Fat Bike, meet Bike Rack

One of the things that I discovered very quickly after getting my fat bike was that my old Yakima Holdup bike rack wouldn’t work anymore. The wheel trays were just too small for a fat bike tire, and all of the modifications I saw online, to make it work, were larger than I wanted to tackle. They also looked like something that wasn’t very stable, and I don’t want my bike falling off my car… ever.

Thus began the process for trying to find a new rack that would work with fat tires. First though I had to sell the old one to help fund this new rack. It took over a month to sell the old Holdup, but eventually I found a buyer. Now I just had to decide on what rack to purchase next. I did a ton of research, but decided to go with the default upgrade, the Yakima Holdup Evo. We had come gift cards at REI and decided to go ahead and purchase the rack there. I brought it home and started assembly.

img_4058It was very familiar to the old Holdup, and everything made sense, except for one small thing. The anti-rattle mechanism was no longer a simple bolt in the receiver, it was a weird mechanism that involved a long threaded screw and a piece of metal that was supposed to lock the rack to the receiver. However, I just couldn’t get it to work right. I managed to secure it once, but after that I wasn’t able to get it to reliably fasten anymore. The piece of metal that serves as the brace kept sliding into the casing of the hitch mount, and I couldn’t get it to stay in place.

img_4057I know some people like this mount style, but I think the one I had was just plain defective. I just didn’t like the complexity of it, and decided I didn’t want to have to deal with it. So I brought the rack back to the store, and decided to try out a Thule, specifically the T2 Classic. Years ago the Thule line was on my radar, along with the Yakima, and so I was familiar with the brand, and it seemed like just as solid of a rack.

img_4063My only qualm was that the T2 Classic didn’t come with all of the locking mechanisms. At first it looked like I would have to spend another $60-$80 to get locks that would secure the bike AND the hitch. However, after doing some research, I discovered that all I actually needed to do was spend $20 to get two additional key cores that were identical to the keys that came with the rack. This ended up making the T2 Classic cheaper than the Holdup Evo, so that’s a solid win in my book. Plus, it used a simple anti-rattle bolt, instead of any fancy locking mechanism.

img_4065I brought home the Thule and got it assembled. Frankly, it was a lot easier than the Yakima. I was able to assemble it in a fraction of the time, and didn’t have to do any weird balancing to attach certain parts. Within an hour I had everything locked and loaded on the car and I tested to make sure the bike fit like it should. Everything looked good, and the next morning it got it’s first workout, as I got a ride back from my wife’s choir gig. I’m pleased to report that my bike made it home just fine.

The Thule also has the great feature of being able to tilt backwards, giving access to the trunk of my vehicle without having to remove the bikes. The construction felt sturdy, although some of the mechanisms felt stiff. I’m assuming that will soften up more in time. The arm locks felt solid and locked into place without any issues, and the ratchet straps worked as advertised. I did have to follow the instructions to make the ratchet strap work for my fat tire, but that took no more than 1 minute to adjust.

Needless to say, I’m very pleased with my purchase, and I’m looking forward to getting out more often with the fat bike now. In fact, we’re getting a ton more snow this weekend, so perhaps Sunday will be another adventure ride!

Some fat bike adventuring

My wife has a side gig as a section leader in a church choir up in Anoka, and sometimes when she’s doing a solo, I’ll go up there to listen to her. Today I decided to make an adventure out of it by riding my fat bike the ~12 miles to get there. Normally, this is a nice easy route that passes through Coon Rapids Dam park, on some beautiful paved paths. However, it’s February in Minnesota, do that means snow.

img_4068Things went really well right from the start when I discovered that the trail that I use to get out of the neighborhood has a nice solid packing down. I was able to ride the entire trail section without issue before dumping out on to roads. The next part of the trip takes me on a bunch of streets until I get back onto a bike path that leads under Highway 610 and into Coon Rapids Dam park. However, this section of the trail was NOT plowed at all.

img_4070There was a small rut that I tried to ride, but after fishtailing off into the deep snow on the side, I decided it was better to just hike-a-bike and walk until the cleared section began again. This section was slow and painful, having to climb over snowbanks at certain points. I really wish they’d clear this section as it’s a really nice area and it would be awesome to ride through in the winter.

