Monday, February 6, 2017

Winter Blues

Many moons ago, back before Sam and I had moved to Colorado, we had come out for a visit to see Sam's father. At the time, his dad lived in Estes Park, which is in the mountains about 35-ish miles north-west of our current residence.
Downtown Estes Park, CO in mid-September 2002. It honestly hasn't changed much in the last 14.5 years.
While we were out visiting, we took a lot of photos.
View from the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, 2002
Although I had considered Boulder (about 15 miles south-west of our current residence) as an option for college just out of high school, I had never visited prior to Sam's and my first road trip together in 2002.

I was absolutely struck by the beauty of this state.
Deer and elk roamed freely through yards during our visit.
The mountains, the sky, the animals all had my attention, and even the populated areas weren't half bad. I jokingly stated at the end of our visit, "We should move here - It's so beautiful!!"
A view from just outside Rocky Mountain National Park looking down into the Estes Park area/valley in 2002. It was a hazy day, but still lovely.
Little did I know at the time that less than half a year later life circumstances would dramatically change and we would do exactly that.
We had to stop during our travel through the mountains because I couldn't get over the rock formations, water and trees.
When we returned home, everyone wanted to see photos from the trip - or at least they feigned interest in such matters, as I'm sure my excitement was obvious. The one question I was continually asked was:  Are the skies really that blue?

Our home at the time was in typically smog-filled southern California and rarely, unless at a beach on a clear day, would we see skies even remotely as clear and blue as those in Colorado. It was easy to understand why people continued to ask the question because to us it seemed such a thing couldn't possibly exist. I assured anyone who wondered such thoughts that the photographs were undoctored and that yes, in fact, the skies truly are that blue.
A photo taken last year, just down the road from home.
I share this today because I understand that I often take my surroundings for granted. It's a lot easier to do than I might have thought at one time, but I am occasionally smacked in the face by a moment or a situation that brings me back to those feelings and thoughts that took place over 14 years ago.
A partly cloudy day, but the backdrop was still something to behold.
Out on a short ride, I caught a glimpse of the blue in the sky and although we are fortunate to have many sunny days in winter, I went back to those conversations years ago and reminded myself that I am so fortunate to call this place home.
A gravel ride three years ago left me in awe of my surroundings.
Occasionally, these rides happen, I think, just to remind me that I shouldn't take any day or situation for granted. I never thought I'd leave home in California, but it happened (and swiftly). I have to remind myself that it could just as easily take place again -- and I could only hope to be so fortunate to find myself in another part of the country with such beautiful surroundings.

It's easy to grow weary of the dry, dead, browns of winter, and this season has been unusually light on snow, making it feel somehow even more dreary (or maybe that's just me). Perhaps my brain expects that if no snow is falling, it should be spring and I expect to see greens and blooms?

Oh well. Regardless, I am enjoying the season and my surroundings as I pedal or walk about. The fat tire bike may not be getting as much use as I'd have thought at the start of winter, but I have no doubt it will see its fair share of time as well. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the tans and browns that overtake in winter, as well as the beautiful winter blue sky. How can I not when there is so much loveliness to see? Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, a small part is still looking forward to spring. It's closing in faster than I thought!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Goals v. Resolutions & a 2017 Challenge

Resolutions and I are not friends.
Not even a little bit.
*Image found here
In fact, several years ago, I made the very conscious decision to never again make a resolution at the start of a new year, and if I could help it, I would choose not to make any resolutions at all. After so many failed attempts to change something in my life, it felt silly to continue to do this year after year. I do still reflect, and often times I find myself making goals, but I look at goals very differently than I do resolutions.

When it comes to goals, I find that it is perfectly acceptable to make mistakes along the way. A goal is something I want to achieve and work towards with specific steps in mind. If a step is missed somewhere along the way, in my mind, it is simple enough to try again, approach it from a different angle or method, or to modify as I move along. With goals, I feel flexibility and believe that I have options along the way if my original point isn't attainable or needs some adjustment.

When I make a resolution, I am telling myself that it is a firm and unchanging destination point; so, if mistakes are made along the way, it feels somewhat easy to give up on it entirely. Take a look at any gym in early January versus early February. The numbers definitely decrease in just those few weeks because people resolved that they would go to the gym every day, and then when they miss a day or two, often times the thought of failure kicks in and some, perhaps many, give up entirely. I have witnessed this year after year first hand as I watch the masses come in during the first couple of weeks in January, only to disappear before winter comes to an end.

If my distinction between goals and resolutions just seems like semantics, I understand, but look at the definitions of the two words:

- goal: (noun) the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
- resolution: (noun) a firm decision to do or not to do something.

One just feels as though it has flexibility built in, while the other appears to have hard and fast lines to which one must adhere.

With that, I started this particular new year lacking any thought of resolutions or goals. Admittedly, I had a lot on my mind, so I wasn't particularly focused when January 1 hit. Still, I wanted to make some sort of goal for the year, even if it seemed silly or small, so, with about a week left in January, I decided that my goal for the remainder of the year would be simple: Ride a bicycle somewhere every remaining day of the year.

There are no stipulations regarding distance or time, nor where I have to go, but the goal is to go somewhere on a bicycle every day (even if it's just around the corner). I understand that doesn't seem like much of a goal, but for a person who works from home, I can go multiple days without need to leave the house. In winter and cold months, I find it even easier to put things off and then combine trips into one day. I do leave for one reason or another throughout the day, but it isn't necessarily on a bicycle, so my hope with this goal is not to create a situation in which I dread going out, but rather one for which I look forward to time outdoors. If history is any indicator, the more frequently I ride, the more I will want to ride.

