Thursday, December 30, 2010


 Yesterday I remodeled two bikes. Bikers like to talk about builds as in "this is my second build for this bike." A build is a biker's nirvana. It's when you hand pick every component for a bike, and then you build it up from scratch. It's a labor of love and the result is your dream bike. Bikers talk about builds like parents talk about honor role students.

I have never done a complete build, but I have done some remodels. Like moving bars and seats between bikes, replacing a fork or crank, and converting a bike to single speed. Yesterday I did my latest remodel, resurrecting my silver Iron Horse from the parts bin. Yesterday I put gears on it, added a spanking new crank, and voila I now have a perfectly ridable hard tail.

So today I took it for a shake down ride in the snow. Trail reports were not encouraging, but the trails turned out to be in good condition. Not great, but not bad. It was the type of riding that keeps you on your toes, and forces you to use good technique especially on uphills and off-camber turns. And Silver was a great ride, no issues except it appears I've contaminated the brake rotors with some lube since I was unable to lock up the wheels even downhill on the snow. We'll keep an eye on that.

So now I have a winter beater bike with gears (and marginal brakes), which is great timing. You will understand why when I make an exciting announcement on New Year's day.

Oh and someone went chainsaw crazy and removed the horse-back-rider-scraper-offer at the top of the Sole Trail. And yes the horses were out in force...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mix It Up

I have a bothersome tendency - maybe it's human nature - to ride the same trails, the same way, time after time. You find a route you like and you stick with it because. well, you like it. Except that after a while you you're bored by it and you actually don't like it. But you're riding it, again.

Yesterday at White Clay, we did many of the classic routes but we mixed them up a bit. We rode the Goat Trail downhill which I thought gave it more pucker factor. The Cork Screw (can only be ridden one way) was interesting as it was covered in leaves so you really had to trust there were no surprises (logs, rocks) hidden underneath. And we hit a bunch of trails in Middle Run which I hadn't seen in years. 
Norman Rockwell Scene

And by taking these new routes, we ran into a memorable Norman Rockwell scene: three dads and their kids playing hockey on a small frozen pond out in the middle of the woods.

It's more interesting this way - mixing things up - and I think it's better conditioning when your body doesn't know what's coming next (or at least isn't "used to" it). I'm going to do more of this in 2011. Be less of a lemming.

Burrito Illegal
Oh and we did another very un-lemming-like thing. We ended at Rincon Tarasco in Downingtown.

So one reshuffled White Clay ride, three "Burrito Illegals" at Rincon Tarasco, and six Rolling Rocks later, we were pretty darn pleased with ourselves...


P.S. And speaking of mixing it up, we had a real "Super Star" song mix for the ride to Delaware.  What a bunch of animals we are...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Andy was ginning up a Chelsy's ride for Wednesday night, but I had already committed to a Thursday morning ride at White Clay, and I wanted all my marbles for that ride. Plus they were parking their trucks in Downingtown so they could end the ride at Chelsy's. I thought that was more like a Shirley Temple ride. In a real Chelsy's ride, we stop in town mid-ride.  That was we have the always entertaining ride home after Chelsy's.

The phone rang around 9:00 and I ignored it.  I was very comfortable on the couch with my daughter, and not particularly interested in getting an earful on the phone from a bunch of well-lubricated  mountain bikers. Eventually I found my way to the phone and out of curiosity checked for messages. Here is what I found (and yes it was in ALL CAPS):
The message was from Andy and it was about 30 minutes old. I called him and learned that Jim's carbon fiber bar had failed catastrophically on the Blue Trail descent to the Struble (we call this section "The Bobsled Run"). He had obviously crashed pretty spectacularly. Mike was already down there loading Jim and his bike into a car, and they weren't thinking hospital...but there would be no Chelsy's for Jim tonight.

I am reminded of the adage that with carbon fiber components you get "strong, light, and inexpensive - pick any two."  It sounds like Jim got a good deal on some lightweight components.

Anyway I'm glad Jim is OK and sorry for missing the call.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gaining Some Lost Ground

Carving the Bonus Loop
With Friday night's bonfire, Saturday night Christmas caroling, and the seemingly endless supply of home made cookies available in our house I have lost some serious ground over the last 48 hours. Mike and I decided to  reclaim some lost territory with an early afternoon ride.

It feels like we gained a lot. 

Views were pretty spectacular, about half the lake is now frozen. Trails were fast and frozen for the most part, but soft enough to add some pucker factor to the fast hillside descent by the Dorlan Mill ruins. Ran into some other bikers, including MikeM and Mark on the Lakeside Trail and an enthusiastic foursome whooping it up on the teeter. Carefully hopscotched around some black ice patches on the rocky climb.

Now I think I'll have some cookies and watch the Eagles game...give back some of the territory I just gained.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Disaster (Narrowly) Averted, Again

The bonfire was laid, most of the provisions were staged, and the trail to the firepit was lit by kerosene torches that KO had thoughtfully placed every 20' along the treacherous 25° downhill section. Four years worth of experience were paying off with a smooth running operation. Who would have thought that near disaster would strike before we even saddled up for the opening event?

Site of the Near Disaster
KO was shuttling some last minute supplies to the bonfire site. He was on a 4WD ATV pulling a toboggan loaded with firewood, propane, and kerosene. The downhill section was tricky, and the toboggan clipped one of the torches, dumping about a quart of burning kerosene into the dry underbrush. We fought the spreading fire valiantly, trying to stomp it out with our feet and then to smother it with the toboggan. Luckily, and to KO's credit, have had included a fire extinguisher in the load of combustibles and was able to extinguish the fire before it become a headline.

