Winter Trails

Superior Hiking Trail alongside Keene Creek

Today was one of those winter days I could not, would not, stay indoors. In past years I’d be soaking up the winter sunshine while on a fatbike.

Foot Travel Only

This winter I’ve been trying to stick to walking, hiking and snowshoeing to let my arms heal up.

View of the St Louis River

We’re warming our way out of a deep freeze. After of period of night time temps in the teens and twenties below zero, today was 25F/-4C degrees with light winds. It felt warm. The bitter cold firmed up the trails nicely. No snowshoes needed.

I can see my house down below.

When we moved into this area in the early 2000’s there were no trails for human powered travel. Now there is the Superior Hiking Trail and a network of mountain bike trails that crisscross or run parallel to the hiking trail. There’s also a snowmobile trail and the deer have their own network of well packed down trails. The deer and an occasional snowmobile used to have this wooded hilltop “park” overlooking the City of Duluth and Lake Superior all to themselves. Nowadays it’s fun to see so many people out fatbiking and hiking in February. I’m not sure the deer like sharing though.

Frozen Lake Superior in the distance.

I hiked four miles. I enjoyed every step on a beautiful winter day on a beautiful winter trail. A trail right in my neighborhood.

Bitter Cold: Just the way I like it.

I work some Saturday mornings now. We’ve been having a stretch of bitter cold. The air temp was -15F/-26C degrees when I left home before sunrise. There’s a saying here in the winter, “It’s warmer by the lake”. Lake Superior being the lake. It’s immense volume of water prevents it from cooling as fast as the surrounding air during the winter. This provides a warming effect near the lake. My work today had me driving west away from the lake.

I knew the temperature would drop as I went over the hill leaving Duluth. And continue to drop for the first half hour or so. And did it ever drop. This picture of the dash readout is a bit blurry, if you look closely you may be able to make out the exterior temp reading:

It says -36F/-38C degrees. That’s the reading shortly after sunrise when it’s the coldest.

We’re in the middle of an arctic blast of cold air. I’ve learned to love these cold spells. All the outdoor activities I do are more fun when the air temp gets below 0F/-18C degrees. The snow is dry and where it’s been packed down or groomed it becomes firm and grippy. Specially for snow biking.

Quarry Park, Duluth, Minnesota

Unfortunately my fatbiking outing a few weeks ago didn’t do my healing arms any favors. It’s really tough for me not to be able to be out on the trails on my Pugsley in these ideal winter conditions. I’ve also haven’t been cross-country skiing this winter.

Fortunately I can still get outside and enjoy this winter season. I’ve been walking when I do get out. Another activity I love that gets me outdoors.

I’ve been enjoying frequent walks in our neighborhood’s abandoned quarry. Today’s walk was nice with the sunshine and biting cold air. And oh, by time I got out for my walk it had warmed to a very pleasant-3F/-19C degrees. That’s the air temp before you figure in the wind chill. (I always get a little thrill when it’s -3 degrees. Back in the early 90’s when I was living in St Paul my favorite local band was named “3 Below”. It was a kick-ass blues rock trio. Miss those guys)

What I love the most.

My 2006 Purple Pugsley

It’s no secret to people that have followed me over the years that my favorite rides I do are on snow with fat tires. This winter has been a bit different with my tendinitis issue. I’ve been enjoying snowy walks and snowshoeing.

We haven’t had much snow the past 60 days, or our usual bitter cold. It’s made it easier not to feel like I’m been missing out. Today was different. I had to get out on the Pugsley . I couldn’t resist the reports of great trail conditions with light snowfall this morning.

It was so great to be out. I rode the groomed mtb trail loop in Duluth’s Brewer Park. This is on the ridge right above my house.

My arms are still not good. The riding flared up the tendinitis. I have to say it was so worth it today.

Today was my first ride on a bicycle in 2021. If I hadn’t gotten out today or tomorrow it would have been my first January with no fatbike snow rides since I bought my Surly Pugsley in 2006.

Bonus for those that are reading this post. I stopped posting to Instagram, taking a break for awhile, so this is the only place to see my photos for awhile.

Ride on!

Styrofoam Snow

I’m not doing much cycling right now due to my ongoing attempts to let my arm tendinitis heal. Instead I’m getting outside as much as I can by doing other activities. What’s most important to me is being outside whether it’s on a bicycle or not.

Today was a day that pulled me outdoors. The weather was perfect in my book. Clear skies, no wind, 11F/-12C degrees. Cold enough that the snow sounds like styrofoam when you walk on it. I love that. And no problem staying warm in these temps with the lack of wind. Bonus: sunset and a nearly full moon happening simultaneously!

Everything is on hold and other updates.

