26 August 2023

Archival footage: When did you get slower?

The following essay was originally posted to the Fifty+ Years Old forum at mtbr.com on 25 August 2023.

Am I slower? I really don't know. That's the honest answer.

I mean, I've got almost a dozen years of Strava data that conclusively says: maybe?

How do I really know? And how much do I really care?

Facts are facts: My bikes have all changed for-the-better by several iterations in the aforementioned dozen-year time-period; fires, floods, and new construction have radically changed our local trails, in some cases for-the-better; technology, frame- and tire-design have all changed my riding style and abilities for-the-better a thousand-fold; and sure, inevitably, so has my body changed (tho not always for-the-better) as well as the way that I sometimes feel before, during, and after I ride (again, not always for-the-better)... So, which of these variables am I looking at when trying to determine if I'm slowing down?

I still get the occasional Strava PR, though they're certainly fewer and further between these days... but does the interval between improvements mean I'm getting slower? Maybe? Or perhaps I'm just drawing closer to the top-of-my-game given where current technology and new, better-built trails have gotten me.

I know I'm getting older, and maybe I am slowing down some. But, hand-on-my-heart, having done this mountain-bike thing for 30-plus years, I've never enjoyed riding more than I am right now, in the present moment, at my present age. I know one of these "days" my last ride will ultimately literally be my last. But for now I'm committed to try to "live to ride another day" and to savor each moment of each of today's rides, and push against the unavoidable envelope of entropy as best I am able. Rage, rage against the dying of the light, right?

So slow, fast, or somewhere in-between doesn't really make a lot of sense to me anymore. Sure, I still like to check where I stand in the Strava pecking-order after most rides... and I'll be honest, I'm never the KOM, but when was I ever, really? Nevertheless, in general my times going up and going down are, to my mind, well within the respectable range and nothing to be ashamed of for a hairy-legged 200-pound 56-year-old dood on a hardtail.

But, to tell the truth, despite my somewhat voyeuristic interest in where I stand on the segment-achievements list, my heart-of-hearts simply wants to know after each ride:

Was it Good?
Did it Flow?
Did it get Rad?

25 August 2023

Archival footage: Should I move to Flagstaff?

The following essay was originally posted to the Arizona forum at mtbr.com on 28 June 2023.

I've been "trapped" in this little mountain town since 1991 with no way out, but likewise also with little desire to leave (that's both a pro and a con, I suppose... I'll explain below). It's a good thing I like it here.

What's a pro to living in Flagstaff? That's easy: all the trails (more all the time thx to @rockman and his crew), lakes, ski runs within easy striking distance of town. For me these features are the reasons I find myself so content living here. Also, there's a couple grocery stores, a few places to eat pretty good food, and about 1000 bars. It might sound like I'm speaking hyperbolically, but I most definitely am not. Other pros? Hmmm... there's mostly decent people here. I've know a few assholes, and heard about several others (we're kinda a one-degree-of-separation sort of place). But most of the folks I know are pretty cool. I think it's because almost everyone is here on purpose, so you don't meet too many people who are "this place sucks" except high-school kids who don't know any better.

Cons? It's a bit expensive. My wife and I got lucky and got our toe-hold established in the 1990s when things were a little cheaper, if not perceivably so at the time, they certainly were looking back in comparison to today.

Bureaucratic things move slowly around here, be it the town council, or the local USFS agency, the school board, or the county government... it all just kinda churns around the same drain most of the time. Until disaster strikes... then everyone's pretty good at rallying together.

Turns out we've had some practice in this regard (the striking of disaster), which brings me to "the big con" which is: the simple truth that we're all just here bronc-riding a giant bomb-casing, hoping like hell it doesn't explode and kill us all... and by that, of course, I mean: THE THREAT OF WILDFIRE.

If you're really good at pretending... or super-good at putting all your hope/trust/assurance in any of a half-dozen or so public service agencies that you think might be able to try valiantly to save you and/or personal property, then how-doo! Welcome to Flagstaff, pardner!

