Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Altamont Gardens

A couple of days ago, we stopped in at Altamont Gardens at the end of our cold wet ride, just as they were closing. Wanting to explore more, I mapped out a route down to Mount Leinster that would go by the gardens first. We had a lovely stroll around the place.  Now John could spend the whole day here taking photos, but we did have a lovely calm clear day and the mountain beaconed...

Some gratuitous climbing

In 2016, we started our Irish cycling tour with a bang by aiming for Mt. Leinster right out the door. However, due to some excessive photo stops (on John's part) and poor communication (from me), I turned left at the Nine Stones and climbed up to the mast. When John arrived at the turn, he thought I had pressed on and descended, so he proceeded to chase a phantom cyclist down the far side of the mountain. At some point a flurry of "where are you?" texts clarified each other's whereabouts. Well, I'm not sure John has ever forgiven me for missing his chance to climb to the mast on that calm, clear day, so this year I had to pay penance. With a forecast for clear skies, calm winds and mild temperatures, I suggested we stay an extra day in Carlow,  so we could climb to the mast and take in the views.  John's eyes got wide and bright.

Mount Leinster dominates the horizon in Carlow and is always a draw for John when we are here visiting his family. Similar to Mount Washington in New Hampshire, Mount Leinster seemingly has its own weather. Even on days where it is completely clear all around, there may well be a cloud concealing the mast at the top. The intense rain and wind on top are the stuff of legends. But when it is truly clear, it is worth all the muscle aches and sweat to get to the top. This was to be one of those days.

There were just enough clouds in the sky to make for nice photos, and just enough wind to give a gentle push up the 22% gradient, while helping to evaporate some of the sweat gushing from my brow.

West Wicklow

Siobhan again kicked Dave out of the house for more work as a local tour guide. This time we headed for some hills in West Wicklow, with plans to stop in for a visit with John's uncle in Ballyhacket on the way back.

We didn't go far before our first stop for coffee and scones at Duckett's Grove. Regular readers will have seen this setting many times before. It's only a few miles from John's grandparent's farm and is a regular stop for us whenever we are in the area. Despite numerous visits here, we never realized we could go inside. As we pulled up on the bikes, the woodworker, who has a shop there, told us we could walk around behind his truck and get in. We had a grand time seeing parts of the castle we had not seen before.

Around Mount Leinster

With a new baby in the house, John's brother Dave, hasn't had many chances to get out for rides recently, but Siobhan (the new mom) was quite gracious in pushing him out the door to take us on a ride circumnavigating Mt. Leinster.  Daphne and Siobhan planned to spend the day together, with baby Sam.

I didn't look carefully enough when Dave sent the route, and actually thought he had us going up Mt. Leinster. The route profile had a sharp spike and it was headed in that general direction, so I assumed we had a big day of climbing ahead. Taking pity of the sleep deprived dad, I decided I should go along with whatever he had chosen! If Dave, who hadn't ridden much this summer was willing, I shouldn't complain. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


We had such a nice time last year when we rode to Castlecomer, that we decided to do it again. We headed out via Milford, where hydro-electricity first provided power for streetlights in Carlow.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

To Carlow

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting 

We did not have any definitive plans for our Irish trip this year, other than meeting our new nephew, Sam. OTOH, John's sister, Daphne, did have some definitive plans to head away for a couple weeks, just a few days after we arrived. So if we wanted to see her, we'd need to get down to Carlow right away. Conveniently, young Sam and his parents, Dave and Siobhan, live just across the street from Daphne.

So we loaded up our bikes with warm clothes and headed south. We found a great restaurant for lunch in Ballymore Eustace,  The Ballymore Inn. We will definitely make this a destination on a future trip. 

After lunch John had plotted out a route over Church Mountain, but he wasn't quite sure, he'd picked the right road, or even the right approach. I jokingly texted Dave to ask if he thought our marriage would survive the ride over Church Mountain.

As it turned out, the mapped out route became a very steep gravel track, and unlike the long days of summer, we were facing an early sunset and heading off into the unknown might mean a late night arrival. So we did a little backtracking and took the main road. That's the main road, pictured below!

Hill of Tara

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

It has now become traditional to join Colm for a spin up to the cafe at the Hill of Tara. In 2013, I was still recovering from a broken back. So John, Declan and Colm cycled up, while Suzanne, Muriel and I drove up. After lunch I had a great time walking around and taking photos in the awesome early winter light.  The next year, I was thrilled to be back on a bike, as John, David, Colm and I cycled up. Then it just became an annual thing to ride with Colm up to the Hill of Tara, repeated in 2015, 2016 and again this year.

