Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Settling In...Sort-of

The view from out my window...

To say it's been a bit of a whirlwind past few months would be a bit of an understatement.  I find myself slowly easing into my new situation though, and even, dare I say, settling in.  I now split my time between to places in New England, one in Vermont, and one in Massachusetts (2 hours apart).  Despite the obvious downside to such a living arrangement, I take solace in the fact that it will soon get better, and that I've managed to focus on the positives.  Both of my new homes are lovely and have their own personalities.

What can I say thus far living in New England for 2+ months?  Well, honestly, it's an odd place.....but I love it.  Personalities and behaviors are widely-varying and unique here, but for the most part, people are extremely open-minded and personable.  What I found most interesting is that I spend most of my time actually in New Hampshire (where my job is),  but live in Vermont and Massachusetts.  The apartment in VT is lovely.  Tucked away in an idyllic and rather cliche' VT rolling valley surrounded by beautiful mountains.  There are great running trails, even better geology, and there's even a covered bridge 1/2 mile from home.  It is absolutely calming and wonderful there.  Vermonters are an interesting breed.  It is one of the most progressive/liberal states in the US and it shows.  There are more hybrid cars and farmers markets than I've ever seen.....and people are incredibly open-minded and welcoming.  With that said, I sometimes catch a hint of smugness, and self-rightousness from people.  All in all though, I've never felt more "at home" than I do in VT.

But then something interesting happens when I drive 4 miles down the road.  I cross into New Hampshire, the self-described "Live Free or Die" state.  New Hampshire is ridiculously Libertarian and for what I thought was a classic "New England Liberal State", there is more anti-government sentiment there than what I saw in rural parts of Pennsylvania.  It's actually quite fascinating.  Weekend talk radio is littered with shows about guns, liberties, and the constitution.   They don't even have income or sales taxes (which is of course why I buy all of my goods and groceries in NH and not VT or MA!).  For two places that are so close geographically, the mindsets of the people are palpably different.  Of course at the College (Dartmouth), it feels just like any typical campus (although a bit privileged and Ivy League-y).

And then there's Massachusetts.  Due to my work and/or personal arrangements, I spend a good part of my time outside of Boston as well.  For a big city, Boston is fantastic.  A fair amount smaller than a NYC, but just as diverse and cultured.  The downside?  The zoning, roads, and traffic.  For all of the wonderful merit to Boston as a city, and for all it offers, it loses a lot simply in the layout of it's infrastructure.  Roads are a disaster, public transportation is sparse, unreliable, and slow, and the commuter rails extremely expensive.  Commuting downtown from anywhere outside of walking distance is a major chore and I think at the root of why many people in the city seem so impatient, on-edge, and downright cranky.  I know I'd be if I had to do that commute every day.

With all of this said, I have definitely had a fun few months and packed it with many adventures (including my little 100 mile cycling romp last weekend).  I've already taken a few trips, and managed to discover a nice network of trails to run on in VT.

I figure I'd just go through a pictoral run-through of some of the past few months highlights....

My new half-home upon first crossing the border in the Penske

My first big move in 7 years....long overdue.

In classic VT fashion, a local park is also a "help yourself" raspberry park.

A real breakfast nook in the new place.  Always wanted one of these.

This happens almost nightly in the field across from the apartment

After getting unpacked and ready for my new job to start, I had a major blowup with my primary laptop.  The machine that got me through the last 5 years of graduate school, and housed all of my PhD dissertation material, suddenly did this....

After many hours of troubleshooting, a send-in to apple, and a new logic board, it was brought back from the dead, but not after first having to troubleshoot a new video problem (See below).  Turns out, they gave me a logic board with a newer video processor, but my OS still had the old drivers running.  After re-installing OSX, all was well, and crises were averted.  Needless to say I have 3 separate back ups of my system/data now.

Another view from the near the new Apt

One of the first things I did up in VT, was to establish new daily running routes.  I quickly found several local trails and an entire network of cross country ski trails that serve as running paths in the warmer months.  It didn't take long to explore them all....

