Morning Ride

Today, I rode to UMBC and back for a second consecutive morning, and was happy to have no bike-related issues this time around. After yesterday’s adventures, my front tire now has a new tube. When I get around to it, I’ll find and patch the leak in the old tube, and it’ll become my spare. Today, I headed out past Rockburn Branch Park and into Patapsco Valley State Park via Ilchester Rd, Beechwood Rd, and Bonnie Branch Rd. Bonnie Branch was shut down for a couple of months this past summer due to flood damage, and today was the first time I rode it after it reopened. Not too much has changed, other than some pavement and guard rail repairs. I suspect that a lot of repairs were made that aren’t readily visible, though.

UMBC ended all in-person instruction as of Thanksgiving, and sent all of the students home. The campus is really quiet these days, kind of like it was during the stay-at-home order — no one around except groundskeepers and bus drivers. We are living in strange times.

I headed home via my usual route through Relay and PVSP, and when all was said and done, I had logged about 24 miles — not too bad for a chilly morning. The temperature was in the upper 30s most of the time, with overcast skies and a stiff breeze. I wore a wool t-shirt base layer, long sleeve jersey, windbreaker, cycling pants, wool socks, Altra Lone Peak waterproof hiking shoes, and Gore-Tex cycling gloves, and was reasonably comfortable the entire time I was out. It’s going to get more interesting when the temperature starts dropping below freezing. In normal times, I try to keep my rides to about an hour in those conditions, which is easy to do when I’m splitting my rides into a morning and evening commute. I’m not sure my current routine of 2- to 2.5-hour round trip rides in the mornings is going to work when it starts getting really cold. We’ll see.

Biking Geocaching

Murphy’s Law

Today was a Murphy’s Law kind of morning. I had my heart set on biking to UMBC and taking a hike in the CERA nature preserve to find a cache I had had my eyes on for awhile (why I specifically wanted to find it today is beyond the scope of this post 😀). Yesterday, we had a ton of rain, which tends to make CERA muddy, but today’s forecast was clear. Of course, in spite of the forecast, I woke up to drizzle. OK, fine — I can deal with drizzle. I put on my rain gear, loaded everything up on my bike, and got all ready to go, only to find that my front tire was flat as a pancake. OK, I haven’t ridden this bike in 8 days — maybe it’s a really slow leak. I went ahead and inflated the tire. It seemed to hold air, so I crossed my fingers and hit the road.

Well, the weather for the ride to UMBC actually wasn’t too bad. The drizzle let up, and it looked like it might be starting to clear up. I rode through Patapsco Valley State Park and up Gun Rd, which, although hilly, is about the shortest possible route I can take. I arrived, and my tire still had some air in it. Great. I locked it up, grabbed my GPS, and headed to the CERA trailhead.

CERA had some puddles here and there, but I’ve seen it muddier. I hiked the short loop, found the cache, and headed back to the bike. Of course, by this time, the tire was flat again. So much for a slow leak. But, if the bike got me here, it would probably also get me home. I dusted off my frame pump, inflated the tire again, and got back on the road. I took a slightly longer route through Relay to avoid the white-knuckled descent down Gun Rd on wet pavement. The rain mostly held off, and I made it home without further incident.

Looks like I’ll be patching a tube tonight. Between last Friday’s broken spoke and today’s leaky tire, I’m really hoping my next ride will be uneventful!

Health Running

Weak ankles? Or not

I used to be convinced that I had “weak ankles”. It seemed like every time I went hiking, I would twist my left ankle, usually when hiking downhill. Sometimes, all it would take would be a bump on the sidewalk. It got to the point where I thought my left ankle might be made out of rubber. My right ankle, being my dominant side, didn’t seem quite as prone to rolling, but it wasn’t immune, either.

In 2017, during a time when I was doing quite a bit of hiking, I developed a Morton’s neuroma on my right forefoot between the 3rd and 4th toes. I went through the usual bevy of podiatrists, cortisone shots, and orthotics (thankfully stopping short of surgery), before some internet research eventually led me to try minimalist footwear. Over the next year, I started wearing shoes with flexible soles, minimal cushioning, wide toe boxes, and no heel elevation. Now, I’m not going to lie and say that this was an easy change, but in the long term, it was a game-changer. The neuroma went away, my feet are stronger and healthier, my posture has improved, and I can stand for longer periods of time. But that wasn’t all: about a year later, I was hiking along one of my usual routes through Patapsco Valley State Park, when it occurred to me that I hadn’t twisted an ankle in a really long time. I thought about it some more, and couldn’t even remember the last time it had happened. It seemed that minimalist footwear had also cured my “weak ankles”.