Kirk's Colorful Custom Light Setup
With disaster averted, we hooked up a couple of loaner lights and KO rigged his custom light setup. Eleven riders shoved off in the 25° temps for the obligatory loop down the Struble, up the Quarry Trail, and back down Blue Trail for the mad dash "home" to the comfort of the beer and bonfire. One rider defied physics by riding in shorts and two left-hand fingerless gloves. While we had no "mechanicals" we did have one "electrical" (a dead light) through a nasty section of railroad ties, which resulted in a front wheel twisting 90° and sending one rider flying after jamming him in the stomach with the bar end. That's basically a punch in the stomach, followed by a body slam onto the frozen ground, all in total darkness.

8' Bonfire
We completed the circuit and were greeted by DC on our return (he had a busy day). We ignited the fire (flames estimated at 8' high), commenced aggressive rehydration, began devouring the pot of piping hot chili that MR had lovingly prepared the night before, and then settled in around the bonfire.

I know a lot of people were there to see the much ballyhooed fire jumping contest, but it never got off the ground. It's always a challenge to find someone to kickoff that particular competition, and with AS out and MR retiring early, we were utterly lost.  But this is an industrious lot, and it did not take long to find a new mind-numbingly-stupid activity to fill the void. It had something to do with improvised fireworks, and it culminated in a glowing mortar fragment bouncing off JR's chest, leaving his eyes as big as saucers and a neat (and no doubt hard to explain to the wife) burn hole in his sweater. Luckily we closed that chapter before anyone got seriously disfigured.

MM Entry
MR Entry
SM Entry (burning)
Of course, in addition to the adolescent behavior traditionally exhibited at this event, we enjoy more cerebral pursuits. Like the best beer presentation. This year's entries were well executed and covered a lot of ground:
  • Entry #1 - Jenna's ample cousin Delila (beer in hand thanks to KO and a roll of duct tape) was strong in the category of "anatomical curiosities." The cerebral element came to play when the disoriented group realized the only reliable way to find your way is to "check which way the feet are pointing."  Everyone agreed this was a profound and useful insight,
  • Entry #2 - A festive comic-book themed beer rack was a welcome G-rated counter balance to entry #1. 
  • Entry #3 - the combination porta-potty/beer cooler complete with cup holder, DBDC monogrammed toilet paper, magazine rack, baby-wipe dispenser, and mountain bike tire accent on the movable lid.  
If the competition were based on points alone, entry #3 would have won hands down, but alas the "must burn" requirement was not met by either of the last two entries, so the title was awarded, on a technicality, to Entry #1.

The remainder of the evening (and morning) were consumed primarily by bike porn (guys gushing over TH's long travel fork), KO's uselessly frozen elastomer fork, and the occasional exploding (frozen) beer. Temperature at this point had dipped to 15°. We reluctantly threw in the towel around 3:00am.

Thanks to everyone who braved the elements last night, and especially to MR for the most awesome chili, to MM, SM, and MR for their competitive and creative spirit, to KO for letting us trash his back yard, and to everyone else for riding bikes in this stupid cold weather, and making the event memorable.


"We all get it in the end"
     - unknown

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Friday's Line Up

AccuWeather predicts a balmy 30 degrees at the 8:00 departure time, loaner lights are charging for Dougerty and Vermeil, the garage lights have been on pretty late at the McLaughlin residence, and we've got a good count for Friday's descent into the depths of debauchery Bike Bonfire and Beer Exchange. With any luck we will rival last year's turnout of 17 riders...and let me tell you, the sight of all those headlamps bobbing and weaving through woods at night is truly a sight to behold. But then again the sight of an incinerating plastic blowup doll is pretty impressive as well...

Anyway I have heard encouraging news from SF, SM, KO, TP, MR, RV (and son), MY, DM, MM, RI (and others), CD, and DC (hopeful but a lot going on with move).
Others have been kind of quiet, either planning a sneak attack or hoping to fly under the RADAR (on the couch). I would be remiss if I didn't call out a few notables: AS, JA, AD, BG, MH, and Jenna.

Everyone feel free to turn the screws on the notables, I shouldn't have to do all the dirty work.

That's all for now. 


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Just About Perfect

Forecast for Friday
Well if you like firm fast trails for riding, crisp dry conditions for bonfiring, and below freezing temps for keeping your beer cold then I guess this forecast looks just about perfect for Friday's Bike-Bonfire-and-Beer-Exchange-Palooza.

We'll rally behind Kirk's house at 7:30pm so we can clip in and start spinning at 8:00pm.  Feel free to drop off your gear ahead of time (it's a bit of a hilly hike from the cul-de-sac to the bonfire site by the creek).  Let me know if  any questions.

Oh and don't be the guy sipping merlot at the neighbor's or warming the couch at home on Friday night.  No, don't be that guy.



Harmony Hill with just enough mud and death cookies to keep you focused.  There was a price to pay for straying off the left side of the trail.

I'm learning to ride gears again.  My riding frequency is down and the SS is beating up my knees. It really is amazing what a difference in riding style, you actually forget how to ride gears effectively. For example I keep forgetting to stay seated and spin through the uphill technical stuff.

I came here yesterday to avoid the hunters. The trail network has really blossomed over the last few years, and it's only a 10 minute drive (or a 30 minute ride).  More Harmony Hill in the near future...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2010 Bike Bonfire and Beer Exchange Fun Quiz

Following is the 2010 Bike Bonfire and Beer Exchange Fun Quiz. All characters, companies, products and events described in this fun quiz are fictitious, and no similarity with any real persons or entities, living or deceased, is intended or should be inferred.

