Categories
Biking

Hero Dirt

I took the mountain bike out today for the first time in almost 2 months. I normally love mountain biking in the winter, but conditions have to be right. Ideally, you want frozen trails with little to no snow or ice. I know of people who love going out in the snow, but it’s not my thing. Unfortunately, most of February was icy, wet, and slushy, making for terrible trail conditions. The weather finally took a turn in the first part of March, when we had a very long stretch without any precipitation. This morning, I finally ventured out, and I’m glad I did. The trails were in the best shape that I had seen in at least a year. The term “Hero Dirt” is often used to describe ideal trail conditions for riding, and that’s what we had today. The trails were hard packed and dry, but not dusty, and there was no mud to be found anywhere. I’m off this week for spring break, so I took advantage of my extra time and rode for around 2 hours. I rode Morning Choice Trail, Garrett’s Pass, Vineyard Spring Trail, a bit of Santee Branch Trail, Soapstone, Starstruck, and Ridge Extension/CJS, before finally heading home via Rockburn Branch Trail. I saw a few hikers, but curiously, no other riders. That’s unusual, even on a Monday morning with the temperature hovering around freezing.

Another strange thing I noticed this morning was that in spite of the lack of recent rain, Soapstone Branch was running pretty high and fast — enough to make the pavement wet underneath the railroad tracks in the Glen Artney Area. Most of the small creeks that cross Soapstone Branch Trail also had a pretty healthy flow, which made me wonder what was up. I’ve seen Soapstone Branch raging during a water main break in Catonsville, but it wasn’t running that high today. I suppose it could have been a smaller break somewhere uphill, but I’ll probably never know.

Anyhow, it was great to get out on the MTB again today.

Categories
Biking

Cabin Fever

This has not been a particularly cold winter, but it has been extremely icy. When I was commuting to work every day, I rode my bike regularly, even in icy weather. Nowadays, there’s less incentive to venture out, so I haven’t been biking as much. I still get out about once a week, and I’ve substituted with other activities like running and climbing, but in general, I’ve been home and indoors a lot this winter, and am getting a tad stir-crazy. My treadmill desk helps to keep me sane, as it gives me a great option to get exercise while working, but on the flip side, it’s a further disincentive to go outdoors. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, though: spring is around the corner, and I may get to start returning to the office later this year (fingers crossed on that one). When the weather warms a bit (or the ice melts), I’m hoping to do more kayaking this year, and I’m also considering trying out solo top-roping. More on that later, I’m sure.

It’s getting to the time of year where I start thinking about spring maintenance on my winter beater bike. I checked last week and found that it was in need of a new chain. I try to be pretty good about replacing chains before they wear out, because it saves money in the long term by extending the life of my cassettes and chainrings. This is really important with an expensive drivetrain like the GX Eagle on my MTB. Parts are a little bit cheaper for my winter bike (an old 1993 Specialized Rockhopper), but can be harder to come by due to the bike’s age, so I try to squeeze as much life out of them as possible. I’ve had the same cassette and rings on the Rockhopper for a number of years, so I looked at them closely the other day, and it appeared that they might be worn out. So, I contacted my LBS for a new cassette and middle ring. To my surprise, they had a 7-speed SRAM cassette and a 38T Hyperglide chainring in stock — both of them exact matches. I bought both of them for a sum total of about $28. I brought them home and compared them to the old parts, only to find that the latter weren’t as worn out as I had thought. The thing with these components is that the teeth aren’t perfectly symmetrical (I think it’s to improve shifting performance) and to an untrained eye, this can be mistaken as wear. So, I can get some more life out of the old parts, and when the time does come to replace them, I’ll have new parts on hand.

Anyhow, once I’m done with the Rockhopper, I’m going to move on to the MTB, which needs a good tear-down and cleaning. It’s been a horrible winter for mountain biking, so I really haven’t ridden it much in the past couple of months. I’m hoping that this year will not be as wet as the second half of 2020.

