Comparisons... by Erin Wade

A couple of weeks ago I was pulling my Catrike Pocket out of the back of my car, and noticed something on one of the front tires - a bit of greenish coloring. I rolled it into the garage to get a closer look. At first I thought it was something that had gotten on to the tire from the road. As I looked closer, however, it became clear that it was the layer under the black rubber peeking through. A spin of the wheel found that it was showing in spots all the way around.

I got my Pocket in June of 2017 - about 19 months ago. It’s a 2012 model that I found on eBay. Technically it’s used, of course, but the person I’d bought it from had been given it by someone else who hadn’t ridden it, and he got it for his wife who also decided she didn’t want to ride it. The tires on the trike still had the little nubs around the outside. My little Pocket had seen very little action.

Since then, according to Cyclemeter, I’ve ridden 1861.02 miles on the Pocket. This may seem like a lot, or not that much, depending upon the circles you travel in - to avid, regular cyclists this type of distance in 19 months is no big deal. But it’s important to compare yourself to yourself, and for me last year was my biggest mileage year ever up to that point; and this year I’ve already ridden further. This owes in no small amount to my trike - I love riding this thing.

So: it makes some sense that it would be time for new tires. I took the trike in to the always helpful folks at Meads Bike Shop in Sterling to perform the feat (a bike mechanic I am not). Because the tires needed to be ordered it was going to take a couple of days. (I did actually take a couple of rides on the worn tire, but I figured I was really increasing my odds of having to call for a pickup each successive time).

This meant, when it came time for last week’s Sunday ride, I had no trike. I do, however, have my road bike - it’s a 1987 Cannondale SR400 that I’ve had for years, and was my primary ride until I got the trike. Here she is:

Cannondale SR400

I looked back in Cyclemeter later and realized that it had been over a year since I’d ridden the Cannondale. This week’s Sunday ride was on October 14th, and my prior ride on this bike was October 10th, 2017. The ride prior to that had been on June 27th and, in both cases it was, then as now, because I’d had the trike in the shop.

Now, to be clear, I didn’t get the Catrike because I was unhappy with my Cannondale. Quite the contrary, I’ve always been very fond of it. It’s lightweight, it has an elegant simplicity, and even with only the 12 gears it’s age allows it, it is a fast, capable machine. And I love the clean, simple lines of its design. Heaven help me, I even kind of like the 1980’s pink neon lettering.

I didn’t get the Catrike because I was unhappy with my bike. I got it because I think recumbent trikes are cool. I mean really cool. As I’ve said here before, I’ve wanted one pretty much since the day I realized they existed.

That said, I figured it would be good to get the old girl out and take her for a spin. Of course, there’s been nothing to stop me from doing that over the past year - she’s always waiting, patiently, there in the garage. But still...

I pumped up the tires (it had been a year, after all), put some oil on the chain, and rolled her out down the driveway. The Cannondale rode perfectly, as if no time had passed. But for me, there were several things I noticed on this ride that I likely wouldn't have a year and a half ago:

  • Wind noise. It was immediately clear to me that this was going to be a louder ride than usual due to the wind in my ears. We live in out on the Illinois prairie, in a wind farm, so this is always a factor, but it was so much more noticeable here.
  • Speed - I was still as fast, or perhaps a bit faster, as on the trike. This isn’t necessarily surprising - the Cannondale is lighter and has larger wheels than the Pocket, and my speeds on it are historically higher (though I’ve been getting closer).
  • Comfort - My tuchus was sore well before I reached the end of my 12-ish mile ride (perhaps a loss of callous over time?). And I do not miss the riding position - cranked over and tilting your neck up to see the road ahead is not a bonus.

I had noticed the wind issue from a different perspective last winter when I took my wife’s mountain bike out for a comparative ride. In that case, being up in the wind was noticeable because of how much colder it was. Out here on the prairie, lower is definitely better when it comes to dealing with that wind.

Speed, as I noted, was not an unexpected difference. Here, I suppose, what’s nice to see is that a year away on a different type of machine hasn’t really affected my ability to ride the Cannondale - I suppose it’s true that you never forget how. But I’ve gotten faster on the Pocket since I got it, and it makes me wonder how much closer I’d be with a more comparable machine. Would an Expedition or a 700, with their larger rear wheels, be more comparable machines? (This also leads me to wonder what the valid comparisons are between different bikes and trikes - a question we certainly won’t answer here today...).

The comfort issue is also unsurprising, I suppose. One is actively choosing to make a trade-off when one chooses to ride a road bike. And there will undoubtedly be people out there who suggest that I’d be more comfortable on my Cannondale if I got a fitting for it. For them, let me say here: this is possibly true. Did I mention that I love my Catrike, and that it wasn’t for reasons of comfort that I bought it? A fitting on my road bike isn’t going to get it back off the hooks any more frequently.

The Pocket is back now, fully shod with new shoes on all three wheels. The Cannondale is back in the garage. It is a fine machine, and it did a wonderful job of standing in when needed. But I’m afraid it’s going to remain on the backup bench.

Halestorm by Erin Wade

Heavy metal music as a category can be somewhat confusing nowadays, particularly if you come at it as a more... seasoned fan. For those of us who grew up listening to the likes of Judas Priest, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, and Sammy Hagar, modern offerings in the category can be somewhat perplexing. Frequently exploration of the category in the modern era results in encountering indiscernible vocals that suggest a singer trying to clear a decade’s backlog worth of phlegm, backed by guitars crunching in a non-melodic pattern that are reminiscent of sandpaper being run across the strings.

Halestorm stands in distinct contrast to that trend. All of their albums are excellent, and their newest release - Vicious - scratches the heavy metal itch in all the right places.

Vicious - which came out July 27th, 2018 - is a vocal tour de force, with Lzzy Hale front and center. She is the force.

I’ve been listening to Vicious for the better part of two months now and, while the band absolutely has its own distinct sound and character, 30-plus years worth of listening to music makes my brain inevitably draw comparisons. And with respect to that, the comparison I keep coming back to is Ronnie James Dio.

Heavy metal, new and old, is full of singers who can wail or put that low, gravelly timbre into their voices. But few vocalists have demonstrated the range of Ronnie James Dio - that ability to put all of that range on display in a single song - Don’t Talk to Strangers being a prime example of that:

Black Vultures - the opener on the new album - is the song that most makes me think of this comparison.

They are very different songs, to be sure, but the range within, from relatively soft and quiet to rasping scream, is there in both. Listening to the album, but especially this song, made me want to cue up Holy Diver and give that a listen thru as well.

What’s clear, with all of this, is that Lzzy Hale is a vocal powerhouse. I first encountered her as a guest for the title track on Linsey Sterling’s Shatter Me - a standout song on an excellent album that made me determined to find out out more about the vocalist. As is often the case, I discovered that, while she was new to me, the band has been active for a while, with an existing catalog. What’s delightful within that is that the catalog includes three other albums of original work - Halestorm, The Strange Case of..., and Into the Wild Life; and it includes three EP’s of covers, all under the title Reanimate (e.g. Reanimate, Reanimate 2.0, etc).

It’s that vocal flexibility that makes this so magnificent - Lzzy and crew’s love for the songs they are covering is clear and true on each of these. What’s more, they show her ability to sing virtually anything across the hard rock/heavy metal spectrum. One might expect that, for example, when seeing that Heart’s All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You is on one of these EP’s (Reanimate). One might be more dubious when one sees Whitesnake’s Still of the Night show up (on Reanimate 3.0 ). One would be wrong:

And lest one think that these covers sit only in safe, hard rock territory, realize that artists as diverse as Stevie Nicks, Lady Gaga, and Twenty One Pilots also get the Halestorm cover treatment on these EP’s.

This shines within the new album as the songs range from relatively soft and reflective (The Silence), to funky (Do Not Disturb, Conflicted) to solid hard rock/heavy metal (Buzz, and the aforementioned Black Vultures). And while Lzzy clearly enjoys that heavy metal edge to her voice, she also brings out the baby doll range where appropriate (e.g. on the aforementioned Conflicted).

Of course, a vocalist is not an entire band, and the albums would not be convincing if it weren’t for the rest of the crew as well. The guitar and bass work here is excellent, giving that crunch and funk where needed, in just the right measure. Drum work, handled by Arejay Hale - yes, Lzzy’s brother - is both supportive and complex. Drum work can take many forms, of course, but in heavy metal it often seems relegated to timekeeping with occasional accents for punch and fills. Here you get something different. Arejay‘s drum work has an expected heavy edge, but interesting, lighter rhythms fill in the spaces in-between, and often mirror and add to vocal lines. If you enjoy music where the drummer takes an active role you’ll find things to enjoy here.

While I’m drawing comparisons to Ronnie James Dio, the comparisons vary when we get to lyrical content. You won’t find songs full of angels and demons here. Halestorm‘s topic areas are quite different. Black Vultures opens the album with an anthem about rising up against, or in spite of, others trying to bring you down:

I don’t give in, I don’t give up I won’t ever let it break me I’m on fire, I’m a fighter I’ll forever be the last one standing

This leads into Skulls, which shifts gears into metaphor for people uncritically taking in the information they are fed, along with Lzzy’s inability to simply sit by and let that go:

Leave the TV on Believe what you want If you can’t see right or wrong...

And the songs continue, with a real-life and wonderfully earthy tone - Halestorm embraces the topic of sexuality openly and directly, and this is reflected in songs like Buzz and Conflicted, and more than directly in Do Not Disturb...:

I’m on the very top floor, room 1334 There’s a king size bed, but we can do it on the floor Turn your cell phone off, I’ll put a sign on the door That says "do not disturb" And if I were you I’d bring your girlfriend too Two is better than one, three is better than two...

And further on into relationships gone wrong and the subsequent pain - the album covers a gamut of experiences and emotions. It works excellently as a cohesive piece - in an era where some artists have set aside the album format in favor of serial singles, this is a coherent album true to the name, without a bad moment in the set.

If you have been looking for heavy metal music in the classic style and have been struggling to find it, you need look no further - it’s alive and well, right here in this album and in this band.

TerraTrike Comfort Pedal Conversion Kit by Erin Wade

In a lot of ways, a recumbent trike is arguably safer than an upright, "diamond frame" (DF) style bike. The fact of having three wheels under you instead of two means that there is no need to balance, nor any of the issues that can come from failing to do so. I’ve been riding cycles for most of my life, and the majority of the injuries and mishaps I’ve experienced over the years have involved some instance of the upright not remaining so.

This is not to say that a recumbent trike is free of risk. It is possible (or, ahem, so I hear...) to roll or flip a trike, for example. But a somewhat unique risk is the one that falls under the charming description of leg suck. This is what occurs when the feet leave the pedals at speed and get caught and dragged under the seat of the trike.

I’ve been fortunate enough not to have experienced this thus far in my trike-riding tenure. Over the first couple of months this was just dumb luck - I bought my Catrike Pocket used on eBay, and so didn’t know about this phenomenon. Joining triking groups on Facebook made me aware of it, and after that it seemed reasonable to take precautions.