AS's wife knows that if AS goes to the bonfire that their dental deductible will be paid before the end of December.
  • True
  • False

DC took the fire jumping contest to new heights when he attempted to jump the bonfire:
  1. With two feet
  2. With a bicycle
  3. With a garden tractor
  4. While soaked in kerosene

In the last two bonfires MY has:.
  1. Laughed and Cried
  2. Laughed and Danced
  3. Flown and Danced
  4. All of the above

Last year MH impersonated Dr. Henry Kissinger so that he could:
  1. Bring world peace
  2. Be first in line for hot chili
  3. Throw Jenna into the fire
  4. None of the above

At the 2007 bonfire MR left the party early (and mad) and was about to walk into his house when he decided to go back to the bonfire to take a swing at one of the other riders.
  • True
  • False

The ladies panties that CD gave to SM as a gag gift were actually from :
  1. CD's wife 
  2. SM's sister 
  3. Both CD's wife and SM's sister 
  4. The Cougar at Chelsey's

The day after the 2008 bonfire when MR could not find his Best Beer Presentation contest entry, he accused MO7S of destroying the family heirloom. He was upset because of the rule that all entries must burn to be eligible. Where was the family heirloom?
  1. In the fire pit (ashes)
  2. Somewhere east of Downingtown in the Brandywine Creek
  3. Safely stashed in his truck parked in his driveway
  4. None of the above

The "MRDBS" sign nailed to a tree on the Bonus Loop stands for:
  1. MR's Deep Brain Stimulation
  2. MR's Drunken Bike Shop
  3. MR's Drunken Brain Stimulation
  4. None of the above

One of our riders MM was nicknamed "DB4."  In his case "DB" stands for
  1. Diamond Back
  2. Douche Bag
  3. Double Black-diamond
  4. Diarrhea Bubble

TP's commitment to mountain biking is suspect because:
  1. His other bike is a motorcycle
  2. His front fork is a lefty
  3. All of the above
  4. None of the above

What was The Cougar's opening line at Chelsea's?
  1. "You guys from around here?"
  2. "Is that a spanner wrench in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?"
  3. "I'm no spring chicken, but I am a cougar!  Grrrrrrr!"
  4. "I need to get me some Irish meat and potatoes!"

DM purchased a bike off eBay "because it looked cool." Too bad for him because this bike has an unfortunate tendency to:
  1. Debit his PayPal account
  2. Fold in half when traversing uneven ground
  3. None of the above
  4. All of the above

Match the rider with the riding outfit or accessory that they DID wear on at least one ride:
  • Riders
    1. RV
    2. DM
    3. JA
    4. DC
    5. BG
  • Outfit/accessory: 
    1. Flesh-tone leotards
    2. Bootyliscious booties with pink trim
    3. Skate-boarder helmet
    4. Wool sport coat
    5. Green polka-dot union suit

SF is one of the few with a trail named after him.  This trail is called:
  1. SF's demise
  2. The Bonus Loop
  3. SF's mud pit
  4. Sidewinder

KO is considered an anti-social mountain biker because he:
  1. Brings rotten wood to the bonfire
  2. Rides while listening to an iPod
  3. Won't chew tobacco (except once in the BVIs)
  4. All of the above

After someone crashes RI has been known to say:
  1. "Pain is temporary, glory is forever"
  2. "Chicks dig the dirty ones"
  3. ”I’d rather have a brother that was gay than a cousin that was a roadie"
  4. 1 and 2

Please click the comment link at the bottom of this post to record your answers. The winner will get a free ride with SM to the windowless Video-X-Press in Malvern to shop for party favors. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Announcing the 5th Annual Bike Bonfire and Beer Exchange

This note is to officially announce that the 5th Annual Bike Bonfire and Beer Exchange will be held on Friday December 17th.  

We'll kick off the evening with the requisite night ride through Marsh Creek State Park where, if the past four years are any indication, we'll experience frozen fingers, mechanical breakdowns, and if we're lucky a couple of spectacular crashes during the mad dash back to the security of the beer and the fire pit.

Upon our return, we'll ignite a massive pile of kiln-dried kerosene-soaked lumber and settle in for a long night of holiday story telling, holiday beer drinking, holiday fire jumping, holiday tooth chipping, and general holiday debauchery under the stars.  There is even talk of setting up a holiday bike skills course so we can increase the odds of a holiday broken collarbone. 

And finally the namesake beer exchange. This is  where we memorialize the evening with the signature "best beer presentation" contest.  As you will see from previous years' reports the competition is stiff and the bar is raised (or lowered depending on your perspective) each year, but the winner earns much exalted alpha-male status at a years' worth of block parties and backyard BBQs. Even last year's runner-up - who lost on an technicality - is now a local legend.

More details to come on what to bring, exact time, contest fine print, etc. Also note we can scrounge up a few loaner night lights, bicycles, and helmets (all required) if you let us know far enough ahead of time. All you really need to worry about at this point is:
  1. Informing your wife that you'll be sleeping on the couch that night (if you're lucky) and
  2. Planning the theme for your beer presentation (let your brain stem do the thinking here)

P.S. In case you want to see how "low" you can go with the contest or just get stoked by reading about the previous years' events, here are the ride reports:
  • 2009 - dancing clydesdale
  • 2008 - flying clydesdale
  • 2007 - nothing good happens after 2am
  • 2006 - defiled again

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Terrible Night

Steve hasn't been on a bike in almost a year. Not since Jenna bit the big one.  Yet he decided to climb back onto a single-track night ride with a persnickety rear derailleur and failing headlamp. Now that is true mo7s style!

