Gear Review: Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack

Every since getting my pop-up trailer, I’ve had one niggling issue. I have no where to attach my bikes for traveling. My primary bike rack is a Yakima HoldUp, which is a great way to transport bikes. However, with the secondary receiver hitch that I purchased, it sticks out too far, and would impact the turning radius of the trailer. I needed something that would hold the bikes closer to the car.

A simple hanging bike rack might be a good option, but I wanted to avoid spending many hundreds of dollars for something I would only be using a few times a year. In my search I found the Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack. This is a really unique trailer bike rack that clamps on to the actual hitch, and then acts like a standard hanging rack. It clamps on close to the vehicle, which keeps the bikes close and away from the turning radius of the camper. To top it off, I got it for less than $80.

img_2929What I liked

The rack is light, and super easy to assemble. It’s easy to store on a shelf in my garage when not in use. Sliding my bike on to it was very easy, once you realized how to rotate the mounting points to the side first, and then rotating them into place. The rubber straps that attach the bike seem sturdy, and are relatively easy to attach.

The general construction of the rack is solid, and nothing felt “cheap” in any way. The straps that attach from the sides to the car, felt strong and they secured the rack solidly. The addition of little reflective ends to the bike mounting arms is a nice touch. In general the rack is what it says it is, and feels durable.

img_2928What I didn’t like

There are a couple of issues with this rack, which may actually prevent you from being able to use it. First, in order to extend the rack and secure the clamp, you have to press down in the locking mechanism. I can’t overstate this enough; this requires a great deal of downward pressure and strength. Every time I had to do this, it took all my upper body ‘oomph’ to get it to attach and click in to place. I feel like some form of screw, similar to a scissor jack, would be a lot easier to work with.

Along the same lines, removing the rack is downright scary. To release the crossbar, you need to pull out the pin securing it in place, and then pull up on a release handle. When you do, the stored energy causes the rack to slam closed, like a bear trap. It’s truly frightening and feels dangerous. Again, I feel like this is a design aspect that should be re-thought. I’ve seen pics online of people who have been scratched or poked by the slamming components.

Finally, the biggest issue with this rack is that, even without bikes on it, you had to give up access to your trunk. To get into the trunk of your car requires removing the rack completely. With how difficult and scary it is to do this, it means that you do it as infrequently as possible. This past weekend I found myself using the seat fold-down feature from inside my car to get access to gear. It was just a lot easier than having the mess with the rack.

Final thoughts

My feelings on this rack are somewhat mixed. I love the concept, and it allows me to use it with my trailer easily. It accomplishes what it says it will, despite being imperfect. I think with a couple small design tweaks, this could be a really cool rack. However, it does serve my purposes, and at less than $80, it’s what I was willing to invest in. I feel like it’s probably a good buy for situations like mine, but I wouldn’t want to use it as my only bike rack. It’s just not easy enough to work around for day-to-day use.

An impromptu weekend in Decorah, IA, part 1

This past week a running podcast that I enjoy called Ten Junk Miles, released a long interview with two ladies that I know who completed a double Arrowhead 135. They started at the finish line, 4 days before the start, and did the race backwards on their own. Then they started the race with everyone else and headed back 135 miles to be the first women ever to complete a double on foot. It’s an amazing story, and the interview clocked in at 5 hours.

I pinged my wife and the conversation went like this:

Me: TJM posted the Kate and Kari interview. It’s 5 hours long lol. Do you want to listen to the podcast together over the weekend or just on our own?

Wife: We can listen together. We should pick a road trip 😁 LOL
Where has good food?

And so, our weekend plans were born. I have been wanting to visit Decorah, IA for a while, since they have a couple great breweries that I’ve heard good things about. On top of that there were breweries along the route that I had never been to either. Decorah is 2.5 hours away, which means it’s perfect for a 5 hour podcast.

I was scheduled for a ~22 mile run on Saturday morning, and my wife needed to get some car work done, but we decided that by lunchtime we’d hit the road. I had a great run, and was feeling excited to hear a long podcast about other runners doing amazing things. We headed out around lunchtime and enjoyed a lovely drive through southern Minnesota.

IMG_2458.jpgOur first stop of the trip actually came before we hit Iowa. We stopped in Fountain, MN at the tiny brewery (612 sq ft!), Karst Brewing. This is a delightful little place with a handful of beers on tap. I got a few samples and then a half-pour of their cream ale. Their beers were all decently done, and I enjoyed getting some well made beer in small-town Minnesota. With our short stop out of the way my wife took the wheel and we continued our trip.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and after dropping off our bags at the hotel, we headed to the famous Toppling Goliath brewery. They’ve made a name for themselves with their Morning Delight beer. You have to enter a lottery to buy it, and then you only get four bottles for $100. However, it’s an AMAZING beer. Unfortunately, our experience at their brand new taproom wasn’t nearly as amazing.

IMG_2460.jpgThey recently relocated to brand new digs about 5 miles outside of town. We found a parking space in a busy lot and proceeded to see what they had to offer. When we got inside there was a sign that said to “Seat Yourself”. The bar was full, and I didn’t see an obvious beer line, so we grabbed a table. I went to the bar and asked if people were service tables or if we order from the bar. I was told that we could just take a table and someone would be around. Then we waited… and waited… and waited.

IMG_2459.jpgFinally, I went to an area of the bar that looked like it was for growler sales and stood in line. It appeared that it was also for pints, and after a much longer wait than I should have had I finally had a flight of beers in front of me. It’s obvious that they have no idea what they’re doing in their brand new space yet, and hopefully their taproom manager will get things straightened out. From what I could see they need at least twice the number of servers that they had, as well as some clear signage about how to actually acquire beer.

