Quick Review: Be Brave, Be Strong

I was introduced to Jill Homer’s adventures through the podcast Ten Junk Miles. One day, Scott, the host of TJM, posted a link to a sale on Jill’s books at Amazon. I decided to jump on it and pick up four of her works. My wife recently read her book that documented Tim Hewitt’s multiple Iditarod 1000 races, and she enjoyed it. I decided to try something different and read Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide. This book documents her bike ride from Banff in Canada, all the way down the Great Divide Trail to Mexico, in the Tour Divide race.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book is Jill’s voice. She’s an excellent writer, and she tells the story in a compelling and engaging manner. Her descriptions are visual, but not flowery, which makes the pages flow by. I also liked how Jill weaved in the story of her relationships throughout the story. The story of her love life was intertwined with her journey, and if she had simply glossed over it, the book would have been much less interesting.

The story is told with great detail, highlighting every single day of the journey. When I finished reading, I felt like I could actually go on part of the trail myself, and have some semblance of where I was. Although, towards the middle of the book, I started to tire of the daily log of each day’s journey, I feel like the story would have been less impactful without it. If she had simply glossed over and combined multiple days, that were mostly uneventful, it would have disrupted the flow and rhythm of the story. Instead, we get to share in that experience of routine, and even boredom, that Jill documents.

Jill doesn’t sugar coat her struggles either. As she reaches her lowest points she doesn’t shy away from bitching about how much she wanted to quit. She’s open about her tears and doubts at every step of the way. You feel like you’re connecting with a real person, not some elite athlete who never seems like they struggle. It makes the journey relatable, despite the fact that it’s probably out of reach of most of us.

I’m glad that I was introduced to Jill’s work, and am looking forward to reading about her next adventure.

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!

2018 Biking Year In Review

Although not quite as big as my running year, 2018 saw me biking a lot more than I ever have in the past. I’ve really come to love the idea of two wheeled transport, and wish that my job was close enough for me to actually do it as a commuting option. I did commute a couple times this year, but not nearly as much as I would like to. My wife and I also didn’t get out quite as much as I had hoped together, but I did get her a new bike seat, so hopefully that will help encourage some additional adventures next year.

IMG_2248.JPGAt the beginning of the year I picked up some studded tires for my hybrid bike, and gave a little bit of winter riding a try. I only got out a couple of times, but it was a lot of fun, and showed me that you can actually do this year round. Once the snow cleared I was able to start getting out a bit more regularly.

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PC: Michael Tangen

One of the most consistent times that I ride is on Wednesday nights with our Beer & Bikes crew. My friend Michael started this years ago and it’s been a great way to keep consistently riding each week. Our little group grew a bit this year and we’ve added a few new regulars. It’s been fun getting to know more people through the biking community, as it’s still a group that I’m not quite as connected to.

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PC: Abe McEtheron

I also managed some nice weekend rides, including a trip down to Saint Paul to cheer on the Twin Cities Marathon. I had a ton of fun on this ride and might make it a tradition. I also did my third annual Fall Fifty+Five ride. This is a 50 mile bike ride that include stops at 5 different breweries. This year we had a ton of people join us, and from the sounds of it almost everyone had a great time.

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PC: Michael Tangen

One of the other joys of biking this year is learning more and more about how to maintain and fix bikes. I spent a lot of time learning about how to tune up my ride and even make some slightly more in-depth repairs, such as shifters and disc brakes. I then got to practice my skills with the wonderful organization Free Bikes 4 Kidz. They take donated bikes and fix them up to give away to kids who don’t have bikes. It’s a great thing to be a part of, and I’m super happy that our Beer & Bikes group did this activity again this year.

DSC08967Finally, this fall I took the plunge and purchased a fat bike. I’ve only managed a handful of rides so far this winter, but simply knowing that I have the option is awesome. Plus, I feel like I’m much more likely to connect with the adventure/off-road biking community than the typical road bikers. Similar to how I’m more of a trail runner than road runner. Maybe it has to do with the beer and beards?

