Monday, March 13, 2023

A Very Yinzer Spring Break

I was sitting on my apartment couch writing a blog post, watching some TV, and listening to the maintenance worker in my bathroom installing some new drywall.

He was using a drill, and then all of a sudden, I heard gushing water and a loud "Oh f*ck!" coming from my bathroom.

Apparently he accidentally drilled into a water pipe in my ceiling and it burst. To make matters worse, it took him and other maintenance guys almost an hour (seriously, almost an hour) to find the water shut-off for the house. By the time they got the water shut off, there was water spewing out of a light fixture in my hallway and dripping into my bedroom through the ceiling.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Opinion: No Backhoes in the Backcountry

Loose rocks clatter against my steel frame and mountain laurels scrape my arms as I weave my bike down a steep rocky chute on Wildcat Gap Trail. It's a mountain biking trail in Rothrock State Forest in central Pennsylvania, although you might not guess that from the looks of it. There are no berms. There are no jumps. In fact, there are barely any turns. For the most part, it's extremely steep and points straight down the mountain - a trail style known as a fall line trail.

Many trails in Rothrock State Forest share a similar background. They began as a logging access road; a way for loggers to access the forest and remove the harvested timber. Many of these access roads were carved as early as the late 1800s, and after falling into dis-use, they began to be converted to trails for recreational use. Over time, the wide logging paths devolve back into singletrack. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

Flat bars are the new drop bars

I knew exactly what I was doing taking apart my Raceface crankset on my singlespeed gravel bike, but in another very real sense, I had no idea what I was doing. I broke it, and I'm waiting on a new bolt. I swear I'm usually a good mechanic, so I don't know what happened there.

That meant instead of using my Salsa Stormchaser gravel bike with 38x19 gearing, I blasted pavement and gravel all weekend with my 31-pound Karate Monkey mountain bike with 32x16 gearing, and a 140mm fork. Stick calls it "enduro gravel". At least the gear ratio is the same, because maths. You'll see later on there was one road where I was glad I had a mountain bike, and I felt bad for my drop bar frands.

Everything above probably isn't very interesting, but if you keep reading, you can at least see some neat ride pictures and maybe another couple funny bits.

Picture by professional photographer Rob Cinderblochner

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Being on the Dark Side

"Come on over to the dark side!" this strange, unknown, tattooed man said to me, wearing a sleeveless shirt and jorts. There was probably an adult beverage in his hands.

It was the after-party at Keystone Gravel in 2019, a grassroots event in central Pennsylvania. I had planned to spend the day riding with my road cycling teammates, but I somehow got caught up in the riff-raff of the singlespeeders and spent a couple hours riding with them. 

I, of course, was on gears, and the thought of owning a singlespeed had never crossed by mind. I remember battling up a long gravel climb that day with Simon, who I didn't know at the time. About halfway up the climb, I heard some grunting, and Dahn Pahrs, who I also didn't know yet, passed both me and Simon. At the top, Dahn was waiting and taking a shot of fireball.

Ironic that a post about Pittsburgh has a photo from Colorado. But, this is the most inclusive photo I could find, and even this only has a fraction of the people I call friends.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Texas actually has some really neat places

I guess it's sort of becoming a tradition of mine to spend the New Years holiday in the desert. Last year, it was Arizbrona bikepacking with Will, and this year, I drove down to Big Bend Texas with my brother to explore some new terrain. 

I'll start off by saying that the Big Bend area of southwest Texas is awesome. When I was in Texas back in May, it wasn't exactly my favorite state. Eastern Texas is pretty flat and there really isn't much public land. Plus, driving around Dallas to pick Will up from the airport sort of left a sour taste in my mouth because of all the sprawling suburbs and traffic.

Looking through an old truck in the desert

Friday, January 6, 2023

Looking Back and Looking Forward

In the words of a trucker I heard at a rural Arkansas restaurant back in May, "I woke up to a day I've never seen before, and I'm feeling peachy".

