Oct 312013
Not exactly the sort of picture that makes you want to go do anything outside.

Not exactly the sort of picture that makes you want to go do anything outside.

I just couldn’t take it any more.

My hip hasn’t hurt for a few days. This would be a good thing, except that I finally have my appointment with the orthopedist tomorrow to find out what’s been wrong with it for more than a year. Hard to convince a doctor that there’s something wrong, when it’s not wrong right then.

I haven’t run in three weeks. I’ve been doing more than a little cycling, but I haven’t run more than a few steps since falling apart at my last half marathon. And honestly, I miss it. I miss moving fast under my own power, I miss the rhythm of my breathing with my footsteps, and I miss being able to take my dog around the neighborhood in less than an hour. Seriously, I never realized just how time consuming it is to walk the dog, until I had to walk the dog. Ugh.

I had been moping around the house all day, the weather contaminating my mood until I was blerching it out on the couch, playing Xbox and eating stuff. Any kind of stuff. Finally, I shook it off. I needed a run, or at least a jog. That it was gusting and spitting rain outside was irrelevant. I’ve got rain gear for that.

So I ran anyway. Despite the weather, and my cruddy mood, and my ongoing injuries, and the inviting, comfortable glow of my TV, I ran anyway. And it was fantastic. I took Max with me, and we sluffed along at a 10 minute mile for a little over three miles. It was windy, and we were wet, and I was sweating under my rain jacket. But it was glorious. It felt so good to be out running, and it felt better to be out when others would choose not to be.

My hip only hurt the slightest bit, so maybe that’s a hopeful sign. I’ve said before that I never really started running until somebody told me I couldn’t. It might make me a hard headed bastard, but that sort of thing continues to be pretty solid motivation, for me. If I’m hurt, if the weather’s crappy, I just want to run anyway.

Oct 302013

303a1It’s that time of year, again. time for raking leaves, dressing your kids up as scary/cute things, breaking out your favorite hoodies, and screaming slurred expletives at college football games.

And growing moustaches.

That’s right, boys and girls, it’s almost Movember, the time of year where I allow a hilarious little fuzz strip to inhabit my upper lip, for your amusement and for charity! And not just any charity. Movember’s purpose is to raise money specifically to fight Man Cancer. We’re talking about prostate and testicular cancers. They aren’t pretty, and so they don’t get as much attention as, say, boobs. That’s understandable. But ignoring Man Cancer isn’t.

My maternal grandfather had prostate cancer, and it eventually claimed his life. He taught me many things as a kid, but the most important lessons were those of character and integrity. He worked hard every day of his life, and for the whole time I knew him, did it sporting a fantastic moustache.

So in his honor, starting 1 Movember, I’m declaring a thirty-day hiatus on shaving in my upper lip region. I’ll be posting regular, hilarious updates as to my… er… “progress” for you to follow, like and share. And this year, I’m upping the ante.

Last Movember, I ran a little contest each week to let people name my ‘stache when they donated. While that was humiliating for me and fun for you, I don’t think it involved enough pain and suffering on my part to keep you all engaged. So this year, I’m going to match you, mile for dollar, all month long.

That’s right. You donate a dollar, I run, ride or row a mile. I’ll post proof of my mileage on here along with updates on my fuzzy little lip friend. Now because you people have surprised me before, and because I may occasionally have to go to work this month, I have to cap the mileage total at 500. But that ain’t nothing. It’ll represent my single biggest total in a month all year, and fully 1/4 of the miles I’ve posted so far. But if you’ve got the cash, I’ve got the time.

Let’s do this. Click the link below to donate, share this page with your friends, and let’s team up to help stop Man Cancer in its tracks!


Oct 292013

302I’m not the only one gearing up for fall! Katie scored this cute, lightweight jacket at Target the other day. It’s the perfect cut and build for outdoor activity in the autumn chill, and as you may have noticed, she’s pretty excited about it.

