.
What had been predicted to be a rollercoaster adrenaline rush turned into a relaxing day on the water and civilized tea. Is there any such thing as a bad day kayaking?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Land Locked Again

I am not sure why I keep going back to Land Locked. It is just painful and a wee bit outside my newbie box. I am, however,  a glutton for punishment, a long time sufferer of stupid man syndrome, a pig headed fool who refuses to let a few trails in the woods defeat me, and a a typical example of masculine middle age misconception.
Anyway, Heather saw a post of the NEMBA FB page - I refuse to participate in FB's predatory business practices and general toxic void, but am glad to benefit from other's decision to do so - that there was going to be an "easy" ride at Land Locked. I was a little desperate for a ride - or really any outside adventure - so I jumped at the chance.
Aside from the fact that even an "easy" ride at Land Locked is on the very edge of my box, I also was not driving our tiny, deluding our selves into feeling better about driving a monster truck, non-toy transport capable, car. I "knew" that I could fit my bike with its giant 29" trail tires into the sloped back of a car that can barely fit four adults.... When reality hit, I discovered an old strap-on back rack that has been living in our garage, unused, for close to a decade. It was a sign... I could turn the Ionq into a toy carrier!!! It was a lose fit and one of the pads rested on some glass, and the top clips were secured under the glass lip of the hatch, but the bike held and I could get to the ride without going on the highway.
The ride started out great. The pace didn't seem too fast, the guy leading the ride had an inhaler.... Then came the rock wall. We were all warned about the wall. A few people walked the wall. I was going to conquer the wall.... It didn't look big. My front tired cleared it as planned; the back tire cleared it over my head. I'm not certain what happened, but the ground was pretty soft. Eyewitness accounts say that I was a little too far forward and that perhaps I didn't have enough momentum to keep the front tire moving after it hit the bottom of the drop on the back side of the wall....
This was 20 minutes into the ride and, aside from a little bit of pain where I jammed my hand into the ground, I was fine... No reason not to keep riding....
For a while the riding was great. The trails were flowing and I was in a groove. The pace seemed fast, but comfortable. I was shifting for the uphills with no problems, clearing obstacles like a pro, making tight turns, and nailing switchbacks. It was great fun.
About half way through the ride I did misjudge the distance between two trees and clipped one side of the handlebars. The unexpected turn a rapid deceleration was more embarrassing than painful.
Then we hit Milk Crate.... I was less pooped this time than last time, but it was still rough going. I made more of the gnarly turns and quick up downs. I'd say I managed to ride 90% - OK maybe 80% - of the trail without walking. There was one turn where I totally missed the line. I went too wide and couldn't easily make the turn, so I jammed my foot into the ground to force the bike back into the trail.... It hurt, but you don't need a heel to ride....
After Milk Crate, I thought we were done. I knew I was just about out of gas. I forgot that the only way back to the parking lot from the end of Milk Crate was across the Three Bridges.... The bridges themselves are not so bad - well except for the section where there is a very narrow passage between two trees in the gap between two of the bridges. It is really the hills that hurt. It was getting dark; I was feeling tired; I made the gap, but not on a line that I believed would get me across the last bridge.... So, I stopped and walked the bridge.
That was my breaking point. I was totally in my head at the bottom of a series of fairly steep climbs with some rough switchbacks and out of gas.... Fortunately, the sweep for the ride was patient and encouraging. I walked the first short climb and got back on the bike. I sucked wind the entire way up and out of the woods, but I made it - not certain that my heart was not going to just quit on me before I could get back to the parking lot for some pizza - but I made it.
The ride back to the cars was mostly down hill on mild terrain, so that was a nice chance to rest. When I got back to the cars, I had recovered a little. I had enough energy to eat some pizza and be social. Which was better than the last two times I had ridden Land Locked.... I was not certain that I hadn't done permanent damage to my heel, shoulder, or heart, but that didn't really matter. I improved and had fun doing it.
Maybe next time, I will find someone to go at my pace. Better yet, I'll just keep getting better....

