Tuesday, May 25, 2021

There is no bad weather for cycling... but there is pollen

As we all know, there is no bad weather for cycling, only bad clothes. At least I wish it was all this simple. Unfortunately, no clothing is going to protect me from pollen, which we get in overabundance every April through June. There are days where absolutely everything gets covered by a thick yellow dust blanket. After living in New England for quite some time, my body apparently stopped tolerating pollen and now every spring I suffer from allergies.

This creates a problem. I sort of temporarily run out of good options where to ride a bike. My usual places are heavily forested and in general, pollen seems unavoidable. After a few unpleasant situations and remembering my last year's ride when I was pretty much ready to pull my eyeballs out, I decided to completely change the strategy this year.

The goal was simple - ride where there is no pollen (duh)! Of course, around Boston this means there are basically only two options left: (1) city and (2) beach. Essentially, I either ride in the middle of Boston, where are few trees or ride very close to ocean, where constant breeze blows pollen away.

After testing it over the last two weekends, I have to say this actually works. First, I tried the city. Since riding a bike in Boston isn't typically a very pleasant experience, I decided to start very early on Sunday morning, when traffic was still very light and go to those places where cars don't go - the old, narrow alleys of Beacon Hill.

Sure, it wasn't a very long ride (in terms of distance) but revisiting those XVIII/XIX-century streets is a purely magical experience.

Going back home to Arlington, I could immediately tell the difference between the very downtown core of the Hub and the greener suburbs. The closer I was getting home the worse pollen situation was becoming.

Next, I tried the beach. I mean, I can't actually ride my bike on beach, but I could design a route that would take me as close to the ocean as possible. Starting from Georgetown, I followed north to Newburyport and then along the coast all the way to (almost) Portsmouth, NH. It was actually a perfect morning for such a ride: 17C (63F), cloudy and with a light breeze.

The way back was a bit boring though and since I didn't want to follow the same route I decided to ride a bit more inland. Unfortunately, that meant being exposed to pollen more. Overall, the coast part of the route was way more interesting and I wouldn't mind trying it again.

Now my problem is that I have already tested the two most obvious options and I ran out of ideas what to try next. Can we end the pollen season early this year, please?

Friday, April 30, 2021

Riding the distance

Let's get to the point - my last post was titled "Why I don't have time to ride a century" and just a few weeks later I had a chance to use a whole day to ride as much as I wanted. And I didn't like it.

But let's start from the beginning. I decided to just enjoy a full day of riding - something that doesn't happen very often as work or family usually sort of "get in the way". I designed a route that seemed reasonable, picked a day when weather was supposed to be decent and started early enough to have plenty of time.

I took off in Winchendon, MA and moved north towards New Hampshire. There are some nice dirt roads in this area that are certainly worth visiting - roughly between Winchendon and Jaffrey. At this point I realized that there are some problems with riding a bike off-road in early spring. First - it's still quite cold, to the point when it may actually be sub-Celsius-zero in the morning. Second - April is rainy, which means that some trails may be flooded.

And they were. After carefully assessing the situation I realized that the puddle is too deep to ride through it, but shallow enough to walk through. Unfortunately, both sides of the road had enough vegetation and swamp to make it impossible to go around the puddle. That left me with one option - shoes off, bike on shoulder and walk.

Here comes the worst part. If you see that the top of the puddle has a thin floating sheet of ice on it you can be sure that this isn't exactly a hot tub.

After waiting a few minutes to get at least partial feeling in my feet, which allowed me to put my socks and shoes back on, I continued towards Jaffrey, NH. From there I moved back south using Monadnock Branch Rail Trail.

Then I rode west just north of the state border. It started getting a bit warmer and some sun was popping out. It was already afternoon and I had to take a break for lunch. It's always good to pack up some real food - sandwiches, nuts for snacking, chocolate. I hate riding with just fake "cycling food" like gels and bars.

At some point around mile 60 or so, I started getting a feeling that I was supposed to enjoy it more. In other words, weather was fine, road was good, bike was rolling just fine, yet I somehow couldn't enjoy riding the distance and adding miles. I was getting tired.

Maybe it was simply that 127km (80mi) was too much to take in a hilly terrain. At least for now. Maybe my expectations were wrong. Or maybe I need to pack up more sandwiches next time. Somehow I think that in the future I would rather go for two short rides than one really long one. We'll see about that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Why I don't have time to ride a century - Hampstead Circuit

It got warmer and now you see them everywhere. They were hibernating over winter and with first signs of spring, they come back ready for action. Landscapers. Their noisy leaf blowers wake me up now every morning.

Just kidding, I was obviously talking about cyclists. Most people give up cycling in winter. I don't - but I understand that riding in freezing weather may not be enjoyable to many. I, on the other hand, don't enjoy riding in rain. Or mud.

