Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Overheard at the Gym Today

Man: Six weeks from now, we'll be out on our bikes.

Woman: More like nine or more.

Man: Really?

Woman: People in Maine never seem to remember that the earliest we see clear roads and good-enough weather is the third week of April. Never before then.

Man: So what you're saying is maybe by the first week of May.

Woman: Unless it's raining continuously.

Man 2, interjecting: Maybe you should just say the fourth of July.

Man, laughing: Okay, now I'm really depressed.

So much for my hope/plan that I would be out on my road bike training during the entire month of March!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Riding Through the Muck (Day -48)

I missed a few days of riding because the dirt roads around here became too soft. Nice weather, and a nice hint of spring to come, but not good fat biking. Today, I got out there early, before the road softened up too much. Even so, my bike was absolutely coated in mud when I was done. My brother thinks my readers deserve to see that I actually ride and don't just talk about riding, so he took these photos.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Jackson Homestead

This week, I visited the Jackson Homestead in Newton, Massachusetts, with my sister and niece. The house is now a small museum but was once a "station" on the Underground Railroad. While there are many homes that are officially on the National Historic Register for once being stops on the Underground Railroad, most of them are privately owned and not open to the public.

We learned about the slave trade in New England.

Frida demonstrated how little space each captured person had in the hold of a slave ship. When I got in it, my shoulders didn't even fit.

We learned about one man's escape from slavery; he shipped himself to a free state in a box.

Frida crawled in a box of the same shape and size to demonstrate how cramped Henry "Box" Brown must have been during transit. After arriving in Philadelphia, Brown was sent on to New York and then to Francis Jackson in Boston. Francis Jackson was the brother of William Jackson, a former owner of the Jackson home we were visiting.

In the photo below, the red and blue blocks illustrate how many blacks (compared to whites) there were in Boston (blue) and Newton (red) during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The dramatic dip shows the effect that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 had on the black population. Before the law was passed, escaped slaves were safely free once they were in a free state. After the law was passed, escaped slaves could be re-captured and returned to slavery--even from a "free" state--so many former slaves fled to Canada in order to ensure their freedom.

The museum does a good job of explaining some of the complexity of slavery and abolition. The map (below) of Newton shows that slaveholders and enslaved people lived next door to antislavery activists and free blacks. Sometimes the same house represents both. The Jackson Homestead was originally owned by Edward Jackson, who was a slaveholder. When his grandson William owned the home, it was used to provide safe haven to those escaping slavery.

Most homes used as stations on the Underground Railroad didn't actually hide escaped slaves in tiny cupboards and crawl spaces. Usually they were simply sheltered and fed and then taken to another shelter. Jackson family folklore has it that this dried-up well in the basement was occasionally used to hide escaped slaves.

After we left the Jackson Homestead, we drove to Beacon Hill to find two other sites related to the Underground Railroad. We found the African Meeting House on Joy Street (formerly used to host meetings of abolitionists), and the former home of Lewis Hayden on Phillips Street. Lewis Hayden escaped slavery and went on to be a prominent abolitionist; he provided shelter to others escaping slavery as well.

In the photo below, Frida has jumped out of the car and is snapping a photo of the plaque hanging on the outside of the former Hayden residence--now privately owned and not open to the public.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

More Winter Riding

What kind of creature leaves these tracks?

Answer: A person wearing studs on her feet who is walking her fat bike down the driveway and trying not to skid on the treacherous slab of ice that lies hidden under that innocent-looking snow.

When I go out for a ride, I wear my Stabilicers to get down the driveway. Then I take them off and leave them in my trash bin at the bottom of the driveway. I have also been leaving my Moose Mitts in the trash bin, so they're handy in case I need them. I haven't used them yet, which surprises me. I thought, based on what I had read, that I would need them when the temperature was below 32 degrees F. In reality, I have been having more trouble keeping my toes warm than my fingers.