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Kid's Ride 2

I cannot say enough good things about how NEMBA runs their Kid's Ride Series. The leaders are great. The encourage the kids to push themselves.
Today was Bug's second kid's ride. She wasn't really sure about going because she gets nervous riding with new people particularly when I am not right with her. The kid's rides are organized so that the kids ride in a group with the parents trailing, so essentially the kids are riding on their own. She was also a little worried that the trails would be too hard for her.
The ride was right by our house and we had already done a bunch of the trails, so that made her feel better. I also reminded her that if she goes on three rides, she gets a tee shirt.
We went out with the middle skilled group. The advanced group was mostly older kids who had been riding for a while and wanted to shred. The beginner group was for kids that had never mountain biked or were on balance bikes. The middle group was huge.
It didn't take long for our group to split into sub-groups. Just after leaving the main field in front of the community gardens there is a bridge. We had more than one rider become a walker. After the bridge, there was a small be steady incline that further broke the group down. In the end, I think our initial group split off into three groups.
After the sorting, our group picked up speed and headed out along the Greenway. The kids all did great. There was some walking here and there as we came upon obstacles or surprisingly steep inclines.
At stops, I checked in with Bug and she seemed to be enjoying herself. Her biggest worry was not that the trails were hard; she was more concerned that kids in front of her kept getting hung up on inclines and making her slow down....
We made a stop at the bump track. The kids enjoyed riding around the track, but no-one really got the idea of bumping around the track. I cannot bump around the whole track either. I still need to peddle to get around...
After the bump track we headed way out the Greenway. We went out past Avalon and Walnut Street to the long bridge that leads down to the soccer fields. It was as long and difficult as some of the adult beginner rides I've done this summer.
The thing I learned was that going slow requires a lot of skill. When I'm bombimg along the trail, momentum makes getting over things easier, it makes missed shifts a little less terrible, and it magically stabilizes the bike. Balancing and speed changes are a unique challenge.
Towards the end of the ride, a few of the younger kids started running out of steam. There was one boy who was a super trooper. He was ridding a 16" BMX rig with a single speed that looked like it weighed as much as he did. Going out he tried just about everything. On the way back he walked a lot more. He still gave everything the old college try, but he was fading. His persistence was impressive.
The enthusiasm of the kids and their excitement after conquering a challenge is great. I know Bug feels better about herself after completing a ride. Now she really wants that tee shirt....

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Relaxing in Maine with a Touch of Grief