Trail map of all cross-country trails...

My actual GPS track of all of these trails

A few weeks into my new job, I had to return to Penn State to work on some sensors.  The trip went well, but I quickly realized just how far away I now was from Central PA.  Any future trips to State College will mean almost 1000 miles round trip in a car.

New sensor logger, wired for action

Soldering connections

5 Meters of Temperature Sensor Fun

The Boston move-in was a little more chaotic, but has been equally exciting.  There are so many fun places to explore in the area.  One of the very first things we did once settled was to take a trip out along the coast and up around Cape Cod to Provincetown.  It's one of those oddball extreme places I've always wanted to explore.  Plus I've heard that Provincetown is basically the Key West of the North (and Key West was pretty darn fun/crazy when I visited it 10+ years ago)

On our way out to the Cape, we stopped for a visit at Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock.  Literally.


Replica Mayflower

Screenshot of GPS dot way out at tip of Cape Cod

Furthest we went on our bikes
(We brought our bikes with us to ride around on
in Provincetown, since we knew driving is difficult).

Dinner at the Lobster Pot.

Time to get crackin'. 

The downtown party

Some historical signage

Another GPS Dot

Harbor in Provincetown

Later in the week we went out exploring and found this lovely example of glacial striae on an exposed boulder near our apartment (the vertical scratch marks).  Gotta love ice-related goodies from the last ice age.

In late-September, I went for what would be the last WAIS Divide project meeting in San Diego.  I've been going to these meetings for the past 7 years and have enjoyed the science exchanges that have happened each time.  It would be the last time I'd see many of the project participants for a while, so I was glad my job allowed me to still go.

The beach in La Jolla, quite a nice little place for a meeting.

I thought this tree looked straight out of Dr. Seuss.

It's weird to think that life is settling down a little, and things are becoming a bit more regular.  This doesn't mean I won't stop exploring though....as there's still so much to do, so many places yet to see, and so many nooks and crannies yet to peek behind....not to mention all the adventures yet to unfold.

Keep on trekin' everyone...and always take the time to peek under that goofy looking rock.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Century Ridin'

The mean, green, machine...

I have always wanted to take a stab at riding 100 miles on a bike, but have never really been motivated to actually get out and do it.  A few years ago, I spent a considerable amount of money on a nice touring/cross bike that would allow me to go on many such adventures...but I just never fell in love with the bike or the idea of long rides.  It was (and still is) an excellent bike (Surly Long Haul Trucker), but I was just never enthusiastic about riding it, or planning adventure rides on it for that matter. I have never been able to put a finger on just why I didn't find much enjoyment out of it, but I think I may have finally pinpointed the source of my cycling apathy:  My bike was the wrong size, and had the wrong feel for me.  (Certainly, a lot of my apathy may have also come from the fact that I was so stressed and time-consumed with trying to finish my dissertation, that I just didn't want to ride it).

I bought my Surly used at a great price from a local bike shop in State College (with a great reputation).  Unfortunately, I never really had myself sized, or even know what the hell I was doing, so just pounced on the first good deal I could find.  Because of this I got a bike sized for someone an inch or two taller than me, with a longer inseam.  Last year, I permanently "donated" the bike over to my other half, and it fits her remarkably better....and she loves riding it.  While it made me happy to see the bike being used, and being enjoyed, I had sort of given up on ever getting into cycling.

But it seems, the cycling power-that-be had other plans for me.  Once I got settled in up here in New England, I spent some time with a friend who was in the process of leaving Dartmouth to start a new post-doc.  On his way out, he was looking to unload a lot of his "stuff".  He had a "commuter" bike he was looking to part with for a very-reasonable price.  I figured it might be good to have a bike so that I can ride to work on occasion, and while it was no Surly, it was a pretty decent bike for the price he was asking.  So on a rather impulsive whim, I took it off of his hands, not really sure if I'd even end up riding it.

