Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Product Review: Camelbak Podium ChillJacket

I am not a big proponent of reinventing the wheel. That's why I didn't get sucked into the hype about Camelbak's fancy new water bottle, especially with the gimmicky insulation layer. It's just another water bottle and I seem to have dozens floating around the house. I was however in the market for a nice stainless steel bottle for the LHT (yeah you know me) but I couldn't find one that performed well and wasn't insultingly expensive. Before I went on my trip, my wife got me a Podium ChillJacket for my birthday. So there I was, hype and gimmick in hand, and I freakin' loved it!

The trick is that inside the nozzle there is a nipple that looks very similar to the hydration pack nipples. That dark blue chewy thing on the end of the hose with a slit in it. The nipple in the Podium has an "X" instead of a slit. I think this makes a tighter seal so water can only get out under pressure. This means it doesn't leak like most standard water bottles, even if you shake it upside down.

The water flows out with ease. It's nice not to have to use an extra breath to pull water out of the bottle especially when you're sucking wind to begin with. Like when using their hydration packs, I find I am drinking more water when I ride.

The other nice thing is that the Chilljacket works pretty well for such a thin membrane. If you put ice water in the bottle it will keep it cool for at least an hour or so on a hot day and that's better than nothing.

The main problem I have with the Podium Chilljacket other than it being plastic, is that it only holds 21 oz compared to the usual 24 oz. This isn't a deal breaker for me but If I had to say a con that would be it. I guess the price is more than I would usually spend on a water bottle at $12 but I think it's worth it.

Bottom line: Highly Recommended.
Buy it if your sick of opening and closing the valve on your bottle every time you drink only to get dripped on.
Don't buy it if you must have steel no matter what the cost.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Washington DC Needs A Tweed Ride (I Think)

What the hell DC? Where's your tweed? I keep seeing tweed rides advertised in other cities and I am getting a little jealous. I have a Brooks B17 Special on my nekkid LHT and an easily "handlebarred" mustache and no place to showcase the them. If you google Tweed Ride you'll see all these great photos and flyers of retro'd out 'tweedsters' having fun and NONE OF THEM ARE IN DC*. Are SanFran and Portland the only places where such veloshenanigans thrive?

Maybe I'm way off but I think there are a good number of people out there who would give the idea of a Washington DC Tweed Ride the ole' how's yer father. Am I right? Anyone?

*Here is where I stipulate that if there are indeed tweed rides going on in DC and I am just severely out of the loop (highly probable) than I apologize and beg your pardon and invitation to said event.

Have a dashing Tuesday ole' chap

Here is teh follow up post from the November 15th 2009 DC Tweed Ride.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

C&O Tow Path Part Four: Hancock to Silver Spring

I had a good nights sleep in the bunk house and was glad not to have to take down the tent in the morning. While cooking breakfast the thought of making it all the way home had returned. It was 135 miles from home and the previous day had been my longest day at 88 miles. Could I add 47 additional miles to my longest day? I hurried to pack up and at least give the the idea the option of success. My average daily ride was around 85 miles which would put me back in Brunswick. I would push a good pace and see how things were going when I got there.

I had been working on more ways to stay on the bike. After food, the next reason to stop was to rest and stretch. I found that if I stood up on the pedals, pushing one hip as was forward as I could while dropping my heal in the same side as far down as I could, I could stretch my back, thigh, and calf on that side in one motion. I would speed up, stretch one side while coasting then repeat on the other side.

That just left rest as the only reason to stop biking. Given the amount of pain caused by having to start back up again taking a rest would rarely win the argument.

On the way back around the detour I passed a small group of houses that had this sign to great on comers.
"Warning To those who steal from us as we sleep OR ARE WE? Are we watching for you yes! This Neighborhood Don’t Call 911! But you might!"
I think this neighborhood needs a 6th grade English teacher more than an increase in security.

Shortly after passing some turkeys I arrived in Brunswick, roughly 85 miles from Hancock by 1pm. I was staying on the bike and I was flying. Keeping an average of 15.5 mph I rarely stopped for anything. One slight advantage of this section of that the downhill slope of the trail is marginally higher. But the drop is so slight that you never feel like you are going downhill.

