Climbing Running Weather

Winter Weather Fun

It’s been a fun week of weather here in central Maryland. As predicted, we got an icy, slushy mess on Wednesday. NWS did a pretty good job forecasting this storm. Earlier models showed the potential for more snow in our area, but predicted amounts were dialed back as the low pressure center showed signs that it was going to track farther inland. Ultimately, we got pretty much exactly what was predicted for the area. A few days back, I read an interesting article that explained one of the reasons why snowfall totals in this area are so difficult to predict. Apparently, it’s because we live along the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line, which is where the Piedmont meets the Atlantic Coastal Plain. I hadn’t really thought about that before I read the article, but it makes a lot of sense.

Wednesday morning, before the weather, I managed to get out to the climbing gym. Weekday mornings are always a good time to go, and I feel like I climbed pretty well, tackling a few overhanging routes rated 5.9 to 5.10a. I still need to work on my upper body strength so that I can climb longer on these kinds of routes without getting as “pumped”. Yesterday afternoon, I ventured out onto the mean streets of Elkridge for a run. It was my first afternoon run in awhile, as I usually go early in the morning; but yesterday, I was concerned about icy roads. There were still some icy spots in the afternoon, mostly in shady areas, but it was not as bad as I had feared. I was able to follow my usual 5-mile route. I brought YakTrax along for insurance, but didn’t need them. Yesterday was also unique in that unlike my morning runs, I had already logged a couple of hours on the treadmill desk before I went out. I was definitely a little more tired at the end of the run than I usually am.

This morning, I was hoping to get out on the mountain bike, but unfortunately, it never got quite cold enough to freeze the trails. The predicted low was 26º, but when I woke up, it was still hovering at 31º. I went outside and saw that the puddles in our driveway were still liquid, so knew the trails would be a mess. I think the overnight cloud cover is what did us in. Next week is not looking promising for frozen trails, so it might be awhile before I get back out there. Maybe we’ll have a Christmas miracle. 😀

Biking Geocaching


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.

Biking Climbing Geocaching Running

Longer than planned

With temperatures still pushing into the 60s, and Old Man Winter slated to arrive this week, I really wanted to get some outside time today. I already had a 5-mile hike planned with our Scout troop, but also wanted to get some biking in before tomorrow’s predicted washout. So, I headed out of the house in the predawn twilight and biked a loop through Columbia, Savage, and Jessup. The route took me past Lake Elkhorn, along the entire length of the Patuxent Branch Trail, through Savage, and back home via Corridor Rd and Dorsey Run Rd. I even found a couple of caches along the way. I ended up notching over 31 miles, which was more than I had planned. When I left the house, the temperature at BWI was 53°, and based on that, I decided to wear shorts. I was regretting that decision for about the first 10 miles of the ride, but things soon warmed up enough that I was comfortable.

By the time I got home, it was after 10:00, leaving me about an hour to rest before I had to round the teens up to head to PVSP Hilton Area for our troop hike. We hiked a loop that took us along Santee Branch Trail, down Vineyard Spring, west on the paved Grist Mill Trail, and up Sawmill Branch, where we rejoined Santee Branch and followed it back to the starting point. The park was (predictably) busy, with Grist Mill being the busiest of the trails we hiked — nothing like it is on weekday mornings, when it’s just me and a few regulars. Other than that, though, it was a great hike, and the other trails didn’t feel crowded at all. There’s a lot of room out there in the woods.

Based on the weather forecast, tomorrow is shaping up to be a treadmill day. I’m hoping to get a ride or two in this week, as well as a run, and maybe some climbing at the gym, but we’ll see how much of that the weather will allow.


Freeze Thaw

Last year was my first-ever experience with mountain biking in the winter. Back in the ’90s, I was a casual, weekend-only, warm-weather mountain biker. Nowadays, in Patapsco Valley State Park, it’s all about avoiding the crowds. That means riding on weekdays, usually in the morning, and often in the cold.

One of the first things I learned about mountain biking in the winter is that I stay warmer on the trails than I do on roads. My first few times out, I dressed essentially the same way I do for cold road rides, and found myself getting hot and sweaty. I’m not sure why this is, but it probably has something to do with the slower speeds involved, as well as the tree canopy and terrain, all of which combine to reduce wind chill. Mountain biking is also more like interval training than road biking. There are short stretches of heavy exertion, alternated with downhill bursts, and occasional dismounting to get around obstacles. On top of that, you have to move around on the bike a lot more to keep a stable center of gravity through technical sections. All in all, it’s a much more dynamic activity than road biking, and involves a lot more muscle groups (particularly the core muscles). The upshot of all this is that I’ve learned to dress somewhat lighter than I do when I hit the roads. Of course, the only problem there is that whenever I do hit a short stretch of pavement, I get cold really fast. I try to minimize riding on pavement when on the mountain bike, but a certain amount of it is unavoidable.

