Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Soon after heading out on Poor Farm Road, one of the brief dirt sections

Saturday Nancy and I rode our first brevet event together, and it was a real pleasure. It was that kind of fun that is in spite of the conditions, not because of them.

The first ride of the brevet season here in Vermont was a 119k Populaire out of Burlington. The forecast all week was improving, promising temperatures in the 50's and a small chance of rain early in the day.
Steve giving us the low down for the ride, just before we left the Old Spokes Home

In fact, it never got out of the 40's and was in the upper 30's for portions of the day and the rain only stopped when it briefly changed to hail for a bit. Well, it actually did clear up for the last 15 miles or so, but it never did warm up.

Greg. This was the last ride on his Surly. At the end of the ride he rolled the bike into the Old Spokes Home for a planned exchange for a new bike

I get unaccountably excited leading up to a brevet. It's just a bike ride in one sense, but on the other it is a really fun and tangible challenge, and that challenge requires a lot of really small details be all sorted out in order to insure a reasonable expectation of success.

Nancy on her new Tom Matchak bike. She seems quite happy with it. 

We had the pleasure of spending the day riding with our friend Greg. Often the opportunities for socializing at the beginning and end of the rides are marginal. Everyone is tense and busy in the minutes before heading out, and rarely do folks happen to end close enough at the finish to cross paths. Doing the whole ride with Greg was a nice chance to chat and experience a ride together. We also rode for a while with our friend Joe, who was doing his first brevet, and he had ridden to the beginning of the ride from South Hero and was on track to ride home at the end. And here we were all feeling bad for ourselves for doing such a long ride!

 Rolling up towards Jericho

Our first stop

  Our second stop in Underhill. Serious foot warming was needed 

Knowing I was doing this with Nancy, I consciously chose not to sweat the performance aspect of the event. Adding the pressure of the control times and such might make an otherwise fun day an exercise in stress, so we just rode it comfortably and let what happened happen when it did. It felt good to not sweat it, and its probably just as well because the cold was a serious factor that required some extended warming stops and a bit of General Store foot-warming creativity. By the time we reached Underhill, Nancy's feet were totally wet and heading toward potential frostbite, if they weren't there already. Luckily, the store in town sold both thick hunter's socks and chemical foot warmer packets. Those, combined with plastic bags over the fresh socks were just what we needed to continue the ride. Besides chilly fingers and bouts of cold after our stops we were generally okay for the rest of the ride, but never actually really warm. It was a lesson in preparing for a slightly greater range of conditions. Greg and I agreed: plan for rain and 10 degrees colder than the forecast is predicting.

The route took us towards Richmond and then up through Jericho onwards Underhill and then out to Cambridge. It was lovely country, especially as we approached Cambridge on Pleasant Valley Road. Almost the whole ride was new territory for me, so it was great just to take in the views.
Sweet sign seen at Brown & Jenkins coffee shop in Cambridge

The return doubled back on much of the route out, but diverted to Richmond village its self and then looped over East Hill Road back towards our destination at the Old Spokes Home in Burlington.

My view

We've only just started to be on our bikes, so the 75 mile ride felt kinda tiring at the end, but we eventually rolled into town and enjoyed the satisfaction of having come through a somewhat tough day. I suspect if we'd known what the weather held in store we might have skipped the ride altogether, but I'm glad we kept to our plan and did the ride. I loved sharing the experience with Nance and it was fun to spend time with Greg.

The skies lighted up at the end portion of the ride

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Years Ramble

Today I took a walk around what we affectionately call "the loop" in the mid-day light of New Years Day. This walk is only steps from our door and carries us through an impressive cascade of forested terrain along the Pine Brook. One moment you are at the brook's edge, the next you are 80 feet above it on a high bank looking down. Nancy discovered this route a few years ago while walking my parents old dogs Harley and Motion. It's been a go-to ever since, in all seasons.

