Monday, December 21, 2015

Who Will Be Last?

Mountain biking has given me much over the last decade. The freedom of two wheels rolling effortlessly down a dirt ribbon in the woods. Visits to breath taking destinations only a lucky few get to experience. Exhaustion or encouragement or a belly laugh when I need it and friends I never would have met except for biking. Biking is more than a distraction for me, it is a meaningful part of my life. And every now and then it all comes together in a hum-dinger of a memory like it did on Sunday.

It started with an afternoon milk-run tour of the west side, our train of 19 riders careening down the old Struble and then singletracking up to the quarry and eventually to the ruins for some hydration and a spontaneous round of "fatty smashing." The crowd was getting rowdy after a kinger and a double-stack round, but they went off their rockers when RI pulled off the never-before-attempted-in-competition rear wheel fatty smash. The crowd was howling but temperatures were dropping and we were out of beer so we decided to work our way back to camp and the food and the main event.

The food. Where to start? How about pulled pork with smoked jalapenos, braised short ribs and goat (would be cooked in a cast iron dutch oven in the bonfire), Italian sausage and peppers, and venison tenderloin reindeer chili. Fried chicken, Christmas cookies, and Dunkin donuts. Two tables, under the stars, piled high with food and no vegetables in sight. Mountain biker heaven.

With half a chord of wood and 7 wooden pallets to burn, the fire would be impressive as well and the pallets would present an interesting opportunity to host our first and probably not the last annual [mothers continue reading at your own peril] fire ride. Pallets expertly arranged over the fire - up, over, and down. We knew it would ride but the question that had not yet been answered was..."who would be the LAST to ride the fire?" Would the last ride be a case of good judgement or something else less good? There was only one way to find out so we lit it up and commenced to encourage (wasn't hard) a few brave souls to surrender to the fire ride. And ride it they did and I am happy to say the last person to ride the fire survived with nothing more than a couple singed eyebrows and can now bathe in the glory of that ride for many years to come (and can thankfully check "fire riding" off on the bucket list).

A Real Wangtangler
(a.k.a a valuable lesson?)
As if that were not enough, the fire ride would still teach us a valuable lesson about the butterfly effect - in this particular case a bent derailleur hanger that nearly sent MR to the Brandywine burn unit. Earlier in the week an attempt to realign a hanger on MR's fat bike highlighted a drive train issue that required a chain ring change which resulted in a broken crank bolt which meant that MR would be riding a bike with 2.2" tires this evening instead of his fatbike. So what? Fast forward to the bonfire. The first fire riding pallet was nearly burned through so another pallet was unceremoniously thrown on top. This not only fanned the flames of the riders and audience, but it also left an awkward step up from the entrance ramp onto the (now burning) pallet so again demonstrating good judgement we turned the entrance ramp lengthwise to improve the entrance angle and solve the step problem. However this created a new problem with the 2" gap between boards running lengthwise (in the direction of travel). So instead of guiding the front tire onto the platform it could conceivably grab the front wheel and propel and rider over the handlebars onto the burning pallet. Our rightful conclusion was that from that point forward only fat bikes with 4" or wider tires should be riding the fire. Now if you've been paying attention you know that MR who is accustomed to riding a fat bike was now riding a bike with 2.2" tires. Yes it was a close one (a.k.a. "A Wangtanger") and we may have learned a valuable lesson but only time will tell. [mothers may safely continue reading] 

Proud parents
The tradition of beer presentations heated up with the fire with over a half dozen entries. The creativity, the craftsmanship, and the passion for such an ephemeral moment was inspiring. The energy in the crowd as each artist sacrificed their personal creation. The blaze of glory as each creation was turned into pure heat and light. One catharsis after another, experienced as one by creator and the crowd:
  • BP's rocket - 8 feet tall, all cardboard and plywood, and capped off with some sort of firework. It was the first to burn and for a few seconds the flames were probably licking 30' high. It was so intense we couldn't even tell if the fireworks went off. 
  • KP and GP's baby - The defining presentation started with "we have an announcement to make." I turned to see KP tenderly lifting an infant from a baby carriage and cradling it. Juxtaposed with the raging campfire and the near carnage that had preceded (the fire riding), the image was beyond disturbing. Of course it was not a real baby (it was a large beer bottle with hot-glued baby legs and head) but the whole scene looked real enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck. Then a frenzied GP raced that baby stroller up the exit ramp, full tilt. The carriage flew into the air and followed the most wonderfully graceful arc, landing in the fire a little off kilter and was immediately engulfed in flames. Seconds later it was completely gone. No trace. It could have been a dream, as if the carriage had never existed. Epic.
  • But the twisted takes on "best beer presentation" just kept on coming. For example JK's colorful shewee beer mug and SB's meat baby (long story there). There was MR's Christmas wine and beer rack and the JP's Mr and Mrs Claus throw-pillow-six-pack-protectors (Mrs Claus survived but, well, Santa not so much). 
  • We had great fun spinning the Beer Exchange Roulette wheel and I was flattered when some in the crowd began chanting "save the wheel" (there were suggestions of keeping it for '16 or hanging it at The Tree). I let the flattery go to my head for a few moments as I entertained the thought of spinning that wheel at The Tree but thankfully the right side of my brain kicked in and I rightfully consigned the wheel to the fire to be consumed like the many worthy presentations that came before it. It was glorious.
It's was pretty clear that the "best beer presentation" had transcended the concept of winning. This was performance art at it's best and the mantra "must burn to win" was shortened to it's cathartic essence "must burn" and everybody won.

