Forgive Me, Great Bike Commuting Father, for I Have Sinned


The sun was a pale warm glow glinting off the emerging Spring leaves of the trees as I clicked into my pedals, shuffled into the confessional and made the sign of the chainring.

“Forgive me Great Bike Commuting Father for I have sinned. It has been over 2 years since my last bike commute to work”.

I’m not sure why I stopped riding my bike to work. Perhaps it was laziness or maybe it was not having ready access to a shower at the past two places I have worked, but for whatever reason I have fallen into my car coffin every morning and navigated into the office via internally combusted dinosaur guts.

Many years ago I was what some might term an “extreme” bike commuter. Riding anywhere from 25 to 90 miles a few times a week I elevated the voyage to work to a level I’m sure I’ll never be able to top. Frankly, I’m not sure why I’d ever want to do a 90 mile ride on a fixie ever again, let alone before work. I don’t miss it that much!

But what I have missed is that feeling of taking something as mundane as a commute and turning it into an adventure. Whether it was riding along the shoulder of a crowded California freeway in the dark on a rainy day (legal, but definitely not recommended for that stretch) or going many miles out of my way just to mix in a few miles of prime singletrack, I always found a way to take the stress of going to work (hey, I’m an introvert – dealing with people is stressful sometimes) and make it fun.

The past few years my adventures (commuting or otherwise) have diminished to a certain degree due to my nagging hip injury. I’m just not getting out there as much as I used to. Or maybe I’ve just become lazy? Or beaten down? Or just a little numb?

Today (fittingly enough on “National Bike to Work Day”) that all came to an end.

I was not lazy and woke up early. I felt the sun on my face and listened to the birds sing as I rode my bike to work along unfamiliar roads. I was not beaten down nor was I numb to the world around me. Pausing only to snap a photo I tapped out a constant act of contrition through my pedal strokes.

Hail bicycle, full of grace!

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Leaves of Grass

This morning I rose early and rode out into the darkness of the forest. It’s tough to get out of a warm bed this time of year but I felt like I needed to escape, if only for an hour before my busy day began. Most of the leaves are down by now so the technical bits are a little unnerving when riding in the dark. The surface may look soft when covered with leaves but the rocks still lay in wait beneath.

Halfway through the ride I popped out at a popular cove along the coast. A cold front is moving through today and at this early hour its vanguard had just begun to push off the land into the sea.

Behind me I heard footsteps so I turned to see an older man out for his morning walk. He greeted me as he popped out from the shadows into the light at the edge of the rocks.


Waiting for the sun

“Wow, look at how those colors reflect in the water” he remarked from beneath his hunter orange cap, his eyes dancing across the scene. “Every morning it’s just a different shade of beautiful at this spot. I come here every day, rain or shine”.

We talked for a bit and as it turned out he had been a cyclist in his younger days. Naturally the conversation turned to bikes and places we had each explored via two wheels. As we talked a particularly strong gust of wind materialized from somewhere near the rising sun. With leaves s swirling beneath our feet he pulled his hat lower to a point just above his eyes.

“Well, I best be going before it gets too cold. Sure is a beautiful morning to be alive…”

He paused for a second then smiled as his eyes shifted toward the rising sun.

“But aren’t they all?”

Yes, they are.


The Arc of Triumph

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” – Walt Whitman, preface to Leaves of Grass

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The Path That Circles the Graveyard

Over the past week my social media feeds exploded with pleas from many outdoor gear related concerns that were focused on the plight of Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson. They were getting the word out about how the pair had disappeared while attempting a climb in Pakistan’s Karakorum Range. Their families were attempting to raise funds for an emergency rescue attempt via a GoFundMe campaign. Based purely on the number of appeals from different sources it was apparent that these two had touched many lives during their climbing careers.

I’ve read a lot about that area of the world and have always wanted to visit but never had the balls to go for it, let alone go there and climb dangerous peaks. Like many others, I started following the story and began sending some positive vibes out into the universe with hope for a sunny outcome. I can only imagine how gut wrenching an emergency like this can be on the families of those left waiting behind.