I understand that there will be challenges and that in truth, the day will come when I likely won't be able to get out on a bicycle for one reason or another, but I do look forward to the challenge to see how many days I'll be able to accomplish for the remainder of the year.  My hope is that knowing that I'll be sharing here, I'll remember to take more photos (I don't know why this is always an issue for me, but it seems to be the case). The plan is to share reports once a month here. I need some sort of accountability, or it's too easy for me to wander off and forget my goal. We'll see how things move along (I may need more frequent check-ins).

Because I only had a week of every day riding for January (I did ride several days earlier in the month, but I wasn't tracking it at all, so I will simply start with the day I began to consciously track rides), there isn't much to report, but here goes!

Day 1 (1/25)
3.6 miles
Bicycle: Rivendell Hillborne
Rode to the gym. I was almost run over by an elderly woman in a Buick who didn't see me. I noted that despite having pretty warm winter days thus far, there's still a substantial amount of ice in the bike lanes and in the gutter portion of roads. My hands froze because I wore inappropriate gloves (as usual).

Day 2 (1/26)
0.8 miles
Bicycle: Velo Orange Campeur
This was a short ride - a very short ride. I walked to the bike shop to pick up the Campeur that was getting cleaned and tuned up (trying to give Sam a break from tuning bikes). Just a short little test to get it home.

Day 3 (1/27)
3.6 miles
Bicycle: VO Campeur
Rode to the gym again. It is easy to get these rides in when I have a purpose, but I don't always want riding to the gym to be the only place I go. Still, I'm cutting myself some slack as I start this in the midst of winter, albeit a pretty warm one for the most part thus far (hope that's not a jinx).

Day 4 (1/28)
3.6 miles
Bicycle: VO Campeur
Rode to the gym. We had a busy day in front of us and I knew this would likely be the only time I would have to ride. It was pleasant (sunny), but very cold. Even Sam said his hands were frozen when we arrived. Of course, leaving early in the morning doesn't help matters this time of year.
Viewed at a recently-renovated older house, I thought this idea could be useful in our own yard.
Day 5 (1/29)
3.4 miles
Bicycle: Riv Hillborne
Another busy day; however, there was an open house I wanted to see, so while Sam was starting on one of our projects, I pedaled over to take a look. Open houses seem to be a hobby for us over the last few years. I think we need a new pastime in all honesty, but we can't seem to stop ourselves from looking. Usually, we peek in simply because housing prices have skyrocketed locally over the last couple of years and we have a kind of morbid fascination with seeing what becomes available, but this time, there was actually something in the backyard that I thought might be interesting in our own yard (pictured in the photo above).
(left) Dropping package at the post office; (middle) Several unused bike racks at the grocery store; (right) FixIt station at the grocer.
Day 6 (1/30)
8.0 miles
Bicycle: VO Campeur
I had a package that needed to be dropped at the post office and the house was lacking any sort of food, so I decided to combine the two trips. There's some construction taking place around the roads of the market I was headed to, so I knew getting home would be a bit found in a roundabout manner, but it turned out okay. I also had a photo op with the multitude of empty bike racks outside the grocer and took note of both the pump for bicycles and tools available. I thought it was pretty cool (and should be a note to other retailers in the area)! I will also add that riding a few miles with about 25 pounds of groceries was interesting. It's not something I've done for awhile and it took a minute for my balance to readjust. Thankfully, the VO is pretty stable, so we made it home just fine. It's unfortunate that the trip home was uphill loaded with the groceries, but it obviously didn't kill me as I lived to write about it. :)

Day 7 (1/31)
0.5 miles
Bicycle: Riv Hillborne
A last minute chiropractic appointment took me on a very, very brief ride. In fact, I sometimes walk instead of riding a bike because it's just that close. But, because the day was full of many obligations, I knew this would likely be all the riding I would see for the day, and I was correct. Unfortunately, I was informed that I have bursitis in my hip (how old am I anyway???), so that should be a (not very) fun addition to my list of ailments to deal with as we move into February.

A mere 23.5 miles is the grand tally for January (well, the last week of January, since I wasn't logging prior to then). The good news is that I should be able to top it fairly easily in February. The distance certainly wasn't earth shattering, but again, mileage is not the goal. I have decided not to count any pedaling on the bike trainer (while it may help cardiovascular fitness and/or muscle memory, I want to actually be outside to ride), and even though I walk fairly often, I won't be counting those miles either.

What plans or goals have you set for yourself this year? Are things off to a good start? Also, if you'd like to keep tabs on what's going on during the month, I'm going to do my very best to take at least one photo on each ride (I wasn't entirely successful with that piece for my short stint with January), and I'll share them on Flickr here, should you have interest.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Cold Hands, Slipping Feet: The Trials of Wintertime Outdoors

After fourteen winters in Colorado, with most of those including a liberal amount of time spent outdoors, one might make the assumption that I have mastered winter dressing for time in the cold, but those who would make such a leap would not necessarily be correct. While I have managed to acquire enough wool layers (socks, base layers, heavier top layers) and appropriate coats and jackets over the years there are still two items that vex me more than any other winter garments: gloves and shoes/boots.

Let it be known that I tend to have naturally cold hands even when in heated, indoor environments. I am currently seated in a fairly warm room as I type, and my hands are quite cold. Additionally, my feet seem to be on the same system and I find that even indoors (unless in the heat of summer) I prefer to keep warm, wool socks on my feet, even if I am not wearing shoes to keep my whole body from turning cold.