This was an evening for the scrapbook and I just want to thank so many people for bringing their A-game to this ridiculous event.


"It's such a fine line between stupid and clever." 
     -- David St. Hubbins (This is Spinal Tap)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

10th Annual Bike Bonfire and Beer Exchange Fun Quiz

Bank some sleep and start hydrating because it's just just ten days until the Tenth Annual Bike Ride Bonfire and Beer Exchange. Below is the official Bike Ride Bonfire and Beer Exchange Fun Quiz but first let's get some business matters out of the way:

  • Since it's on a weekend, instead of pacing around all day waiting for nightfall we're going to get things rolling mid-afternoon on Sunday the 20th. This way we can provision and set up the camp kitchen in the light of day. If we then saddle up around 3:00pm we can ride a gentleman's pace tour of Marsh Creek with an obligatory stop at The Beer Tree and additional stops for "shots of courage" before returning to camp in the dark to ignite the kerosene soaked pyre. So get your family stuff out of the way Sunday morning because the afternoon is shot.
  • Everyone should bring something for the group to eat. Since this is sort of the "anti" Christmas party we don't want to overdo the planning end of this, but would be helpful if everyone responded with what they plan to bring so we don't wind up with 8 dozen donuts and a bag of pork rinds. I'll be cooking up a pot of chili (the reindeer kind if I can find some elk locally). It would be great if a couple more people could sign up for something hearty like brats, burgers, whatever and the rest can bring snacks.
  • Beer presentation is important. You don't have to share your beer ("exchange" is just cover for use with the spouse) but it should be presented in a manner befitting this event. In past years, beer presentations that were interactive or offensive fared best. But remember the presentation (not the beer) must burn to be eligible to win so don't use a finely crafted family heirloom like Riley did in '08. 
  • Come prepared for the long haul. Bring a change of clothes if you don't like sitting outside in the winter for hours at night in schweaty biking gear. Camp chair also a good idea. Beer obviously, but cooler optional unless you're trying to keep beer from freezing. Food. Sense of humor and lack of good judgement come in handy. 
  • We could really use about 3 or 4 wooden pallets. You know.
  • Oh and clear the deck for Monday.

Enough business, now on to the Fun Quiz...

The official cookie of the 2015 Kingdom Trails bike trip was:
A) A death cookie
B) A snicker doodle
C) A gluten free fig bar
D) Under the refrigerator

Fat bikes are:
A) Dumb (F.A.D.)
B) Stupid (F.A.S.)
C) Sometimes Temperamental (F.A.S.T.)
D) Really Tremendous (F.A.R.T.)

What local trend is BD responsible for starting:
A) Grilling "meat babies"
B) Growing scraggly beards
C) Drinking from a jelly jar
D) Dividing by zero

At Kingdom Trails AD hit:
A) Dirty Penny's boyfriend in the nose
B) A piece of pine paneling with his foot
C) 38 miles per hour on Sidewinder
D) On MV's wife

Money can't buy happiness but it can buy:
A) Bikes
B) Beer
C) A corrupt politician
D) A $330,000 burger

True or False ... MR is retired from fire jumping:
A) False
B) False

We don't have chairs at The Beer Tree because:
A) We couldn't get the Barcalounger up Sucker-Punch Hill
B) Chairs are for roadies
C) There is no more room due to the bike rack
D) If we sat down we would never get back up

The Beer Tree at Cranston Gap is:
A) On the east side of the lake
B) The place to be on at 5:30 on Fridays
C) A place on FaceBook
D) A magical land of unicorns where beer grows on trees 

At Kingdom Trails 2015 we spent too many hours watching:
A) Homey D. clown sketches
B) Irish sailing reports
C) Mexican weather reports
D) KT fall asleep sitting up

The "Rock Zone" is:
A) Uninhabited
B) Uninhibited
C) Underappreciated
D) Underwear

Never trust the following:

A) A happy song
B) A bearded man with a snicker doodle
C) A fart after 8 miles
D) The Tour Duh planning committee to actually make something happen

Bring your answers to the bonfire, The winner can be first in line for the fire jumping contest (always a crowd favorite).


Sunday, November 29, 2015

(Almost) a Decade of Stupidity

I just confirmed it: this year will be the tenth annual Bike, Bonfire, and Beer Exchange (I know this because I used all my fingers to count it out).

It started in '06 as a badly needed alternative to the put-on-a-tacky-sweater-drink-red-wine-and-exchange-cookies-while-listening-to-bad-Chrismas-music neighborhood holiday party. Our ingenious alternative is the exact opposite and follows a stunningly simple recipe: bikes, a bonfire, and beer.

Each year has brought surprises, like in 2007 when SF partied in shorts and flip flops, 2008 when DC drove DN's lawn tractor into the firepit, 2009's blowup doll and 14" snowfall, 2011's drinking beer from a used porcelain toilet, the ice storm of 2013, and "The Finger of God" which was visited upon us in 2014. I can't wait to see what 2015 will bring.