This is our third year going to Mt. Desert Island and we still love it. Several of the families we talked to kept saying that every year they want to go somewhere else for vacation, but end up right back at the same campground. I figure why mess with success when it comes to a week of relaxation.
We have plenty of other opportunities for excitement.....
Our first two days were very chill. We got our camp site all set up the first day after a leisurely drive. The second day we hung around the camp site for most of the morning. In the afternoon, we did a really nice hike across from Echo Lake. There were some pretty steep sections, but the views were spectacular. We also started our "Handstands in ME" photo collage on the hike. There is no place where Bug will not try a hand stand.
Monday, our third day, started out nice. We made our usual run up to the Gathering Spot for pastries, coffee, and daddy-daughter chit chat. Then the cat sitter called....
Alex, our cat, had been up and down since the winter, but nobody really knew what was wrong with him. At first we thought it was just asthma and put him on steroids, and he bounced back. Then as summer wore on, he started getting more and more picky about his food and generally just slowing down. He'd do great for a while; then not so great. We were planning on having some more testing done after vacation, but it seems like he had other plans...
The sitter said he looked pretty bad and that he needed to see a vet ASAP. She would take him, but one of us would need to come home and fill out the final paperwork.
After talking it out as a family, we decided that we would leave the camp site set up, all drive home to be with Alex, and them come back the next day. Bug was adamant about wanting to be there for Alex even knowing that he was likely not going to make it. It was a somber drive.
About halfway down, the vet called and confirmed what we already knew. He was in a very bad way; she could probably give him some drugs and stuff to perk him back up, but that would just be a short term fix. We let the vet know that we were on our way and wanted to be there when he passed; she said she would make him comfortable until we got there.
We told Bug what was going to happen when we got to the vets. She was sad, but resolute. She and H spent the rest of the drive making a mural of all the things we loved about Alex.
The vet had a nice room set aside for saying goodbye. There is a little couch where we all sat together and held Alex. He looked comfortable, but definitely weak. When we were ready, the vet gave him the shots and he drifted away.  We all had a good cry. Yes, even me. I reminded Bug, that pets who are truly loved never die.
After we finished at the vet, we went home to put some of Alex's things away. We didn't want to keep it hanging about.
Before anyone could think too much about it, I made the executive decision to drive back to the campground that night. H was skeptical, but didn't up much of a fight. I figured that if we lingered we would never get back. We would sleep in, then we'd be all mopey and drag our butts until it was after lunch, and we'd miss two full days of our vacation. That is not what Alex would have wanted....
It was the right decisions. Bug passed out in the backseat and we go back to the campground before midnight.
We woke up on Tuesday ready for pastries, cold brew coffee, and fun in the sun. After a bit of planning, we decided it would be a biking day: we would catch the shuttle into Bar Harbor, take the bike express to Eagle Lake, ride out to Jordan Pond House, then reverse course. Plan in hand, we packed up our water bottles, threw some snacks in a back pack, hopped on the bikes, and headed up to meet the shuttle into Bar Harbor.
When the bus arrived we started loading the bikes on the racks only to find out that the shuttles cannot accommodate standard 29" MTB tires.... We're not talking fatty tires, just plain old 29" tires.
So, back down to the camp site to make a quick swithcheroo on our toy transport set up. We moved the bike racks off of the trailer and onto the roof of the bus. It was harder than I thought it would be. The bus is super tall and wide. Getting a bike in the middle was quite the trick. An hour latter we were on our way....
At the trailhead, H had me ask for help getting the middle bike down. It is nice to have an extra hand and not risk banging up the bikes.....
Bug and I enjoyed our new wheels on the trail. The added suspension was cushy and I hardly noticed the extra weight. We did make sure we stuck with H up the hills. Last year we just went around Eagle Lake; this year we decided to extend the trip over to Jordan Pond. It was a nice extension. The trail was mostly level and the scenery was nice.
It was easy to tell when you got to Jordan Pond. There was a throng of bike and people milling about taking selfies and chilling.
We made our way over to the actually Jordan Pond House just to see what it was about and ended up staying for some popovers. It really is all that. The popovers are deliciously lite and airy. The jam and butter was a perfect match. The outdoor seating was lovely and our waiter was delightful. It was a perfect little break in the middle of our ride.
The ride back is mostly down hill. Kenzie did have to stop a few times to wait for us. For the most part she did really well. With the new wheels, she can zoom. I empathized with her. My new wheels really wanted to zoom down the trail as well.
We had help getting the bikes back on the car, but not getting them off at the campground. Fortunately, no bikes were hurt (or any buses).
The next day was our annual Mt. Gorham hike to collect blueberries. It is always a nice hike.
We parked at Sand Beach and walked up past Thunder Hole hoping it was thundering. We had no luck on the thunder; all was quite at the hole.
The Gorham trail is easy and we made quick work of it. We did get a few nice hiking handstands to add to our collection. H and Bug worked harder looking for berries than they did hiking. They scoured the summit and got a nice haul. The hike down was also pretty uneventful. The only hard part was trying to convince H to let Bug and I do the Beehive trail.... Maybe next year....
Back at the campground Bug wanted to try paddle boarding, so she and I rented a pair for two hours. At first, Bug was not too into it. I think she was a little scared and a little cold. It did not take too much prodding to get her to try some backbends and handstands on the paddle board. Once she realized that she could manage that, she was all in. She spent more time doing tricks than paddling, but that was OK. I got to paddle and she had fun. What is vacation for if not for having fun.
Thursday was a family kayaking day. After pastries and puttering around, we set off down Sommes Sound. It was a little windy and Kenzie got chilly paddling the sit on top, so we only made it about a mile or so before hauling out for lunch. After some snacks and a quick swim, we headed back to camp. First we went looking for some Ospreys. Bug and I had seen some when we were paddle boarding. Today they alluded us.
On the way back to the docks, Bug saw some of her friends and wanted to stop. So, I stopped with Bug and H continued back. H deserved some down time. Bug and her friends set up a fancy restaurant on the rocks while I practiced my boat control skills and generally goofed off on the water. Then the kids asked for on water entertainment, so I did a bunch of rolls for them.
Thursday night was the Stars over the Beach presentation in the park and we always try to go and see the show. Last year it was cloudy and you could hear the thunder coming in from the mainland. This year the full moon and fog made star gazing less than rewarding. The rangers did their best and told some good stories. Even when the sky does not corporate, laying on the beach listening to good stories with the gentle tide in the background is a nice way to spend an evening.
Our final day was set aside for Diver Ed. As expected it was a fun time on the water. Ed is goofy and educational. Getting to spend a few hour out at sea is a bonus.
Driving home was bittersweet. While we were happy to be heading home, we were sad that vacation was over and that home was going to be empty. It will take a while to get used to not having a giant fuzz ball wandering around the house.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Pushing it Past the Limit