I find that when my feet and/or hands are cold, my whole body seems to become chilled, and I've also found that sometimes I am able to counteract the coldness in my hands and feet if I work to heat up my body. For example, if I do a round of jumping jacks, squats, or other movement my body tends to heat up and this generally spreads the heat to my hands and feet.  When it comes to going outdoors in the cold though, it isn't always possible to heat up the body prior to departure in such a manner. Which is where gloves come in to hopefully help stave off cold.

Ah, gloves. I think I have experimented with just about every brand or type at one point or another, but there always seems to be a quality that isn't well suited for my needs. If gloves don't provide any wind protection, on very cold days, I might just as well not don gloves at all (or at least that is how my hands feel). Whether physically windy outside isn't the point. Any one who rides a bicycle in colder weather understands that the wind created through movement is more often than not enough to freeze hands on its own.

If a glove isn't water resistant (or proof) the instant they get wet, hands tend to go numb too in freezing or even close-to-freezing temperatures. Some gloves that are wind and water proof don't allow the hands to breathe causing hands to sweat and this can also cause freezing, numb hands.

Over the years and depending on how cold the day is, I have started to layer my hands as I would my body, thinking that it makes sense to have more than one layer of protection. The gloves used are usually liner-type gloves layered over each other, starting with a soft, next-to-skin option and adding as needed. While this does work on cold, dry days for the most part, it does little to help in rain or snow. Additionally, if I wear too many layers (which can sometimes be just two pair of gloves), my hands can begin to sweat causing numbness and freezing anyway, regardless of the thickness, quality, or number of gloves worn.

Through all of the experiments over the last several years, I have had varying success with a couple of options. First, and I cannot stress this enough, if my hands are cold prior to putting on gloves, I find it far more challenging to get them warm while out riding, walking or being outdoors. So, I have learned to warm my hands up before I even attempt to put on a glove. This may mean rubbing them together in a warm area prior to heading outside or even wearing gloves in an indoor area to heat up my hands before I put on gloves for outdoor trips. I have also used hand warmers (and some people even make their own - though I've honestly never tried it).
Ibex Conductive Glove/Liner
These are pretty thin, but do enough just to keep the chill out. If they get wet in freezing temperatures, they are pretty much useless.
For a first layer, I like Ibex's Conductive Glove Liner, but there are options from many manufacturers. Ibex had another version of this glove that I've had in the past and I liked them as well (for the life of me I cannot remember the model name, and I'm not sure that they make these any longer, regardless). Be forewarned though, the Ibex model tends to fall apart fairly quickly. I've only been able to get single season use out of any of them without repairs so I tend to purchase when they're on sale. One of the qualities I appreciate about these liners though is that they are 100% wool.

I've also used Icebreaker models (these are generally 90-96% wool). There are several options available from lighter to heavier weight from this manufacturer, so if you prefer a thicker liner, there are options. SmartWool also makes a liner, though their option is only 46% wool. A bit disappointing when looking for a wool liner, but I have a pair of these as well and they work too in some situations. There are models from Hestra and Minus33 and others as well. It's just a matter of finding one that is appropriate for individual needs.

I like the Ibex liner because I can keep it on if I need to stop and use my cell phone and it works perfectly. It's also very lightweight, so if it's mildly cold and it's dry, sometimes I can get away with just using this glove alone. The fit is good for dexterity, and while I wish Ibex would return to manufacturing an extra small size, the small size is workable (my glove size is a women's 7, which often tend to be slightly large, but I have long palms and long thumbs making fit sometimes a challenge). There is just a bit of extra fabric at the end of my fingers, but until I find the perfect liner, these are close enough to work for my purposes.
Burton snowboard liners. I use these sometimes on top of the Ibex liners, but they provide no real protection from wet, so I only use these as a second layer in dry conditions and when it's not super cold. I also use these as a single layer at times. They are slightly warmer than the wool liners, but not thick enough for colder conditions.
Second layers tend to be a bit more challenging for me than the first, and again, depending on the weather and the temperature, this option can change and vary quite a bit. If the conditions are dry, it may mean I simply put on another liner. I have used double layers of wool, I've mixed wool with liners such as a Burton snowboard liner, I've chosen a Gore tex Windstopper glove for some wind relief, but whatever option is chosen, the temperature and conditions are the deciding factor.
I've had many of these types of gloves over the years, but just about any windproof or Gore Tex glove seems to work well with a wool liner beneath it in conditions down to about 30F/-1C, depending on conditions. This particular pair is supposed to aid in keeping warmth in the palm. I'm not sure it really works all that well in reality, but as a wind resistant layer, it works nicely.
When conditions are colder an Outdoor Research glove or an older version of these Marmot Randonnee gloves (mine worked great except in the very coldest conditions until one of the dogs got a hold and damaged them) have worked well as a second layer. This past year, I picked up a pair of 45NRTH Sturmfist 5 gloves on sale and off-season, and they have become my favorite second layer (and sometimes only layer), cold weather glove of choice. I also ordered the Sturmfist 4, but couldn't seem to get the interior liner to cooperate and had to send them back. I suspect these might work a bit better though, even in colder conditions, if one received a pair that were undamaged.
I love these Marmot Randonnee gloves. I bought them on a clearance table several years ago and they work well - or did, until a puppy got to them. I still use them occasionally, but they are in need of replacement. These keep my hands quite warm in all but the very coldest weather, particularly if I add an extra wool liner.
With a lightweight wool liner and the Sturmfist 5 gloves (which have their own sewn-in liner), I have ridden several times in temperatures around 5F/-15C. Temperatures can get much lower locally at times, but I've not had the opportunity to test this combination thoroughly enough to know whether it will work functionally in lower temperatures. Truthfully, I try not to ride in conditions much lower than the stated temperature above, but it does happen on occasion. In reality, if temperatures are lower, I think much hardier options are likely the best choice. Lobster claw type gloves, much heavier snowboard gloves, or something along these lines is likely the best choice.
The 45NRTH Sturmfist gloves are the latest attempt to stay warm. They aren't super bulky, but they do seem to work fairly well. The lowest temperature I've ridden with these was -15F/-26C. I didn't ride very far (about 3 miles), so it was difficult to know how well they'd work at higher speeds/longer stretches of time. My suspicion is that the 4-finger version would work nicely as well (perhaps even better). 
Another option is to look into pogies/bar mitts. These can be a costly option in some cases, and I have not had an opportunity to test them enough to know which brands are more functional/effective. I will say that Sam picked up a couple pair of ATV bar mitts online for a very low price, but we have not yet had the opportunity to test these out either. I think that these along with wearing a good pair of gloves, could be an outstanding option for very cold weather rides as well.

