2019 Biking Year in Review

It’s time once again for my annual wrap-up of my running and biking adventures for the year. This year marked a huge change in my biking behavior, due to a couple key things. First off, having a fat bike meant that winter riding was more comfortable for me. Even though I only got out once in January, it still meant that I was on my bike every single month of the year. That’s a huge milestone for me.

IMG_0388.JPGThe other aspect that changed for me was seeing my bike as a viable means of transportation, more than I ever have before. This meant that even in February I was using two wheels to get around and get places I needed to be. A couple of these early rides took me up to Anoka for some singing gigs my wife was doing, and it showed me that I didn’t need to depend on the car for everything.

This attitude propelled me into main riding season with a sense of purpose to try and reduce my dependence on my car. This was helped by my job change in May that brought be back to working for Metro Transit, and working in downtown Minneapolis. That means my job was less than 10 miles away from my house, which is a great distance for commuting. For days when I didn’t feel up to the full distance, I also had the option of the train, which is only 1.8 miles from where I live. In fact, towards the end of the year my car sat in the garage most weekdays.

IMG_0235.jpgIt wasn’t all business though. My wife and I also went on some adventures together, and with our friends Abe, Chuck, David, and Dale. We’ve did the Gateway Trail, around Coon Rapids, some trips to the Lake Woebegon Trail and Paul Bunyan Trail. This is all in addition to some jaunts around town for food and beer. This meant that my 2019 mileage was almost double what I’ve ever done before. As it stands right now I’m finishing out the year at 1385 miles, which is a HUGE improvement from previous years. Especially when still running 1500 miles a year. With my perspective on using my bike for more commuting, I’m positive I can up that mileage even a bit more next year without impacting my running too much.

IMG_4801.JPGI also continued to ride with the Beer & Bikes gang, which got me on the road at least once a week. It continues to be a great way to keep me biking consistently throughout the year, even when I may be slacking at other times. In addition I held my annual Fall Fifty+Five ride, which is 50 miles and 5 breweries. It’s an all day excursion that draws a lot of new people out, and is a great time. This year we ended up with some wet and cold conditions, making it not quite as enjoyable as years past, but still a good time overall.

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Beer & Bikes at Free Bikes 4 Kidz again!

In bike news, I also had a big change. Since 2011 I’ve been riding on a Trek FX 7.2 hybrid bike. It’s been a solid ride for me, and it’s launched me on a great number of adventures. However, I felt like this year was the time to make a change. I had been testing bikes on and off for months, and had narrowed down to the gravel bike category. I felt like it was a great fit for the types of adventures I like to do. Coincidentally, it also fit with my wife. She came along for some of my test rides and fell in love with the Salsa Journeyman, which she picked up mid way through the year. I still hadn’t decided on what I wanted yet (I take a long time to decide these things), but knew there were a few models I was focusing on.

DSC01584.jpg Eventually I had an opportunity to test ride a Salsa Vaya and immediately fell in love. The steel frame was supple, and the geometry fit me perfectly. It comes with a Shimano 105 with a 1×11 groupset, which was exactly the drivetrain I was looking for. It was exactly the bike I wanted, and at the time was on sale, so I jumped at it. It’s been an amazing tool the second half of the year. Before I put it away for the season I had already logged close to 300 miles on it in just a couple short months.

IMG_0061.pngSome of those miles were due to my spur of the moment bike packing trip with my friend Mike. He had picked up a bike this year, and since both of us love camping and the outdoors, it was a great fit. We headed out to Carver Park in Victoria, MN and spent the night. It was really cool to be able to bike somewhere, set up camp, and enjoy a night outside. It was a bit cooler and wetter than we wanted, but we still had a great time. I can’t wait to do more adventures like this in 2020.

Screen Shot 2019-12-26 at 10.45.37 AM.png2019 was an amazing year for my biking, and I’m excited for the future. I feel like I’m in a great place with both my running and biking. I do plan to hit a couple gravel ride events in 2020, to get some exposure to that side of things, but otherwise, I’ll continue to build on my desire to use my own power to get myself around. I can’t wait to keep building next year.