The Jones at my favorite local overlook a week ago.

Everyone’s world has changed in 2020. Here’s an update on me. I haven’t worked since March 18th and was eventually laid-off. I worked at a non-profit. One third of Minnesota’s non-profit work force has been laid -off. The non-profit sector is the largest employer in the state, followed closely by the government sector. The major employers in this city of 85,000 people are the regional medical providers and the tourist industry. Both have suffered a staggering number of job loses. The employment outlook is grim for the foreseeable future as long as there is a need to maintain Covid-19 social distancing protocols. The bright side personally is that the other person in our household has maintained her employment. We’ll be okay for the time being. I would like to return to my previous employer, but no way to predict when they’ll post my job. It may not happen until next year.

Checking out the lakefront construction on the A-train.

What have I been doing with my time? I started off my lay-off with a lot of anxiety caused by the pandemic and the uncertainty with what would happen next. I spent my days unable to focus on things. In May I started to feel somewhat less anxious and discovered staying busy was the key to getting through my days. I did numerous projects around the house and yard. Checking off a long list of overdue projects. In years past I would have spent all day on my bicycle. In the past few years that has become less of an option. I’ve never been able to recover from activity well. That has gotten worse year by year. I’m 57 now. I also haven’t fully acclimated to heat the past several summers. This limits how far and how often I can ride. I usually feel okay on the ride, but need a full two days to recover from even the shortest rides. I discuss this with my doctor every year. He connects it to my hypertension and doesn’t seem that concerned as long as we’re addressing that. My attitude is, as long as I can get out for bike rides, hikes, or walks, I’m okay. I limit the length and frequency. I’m grateful for the times I do get out.

Trying out my new tent on an overnight backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail.

I bought a new tent in May in hopes of being a able to get out more. I was able to purchase a new $300 Big Agnes solo tent. It was on clearance at REI. That combined with another 20% sale and my yearly dividend, it came to $64. I did get in one overnight backpacking trip in June to try it out before the heat reached us. I hiked in 6 miles and back out the next day. It did wonders for my head, but my body took a few days to recover. Right now I doubt I could do more than a two day trip of any kind. My energy level doesn’t bounce back when out for consecutive days. It’s frustrating, because up until about 2015 I could go non-stop for as many hours and days as I wanted, as long as I could go at my own speed.

Before and after pictures from the major upgrades I made to my motorcycle.

I bought this motorcycle new back in 2015. I was still car-free at the time. I hadn’t owned a car since 2002. I bicycled to work everyday, but even then I was having trouble recovering. Five days in a row of bike commutes left me with no energy to ride bicycles on the weekends. The plan was to commute a few days on the moto and a few days on the bicycle so I could spend some time riding my bicycles on the weekends. I ended up leaving that job a few months after getting the motorcycle and eventually replacing that job with a job I needed to have a car. I bought a car in March of 2017.

Since owning this motorcycle I’ve known about a company based in the UK that made a upgrade kit for my model of motorcycle. The companies name is Rally Raid Products. It essentially converts a reliable, high mpg, street bike into an all-road capable bike by replacing the entire suspension and wheels/tires. It increases suspension travel and increases the front wheel diameter from 17″ to 19″. A bike that would be perfect for exploring the hundreds of miles of forest service roads located in two nearby National Forests.

I did all the wrenching myself.

I did all the work on the motorcycle myself. In the process I flared up the tendinitis in my elbows. Tendinitis that was already flaring from all my busy work in May on home projects. I was so excited to complete this project. A project that started in February when I made the decision to spend the money and ordered all the parts. I even took out a personal loan and put a lien on my motorcycle to pay for it. Something I never do. Then Covid-19 hit the world. The 4-6 week turn around time on my order turned into an agonizing 15 week wait for all the parts to arrive. I was so eager to get out on the motorcycle. Ironically I have the time. But now I can’t operate the throttle for more than an hour without the tendinitis flaring up. I’ve learned from past experience the only thing to heal the arms is rest, often times it takes months.

So, I have all the time in the world, yet my motorcycle sits idle and my bikes get used once or twice a week. Looking at the big picture, I don’t have anything to complain about. We have a home, we’re paying our bills, and we feel safe. All of that is priceless to me.

I’ve been pondering a non-bike related post. I’ve had a list going in my head for several years of the top 10 greatest concerts I saw. The list is so difficult to rank. It’s expanded to a top 20 list with a list of honorable mentions. The rankings change often. Well, except for my top three. The top three finally settled in after a lot of contemplation about a year ago. They haven’t changed. In this time of social distancing I’ve been thinking about all the things we used to be able to do, like go to see live music in both large and small venues. That brings back memories of some of the great concerts I’ve been to and the amazing artists I’ve been able to see in person. Would anyone be interested in this? Maybe it would inspire you to make your own top 10 or top 20 list.