For this reason, I actually very much enjoy riding on dry winter days. That means - those days with no rain, no snow, but sub-zero (That's a metric zero!) temperatures. In such conditions all mud is frozen and those flooded trails that were impassable in summer, become icy roads.

But those days are gone. Sun is out in nearly full strength, rapidly melting snow and ice. I thought I could revisit some long-forgotten places, so last weekend I took a quick trip just across the northern state border - starting in Windham, NH on a rail trail.

Early morning was still a bit freezing. Air temperature barely hovered above 32F/0C. I decided to stay warm by going faster.

Not all ice melted yet.

Soon I reached the intersection with Rockingham Recreational Trail and started rolling on its frozen, sandy surface. I was glad to be there early in the morning, before sun begins melting frozen mud into a gloopy mess.

The trail was empty, not counting a few loud ATVs. These buggers are the main reason why Rockingham Trail remains muddy and eroded. I still remember when I tried to ride there years ago on my old bike with 35mm wide tires. Big mistake.
Sandy Rockingham Trail in early morning sun.

After roughly 25km (15mi) I decided to turn around and start riding back. I thought it would be a good idea to use a power line. You see, most high-voltage power lines have a maintenance road running under them. With a bit of luck, we can use those roads as informal trails.

"A bit of luck" turns out to be the critical factor here. With my luck, the trail quickly turned out to be completely flooded and I had to turn around. "Well, no matter" - I thought. I simply followed the main road instead, until I could reconnect with the power line trail.

I found that while I could enter the trail off Rt 111A, the entryway was again flooded. The flood wasn't huge but had a stream of water rushing right through the middle of it. I figured I could still use the trail if I go around the flooded part. This forced me to walk through some bushes. What I didn't anticipate is the number of thorns on those twigs. Very soon my legs looked like were scratched by an angry house cat.

It hurts more than you think.

Back on the trail, I started going up and down the uneven rocky surface until just after barely a few minutes I found myself in front of yet another flood. Darn! There was no way I could cross it, but looking at my bleeding legs I decided not to turn back and go through the thorns again. Fortunately, there was a narrow ATV trail to my left and after a quick look at the map, I figured it would probably take me to Long Pond Rd and maybe I can abandon the power line.

But no. The ATV trail was just meandering between the trees and suddenly I found myself back at the power line... on the other side of the flood! Fortunately, this was the last major obstacle on my route and the rest of the trail was somewhat more usable.

Ups and downs. The power line trails can be rough, but it's the floods that make them a real challenge.

Once I reached Kingston Rd, I stayed on pavement for most of the return leg. I tried to avoid Rt 111 though. It's like a main highway with way too many cars and trucks and despite a pretty wide shoulder, riding bike there is simply not enjoyable at all.

Soon I was back at Windham. Those 55km (35mi) took me 4 hours to ride - way too long by any "road" standards. But then no regular "roadie" would try to ride in places I did. This is basically why I don't have time to ride a typical century. There is just not enough light in the day to fit that many detours and stops in my ride.

Some people ride to add miles, but when I ride I only add scars.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Rethinking 2020

It's finally 2021.

After the dreadful 2020, we all hope that 2021 will bring some long-awaited relief and things will start changing for better. I'm ready for more bike riding without wearing a mask all the time.

It's also time to rethink some things here. For years, I've been writing this whole blog mostly for myself - to document my own thoughts. My audience was scarce and infrequent. Yes, I know that in order to have a lively and successful blog one needs to write almost daily and write interestingly. But building a large audience has never been my goal.

As such, you can expect that in 2021 blog updates will remain scarce and infrequent. Maybe it's the pandemic that has been wearing me out in the recent months. Or maybe it's simply that now I want to focus more on what I find most interesting and most fun for myself - just documenting my occasional bike rides and bikepacking trips.

There weren't that many of them in 2020. Because of the virus most of us got stuck at home. I actually had some big cycling plans for the last year and obviously, they never had a chance to realize. Who knows, maybe with the vaccine coming, 2021 will let me enjoy bike riding more?

Friday, October 30, 2020

A bag of mixed feelings

And just like that it's the end of October, although judging by the weather I would think it's January (Yes, we got quite a bit of snow).

I know I haven't written anything in a while. Maybe it's just me being tired of the reality - unusual work and school schedules, coronavirus, isolation and the election season wearing me out mentally. Or maybe it's just the fact that I know I'm writing all this mostly for myself, because rarely anyone visits this page anymore. Whatever.

There's been some pretty good stuff to read lately. That is, if you interested in the subject of how motoring industry keeps screwing with us. If you have been following the topic this is not news for you. Otherwise, take a look:

First, car makers are going completely nuts designing "road tanks",

and driving one of those ridiculously oversized family trucks can be a stressful experience.