This year's event will be somewhere in or around the Lyndenwood Community. We'll have a ridiculous fire pit, a shitload of firewood, access via bike to the Marsh Creek trails, and an ample buffer zone between us and the nearest neighbor. We'll work on deets like menu (expect a repeat of last year's reindeer chili) and exact time, but right now we need to get the date nailed so you can advise the wife, husband, children that you will be busy that night and that they should not expect much from you the next morning either...

Click the link in my email (or in the Facebook group) to indicate which days work for you (Yes means good, (Yes) means could work in a pinch, and No means it doesn't work). Weekends and weekdays are in play.

I took half an hour to craft this email, you can complete the survey in only 30 seconds which is a small price to make your voice heard for one of the stupidest greatest biking events of the year.


P.S. Click this link if you want to bone up on 9 years of history of this iconic event.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Like Church

Click me for panorama from the Red platform at Ray's
2015. The best Thanksgiving ever. Not because it was unorthodox (it was) but because the Cleveland Clinic worked a cardiac miracle on my Mom. I can't say enough about my Mom's courage and strength (and sense of humor) and about the amazing people at the Cleveland Clinic. I have so much to be thankful for and I know it.

Now for the bike part... Thanksgiving week was spent driving to and from Cleveland, hanging out in family lounges at the Clinic, visiting with Mom, and sampling some of the local eats (I give Szechuan Gourmet five stars). But I did manage a break Friday afternoon to burn off some nervous energy with a visit Ray's Mountain Bike Park. $26 for admission and a hard tail SS rental. It was a rainy day during school break so yes it was busy but I still managed to work up a pretty good sweat riding some tight and twisty "single track."  The terrain is masterfully engineered. I usually try to keep my wheels on or near the ground when I ride in the woods, but these rollers were designed to put you in the air and bring you back to ground under control. And the gradual increase in difficulty from yellow to green to red to blue made it easy to predictably dial up the difficulty. But I only had a couple hours to ride, I can only imagine what a couple of weeks of riding there would do for my technical skills.

So if you find yourself in the neighborhood (Pittsburgh even), I highly recommend a visit to Ray's. And if you ever need to put your life in someone else's hands, I highly recommend that Clinic in Cleveland. And if you need to see an example of quiet strength and grace... well... Mom.


"Cycling is like church-many attend but few understand."
     -- Jim Burlant

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Climbing out of Blue Diamond on a
Canondale Trigger with red
rocks in the background.
Don't forget Viagra.

It was Thursday afternoon at the Aria resort in Las Vegas. The week had started with a customer dinner on Sunday night and had been non-stop since then. Sessions, meetings, dinners, drinks, nightclubs, and casinos. Rinse wash and repeat for four days. I'm not complaining but seriously too much of anything is too much for me and that was a little much. Plus I had been staring at the desert and the Red Rock mountains in the distance all week from my gilded cage on The Strip, wondering what adventures might await.

So it was Thursday afternoon and the last session was over. I was barefoot in my room when the text message finally arrived. "I'm in front of the casino. White Ford Focus with a Super Fly on the back."

Byron, my savior, had arrived. He was a professional mountain bike guide from McGhie's Bike Shop. He was here to pick me up, drive me to Blue Diamond (population 200 where the general store is also the Sheriff's office), get me my demo bike, and lead me into the desert to be cleansed in dirt and dust and sweat.

The riding was, how shall I say this, incredible. The mountains are massive and the distances are vast. East Coast riding is usually in mature forest where you can see the trail for tens of yards. In the desert you can see the trail under your wheels snaking off into the distance for a mile or more. The vegetation is yucca and joshua trees and all sorts of crazy cactus bushes. Dust and sand and rocks with strange shades of yellow, red, and sometimes green (minerals I presume). The trail names tell the story pretty well: Landmine Loop, Badger Pass Loop, Mustang Trails, Viagra, Old Spanish Trail, Rubber Ducky, White Rhino, and Dead Horse Loop.
Two thousand year old yucca tree

The first 8 miles or so was a long gentle climb, almost imperceptible but it was steadily adding up to some altitude which meant the ride back on Viagra was fast. 25 mph doesn't sound like much but I assure you when your on a curvy gravely singletrack threading the needle between cactus bushes and yucca trees (think pointy swords on a tree) is it plenty fast. And as the miles racked up I was getting the hang of the full suspension, letting it soak up the rock gardens instead of picking my way through them.

The last time I rode here about six years ago, it started a thought process that culminated into an 8 guy 5 day mountain bike odyssey from Durango Colorado to Moab Utah. Now the wheels are turning again. So much to ride, so little time!

In closing I want to send some props to Amy at McGhie's. She does an incredible job running their mountain bike guide business. It was flawless from beginning to end. All I had to do was show up in front of the casino with my biking clothes and turn some pedals in the desert, her team did the rest. I will definitely be back and you should too.

Byron's Strava summary


"It’s opener, out there, in the wide open air"
     -- Dr Seuss

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Popeapalooza ("85 seconds from Downingtown to The Delaware")

Sorry no music or editing.

Just 85 seconds of time lapse from Downingtown to The Deleware. 