We spent our first day on the ground in Ireland walking around, running errands, and re-assembling John's bike. Since I'd left my Honey in Ireland last year, I just needed to attach a light and GPS mount.

Then we called Colm to see if he'd like to go ride the next day. Unsurprisingly, he said, "Sure, Hill of Tara?"

We decided to meet at his place, so he could show off his pristine bike shed. Something is just wrong that this shed is so clean or organized. Every tool is hanging or put away. Wheels and frames hang from the rafters, and one can actually walk around without tripping over tires or bike parts. I know John has dreams of a setup like this, but somehow our workshop just doesn't meet the mark.

So after geeking out for a while, looking at freshly repainted frames and new acquisitions, we finally hit the road. 

Sadly each subsequent year traffic around Dublin becomes worse, so it's a few kilometers further every year before John and Colm can ride side by side and catch up on a year's worth of conversation. This means the lunch stop gets longer and longer every year to make up for the lost chatting time on the bike! And with such a long lunch, including dessert and hot cocoa - the real reason for going - we didn't have much time to wander around the grounds. After our late start, and extra time checking out to bike shed, it seemed that the dark monster was certain to catch us on the way home, so we decided to head straight back. Also despite the way Colm was dressed, it was quite chilly and blustery.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Vermoster 2017 - Day 4

The final day was the downhill day. Look at the route profile at the bottom of the page and you'll see what I mean. Sadly after surviving all the climbing on day 3, Kait's stomach rebelled overnight and she felt too sick to ride and called for rescue.

So we were down to four.

Unusual for us, we did have a brief climb at the start, but this helped warm us up as it had gone quite chilly overnight.

But then we got to coast along for hours... Well not really, the guys hammered downhill!

Vermonster 2017 - Day 3

Day 3 started with a chilly descent, because we always end the day with a big climb.  And what goes up must come down.  No fear though, we warmed up quickly on a long steep climb, because what goes down...

And this pattern would repeat over and over throughout the day.

When SadiB, my alter-ego on ridewithgps mapped out the day, it was clear that it would be a tough one. I had wanted to take a more westerly route than last year, but the trick was to find a place to stay within a reasonable distance from Woodstock. A friend has a place near Prospect Mountain, but every route I came up with to go there was too long and also involved more main roads than I'd like. At some point, while scanning the map, I realized Mount Snow was a reasonable distance. As a ski resort, we might have some hope of finding reasonably priced accommodations in October. Sure enough I found a B&B that had a large room that could take 5 people for not a lot of money. John and I had ridden all around the area before and had a few must-do roads both north and south of Mt. Snow, so I mapped out the final two days as one route, taking in roads we knew with just a few new-to-us sections. The climbing ratio was the typical 100 feet per mile. So it seemed a 75 mile day would be long, but doable.

However when Kait broke it up into the individual days, she pointed out that 75 mile day had well over 9000 feet of climbing.  It should have been obvious to me since ski resorts are on top of mountains.  At least the next day would have a lot of downhill! Since Kait expressed so much concern about this day, I jokingly subtitled the route - Kill Kait.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Vermonster 2017 - Day 2

Vermonster continues, now with 8 riders. Dave and Nancy planned to join us for one day. They had just returned from a tour in Japan, and had literally reassembled their bikes the night before. Injury had prevented Nancy from riding last year, but this year she planned to take advantage of her fitness from the recent tour.

Daniel joined Kait and Caleb on the train up Friday night. They had a mild evening to enjoy a short but hilly ride from Montpelier up to Waitsfield.

The route profile for the roads John, Jamie and I took from Burlington looked pretty benign, meaning we all had relatively fresh legs.

But now we would face some proper (SadiB) Vermonster terrain, rolling up and down along a ridge, before a climb to the highest elevation for the weekend, then a long fast descent followed by some choppy climbs to finish the day. Now I am allowed to say this, today, a month and a half after the trip. At least we had better weather than last year! So  folks could enjoy the magnificent views along the ridge, and have fun playing with cute farm animals.

This section of the route was suggested by Dave. It was a bit rougher than the pristine dirt roads SadiB had picked, but it served to properly break in Daniel's brand new bike. When you have a new bike, you need a good story for the first scratch.

Vermonster 2017 - Day 1

The memories of 2016 Vermonster remain seared in Kait's memory - in a PTSD sort of way. I'm sure she still wakes in a cold sweat reliving nightmares from that weekend.