And thanks to Jim for the personal send-off at Pinecroft and Kaiser. That was a first!

By the way it was a spectacular moonlit night, mid 50s. A terrible night for couch surfing, but most excellent for biking...

"Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for one more ride."
-- Unknown

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Double Trouble

It was sad and hilarious at the same time.

Andy set a blistering pace. Bob said he was "riding it like he stole it." To his credit Andy was committed to keeping us on schedule to hit 19 miles of highlights in two hours - the Fox Pen, Crack Head Bob, and some new trails from the Jamboree. I managed to ride his wheel for about 15 minutes then dropped back to the #4 (out of 5) position where I belonged.

The GPS was acting a little finicky so there were frequent stops to consult on navigation. And then Andy would get a sense of urgency to make up for lost time. The result was a series of furious 10 minute dashes punctuated by 2 minute stops to consult the GPS and scratch our heads. Interval training. Sort of.

The sad part was that our #5 rider was suffering off the back and EVERY time we stopped and he caught up with us Andy would immediately shove off  for another frantic dash with zero opportunity for #5 to unclip much less catch his breath. But the hilarious part was that EVERY time we stopped and #5 caught up with us, Andy would immediately shove off  for another frantic dash with zero opportunity for #5 to unclip much less catch his breath.

Luckily #5 saw the (sick) humor in this and suffered oh so gracefully.

The ride home was glorious. Four of is in the F150 King Cab with seat heaters all around. Let me tell you a seat heater after a 2 hour beat down feels awesome. We had a beer and checked out MikeM's back yard skills course, and then MikeR and I headed back to the 'hood and as I was unloading my bike I got a text message from Jimmy. Something to the effect of "heading out for a ride after I finish my sandwhich, anyone want to join me?" There I was all suited up with my bike legs were screaming NO!

So I said YES.

And so Jim and I cranked out a short ride at the lake, my legs screaming I TOLD YOU SO the entire time. But it was spectacular just the same, brilliant sunshine and low 50s. 

So now here I sit on the couch, fire crackling in the fireplace, football on the big screen. I think I'll have me some Ben and Jerry's Half Baked GUILT FREE.


"Art is suffering." 
     -- Squidward Tentacles

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's Got Soul

Confetti on the Bonus-Bonus Loop
I won't be near a bike for the next seven days so I figured I would sneak in a quick ride today.  The trails are covered with a soft golden carpet and out on the Bonus-Bonus Loop there is a sprinkling of pinks and reds which makes it look a lot like confetti.

I am so lucky to see amazing stuff like this in my own back yard.  I wonder how many people live within 5 minutes of this place and have no idea?

The Sole Trail's Got Soul

On the way home, I stopped on the Sole Trail to document the trail's namesake.  I actually like to think of it as the Soul Trail as in Souuuuuuuuuul Train which as you know is and always has been "the hippest trip in America."  I think the Sole Trail is pretty hip too...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

21 and Loving It

Two of us broke the rule yesterday and lived to talk about it, so I expect we'll be breaking the rule again in the near future.  You know, the rule to never EVER fiddle with your bike the day before a race or big ride?

Let's start with the ride.  It was the 5th Annual Fair Hill Mountain Bike Jamboree.  A few hundred local mountain bikers turned out in spectacular fall weather for guided rides, food, beer, bike schwag, games, and to enjoy the generally awesome mountain bike mojo.  Weather was crisp 40° with brilliant sunshine when the "B" rides started at 9:00am.  Shorts weather!

We hit a few new trails and some of the old favorites.  It was impressive to see our group of 25 winding through woods (I can only imagine how awesome it would have been at night) and an opportunity to size myself up with the "B" riders (there were "A", "B", "C", and beginner groups).  In the end I think I would have done better bringing up the rear in one of the "A" groups, but we saw plenty of awesome singletrack and some fast flowing downhills that had us grinning ear to ear.  Unfortunately we lost our sweeper 10 minutes into the ride and our guide bonked about an hour later, so the 2nd half of the ride slowed down until we finally bid farewell to our guide and finished the ride ourselves.

Post ride festivities started with a bowl of hot home-made mac & cheese and a nice greasy bubba-burger.  We washed it down with a Dogfish Head and hung around hoping for the games to start (in particular the Huffy Toss) but by 1:00pm the siren call of the shower, couch, and Eagles game was too much so we threw in the towel.

The ride home was spectacular with that Dogfish seeping into deeply fatigued legs, a 12" turkey hoagie to keep the burger and pasta company in my belly, music playing in the warm car, and the spectacular horse country rolling by outside.  Frankly I would have happily driven all day long, but there was that couch thing...

Sign me up for next year.

"Hitch your bicycle to a star. Or a roof rack on a car"
     - unknown

P.S.  Oh yeah, the rule breakers:

  • Doble moving spacers on his rear wheel, wound up with ball bearings rolling around on his garage floor. Somehow he slapped his rear hub back together and it seemed to work perfectly fine today.
  • I had better luck, installing 21T cog on my SS.  It's amazing what a difference a 5% reduction in gear inches makes to a pair of 50 year old knees.  21 and loving it!!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Twenty-Two Percent

Everything pointed to Noble Canyon as the “must do” ride in the San Diego area. I was heading west on business so I brought my gear with me just in case. Unfortunately it was raining when I arrived (never happens in California according to the song) and forecasted to continue for most of the week. It was beginning to look like an epic missed opportunity.