Which bike project did I choose for 2020?

A post I wrote back on October 5 I mentioned there are two bike projects I want to do in 2020. Both were significant upgrades to two bikes I currently have, one a bicycle and the other my moto bike. I want to do both projects. Each is an exciting, and expensive project. Unfortunately I can only afford one. The other will have to wait until another year. Depending on the day, I went back and forth between the two projects. It took me until March 19th decide on one. That’s when I committed to the moto bike project and ordered 95% of the parts I need.

My moto as of three days ago. Waiting for Spring.

I announced my decision on my Instagram account then. I thought I should update the blog since this is where I first talked about it.

What was the deciding factor? Two things. The first was something a friend said to me back in October. He said the changes to the Brompton, while very cool, won’t change the way I use that bike. However, the changes to my Honda CB500X will fundamentally change the way I use that bike. The second thing is that I have spent nearly my entire disposable income on bicycles for the past 15 years. I now have five bicycles dialed in for the riding I do. I don’t need, or plan, to buy any new bikes for awhile. It’s time to spend some money on something else for a change.

85% of the parts I ordered from Rally Raid Industries in the U.K. They manufacture and sell specific parts for my model of motorcycle. Most parts were in stock and came last week. I’m doing a complete Level 2 suspension kit and wheel kit, as well as a few other upgrades and accessories. Here’s some of the parts I’ve received:

I received tires and a custom radiator guard from other venders:

Two items were not manufactured yet; the wheel set and levers:

As of right now I have no idea when I’ll receive these parts. In normal times they take 4-6 weeks to produce orders. I don’t know how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect how the order gets processed. Once the wheel hubs are machined and the wheels are built they get sent to Bartubeless in Italy for a tubeless set-up. Not sure if that can happen right now.

Anyway, once I have everything, I can get it all installed. This will transform a very good budget street motorcycle into a very capable All-Road Adventure bike. It will have a fully adjustable suspension that can handle pavement as well as off-road riding. I can adjust it for the added weight of camping gear. I intend to use it for exploring the 100’s of miles of dirt and gravel roads in this region including several million acres of National Forest lands nearby. I’ll be able to scout bikepacking routes ahead of time, if I choose to. Overnight camping trips are a definite possibility when I’m not feeling like pedaling a bicycle. Last summer I struggled with the heat and lack of stamina on multi-day bikepacking trips. The moto gives me an option to still get out when I don’t want to be out on a bicycle.

This upgrade gives me the motorbike I really wanted when I bought my Honda. I thought the stock bike, marketed as an Adventure bike, could handle more off-road then what it really can. Now it will be able to take on anything within my skill level.

Getting in the drops.

My custom drop bar all-weather commuter bike.

My love of drop bars dates back to my first 10-speed bike. I got it for my 13th birthday in 1976. It was a dark blue Paris-Sport with racing handlebars. I rode that bike everywhere and everyday that summer. We lived in Ross Township, a northern suburb of Pittsburgh. I would ride it to North Park and ride the 5 mile bike path loop around the lake. By summers end I was riding 5 laps each time there.

The next summer I started racing it at the local Thursday night club races of the ACA, Allegheny Cycling Association. They had a 1K, four corner criterium course in the parking lot of the Pittsburgh Zoo. I raced every Thursday night. That summer I also did my first week long bike tour through the mountains of Western Pennsylvania.

That’s me in the white jersey (100% wool) at the 1979 USCF Illinois District Junior Men’s Championship race.

In 1978 I saved all my money from snow shoveling and lawn mowing gigs and with a little help from my parents I bought a real racing bike, a champagne colored Nishiki PRO. I got my amateur racing license from the USCF, or United States Cycling Federation and moved up into the “A” race at the Thursday Night Races. I was racing and learning from the best racers in Pittsburgh. This included future National Champion Matt Eaton, brothers Danny and Tom Chew. Danny would win the grueling Race Across America or RAAM twice in the 90’s. Also there was a first year Senior, a 19 year old Davis Phinney, who would later become America’s winniest racer. I was 15 and racing against this group once a week. I never won, but Mote importantly I never got dropped. And I learned how to race from those guys. I ended up qualifying for National Championships by placing second at State Championships. I finished 13th in the field sprint at Nationals in the Intermediate Boys Race.

At the end of that summer we moved to the Chicago area. I never found a racing community to replace what I had in Pittsburgh. I tried to race one more year and then lost interest without that supportive community.

My racing years formed my ideas of what bikes should look and feel like for the next couple of decades. Any bike without drop bars was silly to me. It took a very long time to move on from that.

