posts tagged with 'biking'

riders in the dark

It was inevitable, and today it happened: our efficiency at getting out the door for a pre-breakfast ride, together with the ever-lengthening winter darkness, meant that Harvey, Zion, and I reached the trails while it was still just about pitch dark this morning. Never mind: we were prepared with headlamps! Riding trails in the dark for the first time was quite an adventure. I felt like I could chose between watching the twists and turns of the trail ahead, or keep track of the rocks and roots under my feet—but not both! All of us took a spill or two, but nothing too serious. I for one appreciated the way the darkness made the trails I know so well seem new again, and it was even more interesting because my memories of the lines I knew I should be taking but couldn't see felt like something I'd learned in a dream. Then the sun came up and it was just like a regular ride—which is pretty good.

Harvey and Zion riding a gravel road at dawn, with headlamps

it was darker in real life

quantifying our slowness

I got Strava on my phone a couple weeks ago. With all the trail riding and hiking we're doing, I'm kind of curious about how far we're actually going... and I'm also interested after the fact in finding our where, exactly, we went. Of course, for any of that to happen I have to remember to actually turn on the thing, which I had not managed until my ride with Harvey this afternoon. Even then, we'd been going for a good before I was reminded of its existence when we came upon an unmapped trail and I wondered how I might more precisely add it to OpenStreetMaps. If only I had some way to record my GPS track... Oh, yeah! So from that point on we have detailed stats on the ride. Remember how, last month, I wrote about riding slowly for a long time? That's still what we're doing.

In linking Russell Mill Pond with the Billerica State Forest I can conclusively tell you that we traveled 6.54 miles in one hour and twenty-seven minutes of moving time, for an average speed of 4.5 mph. We gained 391 feet of elevation over the ride and topped out at 312 feet above sea level, at the top of Gilson Hill. True, I did reach the exhilarating speed of 20.4 mph on the fire road descending the hill, but going by the numbers our rate overall could certainly be described as plodding. As we experienced it, though, it was no such thing! Most of the miles were on trails that were new to us, and almost all of those trails were fun and interesting.

But I do kind of wonder what my times would have been like if I hadn't been waiting up for Harvey. Obviously, he's both a confident rider and a trooper when it comes to endurance; some of that terrain is challenging, and there was so much of it! But he is only eleven. Someday soon I'm going to head out by myself, and see what kind of numbers I can put up for a loop linking as many different town forests as I can. The results should be interesting... assuming I remember to start Strava, that is.

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multimodal exploration of Fairhaven Bay

A week or two ago we set out to explore a new bit of land, spanning Concord and Sudbury between Walden Pond and the river. We started out by visiting Mount Misery, as described here; that was fun, but we didn't actually make it into Adams Woods or Wright Woods, where I had actually thought of visiting. So I searched for an alternative entrance to the Wright Woods and found a closer way in, off of Sudbury Rd in Concord. Our first trip there turned into an epic two-hour walk around Fairhaven Hill, with many delightful sights along the way.

Blue looking out at Fairhaven Bay from by the boathouse

Blue looks at the Bay

One highlight was Fairhaven Bay, and the old boathouse looking out over this unexpected stretch of open water in the middle of the Sudbury River. The path went by an old boathouse, which was a lovely place to stop for a snack; we only we could have found some way to get into it! We also enjoyed climbing on an old ruined chimney (pictured here) and scrambling on some rocky cliffs above the river.

Harvey and Elijah on rocks above a steep hillside

cliffs are hard to photograph

Writing on the internet suggested there were some cliffy trails to explore, but even though we walked for a while we didn't find them. A long while, actually: doing a loop all around Fairhaven Hill was maybe a bit much. We've been doing lots of hiking lately, though, so we all survived.