There’s a scientific explanation as to why this happened. Think about a simple lever. A lever has two parts: a beam, and a pivot point, or fulcrum. The longer the beam, the less force is required to apply torque to the fulcrum. If you think of your foot as a beam and your ankle as a fulcrum, it follows that the higher the ankle is elevated off the ground, the easier it is to torque or twist. Minimalist footwear eliminates heel elevation, so the ankle is closer to the ground, and more force is then needed to twist or sprain the ankle. Most conventional hiking boots have about an inch of heel elevation, and you wouldn’t think eliminating that would make a huge difference, but trust me — it does.

So… if you think you have weak ankles, try minimalist footwear. You might be surprised.


Spoke Fun

This morning, I hopped on my single-speed bike and rode to the Seven Oaks neighborhood in Anne Arundel County. I think of this area as Severn, but the addresses actually are in Odenton. The route takes me through the vast industrial wasteland that lies just west of BWI Airport, encompassing the rental car complex and numerous faceless warehouse parks along Candlewood Rd. It then follows Harmans Rd over Route 100 (probably the most bike friendly crossing of that highway west of the B&A Trail) and eventually winds up on Town Center Drive. About 5 miles into the ride, on Candlewood Rd, I broke a spoke. It was on the front wheel, and (as expected) it knocked the wheel a tiny bit out of true, but not enough to make the brakes rub, so I wrapped the broken end around its neighbor and pressed onward, completing the ride without further incident. This was my first broken spoke in quite awhile, and I think the first ever on this wheel. My general rule is “break one spoke, replace the spoke; break another spoke, replace the rim”. When I got home, I scrounged up a replacement spoke of the same length and fixed the wheel. I think the “new” spoke came from a wheel that I replaced on my old Giant OCR-1 several years back, as I had about 20 more of the same size in with all my other bike parts. I don’t know if I’m breaking any unwritten rule by reusing a spoke from an old wheel, but if there is a rule, I’m not sure why I kept all of the spokes in the first place. I guess we’ll see how the spoke does, and if it breaks prematurely, I’ll get rid of the others. To my untrained eye, the spoke seemed sturdy enough, so I bet it’ll be fine.

It was not a bad morning for a ride. A little bit cloudy, but mild, as has been kind of the theme this November. It was the second time I had ridden to that area of Odenton (first was in August), and the round trip distance was just shy of 25 miles. I probably won’t get out on the bike again until Tuesday, so glad I was able to ride today.

Climbing Pool

Pool Shoes

I finally got around to winterizing the swimming pool today. I usually do it around the second or third week of November, but this is the first year I can remember it dragging on until Thanksgiving. It’s been a mild November, with only 2 or 3 nights dipping below freezing. As long as it’s not a hard freeze, I can protect the equipment by running the pump overnight on cold nights. I suspect it seems like I’m closing the pool late partly because we had a very cool September, and didn’t swim much past Labor Day. Every year is different.

I finally got back to the climbing gym yesterday after about a 4-week break due to a strained pinky finger. It’s not 100% yet, but it’s improved enough that I’m comfortable climbing again, and I’m just going to take it easy for the time being and focus on improving my hand/finger strength and holding technique. I also tried out my new climbing shoes. I’ve been climbing with La Sportiva TC Pros for a year or so, and love them, but they are presently somewhere in California being resoled. (Hey, at least my shoes get to travel this year.) I picked up a pair of Scarpa Force Vs, with the intent of using them mainly as gym shoes. They have the same stiff Vibram XS Edge rubber as the TC Pros, and a similar flat-ish sole, but are about $40 cheaper. They also have velcro closures, and are much easier to put on and take off. The trade-off is that they are not quite as ridiculously comfortable as the TC Pros, although that’s not really fair, as they haven’t completely broken in. The fit seems good, and I had no problem tackling an array of routes in the 5.6-5.9 range. I think they’ll work out well.

Biking Work

T-Day Week

It’s a short work week, so I’m working on wrapping a few things up at work ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Next week, we have our second virtual Shibboleth training class of the year. These seem to be popular, as the last one sold out, and we’re pushing 30 registrants for this go-around. I think we’re pulling in a new audience that we wouldn’t ordinarily see at our in-person trainings. The online format has given us an opportunity to revamp our course and training materials, which was overdue, and we’ve identified some things along the way that we can use to eventually improve the in-person training as well. I still greatly prefer the in-person format (and the travel) but can definitely see us continuing to offer some online training even after in-person resumes.

