Working with what Minnesota gives us

This past weekend we took an extended trip to Itasca State Park. It was a long time coming, and we were super happy to finally be able to get to a place we’ve been trying to get to for multiple years. However, there’s always a twist when it comes to seasons in Minnesota. Being in the middle of the north woods in summer presented a set of challenges, that we learned a lot from.

Normally when we go on outdoor trips like this we spend a lot of time running and biking, as well as hanging out at the campsite. However, summer in Minnesota tends to be incredibly humid and hot (despite our reputation for harsh and cold winters). This also means that our bug population skyrockets in the summer, and being out and about in the woods is often a battle against a thousand tiny buzzing insects. Not fun.

This past weekend proved this once again. We managed to get out for one 3.5 mile hike in the woods, but that was it. To accomplish the hike we put on long pants, bug nets over our head, and copious amounts of bug spray. We probably looked silly, but the bug nets were a godsend. I can’t imaging doing a deep woods trek in summer around here without one.

This is hot... in more than one way
This is hot… in more than one way

I also went for a 6 mile walk but I kept almost exclusively to paved trails, which helped a lot. One 0.75 mile segment of my walk was on a dirt path, and I was constantly inundated by flies and mosquitos. They were buzzing around me so heavily that they actually showed up in the pictures I was taking. This was one of the more scenic portions of the walk so it was a scramble to take out the phone, snap a picture, and get back to moving as quickly as possible.

A small fly who wanted to be in the shot
A small fly who wanted to be in the shot

However, what we discovered was that there were other activities that we enjoy, that are much more bug free. One was expected, the other was new to us. First, we love biking and brought the bikes with us on this trip because we knew that Itasca had a lot of good bike paths. On both Monday and Tuesday we did the Wilderness Drive loop, which is a 16 mile biking loop that goes around the perimeter of the park. It’s a really fun ride, and despite three quarters of it being shared with a road, that road is almost all one-way traffic. Meaning you don’t need to worry about oncoming cars on curves. The terrain is rolling with lots of quick short up hills that sap your legs a lot more than you expected. But, you’re rewarded with beautiful downhills with flowing curves that are incredibly fun to bomb. Just be careful when coming up on Mary Lake. It’s at the bottom of a long downhill, around a curve. If you’re not careful you could end up shooting right off the side into the drink!

Stopping at Nicollet Creek
Stopping at Nicollet Creek

While biking is awesome, we also discovered something new on this trip. We really enjoy being out on the water. We had a canoe rental for the entirety of Monday, and so we took a couple different trips around the lake. Almost immediately we discovered that the flies and mosquitos don’t like buzzing you in the middle of a body of water. We spent hours on the lake and the level of insects was minimal with only dragonflies being a slight nuisance. I’m sure that in the mornings or evenings the mosquitos will come at you even on the water, but during the day we were bug-free.

Paddling
Paddling

In addition to the lack of bugs, we also discovered that we had a lot of fun paddling. It was cooler than on shore with the oppressive humidity of the woods, and we got to explore a lot of areas that we’d never be able to reach on foot. It awakened a desire in us to get out and try more boating. After all, Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, and maybe we’re just dim for missing it, but it seems like the water is the place to be in the summer.

Our next steps are to spend some time at some local parks that have open watercraft rentals so we can check out kayaks and other craft. I’m not opposed to investing in something permanent for ourselves, but I’d like to get some experience with the different types (canoe vs kayak for example) to make some educated decisions. Plus, there’s a lot to learn in a new wilderness discipline, and I tend to want to take a lot of time to do a solid amount of research before walking into things.

So I’ll put a question out there to my readers… what do you like to paddle? What’s some good resources for folks looking to learn more about paddlesports? Any good tips and tricks for lakes in Minnesota to check out?

The story of a toe

A couple of weeks ago I had an unfortunate run-in with a dumbbell. Not the kind currently trying to take over social media, but the kind that you’re supposed to use to lift weights. And before the jokes start about, “That’s what happens when you try to do strength training”, I wasn’t even using the dumbbell for it’s intended purpose.

I was in the basement looking for a particular box. For some reason I had a 10 lbs dumbbell sitting on the table next to the boxes I was digging though. As I shifted one of the boxes the dumbbell rolled off the table landing squarely on my toe. Thankfully I was wearing some sandals at the time, so there was some cushion, but it still hit hard.

Almost immediately I knew it wasn’t good. However, I never cried out in pain, or heard anything pop or snap. I finished grabbing what I was looking for and then proceeded upstairs to asses the damage. I laid down on the couch and took a look, and sure enough it was already starting to go purple. The pain was starting to increase a lot as well. I checked out all of my toes and could tell not to go near the middle one. A light touch was all it took to realize that it had taken the brunt of the impact. The other toes around it seemed to bend and move just fine, but the middle one was in a heap of trouble.

I called the nurse line to get some advice, and they suggested that if I wanted to get an x-ray and make sure nothing else was wrong, to head up to the local orthopedic urgent care. So we hopped in the car (the wife drove) and headed over. As I slowly limped into the waiting room the pain started to get more intense. Thankfully, I had taken some anti-inflammatories before we left.

