Thank Goodness for Bicycles

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They take us places, contribute to fitness and keep us sane in sometimes-insane times.

I’ve been on a roll lately in terms of  bike commuting. My schedule has afforded the flexibility to ride into work in the morning and, in recent weeks, I’ve been able to commute up to 3 times a week. That’s a lot for me, since I often have early morning activities and have to be in a suit.

Then a certain virus emerged and found its way to NY. Our world has been upended to say the least. People are reasonable to be afraid of becoming exposed or sick from an enemy they cannot see. And there’s a fair amount of paranoia and hoarding. There’s not a roll of toilet paper or a tray of chicken to be found, notwithstanding that Covid 19 does not cause diarrhea and you don’t treat it with chicken thighs.

I wish people would calm the heck down and conform to what government officials are advising regarding social distancing. I drove past a coffee shop packed with people sitting next to one another this afternoon, as if completely oblivious to what is going on outside. I’m not optimistic about Americans’ ability to limit their social interactions in a time of crisis.

I’ve been socially distancing myself while getting some riding done. Solo rides, no groups, no stops for sit-down food. Lots of interruptions to do business on the phone instead of in person. I figure one of the best ways to avoid illness in general is to build fitness, build cardiovascular health, reduce stress.

I’m trying to pedal away from Covid and the stress it brings to my life.

Stay safe. Wash your hands!

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Press the Fight

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A coworker used the phrase in the title a couple of weeks ago to describe the mindset needed to work in a tactical environment. As he put it, “if someone is shooting at you, you press the fight, you move forward to eliminate the threat.” I certainly don’t work in a tactical environment, but the phrase stuck in my head and I’ve tried to adapt that mindset to other situations in my life. Maybe I’ve always done it–just a little–but now I have a phrase to mutter to myself while pressing forward.

I used the phrase last weekend while struggling up a long gravel road in Westchester, NY. I’d been up the road from the other direction once or twice. Depending on my fitness level, it is either tough or it outright sucks. I hadn’t been riding too many hills before last weekend’s ride, so it was more toward the “suck” end of the spectrum; luckily there was a cool breeze to prevent overheating. It would have been easy to pull over half way and take a breather but, armed with my new phrase, I pressed the fight to the top of the climb and then flew down the other side at nearly 45 mph. Keep moving forward.

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I’m not a big fan of the rain. I never begin a ride in the rain. If it rains while I’m already out, I’ll don a jacket and keep riding. I’ve bailed on events I paid money to enter based on the threat of rain. Until recently, the thought of purposefully setting out in the rain seemed foolish. Why would I knowingly subject myself to the slop and aggravation associated with a long, wet ride?

And then my mindset slowly began to change. There are a lot of otherwise nice days that just happen to include rain. My main riding opportunities occur on the weekends, and it rains on the weekends. I realized I was limiting myself, retreating if you will, from some good opportunities. Moreover, what’s the point of having a fender bike if it never gets wet?! So a couple of months ago I ordered some rain pants and waterproof gloves from Showers Pass with the goal of extending my riding into days that include rain, serious rain, and not being reluctant to start a ride in the rain.

As luck would have it, today was the first weekend day that would allow me to Press the Fight against rain. The weather was truly crappy with wind driven rain and coastal flooding. The wind was ferocious enough that I waited until after lunch time to suit up. Bib shorts. Wool t-shirt. Rain pants. Rain jacket. Winter boots. Waterproof gloves.

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Out to the garage I went to pump a few pounds of air into the tires. Open garage door. Clip in and exit garage. Rain stops!

Press the Fight. Eliminate the threat.

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Out the Door

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The hardest part of starting an adventure is getting out the door.

I spend a lot of time reading about other people’s adventures in books, magazines and social media. I also spend time researching gear choices, identifying the latest and greatest to be used on my own explorations. Rarely, however, do I take that knowledge and actually go on an adventure. There’s always something that seems to get in the way: work, family obligations, the weather, wondering if I have the right gear…the list of excuses is endless. I’ve even loaded up my pack and bike to do ‘practice trips’ while stopping short of taking the actual trip.

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This weekend I changed all that and actually left the house and had a S240 micro adventure. A micro adventure is a short (often less than 24 hours) trip with the intent of getting out to explore and spend the night out. It can be planned or spur of the moment, usually local, and shouldn’t require a lot of gear or technical experience.

My S24O came about when a colleague  mentioned that he was looking for a place to hike or camp this weekend. I’ve done a fair amount of day hiking, so I started describing nice hikes and provided a map for a local fire tower hike. I was really glad to share the information and, at the same time, it provoked me to take action on my unfulfilled camping aspirations.  I promised myself not to let the weekend go by without doing a S24O.

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I had just the route in mind, a short loop in Harriman State Park that would take me to a mountain-top shelter that also has tent sites. I knew from a previous ‘practice hike’ that I could complete the trip comfortably, not have to worry about water, and could bail out if I had to and be back at the car within about an hour.

The plan was to be packed and ready to go at the end of work on Friday but Dorian intervened with high winds and threatening rain and, as such, I postponed my departure until Saturday. A micro adventure is meant to be fun; no point heading into a heavy storm. I packed up Saturday morning, prepared some real food for the trip and left just after lunch. The drive to the park took about two hours. I made relatively quick work of the ascent to the shelter and proceeded to locate an unacceptable site for my tent, whereupon I fussed with it for 40 minutes before giving up.

Experienced Northeast hikers will recognize the problem with the tent site pictured above. The lovely, mossy spot that I pitched upon is actually a slab of rock! And it’s gently sloping toward the left. I had a hard time placing the stakes and the slope made sleeping very…..dynamic. I loved the site despite this shortcoming, so I made do the best I could.

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One of the things I obsess about thus keeping me from actually doing anything is food. Freeze dried camping meals are either (1) good but expensive or (2) absolutely awful for you because of all the salt they contain. I chose to prep some real food at home in the morning and bring it with me. Pictured above: grilled brats in some ramen (don’t use the spice package). I’ve done a pretty good job of getting my base pack weight down and so I packed a can of beer as a guilty pleasure. Delicious real food.

The tent held up despite high winds and one stake that was kind of sketchy. I rarely get a very good night’s sleep in the tent and this weekend I determined why: it’s like lying in a coffin! It’s a nice tent, just not for someone who is very tall and tends to roll around a bit. I’ve also concluded that my inflatable pad is too narrow for my carcass. I would have known this sooner if I actually went on trips. Experience is the best teacher.

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I rose a little after 6 am, packed up, hiked out and was on the way home by 7 am. I got home in time to cook breakfast for the family. I didn’t get the best night’s sleep but I got out. I had an experience in the outdoors. I learned something about my gear, practiced my outdoor skills and— I hope–broke the chain of excuses that have prevented me from spending nights out in the woods.

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