Categories
Biking Health Weather

Snow Day Musings

We’re getting our first real snow in these parts in about two years. Looks like 3 or 4 inches fell yesterday, and it’s been snowing off and on for most of today. Not a big snowfall by historic standards (I can still see the grass blades sticking through), but a lot by recent standards. In normal years, this would probably be a snow day, but now that everything is remote, it’s a normal work day for me and school day for the kids. Along the same lines, I used to ride my bike to work in almost every weather condition imaginable, but there’s much less of an incentive to go out and brave the weather when I’m telecommuting. That’s where the under-desk treadmill (which I’m using as I type this) is coming in really handy. Without it, I wouldn’t be getting any exercise on days like this. Of course, one could argue that the treadmill provides an additional disincentive to going out in the snow, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m happy as long as I can get my exercise in one way or another. I may try to get out on the mountain bike tomorrow or Wednesday morning. It will be a learning experience, as I’ve never ridden in the snow before. I’m sure enough people will have been out by then that the trails will be very well-packed. Should be interesting.

My lower back is still not quite 100% after I tweaked it a week and a half ago, but I think it’s getting to the point where the injury itself is mostly healed, and I’m mainly dealing with residual muscle/fascia tightness and soreness. Activity in general doesn’t bother it, but I find it stiffening up on me after an hour or so on the treadmill. I have a rather large arsenal of home remedies for it: exercise, yoga, ibuprofen, Voltaren gel, CBD oil, foam roller, heating pad, somatic exercises / pandiculation, inversion table, and a few I’m sure I left out. I’m very new to using an inversion table, and thus far, it has been eye-opening. I was lucky to score one for free, as my parents were getting rid of their Teeter. I have some occasional issues with positional vertigo (BPPV), and as such, was worried that inverting would make me dizzy and nauseous. Well, it did, for the first couple of times I tried it. Then, I got used to it, and now I can tilt back to 60º for several minutes at a time with no ill effects. The keys seem to be to avoid doing it immediately after eating, and to tilt gradually to allow time for the inner ears to adapt. I’ve been getting into the habit of hopping on the inversion table right after getting off the treadmill, when my back is a little stiff, and I have to say that after inverting for 5 minutes, my back feels great. The spinal decompression that you get from inversion obviously has some therapeutic benefit. The one thing that I don’t really like about the table is the ankle retention system — I just do not find it all that comfortable, even after adjusting it several different ways. Teeter sells a gravity boot adapter kit for the table, which looks like it may be a good investment if I decide I want to continue using the table long term. It could also just be that my ankles need some extra time to “adapt”. I’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

Categories
Biking Climbing Health

Another year older

My birthday was last Thursday. It was a great day, except for the part where I threw my back out. I was just finishing up a MTB ride, and was riding a familiar section of trail that I almost always pass through on the way home. It’s a slightly technical spot, with a steep descent, followed by a small creek crossing, followed by a brief rocky climb. I usually just power right through it. I’m not even sure what I did this time around, but I could tell right away that my back was unhappy about something. Five days later, it’s still not 100%. The joys of middle age.

In my 20s and 30s, I wasn’t all that easy on my back, but managed to avoid major injuries. I wised up in my 40s, and have been pretty careful to avoid stressing it, but sometimes it just happens. This time around was unusual, because I wasn’t lifting anything. I started out by taking ibuprofen, but the past couple days, I’ve mainly been using Voltaren gel (recently made available OTC in the U.S.), which helps, albeit temporarily. Yoga helps as well, and yesterday, I tried an inversion table for the first time. The jury is still out, but stretching it that way did feel good. I think I have to ease into inversion a little bit more slowly, though, as I felt kind of dizzy and queasy for awhile afterward.

