Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Roads, trails, paths, and... mud.

Had a great ride this past weekend. Overall, my thoughts of good rides have turned away from the typical "25 mile road loop," or "drive to trail head and do a 10-mile loop." Sure, I still do plenty of rides like that, but if given a choice, I prefer to head out with no agenda and explore. The great thing is that, even though I grew up on the North Shore, and I've been mountain biking and road riding the area for 10 years, I'm still finding new stuff.

I seem to usually head towards Beverly/Topsfield/Hamilton/Wenham and points further north, but this past weekend I decided to follow the new bike path in Peabody and explore some of my old stomping grounds in West Peabody (although, I don't remember doing much stomping). The bike path follows an old railroad that had a fire road along side of it, and back 25+ years ago, I was cruising down there on my very first BMX bike, coaster brake and all. Those trails linked to another extensive network of trails that went all the way to North Reading and an area known back then as "Reading Track," because of the MX (as in motocross) jumps, berms and trails. Did any of that still exist?

Yes, but first I have to commend the City of Peabody for the great work it's doing on the bike path. Currently, it starts (or ends) by Lahey Clinic by the North Shore Mall and goes all the way to the end of Russell Street by the Ipswich River with the exception of a section that spits you back on to Lowell Street just before Bourbon Street. The bike path resumes just past the shopping center at Lowell and Russell Street. The path is paved, smooth, and will have a fence up on many sections. HOPEFULLY, people all across West Peabody will use this as a route to get to the mall rather than drive.

Anyway, I only rode a short distance on the bike path this past weekend as I popped off the path and headed up to Brooksby Farms as I recalled that there used to be some trails up there. Sure enough, they were still there and a VERY worthy diversion. After a couple of loops I got back on the road and then back to the path. I followed it to the end (although I did see some trails off to the side that I'll explore next time) and ended up near the intersection of Russell St and Birch St. I had to dig deep in my memories to think of the trails that were in that area, but my front wheel found them and soon enough I was skirting the Bostik plant's property following trails deeper and deeper into the woods--just like I did when I was about 13. Wild. I can't believe the woods hasn't become yet another cookie-cutter housing development with a fancy gate, a cul-de-sac, and a cheesy name reminiscent of the natural beauty that was torn down to allow for the creation of the look-alike homes that spread like a scourge defining the word "sprawl." But I digress. Apparently, motocross riders and quad riders have kept these trails alive. Unfortunately, I couldn't explore too thoroughly as I turned the corner on one trail and was faced with at least a 1/4 t0 1/2 meter of water as far as I could see. The mud below the water was soft and deep so I was thwarted.

I'm glad to see that the trails are still there. I'll work on linking them to Danvers Town Forest (which I hear has some trails) and then ultimately to Harold Parker. Maybe someday, the trails will be dry!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Radio Shack

Radio Shack is not my first choice as a store to buy electronics. To me, it's a store best suited for people looking for radio controlled monster trucks and HAM radio operators. But, when looking for odd cables and connectors, I can't think of a better place. As such, when I recently needed some coaxial cable connectors--so that I could cut a wire my cable TV cable in its middle, add a splitter, and have two ends--Radio Shack is where I went.

I explained to the Radio Shackologist what my project was, and after re-explaining it (by opening a box of coaxial cable and pantomiming the process of cutting), he sent me home with the connectors I needed. Or so I thought.

When I got home and got ready to cut, I did something odd. I read the directions on the back of the packaging for the connectors.

"Do not use on cable TV."

Well, I was fairly annoyed as I had explicitly explained that I was using this for splitting my cable TV connection. Back to Radio Shack I went.

I met with a different Shackologist this time. When I explained my situation, he said that these connectors are the right ones. Here's a paraphrase of out dialogue:

RS: These connectors should work.

Me: Then why would the packaging clearly state NOT to use these for cable TV?

RS: Maybe it would void some service agreement with the cable TV company.

Me: Um, well, the packaging then goes on to say, "For cable TV... use crimp-on or solder-type connectors, also available at Radio Shack."

RS: Yeah, the ones you have just sort of screw on the ends of the cable, for the others, you have to use tools.