I have been continuing to ride on my road. No more dramatic spills, I'm glad to report. Every day the conditions change. In fact, sometimes the conditions change from one moment to the next throughout a ride. This has been a sobering realization. I'd hate to be stuck out in the middle of the woods on a trail when everything softened up and became unrideable. I had romantic notions of what fat biking would be like before I actually started riding. (For example, check out the photos in this article and this blog.) Now that I have read more about what it takes to create and maintain a fat-bike trail (like this trail system in Wisconsin), I'm realizing how new fat biking is to Maine. I don't think we have a single trail in the state that is created and maintained for this purpose. I'm lucky to live where I live because I can ride pretty much every day.

One great side benefit of all this training: I am enjoying winter! Probably more than I have in a decade or more. (It helps as well that I can stay home and avoid driving during the worst of the snowstorms.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

First Wipeout

It appears there was some kind of turkey convention at the bottom of my driveway this morning.

My ride today, again on my road, was quite different from yesterday's ride. We had received about an inch of snow overnight, so the world was newly white and fresh.

I thought I would be more comfortable on today's ride. After all, it was 22 degrees F--warmer than yesterday. LESSON 1: It's not all about the temperature. I actually felt more cold today. There was no sun and the wind was blowing at 11 mph. During much of my ride, there were big, fat snowflakes falling. Quite pretty.

I have renewed respect for winter athletes. It is really challenging to work this hard when the bitter cold is assaulting your muscles and everything else as well.

When riding on snow, the tires of my bike make such loud squeaky-crunchy sounds that I keep thinking there is traffic approaching from behind me. Today I was taken by surprise when a vehicle passed me. LESSON 2: Just because the bike tires give me false warnings sometimes doesn't mean I can stop paying attention entirely.

I was surprised to discover a couple of spots along the road where my bike unexpectedly fishtailed. LESSON 3: Until tire chains are purchased and used, this is probably the deepest snow my bike and I can handle.

About three miles into my ride, I had my first wipeout. It happened so fast, I went down on my side with the bike--like I was glued to it.

Do you see anything here that is particularly troublesome or concerning--that might cause a wipeout? Exactly. LESSON 4: When headed for a spot at which your bike has fishtailed twice already, it might be wise to avoid riding straight through that spot again. LESSON 5: This experience reaffirms my decision not to ride on regular roads; this wipeout on a regular road would have put my head right under a car. LESSON 6: Any doubts I had about needing a full-face helmet have been laid to rest.

I didn't get hurt in this fall. (Correction: Turns out that I ended up with a large, deep bruise just below the outside of my left knee. It was in such a weird place, though, that it didn't prevent me from continuing to train.) Notice that my first inclination, while still on the ground, was to get up and take pictures! LESSON 7: Falling in the snow is way better than falling on pavement. (This time, there were no bruises or scrapes and no torn clothing.) LESSON 8: Those very wide, straight handlebars serve a good purpose during a fall. They protect the cockpit; it's almost like having a roll bar.

When I stopped riding because of this fall, my glasses immediately fogged over and I had a devil of a time getting them functional again. LESSON 9: Always carry a good glasses-wiping cloth.

I may have just fallen, but check out this great view looking south downriver:

I finished the rest of my ride without incident. Needless to say, I stopped carving out new ground through the snow and stuck to the well-used tracks.

I used the Road Bike app on my phone to record my entire ride again today. I kept the phone in an interior jacket pocket this time, though. When I finished my ride, my phone still had a 65% charge. LESSON 10: Keep the phone protected from the worst of the brutal cold.

Isn't it great when a simple hour-and-a-half workout yields so many educational opportunities?

[Update: The photo below doesn't illustrate it as well as I'd hoped, but it turns out there was a very deep rut buried by snow--right where I had my wipeout. I think a tire either got caught in the rut or fell into it. Needless to say, I've been avoiding this rut ever since.]