I was feeling tired but great. There were times when I was really sucking wind and thought I might have to rest for a while. At these moments I would eat sour patch kids, pull out the ipod and remove my helmet. I am a freak about wearing my helmet but this was a very rare occurrence where I rode without one. The novelty of the wind in my hair, the sugar rush and the kick ass playlist would usually make me forget about the pain.

After passing Harper's Ferry I was confident that I would be sleeping in my bed that night and have an extra day to chill before returning to work. Before this trip, the farthest I had ever ridden was 97 miles while doing the C&O a few years back and here I was pushing for 135.

When I hit Seneca Creek the canal took on the more well groomed look as I approached Great Falls and the more popular parks. I was on fire, I still had 30 or so miles to go but 30 miles never seemed so small a feat.

The down side to reentering the metropolitan area is that people become less and less outgoingly friendly. Up to this point, pleasantries of some kind were traded with almost every single person I encountered on the path. But the closer and closer I got to the city the more people looked like the had a stick up their asses. That's not to say they weren't nice people, it's just that they were in a different place than I was. I was on could ten and they were just trying to burn as many calories as they could before they had to pick up the kids or whatever chore was next up. People is people... people.

Then end of the trail was a few miles further in Georgetown but I was getting off before that. I thought about doing the extra miles to get to Mile 0, but I had been there before. For this trip, mile 0 was my front porch. So when I saw the bridge taking the Capital Crescent Trail over the canal I realized that I would soon be saying goodbye to the river, the canal, and the tow path. I had been on the C&O for four amazing days and had come to rely on it's simplicity. Whatever was going on in my head my eyes were always pointed over at the canal, down at the river, or straight down the path.

So I took a last look at the canal and joined the flood of commuters pushing their way north towards Silver Spring on the smooth paved trail. I found it both surreal and amusing being passed by so many people on road bikes while I trudged along on my fully loaded LHT that seemed to take up the whole lane. Everyone so deep in thought after a long day at work, pushing and pushing to get home and on to the next thing. I imagined myself as a large blood clot slowly tumbling along a major artery as smaller blood cells bounced and dodged around me racing their way through DC's circulatory system.

I made it home unceremoniously. I did my trip and had my adventure with one well earned day to spare. 135 miles that day, 395 in total. I made some calls, took a long shower, and drifted off to sleep, victoriously, in my own bed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

C&O Tow Path Part Three: Cumberland to Hancock

After spending a satisfying hour in Cumberland, I headed back toward DC. My goal for the day was to get to Hancock MD, which would be about a 90 miles. Since I was doing the trip solo, millage was something I had plenty of time to reflect on. My mind would wander but every mile marker and town was a reminder of my position, how far I had come, and how far I had to go. Don't get me wrong, I was having a great time and not stressing at all. I took pride in every mile and was constantly looking forward to the next one.

After the hard push to Cumberland I was taking it a little slower on the return. When I got back to Paw Paw I stepped it back up. Only stopping now and again for a picture. I realized the key to longer miles was to allow myself to keep moving. If I stopped for longer than a minute or two, the pain of having to start again was amazing at times.

In Cumberland I bought a second stem bag that was a little larger. The one I had was only large enough for a camera and cliff bar. This new one was large enough to carry a variety for foods that would keep me from having to stop and get items off the back of the bike. Peanut M&Ms, cashews, cliff bars, and jerky could easily fit in the new bag. One addition that made a huge difference was Sour Patch Kids. I must give thanks to Jill Homer from Up In Alaska for mentioning them. The intensely sour sugar rush would always lift my spirits when I started to drag, both emotionally and physically. I took smaller stem bag and reversed it, attaching it seat post. This way I still had easy access to the camera.

Atop one of the many aqueducts in ruin. The concept of running a canal over a stone bridge over a river is still a little hard to imagine especially in the 1820s. I guess I should thank the Romans.

Some time mid day I almost ran over this descent sized copper head. I'm guessing it was a copper head only because it's head was copper. I had to get a stick and push him off the trail. I had just passed a couple on a tandem recumbent and didn't want the two of them to cross paths.

This little guy hitched a ride for about 25 miles.

Around mile 140 I stopped in at Bill's Place to refill the water bottles. Bill's is a famous institution of the tow path. It has been around for ever and so has Bill. He was telling me that he had cub scouts come in during a camping trip and 35 years later they would return as den leaders heading trips of their own.