On the bright side, my beers were all great, and especially a sour called Dragon Fandango. It was like a tart kool-aid and was amazing. Absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it in ready-to-go bombers, and I didn’t feel like wading through the line again for a growler.

From there we headed in to downtown Decorah for some yummy Mexican food at Don Jose. Every college town has a great Mexican place like this, and soon my gut was filled with enchiladas and tamales. We still had one more stop for the evening, Pulpit Rock Brewing company.

IMG_2462.jpgPulpit Rock is built in what appears to be an old car dealership, or garage of some type. It’s a quaint little building, and there are multiple rooms you can hang out in with your beer. I got a nice flight of english style brew and started in. Although the Heavy Lifter Lager left me a little disappointed, the Clarion ESB was great. All in all, a wonderful way to finish off the brewery tour for the night.

More in part two…

Post-race/travel blues

I feel like I’ve written about this before, but I couldn’t find anything in my blog searching. One of the things that hits me (and my wife) hard after (out-of-town) races or long trips is the depression of returning to real-life again. Within a day or so of returning home we both get the blues, bad. It’s so hard to come back from a great trip, or a great race (participating or volunteering), and come face to face with needing to get back into our routine.

Before anyone worries, I’m fully aware of it, and I know what it is when I feel it, so it’s not something that I feel is dangerous, or that I’m a risk to myself. However, that doesn’t change how much it basically sucks. The incredible highs that we experience when we travel, especially when doing races, just can’t compare with the day-to-day routine of regular life. Granted, I often need a full day of rest after returning from a trip, because of how much we’ve been doing, but it still feels like it’s more exciting than being at home.

It’s the type of thing that sometimes makes me want to just sell everything and get an RV and spend my life traveling from place to place. I know that’s not feasible or realistic, but it’s the feeling that I get when I return home sometimes. I know a part of it is a general dissatisfaction with my career right now, and feeling like I want to do something different than what I’m doing (but stuck for various reasons, including financial). But for the time being it’s what I need to do to get by.

In the meantime, we’ve already been planning our travel for the rest of the year. We’ve got plans to hit some new State Parks, and give our trailer a workout with multiple camping trips. Most of our trips are just for a weekend, or a slightly extended 3-day weekend, but that means it’s easier to squeeze more of them in. I’m excited for more of our trips this year, as well as some of the races we’re going to be at. I just need to remember that coming home is a part of the process, and that soon it will all be OK again. We’re doing things that make us happy, even if that comes with a bit of a cost when we return.

Anxiety can suck it

Later today I will be boarding a plane and heading west to visit family on our annual winter trip to the desert (don’t worry the house is being house-sat and not vacant). It’s almost always a nice relaxing time, with explorations of an ecosystem that is totally foreign to me. However, because I’m flying it also means I get my special bonus. Anxiety.

As someone who deals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, things like flying are absolutely brutal for me. The biggest issue is that it starts days ahead of time. My worst anxiety is often 2-3 days before a flight. All of my symptoms will explode and I’ll spend a good solid day feeling miserable, tense, and suffering. There’s little that I can do about the symptoms, except acknowledge that they exist and that they don’t control me. I know that I’m not dying, and that everything I’m feeling is just my body being unreasonable.

Because it doesn’t happen very often, taking any type of regular medication is pointless. I do have some pills for situations where it gets really bad, but I obviously need to treat those with care, as they’ll make it hard for me to drive and function. So I often will try and just relax with a beer and wait for the tension to, eventually, release. What is even dumber is that my anxiety on the day of the flight is often less than 2-3 days before. That anticipation episode is often the worst of it. I just need to get through it, and get to my destination, and everything ends up being good.

So for all of you that suffer from GAD, know that you’re not alone. Remember your body is dumb sometimes, and that no matter what you’re feeling, it’ll be OK. I’m sure there’s plenty of folks out there reading this who will join me in raising a glass and declaring that anxiety can suck it!

Easter Vegas vacation, day 4

IMG_0836Our final day in Vegas was subdued. Our flight left late afternoon, so there really wasn’t a lot of time to do big adventures. I started out the morning with a 4 mile run along the wash, however this time I took a different fork and ran along the south side instead of the north. This ended up bringing me to this really cool overlook that resulted in the panorama that I set as the featured image in this post. The overlook was basically a small hill with a path leading up to the top, but it was fun to climb and had a great view.

IMG_0840Once I got home and cleaned up, the wife and I headed over to the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. My wife is into birds, and this was only a few miles away from the apartment, so it was a perfect final day activity. The bird preserve consists of various ponds that used to be a part of the wastewater treatment plant, but had since been segmented off just for bird viewing. They offer loaner binoculars, which was awesome, but once again I regretted not packing my big camera. Next time I’m out there I’m bringing a nice big lens.

IMG_0841We wandered around the preserve for a good 90 minutes as we watched various birds that we never see in the Midwest. Because these were ponds, there was plenty of waterfowl to be seen. However, we also got to see a few other neat birds like a yellow headed blackbird, and multiple hummingbirds. One humming bird even sat still in a tree branch near us, giving us a great view of something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in Minnesota.

Once we finished at the bird preserve it was time to return to the village to pack and wait for our flight. We had a few hours to kill, so we spent it resting and talking with family. Soon it was time to head out, and so we loaded up some cars with the luggage, while we returned the rental car. Our flight home was uneventful, although with the time difference it meant we weren’t getting into bed until close to 1 am.

IMG_0842Overall, this was a good trip, and we had some fun. Unfortunately, when you get a couple dozen people together for a family event it’s hard to call a trip “restful”. There’s simply so many things going on that it gets hard to just chill and relax sometimes. That aside, I’m very glad we were able to go and spend time with everyone. As families age, and people move, it becomes harder and harder to take time to be together. Spending time with family when you can is vitally important, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity on this trip.