Catrikes come with a pretty nifty stock pedal that has a flat, platform-style regular shoe option on one side, and a fairly standard "clipless" option on the other. This offers up the option of simply getting clipless cycling footgear and snapping into the pedals. For a lot of people this is probably a pretty good option, especially if you already own cycling shoes.

I am not one of those people. My DF bike is a 1987 Cannondale SR400 (sadly, largely in disuse since I got the Catrike) with Toe Clips, the old stirrup-style cages that wrap around (but, oddly, don’t clip on to anything) the foot. As such, I’ve never purchased cycling shoes. And because I ride year-round, I’d need several different types for the different seasons, which could get spendy in a hurry.

My interim solution for this was to use cross-straps built from Velcro Thin Ties (like a Velcro tie wrap). This is two strips of Velcro put in a diagonal pattern across the pedal that I slide my foot into. When the foot turns vertical they tighten up and hold the foot in. They seemed to work ok, and at just over $10 for 100 of them, they are pretty economical - about ¢0.20 per foot. I’d love to take credit for this idea, since it seems such a simple, elegant solution, but I borrowed it from someone else in one of the triking groups (I wish I could remember who) who clearly does a better job of thinking outside the box than I do.

Now, they would periodically wear out and break, but that’s only ever happened when putting my foot in them - never when riding.

...So far.

It’s the so far part that bothered me. Maybe this solution is perfectly sustainable over the long haul, or maybe I’ve just been lucky. If the latter was true, though, it seemed reasonable to look for a different solution.

This past April I had the opportunity to swing through the Wheel and Sprocket Bike Expo in Milwaukee. I’d gone to get an opportunity to take a test ride on a Catrike Expedition (this seems like the front-running candidate for my next trike), but while I was there I looked at the other trike displays as well. TerraTrike was there, and one of their models had heel slings on the pedals. I asked the staff/salesman about these, and he indicated they are designed to bolt on to any pedal. They go by the somewhat cumbersome name of Comfort Pedal Conversion Kit. Apparently "heel slings" isn’t a jazzy enough name. But jazzy or not, they run right under $45 bucks, which is way cheaper than all but the least expensive single pair of cycling shoes on Amazon.

That was April and this is October, so it clearly took me a while to get around to ordering them. When I did so, they were out of stock on TerraTrike’s Website, but Bicycle Man had them (I may have bought their last set - it’s currently listed as sold out).

I ordered them in late August, but ran into a snag as I went to install them. These are, perhaps unsurprisingly, not designed with the standard Catrike pedals in mind. They are a pretty simple design, intended to be bolted in through the holes that the standard pedal reflectors mount to. To do this, they come with a threaded backing plate.

Backing Plates

This would work quite nicely, but the backing plate was too wide to fit into the space allowed on the Catrike pedals. So I stepped away from them, went out for a ride, and waited for a day that I would have time to sit down with a grinder and shape the plate down so it would slide in.

When that day came I was able to get it to slide in to the open space with a minimal amount of shaping. But once it slid in it was clear that the plate was also too tall for the opening - the holes didn’t line up (and it drops against the pedal on the other side). Clearing away that material would have involved a lot more grinding, and my skills in this area are limited. So, again, I stepped away, went for a ride, and thought it through a bit.

Ultimately I realized that I might be able to find nuts to secure them to the pedals instead. I stopped by the local hardware, taking the mounting bolts with me, to see if I could get a match. After a little bit of trial and error I was able to find them - they are M5.00’s. I picked up a handful of both nuts and lock washers in the appropriate size (I always get extras - makes it much less frustrating when something gets dropped and rolls away, nowhere to be found).

nuts and washers

Pedal with nuts

This worked, albeit with caveats:

  • The bolts it comes with aren’t long enough to get both the lock washers and the nuts on, so I went with the nuts alone. The bolts come with thread compound on them, so this should help hold it. I’ll need to check them periodically.
  • To get the nuts on I had to remove the Allen bolts from the outside frame of the pedal and swing it up. This meant that the plate for the heel sling covered one of the holes once it was attached, so I had to leave one of the bolts off. The outside frame is now held on by three bolts instead of four. Hopefully that will not cause any issues.

swing down pedal frame

All told, once I had all of the parts together, this took about an hour to do for both pedals. If you are more handy than I - and odds are good that you are - it will probably take you less time.

How Do They Work

Caveats aside, I got them installed and I’ve since had them out for a couple of rides. My very first impression involved trying them out for a very short ride with my typical summer riding shoes - a pair of Keen sandals. The picture on the box shows them used with sandals, so you’d think this would be ideal:

Judging a box by its cover

It... wasn’t. The way the strap falls does not go across the sandal strap as is shown in the drawing on the box. Rather, it falls across the heel, below that strap. Having the strap loose enough to get the shoe through means that it is a little loose at the heel. Yes, it is Velcro, so you could open it and close it each time, but it’s one very long, continuous piece of Velcro, so that would become a real pain in a hurry. On that initial ride, it didn’t feel as secure as I would have liked. It was fine with the cross straps (which I left on the pedals), but didn’t feel as secure when I rode for short ways without them.

foot strapped in

other foot strapped in

However, they worked quite nicely with regular shoes. In this case, I broke out my nearly pristine pair of running shoes that I purchased, oh, say, 10 or 12 years ago (turns out I love cycling and hate, hate, hate running). The straps fit perfectly over a shoe without an open back, and the extra lip of the heel holds it in. I did (and do) continue to use the cross straps, but I did ride for a short distance without them just to test them out, and the slings seemed to secure the foot (with regular shoes) quite nicely. I took them out for a 20-ish mile ride, and found them to be quite comfortable. Getting in and out of them while also using the cross straps takes some learning, but it gets easier with practice.

I also took them out for one of my most common rides with the sandals on. They still felt a little less secure, but the sensation went away after a bit. And since the strap falls at the heel, if the foot does drop out, it’s going to catch between the bottom of the foot and the sandal - it’s still in a position to keep the foot from falling off the pedal.

While they take some learning in terms of getting into and out of, they took none at all once I was riding. They technically add a bit of weight to the trike as well, I suppose. In either case, on my first two rides I actually had personal best times for both. I don’t think they improved my speeds (though I suppose I could be wrong about that), but they certainly didn’t slow me down, and they felt pretty natural after a few minutes.

Visually, they aren’t particularly sexy, but in the end, my risk of leg suck should be significantly diminished.

not sexy, but safe

TL:DR Section

The long and short of it works out like this:

  • These appear to be an economical alternative to cycling shoes, especially if one rides across multiple seasons.
  • They work better with solid-backed shoes than sandals. I will continue to use a cross strap in addition to the heel sling for all shoes, but especially the sandals.
  • They are not designed to bolt directly to the standard Catrike pedals. This is not surprising, since they are built by TerraTrike. But you can attach them with M5.00 nuts. Make sure you have some kind of thread locking compound.
  • When I put them on, it involved removing the outer bolts on the pedal frames to swing the frame up so I could attach the nuts. This resulted in the sling brackets covering one of the bolt holes, so it left me with three rather than four bolts holding on the pedal frame.
  • They take some learning to get in and out of, but riding with them comes quickly.

The Primary Opponent by Erin Wade

In athletic endeavors, your primary opponent is always yourself.

My child competes on our local high school cross country team, and this reality is something that is focused upon in that context. While there is certainly an identification of where one finished in rank order against competitors, the primary attention is frequently paid to one’s own time, and that against one’s personal record. I think this is a valuable lesson for young athletes to learn, a healthy perspective on athletics for them to carry into their adult lives.

I was reminded of this for myself a couple of weeks ago.

For the second year in a row I decided to ride in the Farmondo. This is a large group riding event put on by Tempo Velo, a regional cycling club, and sponsored by, among others, Mead’s Bike Shop, both located in Sterling, Illinois. The event offers rides in three distances - 20, 43, and 80 miles - and plots a course along winding, rising, and falling rural roads through the region (yes - Illinois does actually have hills, and I believe the event organizers have found most of them...). This year, as last, I decided to do the 43-mile event.

For the record, 43 miles was then, and is still, the longest distance I’ve traveled in a single ride. I enjoy myself out riding, and I aspire to longer rides, but the realities of schedule and time mean that I typically end up on shorter routes.

Keeping in mind the aforementioned healthy perspective, my goal for this event was to improve over last year. The organizers absolutely present the event as a group ride and not a race, but they do issue number tags and take official times. For the event in 2017 I came out at the following time and average mph over 43 miles:

3:40:30.92 @ 11.7mph

So that’s 3 hours, 40 minutes, and just under 31 seconds for the 43-mile ride. I’m no speed demon there - I came in 72nd out of 86 riders. I rode in the event on my 2012 Catrike Pocket. I believe I was the only recumbent rider in the event.

Farmondo 2017

I got my Pocket in June of 2017, so I’d had it about three months before taking it into this event. My average speed per ride on the trike has come up a bit since that point, so I was hopeful that I could come in at least a little faster this year than last. Still, another aspect of riding longer distances is how many breaks you take. There are two official break stations for the 43-mile portion of the event, and last year I stopped at both of them. Since I’d never ridden this type of distance before - my longest ride in training up for it was just under 29 miles - I reasoned that I didn’t want to overtax myself.

At the first break station last year I paused, drank a bit of water and took another for the road, but I was not physically in a position where I needed to stop - I did so as a precaution. By the second, however, I was pretty fatigued, and gulped down drink and watermelon to compensate. So - looking back it was clear that this was space in which I could improve my time - if I could eliminate at least one of the breaks, I’d finish more quickly.

In building up to this I increased my ride distances and experimented with ways to carry enough water with me to cover the whole distance. I laid out the longer distances around my usual cycling routes and included hills where I could (though I’m out on the prairie - the event route is through river country, so my hills pale by comparison). I was able to piece together a 42-mile route on the map, but I never quite got there. My longest practice ride ended up being 38 miles. Things seemed to get physically pretty challenging around the 35 mile point, but I was able to finish the 38-mile rides without a break, and had enough water to get through.

Weather for this year’s event was just about as perfect as one could hope: 65° and sunny. The humidity was up a bit at 75%, though this is not uncommon for Illinois. The only real downside to the weather was a bit more wind than one might prefer, running at about 14 miles per hour (all according to the weather reading for the event in Cyclemeter). In short, it was a beautiful day for a ride.

It appeared that I was, once again, the only recumbent rider in the event. This really only feels odd over the first mile or two, when all of the riders are grouped together. In that situation you are, of course, looking up at everyone else, with them packed around you. Once the road opens up it’s no different than coming across other cyclists on the road or a path on any other day.

The route for this year’s event appeared to be identical to last year, with the break stations in the same location. Because of the longer training routes, I was comfortable rolling right past the first station, and reasoned that, if I needed, I could always stop at the second one. This year as last there was a lot of trading positions on the hills with the folks on their upright bikes - them passing me on the uphill climbs, and then me rolling by them shortly after the hill was crested, only to see them ride by me again as we climbed the next rise. This is an understood phenomenon, the notion that recumbents are slower uphill and faster down than upright or "diamond-frame (DF)" bikes. As I understand it, it’s a feature of the difference in riding position, which is to say that one can stand up in the pedals on a DF bike, which aids in climbing, while the laid back position on the recumbent is aerodynamically better for downhill speed. This was certainly true last year, it was true this year, to a point. More on that later, perhaps.