Over the last few weeks I have been pushing the the edges on the mountain bike. I did a "mellow" intermediate ride at the Land Locked forest last Thursday and then did a "hard beginners" ride there tonight.
Land Locked is a great place to ride, but I learned that my fitness level is still pretty poor on both rides.
The Monday night beginners ride has been great at building up my skills. There was nothing at Land Locked that I could not handle. Although there is a lot more at Land Locked to play on than there is in Belmont. That part made me feel good.
The Monday night rides are also good for building fitness, but not enough to really build it up to the point needed to do long rides without a lot of stops.
Back in June when I was riding my road bike to work a couple of times a week, I probably had a pretty good base. Now, after a month of only riding once a week, my old body has lost all of that base.
On the Tuesday night ride, I was lucky enough to find a two women who were looking for a slower pace. It gassed me pretty good and my bike computer told me I was overreaching. I felt pretty OK afterwards though - aside from my normal "Oh my god I'm gonna have a heart attack" anxiety.
Tonight though, I had no such luck. The ride leaders did not set a hard pace and did a great job making sure everyone was doing OK. I was doing fine for most of the ride, or so I thought. I knew I was pushing myself, but not too hard. Then I hit the wall.... We did this section called the milk crate and I nearly keeled over. Then there was more uphills...
At one point I just had to get off the bike and just rest awhile. The ride leader was really great and stuck with me and helped me stay positive. Some how I got back on and hobbled back to the cars.
My bike computer told me I was overreaching and congratulated me a new max heart rate of 194... I'm 50 and 220-50 is definitely lower than 194.... I wasn't having chest pain or dizziness or any more than normal shortness of breath, but I was wiped.
Somehow, I managed to get the bike back on the roof and after a little rest drove home. I am still in the "Oh my god I'm gonna have a heart attack" phase, but without any real symptoms.
It is just one more reminder that I am getting older and need to remember my limits. Oh and that I should exercise more than once a week.....
Fortunately, I'm vacationing next week and cannot be lured back to Land Locked. I'd like to say I have learned my lesson, but it was a ton of fun.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Carter Notch Hut Hike

Once a year, we do one AMC White Mountain Hut. We started doing these hikes six years ago with the goal of having Kenzie and her Grandpa Bob hike into all of the AMC huts. The plan was to start easy and work our way to the harder huts as Kenzie got older and more capable. In our fantasy world, Grandpa Bob would not really age - or if he did he would still be able to tackle any mountain we could possibly throw at him.

Last year, we saw the first signs that he may not be able to complete all the huts. We hiked up to Greenleaf Hut on the Bridle Path and it was a bitch. Grandpa Bob did great, but it was a struggle. I actually think he managed the hike better than I did.
This year, we talked Grandpa Bob into doing Carter Notch Hut. It is a longer hike than the Bridle Path, but is not as steep. He seemed excited, but a few weeks before we were to leave he called and canceled. His depth perception and balance are not what he would like it to be. He is 81 after all.
So it was a bittersweet trip this year.
The grandparents did meet us at the trailhead and hiked about a mile in with us. Once it started getting steep and rocky, they turned around.
The hike to the hut is all up, but it a fairly gradual incline through a nice pine forest. The trail goes along a brook with some nice places to stop. We had lunch on some rocks on a water fall. There was not much in the way of views though. The tree cover was too thick.
Cater Notch Hut has the oldest hut structure still in use. The main lodge was built in 1914 and is still the central point of the hut. The bunk house and bathrooms are in separate buildings a short walk away. The bunk houses are relatively new and spacious. The main lodge, on the other hand is quite cozy.
Somehow Kenzie always manages to find someone her age to play with on these trips. This time it was two girls who were doing a day hike to the hut. The girls did a bunch of rock climbing and cave exploration in a near by feature called the Ramparts. The Ramparts looks is a giant bolder field that looks sort of like a giant baby left its legos just laying around. Then the girls went for a swim in the vernal pools near the hut.
After the girls left, it was time for dinner, the naturalist presentation, and bed. Hut dinners are always simple, but hearty affairs. This year it was Thanksgiving in August. I am always amazed that the cru can make such great meals in the middle of the mountains.
Kenzie got up bright and early to fill out her junior naturalist book so she could get her sixth straight patch. Fortunately, she was pretty quiet and I got to sleep until like 6:30. I was up early enough to hear the cru sing the wake up song. The two girls singing were the best I heard at a hut. They had the harmonies down.
Breakfast was oatmeal, bacon, and pancakes; just what one needs to fuel up for a longish hike.
The hike out was pretty chill. Save for the short climb out of the notch, it was all down. We stopped for a quick swim near the trailhead to cool down. The water was cold.
After our hike, Heather wanted to show us the Joe Dodge Lodge, the new Pinkham Notch Lodge, which she visited often when she was a kid. The new lodge is pretty posh. You still have to share communal bathrooms, but the sleeping areas looked very comfortable. The old lodge had a nice cafe where we got lunch. The sandwiches were top notch.
We will finish our mission of visiting each of the Huts with Kenzie, but it looks like we will not be doing them as we had hoped. Grandpa Bob wants us to keep doing it, and I'm sure he would love to be able to do it as well. Hopefully, he will still come and start the trails with us and we know he will always be with us in our hearts.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Kids, Mountain Bikes, and Ice Cream