The fit of gloves is often a major hassle itself, and how important it is to move digits independently is a factor each individual must determine him/herself. Ideally, mitten-style makes the most sense in my mind because fingers are kept together and work together to keep heated, but it is a highly impractical style when requiring at least some dexterity. Lobster claw gloves would probably be the next option, followed by a 5-finger glove style. Bar mitts potentially eliminate dexterity issues, but some find them to present their own dangers (such as having hands "trapped" inside in emergency situations).

For some reason, I have not struggled as extensively with keeping feet warm during cold weather rides. Which is not to say that it hasn't or doesn't happen, but simply that for me, my hands seem to be the more challenging body part to keep comfortable in winter conditions (assuming, of course, that my feet don't end up wet). If I wear thick wool socks - or even two pair - and shoes that don't allow moisture in, I seem to be okay for the most part when it comes to keeping warm. Wind blockers over shoes are also helpful, but I don't recall the last time I had need for these as an addition to footwear.

My biggest obstacle in regard to feet and winter riding is slipping off pedals. Because I use platform pedals, slick surface area is often the biggest challenge. All of my platforms have pins to allow for greater grip; however, when there is snow or ice accumulation on shoes, I find the risk of sliding right off the pedal much higher. It doesn't help matters that I've yet to find a shoe or boot that is more slip resistant.

The best to-date option has been to use hiking shoes that are waterproof, but those that work best for my feet still don't seem to provide much traction on slick surfaces, causing me to continue to search for the right set up. Additionally, in deeper snow, I find that my socks end up wet, which is followed by very cold/frozen feet.

As is apparent, I have not yet found the right solution for me... but the hunt continues!

I think the biggest point I would make in regard to the items I use is that I am not riding at great speed in the winter months. I think increased speed can definitely have an affect on how comfortable a person is in cold weather. My maximum tends to hover around 12-13mph/19-21kph in the winter months as I tend to take my time. More often than not, my speed is somewhere around 8-10mph/12-16kph, or even slower, so I understand that those who maintain higher speeds in very cold conditions may have entirely different experiences.

My experience has also been that if I keep the core of my body warm, I tend to have better success with gloves and footwear in regard to warmth. The challenging piece is finding the right combinations for particular scenarios, and I think it can change from day to day quite easily, making what seems perfect one day a complete disaster on another trip.

I would love to hear about items or techniques that have worked for you while riding in cold weather and/or snowy/rainy conditions in the winter. Do you have layering techniques, or do you prefer a specific brand/product? Do you choose to forego cold weather rides entirely? If you have shoe/boot suggestions for snowy/icy weather, those would be appreciated as well.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Lovely Saddle

On a recent transportation ride on a cold December morning, I was attempting to remove my bicycle from its locked position. I tend to forget that cable locks aren't the greatest invention when temperatures drop well below the freezing point (though I am grateful to live in a fairly safe-for-locking-up-bikes community that allows me to often use a cable rather than a heftier option).

As I was fiddling and fussing, I was interrupted by a woman passing by.

"You're a brave soul to be out on a bicycle in this weather," she began.

I couldn't help but look up to the sky with the bright shining sun and cloud-free skies. Yes, it was cold (very cold, actually), but it was a beautifully bright day. I resisted the urge to inform her that there was little I would count as brave about my transportation choice, and instead replied with a smile, "Well, it's much warmer now than when I left home!" Which was the truth as it had warmed more than 15 degrees since my departure.

The woman continued, "That's such a lovely saddle you have," as she bent toward the bicycle and gently caressed the leather as if it was made of delicate porcelain. "Really, it's quite beautiful," she stated again, slowly, as she walked to the front door of the building, still staring, as if in a trance, at my bike.

It sounds creepier in the re-telling than it was in the moment. It was one of those quick instances in life that I would normally pass over without giving it much thought, but on my ride home all I could think about was the woman's comment regarding the looks of the bicycle saddle.

In truth, I don't think about the looks of my saddles much these days, but rather just have a go-to option in mind. That wasn't always the case and initially when I first started using Brooks saddles, there was definitely a part of the decision that was based on looks. Today, when first building a bicycle, I may think about color choice (if I have to purchase a new saddle, rather than using one already owned), but that is about the extent of my thought on such matters. I have found a model that seems to work well for me on just about any bike, so I don't have to put thought into what will be appropriate when another build arises.
This particular saddle photographed right after mounting for the first time. I was enraptured by the light color of this Brooks early on.
Perhaps there was a time when I obsessed over the looks of a saddle, or, for instance, when I first came across etched or carved leather saddles that I may have thought briefly about spending more on such an item simply because it was pretty, but over the years, I have learned that looks are not everything and if a saddle is uncomfortable, it can and most likely will make my riding experience - short or long - absolutely miserable!