As I read more about their lives it struck me: I sorta know Kyle Dempsey. Not personally, but in this vastly connected world of ours a couple years back I had come across an inspiring film he had created of his bike travels in Kyrgyzstan looking for peaks to climb: The Road From Karakol. If you’ve never seen the video please take the time to at least watch the opening sequence of him standing naked getting ready to cross a raging river. How can you not like this guy? Pure unadulterated living! What an amazing adventure he had detailed with his inspiring outlook on life.

In no small way had that little film inspired me to get up off my ass and go do something. I told myself (and still do) that it doesn’t have to be a grand adventure like Kyle’s it just has to be SOMETHING. Those like Kyle inspire the rest of us to get out and explore a new trail, learn a new sport or whatever – just try something new!  Get off your ass and go do something!

Which is why I was saddened to read the other day that while the fundraising had been successful,  the search had been called off. Feeling a little bummed I headed off into the afternoon sun for a bike ride. Somehow I wound up on a trail I don’t often ride.


The winding trail around the abandoned cemetery (which is off to the right in this photo)

I ended up in a quiet patch of woods off on the far side of town. A trail winds though here along the edge of a tidal estuary as if it’s trying to find something, unsure of where it leads. It seems lost, but the trail eventually winds around a small wooded height of land that rises ever so slightly from the edge of the water. From here it returns to an open field where artists frequently gather to paint in the soft evening light. It’s a pretty spot.

Off to the south a church steeple juts into the sky barely within view, an unseen graveyard at the foot of the church Off to the west an open view of the marsh reaches toward the setting sun each night with fingers of swaying cattails and long grasses. I stopped for a second to take in the scene and listen to the calls of the birds and the buzz of late summer insects. Just then I noticed something jutting from the earth at the top of the rise.

Headstones, or as I realized as I drew closer: old, forgotten headstones from the early 1800’s. A handful of them. I had never noticed that this trail winds around the edge of sacred ground. I looked closer and realized that there were other stones arrayed in a discernible pattern throughout this overgrown height of land. They looked even older and more weather beaten than the handful at the crest of the hill, some of them broken at the base. I felt like I was intruding, so I left to continue my little journey homeward beneath the grand summer sky.

There’s no tidy little ending to this post, just a path that circles a graveyard. Someday I’ll return and find out more about the history of this forgotten land, but today I know nothing.

Let’s hope those guys can pull off a miracle in the Karakorum.

“Every adventure has both the light , the dark, the toil ,the reward. To experience that alone is to become absorbed by an activity, by a place , by its people. The wall of daily noise, the modern trappings that  define our identities give way.  Our mental defenses grow thin.  You no longer know where you end and the world begins. We become raw. This is why we take the trip.  That is what we’ve come for” – Kyle Dempster, from The Road From Karakol

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It’s Not My Fault


Sunrise, headed to Northern Maine this past weekend

Really, it’s not my fault. I blame my fascination of getting up crazy early squarely on the shoulders of my Dad. When I was a kid we’d pile into the car (or in later years, the van) in the wee hours of the morning  and head off somewhere on what I remember as grand adventures. For a 5 year old kid driving across multiple state lines was like an expedition to Everest, our car the sherpa carrying the load. I think those trips and the early morning starts left a mark on me that persists until this day.

Like the time we drove non stop from New Jersey to St Louis, all four of us packed into a Ford Pinto (luckily no one rear-ended that bomb on wheels). Or the countless trips to various places in New England in our VW van, or to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Not to mention the ones I was too young to recall. Sure, I probably fussed a bit like any stupid kid, but in retrospect they are all great memories that stirred as I rolled out of bed at 3AM this past weekend and piled into my careworn escape pod (otherwise known as a VW Jetta Wagon) and headed off to face the dawn.