Today's walk was not particularly notable other then the fact that it just felt good to be out there moving around and taking in the scenery. In order to stretch the walk out I took a few side paths that take one to other access points to the central walk. It's clear that many people use these paths on a regular basis, which makes me happy. It's so beautiful and its great that people are getting out there to enjoy it. Most of the land is not posted, so it's open for any one to use.

It feels good to move my body.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I've been experimenting with making my own wax mixture for waxing un-waxed canvas. Professionally waxed fabrics are made with trade secret formulas and have properties that would require a chemist's analysis to really begin to understand.

From what I've read, paraffin is the chief ingredient. There are also references to beeswax and linseed oil, so I've played around with all three with a ratio of four parts beeswax/paraffin and one part linseed oil. So far it seems like its a basically functional recipe, but there is still something happening in the commercial products that I don't understand. There is somehow more of an oiled, less waxy quality to professionally manufactured material. (An aside: Did you know early on sailors treated their sails with linseed oil, which turned them yellow? They then started using the sail material for rain gear, hence the ubiquitousness of yellow rain jackets.)

A shop apron I made recently

With my concoction I heat it up to liquid form and then paint the wax onto the untreated canvas. It goes on pretty easily but then hardens up unevenly and quickly, so I then put the whole thing in the oven at about 200 and that makes it saturate and even-out through the material. It's ready to go after that.

This is well and good, and offers a modicum of repellency to the fabric, but it's not quite the highly water resistant result I'm hoping for. I've wondered if perhaps petroleum jelly might be worth adding to the mix; it's sticky yet pliable and quite hard to remove.

 A pair of canvas Converse sneakers, waxed

The nice thing about being able to wax material myself is that I'm not limited in what I can make bags out of; I love the look feel and texture of waxed cotton and enjoy the potential of being able to wax whatever I like.

An appealing aspect of this experiment is that we collect wax from our beehives and have accumulated a reasonable supply over the years. It feel good to have this a somewhat locally produced product. Makes me wonder where linseeds grow, and are linseeds from a tree? a shrub?
The waxed parts for a handlebar bag in process

I recently made myself a handlebar bag from home-waxed canvas and it worked pretty well in the few rain and snow showers that its been through. It's not waterproof, but I get the impression that it is resistant; that water stays at the outer surface, even if the moisture is not exactly beading on the outside.

Applying the melted wax

This is an ongoing experiment and I'm encouraged with what I've come up with so far. If anyone has experimented with their own waxing process or has any insights or suggestions, I'm curious to hear what you know.


I got ahold of some petroleum jelly and rubbed it into a piece of canvas. It seems so like the commercial stuff--quite repellant and saturated without being really waxy at all, but also not too oily. It'll definitely be what I'll try with whatever the next project is.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hike up Scrag

Looking west over the Mad River Valley

Motivated to get outside and be active at a time when biking is less appealing and skiing isn't yet an option, we decided to hike up Scrag Mountain this afternoon. Scrag defines the eastern edge of the Mad River Valley and is quite close to us. In fact, if we chose to walk a mile or so we could be at the base of one of the routes up the mountain.

Scrag (2,867 ft / 874 m) was once home to a fire tower and I remember visiting it when I was a kid. I remember that a couple lived there and that they had a phone, or maybe didn't have a phone but they came to town once a week to make calls and get groceries. I remember being impressed by this somewhat monastic lifestyle. At some point shortly thereafter, the tower came down--presumably because forest fires are a pretty rare event in this part of the world. The concrete piers are still in place, as well as the small cabin that I believe housed the couple. A little roaming around the interwebs revealed that the original wooden tower built in the 1930's was destroyed by lightening in 1937 and then rebuilt out of steel. That tower remained in place until the 1970's. Interestingly, I discovered that the landowner who allowed the tower to be put up intended that the mountain be called Mt. Alice in honor of his wife, but this was never written into law, so the name has continued to be known as Scrag Mountain.

I think this might be a hand colored image. It gives the impression there is a lot of flat space around the tower which is misleading. The tower footprint is about the only level spot on the summit. That's one fearless guy up there!