Harvey carrying Elijah piggypack in the woods

kind brother

A couple days later we revisited the woods, this time by water. We put the canoe in at a launch near Mount Misery (which required paddling through a very shallow, algae-infested channel) and headed downstream into Fairhaven Bay. On the way we passed by the beach where Zion swam on our first visit; it was even more fun reaching it by boat. Even though the weather was sunnier we were all happy enough to be on the water that nobody felt like it was necessary to go in it.

the canoe pulled up on a beach on the Sudbury River

beached

There was enough breeze to make paddling across the middle of Fairhaven Bay exciting; you don't expect waves like that on a river trip! It was a beautiful sparkling day though, and it felt absolutely delightful to be out on the water. We saw just one other group paddling, in a pair of canoes, and we greeted each other enthusiastically—just knowing we were both doing the loveliest possible thing at that particular moment.

Zion paddling the canoe in the middle of Fairhaven Bay

just the best

At the other side of the bay we reached the boathouse. I only wish there was a little more water, though, since right now the river is too low to get into it. The little streams coming out of the Adams woods were also impassible due to low water, but around them we saw lots of interesting birds.

cormorants, one spreading its wings, standing on the mud

there were also geese and swans

But while the boating was fun, it didn't get us any nearer to finding the big cliffs. And nobody wanted to walk all that way again. So this past Sunday we went back with bikes. And it turns out that the Wright Woods is great for cycling, with trails that are smooth enough for even Lijah's 16-inch wheels (though his fearlessness in attacking obstacles did lead to some nervous moments for me!) and plenty of fun downhill segments. And the cliffs! Approaching them we were forced off the bikes in short order.

the boys pushing their bikes up a steep hill

push!

That may not look all that steep in the picture, but I assure you that even at that point it was just about unrideable. And it got crazier! The scramble up the last bit was a challenge even on foot!

the boys scrambling up a steep gorge

we can do it!

Disappointingly, the top was a rich person's yard. They did have a very cool boat-shaped observation platform and a nice firepit, but it wasn't really a place for us to linger (though of course we did pause for water and snacks just below the top). Still, we felt like we had conquered a real climb!

distant hills as seen through trees from atop Fairhaven Hill

the view from the top

After all those trips, we now feel like those woods have been pretty comprehensively explored. But that doesn't mean that we're done there: now that we know the place, we're ready to go back and have some fun!

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if I can do it, why couldn't they?!

So the two older boys have new bikes, and they're great! They're already delightfully dirty from many rides. But I still wanted to fix the other one—the one that the folks at the bike shop said was too old to do anything with. They wouldn't be able to get the part. We figure it'll be nice to have a spare, and we already have someone lined up who might want to borrow it. So after waiting a week to see if the shop would contact us, I ordered what I needed to make the most essential repairs: the shifter cables and housing from Amazon, and the derailleur hanger from deraillerhangers.com. Amazon is Amazon—I wish I didn't have to use it, but it's nice to be able to actually shop for different brands of cable rather than just take whatever the shop has. Derailleurhangers.com is amazing: I placed the order at 7:30 in the morning on Friday, it was in the mail by 12:30, and it got here yesterday (Monday) mid-day. So yesterday evening saw me down in the basement taking the broken parts of the bike off and and putting the new ones on, with nothing but a tiny bit of youtubing to instruct me. And I'll tell you, dear reader, it worked! The bike is now, if not as good as new, at least as good as it was before Harvey broke two parts of it within a couple weeks. It can now shift into all the gears.

It's kind of empowering. I mean, I've always been able to replace a tube or brake pads, and in later life I've moved on to changing worn out brake cables and cassettes, but I've never taken the time to figure out how derailleurs are supposed to go, or how brake or shift levers do their thing. Yesterday's work definitely felt like a step up. And now that we've got new bikes, I guess I should be learning how to keep them in good shape! I'm not saying I want a cable to fail on one of the other bikes soon, but if it does I now have the thirty-dollar cable cutters/crimpers to get everything back the way it should be! (speaking of which, crimping the little metal dealy on the end of the shift cable yesterday was about the most satisfying thing I've experienced all month). I'm already inviting folks to bring their bikes over for tune-ups! All I need now is one of those clampy work stands...

