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Archive for October, 2008

Brown County Breakdown 2008

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Sunday was the 4th annual Brown County Breakdown mountain bike ride, and my third time doing the ride (see my blog posts from 2007 and 2006). This is always my favorite ride of the entire year, and I was really looking forward to it. However, between getting married and getting ready to move, I have had very little time to ride in the past month, so I didn’t feel quite as prepared as I was last year.

We had a great group of riders: Dave, Doug, DJ, Jason, and myself. Doug planned to do the 35-mile route; the rest of us planned to do 50. However, with the new trails they’ve built, those routes were more like 40 and 60 miles.

The day got off to a bit of a rocky start. I arrived later than I planned, and had to rush a bit through registration and getting ready. Then, we had some trouble finding each other. This hasn’t been a problem in the past, but with over 300 riders this year, it was a little more difficult. We managed to get everyone together in time for the mass start. We rode in the slowest group, which started last. We were riding by about 8:20 am. It was a lot warmer than usual, about 55 degrees when we started riding. In the past it’s been in the 40s.

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The 100-milers waiting to start

As in past years, the ride started with a road climb to thin the herd a bit before entering the woods. However, this year the route joined the trail sooner than in the past — a welcome change, as the road climb is tough, and really not much fun on a mountain bike.

Soon, we were on the North Tower Loop. Trail conditions were fantastic — while it’s been a very dry year since this spring, we got some rain earlier last week that kept the dust under control. The trail was smooth and fast, and it felt great to be riding. We stopped to make a few adjustments to our bikes.

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The North Tower Loop

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Making some bike adjustments

The ride on the North Tower Loop went by quickly and uneventfully. We got on the Aynes Loop and started the long climb to the top of the hill. It’s about 10 minutes of solid climbing, and as we neared the top, we started hearing what sounded like a banjo. We climbed some more, and rode over the rock gardens and through the switchback near the top. As we crested the hill, sure enough there was a guy in jeans and a tattered flannel shirt leaning up against a tree and playing the banjo. He had fake buck teeth and long, nappy hair that would become the source of much debate over the course of the day. Was the hair real, or was it attached to his hat? And how did he get there? Did he ride his bike?

After exchanging a few Deliverance references, we stopped for a break at the top of the hill with quite a few other riders. They’ve always had a bluegrass band at the main SAG stop, but the banjo player on the Aynes hill sure added to the atmosphere.

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Banjo player at the top of the Aynes hill

We started the descent, which begins with some sketchy rocks. A couple of people had stopped to walk over the rocks, but we powered on through. It’s one of those situations where it looks scary, but if you just let your bike do the work, it’ll roll over the rocks without any problem. We enjoyed the long descent. We had earned it.

As we reached the Hesitation Point trail, I realized that this may have been the first time I’ve ridden it all year. I simply haven’t gotten out to Brown County as much this year, and with my finger injury and night riding I’ve done, I kept to the easier trails.

While I was thinking this, I once again heard music. This time, a fiddle player was standing in the forest, fiddling away. And once again we wondered how the heck he got there. It’s such a unique experience to ride through the forest and suddenly be taken surprise by a fiddler. I’m sure it was an interesting time for him, too.

HP went better than I expected. It’s a couple of miles, mostly uphill, and I handled it pretty well. I even made it up a couple of technical features I’ve never conquered going uphill before. One was a tricky rock garden, the other a large rock that is tough to climb.

It wasn’t pretty, but to climb the big rock, I picked up some speed, did a wheelie to get my front wheel on the rock, and then shifted my weight forward to pull my rear wheel with me. However, I didn’t have quite enough momentum, and I stalled for a moment. There I sat, precariously perched on a rock, wondering if I could get moving again or if I was doomed to fall. I probably only stopped for a fraction of a second, but it felt longer. I concentrated on not falling down into the ravine) I fell slightly to the uphill side of the trail, but pushed off of a tree and managed to get moving again. Phew!

We finished the climb and found ourselves at Hesitation Point. We stopped to rest for a few minutes, and have a snack. A hammered dulcimer player was looking out over the land and playing for us.The view at Hesitation Point is a beautiful one, and the music enhanced the experience.