Me: I have tools. Why are the other ones recommended?

RS: Well, maybe those give a more powerful connection.

Me: Oh, well I wouldn't want that. Especially not for the additional .79 cents...

I don't know if he appreciated my sarcasm. And, besides, I'd probably be willing to pay almost any reasonable additional cost if something was going to give me more power.

In the end, I got the correct connectors, I cut my cable, I used my pliers to crimp the connectors, and HD TV is working!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mephitis attack!

Well, my Monday didn't start out the way I had hoped. It wasn't that great for Jean either, but I think Luna and Gary got the worst of it. Here's the scene. It's 5:10am, it's pouring out, and I'm up to get my day on. I go downstairs to start coffee, and of course I let the dogs out to do their thing.

Unfortunately, a skunk was meandering through the yard (to his home that I now know is under my deck). Gary and Luna BOUNDED off the back porch and into the yard, and within seconds, the melee was over. Gary actually caught the skunk and had it in his mouth. Needless to say, that didn't last long as the skunk defended himself the best way he knows how. Gary dropped it, he spit some white fur out of his mouth, and realization hit him. And Luna. And me.

Jean yelled down from the bedroom (she had been asleep) because she smelled it too. The dogs had been sprayed. Gary took the brunt of the assault, but Luna wasn't spared. I donned some latex gloves and went at it with Nature's Miracle, a product that breaks down the odor with natural enzymes. It usually does the trick, but you have to soak the dog in it, then let it dry. Not a chance of that happening outside with the pouring rain. I tried blocking the dogs in the shelter of the side porch, but they just kept pacing back and forth, crying, drooling. Gary had actually spent a considerable amount of time rolling in the dirt in an attempt to rid himself of the smell.

To make a long story short, I brought the crates downstairs, and we penned them up in the kitchen. Jean took the day off and was able to take Gary to get a de-skunking bath at a local PetSmart.

Despite my doing the best to shower and clean myself up, and being checked by Jean's super-sniffer, my co-workers were still able to pick up the faint (and maybe not so faint) skunk odor. Lucky me and lucky them,

All in all, we're all mostly de-skunked. The dogs are pretty good, and the house is almost back to normal.

The bigger problem is that this critter is living in our yard. I've suspected this for a while, but this is painful confirmation of the fact. I'll keep you tuned on my eviction methods. Until then, just be glad those pics aren't scratch and sniff.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A week in review.

So another week off is about to come to an end. *sigh.*

I guess I can't complain--I had a full week! First, on Saturday I started by taking the dogs on a great trail run at Lynn Woods. Then, Jean and I explored some of the killer singletrack at Willowdale/Bradley Palmer.

Sunday, Jean and I rode up to Gloucester to Sugar Magnolia--a little restaurant that offers a peanut butter/banana/bacon/honey panini. Mmmmmmm! We did some exploring in Ravenswood on the way back home and stopped for some pics along the way.

Monday was my "catch-up" day where I ran around like a maniac trying to do yard work, house work, review mail, make phone calls, etc, etc. I also spent some time getting gear together for a day trip to Vermont that I'd be taking Tuesday.

Yep, Tuesday morning, I threw Mike Lawless into the car and made the trek to Kingdom Trails in East Burke. We had a great ride and topped it off with a nice cold 1554 (that's a delicious brew that's not available in MA, but my buddy Mike Schnyder sent me a case!).

Wednesday, I was up EARLY to take Jean to the airport as she had a business trip to take. I went home and fell back asleep, but then put some hours in working in the Emergency Department at Addison Gilbert Hospital. It was hopping ED and I had a good shift!

Thursday I had an early meeting to attend at Beverly Hospital, then G-pap and I hit the trails at Willowdale again. The dogs had an extended play date with their best friend (well, at least Gary's best friend), Amboss, the 90lb rottweiler. Tired dogs are good dogs.

Friday, I was supposed to do an EARLY morning road ride with Mike Lawless, but he overslept. I opted for a run instead as that has the added bonus of tiring out the dogs. I wrapped up a few other errands (ordered some lumber for a building project, picked up dry cleaning, pick up dog food, etc), and now it's time to chill out with Lightroom and Photoshop... Back to work tomorrow...