...but I had come so far and as the week wore on I couldn't bear to write it off, so on Thursday afternoon with drops of rain on the windshield, I grabbed a rental bike and headed east into the mountains to see what the heck might happen.
Rental bike: powder-blue Specialized Rockhopper with hydraulic brakes, X.0 tranny, and the oh so cool Specialized “brain” running the rear suspension.
I was encouraged as I drove through 4,000 feet and the clouds began to thin. By the time I arrived at the trailhead in the mountains, it was a perfectly blue sky and temps in the high 60s. And here I was with my gear and a demo bike at the bottom of Noble Canyon. Things were looking up, literally!

Turnaround at the halfway point
Noble Canyon is typically ridden as a downhill using cars to shuttle to the top via an unmaintained service road. No doubt this has something to do with the 1,700 foot climb from the trailhead. According to the well-inked mechanic at B and L Bikes, if I decided to ride my bike up the service road  I should be advised the grade would be “healthy” and hit 22% in places. So I figured that before I saddled up I would drive some of the service road just to see what 22% might look like...

…well 22% looks pretty intimidating. But that was nothing – nothing – compared to the exposure on parts where the road chiseled into the mountain side. The fun factor was wearing off quickly - even though I was driving a tiny subcompact rental it felt like I was at least 2’ wider than the road and about to topple 1,000 feet over the edge (no guard rail) to a dramatic demise in the canyon below. So I found a turn around and sheepishly made my way back down the trailhead to fuel up, saddle up, and ride back up the service road under my own power to find the renowned Nobel Canyon trail.

I was in granny gear most of the way and once I found my rhythm, I was able to take in my surroundings and even managed to hear the birds overhead between gasps for air. The vistas were incredible both looking up (almost 2,000’ of climbing) and looking down (the ride started at 3,700’). And I will never forget a downright scary hornet’s nest with a huge swarm hovering at the entrance - I immediately went anaerobic in the granny gear in order to get some quick separation.

Alpine meadow near the top
The road was no less scary now that I was on a bike, but it did mean I could hug the mountainside and keep at least 6’ separation between me and the precipice. I took numerous stops along the way to refuel, catch my breath, take a drink, and to consult the map. I was beyond the stretch I had driven in the car, and getting lost here could be a real problem.

I had planned 3 hours for the climb, but after 90 minutes of climbing (from 3,700’ to 5,400’) I found the top of the storied Noble Canyon trail. I took a break for lunch (powerbar), drank in the incredible view, then clipped in and began the descent for which I had worked so hard.

Cactus on the left, nasty fall on the right
I thought the descent would take half the time of the ascent, but recent rains left already technical trails downright treacherous in sections. And the price of failure was high – either a long night waiting for help (or mountain lions) or a mercifully quick fall over some exposed edges. In the end, the descent lasted over 1 hour and took me through the most diverse range of terrains and climates imaginable. At the top it was alpine meadows with huge pine trees, mid-way through the descent was classic chaparral and cacti, and then I rolled out at the bottom into desert scrub. And the terrain was everything from buff singletrack to steep switchbacks and serious rock gardens.

Cattle gate at the bottom
The biggest surprise of the descent was the unique pungent aromas - floral, sweet, spicy, and earthy. They were strong and distinct. I couldn’t name any of them, but I remember at least a half dozen of them. It was like riding through a candy store of fragrances.

Taco stand
After returning the rental, I figured I should get some sand and salt water between my toes so I headed to Torrey Pines State Park to catch the Pacific sunset. Little did I know I was 10 minutes away from yet another once-in-a-lifetime experience. I would witness the rare and mysterious green flash...which was ironic because I had been talking about the green flash with some colleagues just a day or two before. As the last bit of sun dipped below the horizon, it turned from deep orange to bright green for about the last 1.5 seconds as the disk disappeared below the horizon.

So with Noble Canyon and a green flash in the bag, what better way to end than by grabbing dinner at a local San Diego taco stand? Maybe it was my appetite or the Corona, but that $9 dinner platter was the best mex meal in recent memory and was the perfect ending to an epic afternoon.


"Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for one more ride."
-- unknown

Sunday, October 3, 2010

No Better Way

What better way to prepare for a triathlon than by crawling into a tent around 1:00am with a belly full of scotch and two legendary snorers sleeping in tents next door?  Well if last night is any indication, there is no better way. We prepared in style the night before with:
  • Hobo packs for about 20 kids and almost as many adults, prepped on an open fire pit. Kids eating vegetables and loving it for Pete's sake!
  • The Taj Mahal of tents, anchoring a rag-tag tent city in the north forty at Sugar's Bridge.
  • And of course the fifth of Glenfiddich that did about a dozen laps around the late night campfire.
The next morning started strong at 7:00am - strong coffee that is - and in spite of Dave's two right shoes we got to the starting line with plenty of time to get our team organized and pumped for the 8:30 am start.

As you might expect with 8 adults and 10 kids, the group strung out on the course but everyone finished in signature style. Haley crossed the finish first with Sara on her wheel, and finally Deb brought it home in true Irish style by crossing the finish with a fresh drink in her hand.

Post ride festivities included a couple trips up the climbing wall and a relaxing wind-down at Sugar's Bridge where we put the finishing touches on our recipe for a relaxing and memorable weekend:
  • 1 night of no sleep
  • 1.5 hours of exercise
  • 2 hours of bloody mary's
  • Ample doses of warm sunbshine and the laughter of smiling kids
Mix and enjoy!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Runnin' on Empty

We drained the tank before we even got there. Cruising west on the turnpike and the trip computer saying zero miles remaining in the gas tank. This was to be a harbinger of things to come.