With the scent of fresh coffee rising from the mug and the inrush of dense, cool morning air through the slightly cracked window I drove onward. A symphonic, laconic drone of late summer insects over the cornfields all ears looming high over the shoulders of the road. It was road trip time again. Headed off on some grand adventure be it real or imagined, my reflection calmly watching over me in the windows of the world. The miles rolling and rising to meet my wheels.

More on my gravel grinding ride through the newly christened Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument that took place at the end of this trip down memory lane when I get around to uploading some photos!

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Sunrise, Sunset

“Some of us wake up, others roll over” – Mark Twight (legendary badass)

When they wake up they go down to the water for no particular reason. They bathe in the humid light of the new day and exchange briny  exhalations with the sea as it rises and falls with the swells. Meanwhile, photographers crawl like insects on the spine of the rocks in a pathetic attempt to capture the perfect shot: they’re clearly missing the point. It’s not the shot but the scene. It’s in the yearning, the desire to move with and become one with the diamond as it glitters in the pyrite of the sun. Shine on you crazy little insects.


Sunrise, Portland Head Light

It’s in the play of clouds when everything is alright forever  and forever and forever until the light fades and you find yourself alone in the mist wondering why the hell your eyes are still open when there’s nothing left to see. It’s revealed in the paralysis of the sudden frown of realization that it’s all been seen and said anyway – why even bother to write about it or snap a photo to try and capture it? A snapshot of time on a summer evening – might as well try to grasp it in your fist – but here’s a vain attempt.


Sunset, Kettle Cove State Park

The sun sets every night but will you rise in the morning? Most days you will, until… well never mind. Until then it will be glorious if you look at it in the right light.

It will be glorious when the light bends, transmutes and flares over the cove. It will be sizzling and alive overhead like the hands of angels reaching out to touch the soul as the beat of the waves lapping against the side of the lobster boat drives the scene. In the distance thunder will bellow a muffled roar then be heard no more. No rain will fall tonight as the storm is headed downeast on the wind.That’s when the scene will be complete, when it’s never ending and moving on into the depths of the night.

But until then there’s nothing to see here. Only the mist of a dream and the song of the sea.

“The page is long, blank, and full of truth. When I am through with it, it shall probably be long, full, and empty with words.” – Jack Kerouac


Sunrise, Pond Cove



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The Forest for the Trees

“Most people are on the world, not in it” – John Muir

It’s easy to become overwhelmed while out riding your mountain bike. Concentrate too much on the roots and rocks that litter the trail and you miss reading the natural flow. On the other hand if you choose to just go with the flow and bang on over the rough stuff while chasing your ideal vision of a line those pesky obstacles can sending you flying over the bars… or perhaps less cinematically just sitting on a stump fixing a pinch flat alongside the trail.

As with metering light when trying to take a photograph, it’s all about finding balance.


Early morning light and East Coast humidity can be magical (and surprisingly mosquitoey)

A few weeks ago I was out in Maine’s Carrabassett Valley doing a little scouting ride for the 100k race I’ll be attempting this weekend. I hesitate to say I’ll be “racing” as I’m just starting to get back into the swing of these bigger rides and “attempting” is clearly the best description of my plans, especially since I’ve been recovering from an achilles tendon/ankle problem that has slowed me down over the past month or so. Trust me, once you start pushing 50 years old you don’t want anything ELSE slowing you down!

However, one positive of being forced to ride slower is that you tend to have more time to see and experience the little things while you ride, not just the granny gear!


Random trailside bog beauty near the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center

The constant interplay in nature between the micro and the macro endlessly fascinates me. On the one hand the wide world beckons with mountains that have stood the test of time, washed and ground to flour in the tides of glacial advances and retreats while continuing to stick their craggy necks into the sky like old turtles. Yet, they still stand proud – never defeated. The mountain majesty of the great high ranges of the world may be tough to beat, but give me a rugged Appalachian peak and I’ll show you a survivor. Them mofo’s got some scars!


Sugarloaf USA, Maine’s best ski mountain (and where I learned to ski many years ago)

However, inevitably as I crawl up the mountainsides in my granny gear the vision turns to the micro where every blossom is life and death, a passion play performed upon petals while I sweat my ass toiling to spin the magic gear. Beauty can be dangerous and the benign can bite (and deer flies can take chunks of skin!)