So I rode past that first break station, secure in the knowledge that I could stop again. What I was pleasantly surprised to find was that, when the next station loomed ahead of me I still had enough water and I did not feel the need to stop. So I was able to roll past both of them.

They make the results available online very quickly afterward. I had an inkling of where I was at immediately after I finished because I was using Cyclemeter during the event, but Cyclemeter isn’t the official time, so I was excited to see where I would land. When I got home I loaded up the website and scrolled down past the group to focus directly in on my clock results. My time for 2018:

3:20:46.97 @ 12.9mph

For that first few seconds I was pretty pleased - building up to bypassing the breaks had achieved the desired effect. This was definitely an improvement.

And then my eye wandered over to my place:

I came in 79th out of 93 riders.

Don’t bother to scroll back up, I’ll just tell you: I came in 72nd last year. I was down seven positions from the year before.

The thing is, this is a stupid way to look at this. Logically I know this, and yet it still happened in my head. There despite the time, effort, and actual improvement.

All of which is why that aphorism is important: Your primary opponent is always yourself.

That a part of the focus in athletics for kids seems to have moved towards this perspective I think is a valuable thing. There will always be the few who are out in front of everyone else, but for the rest of us who endeavor to remain, return to, or simply become more athletic as adults, it’s vital that our comparative focus remain in the right place - improve yourself. Everything else is secondary.

Looking Back at Hindsight by Erin Wade

A few weeks ago I installed a new pair of mirrors on my Catrike Pocket after a surprise failure of the existing mirror. I used Mirrycle MTB Bar End mirrors - these were direct replacements for the existing mirror, which I had been happy with aside from, you know, the breaking.

After that post a couple of folks in the Recumbent Trikes Group on Facebook suggested an adjustment to the way the mirrors are mounted. The Mirrycle mirrors are three piece items outside of the bar end (four, if you include the piece on the inside that tightens it). The three pieces include the piece going into the bar end, a bent piece that attaches at a 90° angle to that piece, and the mirror. In the configuration shown on the box, all three pieces are together. This is the configuration I had on the trike before, and this is how I mounted the two new mirrors.

Hindsight

The suggestion was to remove the 90° piece and attach the mirrors directly to the piece coming out of the bar end, with the rationale that this will reduce vibration and allow for a clearer view behind.

Mirror close up

Now, a clearer view behind sounds great, but in years of riding first an aluminum frame upright road bike, and now my Pocket, which is also aluminum with a solid frame (e.g. no suspension) I’ve more or less come to accept the fact that things are going to vibrate. Still, the suggestion made good practical sense - fewer components means fewer things in the mix to move about - so it was worth a shot.

The bend removed

The long and short of this is: it absolutely does make a difference. While they still vibrate (along with the entire trike) over rough surfaces, most of the time the view behind is much clearer. In past, these were good enough to see that something was coming up from behind, but not enough so that you could tell what type of vehicle. With this configuration it is much clearer.

Additional bonus here - I noted that one of the benefits to having a two mirrors was that I could now see being me when signaling turns by looking in the mirror on the opposite side (because my arm was all I could see in the mirror on the signaling side). This adjustment only brings the mirrors down a couple of inches, but it’s enough that I now get a view of the road behind rather than just a view of my arm on the signaling side.

There’s also something about mounting it in this way that makes it feel a little more old British sportscar to me (a feeling that the trike already gives me). This isn’t something I can quantify, but it’s there nonetheless.

This all seems like a pretty simple thing, but I think a lot of folks - certainly me - tend to install things as they come. The mirror came in three parts, and had a picture on the box. That’s how I installed it - use all the parts and make it look like the picture. Some folks, however, think outside the box (pun intended - you can insert a sad trombone sound here if needed), and get different - better - results. My thanks to Vince and Mike for the very helpful suggestion!

And also thanks to everyone else who suggested alternative mirror arrangements. As time and budget allows I may be trying those also - it’s good to be able to see behind you...

Rend Lake Bike Path by Erin Wade

Take I-57 south about half an hour south of Mount Vernon, Illinois, and you’ll come across Rend Lake. In fact, you’ll actually start catching glimpses of the lake itself off to the right earlier than that - it’s pretty big, coming in as the second largest man-made lake in the state. Much of the land around it is protected in one way or another. One of those areas is Wayne Fitzgerell State Park, which I wrote about here a while back.

For this trip I had the opportunity to do some homework ahead of time, and found that Rend Lake has a much longer continuous section of trail system around its southern end, where the dam that formed it falls across the Big Muddy River.

Trail map

This compares favorably to Wayne Fitzgerell, where the path was shorter, and seemed to lack anything resembling a start or end point.

To get there, you’ll exit I-57 at Benton, and travel back a bit through the countryside. This is all lovely, intensely rural country - trees and water and prairie occasionally punctuated by farms and small towns. If you are from outside of Illinois you may assume that it’s all Chicago, but most of the state is not, of course - most of the state is like this to a greater or lesser degree.

Once you get to the lake, the most challenging part is selecting where to begin. You’ll find, on the map, that you enter on the aptly named Trailhead Lane.

Trail map close up

Not far along that path there is a large parking area that clearly abuts the trail. You can see that, because you can see the trail along trailhead lane. What you will also see is that the large parking area is clearly convenient, but it’s not where the trail begins. To be clear, after riding the course, I can say that it would be a fine place to start your ride, but I was looking for the whole trail experience, so I followed the road further in. What you’ll find there is a camping area and spots with smaller parking slots. You have to navigate this while keeping an eye on the trail itself, though, which you gain and lose through the trees as you do it. You’ll have to do that because, as best I can tell, despite the fact that you are driving on Trailhead Lane, there is no place where the actual trail head is marked (although I suppose it’s possible I simply didn’t go far enough in). Doing all of this added about 3/4 of a mile to the ride in each direction. If that extra mile and a half isn’t important to you, I’d suggest starting at the large lot.

Once you get riding you will find a course that offers multiple types of view. Much of it winds through wooded parkland, and for the first section you alternate between that and having the road off to the side. It then opens up into a small open area with the lake in the distance as you approach the side of the dam.

Rend Lake in the distance

The trail then rises up to the top of the dam, and you cross the Dam Road (the 12-year old boy in me loves that name) and the trail drops into the area below the dam, following along and then crossing the Big Muddy River.

Big Muddy River

Things change trail-wise here as well. Most of the trail is concrete on either side of the dam, but changes to tar and chip for this section. There are also a couple of sections that are perhaps spillways, where the trail drops down and then up by a couple of feet across a 15-20’ span. I’ve never encountered these anywhere else, but aside from being surprising, they were perfectly navigable.

Views along the Big Muddy are more or less what you would expect. You’ll see woodlands, of course, and you get glimpses of the river along these sections. Part of it is more wetland than river...

Where the water goes green

And the river itself here, falling just below the dam, is clearly channeled:

Big Muddy River

As you come out of this loop, the trail takes you out along the dam for approximately a mile:

Dam View

If you are here looking for wooded lake views, the first two sections of the trail might seem discouraging. Honestly, they were to me, though this was tempered a bit by a desire to get distance under my wheels as well. Press on a bit further, though, and things change. On the other side of the dam things open into the wooded vistas you are seeking.

Over the river and thru the woods

The trail frequently offers glimpses of the lake, and at times, rides right alongside it. For those inclined to stop and rest along the way, or bring along a picnic lunch, there are many locations, both formal and informal, that allow for this with a lovely lake view.

Lake View

The park is full of wildlife. As at Wayne Fitzgerell, deer are abundant. I came across small herds multiple times as I was riding, in most cases very close to the trail. On at least two occasions I was riding with deer bounding along the trail just ahead of me. I also came across wild turkeys, and a wide variety of waterfowl, including your usual ducks and geese, of course, but also some types of cranes and/or herons. These last, unfortunately, flew off before I could get a closer look and/or a picture.

This trail is peaceful, but it’s not quiet - or at least it’s not in late summer, when I was riding it. While the visible wildlife aren’t particularly noisy, this is cicada season in southern Illinois. You’ll hear them as an ongoing backdrop, a soundtrack, throughout your ride.

The trail itself is paved throughout. As noted before, below the dam it’s composed of asphalt tar and chip, while on either side above the dam you’ll find concrete. Automatically one might presume to prefer riding on the concrete sections, but there is good and bad there as well. The concrete is laid in large sectional blocks, resembling nothing so much as a very large sidewalk. This means that you hear and, depending on the type of machine you ride, feel the joints in an ongoing rhythmic pattern as you ride them. There is also a tendency, in a few sections, for the concrete segments to undulate, which can be unpleasantly surprising at speed.

And speed is a relevant consideration here. The trails above the dam frequently present as long, sweeping uphill and downhill sections. As uphill goes the grades are relatively gentle, but on the downhill versions of these sections one is rewarded with vigorous pedaling by a high speed twisting, curving ride that feels like you’ve suddenly arrived at Road America.

Road America?

These sections were a blast on my Catrike Pocket, really bringing out the human-powered gokart feeling that it can offer. I know that it would similarly be a blast on a road bike. But this is also when you discover that some of the sections of concrete undulate like a snake on a Don’t Tread on Me flag...

These winding twisty bits actually presented a bit of a quandary for me, because I wanted to stop and take pictures, but I also didn’t want to because I wanted to crest the next hill to take the next twisting descent...

The trail crosses roadways a few times, but it never joins them. It was busier than I’d found at Wayne Fitzgerell, which is to say that I occasionally came across walkers and a bicycle or two, but much of the time I was blissfully alone. The quality of the trail, and its remove from the roadway was such that darkness falling prior to the end is not a concern if you are comfortable riding with lights. You’ll need them to see, but you won’t particularly need them to be seen, since you are off the roadways.

As with the beginning, there is nothing at the end of it to tell you that you are at the end. You simply empty out into the parking area for a restroom and a bit of looking about finds no additional trail to ride.

Starting at the trailhead suggested by google maps will get you about a 20-mile round trip if you take the whole course. I got a little over 21 miles by going back a little further along the trail.

If you are looking for a place to ride in the region, this trail is absolutely worth checking out. I’d been aware of it before, but didn’t want to drive the few extra miles to get to it, stopping at the state park instead. Next time I’ll do the additional traveling.

Trike at Rend Lake

Benefit of Hindsight by Erin Wade

I struck out a couple of weeks ago for a 38 to 42-ish mile ride - I’ve been working on building up to longer distances. The weather was practically idyllic - partly cloudy, with a high in the lower 80’s; honestly better than a mid-August day in Illinois has any right to be. I’d worked out the route to allow for a full 42-ish miles, but to be easily cut to the shorter distance if I didn’t feel up to the full course.

All was going well until right about mile 10, at which point the rear view mirror on my Catrike Pocket snapped off of it’s post.

these pieces should be connected

That’s right - just snapped off. Not so much as a "by your leave", or "toodooloo" - one second it was there, doing a stalwart job at its duty, and the next it was a decoration on the pavement behind me.

