The value of walking

Today we had a “manager lunch” where we all went to a restaurant downtown. I rode down with my co-workers, but after I was done eating I decided to walk back on my own. It’s not a long walk, and the temps are in the 20’s today with beautiful sun. The perfect day to spend a few extra minutes outside.

I love walking to get places, because often you see things that you never would find driving a car. Today, on my walk, I saw a sign for a little shop on Kellogg Blvd called Mademoiselle Miel. It has a sign out front that said OPEN and another that said “Chocolate”. I started to walk past, and then thought, “Why not, it might be interesting.”

What I discovered was this adorable little chocolate shop that sold very delicate and unique chocolate creations. This wasn’t Linder’s chocolates, but artisanal  creations that spoke to the creativity of the creator. I tried two different ones that sounded tasty, a Smoked Scotch and Honey truffle, and a Ginger Chai truffle.

They certainly lived up to their names, as each tasted as you would expect. The flavors were strong and bold, with a really nice chocolate covering. I’m not sure that they were quite up my alley when it comes to a sweet treat, but it was a fun experience to try. They had a bunch of other ones that maybe I’ll need to try some other day.

The key point to what I wanted to share, was that walking is often the best way to experience adventures like this. I would never have stopped my car and found a parking spot if I had been driving. When you’re in a city, that is full of hundreds of different things, you can never experience them fully in a car. But on foot I could make a spur of the moment decision to try something new.

I’m glad that I did.

The wisdom of crows

A poem

As I hiked through the woods on a winter day
I asked a crow to walk alongside me
To share with me the secrets of life
     Caw-Caw
I turned and looked at him. Could it be that simple?
     Caw-Caw
I stood still. Yes, yes, that was it!
     Caw-Caw
I fell to my knees awash in new found understanding

I stared into his black soul-full eyes
He cocked his head to the side
I swore I saw the edge of his beak rise in a smirk
He took to flight and I continued my hike
I felt renewed
The knowledge of life flowing through my mind
Crows are smart
Crows are sneaky
And humans are fools for believing what they say

Fat Bike, meet Bike Rack

UPDATE: I will be writing a new post soon, but for anyone stumbling on this now, I’ve decided to return my Thule T2 Classic. It’s a functional rack, but the stiffness of the mechanisms makes it too unpleasant to work with. More to come…

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 some 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 stick.

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. Initially, 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, which is a solid win in my book. Plus, the race used a simple anti-rattle bolt, instead of a 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 I didn’t have to do any weird balancing acts 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 clicked 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.