The athletic trainer took a look at it, and after a quick consult with the orthopedic, I got sent to x-ray (they were deciding if they should do the whole foot or just the toes). They took some pictures of my toe, and sure enough, the middle toe had snapped right at the tip. The x-ray showed a beautiful picture of the tip of my toe, completely separated from where it was supposed to be.

Then I got the bad news that it would be 6-8 weeks for it to heal, and until that time, running was a no-no. Part of the reason I wanted to get it x-rayed was to confirm a break vs. anything else. If it was just soft tissue damage, I could let it heal for a week and then live with any residual pain while it continues to get back to normal. With a broken toe I need to be careful to let it heal and not re-fracture it with a hard running strike. If I re-fracture it, I’m back to ground zero and the waiting time starts over.

Yet, it’s not all bad news. Biking has been working just fine. I just needed to be careful about how I set my foot down when getting off the bike or coming to a stop. I don’t need to push with my forefoot on the bike (if I don’t want to), so I was able to start biking almost right away the next day. I even managed a great 50 miler today.

Walking has been really slow to come back. My first attempts to go for a walk were painfully slow as I hobbled down the street. I kept it very simple for the first few days before slowly extending my walks further and further. I’ve been walking in very stiff-soled sandals which has helped a lot. However, I was anxiously awaiting the day when I could get back to feeling some more normalcy while walking, even if I couldn’t run for a while. That day was today.

It’s been 16 days now, and each of my morning walks has gotten better and better. I’ve been slowly getting back to my normal walking pace, and my walking form is completely normal again. So this morning I set out for a long walk. I still have things I want to do this Fall, but to do them I need to keep training, and building up stamina. Therefore, even if I only can walk, I need to start upping the miles and putting in the endurance work. I headed out, not sure how exactly how far I’d make it, but I knew it wouldn’t just be a simple walk around the park.

My son joined me, and we headed out on a route that would give him a bail-out point if he wanted it. However, he opted to stick it out with me, and by the time we got back home the watch was at 6.5 miles and I felt fine (well, a couple blisters I need to deal with). We even managed to keep up a really strong pace, and my overall average was under 18/min per mile. I’m really, really happy with how well it went, and I think I might be able to get back to the type of mileage I want rather soon (albeit slower than normal). I’ll probably stick to flatter surfaces for another week or so, just to be sure.

Some of the events coming up that I want to do will involve a lot of walking, so in many ways this is still really good training. Not quite the way I wanted to get my miles in, but I’m happy as a clam to at least have an option. Plus, being able to supplement with long bike rides, helps with all the cardio endurance I need as well.

That’s the story of my toe. It’s broken, but getting better. I’ve also managed to not let it break me.

Product Review: SP Connect Phone Mount

A year ago I decided I wanted to start using a phone mount on my bike. Sometimes I’m out and about and am looking for directions, or I need to send/receive text messages while I’m biking (via voice). Other times I want to be able to quickly grab my phone and take a picture of something I’m passing by, or perhaps I just want to play Pokémon Go while I’m biking around. For all of these reasons I decided to start searching for a mount for my bike to keep my phone front and center while riding.

My first attempt at a mount was a very inexpensive one I picked up off of Amazon. As with most cheap crap that you find online, this one performed as expected. It got the job done, but that was about it. It used elastic bands to hold the phone in place, and the mount secured to the handlebars with a simple clamp. This mount had some problems though. The rubber bands held the phone well enough, but getting the phone on and off the mount was a chore. It meant that stopping for a quick photo wasn’t really an option. In addition, the mount had a swivel head on it so that you could angle the phone in different positions. That swivel mechanism never was able to tighten very well, and so often the phone would flop forward or backwards while riding over bumps. It didn’t make me feel very comfortable about riding with my phone like that.

Thankfully, I have a deep bench of experience in my biking community, and my friend Abe suggested that I check out the SP Connect bike mounts. He’s been using them for years, and loves them, and said that they meet all of his needs. After hemming and hawing for way too long, I pulled the trigger and bought their kit. The basic kit comes with a mount, a case, a weather protector, and a small attachment that allows you to prop the phone up at an angle when sitting on a table. It came to $60, but that seemed to be standard across the market for a system like this.

DSC02121The kit arrived a few weeks ago, and I’ve had a chance to try it out on around a hundred miles of biking. The mount is a simple clamp mechanism that uses a plastic strap that you screw tighter by turning a small nut. It actually does a decent job holding the mount securely in place. In order to use the mount, you need to use the SP Connect case, which contains the other part of the mounting connection. There are two raised bars on the mount that secure to the back of the case. You set the phone on the mount and then turn 90 degrees to either side and the phone locks into place.

The mounting is really secure, and I’ve even (gently and momentarily) lifted the front of my bike off the ground by the mount. Lining up the case to the mount is pretty easy as well, and there’s only been a couple times where I’ve struggled to get it in the right place the first time. Those times have become less and less with more practice. Many times it involved me trying to set the phone on the mount at an odd angle that isn’t fully flat against the mount. I’ve gotten better at matching that up each time I do it.