Early this morning, I rode my regular pre-COVID commuting route out to UMBC and back, which I try to do every week or two. BGE has been replacing gas lines in Relay since late spring, and the workers have dug up and patched (literally) every single road in town. It’s still ongoing, but seems to be nearing completion. I suspect next spring will bring a massive repaving project. Should be nice once it’s all finally done, but in the meantime, I’m glad I don’t have to commute through there every day any more.

Speaking of commuting, two and a half years ago, I bought a new commuter bike. It is a Surly Disc Trucker. It served me well as a 3.5-season commuter bike, until I stopped commuting. Since then, it’s been my go-to bike for road riding, splitting duty with my venerable 2009 Masi single speed. Truth be told, it’s better suited for commuting and long-distance touring than it is for my typical 25-to-30-mile morning road rides. It’s quite the beast, with racks, lights, and full fenders, and it is a great rain bike. But, it’s heavy and kinda slow, and while I still ride in the rain occasionally, telecommuting has made it unnecessary, so I’ve been gravitating towards alternative ways to stay active on rainy days. Once I finally start going back to the office, it’ll be nice to use the Surly for its intended purpose again.


Today’s Ride

Today, I left home just before sunrise and rode a loop out to River Hill and back. Before 2020, I had never biked to Columbia, but this year, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done it. I mostly go on weekends, but every so often, I’ll go early on a weekday, as the traffic is usually not all that bad. I typically pick up the CA path network on Tamar Dr in Long Reach. One of my routes takes me past Blandair Park, through Oakland Mills, and across Rt 29 at the pedestrian bridge to Lake Kittamaqundi. From there, I can head north towards Wilde Lake, or west toward Symphony Woods, as I did this morning. From there, the route continued south on Martin Rd, past Simpsonville Mill, and along Grace Dr, which runs parallel to Rt 32. I eventually wound up on Trotter Rd at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, where I found a couple of caches before heading home via Rt 108. The total distance was around 29 miles.

This is only the second time I’ve ridden out to River Hill, and truth be told, I’m not really crazy about parts of the route. Most of it is OK, but there are a few sections that are not very bike friendly — in particular, there is a bad section along Hickory Ridge Rd between Broken Land Parkway and Martin Rd. Route 108 is narrow in spots, and busy, though not as busy as it would be later in the day. Next time I ride out this way, I may look for an alternate route that keeps me on the CA paths for more of the ride. All in all, though, it wasn’t a bad Saturday morning ride.

Biking Climbing Geocaching

2020 Memories

I’ve been reading through some of the stuff I wrote here back in 2005 and 2006, and it has brought back memories of things that happened back then that I had subsequently forgotten. 2020 has been such an extraordinary year, that I thought it would be worthwhile to write something about it while it’s fresh on my mind, so I can wax nostalgic in another 15 years or so.

I have been working from home since mid-March. I never thought I would do well as a full-time telecommuter, because of my ADD, but it has worked out better than I had expected. Having a dedicated office in the basement has helped, and over the past 8 months, I’ve slowly improved it, to the point where it’s now a better workspace than my office at UMBC. In early October, I bought an under-desk treadmill, something I had been considering doing even before COVID struck. It has been a real game-changer — it took a week or so to get used to it, but I’m now able to walk for several hours a day while working, which I find really helps both with concentration as well as my overall mood.

I’m obviously no longer commuting to the office by bike, but I am still riding a few days a week. One of the happy consequences of the pandemic (if there is such a thing) is that it has taken a lot of traffic off the local roads, which has made road biking much more pleasant. Some mornings, I ride my regular commuting route to UMBC and back home before work. Other days, I’ll ride somewhere else, like Columbia or the BWI loop, or I’ll take the mountain bike out and do a loop through Patapsco or Rockburn. On weekends, I’ll often head out early, take a longer road ride, and find a geocache or two. I haven’t been caching nearly as much as I did during my heyday of 2014-2018, but I still enjoy the hobby. Now, though, it’s more about getting exercise or spending time with the kids than it is about caching for its own sake.

In summer 2019, we joined the local climbing gym, and have been going pretty regularly (with the exception of 3 months it was closed this year during the shutdown). It’s another great way to stay in shape, but when you’re my age, you really have to take your time and focus on learning correct technique to avoid getting injured. I’m kind of jealous of my 14-year-old son, who is on the advanced climb team and can easily climb circles around me with seemingly no consequences. I hope he enjoys it while it lasts. 😀 We’ve also done top-roping outdoors, which carried a bit of a learning curve, and required an investment in equipment. Once I got to the point where I could safely rig top-rope anchors, the kids and I have been able to go out and have some fun at various local crags. That is something I had been wanting to do for quite awhile, so I’m really happy we eventually got to that point.