Oct 282013


The tiny holes the arrows above are pointing to are referred to as a snake bite. Usually, a snake bite is the result of inadequate tire pressure, which allows the tube to become pinched between the tire and rim when encountering a square-edged obstacle. But in this case, it’s down to a rider forgetting that he wasn’t on a fat tire bike, and failing to hop the front wheel over the lip of a driveway apron. Oops…

Thankfully I had a spare tube with me, so it didn’t hamper my ride. The driveway was my sister’s, and I was there to take advantage of a warm fall day for a little sibling pedal. She currently rides a hybrid, and was worried that I’d brought my “fast bike.” But I got my speed fix on the way there, sprinting the 13 miles in just over 40 minutes, including my 2nd best ever effort up Lower Valley Pike to the dam. After I swapped to my spare tube, we meandered through the city to the bike path by UD, then detoured around the construction through downtown, before rejoining the path at Riverscape. We rolled through Eastwood and up the Creekside and Iron Horse paths back to her neighborhood, completing a pleasant and leisurely 15 miles, before I turned back and cruised home.

On the day, I turned in just over 40 miles on the road bike, which felt good. It had been a little while (almost three weeks! The shame!) since she’d seen any work, and it was nice to feel the easy speed of skinny tires and smooth pavement again.

Oct 262013

The Dayton area was recently graced with a visit from one of IMBA’s Trail Care crews. They travel all around the country to local mountain bike clubs and land management organizations, teaching sustainable trail building skills and giving advice on projects. We spent the morning in a classroom session, talking about different techniques for solving trail building problems and munching on bagels. After lunch, we headed over to MoMBA and broke ground on a new trail section in Hawk’s Lair, and put our new knowledge to practical use. The twenty or so of us made quick work of the section we were cutting in, and it was remarkable to see how a blank hillside could turn into rideable trail so quickly. It was definitely a cool way to spend a Saturday, giving back to the trail system that has given me so much, and I look forward to my next opportunity to cut more new trail!

The morning classroom session. Powerpoint hell, punctuated with cool mountain biking videos.

The morning classroom session. Powerpoint hell, punctuated with cool mountain biking videos. Also, Jim’s funny hat.

The volunteer crew. Pretty good turnout!

The volunteer crew. Pretty good turnout! Don’t mind me…

Playing in the dirt! This is what bench cutting looks like.

Playing in the dirt! This is what bench cutting looks like.

Checking the downslope with the McLeod tool.

Checking the downslope with the McLeod tool.

The finished product! Although not really. This is only a small section of a half-mile, black-diamond trail addition to the park.

The finished product! Although not really. This is only a small section of a half-mile, black-diamond trail addition to the park.

Oct 252013

298One thing about getting a new bike, any new bike, is that it seems like you can’t just get the bike and ride it. This can be good or bad, depending on your perspective, but I think it’s kinda fun. Since my new ‘cross bike is likely to see all sorts of duty through the winter, after the race season is over, I figured it would be wise to kit it out with what I consider the essentials.

This is the cage and pump combo I ordered from Lezyne, which is quickly becoming my favorite bike accessory company. Their stuff is well engineered and attractively designed, without the horrendous price point that usually accompanies those two things. I’m still waiting on my tail bag, which is the same one I got for my road bike. When it’s here, I’ll toss some tire levers and a spare tube in it, along with a multitool.

If I end up riding through the winter as much as I think I will, I may invest in some fenders and a rack mount for cargo, as well. This could end up being my do-everything bike, although if it does, that’ll require different tires…

See what I mean? You can’t just get the bike.

Oct 242013
Not every small, square box is filled with chocolate.

Not every small, square box is filled with chocolate.

One of the unfortunate discoveries I made while cleaning off my mountain bike the other day was that my pedals had become… crunchy. They still worked, but the bearings had gotten stiff, likely the result of too much abuse and too little love. I went ahead and transferred them to the Delta anyway, but during my ‘cross race, I had serious trouble getting clipped in on the left side. Not a good problem to have in a race with required dismounts.