Beauty and the Beast


Again, Beauty and the Beast (the Carver Bikes Ti O’Beast that is), this time on the Bigelow Mt Side of the valley


So perhaps it’s a blessing to be able to slow down and experience the highs and lows more deeply than those that can simply fly over the rough stuff with ease, those that never pause to concentrate on the pesky little details of this trail called Life. Although I suppose that’s what all of those starving, angst-ridden artists have been saying for years. They must like the rocks on the trails. “The doer and the thinker, no allowance for the other”, until race time this weekend that is – then it’s all about Time.


“Dude, you almost ran me over back there – be careful”

Time to struggle to keep up with the pack and perform the calm calculus that occupies the pack fodder as they calculate how to stay one step ahead of the cut-off times for each stage of the race:

“Motivation” times “I wish I was in better shape” divided by “damn ankle is bugging me” multiplied by “I need to do more intervals” raised to the power of “hydration, nutrition” Eventually it all approaches some asymptote (theoretically the finish line) unless one crosses over into an alternate reality of post-race beer drinking and socializing before that point is reached. It all depends on the initial conditions.

And no, that’s not some lame self-defeating prophecy. That’s just seeing the forest for the trees. See ya on the other side!


The path to riverside twisty heaven begins here


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Curious Attractiveness

On the face of it, this post is merely a few photos from a simple pre-work bike ride through one of my local riding areas, an area called Robinson’s Woods. Though surrounded by suburbia and within sight of the famous rocky coast of Maine, this area remains undeveloped. It was never farmed back when this area was being settled as it was deemed to be too rocky to be much good for anything. The colonial era farmers were not known for mountain biking so their loss was our gain.  It has since been conserved by the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust and a network of trails  developed to allow easy access to the wonders of the forest.

Hmmm maybe there’s more to it than a few pictures taken with my cell phone. Within such beautiful surroundings a simple bike ride can definitely expand one’s brain a bit – must be all that sea-level oxygen that helps get the old grey matter percolating. I may be a little biased as my entire blog is pretty much based on leaning my bike up against things and taking photos but the following passage pretty much captures my sentiments:

“It is well, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coalbins, barrels and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth … The used surface of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things – all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized.” – Pablo Neruda


A wayward lobster buoy, the glint of the rising sun off titanium and stormy skies over Pond Cove

Yup, if you’re an aficionado of muddy tires and crusty fishing gear washed up on shore you’ve come to the right place. Tell all your friends about the “bike-lean artiste”. One person’s muddy tire is another’s gold I guess, and instead of trash I see gold in that thar sunrise. The struggle is told through the tread of those tires and that bit of battered gear thrown upon the stones by a fearsome wave. The dents of a rim tell the story.

Perception is a funny thing. Sometimes I wonder what my neighbors may think of me as they peek out from behind curtains and watch me head off in the early morning for a ride on my cartoon bike with the balloon tires. Well, maybe for a moment or two I wonder, but mostly I really don’t care what they may think. Life is about exploration and self-fulfillment, even if the only adventure you can fit into your busy day is that hour before heading off for the day to do whatever pays your bills. You can live an entire day in an hour if you approach it as a child would: with wonder.

“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” – Albert Einstein


A somewhat rare terrestrial orchid known as a “Pink Lady Slipper”

Of course wonder must be nurtured in the right environment, much like a Lady Slipper needs exactly the right soil and conditions in order to bloom. That’s where the struggle comes in to play. These orchids don’t do well in “captivity” and often wither and die if transplanted. I find the same thing happens to me most Monday mornings as I head to work. A simple morning ride through the woods is a remarkable antidote for withering. Rage, rage against the dying of the inner child.

“Out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which sustains the little world of man as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous, then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on Earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.” – Edward Abbey


An evening of thunderstorms provides an energized stream first thing in the morning

As I said at the beginning of this post, just a simple ride through the woods. Hope you enjoyed it!

