Friday, February 16, 2018

Toughing out a ride...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

I pulled my sweatshirt over my head and tossed it on the tractor sitting next to my desk (it’s an unusual office).  I was warm.  It was February, at least according to my computer calendar, but it was also 58 degrees.  I had accumulated many hours of comp time over the past several weeks trying to keep ice and snow from hampering our operations at the farm and was now looking forward to taking advantage of a couple of them by leaving early and going for a long bike ride on ‘Locke’.  I had hoped to do that the day before, but the rains had set in as I left work and never relented.  Today’s forecast was similar, my weather app on the computer said ‘rain in late afternoon…or earlier if John tries to leave early’.  Bastard!

I was on the bike by 2:45 and riding under overcast, foreboding skies.  I said a prayer to Thor, God of Thunder, and he answered with a misty drizzle.  Screw it.  I rode on.

I headed north and east out of Peninsula, riding four miles up SR 303 with the intention of working my way on roads I’d never ridden towards Hudson.  We’d see from there.  I crested the hill out of town and was prepared to continue east on 303, which did have an excellent riding shoulder, but cars moving past at 50mph plus, when I noticed a parking lot on my right with a sign that read ‘Summit County Metroparks bike and hike trail’.  I turned and rode in to check it out. 

From where I sat on my bike, under a kiosk with a map designating the ride/hike trails from the ‘you are here’ point on the map, I realized that there were many miles of trails in all directions.  The question in my mind was whether they were blacktopped or not.  I did not have tires on ‘Locke’ that would favor the hard crushed surface of the towpath and I was thinking these paths were of the same construction…at some point.  From what I could see from that kiosk though, they were paved.  I headed south to find out more.

I managed about five miles before the paved path dumped onto a road and apparently ended.  I returned to the kiosk and with closer scrutiny, realized I should have continued a short distance on the road after which I would have picked up the bike trail again.  Oh well…another day.  I was soaked at that point – over an hour into my ride – and was thinking I might head home.  Another look at the map on the kiosk bulletin board though, and I found myself heading north along another paved section of trail that was completely surrounded by woods and rock ledges that climbed to the east and fell into steep ravines to the west, towards the Cuyahoga River far below.  Occasionally, I found myself riding over hard packed pieces of ice that had not yet melted and were the result of cross country skiers and hikers traversing these same trails and packing down the snow.  I rode another twenty minutes before reaching a point on the trail that was too icy for riding and turned for home, cold and soaked to the bone.

When I hit SR303 on my return, it was raining hard, the temperature was down 10 degrees and the bike was hydroplaning on the wet roads.  I was descending at 40 mph and thinking it wasn’t the best idea in the world, but I was a cowboy, after all.  I arrived home after more than two hours of riding, cold but elated.  It was my longest ride in a very long time and I felt good…and strong.  I had overcome elements that should have kept me in a warm, snug house, which was essential to getting a real exercise mojo back in place.  I spent ten minutes cleaning ‘Locke’, determined that it was not going to rust.

John stopped over for a spaghetti dinner and baseball movie.  We watched ‘42’, the riveting story of what baseball great Jackie Robinson was forced to endure to exercise his rights as a free American citizen, which he’d fought in WWII to preserve (he was a Lieutenant, but was dishonorably discharged after the war when he refused to move to the back of an Army transport bus, as the unwritten code of the Army required of all blacks).  It reminded me again of my decision about the naming of my own son after this American icon and hero and made me glad that I had.  I told John of my riding exploits, encouraging him to buy a similar bike, and laid out a rough plan of my thinking for hiking the North Country Trail.  “Only sixteen people have thru-hiked it to date.  Maybe I’ll be seventeen?” I said.

Just keep thinking, Butch, that’s what you’re good at.
Bike duration: Two hours and 15 minutes.
Training Heart Rate: 135 bpm.
Calories Burned: 1,700.
Bonus: 22,000 steps.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A satisfying ride on 'Locke'

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

I had managed two colder rides on ‘Locke’ prior to yesterday and loved the new bike.  It has the climbing gears I need to handle difficult terrain on long journeys and the steel frame is forgiving and responsive.  I can feel the difference it makes as I bump over the crappy roads in the valley.