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Disaster Redeemed

I spent yesterday working on the fat bike brakes. All day. No exaggeration. From mid morning until well into the night. After I had worked for over an hour on the front brakes (back and forth, repeating the same steps over and over and over, every time hoping that time would be the magic one), I gave up, took a short food break, and switched to the rear brakes. In less than ten minutes, I had the rear brakes adjusted just right. Tight enough to have good stopping power, and no drag at all--perfect. This reassured me enough that I switched back to working on the front brakes. I tried everything. I researched online for more tips, I tried creative approaches with shims and washers. Still, I could not get those brakes adjusted right. I ended up leaving them with a little bit of drag. I figured it was better to have a little drag than not enough stopping power. Thankfully this doesn't apply to everything in my life, but there are things that I have such a hard time leaving alone when they are less than perfect!

I have been having trouble identifying places to ride. Not for lack of research or enthusiasm. I have swung by a few snowmobile trailheads near my house, only to be discouraged that the snow there was deep and soft--not packed down by snowmobile traffic. I have looked for other trailheads that remain elusive--some of the maps I have found online are rough approximations. I'm thinking you kind of have to know where some of these trailheads are in order to find them in the wintertime.

I decided that today was going to be my day for a nice, long trail ride. I packed my fat bike on my car using the new bike rack, loaded a bunch of gear in the car, and headed out. (Look how filthy my car is! I had just washed it the day before. Trying to keep it clean this time of year is an endless losing battle.)

My first destination was a mountain biking trail in Augusta. I might have found the trailhead; I did see footprints heading into the woods. There was no place to park, though, that wasn't right next to a fire hydrant, and the snow looked too deep and soft. So, then, I headed to a trail system in Waterville. I definitely found the trailhead and it looked perfect! The snow looked well-packed and there was no problem with parking. I add the fenders to the bike, threw on my helmet and backpack, and took off.

Not so fast! Riding around the parking lot worked great but, once I headed down the trail, I couldn't move! The wheels just spun; they wouldn't grab any traction. Great, just great. I loaded everything back onto/into the car and headed back home. The whole way home I was doing this catastrophizing thing I can do so well. What if I don't find anywhere to ride my fat bike? What if I can't do the workouts I need to do to prepare for my trip? Etc., etc., etc.

When I got home, instead of going in the house, I jumped on the fat bike and rode up and down my road--five round trips. Turns out that, in these conditions (18 degrees F, sunny, 6 mph wind), my road is the perfect place to ride. Packed snow and dirt surface, enough hills to get a workout, no car traffic, pretty views. I ended up riding over ten miles (a little more than an hour). I felt I had had a good workout and, surprisingly, I did not get bored.

Good News:
  • If I can't ride on snowmobile trails as much as I had planned, maybe I can ride on remote (quiet) dirt roads. I guess more research is called for. Of course, once the weather warms up and these dirt roads become pea-soup soft, a Plan C will be required.
  • It was cold today, but I seemed to have the right clothing on for this ride. I was a little cold when I was heading northeast (into the wind) and a little warm when I was heading southwest (toward the sun). Any colder or windier, and I would need my Moose Mitts to keep my hands warm.
  • I love my fenders! They didn't impede my pedaling even once, they protected me and the bike from flying road/snow debris, and the rear one did not slide down the seat tube at all (as some reviews had led me to anticipate).
  • The bar mount for my phone gives me easy access to it, but I guess I should research gloves that conduct through the fingertips so I don't have to remove them to operate the phone.
  • The app I used to record my ride (Road Bike) worked great--right up until the phone completely died (see Bad News). 
  • Not once did I hear the front brakes dragging. In fact, the brakes worked so well that I didn't even think about them until the ride was over.
Bad News:
  • During the first four miles or so of my ride, the seat felt comfortable. Then, discomfort took over. Good wake-up moment. I need to get a lot more saddle time in to get adjusted to that discomfort so I don't notice it any more.
  • My hands and wrists were the most uncomfortable parts of me on this ride. The hand position on straight handlebars does not feel comfortable after a few miles and there are only so many ways to creatively change positions. I'll have to experiment with gel pads, etc. I will be happy to switch to my road bike and have all those additional hand-placement options.
  • The tube to my hydration pack froze up solid. No surprise there! I was wearing the pack mostly to assess whether I would find cycling with water on my back to be comfortable--and it is. I guess the hydration pack won't work very well in this weather, unless I come up with warming strategies for that tube. (Update: My son says there are insulated covers made for those water tubes. Of course there are.)
  • Riding around in this kind of cold drains the phone's battery really quickly. I guess during this cold I should carry the phone against me inside my jacket, and maybe not continuously use the trip-recording app. More experimentation is warranted. I probably should explore options for powering the phone (maybe a backup battery for the tour?) and for recording sporadic "moments" along a ride instead of recording the entire ride. 
  • I had been planning to take photos during this ride--but the whole phone-dying thing interfered with that idea.
All in all, a good day and a successful ride. Strange way to get to this result. Put the bike on the car and drive around for an hour and a half, and then ride the bike straight out of my driveway.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sure Route to Intimidation