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Popeapalooza ("Good News")

Pope Ride Re-Ride challenge #1:
Change your tire in intersection
at Chestnut and 13th.
The good news for those of you couldn't make it to Popeapalooza and the three Pope Rides is that we've laid the ground work for the Pope Ride Re-Ride. Sort of a scavenger hunt ride where under the supervision of Jesse and I, you will attempt to recreate selected pictures we took during the event. No doubt this will go down in the pantheon if other epic ride ideas like the "Tour duh" and the new bike-packing trip that is just entering the planning phase.

Sara's picture of people
taking pictures of the Pope.
In closing, it's fairly easy to recap the Popeapalooza events but difficult to convey the actual experience due to the many intangibles. First was having a ride partner who totally embraced the adventure and was always game to "take a peek around the next corner." Also this was a one-of-a-kind (maybe lifetime) event and everyone there knew it. You could see it in their eyes. Multiply this by a million or more souls sharing in this common experience together, and you get a sense of the magic. 

Tomorrow's post will be an exhilarating Popeapalooza post, the last in this series.

Until next time,

"The Pope Ride's over."
     -- Guy straddling bike at end of The Pope Ride
         (I had never heard anyone say that before)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Popeapalooza ("The Saxophone")

In the prior post I explored some of the non-bicycle aspects of this epic event. In this post we'll dig into the actual rides, all three of them:
  • The Ride to the Pope Ride (pretty self explanatory). This one started with an informal meetup of about 30 riders in the parking lot of the Conshohocken Ikea. We rode the SRT via The Trolly Cafe,  Manayunk, and the Zoo to 30th Street Station.  Every mile got more Pope-ish with more riders, national guard troops, and palpable excitement growing.
  • The Pope Ride was of course the featured bike event. This was the Open Streets Edition rolling from 30th Street Station into Center City and then east to the river. Reports from the train station were that Market was jammed with riders queuing up for two blocks prior to the ride. Newspaper reports of hundreds" of riders were vastly understated. We joined the Pope Ride as it entered Center City and then took a leisurely meandering ride through the neighborhoods of East Philly with pedestrians queuing up at crosswalks and locals coming of their homes to take pictures and cheer on the riders. Magical.
  • After the Pope Ride we took a few hours to eat and explore the Center City festivities. Finally it was time for The Ride from The Pope Ride which somehow passed the same saxophone player three times before finally hooking up with the SRT heading north. We managed to work in a side-trip through an impressive cemetery perched on a hillside south of Manayunk (because we hadn't seen enough miles or hills or mausoleums yet). 
On the ride home I was struck by the number of people still streaming into town. Lots of extended families (grandparents, parents , and kids) pushing strollers down Kelly Drive. Some were in street clothes and others were dressed in their Sunday best. But what really struck me was that they had already walked many miles, and had 2-3 miles left to go, and then the same miles on foot after the festivities. This was HARD for many of these people, but the mood was celebratory and positive. This part was humbling.

My next post will feature some coverage from my daughter Sara who was also at Popeapalooza and who (unlike me) she stuck it out for the evening and got to see the man himself.


"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."
     -- Dr Seuss

Monday, September 28, 2015

Popeapalooza ("It Wasn't ALL About The Bicycles")

Got bombed before the Pope Ride
In my last post I explained why we believed this was a "must" event. In this post I'll explore some of the non-bicycle elements that made it so special.

As with any Pope Ride hosted in a closed city, there would be a Ride to the Pope Ride and a Ride From the Pope Ride in addition to the actual Pope Ride. Three great rides and 47 miles packed into one day. Plus between rides there would be miles poking around the Philly side streets which featured:
  • Dozens of jumbo-trons showing the festivities at and around the Art Museum and connecting everyone into one synchronized million-man Popeapalooza. 
  • Assorted Pope schwag and souvenirs, Pope pins, t-shirts, bobble-heads, and squeeze dolls. There was Pope corn and Pope bracelets. Rosaries. Pope flags, Pope posters and cardboard cutouts of the Pope. Free enterprise was alive and well in the City of Brotherly Love. 
  • Spontaneous outbursts of joyous music and large-group dancing in the streets. Huge singing crowds ambling down the middle of otherwise deserted boulevards and streets towards the Art Museum.
  • Hundreds of "Pope Johns" gleaming in the sun, many of them lining the bridges into and out of the city.
  • Pope food. For us it would be two Epiphany sandwiches ordered sight unseen at Di Bruno. The official Pope sandwich was a no brainer and turned out to be just what two depleted cyclists needed (beef tenderloin, house made mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, and grilled romaine with chimichurri sauce on focaccia bread). Yum. By the time we got to the Reading Terminal food-orgy we were pretty full but that did not stop us from grabbing some coffee and browsing the glorious food show.
In my next post I'll dive into the actual rides and we'll even explore some local mausoleums.


"Take the long cut, we'll get there eventually."
     -- Unknown

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Popeapalooza ("It's Pope Time")

"In back alley. It's Pope time."