NEMBA runs a series of kids rides throughout the summer and I figured Bug would enjoy getting out on the trail with some other kids and some knowledgable adults. At first she was a little apprehensive, but the prospect of ice cream won her over.
This particular ride was at Great Brook Farm where they have an ice cream shop where they make ice cream from the dairy cows raised on the farm. It is a really cool place. We have done several walks on the trails there. This was our first time riding at the park.
When we first arrived at the parking lot, it looked like chaos. Tons of families were milling about and kids were riding all over the place. Then one of the leaders came over and clued us in to the plan. Given the number of children and adults involved, it was extremely well organized. After gathering everyone together into one mass, they explained the ride structure and how to pick your group. Then they split into a number of groups.
Bug and I choose a nice middle of the road group. Bug was a little nervous because the ride leaders want all of the kids to ride as a group with the parents trailing behind, but she quickly got into the groove. The pace was nice and the terrain was middle of the road. There were some roots and loose gravel, but nothing too big. It turned out to be a good way to suss out where the group was in terms of skills and comfort.
An hour into the ride, about the halfway mark, the leaders decided to split the group again. One group  would do some easier trails at a slower pace. The other would do some more advanced stuff.
Bug decided to stick with the more advanced group and it was a good choice. We did some real single track stuff. It was definitely beginner trails with small roots and obstacles, but it was real riding. The kids all did a really great job.
There were two challenging parts of the ride:

  • A long, narrow bridge with a turn in the middle--the leaders had adults stand along the bridge to help the kids navigate and prevent any falls. Bug crushed it.
  • A steep, rocky decline with a sharp turn through a narrow gap in the trees. Most of the kids walked the part with the turn and trees. I rode it and totally understood why the kids walked it...
After the ride was over we all got ice cream. We also learned that if you do three kids rides, you get a free t-shirt. Bug is definitely looking to grab a new shirt!
After the ride I asked if she liked it. She said it was a little scary, but fun. She was proud of herself for learning to go over roots and trying some of the trickier terrain.
These are the moments that make parenting worth it.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

When the Helmet is a Good Idea

It was a beautiful day for a paddle and a perfect location.

The Westport boat ramp can be a bit of a PITA with the having to pay money and move cars into the overflow lot because kayaks don't need trailers, but it is the best point of entry for one of the most dynamic paddling locations in MA.

If you can catch it at the right time, the mouth of the Westport is a great place to play in standing waves and currents. Heading south from the mouth, you can find some great off shore rock features to play in and a little farther down you can find some great surf.

Anticipating a day of full contact playing, I launched wearing my helmet. I didn't want to be the only one left hanging on the sidelines when it got fun.

The currents at the mouth of the river were strong, but not at peak. The wind was blowing with the current, so it was flat. A few of the group tried to find something to play in to little avail. I decided to save my energy for more fun features further south.

The first feature we came to is known as the elevator. It is two rocks positioned roughly parallel to the coast and each other. The shorter of the two rocks is on the ocean side and the gap is just wide enough for two kayaks to fit through in a pinch.

Conditions around the feature were pretty calm, but there was enough action to play. We darted through the two different passages. We took turns holding our kayaks in positions near the rocks without crashing. It was a good time.

We moved on to a smaller rock formation that also offered some easy playing. Nothing that pushed the edge of the box, but enough to get a little adrenaline surge.