If, on the other hand, the prospect of losing all you have (and possibly, let's be honest, everyone you love) to a massive out of control FIRESTORM (or the flooding thereafter) that will probably be started by some tweaker a-hole living in his van "down by the river" (note: we have no river) who believes his right to a high-summer campfire is enshrined in the Second Amendment, then maybe take a beat, think it thru... perhaps a townhouse in Anthem, within easy striking distance of Flag but well out of the burn-zone, is better suited to you.

'Cause here's the hard reality of life in Flagstaff: always knowing, in the back of your brain: it's all gonna burn. We don't like to talk about it. We like to pretend we can do something to mitigate the risk of it (thinning projects, controlled Rx fire, closure orders, let-burn lightning strikes, etc). But the bottom line is, these things don't really work, we're merely "tilting at windmills" trying to look like we know what we're doing, but basically we're just fukt.

Those of us whose roots are set too deep, who have been here so long, most of us can't do much to get out of the path of what's coming... And maybe we just don't want to. I gotta admit, there's the constant draw of all the sweet singletrack out your back door, just begging for a shred, which, I think, causes a lot of us to live rather cavalierly day-to-day perched on the razor's edge of disaster, like the good lord said, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." The riding and the skiing and the paddling really are that good most days. I think we're just kinda hoping it's not coming for us today... maybe even that "the big one" will wait 'til we're gone, aged out of the living process, ya know. But who the hell knows... Nobody does.

Except, truth is, we all know: it's coming, bummer of it is: we just don't know when.

24 August 2023

Archival footage: A MacGyver Story

The following essay was originally posted to the Vintage, Retro, Classic forum at mtbr.com on 13 June 2023.

JRA in a lonesome meadow which runs for a couple quiet foresty miles between two outlying upscale neighborhoods on the north side of town, I determined, as per usual, to take the higher-harder track this afternoon, the one that climbs over a rough basalt bench, rather than the other, which nearly everyone else takes because it's less angular (in all dimensions) and heads more directly and expediently back into town.

Threading the needle, I pushed the front wheel of my 1987 Panasonic Mountain Cat 7500, oh-so gently between two pointy black rocks embedded in the track, both firmly bolted down with the force of eons of volcanic glue, when, despite the confident finesse with which I executed this fine maneuver, the stem slipped, quite unexpectedly, about 15 degrees to the right of center.

No big deal. Hop off, out with the six-mil hex, a bit of righty-tighty and viola! With the last twist of the wrench, the unpainted aluminum top-cap on the ain't-she-sweet 1" quill Salsa roller stem crumbles to a mixture of crappy metal bits and a smattering of what I'm guessing is fully adulterated AL2O3. The bars now swing freely side-to-side...

A tube, a pump, a couple nylon tire levers, and a Cool Tool seat-post quick release are all the tools I've got. The Mountain Cat is my slackcountry commuter rig, afterall. Hasn't been on a long ride in the woods in decades (it's got seatstay breather-hole cancer). But for years it’s gotten me around town via the sidecountry and interstitials so darn well. So, there I am, not so far from home that I can't self-extract on foot, but reluctant to do so because, in some 30 years of riding, I've only ever walked out twice, once for a broken rear triangle (snapped both chainstays on the only FS bike I've ever owned), and once for a broken fork (fully snapped off one leg of a red Ritchey biplane... didn't want to risk snapping off the other, ya know).

A couple minutes looking at the bike, trying to puzzle out where a flat washer with an ID close to the stembolt's OD might be hiding, and I can't think if a thing... 'cept prolly there's a washer behind the crankbolts that would work (can't actually recall), but the Cool Tool QR tool doesn't have a 15mm socket for this purpose like the original Cool Tool does, just a 10.

Clock ticks off another minute or two as I contemplate other options... not. walking. home.

And then it occurs to me: I might could flip the two remaining parts of the top-cap so what remains of the flange will act as a washer to the recessed retainer and see if it'll bind enough without crumbling to steer without slippage sufficient to get my ass home. One foot-pound of tork, twist-check the bars, then another and another half-a-turn 'til it's juuuust tight enough to ride as slow and as straight as I can.

Something like this:

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey