Climbing Kayaking Pool

Early Fall Ramblings

It’s that time of year where I always feel like summer has slipped away before I had the chance to do everything I wanted. This year, in particular, I didn’t get out in the kayak very much; lately, though, I’ve been making up for that. Last weekend, Michael and I joined a few of my geocaching friends for a really nice 9-mile paddle on the Patuxent River in southern Maryland, and today, Cathy and I drove over the bridge for a morning paddle on the headwaters of the Chester River. I love paddling this time of year, as the temperatures and humidity start to drop and the leaves start to turn. I hope to get out one or two times in October. I’ve occasionally considered starting to acquire some colder-water paddling gear, so that I can keep paddling later into fall and early winter, but have yet to take the plunge. It seems like a paddling jacket, wetsuit and neoprene socks might be an economical way to extend the season for a few weeks. Then, I could see if I get enough use out of that gear to warrant a larger investment in a dry suit, which would allow for year-round paddling.

Many years, I find myself wishing that I had gotten in our pool more often, but not this year. According to Apple Health, today was my 83rd time in the pool in 2021. Working from home 3 days a week provides more opportunities to swim during the day, as I can keep an eye on the weather and pick the best time to jump in the pool. The weather this month has helped to extend the season, as well — we have had a lot of sunny days, and no extended runs of cool, damp weather, which is what led to the early demise of last year’s pool season. I can’t even remember the last time I was in our pool as late as September 30. We will see how long we can keep the season alive. In October, the leaves make it tougher and tougher to keep the pool clean, and eventually you reach a point of diminishing returns, where the hassle of cleaning the pool exceeds the desire to swim.

I am hoping to do a little bit of outdoor top-rope climbing this fall. I have still been climbing regularly at the gym, and still really enjoy it. Earlier this year, I picked up some equipment to rig up a top-rope self belay. When I can get my act together, I want to head to Ilchester or Alberton Rocks and do a couple hours of solo top-rope and rappelling. I had been waiting for cooler, less humid weather, and it seems like it’s here now.

Anyhow, that’s enough for now…

Biking Pool


Summer is definitely here. Yesterday, we got in the pool for the first time this season. It was a bit later than we usually do, but it took a long time for the water to warm up this year. Last year, during the height of the pandemic, our pool got a LOT of use. I think I got in the pool more times last year than the previous 10 years combined. I used it quite a bit for exercise. Our pool is 40′ long, and it’s possible to swim laps in it, but you have to stop frequently to turn around. It wasn’t until last year, when we acquired a swim tether, that I really started swimming a lot. Swimming with a tether is akin to walking on a treadmill. You don’t go anywhere, but you can swim forever, and I now feel like I’m getting real exercise rather than constantly having to stop to turn around. I’m hoping to keep up the regular swimming this season.

I get the feeling that we are near the peak of this year’s Brood X cicada emergence. They are everywhere, and I’ve been spending a lot of time fishing them out of our pool. Unlike some other insects, periodical cicadas seem to be completely helpless once they hit the water. They can survive awhile in the water, but they can’t get out on their own. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve rescued. Once you get them out, though, they seem no worse for the wear. They really are fascinating creatures. If all goes according to the grand plan, we’ll be out of this house before the next emergence in 2038, so this will be the last year I have to fish them out of the pool.

I went out on the mountain bike this morning. Last year was my first exposure to summer mountain biking in a very long time, and I forgot how much more I sweat on a MTB than when biking on the road. I think it has a lot to do with the nature of the activity — it requires a lot of short bursts of exertion, the speeds are slower (meaning there’s less cooling from air movement) and sometimes I have to get off the bike and push for short distances. All of that adds up to a LOT of sweating on hot, humid days, and last year, I quickly learned that a single water bottle was not sufficient to keep me hydrated through a 2-hour mountain bike ride. Also, when riding technical single track, it’s a lot harder to find opportunities to grab the water bottle and drink. Put those together, and I found myself getting dehydrated and running out of energy frequently. This year, I decided to start using my Osprey hydration pack in lieu of a water bottle, and it has been a clear winner. I can drink whenever I want, even through technical sections of trail, and I find myself drinking much more often and staying hydrated, and I can complete a 2-hour ride without pooping out and with plenty of energy to spare afterwards. Today, with temperatures in the mid-70s and the dewpoint hovering just under 70, I rode for 2 hours and went through 2.5 liters of water.