We did find a gas station with about -7 miles (that's negative seven) in the tank and made it to the Allegrippis trail head around lunch time. We geared up and hit the single track agreeing we would leave it ALL on the trails. All of it.

And let me tell you, The Army Corp of Engineers and I.M.B.A. made it easy for us to drain the tanks. Many miles of sweet undulating single track on these hills surrounding Raystown Lake. They are all about flow with plenty of rollers, tabletops, and seriously bermed turns so no excuse for using the brakes.

At about mile 12 we made our second mistake of the weekend (not bad), riding Sidewinder backwards. Many of the trails are meant to be ridden in one direction (CW/CCW) and clearly we were riding this one the wrong way. And we were getting really toasted.

But somehow we managed to scrape out another 18 miles. It was just too good to call it quits. Admittedly the last five miles were pathetic but necessary to ensure the tanks were bone dry. And it gave me a lot of time to think about riding 30 miles of single track, every day for 5 days, at altitude in the Rockies, which is how I plan to celebrate my birthday next year. Thankfully even my oxygen deprived brain realized that it was the pace, not the distance, that had buried us (and maybe the single speed bikes). I still think it's the right bike for Allegrippis but we could have ridden more efficiently with gears. For the record, we logged 30 miles in 3 hours 15 minutes elapsed.

Having accomplished the primary goal of this weekend trip, we then began the hunt for a hip bar with a beer selection, great grub, and some good bike mojo. After swinging through Rothrock Outfitters to see a Big Dummy and get a rundown on this year's Dirtfest, we found ourselves in post-ride Nirvana at Boxer's Cafe:
  • Hip - nice combination of mountain bikers and Penn State coeds gave it a great vibe. Cute waitress with dreds was a nice touch.
  • Beer - Spaten by the half liter
  • Grub - Great menu (for me it was chef's salad, mushroom and swiss burger, side of fries)
  • Bike mojo - Cannondale mountain bike hanging over the bar
After solid day of riding, a monster feast, and a liter of German beer there was only one thing left to do. Head to camp, light a campfire under the stars, crack open the coolers, and finish the job. And finish it we did.

Almost. Because we were able to squeeze in one more ride Sunday morning before the long drive home. It was not a barn burner like Saturday, and it was downright painful in spots, but it sure was a fitting way to end an epic weekend. Great weekend, and I am still feeling the glow 36 hours later.


"Go Big or Go Home"
     -- Unknown

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grab Bag

Tonight would be grab bag full of surprises.

We had about 20 minutes before we would rendezvous at the lake to pickup another rider. A little overambitious we found ourselves at the top of the quarry with one minute to go before the meetup. So we dropped the hammer(s) and cracked off a stupid-fast screaming descent down to the lake where we were greeted by rider #3 and... acoustic duo (upright bass, guitar) jamming at the edge of the lake. They were pretty good and were playing just for the joy of playing next to a beautiful lake under a glorious sunset. It was really breathtaking, the music drifting out over the lake, the sunset. Such a contrast to the lung-busting adrenaline rush we were enjoying mere seconds ago.

We chilled and listened for a while, thanked them, and headed off to bag a few more miles before dark. Crossing the dam we noticed three people with backpacks bushwhacking through the lower field toward the spillway outlet. Could it be "Ben and Jerry", making good on their promise to ride "the breathing dragon?" Either that, or some copy-cats making their own attempt at immortality. We made a casual descent of the Sole Trail, timing our return to hopefully witness the madness first hand. When we returned, darkness had fallen and - sure enough - we could hear voices emanating from the spillway riser. They were inside "The Dragon." We listened for a good while but eventually convinced ourselves that these were copycats with no intention of following through.

We wrapped up with a spectacular lights-out ride home under a brilliant full moon. You know, the kind of moon where you cast a shadow and frankly lights are just a buzz-kill. When I got home I fetched the Benn and Jerry's Half Baked from the freezer (as is customary) and on a whim checked by email. Imagine my reaction when I saw a message posted to the C2C message board, from "Ben" stating simply "Water Slide Tonight."

Dang, we missed it...but just the same it was a heck of a night. Where else can you get an adrenaline rush, live music under a spectacular sunset, a full moon ride, and some silly spelunking...

...on a Tuesday, in my own back yard, no cover charge. God I love this place.


Monday, September 6, 2010

The Hammer

It's good to be The Hammer. But sometimes it can be good to be The Nail.

Three of us rolled into French Creek at 7:20am this morning, and soon had 10 riders saddled up and ready to hit the trails on the east side of Route 345. This would be my first time in the area known as "The Proving Grounds" and it lived up to it's reputation by proving to me that:
  1. I've been riding waaaay too much at Marsh Creek
  2. I can ride some pretty sketchy stuff if I'm running in a pack and going too fast to use my better judgement
  3. ...and my Turner, which I have not ridden much recently (see Marsh Creek comment), is one hell of a bike, devouring miles of gnarly rock gardens and precipitous water-bar drops
The Proving Grounds made last week's ride on the west side of the park look like a boardwalk milk-run.  It dished out a never ending series of burly rock-infested downhills and steep technical uphills that had us (or at least me) white-knuckled but grinning ear to ear. We eventually rolled back into the parking lot around 9:15.

We stayed there long enough to eat a banana, take a wiz, and bid adieu to two riders before the remainder of the group struck out for a "quick one hour cool down loop" that would last more like two hours. One more rider bought it on this loop, which left our attrition rate at 30% - still respectable given the amount of punishment that was dished out.

When we got back to the lot the second (and last) time, our driver quipped that he had just (barely) enough energy left to push the clutch the 47 times it would take to get back home.