Taken with the ShakeyCam

I was just heading in for water and was eager to keep moving. At this point Hancock was only 15 miles away and I had covered 75 miles by 3pm. I was feeling great and was thinking of pushing it further. A thought kept sneaking in that I might be able to make it all the way home by the next night, being 150 miles away at that point made it an easy notion to dismiss.

When I entered the bar the first thing I noticed was that the ceiling was covered in money. One of the traditions at Bill's is for hikers and bikers to sign dollar bills and fix them to the ceiling. I headed for the back to grab 3 bottles of water when I saw 2 guys at the bar with matching T-shirts that read "Pittsburgh to DC". I struck up a conversation with them immediately. Asking about the trail conditions of the Allegheny Passage, a connection from Cumberland to Pittsburgh.

After a few minutes the two, Bob and Joe, began harassing me about my lack of a beer. I told them millage goal and they quickly pointed out what I already knew. "Hancock is only 15 miles away, it's 3pm, we're at Bill's, you should have a beer." This was logic that I couldn't escape, especially from a couple of retired brethren of the bike out on a tour. Bill brought me a Sam Adams and I pulled up a stool. After the first sip 2 thoughts came into my head. I should really slow down a bit, and always listen to your elders.

After a beer I decided to take it easy and roll with Bob and Joe. They guided me to a stretch of paved rail/trial that parallels the tow path for several miles that gave us a break from the gravel. After a few days of riding alone, I was really enjoying the slow pace and the conversation. At one point someone had set out a bunch of fresh picked yellow tomatoes which I took full advantage of.

We reached Hancock at 5pm and parted ways. Bob and Joe were inn hopping and I was headed for the bunk house at the C&O Bicycle. Me and the LHT were the only guests of the bunk house that night and it suited me just fine. After a hot shower I walked around town and ended up at a diner before returning to the bunk house for some much needed sleep.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

C&O Tow Path Part Two: Slackwater to Cumberland

Day two put me in the Big Slackwater of the Potomac. A section where the river widens and slows due to Dam #4, and resembles more of a lake than a river. Some sections of the slackwater are over 60 feet deep. This was a section of the canal where boats would navigate through the deep waters of the river for 13 miles before entering the canal again. It's a popular area with many houses and docs on the Virginia side.

This also meant I had to ride the 5 mile detour as the tow path that hugged the cliffs along the river washed away. The ride on the road was a nice diversion and a welcome break from the constant vibrations of the tow path.

There is an initial climb from the canal which pretty tough but it quickly leveled out into rolling hills and beautiful farm land.

After reconnecting with the canal the rest of the day sped by in a beautiful blur of cliffs, canal, railroad and river. Toward 5pm I reached the Paw Paw Tunnel which is not only 3/4's of a mile of engineering masterpiece but the reason the railroad beat the canal to Cumberland. There is some fascinating history surrounding the tunnel.

At 81 miles I thought I might push it a little further, it was only 5:00. However, after grabbing a pizza in town I was ready to take it easy so I headed back to the Paw Paw campground. I talked to a bunch of nice folks at the park which after two days alone was a welcome diversion. The campground is in a meadow a half a mile passed the tunnel. There isn't much to the town so I walked around the park after setting up camp, then hit the sack.

taken with the 'blur cam'

In the morning I was greeted by a herd of deer that had stopped in the meadow for breakfast. I looked at the map and planned the day while breakfast boiled. I had only 30 miles left before Cumberland and thought that if I pushed it I could make it back to Hancock before the end of the day. Hancock meant I could sleep at the C&O Bicycle bunk house and forgo the tent entirely. At around 85 miles, this seemed like a decent goal so off I went.

The morning was beautiful and unlike most of the trail there was a lot of clearings full of sunlight.

Around a bend I happened upon a group of turkeys which oddly enough had a rabbit in their ranks (not in the photo).

Having a short distance to travel before Cumberland turned out to be quite the motivator. I cranked it out averaging a little over 15 mph and arrived in Cumberland by 9:30 am.

Cumberland is a very cool town with tons of little cafes and shops. The people where very inviting and I felt like a local in no time.