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new bike excitement

We picked up Zion's new bike yesterday, and I told him I'd we waking him up early today to take him for his first ride on it. He wasn't sure about that, but when the time came he got up promptly enough and we got going in time to hit the trails by 6:30. He got into it right away; how could you not?!

Zion biking up a hill at sunrise

the dawn of a new era

In our excitement to get going we forgot both masks and helmets, so we took things a little easier that we might have otherwise. But that was fine, since Zion's new ride is like twice as big as the one he was on before, so that took some getting used to. Also the brake levers are on the very edge of too far away for his little hands. There were no disasters, though, and the only time he fell he very cleverly landed on his belly and chin, so no brain damage. We stayed out for about an hour, then came back to a breakfast of pancakes: as Harvey described it, "if I can't ride with you than at least I want to cook!" I think I'm doing something right as a parent...

Harvey was rewarded for his generous nature by the arrival of his own new bike this evening. He and I drove to Newton to pick it up at dinner time, and then he and Zion were both so excited they rode for about an hour in the gathering dusk, including a 20-minute loop around our local woods (I think lights will need to be our next purchase...). Not to be left out, Elijah got his own bike out and rode with me as I walked the dogs through the woods after supper. He's been hesitant to ride off-road in the past with his little wheels, but with the motivation of trying to keep up with big brothers he did great! Both of them getting new bikes within the space of two days has been a little tough for him: while we were picking up Zion's yesterday and looking around at the other things at the store he was heard to remark, "I want something new!"

Now tomorrow we have a date to meet friends at Russell Mill Pond to really take the new bikes through their paces—pump track and trails both (Lijah will have to be left behind, sadly; but his time will come!). Expect to hear more on the subject of mountain bicycling in coming weeks.

Zion halfway up a big rock, his bike leaning below him

loving the lifestyle

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we need more bicycles

With Harvey and I doing lots of off-road cycling, and a few of our friends into it too, Zion started to think he'd like to join us. Only he needed to upgrade his bicycle: the bike he's been riding is heavy and its 20-inch wheels aren't really enough for rocks and roots on the trail—and worse, while it's ostensibly a 7-speed it's impossible for Zion to shift. So we started looking for a new bike for him. Actually a new one, unlike every other bike he's ever owned; not having paid money for a bike since 2005, we thought the budget could stretch as far as a good mountain bike for our beloved middle child. Only then it turned out that 24-inch bikes are another unobtainable pandemic shortage item. After many hours of searching, though, we found a bike available at REI, placed the order, and rejoiced that soon three Archibalds would be hitting the trails together! Then the next day Harvey broke his derailleur hanger.

Ordinarily that wouldn't put his bike out of commission for long; after all, derailleur hangers are meant to break and be replaceable. In order to make it happen quickly we brought it in to the bike shop to ask them to do the repairs (he also needed new shift cable housings). Sadly, the bike shop was not at all helpful. Since the bike is so old (2005, actually; see above) they suggested that the part needed would not be able to be located; and they further suggested that a bike of this vintage would be better scrapped and replaced entirely. That may work for the rich folks who come in to look at the four-figure road bikes they stock, but not so much for us. We're savers, and repairers! We don't need new bikes! Except for the one we had ordered for Zion. But then, after some discussion, we decided that since Harvey is the one who's already been putting in hours riding he deserved a new bike of his own. Extra-small adult bikes are much less scarce than kids' bikes (at least to someone with Leah's exceptional online shopping skills) so we no sooner made the decision than the order was placed.

It was exciting. We kept looking at the pictures of the bikes. And waiting. All this happened twelve to eight days ago, and we still have no new bicycles. It turns out "in stock" means that the pieces of the machine exist in a warehouse somewhere in the United States, but we find it takes some time for said pieces to be shipped to a store and put together into something a person could ride. The anticipation is hard, and even harder is not riding all this time; this must be the first time Harvey's gone a week without getting on a bike since he first learned to ride, about half his lifetime ago. And the weather's been so perfect! The worst part is, neither company gave us anything like a firm date that we could expect the bike to be available, so there's a new disappointment every day. But it can't be long now!