After just a few short trips on it, I realized rather quickly that riding on a bike that fits you properly does make all the difference.  Despite this bike being much "cheaper" than my surly, I enjoy riding it exponentially more.  I've only had it for a little over a month, and probably already put several hundred miles on it.  Quite simply....it's FUN to ride.  My friend gave me all the bells/whistles with the bike too, including the rack and bag.  Since owning it, I've already picked up an incredible night lamp (and tail light), a newer helmet (after running over my old one with the car - long story), a nicer bike pump, and some tools.  I'm a bit bummed that this newfound love has come on so late in the riding season, so it will interesting to see if it fades by next Spring.

At any rate, on to the real story here.  This past weekend, on an incredible whim, I hopped on my bike just before lunch, and didn't stop riding until I hit 100 miles----completing my first "century ride" as the cyclists like to call it.  Me, I'm content with saying I did a "hundred-miler"...but I suppose that's the ultrarunner in me.

The Course:
Riding 100 miles was only partially planned.  I knew I wanted to try it, but wasn't sure when/where.  I debated about whether it would be smarter to do 100 miles over relatively flat terrain, meaning less hills, but more constant pedaling; OR, go over a hilly course that would mean more hard-work on climbs, but a lot more places to "coast" down hill.  The answer came to me via some googling. 

When I brought up the google map of the area here, and turned on "bicycling" I noticed a very distinct, and rather long line of brown extending from Lebanon, NH all the way down to the town of Boscawen, NH.  After a little research, I discovered that this line, is known as the Northern Rail Trail and extends for 57 miles along the old Boston/Maine northern train line.  With the weather getting colder up here, and the days shorter, I knew that if I was going to do it this year, it had to be soon.  So, upon waking up this past Saturday morning and sipping a coffee on my couch, I figured...what the hell.

Rail Trail on Google Maps

I loaded up my bike and a small pack with warm clothes, food, and a bladder, and strapped it to my car so that I could head over to Lebanon to start at Mile 0 of the trail.  I packed an extra tire tube, a repair kit, some tools, chain lube, and a rag for the ride as well.

The plan would be to do a 50 mile out-n-back.  I gave myself an "out" however, a fall-back plan, of doing 100K instead (what I informally dubbed a "soft-century").  My plan was to ride out 50K and assess the situation from both a time and stamina perspective.  If I was feeling ok, and was still all right on time, I'd ride out the remaining 19 miles to the 50-Mile point, and then turn around for the long 50-mile journey back.  Of course with the trail being 57 miles long, I was tempted to try for the full 114 mile ride, but I just couldn't justify doing an extra 14 miles since it was already almost noon, and I had nothing to prove.  I set aside my OCD tendencies, and set firm a turnaround point of 50 miles or less.

I was a little worried about trail-tread.  This would not be on paved roads and the rail trail would mean 100 miles of crushed gravel.  While my bike is more-than-capable of handling such surfaces, It is not a mountain bike, and I had no idea how consistent the gravel would be.  There might be parts where the rocks could potentially damage or puncture my narrower cross-tires.  Plus, all the bumping and vibration of riding over 100 miles on crushed gravel was sure to make my ass sore, especially considering my longest ride to date was only about 25 miles.  Lastly, I was worried about my new bike light, and whether it provide adequate lighting and for enough time.  I have used it on short rides on roads and it was fine, but this would effectively be on a dark trail at night, with no outside lighting, in the middle of rural NH.  I had read that on low the light would provide 6 hours of constant 200 lumen power, but on medium, only 4.  I told myself I HAD to turn around by 5 pm at the absolute latest, as it gets dark enough for a light by 7 PM.  I gave myself a conservative cycling estimate of 9 hours, and factored in about an hour for breaks.  This meant I was planning on a 10 hour day total.  