When I read a couple of bloggers' accounts of their journeys along the Underground Railroad route, I learned that the route through Alabama is pretty but not too hilly. Then, traveling through the foothills of Tennessee and Kentucky becomes a bit of a hilly grind. Now that I have poured over the maps (great maps!), I can see these changes in topography. Each little map is accompanied by a profile view of the elevation changes. Check these out.

Below is a profile view of about 29 miles in Tennessee. Doesn't this look intimidating? Both the uphills and downs look steep enough to fall off.

By contrast, check out this 28-mile stretch in Kentucky, right along the Indiana border.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Lower Body Workout (Day -65)

I'm still working out at a gym six days a week. So far, I haven't been able to get my workouts on any schedule. I just get there when I get there. I guess as long as I'm getting in there and working out, it's all good.

As I mentioned in another post, I begin my workouts with aerobic time on a stationary bike, then move on to weight work on my abs and back, then stretch out. During the weight-lifting part of my daily workouts, I alternate between upper body workouts and lower body workouts. Today was a Lower Body day. That means that I did at least two exercises to work on each of these sets of muscles:
Quadriceps: (ex.: Leg Press, Dumbbell Squats)
Hamstrings: (ex.: Lying Leg Curls, Straight-Leg Deadlifts)
Calves: (ex.: Angled Calf Raises, Standing Calf Raises)
I work each set of muscles in a progressively intensive way--moving my way up through two or three levels of weights until I hit my high/exhaustion point.

Note: My insight for the day (that is not related to my UGRR tour or this post in any way): It is one thing to understand that you are replaceable. It is another thing entirely to be treated like you are disposable.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

It's Here! (Day -68)

I did not get to the gym today because I had to hang out at home so I could sign for the delivery of my fat bike. It arrived at 2:00--before the coming snowstorm, and early enough that I could unpack and assemble it outdoors.

The initial setup (installing handlebars, seat, front wheel, and pedals) only took about 30 minutes. Thankfully, the bike arrived mostly assembled. The derailleurs and cables were all installed.

The adjustments took awhile. The brakes were clearly dragging and in need of adjustment. I've never had a bike with disc brakes before, so I was mystified about how to proceed. A quick Google search and a few YouTube videos later, and I knew just what to do. It was a bit of a challenge to implement what I'd learned. When I opened up the brakes enough that they didn't drag, they were not tight enough to work effectively. When I tightened up the brakes enough to work effectively, they dragged again. Back and forth, back and forth. They ended up better--at least good enough for a test ride--but I still need to fine-tune them.

I took off for a test ride on my dirt road. It was fun! The whole time I was riding I was making a mental list: raise the seat a bit, turn the handlebars, tighten the brakes, etc. By the time I got back and made some more adjustments, the sun was going down.

Here is my new beauty. Yes, the helmet sitting on the seat is new, too; I figured I should have a full-face helmet if I'm going to do this kind of riding. Given the spectacular wipe-out I almost experienced on a patch of ice on my test ride, I think it's a good thing I have it!

My new bike rack (for carrying my fat bike on the back of my car) arrived today as well. On the way but not yet here: mud flaps, to keep me from getting coated in mud when I ride.

For those of you who may be confused: The fat bike is not the bike I will be using to ride the Underground Railroad route. It is for training for the ride. For the tour, I'll be using my regular Trek road bike.