Just before lunch we found a nice off shore break for some surfing fun. Most of the group caught some nice rides.

I, on the other hand, was having a hard time finding my groove. I was either out of position, too late to get up to speed, too fast to get up to speed, or my stroke was uneven and I'd get turned before catching the line. It was frustrating. On the plus side, the Aries will surf on almost anything so the few little waves I did catch gave me nice rides.

By lunch, my helmet was starting to hurt my head. I was glad to swap it out for a regular hat for a little while.

When packing up from lunch for the return trip, I considered the tame conditions we had encountered in the morning and how comfortable I felt in my hat. I packed the helmet in the back hatch. I did consider stowing it in my cockpit just in case, but in the end I figured the chances of wanting access to the helmet were not worth the annoyance of having it bouncing around my feet.

After lunch we headed back over to the offshore break for some more surfing. The waves had moved a little closer to the rocks, but I found my surf mojo and caught a few nice rides. I just made sure to stay clear of the rocks.

From the surf, we returned to the smaller of the rock formations. The tide was lower, so it was more fun. I was bummed that I didn't have my helmet... There were some runs I decided against trying. However, I did take a few chances. It was hard to pass up.

We then returned to the elevator. It was here that I really missed my helmet. The feature had more power than was prudent to risk without head gear. I was the guy stuck on the sidelines watching others play. It was fun to watch, but I'm not really a spectator.

Gary gave us a master class in rough water boat handling. He parked himself in the center of the elevator and just bobbed up and down as the water tried to smash him into a big rock. It was a beautiful display of well placed draw strokes and hip control.

Getting back into the river was more challenging that anticipated. We expected that the current would be running up river, but instead it was still dumping water into the ocean. The water trying to force its way out of the river against the water trying to fill the river up created some nice swells and some tricky vortexes.

It was a fun challenge to slip in close to the knubble and make a tight shore hugging turn to stay out of the craziest parts of the confluence and boat traffic. Fortunately, the Aries was more than up to the challenge. I few well timed leans and hip bumps mixed with quick paddle strokes and the Aries can dance.

I had a long, great day, on the water. There was a plenty of play opportunities - but next time I'll make sure my helmet is not hiding in a hatch....

Saturday, June 08, 2019

It's Always the Wind

I'm not late when I get to the parking lot, but I'm not early enough that everyone should still have kayaks on their roofs either. I park and find everyone huddled on the beach in the more than light wind pondering if we should move to a more sheltered location. This is supposed to be a level 2 paddle...
We decide that we can paddle up the Bay and stay near the shore for protection.
Kayaks are unloaded.
Clothing choices are made. It is too nice for dry suits, although the water is still cool, but windy enough to warrant a paddle top...
By the time we are on the water, the wind has dissipated a bit. As we meander up north, deeper into the Bay there is enough of a breeze to keep me cool in my paddle top, but not enough to really notice.
This is fine by me. There are plenty of old friends to catch up with. I chat with Tim M. for a while; I chat with Carole for a while; I chat with Rick for a while; I chat with just about everyone for a while. It is nice to see everyone and do an analog Facebook timeline search.
The paddling is easy and rhythmic. When I'm not chatting, I focus on the rhythm and feel of my forward stroke; I try a few different types of maneuvering strokes; I get reacquainted with how the kayak feels when I shift my weight around.
Lunch at Rome Point was nice and sunny. Tim and I talked about how this was just about the perfect paddle to open the season. It was nice and relaxing, but I get restless. My opportunities for ocean play are limited and I often crave the more exciting paddles. Tim was right though a nice relaxing distance paddle was the best way to get a feel for the being back on the water. It also provided plenty of much needed social time and stress relief.
The paddle home was not quite as pleasant as the paddle to lunch, but it did offer new learning opportunities.
The wind we had hoped would push us home had died. I started getting a little toasty in my paddle jacket. Just a bit of paddle spray on a polypro jersey would have been heavenly.
I got to paddle with a fancy new bent shaft full carbon Lendal Kinetic XT. Tim wanted to have one of the newer paddlers try out a shorter paddle shaft and offered up my ancient Lendal spare. As part of the discussion about why I had a spoon for a spare and not another stick, I goaded Tim into trying out my stick.
I'm not sure who had the better go of it. I am pretty quick to adjust to a normal paddle, but the bent shaft was a little funky. The carbon paddle was a lot stiffer than my stick and over time I could feel the extra effort I was expending to dig through the water. On the flip side, the big scoop did mean I had a little more immediate power for crazy turning strokes and quicker acceleration.
Tim adjusted to the stick pretty quickly as well and found a nice rhythm to keep up his speed. He didn't seem to certain about his ability to do much more then paddle straight in calm water though.
The guy using my spare probably got the best of the switch. He got to use a much better paddle than he was originally using and one that was properly sized for he and his boat. He also didn't have to do a paradigm switch; he was going from scoop to scoop instead of scoop to stick.
Afterwards we all repaired to Fuel for some post paddle caffeine and more yakking.
Hopefully, I'll get back on the water again soon.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Mountain Biking is Hard