Beer Review: Hairless Dog Black Ale

I’d heard about Hairless Dog (a 0.0% ABV beer) for a few months now. It’s finally ramped up production enough that it’s hitting lots of mainstream stores, including Cub groceries. So last night I decided to pick up a six pack and check it out.

Although they have multiple flavors, I chose the black ale because it’s one of my go-to styles, and I wanted to see how they did with creating a deep rich malt backbone. However, when I poured out the beer into a glass I was met with a deep copper colored beer that resembled more of an Amber visually. First impressions matter, and having a beer so light called a “black ale” feels like a miss. They could have just called this beer an Amber or Altbier and no one would have probably questioned it.

img_0424That’s mainly because the flavor wasn’t very “black ale” either. There was a hint of roast, but it was so subtle that it was almost non-existent. The overriding flavor was sweet malt, which makes sense given that this beer does not go through any fermentation. In fact this is their big selling point, that this beer is never fermented so there isn’t even a hint of alcohol in it. It’s truly 0.0%, not a fraction of a percent like other NA beers.

Despite the sweetness the beer tasted mostly OK. It had the character of a Mr. Beer kit beer that you may have gotten for Christmas. Something that comes with old yeast that doesn’t quite attenuate out and you’re left with something tremendously malt forward. It certainly was attempting to be beer, but it was very obviously not. It’s also worth noting that alcohol itself has a flavor, and that helps define what gives beer it’s taste. None of that was here.

However, having said all of these negative critiques, I still got enjoyment from drinking it. It almost felt like if beer were to be made as a soft drink, this is what you would get. A sweet fizzy drink that, in this case, has a dominant flavor of beer. It was drinkable, and gave me a hint of that beer experience, but it certainly wasn’t like drinking a beer. I do wonder if the IPA would come across better, since the sweet malt can be overlaid with a lot of hop character? I might have to give that a try sometime. They also have a coffee stout that might come across better, as the coffee can add another dimension away from the malt.

Overall, not a bad experience, and I’m 100% behind companies trying to create a market for a product like this. I’m one of those people who really likes the flavor of beer, and if for some reason I had to give it up, I would appreciate having options like this that at least taste like they’re in the same neighborhood.

 

A night in the bivy

In preparation for my first winter ultra I decided to try and sleep outside last night in my sleeping bag and bivy. I wanted to see what it was like, and what I needed to change. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it all night, as I did need to go to work today, but even a few hours would be a huge benefit.

Here was my equipment list:

  • Eureka Lone Pine 0 degree bag
  • Outdoor Research Helium Bivy
  • REI Flash inflatable sleeping pad
  • Two layers of clothing on the bottom, three layers on the top, heavy wool socks

I ended up being outside from 8:30pm to 1:30am. The only reason I got up was that I had to pee. If it wasn’t for my middle-aged bladder I would have slept longer. I could have crawled back into the bag, but decided that I could call it good and go inside, since I had been out there for a solid 5 hours.

So what worked and what didn’t?

First, my bag was amazing. The air temps last night were in the single digits, so it was right in the range for what my bag was made for. I was probably overdressed on top and could have shed a layer there. If anything I could have used another thin sock on my feet. My only complaint about the layout of my bag is that the storage pocket is in an awkward place on the inside roof. I wish it was closer to the side as I felt like my phone was in the way when it was in the pocket.

The bivy sack did it’s job and kept all my heat inside. It actually got to be a bit too warm and I ended up venting the opening a bit, despite it bringing in cold air. The main issue with bivies is the condensation. When I woke up at 1:30 the top of my sleeping bag was a combination of wet and ice crystals. The entire inside roof of the bivy was coated in water as well. Thankfully, it wasn’t dripping on my face or anything, thanks to the pole that holds up the bivy over my head. However, getting my sleeping bag wet isn’t ideal.