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.” – E.E. Cummings

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Dawn Patrol

“To live is to be slowly born” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

My current hometown of Portland ME is not really that far north, it just feels that way. Although it sits at 44ish deg N latitude (roughly halfway between the equator and the North Pole) after living most of my adult life in the sunplashed 32ish deg  N latitudes of southern California the signs of the change in seasons up here have been sharpened. For one, I’ve become much more aware of the shifting length of day.

This time of year the eastern sky begins to blush with dawn around 3:45AM. By 4:30Am (civil twilight) it’s almost fully light outside. At 5AM I can’t stand stand the singing of the birds any longer and jump out of bed to go ride my bike on the local trails. Fortunately for anyone within earshot, I let the tread of my tires do my singing.

The holy water of a soft, welcome shower blessed my trails last night so there’s hero dirt to found between the slippery roots this morning. Unlike the miserable, dreary rains of Fall and Winter it had been a soothing rain, and after a relatively dry winter a much needed rain. The earth exhales with mist as I alternate between slide and traction, yin and yang.

The birds pay no heed to my passing in these cathedral woods. I’m just a fleeting part of the scenery to them I think. Chickadees, cardinals, blue jays and many birds that I can’t quite place by ear sing their notes in the chorus assembled on this small parcel of relatively untouched coastal woodlands. A whitetail deer bounds silently across the edge of a meadow like a cloud across the sky and the forest is complete – dynamic and alive.

This morning I am drawn toward the coast and the rising sun via a somewhat technical trail, a path whose difficulty is made even more so by the sleep that dulls my reflexes a bit. That’s what I tell myself when I misjudge a corner and bang a tree with my elbow: it’s not my reflexes slowing with age, I’m just tired. A cup of coffee would’ve cured that. Yup, I’d be fine after my morning coffee kicks in. Yessirreee.

I hit the final stretch of singletrack that leads to the shore and hop the massive root that protrudes like a finger of death from the big pine atop the crest of the hill. The beating of the surf upon the stubborn rocks of shore ebbs and flows like the tide itself as the dense, moisture laden salt air fills my lungs. Breaking out onto the rocky cove with a delighted squeal from my brakes I come to a stop upon the stones. I bend over my handlebars to rest and watch the surf rise and fall.

I know this path dead-ends upon the shore yet I take it every time.

Perhaps because it’s my first true Spring in many years or maybe it’s the realization that within a month the days will begin to grow shorter again, but I can’t escape the need to try and hold on to this fleeting moment. I close my eyes to cherish the warmth of the sun upon my face. Time to head home and have that morning coffee.


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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Winter

Outside my window the warm Spring sun is unleashing its 93 million mile payload upon the roof over my head resulting in a steady draining of water from the final snowfall of the year (a surprise 5 inches). How do I know this will be the final snowfall of the year? Well based on this winter’s history as a meager producer of the white stuff here in the Northeast I can say it’s a pretty safe bet.

In fact I would go so far as calling this final gasp a near miracle given the up and down nature of the past 5 months. Spring has been dragging its feet for the past two months (we’ve had flowers blooming for nearly that long). I don’t know about where you live but this Winter was a strange one here in Maine – a true seasonal battle between Dr Jekyll and Mr Winter.


Dear Daylight Savings Time, I hate you (my sentiment last Fall)

Just ask all the obese squirrels that bulked up last Fall in anticipation of the approaching season. Maybe this one was planning an expedition to the North Pole? I suppose he could have a thyroid condition but I’m pretty sure the neighborhood cats have weeded those guys out of the population by now. This guy just got his forecast wrong.


He hauled himself up onto the railing like a walrus onto a beach

Of course after my first full winter in over 17 years I shouldn’t be throwing stones at chubby squirrels from within my glass house – it’s tough to keep those winter pounds off sometimes, this I know!