Let's just be up front and say I don't always get the obvious..... I figured mountain biking would be just like road biking, but in the woods and sitting a little more upright. Actually, I thought it might even be a little bit easier than road biking; the big tires and plush shocks are super comfy and biking on those nice packed gravel rail trails and carriage paths with the family is pretty chill.
Imagine my shock when I went out on some of the single track trails behind my house and nearly keeled over. My first outing on the bike should have clued me in, but I figured it was just the mud and the lack of riding time.... Since then I've been out on the road bike a few times and the trails were pretty dry today.
The downhill parts of the trail were hard and terrifying. Trying to get the bike through two trees barely wide enough for the handle bars to fit through after taking a 85 degree switch back on a trail that drops off steeply on one side when you are going down a steep hill is hard. Keeping your feet on the peddles while bouncing over rocks and roots is hard.
The flat parts of the trail were marginally less scary, but more taxing. Getting whacked in the shins when your foot slips and you need to peddle because the back tire is caught on a rock hurts. Having the bike nearly stall out on you because the back tire doesn't roll over a rock and you suddenly have to peddle extra hard when you are in a cruising gear hurts. Peddling double time through a muddy patch is hard.
The uphills are hard on a road bike, but at least you can usually count on the road being straight and smooth. Navigating switchbacks without stalling is hard. Slipping in the mud is hard. Peddling over rocks and roots is hard. Keeping a steady pace when your feet keep bouncing off the peddles is hard. Not falling backwards when your front tire bounces off a rock and your back tire slides down the side of another rock is hard.
I went just over four miles on an easy/intermediate stretch of trails and it was one of the toughest bike rides of my life. According to my heart rate monitor, I was in zones 4 and five most of the time. My legs felt like goo, and were bleeding from a few spots where I got hit really hard with the peddles.
Don't get me wrong, it was a blast and I plan on keeping it up. In fact, aside from the pain and need for an immediate nap, it was one of the funnest and enjoyable rides I've had in a while. The thrills were nicely balanced with the peace of being in the woods.
I think I may need to get a little professional schooling, or at least a lot more practice, before I move onto any more intermediate trails.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Biking the Battle Road

So I decided that it would be a good idea to combine a play date with some exercise, so I took Bug and one of her friends for a mountain biking ride on the Battle Road in Minute Man National Park. The Battle Road is a wide, smooth trail with sloping hills. It is nothing that a rider in moderate shape on a halfway decent mountain bike cannot handle.
All three of us have better than decent rides; our rides can eat the Battle Road for a light snack. The girls are both in great shape; I can manage to walk up a flight of stairs without being winded.... This should have been a good work out for me and a fun outing for the girls.
The girls did have fun, but I didn't get much exercise. Our pace was not what I had hoped. The girls wanted to stop at every sign along the way or take water breaks. It was nice to stop and see the sights and have a relaxed afternoon, but I was really hoping for some speed.
At one stop, we saw a family with three young boys peddle past us on 16" bikes. One was on two wheels and was moving; the other two were trying to keep up on training wheels. It was super cute. They peddled back a few minutes later.
We saw a lot of dogs and families out walking, which also slowed us down a bit. I was very impressed with the girl's bicycle etiquette. They remembered to ring their bells to give pedestrians plenty of warning and then also told them on which side they were passing. They were better than some of the adult riders on the trail.
On the way back to the car, we did manage to keep a decent pace. The girls thought they saw a bee and peddled like bandits to keep away from it. I wasn't about to tell them that it was just a fly and that a bee would have given up minutes into the chase.
I definitely recommend the Battle Road for a fun afternoon of riding. Just don't get your hopes up for a workout. During the summer, some of the houses and other stops have staff to give tours and stage mock battles. It is cool to see, but also slows things down.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