Bivies are also somewhat claustrophobic. They’re small cocoons that aren’t much bigger than your body. There were a few moments when I bedded down where I had a brief moment of anxiety, but it passed quickly. It also helped when I vented the bivy as it allowed me to see the outside a bit more. In the summer I could use the screen closure instead of the solid one which would help a lot more as well.

The final piece of gear was one that I wasn’t that pleased with. I love my REI Flash pad, and I thought that its R-value of 4 would give just a bit more insulation below me. However, I tend to sleep on my side which means that my hip compresses the pad completely in a small area. That also meant that my hip got colder than the rest of me. It wasn’t terrible, but I think for my race I’ll grab a foam Z-Pad instead.

Finally, I should have cleared out my sleeping space better. I just plopped everything down and crawled in, and that meant that the snow was a bit more uneven than it could have been. I could have made things more comfortable if I had patted things down with my boots a bit more before laying down the bag. Not a big issue, but something to consider for another time.

Despite a couple of annoyances, I’m incredibly happy with how the evening went. In a winter ultra context, I’m never going to be bedding down for longer than a few hours at a time anyway. Getting 5 hours of sleep, like I did last night, would be a luxury in a race. If I were to go winter camping, I wouldn’t do it in a bivy, but would instead bring along a tent, and additional equipment to make things comfortable. Therefore, I’m counting last night as a huge success. I have a couple things to adjust, but otherwise I feel in good shape for Tuscobia.

Fitness week recap – 12/2/2019

Week Starting 12/2/2019
Running:
 14.3 miles
Biking:
 33.4 miles
Steps: 68.787
 (34.33 miles –  20.03 walking)

Impression: Two weeks ago was vacation week for me and my running and biking was pretty much non-existent. This last week though I got back on the horse a bit and got in a solid week of runs. None of them were double digit, but I’m OK with that. I’ve been dealing with a knee niggle, so I’m trying to not push things too much.

I did manage my longest fat bike ride ever though on Global Fat Bike day, totaling out at over 18 miles. That long on the fat bike has shown me though that I need to make a few adjustments. Some things aren’t as comfortable as I would like them to be.

Next week I need to get into serious sled pulling. Tuscobia is coming up soon and I’m still trying to ride my fitness level from earlier this year. We’ll see how this goes…

 

TV Review: The Boys

A couple of months ago my wife suggested we watch through the new Amazon series, The Boys. Last month we finally sat down and did just that. This series is based on a comic book series that run in the early 2000’s to a lot of critical acclaim. I had never read the books, but was familiar with the basic premise, that superheros existed, but that they often were corrupt, serving their corporate overlords. The show stars Karl Urban as the leader of a rag-tag group of misfits who are trying to take the supers down.

First off, this show is dark and gritty. There are no punches pulled and you will see blood, gore, and full frontal nudity. It’s about desperate people doing whatever they can to accomplish their goals. When I say this is a comic book series, it’s more akin to Walking Dead than Captain America. Despite this bluntness everything still works. The violence fits with the narrative and never feels gratuitous. If someone were hit with heat vision rays from a superhero’s eyes, they would slice in half with blood and gore. This isn’t hidden, but at the same time it’s not celebrated.

Along with a dark and gritty tone, the story follows suit. This isn’t a happy-endings type of story. All of the characters, even the good guys (especially the good guys?) are morally questionable. The ethics rule book goes out the window for almost every character. That means you sometimes feel weird rooting for the “good guys”, but in the end they’re not as bad as the bad guys.

I won’t get into spoiler territory, and so I’ll wrap up my review saying that this is a really well done show, despite its gritty nature and questionable ethics. It’s easier to write a story where the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and winning is black and white. That isn’t this story. This is a much more difficult tale, and it’s told well.

I’m happy that season 2 is in the works, though it’ll probably be quite a bit before it’s released. I know the story is going to get darker before the end, but as long as it continues to be well told, I’ll keep tuning in.