I arrived at the Lebanon Trail Head (Mile 0 - or milepost 139), unloaded my bike, and started my timers.  The clock read 11:48 AM.  It was definitely a late start, but I wasn't worried.  Worst case scenario is that I'd turn around at 50K, or get two flats somewhere and have to do a lot of walking in the dark.  Thankfully my light had a "walk mode" which puts out only 30 lumens and gives 12+ hours of lighting.  I had enough food, water, and warm clothing to get me through the night if I needed it.

At exactly 11:50, my wheels hit the start of the path with a sign indicating 57 miles to Boscawen.  I had determined a spot on the map that was ~50 miles south.  I also had my Garmin watch on and would be able tell when it had approximated 50 miles as well.  Hopefully the two places would be the same.

Pre-ride Pic: At the start just before hitting the trail

The ride started in the sun and it couldn't have been a lovelier day.  People were out walking dogs, riding bikes, and running.  Lebanon is a fairly good sized town, so there were a lot of people within the first 5 miles of the start.  Upon quick glance at my map, I soon realized that I had very discrete points along the trail to help break up the miles.  Some of those points were lakes, or old train stops, while others were legitimate little towns where I could stop at gas stations for food.  This adventure was starting feel a little like a vol state on wheels (without the extreme heat of course).

Mile 0!

Over the first 15 miles, I passed over many old bridges, saw many beautiful streams, and stopped to marvel at the changing leaves.  It was a perfect-temperature day, and everything was progressing nicely.  The path was very-fine crushed gravel, and was no problem at all for my bike or my butt. 
Mascoma lake near Enfield was simply stunning and I couldn't help but stop for a good 10 minutes to just enjoy the scenery there.   Miles ticked away rather quickly and at mile 16 or so I passed through the town of Canaan (the trailhead sign mileage is wrong btw).  As I rode through the town, I hopped out on to the road to pedal for a few miles on smooth highway, but realized very quickly that this was a bad idea both because there was essentially no shoulder, but also because it was incredibly hilly.  The joy of a rail trail, is it's never more than 1% gradient.

One of many creeks I crossed

One of many bridges I crossed

Mascoma Lake

Mascoma Lake

Nice break bench along the path

The trail passed through several of the large outcrop "rock tunnels".

Waterfall over dam near Enfield.

Beautiful fall colors

Canaan town center

A TARDIS in the middle of the woods??

Suprise!  Random library!

Another remote lake along the path

Old train car at the historic Potter Place train stop (near Andover)

Potter place train stop near Andover

Very old gravestones....one for a famous ventriloquist. 

Many covered bridges along the ride.

Things progressed rather smoothly along the ride and I slowly began ticking off miles.  At mile 24, I stopped at the service station in Grafton, and got an ice cream and sandwich.  It was nice to "top off" and felt very much like a vol state resupply.  I chatted a bit with some locals and then headed out farther down the trail.  Clouds had rolled in and while it didn't look like rain, the temps notably dropped.  I donned my wind shell and carried on.  The legs still felt great and at mile 31 (50K), I made the command decision to push on towards 100.  After Grafton (mile 25), the path became much less bumpy.  For a stretch of about 7-8 miles between 17 and 24, the trail became littered with bigger/sharper rocks.  I was starting to get worried that I wouldn't be able to go to the 50 mile mark, but after Grafton, it was superbly crushed gravel, and smooth sailing the whole way.  I noticed after Grafton, that the trail became very lonely.  From mile 25 all the way to 50, I only saw one other person on a bike and only passed a few locals.  The trail felt very remote, and what I came to realize is that remote New Hampshire, really is remote.  I never had cell signal for the entire ride except for in Lebanon, and right at the very end as I neared Boscawen.

I watched as the marked mile posts slowly count down as the hours counted up.  I definitely began feeling some fatigue in my legs around mile 45 but easily pushed on to my turn-around point.  When I hit my 50-mile gate, I checked my watch mileage and it said 49.68.  Good enough I figured.