During the waiting period—and technically we're also still waiting for the bike shop to call with a quote for fixing Harvey's older bike, which they said they would do if they could locate the part—I did some research online into bike maintenance and repairs that we could do at home. And it didn't take long for me to locate the amazing resource that is derailleurhanger.com, and once there to locate the part we need. So now the plan is to fix the old bike ourselves. Then we'll have a backup, which is comforting: I don't ever want Harvey to be bikeless like this again!

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riding slowly for a long time

Harvey and I continue to spend lots of time in the woods on our bikes (with Zion joining us occasionally and Lijah even more occasionally). We've done plenty of riding in the Burlington Landlocked Forest, and this past weekend we ventured a little bit further afield to visit Russell Mill Pond Town Forest in Chelmsford. Both of those places are full of trails laid down by members of NEMBA, the New England Mountain Bike Association, so it's not entirely crazy to want to ride there. But I confess there are moments when I wonder just why I thought bringing a bicycle into the woods would be a good idea. Like yesterday when we were passed by a jogger moving at a moderate pace. Sure, some of the downhill bits are quick and easy. But why are we struggling up these rocky, rooty inclines that, on foot, we could be trotting over twice as fast with a third of the effort? Because it's super fun of course!

The Landlocked Forest has tons of interconnecting trails and a great variety of different sorts of landscape in a fairly small space: meadow, swamp, white pine and deciduous forests. Plus lots of ups and downs on steep short hills and ridges. Every time we go we find a trail that somehow we haven't ridden yet (though I think that maybe now we've finally got them all... in one direction at least). The Sunday before last we rode from home on a loop that included a good two hours of riding there, and then we drove there for another hour and a half session mid-week.

This past weekend a search for variety and new horizons led us to the Russell Mill Pond Town Forest. Even more than Landlocked Forest it's something of a mountain-biking destination; whenever outdoorsy types heard that we were trying MTB they asked us if we'd been there yet. Now we have! Saturday morning we visited for the first time and enjoyed several miles of fun and challenging riding before I popped a tire. Then Harvey got to enjoy another mile or so while I walked. Since I felt unfulfilled, and wanted another shot at the trails that I missed, we went back again yesterday. We did some of the same trails and some different ones too, and talked about whether we were getting better at this riding over stones business. Also we got passed by a jogger, as I mentioned. We could have stayed ahead of her, probably, but only by rushing over the tricky parts—off the bikes more often than not. That wouldn't have been worth it at all: we weren't there to get anywhere!

There were suggestions that we go back again for a third straight day, but I thought maybe that wasn't the best idea. I was afraid of dying. Instead, all four of us boys took a ride from home along the gravel bike path to Fawn Lake for a picnic lunch. As it happened, though, it was impossible to hold back the enthusiasm for riding bikes in unsuitable places, and after we had lunch Zion and even Elijah, with his 16-inch wheels, single-speed transmission, and coaster brakes, got in on the off-road action. It's not too long before we're all four of us riding together in the woods, slowly, for a long time.

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an outing unphotographed

Yesterday we took a trip to the Harold Parker State Forest. It took us an hour of driving (round trip) for an hour of pond and forest fun—maybe we would have done things differently had we planned it from the beginning—but never mind, it was was totally worth it! The adventure was conceived around 3:30 in the afternoon: we were all stultified by the heat, but Leah had enough brainpower left to suggest a swimming trip. Of course Walden Pond was closed—and while eastern Massachusetts is studded with ponds, most of them are either private or poisonous. So our next best option was a half-hour drive away.

After packing everything up—including a picnic supper—we hit the road at quarter past four and got out of the car a few minutes before five. The gate to the parking lot closes at 6:00, so we had a hard stop. Leah and the boys went straight to the pond, where they swam and chased fish, and Lijah practiced going underwater. I brought my bike to ride some of the many miles of trails the forest offers, with the idea that I'd get back in time for the picnic—maybe even in time to take a quick dip in the pond. And take some pictures! Of course, I should have known that wouldn't happen. I always lose track of time when I'm riding, and on top of that I took a wrong turn when I did decide to head back and spent a little too long riding fast in the wrong direction. In retrospect I should have left the car keys with Leah so if necessary she could have waited for me outside the gate—the park doesn't close, just the parking. But I didn't, so I just rode faster and got back to the lot at 5:58. Phew!

