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.

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.

Biking Pool

Battle of the Bulge

Well, as it always seems to now, summer has arrived in May in the Mid-Atlantic.  We opened the pool last weekend, and the water temperature is already pushing 80°.  By Sunday, it’ll likely be up to 82 or 83.  Amusingly enough, we had the cover off the pool at 9:30am and the kids were in the pool by 1:30pm..  a new record.  They didn’t stay in for too long, as the water was a little cool.  I have a feeling that that will change this weekend.  This year I was a little more proactive about keeping the pool chlorinated during early spring (the salt water generator really helps with that) so I didn’t have to do much cleanup, which helped to get the kids in the pool sooner.  I doubt they would have been as eager to jump into a green swamp.

I’ve had 4 extremely sweaty rides to and from work this week.  That’s par for the course around here in the summer, so I guess the sooner my body gets acclimated to it, the better.

The problems with the rear tire on my single speed bike just keep coming.  I went to ride it last week, and noticed a large bulge in the sidewall.  I deflated and re-inflated the tire, to no avail, so I pulled the tire off to see what was up.  It turns out there was a 1-inch patch where the rubber on the edge of the tire had separated from the wire bead, so the tire would no longer seat properly on the rim.  I’m guessing that I may have damaged the tire in my (fruitless) efforts to reinstall it after fixing a flat.  This weekend I’m going to take the tire back to the LBS and hope they’ll have mercy on me and exchange it, or at least give me a discount on a new one.  I’ve since acquired a “bead jack” tool that will get the tire on the rim without damaging the tire, the rim, my thumbs, or my blood pressure.

Biking Pool

Odds and Ends

We closed our pool this past Saturday, 10/2, and not a day too soon.  Less than 24 hours after we put the safety cover on, it was completely covered with leaves.  Our final swim of the season was Sunday, 9/26, which although a couple weeks shy of our all-time record, was still pretty late, considering we didn’t use a solar blanket this year.  We had a late-September heat wave that got the water temperature back up to a fairly balmy 80 degrees.

Took advantage of some dry (albeit cloudy) weather this morning to take a 20 mile ride into work on the fixed gear.  I have been having some problems with my hands falling asleep on this bike, so last week I made a couple of minor fit adjustments: first I raised the stem about ½”, which helped a bit, but not enough.  So next I tried tilting my seat back a little more, and that seems to have helped a lot.  Apparently I was putting too much pressure on my hands and shoulders trying to keep from sliding forward on the seat.  The down-side of this is that the seat is now slightly less comfortable.  It may make sense to try a different saddle.

Biking Pool

Long Sleeves

Not much noteworthy about today’s ride, except that I wore a long sleeve jersey, for the first time since probably May.  As hot as this summer has been, I didn’t think this day would ever arrive.  Won’t be long, and I’ll be griping about how cold it is and how I wish I could get back to wearing summer clothes.  I did pack a short sleeve shirt for the return ride this afternoon.

I raised the stem height on my fixed-gear bike yesterday, hoping it would make the bars a little more comfortable.  Fortunately I had a little more height available on my threadless steerer tube, and was able to rearrange the spacers and get the stem up about ¼”.  It helped a bit with the reach, but not really with the hand positions.  I think I may need to swap out handlebars.  The bike currently has “bull horns,” which are indeed popular on urban-style fixed gear bikes (and also time trial bikes), but I just don’t find them comfortable for everyday commuting.  I’m still undecided as to what to try.  Standard drop bars are an option, but I’ve also heard good things about “moustache” style bars.  Either way, I’ll also need new brake levers.  Will need to give this some thought.

Going to try to get in a quick swim this weekend.  It may be my last time in the pool this season.  Our solar blanket was falling apart, so we got rid of it earlier this summer, and now we’re missing it.  It can be a pain to deal with, but it does extend the pool season a bit.

Biking Pool


Unfortunately, Snowpocalypse 2010 has put the brakes on bike commuting for the time being this winter.  If I can’t do it safely, I don’t do it, and the roads are not in good shape for biking.  I’ll be back out as soon as some of it melts, and/or I can find a safe route to take.

Over the past couple days, I’ve driven along some of my favorite bike-commuting routes, and here are my observations.

  • Lawyers Hill Rd and Levering Ave: Bare pavement, both lanes, a little narrow.  Doesn’t carry much traffic, so I would have no problem biking this.
  • River Rd between Lawyers Hill and Patapsco State Park: bare pavement, 1 lane wide.
  • River Rd park entrance: blocked by a giant mountain of snow and will probably be that way for a long time.  Access road hasn’t been touched.
  • US 1 between South St and Levering Ave: pretty good shape in both directions, but a couple spots where icy slush blocks the entire shoulder, which would necessitate riding out into the right lane.
  • Montgomery Rd between US 1 and Marshalee Ave: not too bad in most spots, but missing shoulder in places.  Would not feel comfortable biking this during rush hour.
  • Montgomery Rd between Marshalee Ave and Rockburn Dr: no shoulder.  Non-starter.
  • Rockburn Dr: one lane, poorly plowed and icy.
  • Kerger Rd: bare pavement, a bit narrow.  Could bike here.
  • Ilchester Rd between Kerger and Beechwood: Similar to south Montgomery.
  • Landing Rd: glanced at it while driving by on Ilchester, and what I saw did not look good.
  • Beechwood, Bonnie Branch and River Rds: single lane clear.  Could bike in a pinch, but not ideal.
  • Hilltop and Thistle Rds were both unplowed and closed off at River Rd.
  • Frederick Rd between River Rd and Oella Ave (Ellicott City Side): best of the lot.  Shoulders fully clear.
  • Oella Ave: single lane, not plowed very well.
  • Wilkens Ave from Rolling Rd to UMBC: decent shape, shoulder clear.  Bikeable.

On the way home, I’ll check out the conditions through Relay and Halethorpe.  But it looks like any route I take is going to be non-ideal, so I will have to pick the lesser of the evils.  Currently, that appears to be Lawyers Hill to Levering to U.S. 1, to South St and through Relay and Halethorpe (depending on what shape those roads are in; I’ll find out later today).

UMBC is cleared out as well as can be expected.  The head-in parking on Hilltop Circle works in my favor in these conditions, because to allow for parking, they have to clear the “buffer zone” between the road and the parking spots, which provides room to ride out of the travel lane.  Most, but not all, of the loop is clear.  But all the same, there are enough walkways clear that I can just cut through campus on foot if I had to.  All in all, they did a pretty good job.

On a totally unrelated note..  The other day I noticed that Home Depot was selling 50lb bags of Calcium Chloride “ice melter” pellets for around $17.  Calcium Chloride is among the more expensive alternatives for ice melter, and it’s not common to find it being sold as such at retail around here.  It is common to find it at swimming pool stores, where it’s sold as “Calcium Hardness Increaser”, often at prices of over $2 a pound.  So while $17 may seem like a lot to pay for 50lbs of ice melter, it’s an amazing bargain for 50lbs of  “Calcium Hardness Increaser.”  So, I picked up a bag to use in the pool this spring.  I would have bought more, but apparently I got the last bag in the store.