The good news is, the back issue hasn’t kept me from running, road biking, climbing, or walking on my treadmill desk. I was a little apprehensive about climbing at first, but it actually seems to help. I stuck mainly to gently-overhanging terrain, which kind of naturally stretches the back out as you hang and reach for holds. To an extent, gentle movement in general seems to work better than sitting or lying down. I haven’t yet tried mountain biking, but I’ve got to think the injury was a freak occurrence, as I’ve biked through that particular section dozens of times without issue. I suspect I was seated when it happened, so I probably want to make sure I’m out of the saddle the next time, so that my back moves independently of the bike.

Anyhow, I’m hoping that as long as I’m careful about my activities, this will resolve itself before too long. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Categories
Biking

Frozen Trails Finally

I finally got back out on my mountain bike this morning, for the first time in about a month. My last ride was not all that enjoyable, because the trails were such a muddy mess. I try to avoid riding through mud, both to keep it off my bike, and to avoid damaging the trails. As a result, it seemed like I was doing as much walking as riding that day, which really takes away most of the fun, because you can’t get into that awesome zen state of mind that you get on a long, uninterrupted trail ride.

Different story this morning. In the winter, when I wake up, my usual routine is to check the temperature. So often this winter, the forecast has predicted a dip into the mid 20s, but I’ve woken up only to find it never dropped below freezing. Today was the opposite. I initially didn’t think it was going to get cold enough, but I woke up to a very solid 26º. I checked the hourly readings, and found that it fell below freezing around 11pm, and stayed there all night. A perfect recipe for frozen trails!! With mild conditions predicted for the rest of the week, I figured today was the day to get reacquainted with the MTB.

I hit the trails a little after 7 this morning. Conditions were just about perfect. It was mild enough to be comfortable, but cold enough that the trails were frozen mostly solid. None of the streams were frozen, so I had no issues with footing on the crossings (I know I could just power right through the streams, but I still think it’s better for the bike to walk it). I’m happy I didn’t wait too long to get out. There were lots and lots of sections of thick mud with deep tire ruts and footprints. When frozen, you can just ride right over them. It makes for a rough ride in places, but it’s far better than slogging through mud. As I write this at about 11:00am, the temperature has crept above freezing, and I suspect the window has closed. On several occasions this past month, I’ve been tempted to head out despite marginal temperature conditions. Based on today’s ride, I’m glad I held off, and will wait for conditions like this before I go out again. I’m hoping the second half of January brings some colder mornings with it.

In spite of my rustiness, I think I rode pretty well this morning. I rode sections of Morning Choice, Rockburn Branch, and Ridge Extension (Captain John Smith) in Howard County; and “Gunned”, Soapstone, “Starstruck”, and Soapstone Reroute/Bull Run in Baltimore County. Out of all my various modes of exercise, mountain biking is the one most likely to get me winded. Lately, I’ve been reading “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art”, and working on applying some of the techniques while exercising. Today was my first opportunity to do this while mountain biking, and I think it helped me power up some ascents with which I’ve struggled in the past. One of these is “Water Bars”, a steep climb up from the Avalon day-use area that joins the trail network on the Howard County side of the park. One of my goals is to make it all the way up this ascent without stepping off the bike. I’ve come close, but the rocky stretch near the top has always tripped me up. Today, I got a little hung up on one of the trail’s namesake water bars about halfway up, but was able to power through the rocky section for the first time ever. I still got pretty winded at the top, but recovered fairly quickly. I think I’m making progress. I just need the weather to cooperate so that I can get more practice now!

Categories
Biking Hiking Work

Winter Routine

We’re coming up on a year since everything shut down in mid-March 2020, so this is the first January that I’ve been full-time working from home. For most of 2020, my morning routine several days a week was to take long bike rides before work. I would get out of the house at around 6:30am and ride for anywhere from 2 to 2.5 hours. I kind of suspected that the routine might change a bit come winter, and indeed, it has.