Every year, and every day, brings something new. I can safely say that 2022 was probably the most fun I've ever had in a year, and yet, I don't want to replicate it in 2023. Who knows, maybe I will end up doing similar things. Or maybe not. But I think you limit yourself if you try to place yourself into a framework of what you expect to do for an entire year. 

Like I said earlier, 2022 was probably the most I've ever packed into one year. I was fortunate enough to travel out west six different times, probably totaling up to over two months spent west of the Mississippi. That was pretty rad, if I don't say so myself.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Friends and bikes and snow

Last week was finals week at Penn State. The impending snowstorm caused my last final to be moved online, so I drove home to Pittsburgh a day early to beat the storm. With finals out of the way, it was on to bigger and better things. Namely: a weekend full of riding bikes with friends.

For Saturday, I talked to my friend Simon and we got a group together for a big suffer fest on gravel roads out near his house. The route was about 66 miles with nearly 9,000 feet of climbing, including plenty of gravel, mud, closed roads, powerline cuts, and steep climbs. Exactly my kind of stuff. Plus, a few of us were extra stupid and we took our singlespeeds on the ride. My bike was my Salsa Stormchaser with 38x19 gearing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Great Divide Chapter 8: The End

Sometimes it takes being at the end of something to truly appreciate it. When you're in the moment, it's pretty hard to see the forest for the trees. I think the first time we actually looked back at the trip was in the community center in Hachita, because even though we were still 45 miles from the finish, we knew we had made it. I always sort of hesitated to imagine being done, because I thought if I did, a bike would break or something would happen that would prevent us from finishing. But like I said, in Hachita, I let myself think about the finish. I couldn't possibly be more grateful to have Will as a friend to do this with. I'll save the rest of my ramblings for another post, but even just writing about this really makes me appreciate how fortunate I am. Bikes are fun, y'all.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Great Divide Chapter 7: Cuba to Silver City New Mexico

The Great Divide threw us a few curveballs in this stretch. For one, I got giardia. We also hit tremendously terrible mud just south of Cuba, New Mexico. But, looking back at it, those are the things that add color to the trip. Nothing that takes over six weeks - like our trip did - is going to be all sunshine and rainbows. And I wouldn't want it to be. Anyways, here's a recap of how our trip went. There's gonna be one last chapter and then I'll make a more general, broader overview post. I'll include one of my favorite pictures of the stretch here before I dive into the daily recaps, partly because it's a cool picture and partly because it'll be a good thumbnail picture for Blogger.

The flash flood creek that we couldn't cross

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

I don't regret many things; in fact, I think it's pretty dumb to have regrets. After all, you can't do anything about it, so thinking about it just seems pointless. But still, here I am finishing my undergraduate in science and knowing full-well I still need to get either a teaching certificate or a masters in teaching to actually start my career as a high school teacher.

I remember sitting in my freshman year engineering seminar and hating every second of it.

"It will get better, it's just one bad professor".

"Engineers can do lots of different jobs".

Those are the things I was told (and believed), and it's why I stayed an engineering major until it was too late to reasonably switch to education. 

All that said, I'm pretty happy with the way things have turned out. I wouldn't trade the Great Divide trip I did with Will this past summer for anything. The circuitous path I'm taking to a high school teaching job has taught me exactly what I do and do not want. So no, I don't regret starting out in engineering, because if changing that means changing anything else I've done, I wouldn't do it.

The Colorado Rocky Mountains from Quandary Peak this past July

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Short Story: Grizzly Bear in Camp in Montana

It was the day we had been thinking about since we rolled out of Calgary: crossing back into America from Canada. We spent our last night in Canada at a provincial campground and then stopped at a rural convenience store in the morning for supplies, just a few miles north of the U.S. border. The owner of the store was missing quite a few teeth, but he was as friendly as can be. We briefly chatted about grizzly bears and Canada's strict laws on handguns before we went on our way.