Thanksgiving gravel grinding in VT (with the iconic “Camel’s Hump off in the distance)

My personal anticipation for the winter was sky high after a weekend of racing in the Green Mountain state of Vermont last October. As a guy planted firmly on the upper end of the normal distribution of weight for bike racers (even before this winter), the cool weather suits me just fine. Although toward the end of my cross race near Montpelier I considered dunking myself into the lake for refreshment on a 20 deg morning (note to self: do more intervals to get ready for cross season next year).


Arctic sea smoke in Vermont (ok, it’s lake smoke). Photo courtesy of Onion River Sports Facebook page.

The next day at my first Circumburke Challenge (I will be back for more editions!) in East Burke the conditions were much more suitable for my style of racing – they involved beer and nearly impassable mud. Incidentally only liquid sunshine was seen in the state of VT for that entire day… perhaps the entire month. El Nino had arrived on the East Coast and it was wet. Warm (relatively) and wet. The pattern persisted all season.


Mmmmm who needs sunshine when they can it?

True, we had moments when it actually felt like winter in places other than vicarious trips through the snow reports of western ski resorts. Lacking any ultradistance goals for the first time in at least 8 years, I had planned to hit up some local races in New England. Due to Dr Jekyll being in full control only one of them was actually held: the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race in Gorham, NH. The remainder were cancelled.

The best laid plans of fat squirrels and fat bikers often go awry.

The race itself was a blast with -15 deg temps in the morning followed by a slow warming into a perfect winter day in the woods. Thank you Mr Winter! Who could ask for more? Well I can – I wish the entire winter had been like this! At the very least it would’ve helped slim down the squirrels a little.


A -15 deg F morning along the ME/NH border


Wy won’t this thing go faster? Oh right, it’s not the bike’s fault. Photo courtesy of Moose Brook Fat Bike Race Facebook page


If you win the race you wear the moose antlers

But following every cold spell there was a predictable drastic warming this year. Hopes and dreams of fun in the snow vanished like ghosts in the night. 5deg F one day, 55 deg F the next – Dr Jekyll and Mr Winter.


“We take death to reach a star” – Vincent Van Gogh

The weather warmed and alliteration ran rampant with water spilling from the spoons of soupy nights. Fog was my co-pilot. With the short days I forlornly navigated the rocky shores of my new area via candlepower, ummm battery power… whatever. I also told myself riding in the rain at night is fun. Look into the light and repeat after me: riding in the rain is fun. Riding in the rain is fun.


Two Lights State Park, Cape Elizabeth ME. OK, more like Three Lights


They say the lighthouse keeper is the loneliest man on earth, looks inviting!


Slimer from Ghostbusters?

Then like a snowplow in the night, snow returned one morning and the world smiled. Or as my next-door neighbor probably described the scene outside his window to his wife: “that stupid Californian is out taking pictures of the snow AGAIN”.


Unrideable rocks become rideable in a world transformed


“The snot green sea, the scrotum tightening sea” – James Joyce

And so began a final, glorious 2 week span of true winter. In the midst of the warmest season on record it felt almost normal. Mr Winter was in control and he went about administering his business like a nun with a ruler.


There are few things more welcoming than a warm sun on a cold day

A series of storms skirted the coast and dropped blankets of fresh snow on the trails and beaches like Christmas in February, which considering it had been almost 70 deg F on Christmas Day this would be our one and only chance at having a picture postcard New England Christmas.


“It came without ribbons!… it came without tags!… it came without packages, boxes or bags” – The Grinch

In the wake of the storms cold air wrapped around the backside of the cyclone and was pumped in from our neighbors to the North (if only they would also send poutine!) The collision of this cold air with the (relatively) warmth of the ocean is a fascinating sight. The water appears to boil on the surface and almost hisses as the wind rakes across its surface producing sea smoke. On calm cold days deep, icy fog banks develop offshore, but it is at its dynamic best when the wind is howling and sheets writhe across its surface like apparitions out windsurfing.


Sea Smoke and Snizzle

The release of so much moisture from the water sometimes produces a light drizzle of snow when conditions permit: snizzle. Sea smoke and snizzle: two great tastes that go great together.