The first big change was in October, when I bought an under-desk treadmill. I had been considering getting one of these for a couple of years. I had been using a standing desk regularly at work, but quickly found that static standing didn’t work for me for long periods of time. I had to be moving around. While standing, I constantly found myself pacing around the office, wandering around the hall outside my office, etc. On the other hand, I could hike for hours and hours on end with minimal breaks. So, I figured that if there was a way to walk while working, I’d be able to stay on my feet and out of the chair for longer periods of time.

When the pandemic hit and I started working from home full-time, I found myself getting less exercise. My biking mileage didn’t drop, but it was all concentrated in the morning, vs. a morning and afternoon commute each day. On top of that, I found that I wasn’t getting out for afternoon walks as I used to do regularly at work, and with meetings shifting to Zoom/Webex, I wasn’t getting free exercise from walking between buildings for meetings, either. I needed something to fill the gap, and a treadmill seemed like the perfect answer: I could work and exercise at the same time. The treadmill has lived up to my expectations — I walk on it anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day, and my average daily step count on work days has ballooned from under 10k to over 20k.

I kind of expected my biking mileage to drop in the winter, and it has, but not for the reasons I initially thought. I figured the cold temperatures would limit me to shorter rides, but so far, this has been another of Maryland’s famous warm, wet winters, and we haven’t really had a true cold snap yet. In actuality, running, hiking, and climbing have been reducing the frequency of my rides. Could be worse, I suppose. It will be interesting to see how my routine is affected if we ever get a true cold spell, or a significant snowstorm, but I’m not holding my breath for either of those things to happen this year.

Categories
Biking

Henryton Hike

I had a really fun time hiking with the family in Patapsco Valley State Park yesterday. We hiked west from Henryton Rd. on the through trail, for a total out-and-back distance of about 4 miles. I had only hiked here once before, back in 2014. It’s a very nice, less busy area of the park just east of Sykesville. We found several caches along the way, climbed a few trees, and Andrew got to do some bouldering with his new crash pad. I keep telling myself that one of these days, I’d like to through-hike the entire park from Halethorpe to Sykesville. If planned correctly, it could probably be done as a 1- or 2-night backpacking trip.

This morning, I had planned to ride my mountain bike, which I haven’t done since early December. The predicted low was 24°, but once again, the actual temperature ended up hovering within 1 or 2 degrees of freezing, so I bagged it and took a road ride instead. When I actually got outside, it seemed colder than my weather app had indicated, and I suspect the trails probably would have been OK. I saw a lot of people in the park, including several groups of mountain bikers, which is unusual for a weekday morning. I suspect things will return to normal next week, when most people will be back at work. I’m really hoping that January will bring some colder mornings that will solidly freeze the trails. In the meantime, I’m going to either have to put up with mud, or hit the pavement instead, as I did today. I ended up going about 24 miles and looping through UMBC. Not a bad ride, even if it wasn’t what I had planned.

Categories
Biking Miscellany

Boxing Day

Another Christmas has come and gone. I remember the days when the kids would get all excited and wake up early to open presents. We even have the video to prove it, which I shot on our then-state-of-the-art MiniDV video camera. Nowadays, they are nocturnal teenagers, and it’s hard just getting them out of bed. A few years back, I came to the realization that I enjoy the advent season, or the weeks leading up to Christmas, more than the day itself. This year, however, was probably the most laid-back Christmas we’ve ever had. Times sure have changed. Next year may be slightly more “normal”, but the kids aren’t getting any younger. I’ll miss those days, but I also like our new, lower-stress holiday routine — and when I’m feeling nostalgic, I can always go back and look at our old videos.