Southwest Trip--Day 6 & 7

Thursday was the day to leave the grandeur and beauty of Springdale, and head back to the blight on the American landscape known as Las Vegas. We had ANOTHER breakfast as Cafe Soleil, then made our way back to Canyon Vista to do a phase 1 packing (not the final, "ready to board the plane" pack job), and load the up the car. The bikes were still assembled as we still had riding on the agenda.

We made a side trip through Santa Clara, UT, for Jean to look for some art supplies which eluded her. From there, it was back on Interstate 15 and Vegas.

Our section of I-15 rolled through the Virgin River Gorge, in AZ, but is otherwise not exactly noteworthy for its scenery. The drive was uneventful and we made our way to our hotel, which at the time of me typing this, I can't remember. I found the place via PriceLine because of Shatner's endorsement. Oh yeah, I think it was South Point...

Anyway, it was four stars of the typical Vegas "let's impress you with glitz and glass while we suck every penny out of you" design theme. Unlike hotels geared towards "guests," the hotels in Vegas are geared towards "gamblers," so to get to your room, you have to schlep your gear through the casino. At least the elevator was easy to find. I've stayed in some Vegas hotels where I'd swear the access to the rooms was behind hidden doors and secret passages (but while you're wandering, feel free to play a few hours of slots...). I hate Vegas, but I digress. The accommodations were adequate. We dropped our bags off and headed out to Red Rock Canyon to ride!

Red Rock Canyon is an oasis of natural beauty in a landscape covered by man-made overindulgence and pawn shops. It's also the location of a popular cycling route as there is a paved 15-mile scenic loop. The car traffic was minimal, the climbs were great, the heat was hot, and as advertised, the scenery was scenic.

When we finally got back to the car, it was time to disassemble the bikes to squish them into their travel cases. It's a fairly easy process, but doing two bikes while sitting on the ground in the hot desert sun isn't an ideal situation. But, if that's what has to happen so that we get to bring our bikes, pass the sun screen and tools. By the time the bikes were packed snug in their cases, the desert sun was setting and we dragged our dirty selves back to the hotel to finalize our other bags.

Sleep was next as our wake-up call was for 3:30am.

Day 7--Friday
Ugh. That damn alarm went off at 3:30am. There was a flurry of activity to get our stuff out to the car (after passing way too many people who's souls had been sucked out by sitting in front of slot machines overnight).

Our day went like this:
  • return rental car
  • shuttle to airport
  • long check in line to check our bags
  • long security line (yeah, I was pulled aside because my bike parts and tools required further inspection, but were ultimately okay'ed)
  • packed into a tiny airline seat
  • switch planes in Cincinnati
  • finally land in Boston
  • wait for luggage
  • call shuttle to get to my car
  • find my car in the Park & Fly lot
  • pack up and head to Ipswich to pick up the dogs
  • finally get HOME with our gear and dogs
  • prepare to jump back in to work the next day
Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, right? Well, I can relax when I'm dead, for now, there's too much to see and do!

Now, it's time to plan our next adventure...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Southwest Trip--Day 5

We woke to another amazing day in Springdale: cloudless skies, mid-80's and a nice breeze. Breakfast at Oscar's was first on the agenda and then it was time to get our day on.

Since Tuesday, the super steep hill that I believe the locals call Cry-Baby Hill had been taunting me. Mocking me. Calling me. I decided that I'd ride up it for no other reason than to give a proverbial bitch-slap to this geologic aberration. With no granny gear, the climb was tough, but invigorating at the same time. It took me less time than I had anticipated to make the climb, but once to the top, I took another trail that lead me out to the end of the mesa to I could look out to see where I started from. If you see a tiny white dot in the distance, that's Jean in the Rav4 patiently waiting as I battle inanimate land formations. Needless to say, the ride back down was brief.

After a quick shower, Jean and I made our way back to ZNP for hiking and photographic pursuits.