The township road crews in the area have been diligently working on culvert repair over the course of this summer. As a result the highways and byways are punctuated with 3-4’ wide removed sections that reach across the breadth of the road, filled in with gravel rather than asphalt. These occur every few miles across the region right now and, inevitably, the difference in material results in a difference in the elevation between the road and the filler. It was upon encountering one of these sections, rolling along around 15mph or so that my mirror made its escape. As best I can tell, the jarring nature of the bump into the gravel fill must have been just enough to get it to give up the ghost.

I stopped and turned around to pick up the mirror, tossed it into a saddlebag, and continued on. I was already a third of the way into my ride, more or less, so it made just as much sense (I reasoned) to go on as it would to go back.

One of the things you quickly realize, under these circumstances, is just how valuable a rear-view mirror is on a recumbent trike.

Rear view mirrors are, arguably, desirable equipment for all road riding. I certainly have one mounted to my Cannondale upright as well, and I know that I miss them when I’m riding a borrowed bike, as with our adventures with bike sharing earlier this summer, or on the rare occasion that I take out MLW’s big-box Schwinn mountain bike.

Mirrorless rear view, however, is an area where a diamond frame bike has an advantage over a recumbent trike. Turning your head to look behind you is considerably easier on a DF bike than on my trike. It’s not impossible, mind you, but the effort is considerably higher, and the view one gains for that effort is not all one might hope.

This actually resulted in my cutting the ride down to the shorter route. The longer route included a section of road that, while only a couple of miles long, rises, falls, and twists with a minimal usable shoulder for emergency runoff. It seemed better to avoid that portion without the benefit of a rearward view.

I decided, given this experience, to order and mount two rear-view mirrors on the trike instead of just replacing the one. This puts a second mirror on the right handlebar.

The Repair Crew My repair crew helping me out

Two Mirrors

behind sight!

With the relatively small size of the trike, this may seem to be overkill. And from a visual field perspective, it is. Cars nowadays have mirrors mounted on both doors in addition to the central rear view mirror (though I’m old enough to remember when they came with one, standard, and getting one on the passenger side was an extra cost option. And then you had to prevail upon your passenger to adjust the mirror on that side, because there was no such thing as a power mirror... I digress - suffice it to say that I’m old enough to remember things that make me seem old...). The general width of a motor vehicle means that those three mirrors each provide a different view, with information within each that is valuable for the safe navigation of the machine. On a trike, however, the difference between the view in the two mirrors is negligible.

The similarity in view between the two, however, is more a feature than a bug. While it is overkill in terms of the visual field, what it offers is redundancy. When I first ordered the two mirrors, my thought was towards the idea of keeping the second one in the saddlebags as a backup, alongside the spare tubes and my toolkit. But while the mirror can be installed with a bike tool kit - all of the connectors have Allen heads on them - the real question that occurs is just how badly one would want to do a roadside mirror installation. Which is to say: not at all.

If I’d had the second mirror on the trike a couple of weeks ago, losing the one would have been a non-issue. Given that they provide virtually the same rear view, I could have comfortably soldiered on without alternating between wondering if anything was coming up behind me and shifting and craning uncomfortably to see whether or not that was the case.

I’ve also realized an additional advantage in rides since doing the installation. With the single mirror on the left side of the trike, I cannot see behind me when I signal a left turn - my arm is the only thing featured in the mirror at that time. It’s a small thing, for a short period of time, but now I can still get the rear view from the right-side mirror.

It’s always possible, tho, that the fates were just looking out for me that Sunday. As I mentioned, the loss of the mirror caused me to cut about five miles from the ride. It doesn’t seem like much, but my legs were pretty much spaghetti by the end of the trip even as it was, so all may have been for the best. Gotta get up to 42 miles eventually, though...

Cycling Resources: Google Maps by Erin Wade

One of the tasks that goes with cycling is sorting out routes to ride on. While it’s fun, at times, to simply pick a direction and see where the road takes you, much of the time it’s good to have an idea of where you are going, and how you are going to get there. This is especially true when you are trying to add distance to your regular routes. It’s pretty easy to use any mapping software or - if you still happen to have one about - a paper map - to sort out a five or ten mile ride. But as ride distances climb it becomes valuable to have a way to lay out clear routes that will work for the desired distance, and, particularly when riding on public roads, for safety purposes (it’s not fun to suddenly find that you’ve come to a point where your only choices are to either ride along a heavily traveled highway or backtrack).

Google Maps offers a free, readily available resource for this.

The first, simplest thing that it offers is cycling directions.

Cycling Directions

Usually this results in a route that avoids higher traffic areas, and it provides other information in a fashion that is specific to cycling - for example, travel times are at cycling speeds, and it gives a general impression of the terrain over the course of the route.

It also includes maps of biking trails and routes, identified in various shades of green lines on the map. The picture below shows biking trails in and around Rock Cut State Park in Rockford, Illinois.

Rock Cut Biking Trails

Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide a key, so you are left to interpret on your own, but the Google blog says the following about the key:

  • Dark green indicates a dedicated bike-only trail;
  • Light green indicates a dedicated bike lane along a road;
  • Dashed green indicates roads that are designated as preferred for bicycling, but without dedicated lanes

Some of the maps also show red, or perhaps brown, lines which were perhaps added in later (?). Based upon some familiarity with one of the areas they show up in, it appeared to me that these were either hiking or off-road trails, and that seems to be supported by this article on using Google maps for cycling on Lifewire.com. That article also offers step-by-step directions about how to use the cycling directions, though they appear to be specific to a desktop/laptop interface. In Google Maps for iOS, you tap the layers button in the upper right-hand corner:

Tap the Layers button...

Then select the cycling option in the menu:

...then select the cycling option

This will turn on the cycling route overlay so you’ll see bike trails and such on the map. You also want to make sure you select "biking" for the directions when you punch in your destination. This means that your directions will be set for cycling rather than driving, so if you use Google Maps for driving directions, you’ll want to remember to switch it back when you are in the car.

That Google Maps offers cycling directions isn’t new - it’s been around as a feature since at least 2010 - but it’s one of those things that you only really notice when you have a use for it.

The cycling specific directions are a great feature when you are trying to determine how to get from one specific location to another, but Google Maps offers another feature that is extremely helpful when trying to add distance to routes: the Measure Distance mode.

To turn this on using Google Maps for iOS you want to find your starting point on the map, and do a long press to drop a pin. This will bring up a menu on the left that includes "measure distance":

Measure Distance

(Note that, if you accidentally tap on a notable feature, it may not offer this option, so you may have to re-adjust your starting point slightly. I had to do that for this example, because I apparently tapped on just the right spot for Lock 2 of the Hennepin Canal for my first try).

Once you’ve selected this option, you’ll get a blue circle with a dotted line, and a distance readout at the bottom left hand corner. The trickiest part of this to get a handle on is that you don’t move the blue dot, you move the map under it. As you move the map the dotted line will extend. When you reach a turning point in the route you are exploring, you tap the "add point" button in the lower left-hand corner. This sets a marker and allows you to move the line in another direction (without it turns will get lost and the line will move at a diagonal direction - cool if you a traveling as the crow flies, but otherwise doesn’t work for the rest of us). This means that you’ll only need a few points set for a route with a few turns and mostly straightaways, but a lot more for routes that curve and turn. My example below marks out the distance for the Hennepin Canal Trail, which has a combination of straights and curves:

Hennepin Canal Trail

I’ve zoomed out a bit to give a larger picture here, but you can zoom in pretty close to make the map more precise as you are making it.

Ultimately, this lets you lay out a route for the distance you want. I find myself using it often to select routes for the distance I want in a way that avoids major thoroughfares, and takes me in a circular route from start to finish while avoiding re-covering the same territory as much as possible.

I don’t necessarily love Google products as a rule - I use Apple Maps on iOS for driving directions, don’t use their office software at all, and don’t generally use them for search. But I do generally try to use the best tool I can find for the job, all other things being equal. For cycling routes and directions, and for finding cycling trails, Google Maps is absolutely a step above.

Roadside Repairs by Erin Wade

About three miles into my Sunday ride last week I had a bit of a surprise when the brake caliper dropped off of the right side of my trike and started dragging along the asphalt.

them’s the brakes

This occurred following a bump in the road, and it was followed by a rather sickening metallic dragging sound - the sort of noise that you just know is potentially expensive.

I had started out with the intention of going for a longer ride - in this case, about 28.7 miles, so longer for me, anyway. I wanted a good time on the distance, so I lubed up the trike and pumped up the tires to make sure we were running at peak efficiency. Clearly it did not occur to me to check the connections on the brakes...

After getting over the initial surprise I scooped up the caliper (dragging by its cable) and, with it in one hand and the other hand on a handlebar, turned around to go back and look for the missing bolt. Of course, the bolt is black, the asphalt that I was looking for it on on was black...

The miracle is: I found it.

There it was, just laying there, a couple of feet from the side of the road, waiting for me. (The caliper is actually held in with two bolts, but I’m guessing the first one took it’s leave earlier on. Either way I was lucky enough to find one...). I picked it up and found a spot to effect a roadside repair. One of the nice things about riding in farm country is that one is never far from a pull-in for a field (or similar), so its relatively easy to get sufficiently off the road to allow one to safely focus on dealing with an issue.

Thank goodness Allen let me borrow his wrenches

The repair was simple enough. The bolt was undamaged and it went right in. I was also extra fortunate in that, although it mounts with two bolts, one seemed to be enough to hold it in place well enough for it to function. What’s more, it functioned well, with no noise or trouble, and I was able to finish my ride. I realized later in the week that this was a fluke. Going for another, shorter ride, it started to come loose, and I was unable to tighten it up in a way that left it lined up properly such that it didn’t grind or otherwise make noise. That I was able to get in the remaining 24-or-so miles in without a problem is pretty amazing.

While I experienced all of this good fortune, it did make me realize a few things:

  • Although I use it rarely, it turned out to be very fortunate that I have a repair tool in the saddlebags on the trike. My ride would likely have been over without it, and I’d either have been riding back the three miles holding a caliper in one hand, or calling for help.
  • It pays to listen to what your machine is telling you. In this case, that brake has been making a “clunk” on engagement for the past three or four rides. In retrospect, it’s clear that the caliper was loose and/or I’d already lost bolt number one.
  • Probably, doing periodic checks of such connections would be a good thing as well. I’m usually eager to get out and ride, and so looking over these sorts of things hasn’t been on my mental list. And, to be honest, my Pocket hasn’t really had any issues like this before, and I’ve put over 1400 miles on it since I got it over a year ago. So yeah - it’s the trike’s fault for being so reliable; its gone and made me complacent.

Since then, I’ve gotten my little Catrike Pocket in to Meads Bike Shop to get the caliper properly re-connected, and while it was there I had them do a tune up (I usually have that done at the beginning of the season, but time didn’t make that an easy option this year. Plus, Tempo Velo’s Farmondo is coming up next month, and given that bits seem to be falling off of my trike, it made sense to have the professionals give it a once-over ahead of the event.