We got a LOT of use out of our pool this summer. Someone was in the pool almost every day, and I myself probably used it more times than I did the past several seasons combined. Swimming proved to be an effective substitute for my afternoon rides home from the office, particularly on hot days (and we had a lot of hot days this year, especially in July). I tried a swim tether this year, and found that I liked it a lot. Our pool, while on the large side for a backyard pool at 40′ long, is still a little too short for swimming laps, and the tether let me swim for long periods of time without having to keep turning around.

Well, that’s enough for now, but I am going to try to get back into a habit of writing here regularly again. We’ll see if it actually happens.

Administrivia Geeky Stuff

I’m baaaack..

A few years back, I set up on Ubuntu Linux running on a AWS EC2 instance. It ran just fine there, but to be honest, was kind of a mess. I was dreading the day when I would eventually have to update it or move it somewhere else, because I didn’t document anything that I did while configuring it, and thus, it would take forever to get everything working again.

Last summer, I decided to bite the bullet and redo everything on the site to run in Docker containers. That way, I’d have a repeatable build/deploy process that I could easily move around independently of the underlying support framework, be it ECS, another EC2 instance running Docker, or whatever. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s inching closer to completion. One of the first things I did was to move the MariaDB instance that hosts this blog’s database tables, into a container. This worked mostly OK: the blog still rendered just fine, and I could click around and read all of the posts the same as always. However, when I logged in at /wp-admin, It gave me a permission error, and I could not get to the dashboard. That effectively locked me out of the blog, preventing me from writing new posts, among other things.

About 4 months later, I finally got around to fixing it. Since I planned to move WordPress into a Docker container anyhow, I decided to start over with a fresh database, and just import all of my original blog content into the new instance. The catch was that I needed to somehow get into my old instance one last time to export the data. After some searching around, I found a snippet of PHP that I could add to my theme to bypass the permissions checks. That did the trick: I finally got back in, exported the data, and brought everything back up in a new, shiny Docker container. The blog is now powered by a Nginx front-end that talks to WordPress over a FPM proxy. Fun stuff.

Now that I can post again, I’ll try to write some more as the spirit moves me. As you can imagine, 2020 has been an interesting year with some pretty big changes to my daily routine.


Rain Gear

This year’s warm, wet winter has given me a lot of opportunities to break out my rain gear for my commutes to and from work. For years, my “rain suit” has consisted of:

  • Patagonia rain jacket with hood
  • Waterproof Gore-Tex biking gloves
  • Novara rain pants (REI house brand)
  • Regular, non-waterproof Altra sneakers with neoprene shoe covers (booties)

I should point out here that I ride flat pedals exclusively, having given up clipless a few years ago.

While neoprene shoe covers are useful as an extra insulating layer on extremely cold days, I’ve never been particularly enamored of them as rain booties. They do the job, but they’re bulky, and the soles get soggy and gunky if you have to get off the bike and do any walking. Also, the cuffs of my rain pants tend to slip off them while riding, leaving the tops open and often resulting in wet shoes and socks. On top of that, I’ve never been able to find a pair that’s large enough to completely fit over my Altras, so there’s always a slight opening at the back, providing more of an opportunity for moisture to get in.

This year, I bought a new pair of waterproof Altra Lone Peaks. These are marketed as trail running shoes, but I bought them with the intent of using them for mountain biking (I wanted something that was going to keep me dry when I occasionally stick my foot in the water during a stream crossing). Since they’re waterproof, I decided I’d see how they work for rainy bike commutes. My last few times out, I left the old sneakers and booties at home, and wore the waterproof Altras with gaiters instead. No more bulky neoprene shoe covers, and my feet and socks have been bone-dry after every ride. The shoes have nice, tough soles, and will hold up much better than booties if I have to do any walking. It’s a win-win all around, and I find myself enjoying my rides in the rain a lot more.

I should add that gaiters are essential in this setup. The rain pants go over the tops of the gaiters, which in turn go over the tops of the shoes. That way, there’s no way for water to get in. Without the gaiters, there would be a gap between the pants and the shoes, allowing water to seep in around my ankles. The Altra Lone Peaks have a convenient metal loop below the laces that is designed for gaiters, making them especially well-suited for this application.