Additionally, it took some time to figure out what type of saddle worked for me. I tried many synthetic options initially, but could never quite find comfort. Even different models of leather weren't to my liking. It wasn't so much that I chose a leather saddle because of its good-looks-factor (though, I do agree that I prefer the leather look over a plastic or rubberized choice), but rather that it just worked for my comfort.

When I arrived home from my ride on this day, I dismounted and studied the saddle, tilting and twisting my head from side to side like a puppy just hearing a new, high-pitched sound for the first time. The saddle had definitely aged since purchasing it more than five years prior. It has seen time on too many bikes as well, and I could easily see that it had changed quite a bit over the years. Though no one else would likely make this sort of assessment. There are some splotches from darker colored clothing, blemishes that have become more pronounced, and goodness knows I'm not great about re-applying proofide to the poor thing. I simply use - and unfortunately, sometimes abuse - this component.

As is true of many things in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder though. Time has caused me to take for granted the saddle that allows me to ride in comfort and I no longer look at it seeing it as something pretty to look at, but rather as a functional piece that permits me longer stints on my bike in greater comfort. After all, it does have a purpose. But, somewhere along the line, I lost the desire to look at this item as pretty, and instead view it as practical.
The same saddle today has achieved a used-patina, but I can see (when I pay attention) that it is still lovely.
Still, having someone admire the saddle purely based on its looks caused me to take notice of it as I had once upon a time, through the eyes of someone judging purely on aesthetics and not at all on its functionality. There could be no denying that the leather has aged, but even that has brought about its own beauty. It's always a fantastic moment when the two worlds can collide though, and form and function are both well suited to the rider.

I took these words, this moment in time to appreciate not only the saddle, but the entire bicycle and the others in the fold as well. It's far too easy to take a bicycle for granted and I can often forget that the bicycle is not only functional, but something delightful to behold as well.

Friday, December 30, 2016

In the End, There Was a Beginning

If there was a medal for re-writing end-of-year/new year posts, I think I would take the gold this year. I have started writing, completed writing, and re-written so many that I have lost all train of thought at this juncture. Initially, I wanted to write about my frustrations with 2016. Not so much bike-related (though there have been those too), but more so with the state of this nation. I thought better of it though and decided to nix that would-be post. I tried starting it again with less of a bleak approach, but still, I couldn't shake the tone that was developing, and so I tried re-writing beginning with something more positive. It still didn't feel right and I wasn't expressing myself well. Over and over these rounds went, trying to find the right words to end this year without it appearing as though a dark hole has consumed me (for the record, I've only been partially consumed by a black hole).
*Image found here
Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that there are not "right words" and while I really do want to pour out my soul, bemoan what is coming, and ultimately try to figure out solutions that work, I am not in a state of mind currently to capably express thoughts and emotions without it turning into a completely depressing post, and frankly, I don't want to be depressed nor do I wish to be a big downer to anyone else. I cannot change what has taken place and all anyone can do is move forward, believing that the best will come with work and dedication. I am choosing to believe that there are enough people who want, believe and will work for positivity that it will come about in 2017, regardless of the clouds that sometimes feel as though they loom heavy on the horizon.

Two thousand and sixteen has been a strange year for me. In many ways, I think I have matured (about time, I'm sure many would say), but in many other ways I have felt a kind of regression taking place. My responses to situations have sometimes been very childish and I have lashed out (both silently and audibly) at others. I have also become acutely aware that I have, somewhere along the way, lost some of my ability to act, and then think post-action. While that may seem like a good quality or a step toward growth for many, to me I feel as though I've lost a part of myself. I miss the person who acted instinctually or impulsively, rather than after days, weeks (sometimes months) of arduous thought and planning. I have always struggled with these two sides of myself, but generally the spontaneous side has won out in the past without effort. The passing years have turned me into what many would consider an adult, and I can't say I care for it at all.

I have struggled to fix my body as well. Injuries that arose a couple of years ago seem to plague me even today. While there has been some recovery, age has also made healing a longer process it seems, though I am grateful that progress is made, even when it feels inhumanely slow at times.

I tried to start a business this year that failed miserably before it even really got off the ground. I had invested a great deal of time and effort (and a fair amount of financial resources too) into trying to make my plan work, only to come to the understanding that our city would not allow it. It was a big blow to my emotional state, I have to say, but there is a part of me that still believes anything is possible. The fact that it involved the use of my bicycle was exciting, but sometimes timing is simply off, so who knows what the future may hold?

Although there have been many deaths that occurred this year, there was one that affected me more than any other. My father passed away at the end of April after only 72 years of life, which left me searching for answers that I didn't and likely will not find. I was grateful, however, that after multi-decades of not coming face-to-face we had an opportunity to see each other and clear the air before he left this earth. While I still may not comprehend many things, I am thankful that I came out of it with an understanding I might not have otherwise had. I realize not everyone is so fortunate and I didn't and don't take that opportunity lightly.

Sam and I have continued to push our house-renovating selves in 2016. We have some pretty cool work to show for it, but it is exhausting, body-breaking work to do for two people and it often feels as though we have no life outside of demolition and rebuilding/remaking. I appreciate that we've found ways to reuse so many materials that were already in the house or that others discarded, and have been patient enough to wait for second hand deals or sales on most other items. I promise, the house is far less dumpster-dive-chic than it sounds after that sentence. After two years, we are nearing completion of this house (if we can only stop adding projects to the list), and I think we've proven to ourselves that we are capable of more than we ever thought possible. This time has allowed me to practice patience and has taught me not to be afraid to try things that seem daunting or even nearly impossible.