To make matters worse, NHTSA doesn't really give a damn about pedestrians.

And you can't expect car manufacturers to police themselves and install pedestrian protecting features.

So there we are. American men buy trucks because they think this makes them manly, while all they need is a cowboy costume.

On top of all that there is the pandemic, which exposed the sad truth how badly cars messed up our cities. If we wanted though, we could change that. But we likely don't because somehow Americans can't picture a day without driving everywhere. Unlike Europe, which is making progress in giving the space back to people.

That's what it looks like in a nutshell. Honestly, I don't have high hopes it will change anytime soon. Our future is supposed to be determined next Tuesday, but even though at least one of the candidates seems to embrace trains, science and green energy, let's remember there is a big large party behind him that likes to play safe.

But enough of that. To avoid being bogged down by these mixed feelings, once a while I have to clear my mind and cycling is one thing that keeps me sane.

Last weekend I tried a quick, 30-mile route between Winchendon, MA and Jaffrey, NH. Even though cooler weather was approaching, it still had this perfect New England fall vibe.

Unfortunately, with today's snow. It's all gone now. "Like tears in rain".

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Deerfield River Dirt Ride S36O

I believe I mentioned this before - when it comes to traveling anywhere by bicycle, usually the biggest problem for me is finding time. The solution is an overnighter - just a quick, 1-night trip somewhere nearby. Most of these are called S24O - "sub-24hrs overnight" rides. I typically like to turn them into S36O and try to pack more hours of riding in a 2-day period.

Last week I had a rare chance to take 2 days off and go west - visit Berkshire County in Massachusetts and then continue north into the southern part of Vermont's Green Mountains.

Day 1

To begin, I drove west to Shelburne Falls, MA where I left my car at a Park&Ride lot. I started pedaling at 9AM in a still cool but humid morning air. Fortunately, around 10AM sun started popping out from under clouds and pretty quickly humidity was gone. I stopped briefly at Bardwell's Ferry Bridge then rode north towards Greenfield.

Right after Greenfield is where the fun starts. My route was taking me along Green River and this section was very familiar, since I rode it before - when I tried to replicate my own D2R2 experience back in 2018. The Green River Rd is a great place to ride - relatively flat, unpaved and with nice views of the river and several good spots to stop and dip your feet in cool water.

This time the road was a bit more muddy because of the ongoing grading work and some rain a day earlier. Soon, I reached the famous Green River Covered Bridge.

At that point it was already around mid-day and it started getting a bit hot. I kept going to enter Wilmington, VT. This looked like a relatively good spot for lunch or to resupply but I wasn't in need of neither and I didn't want to be close to other people. We are still in pandemic after all.

A bit further down the main road I finally spotted National Forest Road 71 - my entry into Green Mountains. This is a fairly long road (23km or 14mi) that runs pretty much all the time through forest and has many free (legal) roadside camp spots.

I wasn't planning on staying there overnight. The spots were not particularly attractive. Most of them were very shady, moist, with muddy ground. They seemed to be designed for a quick overnight stop for car tourists.

It started raining very slightly. Nothing major. I kept going uphill for quite some time. My knees started to hurt slightly - might be my lack of training in mountains. Despite that I seemed to have a decent tempo the whole day - about 15km/h (9mph). That's enough for a touring pace.

Finally, I reached Stratton-Arlington Rd. It was close to 5PM at that point and I only had about 2.5hrs of sunlight left so I wanted to find my camping spot.

Camping in Green Mountain National Forest is free, but not always legal anywhere. Some places are clearly labeled as prohibited. The one good camping spot I had on mind was Grout Pond. Silly me not to do enough research about this place. It turned out to be a popular spot. There are multiple designated places to set up a tent but most of them were reserved! I had no idea that camping at Grout Pond isn't free (there is a fee to leave in a deposit box) and can be reserved online. Had I done my research, I would've reserved one too. I spent several minutes walking along the pond trying to find a spot that wasn't reserved but they all seemed occupied.

Finally, I got lucky. One spot was reserved for the following night but not the night I needed. It was empty. I studied all information carefully to confirm I was right. I didn't want anyone to suddenly show up and kick me out just before the sunset.

My camping spot was perfect. Right besides the pond, with a bench and a picnic table. All I had left for the day was to set up a tent, cook dinner and hang up food bag on a tree. This is officially recommended in order to avoid surprise night visits of Yogi Bear or his companions. Having encountered a black bear in that area 2 years ago, I would say the recommendations are reasonable.

The night was warm and quiet.

Day 2

I woke up at 6:30AM. That may seem like an early hour for some, but since I was in bed around 9PM (there isn't much else to do in a tent after sunset), it felt right. Morning was dull and very cloudy.

