Quips

I headed out to Pine Point today on a 12 mile ride. It is a flatter trail than my recent rides into North St. Paul and the three or four steep grades on the horse trail have recently been "paved" with loose bank gravel, and the crew has carved swails across the grade to redirect rainwater. In other words, they've given me several good excuses to dismount and walk up those grades.

Not far into the ride in a section where the horse trail I was riding was close to the paved bike trail, the male of an oncoming couple blurted out his version of the typical quip, "he lost his other wheel!" He said it twice just to make sure his partner heard. Sheesh. These inane comments don't usually bother me, but today I was just wishing that folks would be a little more creative, or just keep quiet. It is always the guys with the stupid comments, too. I find women are surprisingly supportive in what they say, as if they are cheering on one of their neighbor kids playing soccer ("oh, good for you!").

The trail has two long bridges over county roads that have a decent grade up and down, and it was on the steep uphill approach of the bridge over Manning Trail Road that a guy on a bike approaching me from behind said, "Quit making it look so easy". That is absolutely the nicest quip I've heard while riding. I thanked him, not just for his comment, but for saying something thoughtfully supportive. What he didn't realize is that, in fact, that part of the ride on a paved uphill isn't really that hard compared to undulating, loose dirt with hoof divots on an uphill grade with fallen branches, but hey I'll take it anyway.

Fast Feet

oct 14.jpgIt took me a while to get out of the house this Saturday morning and get out to the trail. I think I was a bit wary after my last ride where I had two or three pretty hard falls trying to get up hills. I really don't want to beat myself up, but I still want to get out on the trail. Eventually I gathered everything, hopped in the car and got out there.

The Stillwater boys cross country team was finishing their Saturday run about the time I drove up. It was hard to find a parking place, but since they were finishing their run rather than starting, the trail wasn't crowded. With the light rain and cold October temperatures the trail was nearly empty. First thing I noticed was that I was riding rather fast compared to other times this summer. I suppose it is the running. I worked on turning quick circles with my feet, similar to what I used to do on the track at the Jr High. The trail had been groomed with bank gravel on the hills. This is better than sand, but certainly looser than the packed dirt that was there previously. This time instead of trying to get up the steeper hills I rode as comfortably as I could through the bank gravel and got off when I was stalling. I took two good tumbles that had me rolling and once more was glad I was wearing the 661 shin and knee guards. They've saved my knees several times this year.

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The fall colors are past peak, but still it was a very nice ride. I'm a bit sore tonight after the tumbles, but happy to get out and shake off some of the fear from the previous ride. Here's a video coming out of the tunnel under Highway 36.

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Solitude

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15 Sept 2012 ride a.jpgI usually ride by myself. Karen and I often go together to the trail, but I'm slower on one wheel than she is on two, so we usually split up. Today I went out on my own to do a 10 mi loop around the North St. Paul snowman, and realized how rarely I talk to anyone other than myself while I ride. Perhaps that is why there is ample time to overthink things while sitting on the unicycle. You aren't getting anywhere very quickly, and during those stretches when the trail runs smoothly, the mind can wander.

I also noticed, now that I know the trail pretty well, that I am over-anticipating the hills that give me trouble. As soon as I see the runup to a tough slope I mentally replay the many times the hill beat me in the past, my confidence evaporates and I often fail on the first third. I've found that a good antidote is a to have a mental response when my thoughts focus on previous dismounts. "I think I can, I think I can" doesn't cut it. I need something more tangible, and this ride I had it. I've been running quite a bit more this summer, which, although it means less riding, also means more leg strength. So in my runups to hills this ride I could respond to myself that I've got more power so if I focus on good balance I've got a better chance than usual.

On the front end of the ride, it worked. I topped at least one hill that I've never successfully ridden before, and another than I rarely beat. The way back was another story. With that leg power gone I had the will and the conficence, but not the strength and pancaked pretty hard on the top third of three hills. There's something memorable about catching your fall just inches from a rock rising toward your noggin.
15 Sept 2012 ride bridge.jpg
I always protect my aging body parts with KH gloves and 4x4 shin/knee protection and they paid off. I ache a bit today but that's what asprin, my recreational drug of choice, is for.

Here's where solitude also paid off. No one saw my falls, no one fretted about my old bones, and no one would be questioning my sanity. Except me.

[ I-694 bridge east of St. Paul MN passing over the gateway trail]

That was dumb

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4July2012 UPD.jpg
Ah, 97 degrees in the shade, just the perfect conditions for a nice ride on the 4th of July. Karen was game, so out we went down the Gateway Trail toward St. Paul. Hmmmm, I wonder why there is only one other car in a parking lot near the trail that is usually full? Everyone else at 4th of July parties? No, you fool Tom, everyone else has better sense than to ride when its so hot!

In truth, it was a great ride out. I worked on relaxing my shoulders and keeping all the channels of input firing. Vision, touch and balance, sound...I was trying to relax and just let my body respond quickly to all the stimulus. There are three particular hills on that section of the horse trail that give me trouble. One is moderate grade with a long grassy runout with hidden hills and holes (when you are celebrating beating the hill the runout puts you on your nose), one long incline that alternates grass and single track and a third that has a challenging grade and loose sand under the wheel. I got two of three, and almost made the third, so the relaxation wasn't hurting my success any.

While the ride out was great, the ride back was another story. Did I say it was very hot and sunny? The trail had about 50% shade so there was some relief, but yes, it was hot. I carried a Camelback and made sure to take regular sips, but I was starting to feel a bit tired. At the halfway point (where we took the picture already showing me fairly red in the face) we stopped for a break and I found myself not really wanting to get going again. I decided to take the paved trail to conserve energy, but still only made it about half way back before thinking that my balance was starting to wane. I dismounted and walked the remainder of the trail, not without some struggling. I was fortunate to have Karen along for support.