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Hesitation Point view

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Hammered Dulcimer player

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DJ, Doug, Jason, Dave, and me at Hesitation Point

After a brief break, we continued. Next were some more trails in the park. These, I hadn’t ridden since last year’s Breakdown, and one section I hadn’t ridden at all. I had heard that the new intermediate trail was pretty technical, and as I found out, that’s true. .Threre are a lot of rocks to deal with, many during uphill stretches, and some optional huge rock piles you can ride over. This section of trail was more draining than I expected, and we walked a large portion of it. This trail also contains a long, beautiful wooden bridge and some tricky logs to hop. I did well on those parts.

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Shadows by part of the new intermediate trail

I had forgotten how much fun the new beginner trail is. It’s easy enough for beginners to ride it, but for us it was a real hammerfest, with many opportunities to catch some air. However, I mostly kept my wheels on the ground. I don’t have a lot of confidence while jumping yet, and I was worried I wouldn’t land quite straight. I need to practice this.

Next was a brief section of road riding, followed by the horse trail down to the cabin that serves as SAG stop #1.

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Road

As always, the horse trail was challenging. It’s mostly downhill in this direction, but the surface is loose dirt with many large, loose rocks to deal with and some sketchy descents. It was also a lot dustier than the other trails so far, but still a lot of fun. As we were riding on a ridgetop, we also got some faint views of surrounding hills through the trees.

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Horse Trail

Before long, we reached the cabin, where the first SAG stop is. As in the past, there was a bluegrass band playing on the porch, some food and drink, etc.

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Bluegrass band on the porch

I saw a dog wandering around and remembered furiousBall’s comment from my post about last year’s breakdown:

that cabin looks so in place, bluegrass band on the porch. they only are missing a lazy bloodhound sleeping on the steps

Well, it was a basset hound, not a bloodhound, but look at this guy. He’s awesome. I never did learn his name.

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Basset hound

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Basset hounds, bluegrass, and bicycles

We stayed at the cabin long enough to rest, eat, and have the mechanic there fix DJ’s back wheel. It had been making some weird noises, and the mechanic said all his spokes were loose. Since he had just gotten it back from the shop, he was none too pleased. But the mechanic got him going again.

We headed out for the next section of our ride: Nebo Ridge. The trailhead was just a few minutes away. We stopped in the parking lot to make some more bike adjustments, and then started the grueling 1.25-mile climb. We made that and had several descents followed by climbs of varying difficulty. It was getting pretty hot at this point and by the time we finished all that climbing, I was really feeling sluggish. Fortunately it was mostly downhill for a while, but I was getting tired and put it on autopilot for a while. Dave and DJ were still going strong and rode ahead a bit. DJ fell behind me for a while. He was suffering more than I was, but he too managed to keep moving.

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The Nebo Ridge trail

This normally fun, fast section of trail was sort of a low point for me in the ride. It was still fast and fun, but I was feeling neither. I enjoyed the downhill parts but felt incredibly sluggish while climbing. I was a bit loopy and just concentrating on the trail immediately in front of me. I never felt out of control, but I was a little disoriented at times. I really don’t even remember this section very well. I do remember that in areas almost all the trees had turned a brilliant yellow color, and as usual I really enjoyed riding through the pine section.

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Another part of the Nebo Ridge trail

We finished Nebo and headed down the road toward the second SAG stop. We passed some fields that I always enjoy. They were bright yellow with goldenrod the last time we rode through here. By now the colors had faded to dull browns.

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Field by Nebo Ridge

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Road section

We got to SAG #2 and took another break. I ate a sandwich and a couple of bananas and some energy drink. We rested here for a while, and the shade felt great. A refreshing, cool breeze blew through. After this stop I felt slightly more energetic, but not much. We had some gravel/dirt riding to do, then a huge climb up Combs Road. I made the climb, which is pretty hit or miss for me. It was rewarding, but I felt pretty drained after doing so. Next we had a long, bumpy descent back down to the trailhead. A couple of riders passed me with no warning, the only rude riders I encountered all day. But they passed safely and soon we had finished Nebo Ridge and were back to the cabin (SAG #1).

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Some riders climbing Combs Road

We took another break at the cabin. There was now pizza there, and I ate quite a few pieces. I had been feeling hungry and this was just what I needed. I refilled my Camelbak and put some more energy drink in my water bottle. DJ was really hurting at this point, and I had been, too. Dave’s knee was acting up. We were all suffering more than we expected. And we knew we still had a lot of climbing to do on the horse trail.