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.


How to Save Money on Pool Chemicals

I’ve learned a few things about swimming pools after owning one for 12 years.  #1, pools are a huge money pit.  #2, pool chemicals, particularly when sold as such, are extremely expensive.  And #3, for a lot of pool chemicals, you can save a significant amount of money by purchasing the equivalent product from an alternative source.  You just have to know where to look.

This write-up is geared towards concrete/plaster pools with salt water Chlorine generators, but much of the info is applicable to all pools.


If your pool doesn’t have a salt water generator (SWG), liquid chlorine is generally the most economical way to chlorinate.  The trade-off is that it’s more labor intensive than using Trichlor pucks, and the liquid chlorine has a shorter shelf life.

For pools with a SWG, it’s still a good idea to keep some liquid chlorine on hand for shocking, opening/closing the pool, and off-season maintenance.

Standard Clorox bleach is the same thing as liquid pool chlorine, just in a lower concentration. Buy standard, plain old Ultra Clorox, with no added fragrances or other stuff. Check the label for concentration; you want at least 6.25% Sodium Hypochlorite. 2 parts of this is equivalent to 1 part liquid pool chlorine, which is 12.5% Sodium Hypochlorite. The weaker concentration also has a longer shelf life.  Look for house brands at stores like Wal*Mart, but make sure the label clearly shows the product concentration.

In my area, it is still more cost-effective to buy 12.5% pool chlorine in 5-gallon jugs. Namco Pool and Patio sells them for $17 (+ $6 refundable jug deposit) as of 2010, which works out to $3.40/gallon. At this price, you’d have to find Ultra Clorox at $1.70/gallon to get the same value.


If you have a SWG pool, you’ll periodically need to add salt to it.  Look for “solar salt” at Home Depot or Lowes, in 40lb and 80lb blue bags. It is sold for use with water softeners, and typically goes for around $5 for 40lbs. Look in the aisle with the water heaters and water softener systems. There has never been a discount for buying the 80lb bags, so I get the 40lb bags for ease in handling.  Don’t use table salt; it contains iodine and you don’t want that in your pool.

Alkalinity Increaser

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) is the same stuff as the “Alkalinity Increaser” the pool stores sell. We buy the big bags of it sold at warehouse clubs. It’s typically less than half the price of the pool store stuff.  Another bonus: it’s classified as a food/grocery product, so in most states, you won’t pay sales tax on it either.

pH Reducer

If you have a plaster pool and/or use a SWG or any kind of hypochlorite product (liquid chlorine or Calcium Hypochlorite powder), your pool’s pH will tend to rise over time and you’ll need to periodically add acid to lower it.  Look for Muriatic Acid at Lowes, in the paint section near the turpentine and paint thinner. It is sold in gallon jugs. I have never found it at Home Depot.  Muriatic acid is significantly cheaper than “dry acid” or sodium bisulfate, which is typically sold for pools.  The trade-off is that it’s more hazardous to store, so be careful with it.  Be careful: you want the stuff with the orange label, not the “safer muriatic acid” with the green label.

One year at Home Depot, I scored several 8-pound jugs of Sodium Bisulfate (dry acid) at around $2.50 a jug. This is an amazing deal, probably cheaper than wholesale. I think it was around December. You can’t count on finding a deal like this every year, but sometimes it does pay to check the pool sections in big box stores during the off season.

