Like pretty much every aspect of and moment I’m adulthood, Christmas 2014 had been a mix of good and bad.

Time with family, gifts, a couple fun outings, and holiday food have been good. No time for Scrabble and poor weather has been bad, but nothing’s been worse than Vivi getting sick again – this time on Christmas Day with what we’re assuming is the stomach flu. Poor kiddo, and poor Mama for missing out while taking care of her…

Sick Vivi

Vivi Art: Mrs. Zublowski’s Second Grade Class

Vivi periodically makes a sort of "class photo" drawing of a bunch of kids that belong to some imaginary class. She enjoys drawing the silly faces as much as making up the silly names.

Here for instance are Mrs. Zublowski’s second graders – but interestingly not Mrs. Zublowski herself:

Jingle Bell Runners (and Bikers)

Last year, the Northfield YMCA asked our local bike club if anyone would like to lead out the annual Jingle Bell Run downtown. Several of us fatbikers were interested, and had fun leading racers over the slick, cold course.

This year the Y asked us again, so again a bunch of us showed up, though the weather today was warm and gray and wet – not optimal fatbiking conditions. Still, it was fun to see the throng off and lead them along the courses. Shannon, Julia, and Genevieve were running the 2k race along with their BFFs, so I rode that course with my friend Michael and his son. Viewing conditions were perfect!

They all ran the entire course, which made me happy, since 1.25 miles is quite a long way for little kids!

After watching them finish, I looped back up the course to see the winner of the 5k zoom past
5k Winner

and admire the sight of the fatbikers cheering on other finishers as they rounded the last corner. We looked good, I think.

All in all, a great morning!

A Darkness Ride

The gang of gravel cyclists here in Northfield have, under the leadership of the indefatigable Bruce A., made a custom of rides on (or nearly on) nights with full moons. These “Full Moon Howl” rides are pretty great. This month, another of the gang’s leaders, Joe P., proposed the opposite – a “Darkness Ride” on the night of the new moon.

And so it came to pass on Saturday that nine of us went for a 25-mile roll to Randolph and back. I rode the Buffalo, loaded pretty well with my racing gear. The conditions were pretty good, and I was feeling strong, so I snuck in a few short full-gas efforts, but the companionship was the best part – even if it’s hard to get good photos of bike riders in the dark, whether they’re rolling
South to Alta

or stopped.
Stopped in Randolph

After the ride, we gathered at Joe’s house, where his girlfriend Julie put on a huge spread of food and drink and where we were all bitten by this ferocious beast.

What an amazing night.

Not a Great Ride

Bridge #5750

Today’s ride did not live up to expectations, and yet the magic of bike riding ensured that it still didn’t suck. I fell short on both saddle time and total distance, crashed twice on the ice, experienced no lovely falling-snow moments, fought a heavy headwind, damaged various bits and pieces, and had to call for a rescue ride home from my great friend Michael. Yet! I was grinning as I rode into the garage.

By way of summary, here’s a rundown of damaged stuff and their current dispositions:

  • Front blinker light: cracked in crash #1; now junk
  • Right hip: bruised and scraped in crash #1; now healing in a purply way
  • Right elbow: jarred in crash #1; now aching nicely with a likely bruise tomorrow
  • Rear derailleur: slightly bent in crash #1; straightened by hand later and now functioning fine
  • Cranks and spindle: mysterious malfunction led to complete separation of cranks about 20 miles from home and a call to a friend for a rescue; repairers quickly and at no cost at the LBS.

Jones Loop Handlebar: A Belated Review

When I sold the Beast in August to upgrade to a titanium Mukluk, I also decided to switch from traditional straight handlebars to the funny-looking but apparently quite comfortable "Loop" H-Bar made by Jones Bikes.

I had had problems with my hands going numb on many rides on the Muk with straight bars, but many riders on the Internet swore up and down that the unusual backwards sweep of the H-Bar helped relieve pressure on their hands and thus numbness. Mindful of the self-selection there, I figured that I could always sell the H-Bar if I found that my hands still fell asleep on them.

Having now done about 500 miles on the new (to me) ti Mukluk with the H-Bar, I can report that these funny-looking bars are in fact much more comfortable than my flat bars (even cushy flat carbon bars!).*
Jones Loop H-Bar

I spend most of any ride with my hands on the grips at the ends of the bars, where I’ve found the sweep to be very congenial to the way I ride. Bike control is excellent because of or despite my hands being fairly far out and quite far back, even in tight cornering situations like singletrack. The 710mm width seems to allow for more steering by leaning my hips and shoulders and less by actually turning the bars.

