posts tagged with 'biking'

bikes take us farther

We had plans yesterday to meet up with friends and go exploring on bikes, which seemed like just the thing with the forecast calling for sunny skies and temperatures touching the 70s. So we were surprised to wake up to cool drizzle (especially since I had left the car open!). The unexpected gloom and wet was too much for our friends, who preferred to stay cozy at home. But we get plenty of coziness and laziness, so we pushed on with the expedition—and we were glad we did!

Zion and Elijah sitting by a misty pond

what could be finer?

Our target was the Estabrook Woods in Concord. We've been there before, but on foot we can only get so far so there was lots we hadn't been able to see. Of course, there's some question how much faster the four of us can move on bikes on a wet spring day over some serious hills! There were certainly some spots where Elijah at least was pushing his bike up a hill because it was too steep to make progress, and then back down the other side because it was too scary a descent. But we was working hard and trying his best, and he got some great practice in! And then of course there were spots where we all needed to walk our bikes. The four serious water crossings we had to do, for example.

the boys pushing their bikes across a wide rocky stream

when you have to walk it's a real expedition

Of course, it wasn't all riding and pushing: we took our time and made plenty of stops. There were big rocks to climb and vistas to admire, and we found a great spot to have lunch by the side of a giant shallow pond (pictured above). The most exciting part of our lunch spot was the goose drama that played out on the pond as we watched, with one pair harrying another all around on the water and in the air, with plenty of noise and dramatic take-offs and landings. But the best wildlife sighting belonged to Elijah: he was the only one to notice a tiny newt clinging to the side of a tree. When he called us all back to look the little guy very obligingly held still for a picture.

a little red newt on a tree

the boys wished they could bring him home as a pet

Even though we only went about four miles, it was a challenging ride and the boys were plenty tired when we made it back to the car. But we didn't see all of the woods, so we'll have to go back soon! Though maybe when it's a little less wet...

the boys riding through a giant puddle on the trail

the pond was invading the trail


so that's why they invented pavement...

In the bright afternoon sunshine yesterday we headed out for a ride down the dirt railway line to Concord to visit the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The bright sunshine was delightful, and so was the almost complete lack of snow on the path, but unfortunately those two things combined to make the surface more than a little muddy. It wasn't all a complete quagmire, but even where there wasn't three inches of squishy ooze much of the surface was distinctly tacky. Enough that we felt plenty of increase in rolling resistance, and the flat path took as much energy as if we were going uphill the whole way. So we certainly appreciated those few short stretches of pavement!

the boys riding along the Reformatory Branch Trail

I could only take pictures on the drier spots

I do wish I had taken some pictures of the deep mud; it was really something. Folks out for a walk in shoes they cared about had to make their way through the trees on the side of the path, and cyclists on gravel bikes found themselves unable to make any headway at all. With our big tires we could plow through the mud pretty well—even Elijah only had to get off and push a couple times—but it was certainly a challenge!


missed opportunity

This is a tough time of year as an off-road cyclist. The sun is shining brightly, the birds are singing, and the world is returning to wonderful life—all things that make me want to get out and ride! Only all the trails, this time of year, are all mud (where they're not still snow, that is). So we have to wait for things to dry out. But the last few mornings have offered an alternate possibility: both last night and the night before the temperature was down into the teens, so if I could have gotten out before, say, nine or ten in the morning I could have ridden on the most delightful concrete-like surface (delightful unless I fell, I suppose...). Of course, there are other things in my life besides cycling, and those things—housework, my job, spending time with my family—kept me from hitting the trails while the conditions held. Good thing the days are getting longer... maybe next week I'll have time for all the things!

kicking off adventure season

At the end of last week we took three bike rides in three days, covering a total of more than 15 miles. Saturday saw us journeying up the bike path to Lexington, where we played on a skate park and a playground and a mountain and bought some Pokemon cards. On Friday two sevenths of our school population was absent, so after lunch we took off for an easy ride through the woods up to the center of town where we rode some stairs and ramps and then played at the playground (the kids took part in a fantastic tag game that deserves its own post). But it was our Thursday off-road adventure that was the most epic! Not for mileage—we went twice as far on the smooth pavement Saturday—but certainly for difficulty. And it's always thrilling to penetrate into the wilderness to reach the remote waters of Fairhaven Bay!

the boys dipping their feet in Fairhaven Bay, wearing bike helmets

testing its soothing waters (is it called soothing when you can't feel your feet?)

At the beginning of the week Thursday's forecast called for warm weather, so we gleefully scheduled our first mountain bike exploration trip of the year—and Elijah's first ever on his new bike. As the week passed, we only got more excited, and it was with lots of enthusiasm and supplies that we set off at mid morning (you have to time these trips for the optimal picnic lunch experience). We got off to a good start when, with his brand-new gears, Elijah was able to surmount the steep paved hill that leads from the parking lot to the trailhead. But then, when we reached the woods, we were dismayed to see that the trail was still a sheet of ice with snow stretching as far as the eye could see on either side. I'd like to say we pressed on undaunted, but a certain member of the party was very daunted indeed. (It's because he fell first that Zion had such a hard time; that, and the fact that Elijah didn't fall.)

But I refused to turn around and go home, and riding over the slightly slushy ice—and the kids actually did wonderfully well!—we soon came to a stretch of clear, dry trail. What a delight! Then more ice, but at least we knew that the ride wouldn't be all slow and terrifying. It was interesting: on the way in we were heading south, so all the uphills—north-facing slopes—were icy, but the downhills mostly clear. Of course on the way home it was the reverse. There was also some just plain snow, which was almost impossible to ride on even on the flat. Certainly Elijah also got lots of practice pushing his new bike too.