Calcium Hardness Increaser

In plaster pools, it’s important to keep the water from getting too soft, or it will become corrosive to the pool plaster.  Look for bags of Calcium Chloride ice melter at the big box stores in the winter. In early 2010, I found 50lb bags of this at Home Depot for around $17, which is about ¼ the price you’d pay for the same stuff at a pool store. The catch is, you have to read the label carefully. You want pure Calcium Chloride, and it can’t be mixed in with any other chemical. Most winters, the box stores sell blends of different chemicals, which are cheaper by the pound than Calcium Chloride, but you don’t want to put them in your pool.

Cyanuric Acid

Sold as “stabilizer/conditioner.” Can’t really cheat with this stuff, unfortunately, as it doesn’t have many applications outside swimming pools. It often sells at $4-5/lb at pool stores. If I had an opportunity to buy this at wholesale, I’d stock up. But lacking that, I’ve shopped around for online deals, and the best price I’ve found currently is at Inyo Pool Products, at $70 for a 25lb pail. That’s $2.80/lb, plus a $5 handling fee per order. Dry cyanuric acid lasts forever, so stock up.

Test Kit Reagent Refills

These really add up, particularly the good quality reagents from Taylor. Surprisingly, the best online prices I’ve found are at Leslie’s Poolmart, where shipping is free for orders over $50.  As of 2011, you can also buy refills directly from Taylor on their web site.


Instant Hot Water Tank Repair

One of the must-have appliances in our kitchen is an instant hot-water tap. Once you’ve gotten used to instant cups of hot tea, you’ll never want to be without one. Unfortunately, while these gadgets are a great luxury, they have a reputation for being unreliable. The most popular brand, In-sink-erator, is well known for lasting 2 or 3 years before the tank starts leaking. Indeed, that’s what happened to ours, while it was still under warranty. We contacted In-sink-erator, and they helpfully shipped us a brand new tank at no cost. The only problem was that the new tank also leaked. The ultimate solution was to replace the In-sink-erator with a different brand, a Waste King. The Waste King seems like a better made unit, and it’s been working fine for a month or so now, but the jury is still out as to its longevity.

With our family happily tapping instant hot chocolate again, I decided to take a closer look at the leaky In-sink-erator tanks. I wanted to pinpoint where they were leaking and see if I could repair them. It’s next to impossible to find leaks while the tank is in service, because it’s under the sink where it’s hard to get to, and the tank’s internal plumbing is hidden behind the case and the styrofoam tank insulation. The best way to find the leak is to take the tank and faucet out of service, remove the case and insulation, hook the faucet up to a temporary water supply, turn the water on, and look for the leak. The In-sink-erator faucet attaches to the water supply with ¼” copper tubing with compression fitting.  I went to my local Lowe’s and picked up a ¼” compression to ½” male NPT adapter, and a ½” female NPT to female garden hose adapter, and used these to hook the faucet and tank up to my laundry tub faucet. With the case and insulation off the tank, I was able to pinpoint the leaks in both my original and replacement tanks.

The In-sink-erator tanks have a well-known issue where the plastic tubing fails between the tank and the backflow reservoir.  It turned out that this wasn’t the problem with either of my tanks.  On both my tanks, the culprit was a plastic bulkhead fitting: the original tank leaked at the water supply fitting at the top, and the replacement leaked at the drain fitting on the bottom.  These fittings don’t appear to be serviceable, so the only option appears to be to replace them with higher quality bulkhead fittings.  In the meantime, I salvaged a useable tank by using the top half of the replacement with the bottom half of the original.  We’re happy with the Waste King dispenser for now, but if and when it fails, we now have a working In-sink-erator that we can fall back on.

Biking Pool

T-Day Week

Well, our unseasonably warm and wet autumn has lasted into Thanksgiving week.  The weather for this morning’s ride was around 58° with fog.  I took a longer ride this morning, because it wasn’t raining, rain is predicted for tomorrow and Wednesday, and I actually managed to get out of the house before 8:00am.