What started as a innocent Facebook
meetup spiraled into an epic urban ride
And began our adventure in the wee hours of Saturday morning as I picked up my fellow pilgrim Jesse Piersol and her bike, and we set off on our pilgrimage. We had no idea what the day would bring. For months the newspapers and interwebs had been warning of crushing crowds, transportation breakdowns, food shortages, and mass chaos in the streets. Maybe, but we also knew that:
  • The Pope. He was coming to Philadelphia for the second time in history. This was the definition of a once-in-a-lifetime event. The lawn mowing would have to wait until Sunday.
  • The People's Pope. This would not be just any Pope, this would be the People's Pope. Admittedly organized religion is not a big part of my life, but this Pope is an incredibly powerful and positive force in the world today and we wanted to show our support.
  • Open streets. The city was shut down to vehicular traffic so for a few precious hours we and our bikes would have the run of the 5th largest metropolis in the US.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists (and
    a few dogs) rule the streets
  • Adventure. We had a loose plan but we knew this would not be just "another ride." Stuff would happen and we would have to adapt and that is a formula for a memorable day. 
So at 6:23 am we cast our fate into the wind and started our pilgrimage.

In my next post I'll explore the special atmosphere that permeated the city yesterday and introduce you to the "Pope John."


"A bicycle does get you there and more And there is always the thin edge of danger to keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive. Dogs become dogs again and snap at your raincoat; potholes become personal. And getting there is all the fun."
     -- Unknown

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Five Days in The Kingdom (Part 4 The Rock Zone)

In my previous post I summarized some of the excellent riding in The Kingdom, but there were plenty of extracurricular activities, some of which warrant being memorialized here...

Extracurricular activities included Bag-O (you definitely want Miller on your team) and Frisbee and Bag-O and more Bag-O, and of course eating, with occasionally more innovative distractions like The Rock Zone and Karate Firewood.

Epic sunset over The Kingdom
(view from front deck)
The Rock Zone is an uninhibited (and mostly uninhabited) zone of free expression and very bad singing. It floated around the (thankfully) remote property, powered by underground indie grunge rock, a BlueTooth speaker, two exuberant mountain bikers, and about 11 double-IPAs. The issue with the rock zone was it's wireless nature which allowed it to freely seek out victims, but ironically it was more of a Rock Bubble because it's victims tended to be repulsed in the opposite direction ("repulsed" may be too strong a word, or maybe not).

Karate Firewood was another notable innovation developed to dispose of piles of kiln dried wood paneling that was piled up in the barn. The owner told us we could burn it (which of course we did) but first it had to be reduced to firepit size pieces. This activity was spearheaded not ironically by two members of The Rock Zone, using an ancient Asian technique known "Karate Firewood." Listen to the audio below and imagine the last few seconds repeated every minute for over an hour, the crashes and screams echoing through the hills and forests of Northern Vermont (thankfully the nearest house was 0.25 miles away). You get the picture.

There were plenty of other distractions such as trolling youtube for weather reports and falling asleep sitting up, but the rock zone and karate firewood will live in our hearts in infamy for a lifetime.


"My recreational and athletic goals have merged. (1) to hold my own riding with the serious drinkers and (2) to hold my own drinking with the serious riders. I’m working on the 2nd one as I type this."
     -- Michael Sweeney

Monday, September 21, 2015

Five Days in The Kingdom (Part 3 The Trails)

In my previous post I explored of the culinary aspects of the trip. But this was a bike trip, and we did spend 3-4 hours each day railing the awesome trails of Northern Vermont...

All three days were strong rides. Day one was a mad dash to Troll Stroll, Tap and Die, then then everything we could find on our way to old classic Sidewinder. It was a bit like a bunch of twelve year olds at a candy store. "I'll have one of those and one of those, oh and I want that and that and that. And some more of these, and those over there too." We'd had a year to anticipate this return trip and it showed. We rode hard all day.

Day two was epic, hitting both sides of the park which was unprecedented for us. It's a lot of miles and a load of climbing, but also miles of epic downhills and miles of smiles. I can't say enough good things about that the Kingdom Trails Association has done here, it is simply amazing and I'm already counting the days until next year.

Day three everyone was beginning to show some wear and tear, but enthusiasm trumps all and so we rode. And we rode.

It's always a challenge to rack and stack the trails, agree on a top 3 or a top 5, they are so varied and honestly all so awesome. Sidewinder has to be in that list with the adrenaline pumping drops and 2G compressions. Tap and Die is a perennial favorite along with Farm Junk and River Wood. But I have to say the new Bear Back trail is a piece of work, I just wish I had more legs for the last half. There, that's my rack and stack.


"There is nothing, absolutely nothing, quite so worthwhile as simply messing about on bicycles "
     -- Tom Kunich

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Five Days in The Kingdom (Part 2 From Spam to Fois Gras)

In my previous post I shared an infographic summary and some pithy expert analysis. Food is a big part of any cyclist's life so in this post I will dive into some of the culinary aspects of the trip.

On Friday afternoon we were relaxing après-ride on front deck with a million dollar view of The Kingdom, when Sean brought out the Fois Gras. I'm not even going to attempt describing the flavor, I'll just use the f-word. It was fabulous, off the chart as you saw in the infographic. Fat and fabulous.
Tangent: It has got to be tough showing up for a guys weekend as a restaurateur. I mean we know the guy can do amazing things with food, but this is supposed to be a relaxing trip and we all had reservations about him having to cook (work?) on his vacation. But he clearly loves to do this (it shows) and he brought his A-game to The Kingdom. which added a whole new dimension to an already packed weekend.. 
Sean's next masterpiece production was a classic steak dinner for eleven! 13 beautifully marbled ribeye steaks grilled over a massive pile of coals in the firepit. Two of them were grilled "dirty" which means thrown directly on the red hot coals for about 40 seconds per side. All this served with baked potatoes piled high with amazing sour cream and bacon, grilled broccoli, and 3 bottles of red wine. We enjoyed this dinner as a group, all seated at the huge dining table in the great room. Eleven guys riding hard each day, partying hard each night, and breaking bread together with this wonderful meal is a memory I will cherish forever.