Alexander The Great by Erin Wade

I have a long-term Audible subscription that gives me two credits per month towards audiobooks. When I say "long-term", I mean that this is something that has been in place since well before Amazon purchased Audible. In fact, according to my account information, I’ve been a member since January 2001 - not quite since the beginning of its existence in 1995, but still pretty early in its lifespan.

I listen to a lot of spoken word content in a blend of podcasts and audiobooks. At times, the volume of podcasts means that it takes a while to get back to the audiobooks, and from time to time I’ll hit a point where I have to use some of my Audible credits or I will lose them. Long story short, this is how I came to purchase Alexander The Great by Philip Freeman. It reflected an area of interest - I do enjoy history and biographies - but a mild one. It was something that I figured it wouldn't hurt to have, but I wasn’t sure when I would get to listening to it.

I should not have put it off. The worry, with a biography on a long-past historical figure like this is that it will be a series of dry facts, that it will be an experience more like taking one’s medicine - it’s good for you, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean that you enjoy it. The approach taken for this tome, however, was different. Rather than simply providing a series of facts, Freeman takes a cue from David McCullough. This book reads more like a novel than a history book, with the author providing descriptions of the locations, and offering (perhaps speculative) insights into the feelings and minds of the many players in the life and times surrounding the legendary man. That he is doing so is addressed early on in the book - there is no pretense that he actually knows what the people of the time were thinking, but rather the author notes that he intended to make a more picturesque tableau, and he does so quite nicely. The reader gets a sense of what it may have been like to be there marching through Macedonia, Greece, or Asia with Alexander.

Not that this should suggest that historical facts are left out of the picture. In fact, the book does a fine job of giving an impression of events during, after, and before the rise of Alexander. For myself, having a passing interest in his story with little to no specific background information, I found this book a wonderful introduction.

To provide clear context of the events that lead to the rise of Alexander, the author chooses to begin with going into detail on the rule of his father. I’d known that Alexander was not actually Greek, and that he was the son of Philip of Macedonia, but that was honestly all I’d known, a tiny bit of trivia retained from my undergraduate Western Civ class far more years ago than I’d care to admit. Who Philip was (the hard-won king of Macedonia) or how that provided the ground work that made Alexander’s conquests possible was something that, frankly, I’d never even thought to consider. Understanding that Alexander learned at the feet of a political and strategic mastermind who did considerable consolidation of the lands of Macedonia and Greece certainly provides a clearer picture of how the events surrounding the man himself are possible - such legendary figures do not simply appear, pristine, from the ether. Rather they rise up along the steps provided by those who come before.

Among the other things this book helped to provide was some clearer context in terms of the historical timeline. I’ve always though of Alexander as ancient, and he was, but my picture of him lacked context. This telling clearly puts him in a context with respect to other events in history, with touchstones such as battle between the Spartans and Xerxes (as reflected in 300), his relative presence to Greek philosophers, and the existence and his experience with the great pyramids in Egypt. At one point Freeman notes that the distance in time between Alexander and the builders of those monuments is akin to the distance between our time and that of Alexander. It makes one realize that the ancient world was a long time ago, but that it was also an incredibly long span of time itself, with huge swaths of history already past by the time this conqueror’s sandals trod the earth.

The narrator for this book is Michael Page. He sounds to be a British reader, and he is pleasant company for the journey in the book. The only caveat I’d make for this is that it may be beneficial for the American listener to visit the Wikipedia page on Alexander The Great to look at the spellings of some of the names and terms. Page has a delightfully English pronunciation style that will be different than we’d expect. The most frequent example is his way of reading the name of Alexander’s primary foe in the book - Darius the Third. Most of us in the States would likely say "Dare-E-Us", but Page pronounces it "Duh-Rye-Us". For the record, Dictionary.com agrees with him, as does Merriam-Webster, so perhaps I’m just off on this, but I suspect others may find it a bit confusing as well.

This book is a survey of the times, and rolls past like a story rather than a text, so it will likely be unsatisfying for someone well-versed in the lore of Alexander the Great. But if this is an area of interest for you, and particularly if you’ve wondered how to start in this, this book provides a very nice entry point.

Rokform Comes Thru... by Erin Wade

I was a relatively early adopter of the iPhone - I had a first generation model, and I’ve had at least every-other model since (e.g. I didn’t have an iPhone 3G, but I had an iPhone 3Gs, no 4, but a 4s, etc). I also have a couple of personal characteristics that make me a danger to such devices - I have a tendency to drop things, and a tendency to put such devices directly into harms way (by doing things like using the phone to track cycling speed and distances, etc), which turns out to be a potentially dangerous and costly combination (I managed to break the screen on my 3Gs within a day or so of getting it).

I’ve tried a variety of cases over the years, but when it became clear that I was going to need something protective, and something that would support mounting in my car and on my bike/trike, my search narrowed. Otterbox had already established itself early on as a leader in the protective case market, but I did not care for the bulk that it added on to the phone itself, and it left me high and dry for mounting options. And then I discovered Rokform.

I don’t recall how I came across them - likely through an internet search. But what they offered was a considerably sleeker protective case option, with a combination of both a bespoke mechanical mounting system, and a magnetic alternative or backup. And they offered mounts that worked with this in the car, and specific mounts for cycling, motorcycles, etc. I bought my first Rokform case for an iPhone 4s, and paired them with both the car mounting system and a mount for my road bike. I had to use the motorcycle mount and attach it to the handlebar, since Rokform’s bike-specific mount is designed for bikes with a 1 1/8" stem, something that hadn’t come along yet when my 1987 Cannondale SR400 was built. But it worked nicely once I’d sorted that out.

When I got my Catrike Pocket, I first installed the bike-specific mount on the 1 1/8" stem on the right handlebar (I’d purchased it for the Cannondale before I realized it wouldn't work, so it was already around), but then later decided to transfer the motorcycle mount from the Cannondale to the Pocket (I very rarely ride the Cannondale any more). This is mounted to the front accessory mount, which puts the phone front and center, but below my traffic sightlines. I can see my speed, distance, etc, readily when I want that information. Between the Cannondale and the Catrike I’ve been using the motorcycle mount, trouble-free, since at least 2015 or so.

But I came in the other evening after a ride, pulled my phone out of my pocket and sat on the couch, and saw a piece of plastic fall out of the back of the phone. Upon closer inspection it was clear that this was one of the tabs off of the motorcycle mount’s RokLock - the plastic holder that physically connects the phone’s case with the mount.

When I looked at it later, it was pretty substantially broken:

Broken RokLock

To the credit of the device - likely due in part to the magnetic backup - the phone stayed in place the entire ride without incident. I hadn’t noticed this till I got back.

Still, I was frustrated. Yes, I’ve had this mount for three years, and it gets pretty regular use. But Rokform’s products are not inexpensive, and I’ve viewed them as falling into the category of getting what you pay for. I didn’t relish the idea of shelling out for another motorcycle mount, but I pulled out the iPad and navigated to the company’s website.

What I noticed, as I was looking over the page, was a link in the menu for replacement parts. Following that, I discovered that, in fact, you can get a pack of three RokLocks, along with the torx screws that hold them on, for $2.99. That’s a buck a piece before shipping, and leaves me with two additional pieces for repairs down the road if I need them.

I ordered away. Once they came in, the repair was straightforward - unscrew the screw from the back, remove the old RokLock, mount the new one, and screw it back in. Honestly, the part of the activity that took longest was locating my torx screwdriver (this is not an item for which find regular use - I’m probably fortunate I was able to turn it up at all). Once the new one was mounted one could see why it’s important for the RokLock to be intact:

old and new

The upshot of all of this is that, by making these replacement parts available at an incredibly reasonable price, Rokform retains, for me at least, the worth-what-you-pay-for status. If one is going to step out and invest in a high-end system for protecting and mounting electronics in harm’s way, its good to know the company has recognized where their products might fail, and has devised a reasonable, low cost and low effort way to get them back up and running. Kudos to Rokform!

Catching the Signs by Erin Wade

It’s probably safe to say that riding a recumbent trike gives one a different perspective on the world. What I didn’t realize until I started was that this isn’t just a metaphorical difference.

Riding out on country roads things simply look different. Because of the position on the trike, one is at eye level with the long grass in the ditches, and a little extra care must be taken at the corners. It also means you get a different point of view on the wildflowers of summer:

Ditch Lilies

I’ve also started noticing something that was hiding in plain sight, albeit a little lower than typical eye level. Riding out here in rural northern Illinois one encounters a sizeable number of small waterways. Some of these are natural, while others are man-made (you can often tell by the course that they take - natural waterways tend to meander, while the man-made ditches tend to flow in straight lines and sharp angles). Some flow year-round, while others are intermittent. However, they have a commonality when they meet the roadway - they require a bridge.

I’d ridden my bike all around the area when I was young, and since moving back I’ve literally ridden hundreds of miles on the local roadways. Between those two time periods I’ve crossed bridges over these streams more times than I can count. But a week or two ago I noticed something that I’d never seen before: some of the bridges have plaques on them.

The first one I noticed was a bridge over Willow Creek on Beemerville Road (and folks, let me tell you that, despite the name, I see no evidence of any "ville" along this path). Neither the bridge, nor the road itself, are a fancy affair, though both suit their purposes and location. But as I was riding along it I caught notice of the plaque:

Plaque on the bridge over Willow Creek

Willow Creek (that’s pronounced "crick", incidentally) itself is an small, but ongoing affair:

Willow Creek

And the bridge and road are relatively rustic affairs - most of Beemerville road is gravel. This is a fact which, incidentally, I think I’d known and actually forgotten, or I likely would not have chosen it. Gravel is easier to navigate on a trike than on a road bike, but it’s still not, you know, pleasant to ride on).

Willow Creek bridge and Catrike Pocket

Of course, once one has seen a thing, discovered that it exists, has existed in the world despite one’s ignorance, one becomes primed to find it elsewhere. I had now begun looking for the plaques on the myriad other bridges I cross. And they are there, though certainly not everywhere. But they appear to have been present on a couple of bridges I have ridden across many, many times. I came across this plaque, which suggests the bridge it adorns has its own name:

Faber Bridge

Faber Bridge Plaque

This, then, is Faber Bridge (apparently). Faber is a common family name in the area, and the town of Mendota used to have a hotel by that name downtown, across from the train depot.

Hotel Faber

The hotel was still standing, albeit empty and unused, when I was a kid. Now only a gravel parking lot commemorates its location. But I digress...

The third plaque I came across is on one of the many bridges over Bureau Creek:

Trike at Bureau Creek

Plaque at Bureau Creek

Bureau Creek is large and long enough to garner its own Wikipedia Page, running some 73 miles across at least two different counties. It is the creek that used to run under the Hennepin Canal aqueduct at Lock 12, on its way to empty into the Illinois River. There are times of the year where, depending upon the amount of rain, it would be navigable by a small canoe or kayak.

Given all of that, you can perhaps see why a bridge over this waterway might have a plaque on it. But the others?