With no major hikes on the agenda, we took the shuttle to the end of the park (Temple of Sinawava), hiked in to the beginning of The Narrows, and then hiked back on side trails along the Virgin River. The lighting was tough for amateur shutterbugs so it was mostly an exercise in overexposed pixels. We'll eventually learn!

After another visit to the lodge, and more fluids, were made our way back to town and back to the B&B. It seems like it's becoming tradition to catch an X-Men movie while on vacation as well, so we turned our brains off to watch Wolverine. I also got to try a local Zion Brewing Company beverage--the Polygamy Porter (with tag lines that say, "You can have just one," and "take some home to the wives." Once back at the B&B, we did a little packing/organizing to prepare for our eminent departure and took some time to try out some star photography. I should note that when I went out to get the camera (after having it out for about a 30-minute exposure), I thought I was going to die.

Here's the scene. Pitch black night, me walking in an unfamiliar yard with eyes still unadjusted for the darkness. I'm unstrapping the camera from the fencxe that I had it set on when something large--knee height--and hairy, brushes against my leg. My mind screamed "what the F--- was that?!?!" Fortunately, I didn't squeal out loud. It was only Dexter, one of our host's dogs coming by to say "hi," but for a split second I had no idea what it was--mountain lion or skunk of unusual size...

When my heart rate settled back down to double digits, I was finally able to fall asleep. The next day, our B&B hosts got much delight from this encounter.

Southwest Trip--Day 4

Yeah--Gooseberry Mesa! Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. Jean and I woke up to some a very cool desert sky, the lingering effects of a night that threatened to have some rain.

But that sky cleared up fairly early, and it was another beautiful day on tap in southern Utah. We filled our bellies at Cafe Soleil again and then made the arduous drive to one of the area's mountain biking mecca's, Gooseberry Mesa. While only about 15 miles from our B&B, the road to GB's trail head was a bit rough on our rented Rav4. There was an especially steep hill on Smithsonian Butte Rd, a hill that I believe the locals call "cry baby hill." It's almost 1,000ft (elevation) of nasty. Our little Toyota made the climb and we rumbled along miles of dirt roads to the GB trail system.

Gooseberry Mesa is a mountain bike "destination" and I was psyched to finally be able to check it off the "to ride" list. In terms of total mileage, the trail network proper isn't that large (maybe about 20 miles with the North and South Rim trails), but the scenery is beyond words (think "stunning," "spectacular," "OMG"). And, with the 4x4 trails and fire roads, you could here all day.

We did a short warm-up on the Windmill Trail, about 3-miles of great views, singletrack, slick-rock, and of course, one windmill. From there, we made our way over to the White Trail, Practice Loop and some of the North Rim., and we were rewarded with MORE great vistas. My trail speed is definitely inversely proportional to the amount of scenery I get on the trail, and this is exponentially slower when I'm taking photos every few minutes!

Anyway, after some great trail riding, we made our way back to the car and took the "long" drive home... longer by distance, but about equal in time. We parked back at the B&B and headed out on the bikes again--this time for a ride that was mostly on-road to the old town of Grafton.

Grafton was billed as a ghost town, but it was kind of a disappointment. First, we were thwarted on our ride. As the road made its transition from pavement to dirt, we encountered a sand storm, and I do mean sand storm! We were riding along when suddenly this looming cloud of sand started coming down the road towards us. We hunkered down and covered our heads/faces while we were pelted with sand. After a couple of minutes, the winds subsided. As we were talking about this bizarre event, the wind picked up again and another cloud of sand made its way down the road to us. After this cloud passed, we decided to head back to the B&B and attempt further exploration by car.

Of course, the drive to Grafton was completely clear-skied and calm.

Anyway, when we pulled in to the parking area, the first thing that hit me was that the windows on the building in front of me (church? town hall?) looked remarkably good. I think they should have still had their Anderson stickers on them! There were a few "old" farm buildings, but I was really looking for the OLD ghost town with saloon doors and horse hitching posts...

We explored a cemetery that had some headstones with the description, "killed by Indians." What strange time in history.

After our "ghost town" experience, it was back to the B&B for some R&R!