Middle age dual suspension 29 inch crazy

Salsa Spearfish, ordered as a complete bike.  
Some people hit middle age and buy a flashy sports car in an attempt to recapture their lost youth.  Myself -- not being much into cars -- I went out and bought a new bike.

I had spent a lot of time thrashing around the local trail networks on my old Redline and had learned to compensate for the bike's brutal simplicity -- not a lot of gears, and no suspension. But as I got older my tolerance for the beating meted out by the rigid frame grew less and I began to wish for a plusher ride to better insulate my arms, legs and back from the rooty, rocky New England trails.

The decision to purchase a new bike, my tenuous employment situation and shaky finances notwithstanding, may have been made last autumn on a long ride put on by the Stowe Mountain Bike Club.  Almost four hours of off road riding with lots of climbing and then lots of descending  -- the route went high up into Sterling Valley -- left me with sore shoulders and an unpleasant tingling sensation in my arms.

So my new bike has arrived and it is the first time I've ridden such a complex machine with three separate suspension elements to adjust and hydraulic brakes to learn about and maintain.

So far my initial impressions are favorable even though it does appear that in 2.5 trips up Perry Hill I have already managed to remove some metal from the front chain ring.  And there's always a learning process to discover how a new bike's geometry works and where the tires break lose, etc.

On a semi-related subject, I have been involved in trying to promote the upcoming Vermont Mountain Bike Festival.  It's always a challenge to pull something like this off with an all-volunteer crew.  I had some email offers from Facebook and Microsoft Advertising for free ppc advertising so I set up a couple of campaigns to try and drive some interest in the event.

Metrics of a two-wheeled adman.  And, yes, the numbers are poor.
Sorry Microsoft, this is why Google is number 1 in these services... with a bullet.


It's not what you ride, it's how you ride it

Sold:  My five year old Redline Monocog 29er 
If web searches for drugs (doping) and sex (around Easter this blog was getting search traffic for terms like "Dirty Easter Pictures") - because of this post -- I hope all that clicked through were disappointed) are seen as illicit, or at least tawdry, then the main source of legitimate search traffic to this blog through the years was my steel, rigid, 1x9, 29er mountain bike.  There appeared to be quite a bit of interest in this particular bicycle configuration.

Anyhow May is bike swap season and I put my old Redline into a local swap and someone snapped it up.  I hope that the bike's new owner appreciates its simplicity and unforgiving precision.  No suspension will teach one to choose a line carefully and to think twice before doing anything dramatically foolish.

I tend not to get emotionally connected to things (cars, bikes, etc.) but I have to say that this bike proved to be an excellent value and something that provided lots of entertainment and fitness for me through the years.

The bike was five years old, however and pretty worn -- have endured lots of hard riding, with relatively little maintenance -- so I decided it was time for something new, although what exactly this may be has not been decided yet.


Looping and recursive

Walking in the spring woods, I came upon this:

What is it?  See here

Which made me think of this figure, the narrative line, illustrated -- because words on a page form a very imperfect reflection of reality --  from Tristram Shandy:

-- a somewhat appropriate allusion to the looping and digressive nature of this blog, except that it is still too linear, and implies forward motion and progress, something that seems mostly lacking in my penurious, precarious and middle-aged life.  

These thoughts in turn hurled me back in space and time and reminded me of my days in college where I obstinately followed a course of study distinguished mostly by its deliberate obscurity and utter lack of utility in the workplace.   Although it could argued that reading lots of Boswell -- who I see as a kind of ur-blogger, a prototype of today's self-made, self-promoting social media celebrity -- is good preparation for living in the 21st century. 

But the closer and more immediate triggers for these thoughts and considerations was the fact that my 25th college reunion draws near and I'm not at all sure I want to go.  I'll see if I summon up the nerve to return to the scene many awkward encounters and discomfiting situations.  


Poach my ride

Vermont slickrock: No mud here.
I snuck in a quick ride on a certain local trail network on Saturday.  The trails are on state land and are officially closed.