The Faber Bridge covers the Little Vermillion River, a waterway that eventually empties into the Vermillion River), and then the Vermillion into the Illinois. Willow Creek looks, according to Google Maps, to flow into the Green River), which later feeds the Rock and that the Mississippi. And so one might think these plaques go on to bridges that cover more important tributaries. But no - there are at least dozens of bridges over Bureau Creek, for example. I’ve crossed more than a couple of them either by cycle or auto, and most of them are not similarly adorned. They do carry load ratings, so perhaps they were meant to be informative, but they are not placed in a location that would be easily read by a truck driver prior to crossing; and, again, you’d think if that were important, it would be marked on all of the bridges.

Ultimately, to me at least, their purpose remains a mystery. (There may well be a bridge engineer out there right now, reading this, saying "well actually" aloud as he comes across this section...).

What it does help reveal is the effect of that difference in perspective. Riding on my upright road bike the physical position places one’s body such that the head and eyes are oriented down, towards the handlebars and the road. The head is craned upward to see ahead unless leaning back into the seat (and often with the hands off the bars). Ion that machine my head is five to six feet up off the road, depending upon position.

Riding on the recumbent trike these plaques are at eye level, and one is comfortably able to look forward - indeed is oriented forward - the entire time. That I’ve not noticed these before I suspect is simply due to not having them easily accesssible. I’ve enjoyed years of riding my upright bike through the countryside - I’m certainly not trying to imply otherwise - but it is sometimes surprising how a relatively small change in approach can provide a very different point of view, and access to a different way of seeing things you’ve looked at many times before.

Bubble Podcast by Erin Wade

Bubble

I love podcasts. Much of my audio-listening time is split between podcasts and audiobooks, and that split is about 70/30 in favor of podcasts. I’d prefer it were closer to 50/50, but the recurring nature of podcasts means that, each time I step away to listen to an audiobook, the podcasts stack up. I really shouldn’t care about that, but there’s a little voice inside of me that wants things to be completed, and a stack of unlistened-to podcasts is anathema to that.

All of which is to say that, while I love podcasts, I was not looking to add anything to my existing subscriptions - I have enough to keep up with. But then John Hodgman tweeted about Bubble...

Many podcasts -and certainly most of the ones I listen to of late - are just a couple, or a few, people talking, often around a loosely defined theme. That theme might be a movie review, a sport, or an historical or cultural phenomenon. But there are cases where people have decided to tackle the ambitious feat of putting together an honest to goodness, scripted radio play (or perhaps we should just say “audio play”, since there’s no radio involved).

Enter Bubble.

Bubble is a new, eight part audio series from Maximum Fun. It is written by Jordan Morris, and each episode (thus far) runs about a half hour. When I say new, I mean it - the first episode dropped on June 12th, and the second on June 20th. This is brand-spanking new.

There are multiple voices in the play, some perhaps familiar to the entertainment and podcast savvy. This is set in our time, but in a different place - in a world where the outside world is a harsh environment full of monsters - “Imps” who want to kill you, but where there are cities (or at least one city - Fairhaven) under protective domes, or if you prefer, in a bubble.

What quickly becomes clear, however, is that Fairhaven’s bubble is perhaps not so secure as one might think. And this is where the tension, and your lead characters - Morgan and Mitch - come in.

That description, of course, suggests this might be sci-fi horror, and I suppose it could be considered that, but with a hearty, healthy nod to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a little Portlandia thrown in. The dialogue is fun and fast, and the characters are a lot of fun - you know these people already, and you enjoy hanging out with them. Well... with some of them...

I always prefer to refrain from spoiling much of what is to come when you listen to or watch a thing, so I’ll stop here with the description. Suffice it to say this is now on my regular listen list - its a weekly release, and I really could not wait for episode two to drop. And given that it’s only slated for eight episodes, it promises to be the sort of show you keep in your pod catcher for repeated listening (I’ve already listened to the first episode twice).

Enjoy!

Spring Surprises by Erin Wade

Into the Mist

One of the downsides - if there truly is a downside - of having a regular Sunday ride is that Sunday is sometimes recalcitrant. Spring is doing her thing with the rain, and we’ve had enough over the past few days that the vernal ponds have emerged along with opportunistic streams. Still, the weather report for today claimed that the middle of the day would be dry, and the radar seemed to agree.

Opportunistic stream

Trusting in these sources, I geared up, pumped up the tires, and rolled out on my trike. The persistent cloud cover at least meant that the risk of sunburn was low (though I still sprayed on my exposed areas with SPF-as-close-as-I-can-get-to-1000 - have to maintain my alabaster complexion...). The cloud cover also allowed for temperatures in the 60’s, which is quite a gift for any point after Labor Day in Northern Illinois.

Strictly speaking, I did not encounter rain. No droplets fell from the sky in any noticeable form. It was clear, though, that I’d not considered the ability of midwestern air to hold water vapor in solution. As the ride went on everything just became progressively more... moist.

It’s rare that I wish for a set of glasses with built in wipers, but here I was, trying to decide between wearing them and not.

Wet Goggles

I ultimately went with the strategy of removing and violently shaking them off periodically as I went. By the time I arrived back home I was soaked through. Still, none of this is to say that it was a bad ride - any day with the opportunity to get out on the trike is better than a day without. My child is, no doubt, tired of hearing me say that if you wait for a perfect day to do something it will never happen.

And, true to form, it did offer a thing or two to see. As noted above, this time of year often results in opportunistic waterways emerging, the vernal ponds. And it offered up this as one of my final sights along the roadway:

what is that?

For those struggling to sort out what that might be, a closer look might help:

yes - that’s horseshit

Reminds you that you really are out in the country...

Trying out Bike Sharing in San Diego by Erin Wade

We’ve had the opportunity over the past weekend to spend some time in San Diego. If the Bay Area of the city is representative of the overall, this city has readily embraced the bicycle as an alternative to automotive travel. In the bay area we’ve counted at least four different bike sharing services - OFO, LimeBike, and Mobike offer dockless bike sharing services, and a Discover (card) branded bike using a docking station is also present. In addition, there are a handful of electric-supported or simply outright electrically operated options - LimeBike offers e-bikes in the area, as well as electric scooters, for example, and there appear to be a couple of other scooter options in the area as well. This appears to reflect a flavor of the city in general, which also sports pedicabs and electric transports, and within the first two days we’d already seen a couple of tandem bikes in operation.

bikes ready to go

What this means is that it is a simple thing to grab one of these machines when one is wanting to move about the area. Literally, once one has navigated the process of setting up the app to interact with the cycle (which does take a few minutes in each case - entering a credit card number is still a pain in the ass) getting up and running is really as simple as opening the app and scanning the QR code on the machine. Then you are off and rolling.

The volume of bikes and scooters in the area is such that one can reliably trust that there will be a machine within a block or so when one is in need. I can easily see a system like this being a reasonable transportation option for a person living in an urban area that also does a decent job of supporting cycle-transport with its infrastructure.

limebikes and mobikes and...

For my part, I have primarily been using the OFO bikes. These are easily identifiable given their bright yellow color. They are a standard three-speed “cruiser” style bike. The model is selected with an eye toward durability - internal gear hubs and drum brakes make for limited maintenance. Each bike has fenders, a chain guard, and a front basket to make them friendly towards the utility rider. The OFO app also offered the first week for free which meant, given my time limited trip, I would pay nothing for my usage on this particular trip.

OFO

The city itself does offer cycling lanes in some of the streets, but otherwise offers a somewhat confusing picture of where cycles can be ridden. In the gaslight district, for example - an historic potion of town offering multiple shops and restaurants - where to ride is unclear. There don’t appear to reliably be bike lanes in the streets, but the sidewalks offer no visible prohibition on bikes either. There are areas where signs are placed forbidding cycles, but these often occur suddenly in pathways that appear to have welcomed the machines just prior, leaving one with uncertain choices. In addition, when one dismounts to walk a bike, and is then passed by multiple people on electric scooters riding along on the same path it’s hard not to feel a little bitter - do they not qualify for the same restriction? (spoiler alert - they not only qualify, but more so...)

This article from the San Diego Union-Tribune from this spring suggests that non-electric bikes are allowed on sidewalks, but that electric items - scooters and e-bikes - are not. That article was published in March of 2018, suggesting that the dockless Bike sharing programs are a relatively new phenomenon for the city.

In general, it’s better to ride in the street where one can, to be certain, and I’m honestly surprised to find that San Diego doesn’t ban bikes on the sidewalks - this is certainly common practice in the Midwest. It will be interesting to see how the city adjusts to the influx of casual riders (who, one suspects, are probably more likely to want to be on the sidewalks) having ready access to a bicycle at whim. One suspects that the local laws may be adjusted as their experience with these questions increases.

For my part, it was nice to have a ride readily available while away from home. Of course, it would have been ideal for me if one of the companies would have offered a recumbent trike to rent, but that might be a bit much to ask. I suppose I can get by on an upright for a few days.

Hennepin Canal State Park Trail - Lock 2 to Lock 13 by Erin Wade

In rural northern Illinois there is a hidden gem of a state park. It’s long and narrow, and follows along the man-made waterway known as the Hennepin Canal.

Narrow to be certain - the park is generally the width of the canal and it’s towpaths, give or take a few expanded recreation and/or information areas. But also long to be sure. The Illinois DNR website indicates that the park occupies 104.5 linear miles, with 155 miles of towpath for riding/walking, etc. The canal runs from from the Illinois River just east of Bureau Junction to the Mississippi River near Rock Island. There is also a feeder canal that runs from Rock Falls southward and meets the main canal near Sheffield. The feeder itself runs nearly 30 miles, and provides water from the Rock River to the canal.

The eastern trail head is located in the tiny town of Bureau Junction, at the site of Lock 2.

Catrike Pocket at Lock 2 Trailhead

There is a Lock 1, apparently a little further to the east, but the towpath was not maintained between Locks 1 and 2, and Lock 1 is underwater during the summer months, making it hard to access and hard to see.

Driving to the trail head brought back a lot of memories. When I was a kid my family spent a lot of time on the Illinois river and its tributaries in this area. This included fishing trips with my father and grandfather, and weekend days at a beach along the river, swimming and waterskiing and watching the barges pass by. We’d marvel at the (relatively) tiny tugboats pushing row after row of shipping barge ahead of them. We’d have to stop and marvel because they also kicked up a significant wake that made you want to clear out of the water until they passed. And each trip we’d have to have at least one discussion about how it was odd that they were called tug boats, when they were actually pushing their cargo...

Driving to the trailhead brought back these memories. The geography of the roads changes as you get into river country - the formal grid of farm country yields to the twisting nature dictated by the rivers and streams - and the smell of the air shifts to reflect the presence of the waterways even when you cannot see them.

The trailhead is set at Lock 2, and it literally begins at the lock.

Catrike with Lock 2 in full view

Lock 2 facing west

Lock 2 facing east

I decided to ride from the trail head to Lock 13 and back, a round trip a little over 22 miles. The surface of the trail varies considerably over that distance, from what appears to be older asphalt to crushed stone to dirt. One section, maybe 3/4’s of a mile long, is white chip gravel, with all the slow-going that entails for any cycle without wide tires (even a trike - you don’t worry about falling over, but you do still get to experience all of the bone shaking joy). Portions of the trail had late spring grass growing in abundance.