In the late nineties there was an ice storm that brought down countless trees at the higher elevations across northern New England and southern Quebec. The evidence of this event is slowly diminishing over time, however you can still see areas high up where wide swaths of trees are broken off about halfway up their original height. We experience this on Scrag when we hike the route that originates nearest to our home. It is quite challenging to climb because there are many many trees down across the path. In addition to the effort of climbing the mountain there is the effort of getting past the trees; you've got to climb over them, climb under them, or go around them. We've gone up that way a couple of times and I keep waiting for the trees to decay enough to make it reasonably passable, but it takes a long time for trees to rot, so lately we've opted for the southern trail to make it an easier hike.

It got snowy and colder as we climbed 

The path we took begins about 5 miles from our house at the end of Bowen Road. Much of the hike is on land that was given to the town in stages over the last twenty or so years. It is a wonderful resource and we are glad to be able to take advantage of it.

The hike is not hard, but would be a challenge for kids or old folks. It's at times a bit steep and a bit of a scramble, but it's actually a quick payoff for the effort. About halfway up there is a beaver pond --or the remains of a beaver pond-- and from this point on up you enter into a dense and enjoyable alpine hike to the summit.

The hut at the top

Every time we climb the mountain I start pontificating about how it would be cool to get a crew of folks together to do some repair and maintenance work on the old cabin. Of course I've never done more than talk, but I like the idea. Maybe I'll actually do something about it one of these days... In any case, the cabin is there and it seems that by hook or by crook there has been some work done to improve it a little. Someone has primed the interior walls and there is makeshift plastic over the windows. It isn't quite cosy, but it would certainly be a life saver if someone were in need of shelter.

The name carver

I must admit that at a younger age I actually committed a small act of vandalism upon this little hut by carving my name into one of the closet doors inside, and the evidence is still there after what must be 30 plus years. My friend Terry did the same, and his name is there too.

There's some style there in them there letters

Scrag is dear to my heart. I suspect it is the first mountain I climbed. It gave me a sense of adventure and accomplishment in my early days. I now have the perspective to see that the climb is not really that challenging, but when I was young it felt like a big deal. It's high enough that the forest is different and likely the temperature is different too. I recall climbing it numerous times with various friends growing up. 

Nancy looking east towards the White Mountains. You can see one of the concrete fire tower footings

Nancy and I climbed Scrag on one of our first trips up to Vermont together, so it holds a special place for me there as well.

From when Nancy and I climbed Scrag in 2002

With the time change and a late start we were slightly anxious to get up to the top while leaving enough time to make it back before dark. Neither of us brought a timepiece, so we used the camera timestamp as a reference. It took about 2 1/2 hours to go up and come back down.

I said to Nance that on the lower portion it felt like fall, but up around the summit it felt more like winter. There was a light dusting of snow and the small puddles and such were frozen. It was a little cooler then I was actually prepared for, but it was fine. We spent a satisfying few minutes at the top looking across the Valley, making a point not to linger too long given the approaching sunset.

I'm grateful we happen to live in the shadow of such a humble yet beautiful mountain.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

International One Design

Rachel and Charlie's beautiful boat

Nancy and I were treated to an afternoon of sailing on Long Island Sound this weekend with Nancy's friend and former classmate Rachel and her husband Charlie.

The International One Design

Rachel and Charlie own a beautiful wooden International One Design that Charlie races out of Fishers Island, New York. I've heard of these boats over the years but never really clued into them or paid much attention in particular, perhaps because the name sounded modern and tech-y and I assumed it was probably a boat that wouldn't much interest me.

Conversely, I spent much time admiring the Shields that was moored just a little ways out from my grandparents house on Narragansett Bay; it caught my eye even when I was a little kid and didn't think about boats all that much. I always appreciated its sleek elegance. It stood out from the rest of the boats and I can distinctly see it in my mind's eye even now. Coming into West Harbor with Rachel and Charlie, I immediately recognized the lines I had admired in the Shields in the hulls of the small fleet of One Designs. Charlie told me the Shields was a successor to the One Design, and that they a lot in common. The One Design was designed in the 1930's as an open cockpit day sailer pretty much meant for one thing: racing. There is scant accommodation for comfort and nothing in the way of amenities, but this lends a spartan beauty to this 33 foot craft. There's no clutter, just hull, deck, sails, and rigging.