Drop bar mountain bike set up as commuter bike in 2005.

Even the mountain bike I commuted on from 2002-2005 had drop bars on it. In fact all my main commuter bikes from when I was car-free between 2002-20015 had drop-bars. Drop bars have always been, and still are my favorite bars to use.

Drop bar LHT
Drop bar Belt Check (A custom Surly Cross Check)

Now if you were to ask me how often I ride in the drops, I would honestly have to tell you I can’t remember the last time I did. Perhaps in some nasty headwinds back in 2006 or 2007 when I was putting in big miles training for the Arrowhead Ultra 135. I was about 18 lbs lighter, younger and a bit more flexible during those couple of years.

As I have gotten older I am less comfortable in the drops, I’ve gained some weight around the waistline, I’ve lost some flexibility and my handlebar stems have gotten taller. But I still love riding drop bars. I like riding on the hoods, behind the hoods on the curve, and on the flat bar section. I don’t use the drops anymore…….

……until yesterday!!! I rode comfortably in the drops. What changed? Sooo many things in the past few years. I haven’t had the built in daily workout of bike commuting. My base fitness level isn’t at a high level all the time like it was when I was commuting by bike daily. I’m aging and I’m in those years where it’s much, much harder to maintain fitness.

Last year, for the first time in my life, I really felt like I didn’t have the base fitness to do want I wanted to do. I’ve always loathed gyms and “working out” indoors. But I realized I need to listen to the experts on aging. This past October I decided to join a gym and try strength training. It’s been 30 years since I did any serious strength training. I went and did my strength workouts consistently for four and a half months until last week when my gym closed for the Covid-19 virus.

What did four and a half months of strength training do for me?

I COMFORTABLY GOT IN A TUCK POSITION ON THE DROPS DURING A 1.5 MILE DESCENT YESTERDAY.

The strength training combined with 7 lbs of weight loss helped me do something I never thought I’d do again, ride in the drops on a drop bar bike.

Ride your bike (and do some strength training).

Best part of my day….

Over on Instagram today I posted this picture with the caption the same as the title of this post. We’re in the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic locally, like many locations in the U.S. The first two confirmed cases in our county have just been announced in the last day. The world around us changes daily and sometimes hourly. It’s unsettling.

My place of work closed down on March 19. That was only four days ago, but feels like a month. We were told it will be for 10 working days and we will be paid. I doubt we’ll be returning to work on April 2nd, the anticipated return date. Susan works at the hospital. The floor she works on is being readied as the initial Covid-19 treatment floor. She’s been packing up her office and moving to a temporary location. She is considered an essential employee but can work remotely.

We have a full freezer and enough other food to have at least something to eat for some time. So we haven’t been stocking up. But with rumors of a “shelter in place order” coming soon I decided to venture out today and see if I could pick up a few items. I headed out by car at 11 am. The roads were eerily deserted. The two grocery stores I went to were stocked. A few non-perishable items were out, but I was able to get everything on my list. From what I’ve been reading, I wasn’t expecting that. Bonus was both stores produce departments were fully stocked. Must be people stopped cooking good food and are eating stuff out of cans of and boxes.

I even picked up a 6 pack of TP and kitty litter. Don’t want to run out of either.

Why did I go to two grocery stores? With two special diets in the house that’s our normal routine. Shopping only at one store limits our options.

By time I got home I was so ready for a bike ride. I needed to do something that felt normal. With a sunny day and a temp of 48F degrees I had to get out. That’s the warmest temperature I’ve ridden in this year so far. I headed up to Skyline Parkway because there is no one up there in March. I know that as a fact because it was part of my daily bike commute for 14 years. I was shocked to see bicyclists, runners snd walkers along the whole way as well as more cars than normal. I guess with everything closed people are discovering the outdoors. It was nice to have company, at a distance of at least six feet of course.

I returned from my ride tired but mentally refreshed and ready to fix dinner for Susan and myself.

Stay safe, healthy, and ride your bike.

My first “no-snow” ride of the year.

After announcing yesterday I would no longer be risking injury by riding my non-studded fatbike on the local icy trails, I ended up out on a bike ride. I broke out the all-weather A-train and had a nice ride on perfectly dry roads. The sun was shining and a brisk wind was blowing. What a joy it was to ride quietly along on a drop bar bicycle for a change. Don’t get me wrong, I love my snowy fatbike rides, more than any rides I do all year long, but the change of pace was refreshing. It’s good to mix things up now and then.

This is what I woke up to this morning. Not an unusual sight for us this time of year. We still have two months before Spring blossoms and things greening up. Spring arrives very late in the Northland.

Ride your bike.