Last Friday I took another ride on my mountain bike, with its new Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires, to finish the break-in period for the tires.  Considering that they’re studded, the tires ride pretty well on dry pavement.  They are 1.75″ tires, slightly smaller than the 1.95″ Kendas I use on this bike during warm weather.  This works out great, because there’s more clearance between the tires and the fenders, making it less likely that the fenders will clog with snow and other kruft.  Looking forward to trying these tires out under “real” winter conditions.

I finally got around to winterizing our swimming pool this weekend.  The most important thing to do when winterizing a pool is to blow as much water out of the circulation pipes as possible, then plug the lines to trap air inside.  This protects the pipes against freeze damage.  For the past 10 years, I’ve used a small air compressor to blow air through the pipes.  This year I decided to try something different, and used my wet/dry shop vac instead.  I was amazed at how good a job the vac did.  Air compressors are designed to deliver a small volume of air at high pressure.  This is great if you happen to be running a pneumatic nailer, but it’s not ideal for blowing out pool plumbing.  That calls for a large volume of air at relatively low pressure.  It turns out that a shop vac, even a small one, is perfect for doing this.  The compressor would always blow in fits and starts as it struggled to keep up with the demand for air.  The shop vac blew a steady, strong stream of air through the lines, and I’m sure it did a better job.  Not only that, the shop vac weighs a lot less, and is generally much easier to deal with, than the compressor.  Looks like I’ve found a better mouse trap.


Farewell 2011 Pool Season

The weather is finally starting to turn fall-like.  Yesterday evening, under the lights, Andrew and I took the ceremonial final swim of the 2011 season.  We beat last year’s date, September 26, by 3 days.  The kids’ first swim was on May 22, the same day we uncovered the pool.  That made for a swim season of just over 4 months.  We’ll put the winter cover on this weekend.  Looks like our now 4-year-old record late swim date, October 9, is going to stand for another year.  It’s anybody’s guess when it’ll be broken.

September wasn’t a good swimming month.  The persistent damp, dreary weather kept the water temperature under 80° for most of the month.  The pool was only used twice after Labor Day, last night and Monday 9/12.  The water temperature last night was around 78°, which as I’m fond of saying, is great for swimming laps, but a little cold for anything else.  Andrew, our 5 year old fish, was game to get in, but it was too cold for Michael and Mom.  We stayed in for around ½ hour.

Next Spring, we are looking at getting the pool remodeled.  New waterline tile, new coping, new plaster, new skimmers, some structural work, and other minor repairs.  The pool will need to be drained and sandblasted.  It won’t be cheap, but the end result should be very nice, and it’s certainly overdue for it.

House Projects

Grout Removal Finally Finished

So yesterday, about a year after starting, I finally finished grinding the grout out around the master bathroom tub.  This is not a job I’d recommend doing with older tile, unless it is really valuable and/or has historical significance.  It’s boring, dusty, tedious, and time consuming.  Did I mention that it’s dusty?  That cannot be understated.  Our tile is very close together, with very narrow grout joints.  They’re too narrow for a 1/16″ Dremel grout bit.  I removed our grout with a Dremel diamond wheel, coupled to a right angle driver attachment.  It worked, but it kicked up a LOT of dust.  We have a layer of fine grout dust covering everything in the bathroom.  It can also be fatiguing, particularly on overhead sections.  When your arms get tired, it’s easy to slip and scratch the tile glazing with the tool.  I burned through 2 diamond wheels on this job.  You can tell that a wheel is shot when it’s lost around 1/8″ of its diameter, and it starts kicking up a lot of sparks and not cutting as well.