I sat down, unpacked and settled in for a very nice 35 minute rest break.  I gave my legs some time to loosen up, while I scarfed down several hundred calories.

50 Mile turn around

5---0 Miles

Screen shot of where I turned around......

Same screen shot, but shown with respect to my start point.

A peak down-trail at what will have to wait until the next ride...

At just before 5 PM, I got up, fully rested, and began the long 50 mile journey back to my car.  I knew it would be a late night, so I had no intention of rushing.  Very quickly I started having some issues with my legs.  Strange cramping and unhappiness from my quads had me going very slowly for a few miles.  I took an unplanned break at ~58 or so, and it really helped ease my legs up.  I think I just started too fast after mid big break at 50.

Break spot at mile 58

View at 58

I headed out after my 2nd break and the legs felt better.  At about 6:30 pm the sun set and I was still 35 miles from the my car.  I knew it would be at least 2-3 hours in the dark.  I made a new goal of hitting the Grafton gas station again before it closed so that I could fuel up and get some hot coffee in me.....as well as some advil.  I hunkered down (hat and gloves now on), and went into steady-state mode.  I pedaled very-evenly and consistently so that I could maintain a constant speed.  Miles began to drag on a bit, but at at 7 pm, I finally had to turn on the ol' bike light.  I was nervous that it would severely hinder my speed/progress, but I was very happily proven wrong.  The new light (which I had just purchased two weeks ago), was absolutely fantastic.  The 200 lumens was more than sufficient, and the beam width easily covered the trail, even in the darkest places.  I was able to maintain a constant 12 mph speed without any fear of hitting something unexpected.  

At 7:50, I came into a clearing and realized I had made it back to Grafton (24) and the service station.  I had 10 minutes to get what I needed before they closed, so the timing was perfect.  It was another very vol-state type experience.  I took 2 advil that I bought in the store and drank a coffee, and it made all the difference.  In just a few minutes my leg fatigue and soreness lessened, and I was ready to finish off my century ride.

Being only 24 miles from the car now, my mind was slowly easing.  I knew, pending some major disaster, that I'd likely make it back to the car in just another couple of hours.  I left the store in a good mood and pedaled on.  Miles ticked away very quickly now.  My only real concern at this point was the longevity of my light.  But it never faltered, wavered, or dimmed.  Worked perfectly and got me home.  When I made it to Enfield at about mile 6, I considered myself on the homestretch.  Each mile had me smiling even more.  I was going to complete 100 miles this day on my bike...something I'd always wanted to try....and with no real major blowouts or physical issues.  At mile 99, I slowed my pace and enjoyed myself as the last bit of trail rolled by under my tires.  At this point I didn't care if I had a flat or blown light.  I was going to make it.  Eventually, the trail opened and I was back at my car right where I left it some 9 hours and 50 minutes earlier.  It was a good day.  With breaks the ride took me almost 10 hours, with about 9 hours of actual movement (50 minutes of breaks/rest). 

I took a short and slow victory lap around the town center of Lebanon (probably tacking on another mile or so), to let my legs ease down slowly, but was back at my car in just a few minutes.

I mounted my bike up on the carrier, and was very quickly overcome with fatigue. I made the 10 mile drive home and fell asleep within minutes.  Sunday morning I woke up with a little leg soreness, but otherwise completely fine.  It was almost as though it never happened.

All in all, I would say my first stab at a century ride was a great success.  No major issues with myself or my bike, lovely scenery, and a great workout to boot.  Good times.

A very tired me, with 100 miles completed! (Tire rims lit up by camera flash)

As far as the bike, it really is nothing special.  It's a very old model "commuter" bike from REI (probably like 2007), but I like it, and it fits me right.  I'd prefer the drop bar handlebars, but I can get those put on later.

The light....is a NiteRider 350.  It even came with a packaged red tail light as well.  I highly recommend as they are also both rechargeable with built-in lithium batteries (recharge using usb cable).

Hike (and bike) on my friends,