My art-self has taken a full swing at switching from painting to clay sculpture. It has been challenging to find time to do what I should actually be doing (you know, my actual job and all) with continuing house renovations, part-time gigs, and so on, but the pieces I have been able to complete have shown me that I definitely have my own voice (strange as that voice may be at times), and that I believe I prefer the creative process in three-dimensions as opposed to two. Who knew? I find that I have a far less-tense approach and more creativity while working, and when pieces don't work out it stings just a tad, but I try, try again or shrug it off and move forward.

I am learning that I prefer simpler, less technological things much more than I ever thought. Things like iPads and iPods, laptops and Netflix are all fantastic to have, but I am of the belief that I could live in a much smaller space, with many fewer things and be just as happy (or maybe even happier), and my most memorable and thought-provoking rides have been those that were not recorded or shared other than perhaps with another person along for the adventure. I am still not ready to limit my bicycles (though I know I could, if it were necessary), but as for other items in life, I really don't require much and I seem to be happiest during the most ordinary moments.

As difficult as it is for me to believe, I have written fewer than 40 posts over the last year here. I'd like to say that quality outweighs quantity, but I'm fairly certain that would simply be an excuse for my lack of time dedicated to this space.

I did share my thoughts about potential road-side potty breaks, and some of you shared your own tales.

We chatted about winter and riding (and I even stated that we in our house did not need fat bikes - and yet, here I sit today riding one).

I got a bit sappy about my Rivendell, too.

Our years in Colorado have been positive, as I relayed in a post when Sam visited San Diego earlier this year.

Although the BDB Pelican technically came into my life in 2015, it really took me places in 2016.

Sam shared his summer Leadville, CO adventure riding in the Silver Rush 50 and then later his tale of the Barn Burner in Flagstaff, AZ.

I changed a flat road-side for the first time on my own (at least without a watchful eye).

And, we somehow grew a real vegetable garden for the first time with success, which brought unexpected benefits.

I also found myself working part-time in a bike shop for a decent chunk of the year.
*Image found here
All in all, the year was a positive one, just as I hope it has been for you. There have been some questionable moments, but without those, I suppose life would be rather dull. I have hopes for many things in the coming year, but I am trying not to get ahead of myself, and instead focus on appreciation of today and what it has to offer instead of jumping into the future. Ah, growth, it rears its head yet again (let's see if it lasts).

May anything negative stay in the year that is leaving and only positive moments be in store for your 2017! Thank you for continuing to read and share your thoughts here in this space. I am grateful for short and long distance interactions with the fine folks who happen along here, and I look forward to continuing to share and grow with you in the coming year. Thank you for taking time to leave comments, and huge thanks to those of you who have e-mailed to share ideas and photos as well.

Happy New Year! I hope it finds you riding in good health, with a smile on your face and any wind always at your back.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays to All!

It's kind of fun when Hannukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa all coincide time-wise on the calendar. Starting December 24, 25, and 26th respectively, it truly feels appropriate to wish a happy holiday season to everyone today. Even if you celebrate Festivus or Winter Solstice...or no particular holiday at all, these holidays coming around the same time of year seem to bring out (mostly) good in humanity. It's a lovely thing to observe.

A week and a half ago, we were told locally to expect a big snow storm on the 24th carrying through the 25th. By the early part of this week though, the storm seemed to have vanished off the radar and there would be no snow at all (outside of the mountains anyway) anytime in the near future.

But, as we stood looking from our front window out onto barren trees and sticks that were formerly bushes this morning, snow flakes began to fall. At first we thought it was just passing by with a few flurries, but it began to get stronger and the powder started to stick. 

Sam's first thought: "We need to go on a fat bike ride!" And so, we did. It wasn't a particularly long ride, and not nearly as cold as I'd expected (though much windier than I'd have preferred), but it was so much fun.
Wishing you and yours a lovely season and hoping you get to go on many enjoyable bike rides, no matter what the weather. Happy Holidays to everyone who reads here. Stay safe, keep warm, and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

First Thoughts on a Fat Bike: The Surly Wednesday

When we (in our household) started to really see fat bikes take a stake in the bike market several years ago, neither of us really gave them much thought. They seemed like mountain bikes with fatter tires and that was about the end of any thoughts on the matter. It seemed as though they were bikes that would hit the market and likely be gone again in a blink of an eye, but being "bike people" it's always fun to look at what others are choosing to ride, so, over the years, we started to pay a bit more attention as these bicycles hung around and even grew in numbers.

A few years ago, we had a neighbor who purchased a fat bike for his wife. She never wanted to ride it, so he would spend some time in the snow bouncing around and constantly asking both Sam and I if we wanted to try the bike. "It's REALLY fun!" he would always exclaim, as he circled around, trying to get one of us to hop on. Not people who generally turn down an opportunity to ride a bicycle, it was odd that neither of us ever took him up on his offer. Perhaps it was just always an awkward time to give it a test, or maybe, as stated above, we couldn't see the real benefit to this sort of bike and assumed that it would be no different than riding a mountain bike.

And then, we found ourselves here in 2016. Sam had grown weary of avoiding rides in the winter (at least when it's snowy/icy on the ground) and losing all of the training work he'd done throughout the rest of the year. His mind started to wander into the idea of obtaining a fat bike and, as luck would have it, one came up on a re-seller website several months ago that was the perfect size. When it arrived, he rode it around quite a bit and continued to tell me that it was "such a blast" to ride. I smiled and nodded, and told him that I was happy that he'd have a way to get in some miles over winter. And, I truly was. I know how hard he works and I want him to have the tools to keep riding through winter.