The trail ahead - taken at Lock 3

Traveling this direction takes you past the locks in ascending numerical order. As such, Lock 3 is the first you encounter, just a short ways down the trail. While Lock 2 is the beginning of the trail, Lock 3 may be the preferred starting point for the non-completist. This point in the park has a large cement parking lot (compared to the small affair at the trailhead).

A couple of weeks ago I ventured out on the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail, which was part of what made me think of this trail, which is a little further from home. Given that both are trails that run along the towpath of a canal, you’d expect riding them to be similar experiences. This is true, to some degree, but there are important differences between the two, at least for the sections that I’ve ridden.

The I&M Canal runs through multiple towns along its course. The section I rode began in LaSalle, went through Utica, and I stopped just three miles shy of Ottawa. Each of these locations offers opportunities to stop and eat, have a drink, all within a short distance from the path. As a result, you are also riding, albeit briefly, through settled areas.

The Hennepin Canal is decidedly more remote. Though the towpath crosses roads, for the 11 mile stretch that I rode it was mostly just me, the trail, and the canal. People fishing were encountered along the trail, typically within walking distance of the road crossings, but otherwise I was mostly alone.

The Canal itself is still almost entirely open water. This means that riding along it provides a view that includes water throughout, including the requisite wildlife; And the wildlife abound. Fish surface and jump in the canal, frogs wait alongside the trail, and I saw more herons in this single two and a half hour ride than I’ve ever seen on a single day before. I also frequently caught sight of a small dark yellow bird I did not recognize - not bright enough to be a goldfinch, but of similar size. My best guess, based on my Peterson Field Guide, would be a Common Yellowthroat. If so, common or not, it was new to me.

The Canal is almost entirely open water. There were multiple sections with land bridges intersecting the canal. The canal still flows past them, through culverts, but they appear frequently along the way.

Land bridge

If you look at the satellite view from Apple or Google maps you get a sense of how these re-occur along this section of the canal.

Satellite pic of land bridges

In some cases roads run across them, but in others they are simply grass covered. One assumes these were filled in to allow easy passage perhaps to farmers and others attempting to cross from one side of the canal to the other. This has little impact on biking other than to provide a short variation to the scenery. However, if one were canoeing or kayaking along this section of the canal, between the land bridges and the locks one would have to expect to portage frequently. Looking at the map the feeder canal appears to be free of either land bridges or locks, so that section might be the better choice for paddler.

In fact, at one point I did have to do my own, cycling version of a portage...

Tree Down!

One might expect a canal towpath to be mostly level. However, on this section there are elevation changes, some of them abrupt, particularly as one goes under bridges.

Trail under bridge

It is also the case that, from Lock 2 to the point where the feeder canal joins near Sheffield, the canal is rising. This isn’t easy to see, but one can feel it when riding. I was definitely faster on the way back.

In most cases the trail rises up to cross roads, but in one case it has a tunnel that runs under the roadway.

Tunnel

One wants to take care entering the tunnel. It’s not long, but the trail surface inside is dirt, and considerably less dry than the surface outside. I had to pick my way along it carefully to not end up with a back full of muddy water.

The other distinction of this canal is the locks themselves. Perhaps because it is younger and was in service later than the I&M Canal (still an active waterway until the early 1950’s) the locks are present and visible along the way. Their presence gives a feel for something very different than just riding along a river, and they provide more interesting markers of distance than a simple mile sign. Each of them has been set up now with a cement wall in place of the old lock hardware, causing a waterfall at each transition.

Lock waterfall

And the locks are each marked with depth measurements, likely to guide the lock tenders as they filled the lock in.

Depth Marker

Depth Marker circled

When you reach Lock 11, you’ll find a picnic area, as well as some weathered information signs to give you some of the history of the canal:

info sign

More info sign

And still more info sign

While I rode out to Lock 13, my actual goal was to reach Lock 12. This is due to a personal connection there - as I understand it, my Great-Grandfather Percy worked as a lock tender for this particular lock. I’d heard this before, and always pictured him coming from his home to work at the lock, one of probably multiple shift workers tending to it to facilitate barge traffic. It turns out this was a much bigger job than I’d imagined - the lockmen lived on the canal, provided with houses and outbuildings to support their work there. It was a year-round job, and in the winter they would cut ice from the canal and sell it to help fund its operation.

Trike at Lock 12

Lock 12 was also the site of one of the canal’s aqueducts - essentially a huge cement water bridge that carried the canal over existing natural waterways. In the case of Lock 12, it carried the canal over Big Bureau Creek. According to Wikipedia, of the nine original aqueducts, six remain while the other three were removed with piping put in to carry the flow of the canal water under the waterway it crossed. Lock 12 is one of the three that were removed.

On the western side of the bridge you can see the water reach its end...

Canelus Interruptus

...and there is a large drain gate for the water to descend.

Down the water goes...

Looking closely at the eastern side you can see the water burbling up inside the lock.

Water burbling

Bureau Creek is far below, with some of what must the the original pilings to support the aqueduct still present.

Bureau Creek and Pilings

Bureau Creek is actually a recurring companion along the trip, often visible on the trail opposite the canal. It is visually distinct, being a winding, twisting affair as it works its own path down to the Illinois River. This periodically gives one the sensation of riding along a causeway just above the water, which is a pleasant experience.

Bureau Creek Pano

There are campgrounds along the trail. They must be well-hidden, as it appears that I passed two of them, at Lock 6 and Lock 11, and did not see them. In both cases it appears they are on the opposite side of the canal from the cycling trail. If one wanted to do a multiple day trip along the canal, it appears it would be friendly for bikepacking.

If you go, you’ll want to bring along your own supplies. I’ve already mentioned that it’s remote, and the DNR website notes that the only drinking water available on the route is located at the visitor center. I actually wished I had brought along a second bottle of water for myself on this go-round. If you look at the canal along the map, it’s rare that it travels through settled areas of any size. You are on your own for drinks and snacks.

However, if you are looking for an opportunity to ride out alone in the wilderness - something that can be challenging in our well-settled times - this trail definitely offers the opportunity. You’ll come across the occasional fishing folks, and the sighting of them generally signals that you are close to a crossroads or trail entry point. Otherwise, if my trip was any gauge, you can expect long stretches of solitude in company of nature.

I&M Canal Trail - LaSalle to Buffalo Rock State Park by Erin Wade

Last weekend offered up an unexpected opportunity. It took a while to get the requisite everything else done ahead of my Sunday ride, so it was afternoon before I got my trike out to hit the road. Unfortunately, while the rest of the trike was game, the presta valve in my right front tire saw its opportunity to escape, and shot out across the driveway as soon as I popped the cap off. This was, of course, followed by the disheartening sound of all of the air in the tube rushing away, never to return.

Given my own previous experience with my tube changing skills, I quickly looked up the Sunday hours for Bike Works in Peru. It was about 2:00, and they were open till 3:00, which gave enough time to get there with room for a tube change before closing. The folks there were, as always, gracious and quick, and my trike was soon back in working order.

I had originally planned to head back home and ride one of my country road routes, but as I walked around the shop and waited, it occurred to me that I was only a mile or two from the Illinois and Michigan Canal trail along the Illinois River. Despite the fact that it’s less than a half-hour from home, I’d never ridden it. So, in the spirit of lemonade from lemons, I figured I ought to take the opportunity.

I entered the trail off of Joliet Street in downtown LaSalle. The trailhead is a little bit further to the west, in Peru, but I found this entrance first, and I didn’t want to waste daylight looking for the other entrance, so I went with it. This site also retains one of the original locks from the canal itself.

Lock High Side

Lock Low Side

You can get a feel for the change in elevation that the lock system facilitated by looking at the difference in levels on either side of the lock. Unfortunately, the lock doors do tend to gather gunk, but that doesn’t take away from the historical presence of the location. And, one assumes that, when the locks were in operation, that gunk would routinely be washed away.

The site is marked with information signs as well to let you know a thing or two about what you are looking at.

North Meets South

Rough and Ready

The trail itself runs along the canal, mostly on the original towpath (in fact, part of the trail turns out to be a side street called Towpath Road). This spot in LaSalle appears to be a popular one, with plenty of people walking the path and fishing at the side of the canal. One quickly finds that, in the LaSalle area section at least, the path is in need of some attention from a maintenance crew. Potholes abound, and avoiding them required focus on the trail ahead. This is (fortunately) not the case throughout. This first part of the trail was failing asphalt, but the surfaces varied throughout, including crushed stone, dirt, and grass.

Since it’s on the towpath, you are generally in view of the canal. However, this doesn’t always mean what you might think it means. The canal has been out of service for about 85 years. This means that, while sometimes it’s open water...

Open Water

...other sections are essentially completely filled in.

Grass where water used to be... .jpg

There are portions of the trail where, if one did not know there had been a canal along the way, one would not guess that it had been there. This is spoken to by handy mile markers along the way that tell you which mile of the trail you’ve hit, how far you are from the next major point in the trail, and facts about the trail itself.

Mile Marker

The trail travels through the town of Utica, a charming little town that offers up a potential resting point along the way.

Utica downtown from the trail

Info Marker at Utica

The town itself has a tavern or two, a winery, and styles itself as the gateway to Starved Rock State Park, which is on the other side of the river from the canal. And being in the region of the park means that there are scenic bluffs on view during the ride. Sometimes these are glimpsed through the vegetation...

Bluff thru the cattails

...and other times they are right there in front of you.

Split Rock

While there are sections of the trail that run adjacent to, or directly through towns, other sections feel much more remote and rustic. As I moved into the remote and rustic portions foot traffic - and bike traffic for that matter - dropped off considerably. It was possible through some of these sections, overgrown and covered with trees, to feel completely alone.

Alone Time

And speaking of rustic, I came across this set of signs on the section of the trail about halfway between Utica and Buffalo Rock State Park:

Caution Signs

As one proceeds (cautiously) past the signs, this is what one finds:

Foot Bridge

Fortunately the trike only comes in around 35 pounds (33 without accessories) so it was easy enough to carry across the footbridge. That bridge is just laid in place, and some thoughtful soul has tied it off to a tree so it doesn’t wash away. While this was fun to come across, presents in stark contrast to other sections of the trail, where the bridge construction is at a somewhat higher level.

Bridge across the canal in Utica

As it says in the title, I followed the trail to Buffalo Rock State Park. As you start to enter park area you begin to come across picnic spots that range from basic...

Trailside picnic spot

...to advanced.

Picnic shelter

At Buffalo Rock itself there is a parking area for entering the trail. This sits just outside the entrance to the park itself, so if one wanted to ride into the park that option is available.

Arrived at Buffalo Rock

The park is about three miles from Ottawa, so one has the option of riding further and heading in to Tangled Roots for a draft and to fill a growler, or maybe swinging by BASH for a bit of sushi. For my part, I rode just a bit past the park entrance to round out the ride to 10 miles (I like round numbers where I can get them) and then turned around.