So I’ll need to send them in to CrankBrothers for service, but I can’t be stuck sans-pedals in the mean time. So it was off to Amazon, where I found a deal on these Candy 2s. They’re almost the same pedal as the (now discontinued) Candy SLs they replace, with the exception of having a full metal cage, instead of plastic. I’ve heard rumors of quality control problems at CB over the past few years, so here’s hoping they hold up just as well as my old set!

Oct 232013
Somebody wanna tell me why they need two 'M's? Never understood that.

Somebody wanna tell me why they need two ‘M’s? Never understood that.

I’ve had to do an inordinate amount of clothes shopping this year. I don’t normally enjoy it, since it involves, well, shopping. I’m fond of telling my wife that I don’t go shopping, I go buying. But for clothes, you usually don’t have much of a choice. Anyway, when it comes to shopping for clothes because my old ones are too big, I’m willing to make an exception.

Last summer, as I trained for my first half marathon, I discovered that XL t-shirts had become baggy on me. This was underlined when I picked up my packet and shirt for the Air Force Half. I registered early in the year, when XL was still the norm. But by the time the race rolled around in September, the shirt hung off me like a nightgown.

This year, as shorts weather has given way to jeans weather, I’ve found that almost none of my fall clothes fit me any more. I’m down two pants sizes from 2011, and it seems that now I’m down two shirt sizes as well. I have to shop carefully, so I can get medium tops that are long enough in the sleeve, but I’m starting to swim in some of my Large stuff. Never did I imagine myself wearing a medium anything, since I haven’t since High School. But a growing portion of my wardrobe now sports an M where there once was an L, from bike shorts and boxers to t-shirts and sweaters. It’s the sort of thing that can make shopping fun.

Oct 222013

There are very few pieces of gear I own that I would characterize as perfect. This is one of them.

I’m shocked I haven’t mentioned this piece of gear before, because it’s on my back just about every time I throw a leg over my mountain bike. But when I saw it hanging in the garage looking like this, I’m glad I didn’t, because this picture really sums up how awesome it is.

This is my Osprey Raptor hydration pack, and it is amazing. Every detail of the pack is meticulously designed and engineered to be equal parts bombproof and useful, from the cinch straps, to the helmet mount, to the waterproof phone pocket. The bite valve is easily the best I’ve used on any pack from any manufacturer, and it’s paired with a bladder that should be the industry standard..

The retention system is possibly the best feature of the pack, if one could be chosen. The straps are wide and ergonomically curved, and the waist band sits right on top of your hips, taking the load off your shoulders. This is crucial when hiking or biking with the pack loaded up and full of water, because it prevents fatigue. Honestly, you barely notice it’s there, even when it has 20+ lbs of gear and water in it. And it’ll hold all of that securely enough to never bounce or jostle while mountain biking.

I picked up the pack in California in 2011, and since then, it’s seen thousands of miles of use and abuse in every imaginable condition. I’ve crashed in it, landed on it, and raced with it, and all I’ve ever had to do was replace one worn-out bladder. If you’re looking for a pack, stop. And buy an Osprey. There just isn’t anything better.

Oct 212013
This is what a bike with a hangover looks like.

This is what a bike with a hangover looks like.

I committed a cardinal sin after the MoMBA XC Classic. I went home, changed clothes, drank some coffee… And didn’t clean my bike. At all. Not even the chain. I know, I know, I’m a bad cyclist. But I just couldn’t persuade myself to go back out in the cold and hose the thing off, and then clean/oil/grease everything.

So today was the day of reckoning. I rolled the bike out and put it on the stand, and gave it a thorough scrubbing, before assessing the damage. The chain wasn’t much worse for wear, surprisingly, with just a few spots of surface rust that’ll clean up with use. The rear brake, on the other hand… It’s totally gone. The reason it sounded like a freight train for the last half a lap was because the pad material was completely gone, and I was using metal on metal to try and stop the bike. The caliper was frozen up as well.