For me, I had absolutely no desire or intention to ever consider a fat bike. I just truly didn't see the point. I had come to accept that, as someone who has a certain level of fear of falling when the conditions aren't ideal (really, the reason why I don't mountain bike either), I would just walk or get around in some other manner when the winter season takes over. I still couldn't understand the reasoning for me to seek out another bike.

Then, Sam started to fill my mind with random thoughts such as, "Well, if you get a fat bike, we could ride together in the winter," and "It really is such a stable bike. I think you'd actually enjoy it." Curse him for planting such seeds in my mind! He tried to get me to ride his fat bike for a trial, but I really didn't see the need. I was still under the assumption that this sort of bike was an unnecessary addition to the already-too-large fleet of bicycles.

But, as is often the case, the seeds had been planted and I found myself occasionally looking and wondering if this really could be a bike I would enjoy? So, one day when I casually mentioned that I was unofficially looking at fat bikes, Sam decided it was time for me to, at minimum, at least try his out first.

He was right. This fat bike "thing" was really fun! It was a little strange to ride on paved roads, but I could feel how stable it was, and it seemed to be fairly comfortable. Maybe I hadn't given this bike a fair shake? It was definitely a heavy beast (particularly if comparing it to a typical road/cross bike), but I'm sure that was one of the factors that made it so stable.
Stock complete build from Surly of the Wednesday (Image from Surly)
With that, I was off on a more serious hunt. I quickly narrowed my search to two Surly models: the Ice Cream Truck and the Wednesday because they had similar geometry to Sam's fat bike and riding his gave me a good idea of what might work for me. I knew that I wanted to purchase a complete build, rather than finding our own parts (as we would normally do) because I am less familiar with what one wants on this sort of bike. I have to say, working a few hours in a bike shop certainly has its benefits, and particularly in this instance. When the shop owner called to determine whether or not we could actually get a complete build of an XS Ice Cream Truck, we were told that was not a possibility (On this point, why do manufacturers do this? They put together complete builds, but leave out certain sizes. I "get" that they likely don't sell a ton of extra small builds and thus don't bother, but it would be nice to have it as a possibility for those of us who are vertically challenged, just as the very tall among us often get left out too). Bummer. So, that pretty much left me with my choice.

In many ways, it was probably a good thing that I didn't have a choice because I was initially somewhat struggling between the two options. Not having a whole lot of experience in this particular area, I just didn't know what I would really want or need. But, I had already come to the conclusion that the Wednesday was probably the way to go regardless, so the universe just helped point me in that direction. My reasoning being that it's a less expensive option, came as a complete build in my size, and not knowing if I'd actually ride this bike, I'd hate to get too much invested and then not use it. Upgrades, I thought to myself, are always a possibility in the future if it was the greatest bike ever.

Shortly thereafter, I ordered my Wednesday and it arrived just a brief time later, and a couple of days after its arrival, I was able to ride it home. Of course, it wouldn't be my bike if I didn't make a few modifications. The first was to add a Brooks saddle that had been sitting unused at home and the other change was a pair of Jones H-bar handlebars. Both of these, I thought, would make for the most potential comfort on a bike I hope to put miles on over the cold season.

The initial tests were a lot of fun. I rode over rocks (yes, me... the person who fears riding on any sort of rock, voluntarily rode over rocks because the bike felt that stable). Granted, they were not huge boulders, but for someone who normally avoids any sort of obstacle presented in my riding path, it was a strange and empowering feeling to suddenly want to go over unsteady surfaces.

"Did you see?!" I exclaimed when I arrived back to Sam, like an excited young child riding a bicycle for the first time without training wheels.

"See what?" he asked.

"I rode over rocks!" I replied, shocked that he hadn't witnessed my "daredevil" maneuver. Shouldn't he be watching me like an over-protective parent right now? What if I had fallen over?

"No, I didn't. Maybe you should do it again?" he retorted with a slight smile on his face.

"Okay," I said with glee, "I can do it again." With that, I was off to demonstrate how "brave" I was.

Perhaps I was overly excited about something so minor, but it really felt like a big deal for someone who truthfully would not have come close to even thinking about riding over those rocks on any other bike.
Decals are there, but they are certainly understated  - not necessarily a bad or good aspect.
The color I purchased is Surly's Calimocho Red (not really by choice, but out of necessity based on the size I require), which I have to say is quite a dark color - so dark in fact that one of the guys in the bike shop said, "That's weird. Your new bike has no decals on it." When I pointed out that they are indeed there, he was rather stunned. I, frankly, don't mind that the decals are not prominent, but it could make a difference to some (one of the nice things about Surly is the usually-easy-to-obtain replacement stickers though, so I'm sure the color could be changed if desired). The frame color to me is almost more of a dark raisin than a red, so I find it interesting that "red" is a part of the name - but, of course, I was not consulted on such matters.

I will admit up front that this has been a horrible mileage-wise year for me. I have had long stints during which the most I ride is a couple of miles to get to a location, and long rides have been nearly unheard of for quite awhile. I simply haven't had the time to spend and injuries have only compounded the matter. So, when Sam wanted to take the fat bikes out on a "real" test ride, I was a bit concerned because I lack the strength and endurance that I normally would have built up.

We decided on a short ride with the understanding that we would head for some dirt trails and turn around when I felt as though I'd had enough. The route we took was the most direct to the trail and somehow encompassed a good deal of climbing. I thought that perhaps I was just being a bit wimpy from my lack of real riding, but when Sam made a comment to support what I'd been thinking, I felt a bit better knowing that I wasn't as bad off as I had thought. I guess general working out keeps some strength for biking, thankfully.
For gear ratio people... the break down in visual form
*Calculator here
This ride also gave me an opportunity to test out the gearing on the Wednesday. It comes as a complete build with a 22/34 crankset and an 11-36t, 10 speed cog on the rear, which after testing on a variety of steepness levels - though not the absolute steepest terrain I could/would encounter - I found to spin quite nicely, even for my currently very untrained legs (On some bikes, even the spinning gear doesn't feel much like spinning up hills). I'm personally less concerned with speed on this bicycle (not that anyone can really be concerned with speed on such a bike) and more with being able to get through challenging terrain, so for me, I think this gearing is fantastic.
For this ride we had chosen spots to test the bike on gravel, dirt, grass/weeds, and on asphalt and cement as well. Of course, the tires are a bit noisy on asphalt and cement in dry conditions (to be expected), but overall, I think it rode well over all the various terrain encountered. The Wednesday came built with Surly Nate 26 x 3.8" tires, which look bigger/wider than I thought they would for the size.

The frame is also constructed with a dropout that allows the wheel to slide back or forward 20mm, permitting even wider tires, if desired (up to 4.6 inches in size). I have no idea if or when I would desire this, but I have been told that wider tires in the snow are often welcomed, so we shall see what happens with this.
I'm amazed at how clean the rear cog is considering all I've run this bike through and my lack of proper cleaning. I'm sure that will change in the near future (the dirtiness, not my cleaning practices).
After being out for two hours, my body had reached its limit, but I was still just as excited about the Wednesday.

One of my, well, I don't want to call it a concern, but let's say a thought that entered my mind while we were mounting the wheels, is that the axle reaches all the way through the hub and there is no quick release (I'm sure there are aftermarket quick releases available, if one wanted to change this, and the word on the street is that Surly's new hubs allow this simply and painlessly), so when riding and getting a flat I can see that it would be a bit of a headache to get the wheel off to resolve any punctures (I understand the point of the thru axle for this bike, but it was a surprise to me as a person who doesn't normally deal with this). Perhaps this is why many choose to build Wednesday's up tubeless instead. *As an aside: I'm currently testing an inexpensive puncture protection technique to see how well it works and will write something up at a later time to share whether or not it works to protect tubes.

My current dilemma with the Wednesday is a frame bag. I would really like to put one on this bike; however, because of its small size, nothing off-the-shelf seems to fit properly. The inner triangle is simply too small, so I am looking into a few custom options from bag makers both in and out of the U.S. The bag certainly doesn't need to be fancy, but I would like to be able to carry a few items with me when riding, and the bottle cage is unnecessary, or it could be switched to the underside of the down tube should I wish to carry a bottle. I've considered a simple saddlebag and/or handlebar bag too, but I think more would fit in a frame bag, potentially.
I rode through some spots that were thicker with snow, but this was the easiest location to take a picture.
We had our first round of snow this season a few weeks ago, but unfortunately, I didn't get an opportunity to venture out that day to see how well this steed handles in the white stuff (and it melted nearly instantly), and then I had an out-of-state trip that caused me to miss our next couple rounds of snow, but I had the opportunity to briefly test the Wednesday in some mostly-melted snow recently and it seems to do nicely. We had more storms promised this week, but it's starting to look sketchy, so I hope to have the opportunity for more and better tests soon and will report back.

Truthfully (if it hasn't been made clear as of yet), I am by no means an expert on fat bikes nor on what makes one a better choice over another. There are basic qualities of a bicycle that are sometimes preferences, such as frame material, brand of components, and so on, but this almost feels like a completely different world to me. Perhaps that has more to do with my personal hang ups with mountain biking more than anything else because I can certainly see and feel similarities between a more standard mountain bike and the two fat bikes I have had the opportunity to ride.

One thing I can express is how I feel when riding the Wednesday. Put simply, I feel in control (which hasn't always been the case with mountain bike experiences in the past). I have actually found myself seeking out obstacles to ride over, which is definitely, without a doubt, not something I would normally do. There is a reassuring feel to this ride that inspires confidence and beckons the rider to seek out challenges, and I cannot help but respond. Sam's thought was that he had "created a monster" as he watched me tear across areas he knows I would normally avoid.
For anyone wondering, I will wrap the handlebars at some point... I just haven't decided on a color that works yet, or maybe I'll just pick something from what we have sitting around and not worry about the color.
I am also thankful that I waited to buy my first fat bike. There have been many advances over the last several years, one of which is the ability to replace the standard rigid fork with the Bluto suspension fork. As someone who has considered making this not only my snow bike but also using it as my mountain bike (yes, I've actually enjoyed this bike so much that I can see using it for purposes beyond getting around in snow), I can see the appeal of having a suspension fork available that works well with fat bikes - and if my current tear-it-all-up mentality maintains, a suspension fork may be in my future, but we'll wait to see on that front.

The Wednesday and I haven't had the longest relationship to-date, but it has brought a lot of joy and encouraged me to find locations that wouldn't normally show up on my radar at all. It seems like a bike that has the potential to introduce a whole new world, and I'm excited to see where it takes me.

How about you? Do you have a fat bike or have you ridden one? Would you be willing to share your thoughts and experience here? If you don't own a fat bike, would you consider purchasing one, or do you think a bicycle in your current stable fits the bill for snowy rides without this addition? If you are one of the many knowledgeable folks out there with information on fat bikes in general, please do feel free to leave your thoughts as well.