Last year, we crested Rochester Gap in pouring rain with temperatures hovering around freezing. At the top we found 2 feet of snow lining the roadside.  We then had about 10 miles of descending in these conditions. When we arrived in Bethel, we were wet and 80% frozen and in serious need of some hot food and a chance to dry out. Luckily we stumbled into a café where we ordered anything and everything that was hot and attempted to dry our soaked gloves with a full  roll of paper towels. After an hour, we had filled the void in our bellies and thawed just enough to head back out to ride another 30 miles. This day will stay with all of us for a long, long time. It will be the standard by which we judge misery. It is also our badge of honor. After surviving that, we know we we can get through anything.

Despite that still-raw-memory, we were all quite eager to do Vermonster again this year, including PTSD sufferer, Kait. We had new folks who even after seeing the photos and hearing our horror stories, still wanted to join us.  We had hoped to pick a date earlier in October, but due to various scheduling issues, we selected the 3rd weekend of October.

It is amazing what a difference one week makes.

Where last year's photos showed us all wearing winter cycling boots with overshoes and woolies and rain gear and heavy gloves; this year's photos featured smiling cyclists in shorts and short sleeves. Last year's snow photos have been replaced by pictures of amazing foliage. Last year's memories of stalling inside heated cafés as long as possible were replaced outdoor coffee stops. We even got to experience peak autumn color!

The basic idea of Vermonster was the same as the first year. We'd take the Amtrak Vermonter train to the northern reaches of civilization, and then ride home, sticking to as many dirt roads as possible. Just like last year, we faced a limit of three bikes per train, so our group had to travel up on two separate days. Hopefully Vermont tourism can work with Amtrak to make bike travel a bit less hassle in the future.

It seems to vary according to the humor of the conductors whether bikes can be rolled on and parked as pictured above. The official policy is that one has to use a special bike compartment with just one of these per car. IMNSHO, these compartments are poorly designed, requiring the removal of the front wheel, potentially damaging a front fender, requiring one to lift the bike and taking much more time loading and unloading. It would be much better use of the space as pictured above, where 3 or 4 bikes take barely more space than one bike in the compartment. Since the wheels remain on, the bikes are quickly rolled on and then off, and gear can stay on the bike.  And with 4 bikes per car, we could have 12 cyclists travel on the same train, rather than 3 one day and 3 another. This is twice as many folks staying in local hotels or B&Bs, twice as many cyclists eating at cafés in small towns along the route and twice as many cyclists buying Vermont souvenirs. So, ahem, Vermont tourism and Amtrak, if you are reading this... please let's make this process better.

But enough complaining about Amtrak. On to our trip.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Officially a Coffeeneur

The Coffeeneuring challenge turned seven this year!

Coffeeneuring is a take-off on randonneuring, with a whole host of arcane rules, but it is fundamentally about riding bikes and drinking coffee and taking photos. This is precisely what we do. All the time. NeverNotCoffeeneuring! Yet somehow, despite the fact that we #alwaysbecoffeeneuring, we have never officially taken part in the challenge.

But then last spring, after John and I both found ourselves convalescing from busted collarbones, Mary, aka @coffeeneur, sent us a couple of AlwaysBeCoffeeneuring patches. While we were injured, we were not to be deterred from our constant quest for coffee, photos and activity. So we simply walked to coffee shops, because ya know, #alwaysBeCoffeeneuring.

So this year, when the challenge rolled around, we decided we really should make an effort to do it officially and properly earn those patches.

For those of you out of the loop in the coffeenuering world, the challenge is to ride to seven different coffee shops - No problem.
The rides must be at least 2 miles - No problem.
Only one coffee shop per day counts - Bummer, we can't complete the challenge in a day.
Maximum 2 per week - Bummer, we can't complete the challenge in a week.
The challenge ran for approximately 6 weeks from October 13 to November 19.

The tricky part for us was to pick just two rides from each week to be official, and to keep track of which coffee shops we counted as official, so as not to repeat. We pride ourselves on not doing the same rides over and over day after day - we explore a lot and cover a lot of ground. And we go to a lot of different coffee shops. But in a 6 week period of time, we may visit the same place more than once.

So now I have to pick 7 from fifty!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

How Deep is My Well of Resilience?