Portland Head Light during a snow squall


Thank you Mr Snowmobiler for the path!

I broke out the 5 inch tires and held mass within cathedral woods, my drivetrain reciting their vespers with each pedal stroke…


and skied along the coast, waves crashing to my East while the sun settled on the snowcapped peaks of all those lucky bastards out west that were reaping the spoils of El Nino. Wait a second, I was finally enjoying winter! I’d forgotten how much I’d missed it.

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A wayward lobster buoy displaying remarkable color coordination with my skis


“And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be” – Bruce Springsteen

At long last I could take no more. I cried into the blackest night:”why on Earth did I move to the East Coast this winter? Why can I not be in the Sierra Nevada, the Range of Light, and be doing this more often? Dr Jekyll and Mr. Winter, why do you torment me so?”


Another squall, a different view

Why have you put me through such hell this winter when all I wanted to do was ride my bike and ski to my heart’s content? An answer sprang forth from the Universe in the form of a weather bulletin: the forecast now called for Jekyll. I could see his warm eyes burning on the horizon. Say what you will, Mr Winter is the “normal” one in my version of the book. Winter should be wild and without conscience.


My winter playground with the lights of Portland Maine on the foggy horizon

Which brought me to one final moment, the one I managed to capture in the photo below.

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Nothing makes one feel so insignificant, so in the moment, as standing beneath the moon and stars on a cold, still night. How many light years have those pin pricks traveled just to reach this spot at this moment on this night? It’s all but a fluke of coincidence between distant entities of the same whirling system that casts this cold light from fire then hurls it across the vast reaches of space to reach this point at this time then be harnessed by the lens and captured by the camera. At this moment on this moonlit night, this is where I was supposed to be – I belonged.

5 Seconds of light exposure from a multitude of stars, some of which has been traveling for longer than I have been alive just to make this chance encounter on a lonesome hill in Maine. All pettiness disappears in a moment like this as it reveals just how tenuous our individual toeholds are in this world. Circumstances can (and will) change in an instant. A misstep here or there and the entire scene will vanish like a blurry photo to the recycle bin (of which there were a few as I was using a tree limb as a tripod). Capture the light while you can.


And just like that spring was here. From dark to light, Jekyll to Hyde, in an instant the snow retreated and flowers began blooming as another round of warmth spread over the land. I hope to see you again on my next trip around the sun, Mr. Winter.

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The Extra Mile

The Dallas Cowboy’s Hall of Fame quarterback, Roger Staubach once said when asked about the nature of hard work “There is no traffic jam along the extra mile”. While I am inclined to believe that a little extra effort in the pursuit of a worthy goal is a good thing, I can also say with a high degree of confidence that there is sometimes black ice glazing the road along the course of that extra mile. Especially along the ME/NH border this past weekend.

I’m always a sucker for a road trip and since the weather has been so ridiculously fickle this winter here in coastal Maine, I decided to pack up the fat bike for a scouting ride in the White Mountains of NH. Spurred on by Dunkin Donuts coffee, patches of grass showing in the yard and the forecast of warm temperatures later that day I hopped in the car before dawn and headed north by northwest toward higher ground. Though this corner of SW Maine is off the beaten path of most people traveling through the state, it’s also remarkably close to everywhere.


This sign really exists!

Within an hour my efforts were rewarded as the vision of snowbanks lining the road emerged in the glow of the headlights like something out of a Hallmark card proclaiming “Season’s Greetings”. Problem was, the next instant the car was oddly pointed straight at one of those snowbanks even though my steering wheel was currently turned somewhere to the left of straight to negotiate the turn that had presented itself in the road. I’d hit a patch of dreaded “black ice” that had formed overnight. The greeting card dawn had changed from light to dark in a millisecond.