So yeah, beef and duck fat.

But that's not all. The weekend also featured MikeR's smoked London broil, bacon for breakfast, and bacon on the trail. I think we had something resembling a salad on Sunday night but I can't be sure due to the beef-induced haze. Oh and bacon stuffed baked potatoes and crisp fried Spam for breakfast (that "mechanically separated" wonder food from my childhood). Three pounds of home-made beef jerky was used to sustain the beef intake between meals. 
Tangent: Bacon as a trail snack is a new discovery. The salt (an electrolyte) is good protection against cramps, and the fat actually soothes a stomach that may be pickled from energy drinks and power bars. New addition to the big ride check list.
This five day beef-and-bacon-fest took a toll on me, and once home I had to reboot my lower gastro-intestinal system. This took days of turning various dials such as Metamucil, Imodium, gallons of water, about a bushel of bran flakes, and precisely timed coffee breaks. It's now day five and I think I'm fully operational again.

So clearly not a sustainable diet and probably deadly if it were, but food is such a social thing and for a few days this decadence was a glorious aspect of this already incredible trip.


"At this moment, nothing else exists"
     -- Willow Koerber's Uncle Doug (after drinking a bottle of jalapeño sauce)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

From Spam to Fois Gras in 5 Days (or Why I Needed to Reboot My Lower-GI System This Week)

The infographic below summarizes the our five day adventure in Northern Vermont (a.k.a., "The Kingdom"). The methodology is derived from Gartner Group's "Magic Quadrant" research methodology. The first dimension represents ability to execute.  This is the ability to "get'r done" and is independent of the merits of the idea.  For the second dimension I considered the merits using a scale ranging from "debauchery" to "suave sophistication". Each activity is represented as a bubble on this 2-dimensional continuum, with bubble size representing the duration or number of participants, and bubble color indicating risk of injury which is rarely a consideration apparently.
Executive Summary:

  1. We pretty much steered clear of the Roadie Quadrant but had a close call with Tom's kit. Thankfully his Leadville 100 credentials nudged that bubble out of that dark corner of the analysis. Barely.
  2. There is some potential in the Emerging Talent quadrant but it needs to be carefully nurtured and developed to keep it on track. Along those lines, someone mentioned jamming a screwdriver into the Bluetooth speaker. Perhaps one of those parental access codes would be useful here.
  3. Overall execution was very strong with this being our third consecutive year, as indicated by the activities tendency toward the top two quadrants. While clusters are certainly entertaining, I think this is a reflection of the depth of talent and the diversity in this group. Give yourselves a pat on the pack for that one.
  4. There is some risky behavior taking place but it is not excessive and most of them are episodic so little to worry us here.
  5. Good balance between Debauchery and Sophistication. This is a very difficult balance to achieve, precious few can sustain it over a five day period. This may be part of the "secret sauce" that makes this such a fantastic weekend each year.

Next up will be posts diving into detail on extracurricular activities, culinary high points, and other aspects of the trip. Stay tuned.


"You say proboscis, I say proboscis"
     -- Mike Miller, admiring a fly on Rob's trail bacon.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Bee in the Bonnet

Post ride looking for something cold

On our rides we often say "you don't get this stuff sitting on the couch at home." True but for a few minutes yesterday that couch was looking pretty good...

The ride was Nockamixon. Hot and humid it was our 3rd ride in as many days. We were wrapping up a short food break when it started. A couple painful stings and a few confused expletives. A swarm of very angry wasps was upon us. A hundred yards of frantic pedaling to get away from the nest but the stinging continued and I had to stop in a vain attempt to swat them away. But then the swarm increased. Damn, they were following us! More frantic pedaling. My ankles and left hand were already a mess but now they were stinging under my helmet and shirt and - ahem - in my shorts. They are pissed and they are following us and we can't seem to lose them. Now everything is a blur of pedaling and stinging and swatting and cursing. We roll up on a trail work crew. I ditch the bike and run behind a tree to drop my drawers. All clear. Shake my clothes. Swearing. I toss my helmet to the ground and ... the mystery is solved. Out of my helmet rolls a nest of yellow jackets. Sonofabitch.

So they weren't exactly chasing us...The entire time we were pedaling "away" from the nest, they were bouncing along in or on my helmet getting more and more pissed and doing what they do when they get pissed. Goddamit.

Moments prior. Notice there
is no cursing or swatting.
I counted about a dozen stings. Head, hands, back, and butt. My ankles got it really good with 5-6 stings but it gets better ... my crotch and ...yes it gets even better still ... one right on the family jewels. Ironically it's the ankles that were the most "uncomfortable." Once it was apparent none of us were going into apoplectic shock we swore a couple more times and eventually got our heads back into the game and finished with 90 minutes of miles and smiles.