Elijah pushing his bike uphill on a snowy trail


What that picture doesn't show is how warm it was. At the beginning of the ride it was actually a little chillier than we anticipated, under cloudy skies, but after lunch the sun came out in it was soon positively spring-like. Perfect weather for adventuring, and adventure we did: besides the riding we got to explore the marsh around the boathouse, play hide-and-seek and tag, and climb dangerously high in trees.

Zion way up high on a fallen tree

good thing he's wearing the helmet?

With the sunshine we hoped the snow would go quickly and ease our way home; when I said that, in the heat, it was melting "as we speak" Elijah made sure to do lots of talking to hurry it along. But there was still enough left to make the homeward leg (on a different path around Fairhaven Hill because of course we like to do loops) pretty tiring. Especially for Elijah. And when the road through the woods, hoped and dreamed of as an easy mile, proved to be muddy and slow he was almost undone. He actually revived a little bit when we got back on the snow and ice and did some really fantastic riding. But when took a spill into a puddle about a quarter mile from the car and got actually soaked, he was done, and it was with great difficulty that I persuaded him to get back on the bike at all. Then he abandoned it in the snow about 100 yards short of the parking lot, but that was find. I got it for him; he had done enough!

It was tiring for everyone: Strava says I put in 6.1 miles, which includes some running around and also the extra riding I had to do when I realized I'd left my water bottle behind at the lunch spot, so the boys must have done about 5. And they were hard miles! But despite all that, I think we might be game for another big ride soon. These kids are fine cyclists. And at least the snow should be gone by the end of the week!

the boys pausing on their bikes on a snowy trail

accomplished adventurers


upgrade cycle

Today I drove to Landry's Cycles in Natick to pick up a new bike for Elijah for his birthday (I did the online shopping and the pickup, Grandma paid for it; we're a good team that way.) While I was there I also got some new pedals and new tires for my own bike. That wasn't a luxury purchase: my old right pedal was so worn down and broken that my foot barely fits on it, and my tires are practically bald. But the new parts are still definitely an upgrade. As I put the new pedals on (as soon as I got home, I was that excited!) I reflected that this may be the first time I've ever bought something new to make my bike better. Yes, I've gotten new tires before. You need to do that. But only when I didn't have any more not-quite-broken-down tires I could pull off another bike. And it made me worry a little bit! The new pedals are so much better, I'm already starting to wonder what else I could buy to improve my riding. This is how it begins...

appreciating the bike path

Heading into March we're thinking about cycling a little more seriously again. The snow is going fast! One day the trails will be dry again! But yesterday, when I set out for my once-a-week solo outing, they were not. And unlike last Sunday when I was able do some serious snow biking, the snow yesterday was too soft to ride on top of but too deep to ride through. So when after starting from home with no plan in mind I found myself on the Minuteman bike path, I decided to go with it. It seemed to be working for the 200 other people riding, walking, and running on it, anyway! For most of the pandemic we've stayed off the Minuteman because of the crowds—plus I certainly did my time on it over all the years I was using it to commute, first to Lexington and then to Cambridge. But maybe at the end of February it has something to recommend it.

Certainly, despite the crowds it was lovely being able to ride steadily without thinking about where I was going; and before I knew it I was almost to Lexington Center. That seemed like a fine destination, so I pushed on the rest of the way. When I reached it I almost kept right on going, such was the thrill of the ride, but I restrained myself with the thought of walking around in civilization—that is to say, a bustling commercial center—for the first time in months. It was momentarily delightful, but there wasn't actually much to do, so before long I was back on the homeward trail. It was cheery passing some of the same people walking or running that I had seen on the way up, almost like we were getting to know each other. I'm really looking forward to getting back onto the real trails—the ones in the woods—but you know, at the end of February the old bike path isn't so bad after all!

I'm lucky

We don't get to travel much—no destinations more exotic than Rockport—but that doesn't matter, because there's so much loveliness around here! On Saturday before lunch I took the dogs for a walk in the woods around the airport. It was about 10° and beautifully clear, with a couple inches of snow on the ground—well-packed on the paths. On the wide trails gently sloping among the pines I felt just like I was out at a ski resort! But one that allows dogs. Unfortunately I don't have skis (or, more precisely, I don't have boots) but it was still delightful. So much so that I went back again in the afternoon without the dogs and with my bike and did the same loop again.

on the snowy path through the pines

just like skiing

The snow was perfect for riding on. Solidly packed and smooth on the unpaved bike path I rode on to get to the woods, and looser packed singletrack in the woods that made the riding fun and entertainingly challenging on my old-fashioned 1.9-inch tires. And it was way more exercise than the same loop would have been on dry dirt! As I paused at the top of the mountain (as we call it) overlooking the airport to basked in the afternoon sun, life felt pretty good. I sure am lucky!

my bike on top of the hill

the bike basking


ah well

While I wasn't writing in November I was riding. I set myself a goal of riding my bike outside every day of the month, and it was going great: I did some long rides, some short technical rides, and some fun exploring rides with the boys. Winter twilight led me into riding in the woods with lights for the first time, which was fun. Some days I didn't have it in me to go anywhere when I went out after dark, so I just practiced on our street, trying to get my bunny hops higher and my balance better. All good times! But there's a lot going on in our life that makes it a stretch to ride for two hours in a day, or even half an hour, and after my longest ride of the month Sunday afternoon—24 miles, almost all of it off-road!—I just barely managed 15 minutes of practicing yesterday. And today I decided to take a day off. From riding, that is: a lot of other work got done. I'm sure not putting the bike away for the season, though! Now that the pressure's off I look forward to lots more fun rides before the month is out... and who's to say we can't keep riding into December?

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.