I think this Jef Mallett cartoon sums it up pretty well.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

You Just Don't See This Every Day (or "The Breathing Dragon")

I think my words to Jim were"you never would have had that 'coon dog adventure if you were sitting home on the couch." How prophetic. Except this time it wasn't being hunted by 'coon dogs. It was...

...spelunking up the 430' outlet pipe of the Marsh Creek dam. Why (you may ask) would someone spelunk up the outlet pipe? Well for safety reasons of course - to be sure it is safe to ride downstream as a water slide!

The story starts with a typical night ride, out the lakeside trail to the New Bonus Loop. It was about 8:15pm when we reached the dam and saw a couple of guys fussing around on the spillway riser. We figured they were bikers so we slowed down to make sure they weren't having some sort of mechanical. It then became apparent they were not bikers (remember it was dark with this point) as there were no bikes, there was a large duffle, and there was a LOT of rope on the ground. Oh, and a couple of empty Hop Devils.

They explicitly asked we not use their real names so we will call them Ben and Jerry (Mike knows that's my traditional after-ride snack). Ben explained they were planning to ride through the outlet pipe, like a water slide, but first needed to recon the pipe to be sure there were no abrupt turns, protruding metal fittings, or underwater traps along the way. They had already run a lightweight fishing line through the pipe and measured the distance at 430'. And they were now busy feeding about 500' of climbing rope down that same pipe, with the intent of climbing up from the other end using the rope to assist.

We marveled at their safety consciousness and good taste in beer, and then told them we would be back after finishing our Bonus Loop ride. And so we rode the Bonus Loop - which was seemingly endless and most excellent at night I must say. Within 45 minutes we found ourselves crossing the dam on our return leg, hoping for the best.

When we arrived there was nothing to be found at the riser. No duffle bag. No piles of rope. No Hop Devils. But a rope was tied to the railing of the riser, and it ran down through the spillway and disappeared with the rushing water deep into the bowels of the dam. I tugged on the rope and it was taught. Very taught. We briefly considered the implications of untying the rope, but that's not how we roll (but it was funny to think about).

Ok, so clearly we had to hoof it down the bottom of the dam to see what was at the other end of the rope. When we got there, we could hear Ben and Jerry yukking it up inside the pipe. They were probably 20' in, just getting their bearings, taking some photos, putting on wet suits, and strapping into their climbing gear. Ben came out for a final photo, said good bye, and in he went. The yukking it up continued for a good while, but soon started to sound more distant. So we climbed back to the top of the dam and over to the riser. And to our surprise we soon saw a faint light shining inside the riser. Ben had made it!

Within a few short minutes Ben emerged into the bottom of the riser, whooping it up pretty good. Jerry had taken the easy route (our route) and took some pictures of Ben in the riser, Ben on the riser, Ben posing with us, and Ben and Jerry together.

High fives all around.

But this was apparently just the beginning. Remember, this was just the recon mission to setup for THE BIG SHOW - a high speed water slide attempt! Alas the attempt would not be tonight because apparently it will require a considerable amount of additional gear:
  • Body armor
  • Full face helmet
  • Welding gloves
  • Hiking boots
  • Athletic cup
  • Butt protector of some sort TBD
We chatted a little about water slides, mountain biking, wished them luck, and were on our way. I'm not quite sure how to sum this up. I mean I think we've done some crazy things - mountain bike fire jumping, kayaking the brandywine at flood stage, more fire jumping, and sending Mike across the tram - but this was off the charts by our standards. Just glad it worked out (I gave it 15% chance of having a really bad outcome). And thrilled we were out riding and had the good fortune to stumble into this most unique spectacle.

Now I can't guarantee one of these on every night ride, but I can guarantee your not going to see anything like this sitting on the couch at home!


"Go big or go home"
-- unknown

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Have You Forgotten?

Have you ever forgotten how much fun this is? I mean, it's never not fun but you get into a groove with your riding routine - riding the same bike, or the same trails, or both for couple of months - and you lose that pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming-because-this-is-too-much-fun feeling that you got all the time when you first started riding a bicycle in the woods.

Well today Andy may have felt like puking, and he may have blown his front fork in the process, but he took us on one sick tour of French Creek State Park....if it wasn't some gnarly root infested lung-buster climb, it was a white-knuckle-rock-garden descent where I was well outside my capabilities but it was too-late-to-bail-so-buckle-your-chin-strap-and-hang-on. In the zone kinda stuff.

Oh and there were some sweet stretches of buff single track in between. But mostly ups that had us gasping, and downs that had us whooping and hollering like in the old days.

Special props to AD who rode the single-speed all-rigid like it was [insert high school prom date joke here]. He pretty much owned the park except for one death-cookie early in the ride which left him wide eyed and a little bloody.

TP also shared his trick for getting the last minute clearance for weekend rides of this float it past the wife at about 5:45am. It pretty much guarantees a green light.

Great ride, miles of smiles, thanks guys...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Get Off

This is an all points bulletin for a Raystown Lake bike trip this fall. If you don't know much about Raystown then do yourself a favor - prop your head up on a pillow and suffer through the next paragraph.

Raystown is supposed to be first-class buffed-out singletrack of the same ilk as White Clay, only more and better. Online reviewers consistently say it is like an M. C. Escher drawing - you finish where you started but somehow ride downhill the entire way. It has received rave reviews from every mountain biking magazine to which I subscribe (more that a few), and Men's Journal named it "one of the top 4 mountain bike trails in North America." It took IMBA and Army Corps of Engineers 7 years to build these trails specifically for mountain bikes - this is not a "rake and ride" operation.