You get a sense of the bare bone quality of the cockpit. The cabin is empty other then storage.

Charlie generously let me take the helm for most of the trip while we all chatted and enjoyed the perfect late September afternoon. We couldn't have had better weather and there was a steady breeze to keep us moving along most of the time. Unlike most boats this size, there is no engine to rely on to take us home should the wind die down, so Charlie was mindful when the breeze let up briefly. Happily it picked up again soon.

Sailing the boat was cool. Most of my sailing has been on little centerboard boats, so sailing a large keelboat just feels like a whole other thing. There is a power and momentum that smaller boats lack and it feels great.

I was born in Rhode Island and spent part of many summers in Jamestown, an island in the middle of Narragansett Bay, as well as time on Cape Cod. Coming to Fishers Island was a neat opportunity to put some geographic pieces together. Previously, I could have drawn a map of the southern New England coastline in a generally accurate way, but now I have a keener sense of just how proximate eastern Long Island, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are. I love that sort of discovery.

Enjoying a little lunch on our way back

We sailed upwind to the vicinity of Latimer Reef lighthouse and then headed back on a run and had lunch. It wasn't too long before we were headed back into West Harbor. I've had times sailing where I just don't want to stop when the breeze, the light, and the atmosphere are just so--usually late afternoon-- and you feel like you could just keep going forever. I admit it was hard to let go of this day, but we had a schedule to keep and had to get back. Charlie took the helm as we returned to the mooring.

We had planned this trip some weeks earlier and I was aware that we'd be sailing a wooden boat that Charlie had put a lot of care and time into restoring but I hadn't clued into the specifics, so it was a treat to spend an afternoon on such a storied and amazing craft as this.

I should say too that I love sailing, but what makes sailing great is the company. It was wonderful to spend the afternoon with such generous and interesting folks.

Friday, September 20, 2013

After Work

Today was a splendidly perfect day, warm but not hot. We were planning to meet Lize, Randy and the girls at the Hostel Tevere at six, so instead of biking home I just pedaled from work to Warren, via the Common Road. It was a great time to be out for a little ride.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Part 5: Homewards

Somehow we have a small spurtle collection hanging in our kitchen at home. A spurtle you ask; what is a spurtle? Well, it's a Scottish stirring stick, traditionally used for stirring porridge. A subtext of our Cape Breton journey was perhaps finding an interesting or notable spurtle to add to the collection. After all, Cape Breton has a deep and rich Scottish history and surely we'd find a few examples.

We happily left Bay St. Lawrence and pedaled back over the small mountain pass leading back to Cape North and onwards towards the east coast. Our morning was uneventful, with a stop at the well provisioned store in Cape North before we headed on. While we were there we talked with a small band of motorcyclists and our chat gave me some appreciation of the idea that cyclist and motorcyclists have some common experiences and perspectives, although at different speed.

Some miles on we stopped at a store that sells all things Scottish. Surely this store would have a spurtle! There were all manner of kilts, tam-o-shanters, but no spurtles.  Although we did miss out in that department, I did discover a small bit of black eye while trying on a tweed cap. It seems that our heavy climbing had broke a small blood vessel. Although I felt fine we were a bit alarmed; with the assistance of an emailed photo to some medically trained friends, we were reassured that there was little need for concern. 

We again diverted from the Cabot Trail to see the scenic coastal route that took us to Neils Harbour. It was a beautiful ride with some sharp hills and a ride along yet another plateau. By the time we reached Neils Harbour it was hot and we were ready to eat, so we had lunch in a little seafood place looking over the water.