The other thing I learned about is the strange phenomenon known as the “freeze thaw cycle” that affects the trails during the colder months. Overnight and in the morning, the trails are frozen, which makes for fantastic riding conditions. However, once the sun warms the ground above freezing, all of the moisture thaws out, and the trails turn into a muddy mess. This was a constant problem when I was commuting by MTB. The morning commutes would be total frozen awesomeness, but my afternoon rides would be mud baths. There were a lot of days where I rode home on roads, in the interest of staying off the trails. Of course, with my current work-from-home situation, this is not really a problem — I just stick to riding in the mornings.

We’re just now starting to get into the freeze-thaw cycle for the winter of 2020-2021. This morning, with the temperatures hovering right around freezing, the exposed trails were frozen, but the trails deeper in the woods were still thawed and a bit soupy in places. Trail conditions have been less than ideal lately because of our extremely wet fall weather, so I’m counting the days ’til the overnight temperatures fall down to the low-to-mid 20s, which will freeze everything up really nicely for my morning rides.



I bought my first mountain bike in 1994. Actually, it was the first bike I ever bought for myself, having cut my teeth on 10-speed beaters provided by my parents. I rode it off-road for awhile in the 1990s, and it sat neglected for most of the 2000s. In 2010, I fixed it up to use for winter commuting, replacing the old, blown air/oil suspension fork with a rigid front fork. However, that pretty much meant the end of the bike’s days as an off-road, single-track bike.

For awhile, I didn’t miss mountain biking, until a few years back, when I started hiking to and from work. From where I live, it’s about a 5 mile hike, about 90% of which is in Patapsco Valley State Park. Problem was, it took me 90 minutes each way, and I didn’t have 3 hours to spend commuting every day. As a result, it became a once-a-week thing, and most other days, I took to the roads on my bike, amongst the ever-worsening rush hour traffic.

PVSP is one of the premier mountain biking areas in the region, and during my hikes, I would always see MTB riders. Eventually, I got to thinking that if I bought a new mountain bike, I could use it to commute on the same trails I was hiking. It would be faster, so I could do it more often, which would mean less time spent on congested roads. In late 2019, I finally took the plunge.

It was a bit of a learning curve picking mountain biking back up after 20 years. It’s a completely different skill set from road biking, particularly when riding steep, technical trails like those in PVSP. But, I soon got into a pretty good routine commuting back and forth from work on single track. Then, COVID hit, and as with everything else, it shook up my mountain biking routine. Now that I’m working from home, I’m not using my bikes for commuting any more, and that includes the MTB. There’s less traffic on the roads, making road biking on weekdays (at least temporarily) more palatable than in recent years. It’s also been a very wet year, and the trails have been muddier than usual. All of this has meant less mountain biking this year than I had planned, though I still try to get out once a week or so. I’ll usually try to wait until 48 to 72 hours after it has rained (tough to do this year), and then I’ll ride a 10-to-15-mile loop before work.

One thing I will say about mountain biking is that, while harder to master than road biking, it is fun. There’s nothing like the thrill of a fun, fast descent, and a long ride on a flowy trail brings on a zen feeling that’s kind of like a runner’s high. You don’t really get that on the road, and it’s been a nice outlet this year. I’m glad I bought the bike when I did, and am looking forward to some point in the future when I can use it for commuting again.


Running Reboot

I’m almost afraid to write anything about this, for fear of jinxing myself… but, I’m back to running again. My last real attempt at running regularly was last spring. I have a regular walking route that’s a little over 5 miles, and I thought I could gradually re-acclimate myself to running with a run-walk-run routine: start off with 0.1 mile of running per mile covered, and gradually increase. Well, I must have tried to do too much, too fast, as after a few weeks of this, I developed the worst case of plantar fasciosis I’ve ever had — at least, I’m pretty sure it’s PF, as the symptoms mostly mimic PF. It initially shut me down, and I did very little walking for most of the summer, falling back on swimming, climbing, and biking instead. Over 6 months later, it still hasn’t 100% cleared up, but I’ve learned to effectively manage it. Foam rolling and stretching (calves and peroneal tendon) are helpful, but not overly so. I’ve found that what relieves it the most is the yoga “toe squat” pose. You start with a box pose, curl your toes forward, and then kneel with your weight on your toes. It’s uncomfortable as hell, but really helps.

The other thing that has helped is walking on a treadmill while I work. Over time, I’ve become convinced that most of my nagging physical issues are a result of sitting too much. With the treadmill, I’ve gotten out of my chair a lot more, and have gotten to where I’m logging about 20,000 steps a day, which is over twice what I had previously been averaging (according to my phone’s health app). I think this has helped condition me to the point where I’m better prepared to run successfully.

Anyhow, this time around, I’ve dropped the run-walk-run routine, and am doing a warm-up walk, followed by a run, followed by a cool-down walk, covering my same 5.2-mile route. I’m up to running a little over 5K of it so far. I’m also reading Run for Your Life by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, which has been very instructive in improving my running form. With all of this going for me, I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep it up this time and stay healthy. Let’s see how it goes!


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 while 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.