I decided to really step out of my comfort zone during my second semester of college by signing up for a world literature course. I had taken the standard American Fiction literature class in my first term and thoroughly enjoyed it. I recall spending a couple of hours a week reading various short stories and poems, and then an hour a day in 3 weekly lectures, where the professor pointed out all the intricacies and hidden meanings that I had failed to grasp while reading my assignments. It was pretty cool for me to both be exposed to such a variety of fiction, and to start to learn to see deeper meaning and really gain a better understanding of what I was reading. That's what college is mostly about, right? Learning how to learn!

What made this world literature course so different from my American literature class was that it involved a great many more hours of reading some pretty intense compositions. We would only meet once a week for a 3 hour lecture on Monday evenings from 6PM to 9PM, but these lectures turned out to be seriously exhausting for me, both mentally and physically.  The professor had a reputation for being quite tough. After a relatively easy course load during my first semester, I may have been a bit naive about exactly how challenging this particular class would be. When I first scanned through the syllabus, it appeared our first week's assignment was to read the Old Testament! Fortunately it turned out that we didn't have to read the entire Old Testament in a week, but had a long list of selected passages, one of which was the complete Book of Job. This would be the subject of the first lecture. This was many years ago, before computers were ubiquitous and one could easily access summaries and analyses of anything online from sites like wikipedia. At that time, buying printed Cliff Notes was the only real source of this kind of info for the various novels and short stories in my assignments. However, my budget was already stretched quite thin, and I don't think I had spare money to buy Cliff Notes for this class.  I also remember having almost no free time that spring, spending hours and hours every day reading, with barely anytime left to do my calculus homework. Fortunately for me, math was easy!

Building bridges isn't easy and it takes a long time!
Want to know what's really hard. Building bridges!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Notes on joining the CCC (Cyclists' Clavicle Club)

This year marks my 33rd year of "serious" cycling. It all started when several of my teenage friends and I marched around to a neighbour's house, knocked on his door and asked, in our best Dublinese, "Hey Mister, can we join your cycling club?" I'm not quite sure what poor Tony Lally, 1980 Irish Olympic team member, thought of us, but he did emigrate to Australia shortly afterwards. I never heard why. However, he did let slip when and where his club met, but that may just have been revenge for that rainy day on which they didn't wait for him when he punctured. Be that as it may, what followed isn't exactly well known history, but it got me to where I am today.

I have amassed a modest collection of badges, patches, certificates, t-shirts, water bottles, medals and plaques to mark various events, accomplishments, races and memberships along the way. However, one thing has always eluded me - membership of the C.C.C., the Cyclists' Clavicle Club (a.k.a. the Cyclists' Collarbone Club).

Premium Membership:
Given that this year is a numerologically significant anniversary in my cycling life, I decided, on a whim, to take out Premium membership. I would give you a link to click on, except it's http versus https and your browser will warn you to not go there. However, I didn't pay attention - in flagrante browsero, you could say. Premium membership promised no waiting in line and, given how busy we all are these days, that seemed like a no-brainer. I'm scared of heights, so I didn't select the heli-vac checkbox, however.

Sure enough, I would describe the Premium membership experience as quite breathtaking, but it may not be for everyone. In these days of tubeless this and sealant that, I was quite surprised that a punctured lung merited special treatment. However, true to the description on the C.C.C.'s [insecure] webpage, I got to skip the queue and was taken straight to the members' lounge. Once comfortably ensconced there, the attendants brought the x-ray machine to me - very impressive service! I got to relax and enjoy a local, carefully curated, artisinal morphine appetiser - tasting notes: it went down easily and, happily, had a long finish. I don't really remember selecting the "Chest tube" checkbox, but I might suggest skipping that one. I get the feeling its not a popular choice and everyone in the members' lounge wanted to get in on the action, so I started to feel a little claustrophobic.

Next up was some more Premium membership action - a bonus ambulance ride to the nearest trauma centre. Flashing lights and sirens - what more could my inner child ask for? Whee! Definite value for money there.

I think that covers most of the Premium membership benefits, so let me cover some aspects that you may want to consider before joining "The Club," as we insiders are wont to call it.

Everyone wants a good story for their social media these days. You know, "A catamount leapt out in front of me, causing me to fly off a cliff and get free membership of the C.C.C." kind of thing. Me? I failed miserably. I was J.R.A., admittedly on a dirt road, but nothing too crazy, when I had membership thrust upon me.

As my brother justifiably chastened me, a true Monty Python fan would have "reinflated lung with good ol' Zefal hpX and still made it home in time f' tea. Hospital!!? Bloody luxury, lad!" [Typed in my best attempt at a Yorkshire accent.]