I came home from work thinking about a ride and how cold my feet were likely to get.  I stopped at Horseshoe Pond to check on the trail conditions and was not surprised to find them extremely icy.  Dakota looked longingly at me when I opened the front door, but seemed to understand when I explained to her that hiking in the ice was just not an option.  It was that or guilt over eating another box of Kleenex.

I looked at the box and back at her.  She was cowering under my newly constructed counter in my office.  “Does it really taste that good?” I asked.  She hid her face.  Apparently, it did.

I pulled on my regular riding gear and supplemented with tights, riding mittens, my new head/face covering and a second set of socks.  I decided against the booties since it was forty degrees…a veritable heat wave.

Kathy had been warning me that she needed to do some training on hills for an upcoming ride she was going to do and so I climbed out of the valley in a heavier gear, pushing hard from the saddle and getting a good thigh burn.  As I reached the top I knew I’d be dropping down and then climbing out again.  I needed it.  I rode past Boston Mills and watched the ski lift carrying customers to the top for the brief glide down the hill.  Still, it was an interesting backdrop for a bike ride.

I passed two other riders as I cruised through the valley…both giving me enthusiastic ‘thumbs up’.  We were the few, the brave, the stupid…

I climbed once more out of the valley thinking I was doing myself some real good with the second effort.  I know I’m a very long way from good conditioning, but I could also feel the old determination that leads to difficult efforts and excellent results.  As I finished the climb, sweat coming down my face, my already cold feet and I knew what was coming.  The descent completed the foot freeze and I turned for home – thirty minutes away. 

I pulled into the driveway, dismounted, and walked on feet devoid of feeling.  It would take several minutes for the thaw, but I’d managed almost two hours of riding and felt fantastic.  ‘Locke’ is a hell of a bike and tomorrow is supposed to be in the forties, so I’ll hopefully hit the road for a second day in a row, which hasn’t happened in over a year!
Bike duration: One hour and 45 minutes.
Training Heart Rate: 135 bpm.
Calories Burned: 1,400.
Bonus: 21,000 steps.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

North Country National Scenic Trail...

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A friend who knows all about my keen interest in all things Adirondack sent me an article regarding forty miles of trails being designed as part of the North Country Trail within the boundaries of the park.  I had done some research on the North Country Trail while considering my retirement treks, but had discounted it as too long for a single season hike – 4,651 miles – and with too many miles on roads instead of trails – 1,500.  I also wanted to experience an adventure out west – of seeing some of the great, natural wonders that made up the Pacific Crest Trail, which passed through things like Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada’s, to name just two.  But then I began pondering all the difficulties of resupply and getting to and from the PCT and decided to look in earnest at the NCT.

Though the concept of the NCT had been in the works since the late 1960’s, it wasn’t until an act of Congress in March of 1980 that it received official designation as a National Scenic Trail.  Since then, thousands of volunteers have dedicated countless hours to bringing the trail to life.  It starts on Lake Champlain in northern New York and within the boundaries of the Adirondack State Park and begins winding its way west and south for a little over 700 miles before entering Pennsylvania at its northwestern corner.  It is only in that state for 272 miles before entering Ohio where is largely hiked on the Buckeye Trail for the next 1,000 miles.  It enters Michigan, the state with the most hiking miles – 1,152 - before moving into Wisconsin, Minnesota and finally North Dakota where it terminates two thirds of the way across that state.

I suppose the greatest appeal of the NCT would be its proximity to home and friends who might join me for parts of the hike or were willing to help with resupply.  To date, only 16 hikers have completed the entire trail in a single year, and I suppose this notable item appeals, as well.  Doing the math though, it would take over seven months, hiking an average of 20 miles a day, to complete. This may be a little out of my comfort zone.

And then I get back to the big question.  Why undertake such a thing at all?  I love the outdoors, hiking and camping, but this is way beyond any of that.  I could meet those needs in so many different ways yet my mind keeps returning to what most might think of as an insane endeavor.  It seems almost too selfish to do just for me.  I would be unavailable to friends and family for any help or support they might need for that entire time.  It would be all about me and that bothers me.  If I can’t turn it into a pulpit of some kind, I don’t see doing it and that's why I got in touch with my hiking and riding partner of the last twenty years to brainstorm something I'd been thinking about.  I already knew from speaking with John that hiking, camping and climbing in the wilderness can have immeasurable benefits for people struggling with depression and addictions.  I have seen the travesty things maladies visit on people I love and would gain great satisfaction from thinking there might be a way to aid anyone suffering in such a manner.  I suggested to him that there might be some way to tie in my endeavor with one he and his wife were working on - a way to help people struggling with both depression and addiction at the same time.  We have some time and will continue to explore any value my trek might have in raising awareness and as a direct aid. 