Beyond a simple wash, what this bike needs is to be torn down to the bearings and inspected, then rebuilt. Seeing as I don’t have time for any of those things, I cleaned it up and took it to my mechanic, Chris, for him to sort through. I should have it back in a couple weeks, good as new!

I think my chain might need cleaned.

I think my chain might need cleaned.

Oct 202013
Chipped, bibbed, and cow-belled. Time for some 'cross racing!

Chipped, bibbed, and cow-belled. Time for some ‘cross racing!

When one has acquired a new bicycle, the only logical next step is to go race it. Right?

So imagine my giddy surprise when I found out that the Ohio Valley Cyclocross (OVCX) series was coming to my back yard this weekend! That the race fell the morning after the MoMBA XC Classic was no deterrent. Have new bike, must race!

I’ve tried CX before, but never on a proper bike, so I hoped to do well. I held no illusion of being truly competitive, but I thought maybe I’d at least hold on to the tail end of the pack. And anyway, my goal was just to go out and learn, since I have all of 5 miles on this bike.

Race morning was cold, but a brilliant sunrise replaced the clouds and rain from yesterday. I showed up 90 minutes before my wave was to start, got registered, and eyed the course while the previous waves went off. It didn’t look all that bad from the sidelines, at least.

The atmosphere was buzzing. Hundreds of riders swirled around the parking areas, in various stages of bike prep, warming up, or spectating until their races started. Music blasted from loudspeakers, interspersed with two very experienced announcers calling the races like professional sportscasters, and recognizing racers by name. This was no mom-n-pop bike race, this was the real deal! I felt at once like I was in over my head, and jazzed about being a part of something so hugely impressive.

There were two races before mine, and between waves, they were allowing a short gap for riders to preview the course. I got kitted up and pedaled around while the second race wrapped up, leaving my hoodie on as long as possible. I figured at race pace, that I’d be warm enough, and I can take the cold for a mere 30 minutes, anyway. But that didn’t mean I wanted to freeze before the thing even started.

Having a laugh after call-ups.

Having a laugh after call-ups.

As the leaders from the race before mine started to come across the finish, they opened the rest of the course for sighting laps. I rolled onto the grass and started circulating, trying very hard not to look like it was my first time. I’m not sure I succeeded.

The course itself seemed fast overall, not terribly bumpy and not chock full of obstacles. The hardest feature for me was the sheer number of muddy, off-camber corners, which would require me to test the limits of my comfort zone, and the limits of traction on my new bike. Line choice wasn’t hard to figure out, as the previous two waves had worn a pretty obvious path through each turn, but as the day went on, those lines would become sloppier.  There were two log-overs that I likely would have hopped over with more experience on the bike, and two plank-overs that required a dismount from everyone, regardless of skill.

My favorite obstacle was the sand traps. I got a little experience riding in the sand when I was in North Carolina last year, so I knew to just plow through them with as much speed as possible, and let the bike go where it wanted to go. In the races before mine, a whole lot of riders found themselves underneath their bikes in the sand, but it wasn’t as much a worry, for me. I gather from talking to other riders that that makes me weird.

I finished my sighting lap and coasted down to the start area to wait for call-ups. Despite the appearance of being a simple mash-up of road cycling and mountain biking, CX is its own sport, with its own set of lingo to learn. Start order is set by call-ups, wherein the race organizer racks and stacks the riders based on some criteria, or by his personal preference. They are so named because you wait in a gaggle until the director calls you up to the line.

Then there are hand-ups, wherein people standing just outside the tape will try to hand things (beer, money, swag) to the riders as they come by. Most hand-ups happen at the least opportune times, such as in the middle of a sand pit, to add to the challenge (or create opportunities to crash, depending on one’s perspective). And don’t forget run-ups, barriers and pits… I’m still learning.

The size of the field for my race was impressive, and unlike any bike event I’ve started this year. There were 58 total starters in my wave, and I was gridded almost at the back, thanks to registering at the last moment, and not having any previous results to move me up. That was fine with me, as I figured on being a rolling chicane for the first lap anyway, and I didn’t want to get run over.