With the kids sleeping in, I considered riding yesterday morning, but decided to go today instead. The temperatures were down in the low 20s again (the freeze cycle of our flood-freeze winter), so I kept it under 20 miles, and rode a quick out-and-back to downtown Columbia to find a cache. I’ve gotten quite familiar with this route since I started riding it regularly back in the spring. I wore 3 layers on my upper body, which I think was one more than I needed, as I was sweating a little bit by about 30-45 minutes in. Interestingly enough, though, my toes never really got cold. I wore my usual waterproof Altra Lone Peaks with warming insoles, but added a second layer of socks this time. I’m not sure if the socks did the trick, or if the extra upper-body layer kept my core warmer, thus keeping my body from leeching heat from the extremities. I suspect it was a little of both. That said, sweating when it’s below freezing is not something you really want happening. I need to find the sweet spot where I don’t sweat, but my toes still stay warm. Winter riding is very much a balancing act. I’ve been doing it for 13 winters, but I still haven’t perfected it.

Categories
Biking Weather

Ice and Slop

Among many other things, 2020 has had a profound effect on my daily routine. Before this year, I almost never rode my bikes for exercise. 99 times out of 100, if I rode, it was to get to work or get home. Once in a blue moon, I would head out on a weekend morning and bike a loop around the airport. A few times a year, I’d take the bike somewhere to find caches, or to use as a shuttle for a one-way hike or paddle, but that was the exception, not the rule. Almost all of my rides were 15 miles or less. Nowadays, it’s the complete opposite. I don’t commute any more, so I bike to stay in shape. Almost all of my rides are round-trip, starting and ending at home, and most are between 20 and 30 miles. This is kind of how I envisioned life after retirement, except I’m still working.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is Maryland weather. The past few days have been wet and icy. This past Saturday, I ventured out for a ride to Odenton to find a cache. The temperatures were in the low to mid-20s, making it my coldest ride of the season thus far. While I’m no stranger to commuting in those temperatures, I don’t think I had ever taken a ride just for the heck of it when it was that cold out. Strange times indeed.

After a run on Sunday, I returned to the bike this morning. Temperatures were several degrees above freezing, with a chilly fog hanging over everything, turning most of the snow and ice into messy slush. The exception was River Road in Patapsco Valley State Park, which faces north, and was still a solid sheet of ice. The warm-ish air temperature actually made it even more slick. It kind of caught me by surprise. After 12 winters riding through there, I’m aware that it gets icy, but given that the ice storm was 5 days ago, I thought that more of it would have melted. My studded front tire got me through some of it, but I elected to walk other parts of it in the interest of staying upright. I could have ridden most if it if I had had studs on the rear wheel, but I didn’t think I would need them. Live and learn, I guess.

Categories
Biking Geocaching

Studs

Looks like we’ll be getting our first dose of wintry weather tomorrow, although the latest forecast I saw has dialed back on the snowfall totals in our area. Looks like another trademark central Maryland ice-fest. Whatever we get in the way of precipitation, it’s going to be turning colder. This morning, I was debating either running or biking, but then I remembered that there was a new cache in Catonsville, which swayed me to the latter.

We got a bunch of rain yesterday, and it dipped into the upper 20s overnight. That’s a great recipe for icy roads, so I decided I should ride with a studded front tire. It turned out to be the right move, and actually, I was kind of wishing I had studs on both wheels. I’ll swap the back wheel out before my next wintry ride. As usual, the iciest roads were in PVSP, but there was ice outside the park as well, as many roads hadn’t been salted (that will change tonight, I’m sure). This is my 10th winter riding the same set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires, and they are still going strong. I’m sure that one of the reasons they’ve lasted is that I have a second wheelset that I use in the winter, so I don’t have to mount and dismount the tires at the beginning and end of every season. It also makes it easy to switch back and forth between studded and regular tires during warm spells.

This morning, I covered around 23 miles. It went well, except I was reminded why I haven’t historically done much caching by bike in the cold. I was only off the bike for about 5 minutes to find the cache and sign the log, but that was enough to make me really chilly for about the next 15 minutes of the ride. I might have to get used to that, because there’s probably more winter bike caching in store for me this season.

Tomorrow, I’m hoping to get a run in, as well as a quick trip to the climbing gym, before the weather hits. I guess we’ll see if either happens.