When I’m cruising, I can reach forward to the joints where the front loop meets the back bar or even all the way out to the front loop, creating a much more "aero" position that’s perfect for straight flat sections, on gentle uphills, and especially on steady downhills. I have much less control over the bike in these forward positions, but just enough that I can avoid bumps and potholes. And it’s very easy to pop back to the grips to resume full control over the machine.

In my use of the bars, I’ve only had one brief episode with numb hands, which I chalked up to wearing thicker-than-usual gloves and white-knuckling the grips on some long downhills. Lessons learned: relax and switch hand positions frequently.

In addition to excellent handling and comfort of the H-Bar, I have discovered that the bar is great for attaching all the junk needed for the kind of riding I’m doing right now: bar bags on the aft bar for food and stuff, sleeping pad/sleeping bag/drybag under the loop, cyclocomputer on the stem, light on the front of the loop… And the loop itself is a pretty handy spot for either stuffing clothing (at different points I’ve securely wedged my windshell and my vest between the bar and the drybag underneath it) or for carrying stuff:
Cargo Loop Bar

All in all, the Jones H-Bar has been a great addition to my bike. I’m looking forward to racing on it this winter. That front spot should be a great place for number plates!

  • One note: I did switch from a 90mm stem to a 100mm stem after my knees started getting achy on long rides. My LBS guy guessed that the backsweep of the bars was keeping me a little too upright. By getting me forward more, the 100mm stem seems to have fixed the knee problems.

Winter Riding Goals

Halfway through November, and a week or so into an early winter, I’ve settled on five goals for my winter riding. In descending order:

1. Finish the 200k course of Jay P’s Fat Pursuit in Idaho on January 10 within the time limit – about 36 hours. Last year I made it through 100 miles of this race in 34 hours before Jay pulled me from the course. In 2015, I’ll ride under the finishing arch.

2. Finish the Arrowhead 135 in northern Minnesota on January 26 faster than last year, when it took me 29 hours. Pros: I know the course, I have a better bike and kit, I’ll be in good shape, and I know now to avoid taking such long breaks. Cons: The race might be hellishly cold again, and I’ll only have about two weeks to recover after finishing the Fat Pursuit.

3. Ride at least 750 training miles in November and December. I’m currently at about 150, ramping up toward a high-volume training period in December. These miles – which will hopefully translate into at least 75 hours of riding – are all about getting ready for the Fat Pursuit’s twin challenges: altitude and climbing.

4. Get a lot better at riding singletrack. I am horrible at riding singletrack, but I hope to get a lot better this winter by riding the new tight, technical (but flat) trail that is now available ride right in town, thanks to our local MTB club, CROCT, whose members cut these trails in this fall. And maybe this winter I can get to some of the other mountain bike trails in the area.

5. Ride the Cannon River. I dunno if the river freezes solidly enough to permit riding on it, but I’m going to find out this winter! A ride from Northfield to Faribault would be great!

6. Go bikepacking at least once a month – probably, for obvious reasons, nearby.

Taste Recall

Twice this evening, I’ve encountered tastes and smells that have taken me back to childhood.

For dinner, Shannon made some ridiculously good Italian-style meatball sandwiches. The tomato sauce soaked into the crusty bread and created a taste-smell that sent me right back to the dim dining room at the Bell Chalet in Hurley, Wisconsin – one of the two or three places where I learned to love square-cut Midwestern pizza. I almost couldn’t finish the sandwich. Almost.

Then after the girls went to bed, I opened a little bottle of brandy that I bought experimentally a few weeks ago after hearing from a friend about its excellent qualities as a winter drink. The smell that floated out of the bottle was exactly the smell of the giant cabinet in which my Grandma kept her fine china and the liquor she used to make her beloved Manhattans. I wonder if in fact she was making Metropolitans

Though I never tasted any of the drinks she made, the scent of the VSOP made it seem like Christmas 1980 again.

Will Time Travel 4 Clothes

I’ve been thinking a little bit about time travel since I read William Gibson’s superb new science fiction novel The Peripheral, which offers a very cool take on the idea of moving back and forth through time.