I might have been able to make a lot more progress in this section if I had stopped and lowered my tire pressure. I was running at 6psi, and if I had dropped down to 3-4 it may have helped me plow through. However, at the end of this section I was going to be on cleared bike path again, before dumping on to roads. I didn’t want to spend 4-5 miles on flat asphalt running at 3psi, as that would make things a lot harder than I wanted it to be. So, hiking the bike ended up being the better option.

Once I got through this area I ended up dumped onto some groomed cross country trail This wasn’t where I wanted to be, but there were no other paths. I very carefully threaded myself in-between the classic ruts and got out of that as soon as I could. Once I was back on pavement I was able to pick it back up again and keep moving. I found one other groomed trail on the other side of the park that was about two car widths wide, with classic track on one side. The other side was covered in footprints so I decided to just bike through this instead of getting back on roads right away. Probably not the choice I should have made, but I don’t think I did any damage to the trail.

After this is was a lot of bike paths and city streets. That city of Coon Rapids made an attempt at clearing the bike path along Coon Rapids Blvd. but it was still pretty blown over with snow. It was in this section that I really learned what it was like to have a fat bike. I was able to handle a few inches of snow just fine until I felt like I was ready to battle traffic on the shoulder of the road.

Overall, it was a mostly uneventful ride. I learned a lot about riding in winter, and I’m slowly dialing in my gear. I got some Bar Mitts, and holy crap those things are nice. I can’t imagine riding in winter without them ever again. I still need to work on my footwear. I think for days like today just a solid winter, insulated, boot will work fine. I’ll need something more for sub-artic temps, but a 20 degree day like today is just fine. My core has been staying warm, and I have a nice pair of Marmot windproof pants that keep my legs comfortable (with a layer underneath).

img_4069One area of improvement though is that I need to figure out a better fitting helmet. The one I have keeps me safe, but it rides way too high on my head. This isn’t just a winter problem either. My head is shaped in such a way that it doesn’t ride right even in the summer. I’ll need to do some experimenting.

The ride today was tough, and my heart-rate stayed in the 140’s which is high for biking. There was a lot of challenging terrain to navigate, but I had an awesome time doing it. Once church was done my wife needed to get her run in, so I headed back out again and did a 6 mile run. Needless to say I’m completely wasted as I type this. It’s time for some beer and relaxing before tackling some house things that need to get done tonight.

I’m loving learning to bike in the winter. It feels freeing and I’m excited to do more of it!

A little dome running analysis

Sometimes in the winter months my wife and I decide to retreat to the comfort of running inside a fieldhouse dome. We love running outside in the winter, and the cold doesn’t bother us, but sometimes the conditions are just too severe. Often we’ll do a nice long run outside on Saturday, and then head over to a dome for a nice recovery run on Sunday. Or other times, if the trails and roads are too icy we’ll opt for as many loops as we can do inside a dome.

Thankfully, most GPS watches function inside domes, so you don’t need to resort to counting laps. However, not all domes are created equal. In the past couple months we’ve visited two different domes and have had a chance to see what they look like from a GPS tracking perspective.

First up is our favorite dome, the Plymouth Fieldhouse. This dome is just over 5 laps to a mile, and it’s a nice comfortable temperature almost all winter long. If you look at the GPS track, it’s actually pretty darn good. Almost all of the GPS lines stay within the borders of the building.

img_4013

However, sometimes their hours are more limited than we would like to deal with. There’s another dome down in Edina called Braemar Field. It’s just over 4 laps to the mile, and often has a wider range of open times.

However, there’s one slight issue with it’s GPS tracking.

img_4016

As you can see, it’s tracking is quite a bit off, but especially on two corners (NW and SE). What’s interesting is that on those two corners of the dome are their surveillance cameras. When you run past those corners you can see two little domed cameras hanging from posts. I’m not sure if they’re wireless or not, but I’m betting there’s something in there that’s throwing off the signals from the satellites.

Its not like the rest of the track is perfect, but it’s wild to see the deviation on those two corners on almost every lap. Overall though, it’s awesome to have these great resources available. Being able to toss aside the wool socks and jackets, and just run in a thin shirt, once in a while, is a ton of fun and a great change from the day-to-day of cold. I certainly wouldn’t want to do a marathon in here, but for a simple training run, it’s awesome.