After a few miles on a quiet highway, the border station came into view. We biked up to the border agent, showed him our passports, and he asked us if we were carrying any raw meats or vegetables with us. We answered no (honestly), and he let us through. The whole process took only a minute or so.

It felt good to be in America, but still, with around 2,300 miles to go until Mexico, there was still no clear sense of direction. We took every day as it came, never really paying attention much to long terms plans except to stay roughly on track with our mileage-per-day. That was one of my favorite parts about the trip.

The US-Canada border was clearly visible in the mountains - they had clear cut a stretch to mark the border as far as the eye could see - and it was a reminder of the arbitrariness of country borders. But I digress.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Great Divide Chapter 6: Breckenridge to Cuba, NM

Day 31 - Breckenridge to Salida

The AirBNB was near downtown Breckenridge, so our day started at the base of Boreas Pass Road, where we climbed around 2,000 feet to the pass, which was at 11,400 feet elevation. My brother rode up the climb with us on a mountain bike, and at the top, my parents met us in their car. We said goodbye and rode down the backside of Boreas Pass; the next people we'd see that we knew would be Will's dad and brother at the Mexican border (well, actually, we did see Taz again).

The descent off of Boreas Pass was somewhat chunky and incredibly scenic. It seemed to go on forever, and when we finally reached the bottom, we were met with open plains and miles of fast riding. We had a strong tailwind, and the mix of gravel and pavement saw us averaging over 20mph for quite some time.

About halfway through the day, we got to Hartsel, CO, where we stopped for some lunch. The restaurant was a pleasant surprise, and if I remember correctly, we each got a pretty big burger. I think I even paid a little extra for a buffalo burger.

After Hartsel, we had a little pavement, followed by some pretty nice gravel. An afternoon storm was looming, and before long, the sky was getting dark all around us. Lightning was flashing in the distance, and, wanting to avoid getting struck with lightning, we stopped for a snack and relaxed off the side of the road for maybe half an hour while the storm passed.

We got riding again and gradually made our way uphill. We were met with a great view of the valley overlooking Salida, and we knew we wanted to camp somewhere on the downhill. We checked the maps to see what was private land, and we slowly made our way downhill searching for a camps spot. We found a pretty good spot off the dirt road just a few miles before Salida, so we stopped there for the night.

There was a fox walking around the campground, which was especially funny for me, remembering how much Dicky loved a fox in Breckenridge last year.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Yew Mountain Doozy 2022

When my friend TJ texted me a few weeks ago about doing a big backcountry ride in West Virginia, it was a no brainer for me. There's no better combination than friends, backcountry trails, and perfect October weather. The route was down near Richwood, WV, in the Monongahela National Forest, and it sounded like a big group of people were going to be coming. 

A great view in the WV backcountry

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Great Divide Chapter 5: Rawlins, WY to Breckenridge

We were planning to take two days off in Breckenridge when we met up with my family, but as it turned out, we rode more miles than expected and we were getting there a little bit early. So instead, we were going to have four full days off in Breckenridge. This section of the trip - from Rawlins to Breckenridge - felt different than others, mainly because for the first time in weeks, we had a set destination. The terrain also varied considerably in this stretch, from desert-like plains near Rawlins to the towing Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

One of my favorite pictures from the stretch; near Radium, Colorado

Monday, October 17, 2022

Thuns out guns out (in Mike Tyson voice)

I swear. It's not offensive to Mike Tyson, he designed a shirt himself with that same slogan on it. But also yeth. You really couldn't have asked for a better mid-October weekend; there were blue skies, behks, frands, and some killer dinner (more on that later). Read to the end to see a funny Mike Tyson video and its context.

There was the Iron Cross race on Sunday, and even though I wasn't doing it, my friend Nate was, so he came up to my apartment for the weekend to ride before his race. Then there was also a 50km running race on Sunday in Rothrock which somehow seemed like a good idea for Will to do after only 2 weeks of running training. Actually, it did end up being a good idea for him, but more on that later also.