I had a breakfast sandwich at Cafe Mark and browsed the supplies at Cumberland Trail Connection. The cool thing about Cafe Mark is that there was an electrical outlet right out front where I parked the bike so I could charge the phone before heading back towards DC. (bottom right)

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2nd Place Prize From BSNYC

Last month I submitted a peice in the BSNYC/RTMS Fat Cyclist Knuckle Tattoo Tribute Contest. Thanks to you and 324 like minded individuals who voted for my Larry King submission putting me squarely in 2nd place (actually 3rd).

Second place is a set of knog Beetle lights which BSNYC describes a cousin to the "hipster cyst". So for my efforts I received a possibly carcinogenic product which I gladly put on the LHT (yeah you know me).

They are a step up from the knog frogs with 2 LEDs and multiple light settings which just make it more annoying to turn them off. Besides being free, they require no tools or adapters to attach to the bike which is a plus.

Thanks be to Snob for the lights and the blog. Fortunately, I am not a hipster so these cysts will remain benign.

Monday, September 7, 2009

C&O Tow Path Part One: Paw Paws and Coyotes

It has been a busy week since I returned from my round trip up the C&O Canal Tow Path and I finally am getting to blog about it.

It was a great trip and I was blessed with great weather for most of it. I left Saturday morning at 7:45am. It was humid as hell but bearable. I sped down the Capital Crescent Trail from Silver Spring to meet up with the Tow Path in Georgetown. My mind was clear as I had 5 days of biking ahead of me. Something this father and husband wasn't going to take for granted.

It took me a few hours to acclimate to the LHT(yeah you know me) with a full load on it. The ride was very smooth but I had to remind myself not to get out of the saddle because the back end would sway from side to side. A couple of readers commented last week wondering about the unbalanced load on the LHT. I have no front racks so all of the weight was in the rear. Having never toured with a balanced load I don't have anything to compare it to. In the muddier sections of the trail the back end did slide out a few times but I'm not sure having the weight more evenly distributed would have made a difference.

So Saturday was pretty steamy and as I made my way up stream the forest thickened with broad leafed Paw Paw trees and it resembled more of a Costa Rican jungle than the C&O. I kept hydrated and plugged onward. Somewhere between Brunswick and Harper's Ferry I lucked upon a couple of freshly fallen Paw Paws in the middle of the trail.

The meat inside is juicy with large black seeds interspersed throughout. If you've never had one they closely resemble a mango but not as sweet.

For lunch I stopped at Beans in the Belfry, one of my favorite 'must stop' places, just off the trail in Brunswick MD. It's a cool coffee shop/cafe that has taken shape in a old church complete with stained glass and balcony.

That first day I managed 85 miles which landed me at the Killiansburg Cave hiker/biker campsite, mile 75. The designated site was right off the trail but there was plenty of space down by the water so I walked my bike down a slope to the water. This was one of two things I did that night for which I am thankful.

After setting up camp I set my dirty clothes on a branch to air out and went skinny dipping. I had a perfect bend of the Potomac to myself and I took full advantage. The water was warm and clear and deep enough to swim in. Skinny dipping is one of those 'good for the soul' activities that happen far too rarely in my life, especially after 85 miles in the saddle.

One of the problems with solo camping is that there is no one to split the workload with. Usually one person gets dinner going while the other gets the tent set upor looks for firewood. After cooking dinner and cleaning up I was ready to call it a night at around 8:30. Before hitting the sack, I took the pannier that had all my food in it, dropped it in a trash bag and hoisted it up a tree. This is the second thing I did that I am thankful for. I wasn't sure if there were black bear in the area and wanted to be safe.

Soon after my head hit the pillow a coyote let loose a wicked howl which sounded like it was in the tent with me. It turns out he was up on the trail about 75 feet away. I stayed awake for a little while listening to him/her howl and inspect before I drifted off. I guess because there was only one I wasn't too concerned. Sometime around 3am the coyote returned with a friend and they howled and chittered back and forth for a few minutes before I fell back to sleep. I had heard many times about coyotes moving south and east after being reintroduced to the Appalachians but had never encountered one personally. It was a pretty cool interaction, mainly because it didn't involve coyotes tearing through my gear or me running into the river at 3 am.

The morning was clear with a mist slowly drifting on the water. As the sun inched it's way down stream I packed up and continued west.

Click here for part two.
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