Monday was warm enough to ride and I thought about where and for how long I would go as soon as I got home from work.  I knew it might be my last chance to get outside for several days…or even weeks…and was extremely anxious to get home and get started.  I got into my car around three and had no sooner pulled out onto the road than the rain/snow began to fall.  By the time I got home, it was a full on snow storm and the ride was off.  Disappointed, I called to Dakota and we headed out on a 4-mile hike.  It’s still January after all and I should be happy I got in one ride!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Riding the new bike...

Sunday, January 28, 2018
I managed some major hikes over the past week putting in over 167,000 steps in seven days – 2,000 more than my previous best.  I had backed off on riding and running because the nagging pain in my right hamstring remained throughout the week; I felt it on most of those steps.  On Friday, I received the call I’d been waiting for though – my bike was ready for pick-up.

I drove to Performance Bike on Saturday after a couple of hours of raking up sticks and leaves in Mimi’s yard only to find the bike wasn’t REALLY ready.  Well…the bike was, but we couldn’t seem to get the attention of the head mechanic long enough to hand over the final labor tabulations so I could pay the balance.  After waiting thirty minutes and becoming increasingly frustrated, I announced that I had somewhere to be and would return in a couple of hours.

“Will that leave you enough time to figure out the balance and let me pay for the bike?” I asked the manager.

She knew my frustration was hitting the explosive point.  “I think I have all the information,” she said, looking at some hand written notes she held as she began ringing things on the register.

“Okay…replaced the brakes.  That’s $180 a set…”

Which was the last thing I let her say.  “Hold it!  I agreed to $130 for the set and you’re saying $180?  Look…you need to stop the mechanic, get the order form with the prices I agreed to and paid for last week or I’m leaving without the bike,” I said.

“Oh…um…well I can see Masato was being aggressive with the discounts on the brakes.  I was quoting the normal retail,” she said, tossing the man who’d sold me my bike and whom I trusted implicitly, completely under the bus.

“That’s between you and him and I don’t care how you handle it.  I agreed to a price, which was written down on the order form.  I’m paying that price or I’m paying nothing at all,” I said.

Fortunately, Masato had stopped by the store – he wasn’t working – and saw me.  He approached the counter and took over.  He told the manager that, in fact, the pricing was correct since he didn’t need all of the parts normally included in the brake set since he was using ones from the bike I’d purchased.  We concluded the deal quickly and satisfactorily once the order form was produced.  The manager apologized profusely…I had no respect for her not apologizing to the mechanic she’d tried to blame her error on, but that is just a style some people flow with – find someone else to blame instead of looking in the mirror.

Sunday was perfect for riding with temperatures in the high 40’s.  I had returned to Performance and bought a bike for Miggie from Masato right off the shelf.  She’d been trying to ride a clunky beast of a bike and never really got into it.  The new, light weight one we’d purchased fit her perfectly, had drop bars – which put you in a much more comfortable position when riding long distances, and, like mine, was a gravel bike and designed for riding on trails like the Towpath.

We headed out late afternoon, riding over to Hale Farm and Village on a paved path before taking to the road.  The gear shifters were in the brake system, as are most bikes these days and something I’m familiar with, but Miggie was not.  There is a learning curve with these things and she would get it, but the initial miles are scary.  She also had rat traps on the pedals and she had never ridden a bike where her foot was attached to the pedals and this was trouble for her, as well.  She also struggled on the little hills we encountered because she did not know how to come up out of the saddle and ride standing up when climbing.  The additional power this adds to each stroke is invaluable on difficult climbs, which is anything uphill when you’re out of shape.  She struggled, got off the bike a couple of times, but in the end did well and completed a 30-minute ride exhausted, but pleased with her effort.

I continued on for another 45 minutes before getting home just under the dark wire.  Though I now have lights for the bike, I will be reluctant to ride in the dark.  That may change, but old habits die hard.

Tomorrow I will share some new ideas about hiking the North Country Trail instead of the Pacific Crest.  It interests me, at least.
Bike duration: 45 minutes.
Training Heart Rate: 135 bpm.
Calories Burned: 640

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"We didn't know it was slippery..."