50 not 15

For X-Mass Bug got an awesome new mountain bike. It is a 24" trail shredder that my trusty TriCross has no chance of keeping up with off road. Fortunately, I got a super sized REI dividend that put a reasonably capable trail shredder within reach.
I got Ghost Lano 29er with an SRAM 1x11 drive train and some 100mm travel shocks. I didn't spring for air shocks or top of the line drive train components, but I didn't really like the feel of the air shocks on the bikes I tried and research shows that the whole SRAM 1x line is pretty robust. Besides, all I really want to do is keep up with my kid on the trails.
I did try some 27.5 and 27.5+ bikes. The 27.5 bikes didn't wow me. The plus tires were fun, but I really didn't need the extra-float or the need to think about how much pressure to run.
Anyway, the first ride out the bike got dropped on the drive side and bent the derailleur. While sad, the fact that I didn't go high end made the repair cheap.
For the second ride out, I decided to take a short spin on the trails by our house. They are easy trails. I do always miss one crucial turn at the beginning. So, after missing the turn, I ended up going down a hill and into a branch that I thought my giant 29" tire should just roll over before I thought to slow down a little more. Next thing I know my ass is sailing over my head and I am laying in the mud with a bike on top of me....
I did a quick body scan and aside from a few new aches I appeared conscious and mostly functional. Then I checked the bike to make sure I wouldn't be slinking back into REI needing a second derailleur in as many weeks. The bike was OK as well.
Naturally, I did the smart thing and continued the ride.
It turns out that mountain biking on muddy trails is much more demanding than riding on dry pavement. I am also way more out of shape than I thought. My initial concern about the 1x drivetrain not having enough range was unfounded, the big ring provides plenty of granny for steep climbs - even when every other peddle is just a wheel spin in the mud.
The one branch of flipping was the only obstacle that gave me trouble. The rest of the trail obstacles were eaten up by the big tires and plush fork. When I needed to dodge a tree or rock, I had plenty of maneuverability. The 27.5 tires may have a little more agility, but I didn't miss it. The riding was exhilarating and exhausting.
There were moments when I could feel the rear end hopping around or slipping about. It was a little disconcerting, but I eventually adjusted and learned to control things.
About half way through my planned ride there was a road crossing. As I came down the gentle slope onto the pavement, I realized that I was never going to make the rest of the loop. My legs were jelly and my heart rate was in the red zone. So, I locked out the fork - you've gotta love remote fork lock outs - and headed home on easy paved roads.
When I limped into the house with a big gash on my leg, H kindly reminded me that I was 50 and not 15. I am going to be sore for a few days, but it was worth it. I cannot wait to get the bike out again.
The NX drivetrain may be "low end", but it shifted smoothly and precisely. It seems perfect for my needs at the moment and makes repairs less painful. The other nice feature of the SRAM components is that they are all compatible, so if I ever get back in shape (or magically become 15 again) I can swap out for higher end stuff.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Rolling Around

H spotted a RIC/KA rolling session advertised and basically forced me to go. Her and Bug were going to be busy all day and I clearly needed some paddle time.
The first challenge was figuring out how to get the kayak on our new monster truck. The Ascent is many inches taller than the Outback and H could barely get the front of the kayak in the cradles. We resorted to a step ladder and even then it was a little bit of a struggle. Once on the roof, the Aries looked like a white water boat. The Ascent is a BIG car. Fortunately, it drives nicely and all of the driver assist features like variable speed cruise control and Air Play make it a sweet ride.
The rolling session was at the South County YMCA. There pool can fit enough boats that we could all spend the full session in the water without crowding people. The water was also nice and warm.
I started off just doing some bracing and basic rolls. I was pleasantly surprised with my rolls. I made them on both sides. I made them without pre-setting up. I made them when switching sides under water. I even made re-enter and rolls.
Then after I got bored, I started trying some more stupid kayak tricks like the butterfly roll, trying to figure out how to do a forward finishing roll, and doing an Eskimo resting pose. These attempts went less well. I did discover my limits for sculling for support. I can can get pretty much all the way into the water and still recover, but I cannot just float. I also got plenty of extra practice in doing "emergency" rolls after every failed attempt.
I know that back when I was a younger man without a child that ate up my weekends, I could do most of these tricks. I wouldn't trade the child for the silly tricks, but they are fun to try and I may take some time when the water is warmer to attempt to relearn them - particularly the forward finishing roll.
Maybe I'll even try to get a third star.....