Now that the tub is finally grout-free, the next steps are to

  • Clean up.  Wipe everything down with a wet rag, top to bottom.  Sweep up piles of loose grout dust with a dust pan.  Let surfaces dry, then vacuum up remaining dust with shop vac.  Then wipe with wet rag again.
  • Clean tiles thoroughly and prep for new grout.  Knock out and clean up any grout I couldn’t get to with the Dremel.  Remove old caulk in a couple of spots.
  • Regrout the tile.
  • Misc improvements (new in-shower light fixture, faucet handles, shower head, exhaust fan, etc.)
  • Put in new shower door.

I won’t be doing this again in this house.  Our tile is not nice or historic enough to be worth the effort.  It’s easier to rip everything out and start with new wall board and new tile.  That’s what we’ll be doing when we get around to remodeling our other bathroom(s).

Biking House Projects

Grout Removal

Nothing much exciting to write about on the biking front lately.  I was off work last week, and didn’t do much biking, but this week I’m back at it again.  August has brought some slightly more pleasant weather so far, but still not much in the way of rain, other than the occasional torrential downpour.  In other words, business as usual for mid-summer in Maryland, more or less.

Been doing a little bit of work in our master bathroom lately.  We decided to re-grout the bath tub and shower area, because a lot of the old grout was either in bad shape or gone altogether.  Also, the shower door, likely a 1950s original, was shot (the rollers at the top were corroded to the point where they wouldn’t turn any more).  The first step to re-grouting is to remove the original grout.  According to everything I read, there’s no getting around this step, if you want the new grout to last.  Problem is, grout removal is a slow, boring, dusty job.  Over the course of the last few months, I’ve spent countless hours with my Dremel and my cartridge respirator, grinding away at the stuff, and I’m still only around 75% done (granted, this is a larger than average job, with 3 full walls and ceiling fully tiled – probably around 100 sq. ft. of tile).  The good news is, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This tile was initially challenging to work with.  Dremel sells a specialized grout removal bit and guide, but I couldn’t use their system because my tile was too close together.  I would end up grinding away the edges of the tile along with the grout.  I ended up using the Dremel with a right-angle adapter and a diamond wheel.  It was skinny enough to get into the gaps between the tile, and relatively easy to control, although there have been a few spots where I’ve nicked the tile glazing.  I’ve completely worn through one diamond wheel and am on my second now.  Looks like the entire job is going to cost me two diamond wheels.  Fortunately they’re not all that expensive — around $17.

Once we’ve re-grouted, we’ll replace the faucet handles and trim, the shower head, and the recessed light at the top of the shower, then install the new shower door, which we’ve had since last September.  I think the end result will look pretty nice, but this isn’t a job I would want to do again.  If we ever redo the other bathroom, I’m going to argue in favor of ripping out the (beautiful 1950s retro-pink) tile and re-tiling.

Biking House

Disabled List

2011 has been a bad year for me in the injury department.  A couple of Saturdays ago, I messed up my ankle during a home improvement project (I should know better by now — it’s physically impossible for me to get through any home improvement project without some kind of injury.  Maybe that’s why I’m doing less and less of it these days).  It’s just a contusion (no sprain or anything), and 20 years or so ago it probably would have been back to 100% after a couple weeks.  But being that I’m 40ish now, everything takes longer to heal.  I hate getting old.  But anyhow, I’m icing it and trying to keep weight off it, which means curtailing my walking for now.  Walking isn’t too bad, but I’m definitely favoring the bad side.  At home, I hobble around on crutches.  Standing is uncomfortable, as is sitting, unless I keep the ankle elevated.  I’ve experimented with an ankle brace, but can’t decide if it’s helping it or irritating it.  Ice and Ibuprofen both provide some relief.

The good news is, I seem to be OK with non-weight-bearing exercise.  I have no discomfort either biking or swimming, so I’m keeping up with both of those activities (though I’ve dialed the biking back — 3 days this week instead of 5 — just to be on the safe side).  I’ve been a little slower than usual on the bike this week, but that’s as much due to this summer’s endless, relentless heat than anything else.

Here’s hoping for an injury-free 2012.  Maybe the daily highs will be out of the 90s by then…