Nance and I had made a little bet about how many other cyclists we would see on our journey around the Cabot Trail. I think I said something like 5 and Nancy said something like 15 to 20. Up to this point I think we had seen 4 other riders, but in Neils Harbour we crossed paths with a small crowd of supported riders on a tour. So much for my chances of winning our little bet. We hopscotched with this crew for the next day or so. Never say never, but supported tours don't ring my bell. I really disdain the notion that you need a vehicle in order to ride a bike. Carry what ya need!

Our goal was to get to one of the Ingonish villages for the night. 

Despite the bucolic feeling, this was a reasonably populated area

Arriving at the Parks Canada Ingonish Campground we were stumped to find it was not yet open for the season. Since we arrived there late in the day and were feeling a bit tired we were having a hard time making decisions, mostly because we didn't really know what lay ahead and hadn't found anything compelling leading to this point. You never know if there is some great option a few miles down the road or just some dusty pull off. We settled on going just a bit further and found ourselves in a comparativly developed neighborhood with shops and stuff, so we were, um, you know, forced to stay in a very comfortable motel cabin. The warm bath and a cold beer were heartily enjoyed. An evening walk down to the bay was a highlight of our brief stay in the area. Word was that the east side of the Cabot Trail was a little less thrilling, and I'd say this was our experience. It felt more commercial and less visually spectacular. 

Our last big climb...

...and last big decent

Soon after starting out the next morning we began our final big climb. This was up Smokey Mountain; it was a pretty even and not-so-hard grade, so we pedaled away and made it to the top without too much drama. We had the added benefit at this point of having eaten most of our food. Once we had reached Neils Harbor we had left the Gulf of St. Lawrence behind us and were now gazing upon the mighty Atlantic Ocean for the remainder of our trip and I somehow felt I could see this as we looked southwards from Smokey Mountain. Coming down the other side of the mountain was fun, followed be a long stretch of fairly flat unremarkable riding for the better part of the day. it was our goal to get to Baddeck so we spent the majority of the day churning out the miles back towards our starting point.

Looking down from Smokey Mountain over the Atlantic

We had one last item on our itinerary before finishing our ride, which was stopping at the Gaelic College. We have friends who have studied there and it was a natural place of curiosity for us. 

The Gaelic College in St. Anns. We were glad to finally arrive here after what felt like a long slog 
with headwinds and unremarkable scenery

Some times the miles on a bike seem to roll away without even really thinking about it, and other times it seems like no matter how long you keep plugging away you never seem to get very far. The last 10 miles or so leading to our arrival at the Gaelic College, in St. Ann's, were this way. I think it was a combination of fatigue, a headwind, dull surroundings, topped with only a vague sense of when we would actually find the college. Nonetheless, we were cheered to hear the brilliant sounds of bagpipes as we finally reached our destination. After some food and water on the lawn we enjoyed a visit to the impressively named Hall of the Clans where we learned about the early history of the area and the school, as well as a great interactive history of traditional Cape Breton music.

Nancy chatting with the resident bagpiper. Remarkably, he plays full 40 hour workweeks

Some musical history, in both English and Gaelic

Nearly done as we roll into Baddeck

We left St Ann's to cover the last 20 or so kilometers home and, despite some rough patches, made it back to our car in one piece. Surprisingly, riding on the Trans Canada highway is both legal and at times neccesary, but never pleasant. At least not in our brief experience. 

Happily we crossed paths with John and Kim for a final time and wished them happy trails They were setting off for another night or two of riding before moving on to the next part of their trip in the Halifax or Sydney area.

With bikes on the roof, wishing John and Kim farewell in Baddeck

After we'd packed up our gear and bikes and hit the road not 10 minutes out of Baddeck a pummeling rainstorm hit. Our timing was good, although we could only imagine John and Kim racing to get their tent set up. 


Tunes and a meal at the Red Shoe Pub

Our evening was capped off with a return to the Red Shoe Pub for yummy meal and the pleasure of hearing Anita MacDonald play some tunes. We left feeling grateful for our time in such a wonderful part of the world, despite not having come across any spurtles. We'll have to look harder next time.