So, after a long break and some good food, we headed up the trail, first pushing our bikes due to the steepness of the trail. Even pushing our bikes was hard. Once we got to a point where we could ride once again, we were still climbing for some time. I rode well here. I even got a second wind of sorts, but it didn’t last too long. By the time we made it back to the other end of the horse trail, which involves a lot of tough climbs, we were all pretty tired. Except Jason, who has ridden less than most of us yet is still a stronger rider. I have yet to figure that one out.

Anyway, we decided to take the road back most of the way. We dropped back down to the trail by the North Tower and enjoyed about a mile of fast, flowing downhill riding to the end of the ride. While we rode through this very-familiar section of trail, I marveled at how the trees were changing, and how beautiful they looked, the awesome flow of the trail, and looked back on all the great rides I’d done there, with my awesome riding buddies. I’ll miss those trails, and friends, so much. I felt sad, but what an awesome and fitting last ride before my upcoming move. I spent all day on my bike (over 9 hours), covering over 50 miles (mostly trails), a great time with friends, some good music, and even a beer with some great barbeque afterwards.

The Breakdown has been my favorite ride of the year every year I’ve done it. I hope I can come back next year to ride it once again. My friends have even offered to cover my registration fee, if I can find a way to get back here for it. What a group!

Wilkes-Barre, PA: First impressions

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Last weekend, Sarah and I went to Wilkes-Barre, PA, where we are moving, with the primary goal of finding a place to live. We flew to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre airport (by way of Chicago), rented a car, and got in to our hotel room late Friday night.

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Scene at O’Hare International Airport

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Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport


“Meditation Room” At W-B/Scranton Airport

Saturday morning, we woke up and I peeked out the window to get my first glimpse of the area during daylight hours. I saw a bunch of chain stores, and mountains in the distance. Pretty damn cool, since I didn’t really get to see the mountains at all the night before.

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First glimpse of Wilkes-Barre

To get to our appointments, we had to drive across town on 309, one of the major roads. This gave us some great views of the city and surrounding area.

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Wilkes-Barre, as seen from 309

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309

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Bridge across the Susquehanna River

We spent Saturday touring apartment complexes and rental houses and calling others to attempt to find something suitable. Frankly, it was pretty frustrating. Even the apartment complex we thought would be a pretty safe bet turned out not to be a good option at all. Some houses were decrepit, in bad neighborhoods, or both. In the process, we did get to see a lot of the area and got to know our way around a little bit. We were mostly interested in living in Kingston, a smaller borough right across the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre.

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A Kingston neighborhood

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Looking toward Edwardsville, and the mountains

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Looking down on the valley from the top of a hill

We also spent some time in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

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Someone painting a mural

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Staircase

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YMCA

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Osterhout Free Library

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Inside the library

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Another shot inside the library

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Church

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The square, downtown

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Around Town Bicycles

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Bike Shop Parking Only

We eventually found a good place to live in Kingston — we’ll be renting half a duplex, 3 bedrooms, two stories, plus basement and attic, and a small fenced yard for the dog. All for the same price as the 2-bedroom apartment we have now.

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The front of the house. Left half is hours.

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Back yard (fence to be completed, debris cleared away)

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Our neighborhood

We also managed to go for a couple of drives in the mountains while we were there. The fall colors are a lot further ahead there than they are here. One drive included a precipitous gravel road up the side of a mountain, with some switchbacks and quite steep sections, and even some rocks forming small rock gardens in the middle of the road — driven in our rented PT Cruiser. Man, that car sucks. But it survived. And we only nearly hit a couple of deer.

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View from near the top of one mountain

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Mountains

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An industrial complex nestled in the mountains — strange juxtaposition

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Driving through the Endless Mountains

We only got a small taste of the beautiful country in the area, but it’s certainly whet my appetite. I’m excited about cycling there, but some of these roads are just incredibly steep, for a long time. I’ve got a real challenge cut out for me.

A beautiful evening Water Works ride

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

It’s getting more and more difficult to find time to ride, as we make preparations for our move. We are going to Wilkes-Barre this weekend to look at apartments, and of course we have all kinds of packing to do, and other arrangements to make. But last night after work I found time for a ride. I thought about doing something short in the interest of time, but selfishly chose to do the Water Works ride, one of my usual training routes that takes about an hour and a half.