If I could travel through time, though, I wouldn’t bother with bullshit like hunting dinosaurs or assassinating Hitler or making a killing on the stock market. No sir: I would go back in time to buy items of clothing that I loved and now have lost, like the full-zip fleece sweaters that I bought from Eddie Bauer in 2003, or the Smartwool socks that long outlasted their insane $5-a-pair price, or these great Duofold longjohns that I got on clearance years ago but that will soon go to the rag bin.
yes, those are my underwear.

Yes, I’ve now published a picture of my underwear on the Internet.

Oakland C-A

One of the high points of most summers at work is a conference for other grantwriters at liberal arts colleges. The conference moves around the country each year, and this year was held at Mills College, a beautiful little institution in Oakland, California.
Mills College Views

Mills is crowded with amazing eucalyptus trees
Eucalyptus Trees

and gorgeous buildings
Mills Views II

with wonderful art.
Lion Sculpture

I enjoyed and benefited from the meetings themselves, which were held in this great room:
Mills Views III

I also enjoyed staying at an amazing old hotel in Oakland, the Claremont – to which I took my first-ever Uber ride, making me feel very urban, and which afforded incredible views of San Francisco:

San Franscisco from the Claremont

We also took a nice trip to the Wente Vineyards, an old vineyard southeast of the city. I’m not much for wine, but vineyards are apparently always spectacularly gorgeous.
Vineyard Magic Hour

Plus I got to see my cool cousin Sara, though we didn’t remember to document our meetup with photos. All in all, it was a pretty wonderful trip. I’m lucky to have such great trips to make for my job!

Into the Woods

Though I’ve been living on the plains for ten years now, I still think of the woods as Nature. Like my affinity for winter and snow, my love for the woods is rooted in the experience of growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Some of my earliest memories are of walking with my dad and sister across a snowy field behind our house in Daggett to a big stand of trees, where we’d have a bonfire and roast hot dogs. Later, we spent many weekends at our "hunting camp" outside Ironwood, a one-room shack near "Mount Iilola" in the Ottawa National Forest. (Though our family doesn’t own that cabin anymore, I still fantasize about biking in to it for a stay…) And Houghton-Hancock are really just clearings on the forested shorelines. I loved skiing and running in the woods outside Hancock, and finding old mining ruins among the trees reminded me that the forest was far older and stronger than it seemed.

I was surprised when I started college to read in William Cronon’s seminal environmental history of New England, Changes in the Land, that English settlers in the New World were repelled and terrified by the forests they found. I couldn’t imagine a more opposite reaction to my own feeling of being welcomed and enfolded and dwarfed by the woods, and I still can’t.

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most about cycling has been the discovery of new woods to ride in: Farmer Trail and Shady Lane Trail near Northfield; chunks of the Almanzo south of here and most of the Lutsen 99er and Heck of the North up north, and of course almost every yard of the Arrowhead 135 way up north

Arrowhead Trail

and the Fat Pursuit out west.

Yellowstone Trails

Idaho Woods

I can’t wait to get back to those snowy, dark, imposing, familar woods again soon.

Borrowed Blackborow

I was lucky enough in October to borrow a friend’s new fatbike: a Salsa Blackborow, a long-awaited machine that can run 5" tires. I was able to keep the bike for two weeks, which allowed me to enjoy plenty of riding: daily commutes, a few 20-mile sessions in the Carleton Arboretum, and even two extended rides on the flat but challenging trails of the fabulous Minnesota River Bottoms.

Blackborow DS

The bike was amazing. The "Forest Service Green" color is maybe the prettiest color I’ve seen on a bike, first of all. And thanks to the giant wheels – Surly’s Clown Shoe rims mounted with Surly Lou tires on the stock machine, Schwalbe Jumbo Jims on this build – the bike could roll over or through almost anything: dirt, gravel, sand, brush, logs…

Unexpectedly, though, the machine was also remarkably nimble, much more so than my beloved Mukluk. The Blackborow carved corners beautifully, jumped up inclines, and ran well on the straights. I even liked the "dinglespeed" set-up, which is really a singlespeed that can be adjusted, with a quick adjustment of the wheel, from a super-low crawler gear to a slightly higher and, for me, on dry, flat terrain, better gear.

Riding the Blackborow, I could immediately see how it would be the perfect expedition bike: something you can load up with gear and then just ride off into the woods. Someday…

Blackborow at Rest