A voice ahead called 10 seconds to the start, and 58 shoes clicked into pedals in acknowledgement. Then we were off! The whole collection of us surged forward, and I stood on the pedals to charge, only to be sat right back down. The short start chute gave way to a collection of tight corners, and we were gridlocked. This underlines the importance of your starting position in a CX race, something I’ll have to remember when I get more competitive.

The start was exciting! And then it was gridlock.

The start was exciting! And then it was gridlock.

Tiptoeing through the corners, like a newb.

Tiptoeing through the corners, like a newb.

I held my line as best I could through the opening sections, trying in vain to gain a few positions while we were packed so close together. Then the course opened up, and the riders around me poured on the speed, and I was surprised at how easily they slipped away from me! I was staying with them in the straights and gaining on the brakes, but my mid corner speed was awful, and my corner exits were so tentative that I couldn’t pull them back.

The course wound around the trees, took us over a couple logs, and then zigzagged into the woods for a short section of singletrack. I was hanging on to a few riders yet, but working hard to do it. When we got out of the woods, there was a short dash across the gravel to another curvy section, this time with more mud, and I got left. The corners in this section were faster and more sweeping, but with even less traction than the other parts of the course, leading me to throw out the anchor and wobble through.

I found dismounting for obstacles less challenging than anticipated.

I found dismounting for obstacles less challenging than anticipated.

... where'd everybody go?

… where’d everybody go?

I came across the finish line on my first lap sucking wind and all alone, the field stretching off ahead of me. That was fine, as I was just out here to learn, but I had hoped to hang on a little longer. Still, there was one rider behind me, and I made it my goal to stay ahead of him, no matter what. If it was to be a race for next-to-last, then that was the race I was going to win, and I used that little motivation to keep the throttle pushed forward.

Having lost track of the riders ahead of me, it was down to simple experimentation, trying to learn how to ride this cyclocross thing. I played around with different lines in different types of corners, tried different braking techniques, and started pushing the bike into a slide when I felt comfortable, all while hammering on the pedals as hard as I could in the straights. I realized that I was a little tired from yesterday, but not so much that I couldn’t hit it pretty hard.

One lasting impression from this race will be the crowd. Short track racing is an excellent spectator event already, but I was impressed with how lively and fun this bunch was, and how positive. Even though I was clearly out there struggling, working hard to go slow, it didn’t deter anybody from cheering and clapping as I came by, offering hand-ups and encouragement. One guy in particular made it a point to get right next to the ribbon as I came by, clapping and yelling “you’re doing it!” That meant a lot to me, getting my butt kicked as soundly as I was, and it kept my attitude in check. I was doing it, even if I wasn’t doing it every well, and that means something. I remembered some advice I got a few years back at a motorcycle track day: “You’re upright, pointed the right direction and on two wheels, so you’ve already got most of it right.”

Deep sand, always a favorite for a cyclist...

Deep sand, always a favorite for a cyclist…

I came around a corner and onto the pavement by the finish line for the third time, and looked up to see a guy with a radio, waving his arms for me to stop. The organizers decided to pull me off, and he said they’d place me. I was a little bummed. I know it was unlikely my position would have changed, but I at least wanted the dignity of having run the same distance as the leaders. And anyway, I was learning the whole time, getting faster every lap, and I wanted another go to see how much faster I could get. But it wasn’t to be. I would be credited with 57th of 58 in my wave, and 45th of 46 in my category.

My baseline goals any time I try a new race are 1. to finish, 2. to not crash too hard, and 3. to not finish last. I accomplished those things, so I can’t be too disappointed. The racer in me is horrified at being left for dead, but given the mitigating circumstances, I have to be satisfied at having gone out, and raced, and learned. And even though I sucked, I can’t wait to do it again!

Less shiny, more muddy. That's more like it.

Less shiny, more muddy. That’s more like it.