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Liquid water at dawn is never a good thing for February in Maine

Since my exodus last summer from the great parched state of California I’ve driven in a little bit of snow and ice here in the Northeast (not to mention instincts learned from late night abandoned snow-covered parking lot, sliding car<ahem> “vehicle dynamics exercises” from my 20’s) so my foot immediately came off the throttle, followed by an excruciatingly long second before my front tires regained traction, followed by the familiar snap reaction of the rear end of the VW over-correcting with the new-found traction, followed by a steering wheel correction toward the snow bank to avoid a spin, followed by a lurid slide on the shoulder with the reapplication of the throttle followed by an audible “phewww!” from my mouth as I continued along my merry way with the snowbanks once again parallel to the direction of my travel.

Oh, and I immediately reduced my speed by about 20 mph lest I find myself a shiny ornament wrapped around a fragrant balsam fir tree. Perhaps more importantly the shiny new bike strapped to the back of my car was safe.

Yup, a new bike – or more specifically a new frame to which I had spent my Saturday evening transferring my old parts. My battle weary 9:Zero:7 that I had won at the Arrowhead 135 pre-race raffle yrs ago had finally given up the ghost and cracked at the seat tube. Fair thee well mighty warrior, I’ll see you again in the happy hunting grounds.


Top of the notch, blissful fat biking with the new Carver

Saturday afternoon I had picked up this spiffy titanium Carver O’Beast from the friendly folks at  Bikeman/Bath Cycle and Ski. I’ve heard good things about the Carver brand plus <ayuh>, she’s designed right here in the Pine Tree State. As the saying goes: drink local, buy local, ride local right? While my entire order was not complete the Bikeman guys took advantage of the traffic jam free roads along the extra mile and bent over backwards to press in my new headset and have the frame ready for me to pick up rather than waiting a few days and paying for shipping costs. Huge kudos to the Bikeman/Carver guys.

25 slowly driven, black ice laced miles later (so much for “ride local” but hey, we don’t have any snow!) I arrived at the foot of Jefferson Notch. To quote another great (Vanilla Ice – “great” is open to interpretation): “Ice, Ice baby”. Amazing what you can ride when you have 480 carbide tipped studs bristling from your tires.


The dreaded tilted ice rink , with crown. This would’ve been instant death without studs

Jefferson Notch Rd holds the distinction as being New Hampshire’s highest elevation “maintained” road at a whopping 3000ft (insert West Coast laughter here). In summer you can drive this dirt road and cut up and over “the notch” (that’s “pass” to you on the West Coast) from near Gorham, NH through the White Mountain National Forest to the foot of Mount Washington (the northeast’s highest peak and home to some of the worst weather outside of Antarctica). In winter it’s a snowmobile route, well… when it snows in winter it’s a snowmobile route. Oh, it’s a STEEP snowmobile route.


South Branch Israel River. Set my people free to go fat biking!

Even though it’s been a weird winter in these parts, what the Ice Coast lacks in elevation it makes up for in ferocious and changeable weather. Just last week it had been minus 40 deg F in this area, followed by a drastic warmup to near 50 deg F in the days before I arrived. This weekend the temperatures were a mild 20ish with lightly falling snow. The result was some fantastic conditions for fat biking at higher elevations. In between? Not so much. At least it keeps the crowds away.


Is it me or does that look like a snowflake covered snowflake?

Upward I continued on the ice, ice baby. A few flakes of snow fell too. A sketchy descent ensued as I plummeted down the other side as precipitously as Vanilla Ice’s career. Occasionally I slid, slid baby but the studs, studs saved me.


The other side of the notch, closer to Bretton Woods

20 years ago I had ridden this route in summer on my mountain bike as part of a longer ride so it wasn’t totally unfamiliar terrain. In some ways it felt like a homecoming of sorts. The scent of balsam fir in the air, the cheerful songs of chickadees (the colder the better for those little guys) scouring the branches above the rush of water in the streams and rivers beside the road – all the things I’ve missed about the Northeast while out wandering in the deserts of the Southwest. And as Roger Staubach predicted, not a soul was encountered the entire time I was out riding.

Aside from the occasional slip on the ice, that’s how we roll out here along the course of the extra mile.


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