Monday, January 22, 2018
I was standing on a pasture of ice with a woman who had just brought out 11 horses for turn-out after having walked the same area and decided it was safe for the horses.  I’d seen her walking the area without the horses before turn-out, though she didn’t know that.

“It’s too icy here to bring them back in at the end of turn-out, John!  And it’s bad over in that chute and the ones in the other pastures.  Can you salt and get them ready in two hours?” she asked.

I knew that I could, but as I stood shakily on the ice and knowing that horses, with steel on the bottom of their hooves, must have had difficulty coming out, asked the obvious.

“Why did you bring 11 of them out in the first place?”

“We didn’t know it was this slippery!”

Okay…lie instead of taking responsibility.  I suppose that is one way, but it’s not the right way.  I didn’t call her on the lie, but she had to know I was a little smarter than that even if I didn’t lead horses.  I pointed out that a side gate to the pasture, which opened up onto grass that led back to the stalls, could be used safely and without the salt.

“Geez…we’ve never done that before.  I don’t know…”

Just because it made sense, would prevent the possibility of a horse breaking a leg or injuring a handler was not reason enough to do it.  I could see where it was going and laid down 500 pounds of salt over the next half hour and ran the tractor with the reveal, an attachment with steel teeth that would dig into and break up the ice, over the fields.  Take responsibility when you screw up, but more importantly, think of solutions and listen to suggestions of people who might just have something to offer even if it is outside the box, to fix it.  Oh well…

My sore hamstring muscle had been bothering me throughout the day.  Not too severely, but enough to tell me ‘no running or riding’.  I came home to an empty house as Holly had Dakota for the evening, so I elected to walk on the towpath into Peninsula.  It was a sloppy trail. The ice and snow pack had melted leaving a soft, slippery coating of unstable crushed limestone as the top layer.  I put on boots figuring the 4.5 mile walk would be a decent workout because of the conditions.  I also figured Miggie would suggest meeting me in town on her way home from work and that would become my return trip.  When she called as she was leaving work, I discovered otherwise.

“You’re walking into Peninsula?  When do you think you’ll be home?” she asked.

“Well…another hour and a half if I walk back…in the rain,” I said.

“Okay then.  I guess I’ll see you at home,” she said and hung up.

I arrived in the tiny hamlet and sat on a bench outside of my favorite restaurant, Fisher’s, for ten minutes enjoying the 60-degree temperature in the middle of January.  Dark was setting in and the drizzle was intensifying, so I got to my feet and began the journey back in boots that were anything but waterproof.

The 9-mile hike was the longest since my last trip to the Adirondacks.  It was easy except for the blister forming on the ball of my right foot and the dull ache in the buttocks/hamstring muscle I’d been feeling for two days.  It was a poor choice for someone mending from a slight muscle pull, but I’d never let those kind of sensible details deter me in the past, so why start now?  In reality, I should pay more attention to by body signals as I train for long distance backpacking because the aging process does nothing to reduce the chance of injury nor speed recovery.  Can one get smarter as he gets older?  Unlikely…
Hike: Two hours and 30 minutes.
Training Heart Rate:  90 bpm.
Calories burned: 1150.
Bonus: 31,000 steps.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Biking, hiking, and even running...

Sunday, January 21, 2018
Big things happened over the weekend and they began Friday with Alaska Paul coming to town and a 1-hour ride on the trainer.

I’ve been visiting bike stores and speaking ad nauseum to bike pundits about what my next purchase should be.  I want something that will ride well on the roads, where I will do the bulk of my training and still want to be able to have a modicum of speed, and that will perform on rail trails and other hard packed surfaces while carrying panniers and gear for camping and long distance travel.  No one has more practical information and experience in the latter kind of riding than Alaska Paul.  I picked him up Saturday morning from his folks’ house, which he is trying to sell.  He looked sore and tired.

“Where did you sleep last night?” I asked.

He indicated a spot on the floor over some thread-bare carpet where his coat lay.  “Right here.”

I had brought over a sleeping bag, bed roll and pillow so that he’d have something better for the remainder of the week.

“Don’t really need the bed roll (air mattress),” he said.

He could sleep on a pile of rocks, but why bother when you don’t have to?  I made him keep the bed roll.