The rationale for the trail closures is two fold:
  1. Spring in Vermont is traditionally a wet time of year with lots of mud.
  2. Deer shelter at low elevations to avoid snowpack higher up on ridgelines, and activity in the woods would disturb the animals. 
Without writing hundreds of words on the absurdity of these two justifications, I will just say that it was an almost snowless winter and it has been a very dry -- as in drought conditions -- spring. Right now is quite possibly the driest the woods will be all year.   As for the deer in the snow, the mild winter made it relatively easy for the deer herd, and there is no snow to be had except pockets on shaded, north facing slopes at the very highest elevations.

Oh well maybe an hour spent riding on closed trails makes me a bad person -- through tire tracks on the dusty trails suggested that I was not the first person to pass through on a bike.


Not the same

I went to the Prohibition Pig in Waterbury for the first time last week. It was kind of a jarring and disorienting experience -- a good metaphor for post Irene life in the village -- as things have changed.

The awkwardly-named Prohibition Pig has moved into the old Alchemist space. 
Inside the restaurant, the space is the same:  But it's not.  The bar has moved outwards, the pool table is gone, there are new bathrooms (these two items count as good things), the strange and eclectic art on the walls is gone, and the overall effect is rather more sterile and cold.

I think that the missing artwork contributed to my sense of dislocation more than anything else:  I felt like the ghost of Rod Serling would walk through door, cigarette in hand, and portentously intone:
"Waterbury, Vermont, things look the same... but they're not.  What's changed?  Are the residents of this Vermont village living in the Twilight Zone?" 
But what about the food and 'libations'?  I had a burger ($8 -- and the burger came with a pickle, and nothing else, not even a lonely potato chip), a beer ($7.50 for a full pour) and then the Pig's version of a half pour -- really, a very inconsequential, trivial snifter of beer, which cost $3.25 -- so this experience cost over $20 with tax and tip, which was rather rich for my taste and wallet.  I did not think it was a good value.  

Finally as someone who has spent a certain amount of time in North Carolina and Florida I tend to be unenthralled about the notion of Southern food in Northern climes -- I just don't associate Vermont with grits and collards.  And Waterbury already has a southern themed barbeque joint... the Cider House (which admittedly has a very different vibe).

So I would say that the jury is still out on the Prohibition Pig.  It's different and a lot pricier than the establishment it replaced -- no more $4 beers. The Alchemist was very popular and drew people from all over and pretty much single-handedly jump started nightlife in this small town.  We'll see how the new place evolves.  It would count as a good thing if Waterbury has a night-time parking problem again. 

The Alchemist is dead.  Long live the Alchemist (in memory, anyway).  


Laatste Ronde, 2012

The last European cyclocross race of the 2011-12 season was held today - the Internationale Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle.  The screenshot shows some riders trickling across the finish almost 2 minutes after the race winner, World Champion Niels Albert.

The World Championships were devoid of drama and excitement.   
I have to say that watching Flemish TV streams is one of my favorite things to do with an Internet connection, the races are short, the weather sometimes atrocious, the bike handling skills impressive, the race tactics mostly straightforward, and the number of protagonists few and hence easily identifiable.
Sunday in the park with Zdenek.  
In a gray, relatively snowless and cheerless Vermont winter like this one -- my skis have stayed in the rafters of the garage, in marked contrast to last year -- it's been a pleasant diversion on weekend mornings.


Goals for-2, Goals against-10: What's next for UVM Hockey

It's been a long season for UVM Hockey.  The team played twice over the past weekend, losing both games and being outscored by a combined 10 - 2 (hence the title of this post).

As of February 14th the team's overall record is 5 wins, 22 losses and 1 tie.  The league record, playing other powerful Hockey East teams, is 2-18-1.

What's wrong with this picture?
Friday night I was in a bar, and NBC Sportschannel was showing UVM playing Boston College, and it was a thoroughly dispiriting event to watch, the final score ended up 6 - 1 in favor of BC.

I have seen four games in person this season, three of which were losses, and the one win was the exception rather the rule.   It's not a good sign when everyone in the arena is surprised when the team plays well and holds its own against a tough opponent.