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 12.09.07 PMAt the end of it all I had a new high mileage year of 735 miles, which is not too shabby for someone who also ran 1602 miles throughout the year. I’m hoping to break 1000 next year with my ability to get on wheels in the winter time now. The biggest challenge I’m currently facing is trying to sell my old bike rack so that I can buy one that will fit my fat tire bike. Hopefully, I’ll have that squared away soon.

Cheers to all my fellow beer loving bikers, and can’t wait to do more rides in 2019!

 

Joining the fat tire set

For couple of years now I’ve been interested in fat tire bikes. I test rode some a year ago, and then again twice this year. I really love the smooth feel of them, and I’d hope that it might be something to help me get outside biking in the winter a bit more. Plus, we have lots of single track around here that I’ve never been able to do on my road-focused tires of my fitness bike.

In my deliberations I tried out a bunch of different brands: Surly, Trek, Framed, Felt, and Salsa. I enjoyed most of them but felt most comfortable on things like the Trek Farley 5 and the Framed Wolftrax. They had a more comfortable geometry for me, and didn’t feel as aggressive. Ever since I test road the Framed bikes I’ve been pulled towards them. They’re really great feeling bikes at a much lower price point than other brands, plus they’re a Minnesota company.

In this same time period I also joined a local FB group for people to post bike items up for sale. The other week I came across a 2 year old Framed Wolftrax at a really great price and so I reached out to the owner to take a look. Long story short, it was is pretty good shape and the price was right, so I got it. It needed a few things tweaked on it (I have no idea what he was doing with the limiter screws….), and a new front disc rotor, but that was easily fixed.

I took it out for a little ride to a local brewery on Wednesday and had a blast. I can tell it’s more work to move, but I was able to keep up with a 14mph pace that the group was doing. That’s a fast pace for me on my regular bike to begin with. Needless to say, in the winter, or off-road, I’m not going to be concerned with pace, so this works out just fine. I’m excited to get it out there more in the coming weeks and get more comfortable with off-road riding.

If you’ve never tried a fat tire bike, give it a shot sometime. It’s incredibly fun, and a great way to get around.

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Minnesota being Minnesota

One Wednesday this week we had a rare occurrence for Minnesota in October, 70 degree temps. For one day the temps spiked and we ended up with a humid, soupy mess. I went out for a run over lunch and was utterly miserable from the humidity. Wednesday evening I had my traditional Beer and Bikes ride, and as I started out the front started to roll in, that would signal a major change in the weather.

As I started to ride I got caught in a major downpour of rain. Because of the heat of the day, the rain was actually very, very refreshing. I kept it slow on the slick roads, but made it to the meet up spot just fine. It was actually a very enjoyable ride, similar to a nice run in a summer rain. When we headed out from the meetup spot it became clear that the evening was about to get interesting. The wind out of the NW was picking up tremendously.

As we rode south, I realized I was in a much higher gear than normal. I was cruising along with ease, and I knew that spelled trouble for the ride home. As we crossed the 10th Street bridge over the Mississippi River we were almost blown off of our bikes from the intense cross wind. We eventually made it to our destination and settled in and tried to recover.

About 8pm I started my ride back. My route takes me a different direction, and so once we were back across the 10th Street bridge I turned left on 5th and began the slog home. At this point the winds were in the 20-30mph range, and the National Weather Service even recorded a high gust of 61mph. All of this was coming right in to my face as I tried to ride up hill. I ended up putting the front gear into the “granny gear” just to give my legs some respite.

Eventually, I made it home safe and tried to warm up a bit in the shower before heading to bed. With the wind came cooler temps, and by the time I was home I was happy that I packed a nice jacket and gloves. Then on Thursday morning I checked the temps before heading out on my run… 36 degrees. The temps had swing 43(!) degrees from the day before. That’s an insane temperature swing, but it’s kinda what happens in Minnesota this time of year.

Needless to say, I was happy with the cooler temps, because the air was drier, and there was much less wind. My run this morning was comfortable and cool, which is more akin to what we expect this time of year. It’s just Minnesota being Minnesota.