Anyway, I retrieved my food bag (no bears), made breakfast, packed up everything and by 7:20AM I was back on the road. The early riding hours were humid. There was not a slightest breeze in the forest and despite relatively cool morning I felt hot. Maybe because I was still moving uphill.

Fortunately, after every uphill comes a rewarding downhill and boy, this one was! The next 16km (10mi) was all downhill - about 35 minutes of coasting down the mountain on an unpaved road. Brilliant!

With sun out, it started getting hotter, but less humid again and soon I reached Bennington, VT. I had to resupply in water and some snacks and fortunately, a nearby convenience store solved that problem. I was then going to face the first major climb of the day - my plan was to go across the next mountain range and reach North Adams, MA.

Very soon the road started going uphill and then the pavement ended. For the next hour I kept riding and walking my bike (more of the latter than former) uphill. The first mile or two were on a rough dirt road but then it turned into ATV-only trail, with large rocks scattered all over the place. Well, at least the "road" was there and it wasn't flooded or muddy. Still, I spent a lot of time pushing the bike uphill and covered barely 7km (4mi) in an hour.

But again, that hill had to end somewhere and what came next was a crazy fast downhill ride all the way to North Adams. The next 9km (5.5mi) flew by in no more than 5 minutes!

Unfortunately, I wasn't done climbing for the day. I still had to go over Hoosac Range and the next climb started nearly as soon as the previous one ended. I was making my way slowly up on Mohawk Trail - a major paved road (Rt 2) with plenty of car traffic and in full sun. Not fun. I couldn't find a better way to reach Florida, MA (what a name!) from North Adams though. Well, at least this climb was a bit easier and with some rewarding views form the top.

After another long and steep downhill (Whitcomb Hill Rd - amazing!) I reached River Rd, where before continuing east, I decided to briefly ride up west and see the historic Hoosac Tunnel (Old railways are fun!). The rest of the trip was a smooth ride along Deerfield River, back to my car in Shelburne Falls.

Of course, I had to stop by at Hearty Eats and get some dinner. Even for non-vegetarians this place is a must-go.

I'm glad I had a chance to visit Western Massachusetts and Green Mountains. I should certainly explore that area a bit more. One final conclusion I made was that 115km (72mi) in one day seems like a bit too much in a very hilly terrain. It simply doesn't give me much time for longer rests stops and at a camping. Or maybe it's just my old bones talking.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Wear a helmet - it will save your head when your torso gets crushed by a truck

I was on the way back home from work one day when this happened:
- "You should wear a helmet. Or at least ride all the way to the right."
As I explained earlier, now in the times of Covid-19 I stopped using Minuteman Bikeway. It's too crowded and I feel safer on the road, even though car traffic seems to be back to normal. Having all drivers encapsulated in metal cans means that at least they don't exhale on me when I ride my bike alongside.
Anyway, the woman who spoke those words through the opened passenger side window seemed actually to be truly concerned. She looked worried that someone may hit me with a car and she thought the best solution in this situation was for me to put a styrofoam lid on. Sigh...
Unfortunately, as more and more Americans driving small cars and switch to SUVs, the effectiveness of bike helmets gets reduced even more. Not that they were particularly effective against speeding cars before, but now when cyclists are facing speeding trucks, helmets are more useless than ever.
Still, most people, like the woman quoted here, feel that helmets are some sort of a miracle car repellent. But Americans don't drive cars anymore - now they drive trucks instead. SUV sales have been booming in the United States, from 7% of vehicle sales in 1990 to an expected 50% in 2020. The vehicles used for daily commute by most Americans became larger, heavier and more powerful over the last 20 years. On top of that, they are deliberately designed to look aggressive and intimidating on road, which is accentuated by very tall, nearly vertical front, with hoods often much higher above the road than a roof of an ordinary sedan.
2020 Chevy Erector...uhm, I mean, Silverado. Ideal "car" for insecure males.
No helmet is going to protect you, when you are hit by a speeding wall - and that's what these comically oversized trucks essentially are. Unfortunately, motor industry doesn't care. They admitted that they "spent a lot of time making sure that when you stand in front of this thing it looks like it's going to come get you"

And they do. United States is clearly heading in the wrong direction when it comes to pedestrian casualties. While European Union managed to reduce pedestrian deaths by nearly 40% within the last 12 years, U.S. increased it by 53% in about the same time frame. That's no surprise though. When Germany is planning on banning SUV in cities, recognizing they are terrible for pedestrians, cyclists and environment, America's automakers make sure nothing would disrupt them in selling huge trucks, such as a proposal to factor pedestrians into vehicle safety ratings.

Apparently, roads layered with dead bodies is the price we need to pay for American "freedom".