Everybody had a great time: my stress was balanced out by the fun of the ride and all the great exercise. And my family saved me some food! Still, next time we head that way we'll budget a little more of the day for the outing. And take some pictures.

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our newest amazing cyclist

Elijah learned to ride a two-wheeler back in April. One problem with being a third child is that your accomplishments are less marked. When Harvey first succeeded on two wheels he got many words and a video; Lijah had to make do with a three-word caption on a weekly pictures post. But his achievement is no less impressive! Unlike Harvey, he had to work for a while to learn to ride, but he did the work with determination for a good solid week (with some kind and helpful coaching from Harvey's friend Jack). For his first couple months on two wheels he was prevented from taking any long rides by the fact that, you know, we hardly go anywhere—and when we do it's off-road, which is hard when you're riding on 12-inch wheels. So that was my fault. Monday I finally got his 16-inch bike up and running, and he celebrated yesterday by taking a nine-mile ride to the Farmers Market and back.

Elijah biking on the road ahead of his brothers

everybody moving at Lijah speed!

I admit I had some trepidation going into the outing, but I didn't say anything to Elijah! I just asked him if he wanted to ride this time, and when he said yes I just kept things moving in that direction. I fully expected that I'd be putting him and his bike into the cargo bike after a couple miles—there's plenty of room, so that would be no problem—but he kept going: two miles on the flat, then another couple on the gentle rail-trail grade up to Lexington Center. He got there with plenty of energy left to play hide-and-seek around the Old Belfry and buy a baguette for himself at the market, and then to ride the whole way back with nary a complaint, but for a few mentions that his butt hurt. I was very impressed, and I let him know it! His brothers also remarked on how natural he was on the bigger bike. It turns out all his problems with going in a straight line over the past couple months were just because his knees were practically hitting his handlebars.

There's some kind of a lesson in there, I think. I mean, besides the lesson for me that I should have worked harder to get him an appropriately-sized bicycle in a timely manner. Here's this kid who had never ridden more than a mile, who had run off the sidewalk and crashed into a telephone pole the last time he biked off our street, and who was just for the second day riding a bike where he couldn't put both feet on the ground at the same time... and I had him ride on the street and the busy bike path? Am I crazy?! Possibly. But my thinking was that Elijah really wants to keep up with his brothers, and while he also values being the baby a lot of the time he has some real skills and capacity. By just assuming he could do this thing, I showed him that I trusted him to do the work, and he did! And as it happened, his first big ride was significantly bigger than Harvey's. I guess now we need to get him a mountain bike!

(And I promise you that, in that picture above, I was just out of the frame ahead of Lijah. Leah took it. I'm not totally irresponsible!)

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our backyard farm bike park

As I mentioned, we built a mountain bike park in our yard a couple days ago. We were watching some videos, and we wanted a chance to practice some skills without having to go all the way out to the woods, so it seemed like the thing to do. And it was super fun! The only sad part is we couldn't leave it up because it would kill the grass, and we want grass for other things. But before we took it down this morning, Harvey and me shot a video.

You can see that it's made out of a bunch of takes, but I assure you that he cleared the whole course a couple of time during the filming—all but the ramp over the table you see him pass by at around the forty second mark. That thing is terrifying! He fell pretty hard on his one attempt at it, and so did Zion's friend's dad who I encouraged to try the course (I felt a little guilty).

We really wish we owned some woods, or at least a hill. If we had a hill I think we'd have already decided to sacrifice the lawn in the name of better rides. Oh well. At leas the real trails are only a couple minutes away.

[By the way, Harvey has come a little ways since his last solo biking video... to say nothing of his first!]

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