Post ride we grabbed a cooler of coldies from the truck so we could relax for the customary post-ride debrief (the first coldie went straight into my shorts). As usual the conversation was pithy and far ranging but can be summarized as:

  • Check your helmet. Now check it again.
  • It can be a fine line between thanking someone for doing you a big favor and thinking you want to punch them in the face.
  • Everyone has their price. No exceptions.
  • Mangoes are awesome.

So in the end I have to say I'm still glad I got off the couch yesterday to hang out with this bunch. And with the itching and swelling that I've got going right now, that is "sayin' something."


“You do something stupid, you gotta act like it didn't hurt" 
     – Anonymous

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Thirteen Degrees North

Crew aboard STW
First blog post in five month but it is a doozie...the return of The Joy Boys to Caribbean sailing! It reads more like a ship's log than any sort of coherent story, but I want to get it down in writing before the details start fading. It's missing some color (Cathyann, PSV resort bar, etc) but those stories are best told in person anyway. I hope you enjoy 5% as much as I did!

Day 1 Downingtown to St. Vincent

  • My first delousing leaving Trinidad (thanks LIAT).
  • Lisa met us at airport and delivered is quickly and safely to Blue Lagoon (thanks TMM).
  • Beachside chart briefing with John West, very thorough and some great stories.
  • Lisa took us to opening of Carnival @ Victoria Park Kingstown – old (decrepit) soccer stadium packed beyond capacity, live music, and primitive but serviceable facilities. Chatted with the Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves at the beer tent.
  • The beaches on Mustique don't suck
  • After a visually inspiring drive through the streets of Kingstown, we returned to Blue Lagoon to watch Mayweather v. Pacquiao in the outdoor bar.

Day 2 Sail to Mustique

  • Explored ashore, snorkeled, chased some goats, hunted some coconuts, and busted a gut over Jim’s header boarding STW.
  • Ashore again, nice walk past the airport to Cotton House.
  • Introduced to “Sparrow” rum @ Basil’s (definitely flammable).
  • Fishing village with Basil's in
    the background.
  • Late that night, “Tranquility” (a 78’ cat) drags off their anchor and is drifting toward Montezuma Shoal. Unable to hail harbor master on VHF16, so we Seal Team 6 boards the dinghy with a couple PFDs, a flashlight, and a walkie talkie and saves the day for some clueless sailors. The dinghy is not seaworthy, so remaining crew relieved we didn’t have to leave the mooring ball in the dark to rescue Seal Team 6.

Day 3 Explore Mustique, sail to Tobago Cays

  • Rented a “mule”, explored the entire island including Macaroni beach (rugged and remote) and Obsidian bay (black sand beach) on the far side.
  • Firefly – Dave finds ringing cell phone, we enjoy an $80 round of drinks and the classy casual luxury. Dave parked in Lady Cat Jagger’s personal barstool.
  • 4.5 hour sail to Tobago Cays, saw many flying fish. Put the hand line in, lost a lure to something with very sharp teeth.
  • View of turtle sanctuary and Tobago
    Cays from Baradel island.
  • First anchoring – shallow crowded anchorage, windy since the reef breaks the swell but not the wind.

Day 4 – Explore Tobago Cays and sail to Petite St Vincent

  • After breakfast we snorkeled the turtle sanctuary the explored Baradel on foot. Many iguanas and some great views.
  • Returning to STW, the dinghy takes on water. A lot of water. It would be on the bottom of the Cay if it weren’t inflatable. 
  •  “Free Willy” and “Mr. Quality” sold us a bunch of T-shirts.
  • Sailing to PSV we get our first glimpse of Happy Island.
  • Added a beer can teaser to our fishing gear, but still nothing on the hook.
  • Slight navigational issue thinking the shoal off Mopion was Pinese rock. Almost tried to sail between them. We would not have made it. Yikes!
  • Anchored off PSV in 2kt current, need to pay attention while swimming.
  • This was our third day of sailing, the cobwebs are mostly gone and crew is working really well together.
  • Seal Team 5 takes dingy ride thru international waters to Petite Martinique for PK supplies. Nothing open, but we did manage to convince Paula to open her beach bar and negotiate for 2 cans coconut, 1 nutmeg, 1 fresh pepper, and about 8 ice cubes.
  • Fresh water shower off the fantail with the Liquid Joy – forgot how good it feels to be clean!
  • Motor almost falls of Dinghy. Only real complaint about the charter is this POS dinghy.
  • Happy Island is self explanatory
  • “Goaties Beach Bar” closed early so we redirected to the resort bar on the hill. We are cruisers (forbidden) and don’t have trousers (required) but they have beds, drinks, ice. After a (very very) rough start we hit it off well with the bartender and when we leave for STW they throw in a carton of ice (that is GOLD). 