This lost season is a far cry from the heady days of yore when Eric Perrin and Martin St. Louis flashed across the ice and Tim Thomas confined himself to playing in goal and was not posting right-wing rants online and boycotting White House visits.  

An all to common view:  At the Black Back Pub
Now, I have read that this has been a season lost due to injuries, and I didn't do the research to analyze UVM's Hockey East record since joining the league in 2005.  But I think that the problem is deeper than merely injuries and goes to how the team recruits and is coached.

As the season winds down I hope that some journalist sits down the current coach Kevin Sneddon and asks some hard questions and gets some real perspectives on where the program is going.  And I don't think that UVM's problems are tied to the facility... So please no plans for extravagant modern arenas in Chittenden County costing many tens of millions of dollars.  


Go play outside

Looking north from the summit of Camels Hump.   Not captured in the photo - the gale bringing in a change of weather from the south. 
It's been a piss-poor winter so far, with lots of erratic weather, no big snowstorms, and the snow cover in the woods is pretty thin.   It's already late January, February is a short month, and that means that the spring equinox is not that far away.

Once consequence of the dismal winter is that my skis have been languishing in the garage and I have been staying indoors, spending too much time unproductive time online and watching too much television.  This is not my usual mode of living, and one which I hope is not a harbinger of things to come as I get older.

So it was good to scramble up Camels Hump yesterday, snowshoes were not required on the well broken trail, I wore crampons which were mostly overkill but did come in handy near the summit.   Once on the bare, windswept and glaze-ice covered rock at the top of the mountain I could stride around with impunity on my lethal-looking footgear while others balanced precariously in the gale.


Raise a glass to the memories

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?
(Auld Lang Syne)

Raise a glass to the memories. 
I'll start the new year by looking back, as usual.  For many people in Vermont, 2011 was memorable year, albeit for mostly bad reasons.

It's a VERY inconsequential claim to fame, but I had the last pint of 'cask conditioned ale' ever pulled at the Alchemist Pub and Brewery in Waterbury.

It was about 7:30 pm on Saturday, August 27, 2011, and the beer was, as I recall, Donovan's Red. The cask 'kicked' with my order, and there was no more til the next week.  But the next week never came.  I finished the beer, bid a hasty good night to Kenny (the head bartender) through the thick scrum of customers at the bar, and headed out into the evening.

Happier times at the bar, standing room only in December 2010.
The next day tropical storm Irene hit Vermont and the village of Waterbury was inundated by the Winooski River. The Alchemist, like many other businesses in the village, was heavily damaged.

After the flood.
At first the pub's owners thought that they would be able to reopen but then the reality of the situation (coupled with an artfully written flood insurance policy that managed to not cover very significant damages) meant the plan to reopen did not come to fruition. The space will reopen as a pub but under new management.

The owners of the Alchemist had (thankfully) diversified prior to the flood and built a small brewery - cannery on a hill in Waterbury which will be their main line of business from now on.  I wish them every success, and have purchased some of their canned product, but it's not the same.

Many words -- online and in print -- have been spilled on the fate the Alchemist (here). It was a place that kind of put Waterbury on the map for nightlife as people traveled from far and wide to sample the beer and eat the reasonably priced pub food.   You could tell Waterbury was becoming a happening place because prior to the flood it was getting so that it was hard find parking downtown in the evening.

The Alchemist really was where I first encountered a range of beer styles that I could experience (beer has become quite the topic on this blog) and also was the first bar that I ever became a semi-regular in.  The staff displayed an amazing ability to remember names and faces considering that the place was always busy.

And it was a place of some solace in times of economic distress -- I noticed, that the worse the economy was, the more time I tended to spend there -- meaning I spent a lot of time there in the past four years. I met some interesting folks there and heard some stories of the wider world.

It's all gone now, consigned to the realm of  memory. Some beer geeks filmed an interview with brewer/co-owner John Kimmich in July of 2011 and the clip is like watching a train wreck in slow motion, at one point there's some banter about the flood of 1927, not knowing what was in store a month and a half later.

The clip -- which is not so much about beer, as it is about the rewards and perils involved in running a small business -- can be viewed here and some photos of Waterbury -- including the Alchemist -- after the flood can be viewed here.