There's a delicate balance here. Unless you're the aforementioned Yorkshireman, you want just enough wilderness to make for a good story - see "Story" above - but near enough to a hospital that you can enjoy Club benefits without too much delay. You might want to consider the heli-vac option if you're trying to go really "epic" and maximise your Facebook likes.

If you decide to skip Premium membership, you might want to identify and avoid busy periods at your nearest Emergency Room (E.R.) or Accident & Emergency (A&E), for those back home. Thursday evenings in my part of the world seem to be pretty quiet. There are other factors to bear in mind too, though, such as temperature and insects. Club benefits don't really cover getting cold while sprawled on the ground or getting chewed on by mosquitoes. And, if you're determined to chase those Facebook likes, choosing a muddy time of year may help (see both "Story" and "Location" above). Finally, consider choosing a time when you're not wearing your favourite kit (see "Clothing" below).

You should probably avoid joining The Club while wearing your brand new (see "Timing" above) Q36.5 clobber. Quite apart from the small risk of damage during the initiation rites, E.R. and A&E staff, wonderful people that they are, have really, really nice scissors. And, like anyone with a nice piece of equipment, they like to use it. Fortunately for me, my Premium membership came with a D.N.C. (Do Not Cut) temporary tattoo. Instead, I got to enjoy the eye-watering delights of becoming a human puzzle, as a rare wool jersey was somehow extricated from my body while I played a modified version of Statues, in which I could only move one arm.

Getting over The Hump:
Finally, we come to a religious issue. To some, membership of The Club is not complete until you can, after a secret handshake, pull down your collar and show your Cyclist's Bump. There are accompanying claims of aerodynamic and weight benefits [1]. Choosing this path is suggestive of ancient pilgrimages, in which hardship was welcomed. Modern luxuries such as brushing your teeth are spurned.

The contending doctrine? Surgery. This counters with a scar, which regains some bragging rights, but it also involves some weight gain, which runs counter to most cyclists' intuition. However, recent advances have led to possible upgrades like Reynolds 953 martensitic-aged and butted stainless plates, along with superlight titanium fastener kits (see "Premium Membership," above). The ability to floss your teeth further offsets some of the weight gains relative to The Cyclists' Bump analogue.

Membership has its benefits, although they may be best enjoyed in the coffee shop, six weeks after joining.

[1] - A. Poseur, Winning the Last Seat at the Coffee Shop (Nanosecond Press, 2005), 21-23.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Yet Another Fender Update

Another fender post?

So soon?

You my recall in the previous post that I mentioned cracking a modified PDW fender, and trying out a hybrid set up using a narrower fender on the front. While that setup was OK, a fender that properly wraps around the tire will always work better than one that doesn't, and I found myself longing for the coverage of the original wider fender. So one day, as I was riding along and my shoes were being splattered with mud flung from the sides of my skinny front fender, I started to think about cutting the old fender up and just using the back part.

A little background:

My Seven Cycles Axiom (a configuration that is now comes with RedSky decals) sports a Seven 5E Medium Reach Fork, designed to take a 700X28mm tire with a fender.  No amount of manipulation has persuaded it to take a larger tire with a fender - Believe me! I have tried (bigly™). The reality is the fork blades are just too close together.

This tight clearance at the fork crown makes it challenging to use wider fenders. With a fender made from a flexible material, like the SKS chromoplast models, I've been able to squeeze the fender enough to fit through the fork blades. I did this on my fixie with 700X28mm tires.

But squeezing is not really an option with rigid metal fenders, like the PDWs.

When I first installed a set of Full Metal Fenders from Portland Design Works, I filed away the sides where the fender passes through the fork. This did at least enable me to the use the wider City model fenders. This worked well for a couple of years, but recently when working on the bike, I noticed a crack forming in the fender. The City model has a couple of slots cut in the sides to allow securing with zip ties, should you not chose to mount them directly on the brake. These slots, combined with my cutaway sides may have led to the crack and impending failure.

So, since it was cracked anyway, I took a hacksaw to the fender and cut off the front part (including the cracked section) and then drilled some new holes for the crown mount.

I used a Sheldon Nut so I could bolt the fender onto the back of the fork. These are recessed brake nuts, but with an extended threaded section to allow repeated mounting/removal of fenders without mucking with brakes. They also move the mounting point behind the fork (or brake bridge), so I wouldn't have any issues with forcing a too wide fender through a too narrow fork.

But pictures are worth thousands of words.

But there is more to the story.