Day 5 – Sail to Union Island

Getting happy
  • Anchor and re-anchor off Happy Island (just to windward of Newland’s Reef).
  • Large power boat trying to anchor next door – fail!
  • Margaret Wroughton anchors under sail next door – success!
  • Met Janti and enjoyed some cold ones on Happy Island
  • Sail to Chatham Bay (other side of Union) – big water, this is not BVI!
  • Dinner at Seckie & Vanessa's "Sun, Beach & Eat".  Fabulous family style meal of lobster, potatoes, plaintains, rice, salad, fish, ribs, chicken, and of course lobster (halved and still squirming when they went on the grill). Oh and Vanessa’s own cake for dessert.
  • Talk to Shark Attack ("Jamaque" & his mother; "crazy fucking italians"; "figure lickin' good") -  walk to Aqua (end of beach; pool; owned by Antonio)
  • Peeing off the fantail at night with Southern Cross overhead. Does it get any better?
  • Throw some lobster on the barbie
    at Seckie & Vanessa's.
  • Wind occasionally kicks up for 15-20 seconds, sounds like a train roaring through the anchorage. 

Day 6 Climb Mt Olympus and Sail to Mayreau

  • Guy named "Eisenhart" left bag at Bollhead's night before (cash, camera, passport) and sailed away without it. Never found out how that story ended.
  • Met Bollhead, Tim and guy from N. Hampshire (is he hiding something?)
  • Steep hike to Mt. Olympus, met "Bushman" and goats, bunnies, amazing gardens
  • Sail to Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau. Our first tack (previous 4 days have been all gybes).
  • Walked into village past cemetery, school (goat on roof), old Catholic Church with views of Tobago Cays. Meet "Righteous" Robert @ "Righteous & de Youths". Dogs everywhere - one is racists (we later learn).
  • Drinks & early dinner @ Dennis' Hideaway - meet Charleston, Cathyann & Dennis. Cathyann was initially guarded but warmed up and we had very engaging few hours (worldly for a 27 year old). Charleston did fantastic job cooking for us in the open air kitchen.
  • Robert
  • Back to STW; swim to shore, drinks at SW Bay Club.

Day 7 – Sail to Bequia

  • Anchor tangled with mooring ball made leaving the anchorage a little tricky.
  • Early sail to Bequia (6+ hr sail with long beat into Admiralty Bay/Princess Margaret Beach)
  • Nailed the noon sextant sighting.  Sextant: 61°22’W 13°8’N.  GPS: 61°23’W 13°1’N. Did the math long hand and yes this sighting was accurate to 7NM! 
  • Dennis' Hideaway with Cathyann
  • Ashore to Whaleboner (Ruth & daughter Ariel). After the previous 6 days, Bequia feels a little too civilized for my sensibilities.

Day 8 – Return to Blue Lagoon and Fly to Trinidad and Tobago 
  • Morning snorkel (moray eels). 
  • Generator goes kaput.
  • Sail to Blue Lagoon, is a beat against a strong current. Lots of tacking.
  • Marlin “We were worried about you. You never called.  Everyone always calls.” We explained that our goal was to “get away from it all.” Cell phones and radios didn’t fit into that program.
  • Barge towed out of Blue Lagoon, ran aground in the (narrow) channel. If we’d returned 1 hour later we might never have gotten into the Lagoon!
  • Saltwhistle on Mayreau
  • Fly to TT in my bathing suit.

Day 9 – Fly Home

  • Start planning return trip!

I'm fortunate to have a wife that supports these more than occasional indulgences, and to have friends with a sense of adventure with whom to indulge...and who can spend time together 24x7 in very tight quarters and still be friends when it's all over.

"Thank you" to all who made this possible doesn't quite cut it...
Nailing the noon sighting. Marquesas
here we come!


"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."
     -- John Muir (1838 - 1914)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The One Less Traveled

 The jaunt to the boat launch confirmed the inter-web reports of treacherous riding conditions - the trails were coated in half an inch of hard shiny ice - so I was surprised to see half a dozen riders circling at the boat launch when I arrived (this group seems to thrive on adversity which is good because we were about to have some).

After gravel grinding to the dam, we knew the Sole Trail would be a ticket straight to the emergency room, so we diverted to ride the frozen flats above the spillway. With so many of us on fat bikes this quickly devolved into a Charlie Company bushwhack through the bamboo, hand-over-hand dragging bikes up the side of the decrepit crumbling spillway, and finally onto some east-side high pucker-factor icy singletrack.

For the return from The Beer Tree (yes, "all roads do lead to The Beer Tree") we rode/skated/walked across the lake ice back to the flats to ride in more aimless circles around and over the occasional rock pile. It wasn't long before one of us pinch flatted with the sun just about to set and the temp about to plummet. This of course presented even more opportunity to yuck it up and 20 minutes later (ICTs have big tires) we were all smiles for the gravel grind back to the launch.

This ride was the definition of "Adventure by Bike." No plan, no destination, just a group of friends turning corners just to see what would happen next.


"Two paths diverged in the wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
     -- Robert Frost

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015 "Hair of the Dog" Hangover Ride

Man down. Like really down.

2015 started pretty much the same way 2014 ended...riding. The only difference was that this morning's Hangover Ride was sparsely attended - possibly due to the 10:30 am start time. In spite of this, the ride was a success on multiple fronts:

  • Some healthy hangovers were burned off by the fresh air, the exercise, and a little hair of the dog.
  • We on-boarded a new (to us) rider Justin. He's a quick study on the dog hair stuff and also outlasted us on the riding part.
  • We were able to give one very bedraggled (decapitated actually) camper a proper Sioux-style tree burial.
Field work.
Looking forward to more 2015...


photos courtesy of mike