DSC02124The case that you need to use is moderately ruggedized. It’s not at the same level as an Otterbox, but it does have some heft to it, and good protection around the edges. It fits my iPhone well and I’ve had no issue with slippage or things being blocked. All around, a decent case. In addition they send along a weather proof cover that you can put over your phone while it is mounted. The cover is a simple piece of fitted plastic that allows you to still touch your screen, but keeps the phone dry.

Finally, they send along a small stand that you can attach to the back of the case, and it allows you to sit the phone up on its side for (I assume) watching videos. It’s a cute little addition, but I’m not sure how useful it’ll be for me in the long run. Maybe it’ll be fun to use if I’m out biking but then stop to eat at a table and want to watch something.

Should you but the SP Connect? One of the things I haven’t mentioned yet is the competition. There were two other systems that I looked at when deciding on this mount. The first was Quad Lock. From everything I could see, there are very few differences between Quad Lock and SP Connect. They use similar locking mechanisms and the accessories and price are similar.

I also investigated Rockform, and it is still one that I might like to try some time. Some of the unique features of Rockform are it’s mounting mechanism which is a quarter turn, star-like system. It also utilizes a strong magnet in the case to secure the phone a second way to the mount. Rockform seems to be a great target for mountain bikers who are hitting some really serious terrain that might break other mounts. Since I didn’t need that much protection, I decided to save a few bucks and go with SP Connect. I did also see some online reviews that felt the Rockform was a bit harder to get used to attaching. Though, I’d want to get a kit myself and see if I can replicate that.

In the end, I’m very happy with the SP Connect. So much so that I got my wife a mounting kit for her phone and bike, and she loves it. The SP Connect is a capable mount that does what I want it to do. It allows me to quickly remove the phone from the mount on the go, and otherwise keeps the phone solidly connected and in place. Based on the last couple months, I have zero complaints about it, and would recommend folks check it out if they’re looking for a phone mount for their bike.

#30daysofbiking… complete!

For the first year since I had heard about this challenge, I managed to get it done. If you’re not familiar, #30daysofbiking is a challenge where you pledge to ride your bike, even just a little bit, every single day of April. Most years I’m involved in early season trail races, and so I might start with good intentions, but the riding falls off the radar. This year though, partially thanks to the pandemic, I had a lot more time to get into the saddle every single day. Some days involved long adventures with my wife. Most others were just quick trips around the neighborhood. Sometimes I’d ride somewhere on an errand, but most of the time it was just for fun.

I also managed to take a picture every single day, except one. I put it all together into a small slideshow and put it on my YouTube channel. I just did an export of the simple Apple Photos Slideshow, but then brought it into DaVinci Resolve and added some simple titles and transitions. This also meant I had to re-import the audio track separately and add it so that it lined up with the titles.

Not bad for about 15 minutes of video work. The biking took a lot longer than 15 minutes. When all was said and done I ended up with just under 284 miles and just over 24 hours of saddle time.

Exploring the Hardwood Trail

The wife mentioned going for a longish bike ride today, and so I took a look at some trails that we hadn’t ever explored before. I settled on the Hardwood Trail that starts in Hugo, MN. As you head north the trail eventually changes to the Sunrise Prairie Trail near Wyoming, MN, before continuing on all the way to North Branch, MN. All total it’s about 25 miles one direction.

We were interested in something shorter, so we parked in Hugo and headed south for a half a mile before hitting the southern end and turning around. We then proceeded northward until we turned around at 11th Ave. The ride north was really nice and pleasant, for one simple reason. The wind was at our backs.

We knew that there was a bit of wind from the south, but what we didn’t know was how incredibly strong it was. It turns out that 20mph sustained wind with gusts over 30mph really isn’t that much fun. Whereas we had been cruising along at an easy 14mph on the way up, the return trip barely registered 10mph. My average heart rate jumped 20bpm on the trip back, which was a pretty big indicator of how hard we were working.

It took us 47 minutes to get back to the car, and it was hard earned. That was one of the more difficult rides I’ve done, and I think in the future we should probably check the wind on the weather report before picking our route. However, besides the wind, the trail was really lovely.

IMG_0954It’s a railroad grade trail, meaning it’s pretty much flat. It’s rather exposed to the elements (which didn’t help in today’s wind), but on an overcast day I could see this being a wonderful trail to ride. Granted, we didn’t get past Forest Lake, so perhaps it’s a bit more shaded to the north.

The pavement was well maintained, and all of the street crossings were easy to navigate. Because it’s a straight line it was really easy to follow, and it meant we could just ride and enjoy the scenery. Today’s wildlife spotting’s included a couple of beautiful swans grazing in a farm field, as well as a bald eagle riding the wind currents.

I’m excited to try out more of the trail, and maybe get a group together to ride the whole 50-mile out and back distance sometime.