Fall weather seems to be arriving. In fact, as of yesterday, it was suddenly a bit chilly, where it was around 80 degrees the day before. The sudden drop in temperatures made me realize that I need to get out my cold weather riding gear.

I am testing a new Blackburn Road Mirror, which attaches to the brake hood (see here). More on that in a minute.

I headed out a bit after 6:00, knowing it would get fairly dark as I rode, but took lights with me so I wouldn’t have to worry. As I rode up Smith Road, I found yet another short cut of sorts. Not that a shortcut is needed there, but it is nice to get off of the higher-traffic Smith Road and ride by a farm and a surprisingly-scenic new housing development. This route took me on gravel briefly, then on new, smooth roads through the residential area.

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Gravel drive off Smith Road

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Looking in the mirror

My ride was unventful for a while, but it sure was a beautiful evening to be out riding. I savored the experience, knowing I probably won’t be able to ride here much before we move. Someone was riding behind me for a while down Snoddy Road, but he peeled off and went down Moore’s Creek Road when I turned on Handy Road to head toward the Water Works plant. Along the way I saw a group of riders going the other way that I think may have been the “OWLS” group I’ve read about on the Bicycling in Bloomington blog.

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Riding on Handy Road

I reached the Water Works facility and turned onto Shady Side Drive, which gives some views of Lake Monroe and adds a little extra fun and easy mileage to the ride. I rode and peered out at the lake as I did so … the trees are turning a little bit. Soon it’ll be very colorful.

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Lake Monroe, viewed from Shady Side Dr.

I turned a corner and right in front of me was a handsome four-point buck, just staring at me. I rarely see bucks around here. They do organized hunts every couple of years to control the deer population around here, and I assume that is why I don’t see many bucks. It sounds bad, but really think these hunts are necessary … before they did them, the deer population was out of control. Many deer were starving, from a lack of food, and they were becoming a dangerous nuisance. I could be wrong on this point, though. Anyway, the point is, this was one handsome deer. I tried to get a photo, but didn’t get anything worthwhile. I rode around another corner and saw another buck, and a doe. They bounded off through a meadow and into the woods. Again, no decent photos.

I was at the turn-around point, so I headed back. Shady Side is, as you might expect, quite shady, and I felt a bit chilly. As I passed the Water Works facility, I realized I now had a bit of a headwind. Nothing unamanageable, but it made the next few miles a little harder.

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The Water Works facility, backlit

I made the long, fast descent down Moore’s Creek Road, “only” hitting 45 mph (last time, I hit 46). It was exhilarating. I rode on and stopped by Lake Monroe for a little bit longer than usual, to take some photos. It was a particularly beautiful evening, with the sun setting, and some beautiful reflections on the lake. The only other person I saw was a fisherman who seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.

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My bicycle by Lake Monroe

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Another bike shot

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Mirror, rocks, water

I walked along the shoreline to get a better view of the lake. As soon as I reached the end of the boat ramp, I saw a Great Blue Heron wading through the water. It was surprisingly close and didn’t seem to mind my presence. But I didn’t press my luck and try to get closer.

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Great Blue Heron in Lake Monroe

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One last shot of the lake

I pedaled on, looking over at the lake as I rode. I saw an egret in the lake, and a deer grazing near the water. It was a great night for wildlife.

I rode in the valley for a few minutes. It was getting fairly dark, so I turned on my lights.

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Barn

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Clouds

I made the long climb out of the valley, and saw a few more deer along the way. I was feeling a little chilly by this point in my ride, so I rode harder. This didn’t really work, since the faster I rode, the more wind I had to contend with. I didn’t mind too much, though, it was a welcome change to feel too cool, rather than hot.

I rode back through the same residential area. I paused to get a photo of a huge house by a pond with a fountain. Wow.

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A lovely neighborhood

Within a few minutes, I was home. What an awesome ride! It’s amazing to me that I’ve ridden this route so many times, yet each time, it’s different.

A few words on my mirror: it doesn’t really seem to interfere with riding in the brake hoods, which is nice. But it vibrates quite a bit, and sometimes that makes it hard to see what’s going on. Still, it’s better than nothing.

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