We had breakfast at Kleifelds in Willoughby and they drove to Performance Bike in Mayfield.  I had tried to get a bike from a local dealer in Akron, but after three visits and interest in buying two bikes, he had not gotten back to me about having them in for a try.  I gave up.

Over the next two hours, we quizzed, explained and listened to what the salesman and repairman had to say about what I needed.  In the end, we all agreed my needs could be met by modifying a Jari bike with new handlebars and mechanical disc brakes to replace the existing hydraulics.  Hydraulics may be slightly superior in performance, but if they fail on a two-week bike trip, four hundred miles from the nearest bike store, I’d be carrying it back.  Not a good option.  It would have cost around $2,000 for a customized bike, but we managed to put together my adaptation for less than $1,300.  I will have to bring my Look pedals and profile bars for installation, but should have it up and running in less than two weeks!

I was still feeling the ride from yesterday when I returned home and suited up for a 3-mile run.  It had warmed to the point that I was wearing t-shirt and shorts and running over the hard pack of snow that still remained on the trails.  At about 20 minutes into the run, I felt a familiar, albeit unwelcome, twinge in my right, upper hamstring/buttocks muscles.  I ran another 10 minutes with the pain and then hopped on the bike for a 40-minute ride before collapsing in a blissful exercise fatigue. 

I used Sunday for healing though I did manage a 3-mile hike on some icy trails at Horseshoe Pond.  Running will go on hold for several days and I’ll need to hold myself to 15 minutes when I start up again.  At least I finally feel that I’m making progress.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"Something cool happened, dad..."

Tuesday, January 16, 2017

Though I have not been writing about it, I’ve had a good fitness start to 2018.  I’ve managed one 20-minute run, gotten my bike back on the trainer and ridden for an hour and hit a record 35,000 steps for a single day.  I’m also counting down the days until retirement – 348 – with relish for what will follow.

The search for a new bike continues.  I took UB Express in for a tune-up so I could put it on the trainer while planning for the purchase of a ‘gravel’ bike I could ride both on the roads and on gravel surfaces, such as the towpath.  I stopped in to pick it up last week.

“Umm…yeah…I didn’t do anything on it.  I don’t think you should put any more money into this bike with the frame issues,” the owner said.

He went on to explain that although the carbon fiber part of the frame would last another billion years, the resin that binds it together is failing and that the frame could fail catastrophically at any time.

“So…you might be sitting on the post instead of a seat, if you know what I mean,” he concluded.

I did know and now, after 25 years, UB Express will be sidelined, stripped of useable parts, and scrapped.  Thanks for a couple of years of good riding, UB.  I will have to break the news to my Uncle Bill delicately.  He’d put the first 23 years on the bike and was so proud of it.

More importantly, Jack called me yesterday around three.  He never calls during work hours, so I knew something was up.

“Something really cool happened today, dad.  We had a brigade meeting and a Lieutenant General – that’s a three-star – spoke to the group.  I was called forward with one other soldier and he gave me one of his coins!” he said, excitedly.  “Do you know what that is?”

I didn’t and he explained that it represented the rank of the soldier and was a piece all soldiers carried.  He did mention something about soldiers pulling them out when drinks were ordered.  I’m pretty sure the highest ranking coin did not pay.  Jack will never pay again.

He said he was so honored because he’d been recently promoted, been recognized as soldier of the month and received a perfect fitness score of 300, which means he ran two miles under 13 minutes (he’s never had trouble with that) and did 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups in whatever the allotted time is – I think three minutes. 

“His name is Lieutenant General Paul M. Nakasone and he talked to me.  He said, ‘you’ve been a busy soldier’,”.

I looked him up and discovered he is the current commander of the Second Army and has the Cyber Command, as well.  That means he’s the top guy in Jack’s line of work. I could see why he’d be so excited, but his achievements don’t surprise me.  He is dedicated to his work, his conditioning, and the Army and not necessarily in that order. 

Yesterday was brutally cold, but I walked into Peninsula to have ribs with Miggie.  The snow was reasonably hard packed on the towpath, but did create more effort with each step and the walk in took about 80 minutes and left me with over 27,000 steps for the day.  Miggie has been reading ‘Wild’, the true story of one woman’s experience walking the Pacific Crest Trail and the story that inspired me to consider doing the same.  I think she is finally getting what an undertaking this could be and was quite amazed at what the woman achieved.  So am I.