Arrowhead 135

This week I’ve been spending my time at the Arrowhead 135 winter ultramarathon. This is the iconic winter ultra in Minnesota, and it is known for being one of the most brutal and harsh races around. Participants much traverse (on foot, bike, or ski) from International Falls, MN to Tower, MN on the 135 mile long Arrowhead Trail. They have to be prepared to survive in any conditions, and therefore must carry mandatory gear including -20 degree sleeping bags, bivy sacks, and stoves with which to boil water and heat food. It’s a grueling event, and made even more difficult by this year’s extreme temperatures.

On the Sunday before the race, air temps hit -40 degrees F (well, and C at that point). Thankfully, by the time the race launched on Monday things had moderated to -10. Monday ended up being a good day overall with temps getting above zero for a large part of the day. I even managed to get out for a 4 mile run on the trail, and the conditions were amazing and perfect for a run. However, with nightfall came brutal cold.

IMG_0024As the temps dropped overnight, they stayed there. Ever since late Monday the temp hasn’t been above -15, and the mornings are closer to -32. Going out to start our car for 10 minutes every few hours has become a part of our regular routine. Thankfully, we have a nice warm hotel to sleep in, and when we’re working at the finish line we have a beautiful hot tent to keep us warm. Because it can sometimes be hours between finishers, we often get to relax in the tent and enjoy beer and whiskey and pizza cooked on a wood stove.

In terms of participants, this year looks like a very low finishing rate. The bikers are doing OK at 51%, but many of them were able to make solid progress all day on Monday and even finish the race before the temps got too brutal. On the foot participant side it’s looking like only 18% of participants will succeed. Most have (rightly) decided to end their race early, instead of putting themselves in danger. This year, not a single skier managed to complete the entire course, which was not ideal for skiing at all.

My wife and I have been lucky enough to have been able to work remotely for our jobs for a couple of days while we volunteered in the evenings. It’s been great to be around so many amazing people and see them achieve great things. It’s also marked with a bit of sadness, because one of our trail tribe lost his battle with cancer while we were here at the event. He was a frequent participant in this event, and his loss is keenly felt among the people participating. There’s a certain poignancy to his passing during an event that meant so much to him.

Tomorrow we head back to life in the cities, but for now, it’s nice to have been able to be a part of this amazing event, and the incredible people who are testaments to the power of human beings to survive no matter what.

The One Thing

My wife’s employer gave her a book for Christmas, written by the owner of the company, Gary Keller. It’s called The One Thing, and since my wife had already read it, I decided to give it a go. It’s a quick read, and despite only being a few chapters in, I’ve already gotten a good sense of the message.

That message, simply put, is that if we want to be successful, we need to stop trying to do everything in life, and instead focus on one thing. He rails against the mindset that we need to be involved and doing as many different things as possible, and that by doing so, we’re not doing anything well. All of this becomes complicated by amazing technology that allows us to be connected constantly to dozens of different things that can fill our time. 

As I said, I’m only a few chapters in, but I feel like the core of the message is already starting to hit me. It cuts to the core of what I’ve been struggling with for a decade now, and that is I don’t know what my “one thing” is anymore. It used to be religion, and for a while it kind of was technology. But now, it’s vague. It all goes back to that struggle with identity that I’ve written about before. 

I’ve had some good meetings lately with folks about potential career changes, but I feel like I need to figure out this piece first. In a recent meeting with one individual, he asked me point blank, “What is it that you want to spend your time doing?” That’s the key question that I really need to get figured out. What do I want the day-to-day to look like?

I’ve also been listening to some humanist podcasts that have been meaningful for my wife, and talking with a friend who has gotten into Stoicism. A key component of this thinking is understanding that eternal significance is a pipe dream. Two hundred years from now, no one is going to know or care about me, no matter what I do. There are so few people in history that are remembered beyond their life, that trying to focus on “leaving a legacy” becomes a fool’s errand. 

The key is to focus on the here and now. What kind of impact can to have today? What kind of person can you be to those in your life now, not just as a memory after you’re gone? Those are the questions that bring me back to the question of what is my “one thing”. 

This is once again a blog post without answers, but I feel that by writing down the questions, and the musings, it helps me process and think. I feel like I’m closer and closer to the cusp of figuring myself out. Being on the edge is exciting and frustrating, and I appreciate my readers being willing to ride along while I continue to explore.