It turns out that I was suffering from symptoms of heat exhaustion. No only was I physically exhausted, my vision was playing tricks on me as if my brain couldn't process the spots of very bright sunlight. Once home (Karen drove, obviously) I downed sports drinks, applied an ice pack and just sat down in the air conditioning and cooled off. After a shower and a nap I'm feeling way better.

So that was dumb. The lessons learned today were (1) respect the heat when making choices about when and where to ride and (2) keep riding with a partner who can help when things go wrong.

Century Bridge

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23 June 2012 bridge.jpgThe State of Minnesota built a bicycle bridge for the Gateway Trail so that it crosses over Century Ave in North St. Paul. I drive past that bridge on my daily commute, but I've never been over it on bike or unicycle, until today. Starting from the parking lot on Jamaca I rode the Gateway under Highway 36, Under I94, over Century and turned around at the N. St. Paul snowman for a 10 mile loop.

If you check the date of this entry and the last entry you'll see a nearly 2 month gap which represents how long its been between rides. Yikes! And I felt it on this ride. Wow, I'm pooped. When I get tired I ride with my shoulders forward and butt back which causes all kinds of posture and lower back fatigue. I had flashes of my high school football hollering at me, "Michaels, get your butt under you!!!" as he blew the whistle and had me go one-on-one with another kid one more time. So Coach Moore's demands rang in my ears as I tried to get my butt under me, relax my shoulders but keep them back in line with my hips, and get my weight more on to my feet.

When you read beginner instructions about unicycle riding you read that you should put your weight on the seat. That's fine for learning, but when you are out on the trail you really need to get the weight transferred to the balls of your feet so you can make quick balance adjustments (and so that you junk doesn't get numb so fast).

23 June 2012 dent.jpgThe layoff affected my mounts. After walking up a particularly steep hill I mounted at the top only to go careening off to the side missing a stump and landing in some raspberries on the side of the trail. You can still see the dent in the berry patch that I made with my posterior.

Pine Point turnaround

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Point park 30 Apr 2012.jpg
Pine Point is about 6 miles out from a convenient parking lot on the Gateway trail so it makes for a good 12 mile weekend ride. It has a water fountain too, which is a bonus - I don't carry water on the Uni and it is helpful to rehydrate at the halfway point. My hopes were dashed though when I got there. No water yet. What, is it going to freeze again before summer? Well, it is Minnesota after all.

Last night I watched Man on a Wire, the documentary of Philippe Petit's 1974 wirewalk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I coudn't tell what was real archive footage and what was recreation, but there were several clips of Philippe as a young man practicing on the wire. I was taken by the enormous concentration he showed while out on the wire - his face was transformed - and how he kept his head high, chin up and eyes forward. I think I can learn from that focus and apply it to my riding. I'll skip the 1/4 mile high part though.

Sidewalks

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sidewalk.jpg
I usually stay off of sidewalks because I don't want to scare the daylights out of pedestrians or get undercut by rampaging tricycles. Today during my lunchtime ride through a quiet neighborhood though I took to that narrow ribbon of concrete.

And it was more challenging than I expected.

Roads have undulations to ride through and potholes to avoid, but compared to the drops and bumps every 5 feet as you jounce over sidewalk cracks and expansion joints, roads are smoooooth. I find, especially with the 24 compared to the 29 wheel, that my slow speed stability is low and jittery. Combine that stability issue with the unexpected challenge of sidewalk riding and this noon's outing was an adventure!

Checking behind

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In a previous post about cars I admitted that I wasn't being sufficiently careful about watching for cars. Today I decided to work on that.

I rode the 24" from the gym to an outdoor basketball court where I worked on figure 8s, mounts, stalls and rocking using drills I've described before. Compared to the 29", the 24' feels twitchy and less stable in the wheel. That's great for maneuvering, since you can twist and turn the wheel quickly, and less rotating mass means the wheel is easier to stop and restart during stalls and rocks. It is also a size that I feel confident free mounting without holding on to the wheel (Megan's Mount) like I do with the 29".

The ride to and from the court is mostly on paved roads through a quiet neighborhood with little traffic, so that's where I chose to practice looking behind me. I started by just looking over my right shoulder, then my left. Then I tried to actually see and focus on something like a traffic sign or parked car I had passed to the left, and then the right. I tried twisting my shoulders a bit to allow more of a look behind, and I tried to keep looking back for 3-4 seconds. It didn't take long before I felt ok looking behind me on both sides, and wasn't roaming too far off a straight track down the road.

Next I need to practice looking behind me when I'm on a dirt path, or steeper inclines or declines. What isn't hard on paved flats often becomes much more of a challenge on hilly, rocky paths.

Horses

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horses.png
Riding the Gateway trail I usually come across horses and their riders. The trail is really two trails in the section I ride: a paved multi-use trail and an unpaved horse trail. The rules of the trail say that those on horseback using the horse trail must first purchase a permit. Other users are also allowed, and are not required to buy the permit.

Most riders are very congenial, and all the horses I've approached or passed are very calm. However, I've recently decided to dismount or where possible to ditch over to the paved trail when passing or approaching two or more horses. Even though they've always been calm, they are big beasts and haven't had much experience with unicycles before so I don't want to cause them to bolt, particularly with a student rider.

Here's a brief encounter with a pair earlier today. I was pretty tired and coming to the end of a 10+ mile ride, but really it wasn't any trouble to dismount, walk by and greet the riders. They seemed a little snarky for some reason, but that's their problem, not mine.

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Also, for the first time ever, I came across two other unicyclists. We passed by each other on one of the bridges and I think all of us were surprised. They had some tricked out 36" touring unicycles with bars but I didn't catch the type, and of course I forgot to turn on the video camera!

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