The only knock I have heard against Raystown is that it is not very technical and there are no killer climbs. Seriously, ask Andy Sokol who was the first (not the last) person I heard say this. So it's all about flow and rolling. Oh, and it is more than a 12 minute drive to get there so it's probably a single overnight, but we'll sort that out once we gauge interest.

So to get things going, let's look at a couple of weekends this fall when foliage should be kicking in:
  • September 25-26
  • October 2-3
TBD if we would do an overnight, Friday vs Saturday, etc but what's important is that you get off the couch for this ride. It is not a sufferfest and you've got plenty of time to get rid of the rust. Google it if you have to, at least you're doing something. Then check with the wifey and email me with level of interest and preferred weekend.


"Better to wear out than to rust out"

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Top of the Sole Trail, courtesy of mother nature. She dropped this oak and wedged it into the crook of another tree during the storm in June. Top notch work on her part.

I am all for multi-use trails, but it is sweet when mom makes something special, just for us.

Girls Happy Hour

I gave it a 50% chance. I was wrong.

We decided to try a happy hour ride with the girls. For Sydney it would be the second, and perhaps last, attempt. Searlait and Zoey are both accomplished bikers. We hoped the dynamics of the pack would be too much for Sydney to resist.

And we were right.

We rode the Lakeside, the Sole, and the little stretch out to the mill. She was on my rear wheel the entire time, muddy feet, and tongue wagging, diving into the lake or the creek whenever the opportunity presented itself. She finally bonked a few hundred yards from the boat landing.

I am thrilled beyond words, a new riding buddy! Never out of town on business, never stuck doing yard work. Always eager to ride!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Last Day (France Trip Series)

Thursday. Last full day on the bikes. The group is getting stronger every day, and each day a completely unique adventure. I am soooo not ready for this to end.

Today we bike 25 miles from Chinon to Saumur. We cross the Vienne river and now the Velo is a mostly a dedicated bike trail (paved) meandering through the vineyards west of Chinon. There are chambres d’hotes all along the Velo here. They are similar to B&B’s in the US but some are actually small chateaus and they all cater specifically to cyclists.

It is lunchtime when we've reached the Loire at the small town of Candes-Saint-Martin. We find a picnic table next to the river, and I shoot into town to procure some local wine. This town is spectacular. Medieval of course with the narrow crooked cobblestone streets, oh so cool shops and cafes, and a pretty respectable byzantine-style cathedral in the middle of town. I find a cave stocked with local wine, there are three locals enjoying a bottle of wine in the corner. One is the very friendly proprietor who turns me on to a bottle local red wine (after giving me a taste of course), and I head back for lunch.

We enjoy a leisurely lunch of baguette sandwiches, cheese, fresh fruit, wine, and chocolate. Eventually – moving more slowly now – we mount up and ride into town to explore.

Later that afternoon as we approach Saumur we begin to see more troglodytes – homes, artisan studios, small shops – along the road. Under protest (mine) I ditch the group so I can explore on foot. They seem overly interested in getting to Saumur. I tell them I would catch up. I will do better than that...

After exploring for 10 minutes or so, I mount up and start hammering to catch the group and pretty soon realize that I have somehow lost them. How is this possible? Well in my haste I had diverted off the Velo…but it seems that every road in France leads to some sort of adventure and this is no exception. I have stumbled upon nothing less than the zero meridian marker! After snapping some pictures, I resume hammering west not quite sure how this leg is going to end.

Eventually everyone in our group stumbles upon the same swimming hole on the banks of the Loire. We are like Labrador Retrievers. Unable to resist the siren call of the water, we each slip into the lazy river to cool off and eventually the entire group is back together. I am pretty excited about my zero-meridian encounter, but the girls quickly explain that in my haste I have detoured around one of the most amazing sections of Velo so far… a kilometer or so of trail that winds in and out of the caves of a troglodyte village. Ruth says I must backtrack and see it for myself, so I head back east while the gang lounges in the river.

Oh my God this is off the charts amazing. It is a terribly narrow and hilly cobblestone street that winds along a hillside, into and out of these troglodyte tunnels and homes. One minute you are riding in brilliant sunshine and the next minute you are in a pitch black tunnel where the temperature has dropped 40 degrees…and then you are riding through a large open space, still about 20’ below the surface, where the roof has collapsed allowing the sunshine to spill in. Then you’re back outside before you dive into another tunnel.

The road (a path really) undulates, some of the pitches are steep, one is labeled 18 degree grade! Interspersed throughout are spectacular homes, many of them carved into the hillside when these tunnels were built in the middle ages.

I think it is another 5 miles to Saumur (yes another spectacular castle and unbelievable food). Tomorrow we will leave the bikes and return to Paris. But we are not done with the bikes.
Friday morning Jeff and I leave the girls in Saumur (big time shopping) and ride back to the troglodytes and the vineyards to the east. We leave Oma and Opa there, and explore the troglodyte village one more time (even giving directions to a french cycling couple who appear to be lost).

I will have one more cycling experience that day, but it will not involve a bike. Later that day we catch a TGV back to Paris. The TGV of course is a bullet train that rips hurtles down the rails at about 185 mph. I distinctly remember being scared as the train accelerated out of Tours (transfer station). I had spent the last week travelling at 12 mph across France and had not been in a motor vehicle since the start of our bike leg. This silly-stupid speed was simply not computing in my head, and I felt like a chimpanzee being needlessly shot into orbit on top of a high-power rocket.

I will conclude the France Trip Series with a final post where, among other things, I will congratulate my wife and daughter on an incredible accomplishment and thank them for rolling the dice with me on this most excellent adventure.