The rough condition of the trail around LaSalle aside, most of it is in good shape. Being along a canal there are very few sudden changes in elevation, so it’s the distance rather than any hill climbing that one has to take as the challenge. I could absolutely see taking the opportunity to bring along a picnic lunch, or maybe stopping along the way in Utica for a drink and a snack. The quiet moments along the trail give a feel for what it must have been like, 85 years ago and more, working the mules to pull the barges along the canal. I don’t know why I waited so long to go out and ride this trail, and I’m certainly glad that I took this opportunity.

What to Wear? by Erin Wade

This past Wednesday saw temperatures here in Northern Illinois virtually double from the day before, hitting a high in the mid-60’s - a thing virtually unseen thus far this spring. Obviously it was necessary to take advantage of the weather with a ride. But I ran into a brief snag.

I’ve been riding all winter. As I’ve mentioned before, cycling in the winter isn’t really a cold activity. Once you get working you warm up nicely, all assuming that you’ve dressed properly in the first place. Dressing properly is the trick, and the trial and error part of learning that is sometimes a little uncomfortable, to be sure, but once you sort it out the riding is a lot of fun.

The thing is, the day was so much warmer I suddenly realized: I was not sure what to wear.

I’ve been dressing in two or three layers for so long that I was having trouble remembering what I usually would wear on a ~65-ish degree day. Wear too much, and the ride would quickly become unpleasantly hot. Still, under that circumstance one can still take off a layer or two and continue. But wear too little, and one gets irretrievably uncomfortable.

I ended up going with my noisy pants - Columbia heavy-duty nylon pants that are wind-resistant, and that usually serve as my outer layer thru the colder months - and a Nike high-visibility (read: yellow) long-sleeved top with a zipper turtleneck and thumb holes on the sleeves. I wasn’t confident, getting on to the trike, that I wouldn't be too warm, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't be too cold.

Also - this was the first outing for my Keen sandals (yay), but I brought along a pair of wool socks in the saddlebags just in case.

The verdict - it was maybe a mile before I had my sleeves rolled up all the way, the v-neck on the shirt completely unzipped, and began to wonder if it would be too uncomfortable to pull the bottoms of the pants up over my knees.

It’s odd how this happens - a season is just a few months, and yet we get so adapted to one that dealing with the next can be a challenge at first. It’s clear to me that I would have been fine in a t-shirt and shorts for the ride, but it was a struggle to even picture that, particularly given that there had been snow on the ground just a few days before.

And of course, as I write this from my comfy chair this weekend, we just came off of a windswept Saturday, which leads into a high today of 35° with very gray skies and possible snow in the offing. But I’m sure that, at some point in the near future, this season will right itself and sail smoothly forward.

Right?

Mind the Gap - The New Mutants on Marvel Unlimited by Erin Wade

Over the past couple of months I have been working my way back through the first run of The New Mutants from Marvel Comics. I am referring here specifically to the version of the series that started in 1983, and ran 100 issues (not including annuals and other special issues, of course). This series is, perhaps, a little less well known than some of the others which have generated the big screen movies. Still, it has been the source for at least one one TV series - Legion on FX (which I discussed here) - and has a movie lined up which was supposed to be coming out in April, but which has been delayed now until next year.

I read the series the first time when it was new, collecting each issue as it showed up on the racks at Fact and Fancy, the hobby shop in our little town. It was something very different for 12-year old me - a series featuring characters that were around my age, dealing with actual teenage problems. It was about adolescents, but it wasn’t adolescent in its presentation - it was written at the same level as the other comics of the era (or arguably better, given the creative teams involved with it). And yes, with super powers, but these figured central to the theme of the series - for mutants, powers emerge in adolescence and, like so many of the other things that emerge during that turbulent time of life, they are often uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassing, intrusive...

This is a theme that does emerge in other stories since, of course - it’s a central component of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it’s used to good effect in the first two of the three Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. I wouldn't argue that it’s unique to The New Mutants or originated there, but it’s particularly well done in the series, and I would be unsurprised to find that the series influenced those later story tellers.

Excepting some of the story telling tropes of 1980’s comic books - for example, the need to give As You Know, Bob’s about various components of the characters powers and the ongoing storyline in virtually every issue - the series stands up well. I’m slightly older than 12 years old now, and I’m still really enjoying it.

As will surprise no one who reads this space, I have been doing my re-reading digitally - specifically using the Marvel Unlimited app. This is my preferred approach for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that a 12.9" iPad screen is bigger, crisper, and cleaner than the original books.

But I ran into a snag.

Marvel Unlimited, for the uninitiated, is a lot like Netflix for Marvel Comics - for an annual fee you have access to everything uploaded to Marvel’s servers. Also, like Netflix, the app knows which issue is next, making it easy to roll through multiple issues in the continuing storyline across the course of a weekend afternoon or evening.

Still, as I was reading and enjoying the series I had a moment where there seemed to be a jump in the timeline. I flipped back to the prior issue, looked at where it ended, and then moved forward again. It was a jump, but not so large that I couldn't follow what was going on. I chalked it up to storytelling decisions (Sometimes, for example, things are handled in an annual issue that doesn’t appear in the series itself on the app), shrugged, and continued to read. Then it happened again, and it was clear that I was missing material.

I pulled back out of the series reading mode and looked at the lineup on the app. This is what I saw:

Marvel Unlimited

It’s a lot of visual material to process at first, and it took me a moment to catch it myself. But it’s there:

Its a leap!

There is a 9-issue gap - the app just jumps from issue 61 to issue 71 (I clearly wasn’t paying attention to issue numbers as I was going from one book to the next). So this got me thinking about that prior story jump and, sure enough, it also jumps from issue 50 to 55. This was a small enough gap that I was able to rationalize it away, but it was a real thing.

This sent me on a search - perhaps I could download the issues from Comixology? But no, the same gap appears on their store as well. They didn’t seem to be available online elsewhere either, at least not with a casual search. This was vexing because - and I’m sure this will be surprising - I’m a bit of a completist. When I go back to read a series, I want to read the entire series.

And then it occurred to me: I still own the paper versions of these.

Many of the comics I’d collected over my childhood have since been sold, but there are a few key series that I held on to, and The New Mutants was among them.

Accessing them was no small feat - they were buried in a closet, in a wooden box built by my grandfather, under multiple other boxes. I can’t honestly say for sure why I’ve held on to the comics that I have - predominantly sentiment, I suspect, if I’m going to be honest. But if one needed a rationale for one’s seemingly irrational retention of material, here it is.

Of course, I brought out not only issues 62 through 70, but also 51-54. It meant having to drop back in the storyline a bit, but dammit, now it’s complete.

Making things complete

I’m sure there are those out there who will start to think about the joy of holding a paper book in hand versus the cold, impersonal experience of reading them on an iPad, and look to this entry to be an endorsement of that. Those folks should prepare for disappointment. It’s not like I only just remembered that I had these up in a closet - I could have simply chosen to re-read the series in paper from the get-go. Honestly, though, paper comics are a disappointing experience relative to digital. Among the things one realizes when going back through these:

  • The colors are muddy and faded. The color scheme in older comics was one of filling in through pixelation, and the quality of this varies from one issue to the next. This might be partially due to age, but it’s also a reality of the medium from the era.
  • Printing is inconsistent. There are sections that are washed out or where text is missing because the print head (or whatever - I’m no printing press expert) simply didn’t hit the page square on. These aren’t due to the ravages of time - I can remember being frustrated with these issues when I was a kid.
  • Having a stack of comics to work through is kind of a pain in the ass. Where do you put them, how do you work around the stack with other things? This is amplified by the fact that these are now part of a collection that I’m trying to keep relatively pristine, and so makes what should be a casual activity, occasionally involving the presence of food and drink, somewhat less so. (I’m actually pleasantly surprised that I did not find cereal flakes and milk stains in any of the books - I wasn’t nearly so careful when I read them thru the first time).
  • Advertising! I’d actually forgotten that these are full of ads (the digital versions are not). It’s a little jarring at first, and there is some nostalgia to seeing the ads for New England Comics and Charles Atlas. I can remember wondering exactly what Sea monkeys were (spoiler alert: brine shrimp), and how the Sales Leadership Club worked. TSR role playing games and Nintendo game cassettes also feature prominently in these. Still the reminiscent curiosity wore off quickly and soon they were just intrusive, like all other advertising.

Fortunately I’ve worked through these now, and can move back to the digital haven whence I started. Of course, that also means I need to put them away and stack all of the crap back in the closet...

Civilization VI on iPad by Erin Wade

A couple of months ago Civilization VI showed up on the iPad App Store. The Civilization series) has been around for decades on desktop PC’s and consoles, and I started playing with either Civilization III or IV. This is a turn-based strategy game in which one is trying to build an empire. Of course, your empire has competitors, and each is headed by an historic leader. The capabilities of each empire vary somewhat based upon the historical makeup of that culture - the Indian nation, for example, has elephants as part of an available unit. Victory can be achieved through conquest, as one might expect, but there are multiple other routes to win, including religious, cultural, or scientific domination.

Some time ago I discussed here that I really didn’t want to play games at my desktop computer any more. I’ve made an exception for the subsequent chapters in Starcraft II - I have an enduring love for the gameplay and the storyline - but for most others I simply don’t want to spend the time at a desk. I considered making an exception for Civilization a couple of years ago - in fact, I’d gone so far as purchasing a download of Civilization V through Amazon that was deeply discounted for the holidays - but I never downloaded it. Looking back through my order history I can see it is still there, waiting...

Making it available on the iPad makes all of the difference for me. Now I can enjoy this game without being chained to a desk, segregated from my family. And while this is good for any game scenario, it is especially important for this type of game. Civilization is a time sink - a delightfully maddening time sink, but a time sink nonetheless. It is turn-based, so the end of each set of turns provides a logical stopping point, a potentially easy stepping off point to move on to other, non-digital things like, you know, eating and seeing to your personal care. Still, there is always this one more thing to accomplish - finish building this world wonder, establish one more new settlement, complete the takeover of that neighboring city. And of course, while one is in the process of accomplishing those things, one has started other projects that one would also like to see reach fruition, and so on it goes. It’s very much like the video game equivalent of reading a Stephen King novel.

Game play on the iPad works very nicely. This game series was originally developed long before the advent of touch screens, but the manufacturer has done a very nice job of translating it for this format. Occasionally one does run into issues when there are multiple things on a given area, where the game isn’t sure what you are trying to accomplish with your tap, but generally zooming in (which provides some separation between the things) or tapping a slightly different area will address this.

One caveat for players would be that, while you don’t have to be at a desk, you will want to be in proximity of an outlet. The game tends towards long play, as I’ve already mentioned, and it clearly uses some processing power. As a result, battery use is far higher than in non-gaming activities like browsing or writing. In fact, you’ll not only want to be plugged in if you are going to be playing for a while, but you will want to use a higher capacity charger. I’ve found that chargers designed at a iPhone’s charging level, for example, only slow the rate of battery usage while playing this game. Fortunately, the game does provide both a battery level gauge and a clock so that one does not entirely lose track of these real-world details during play.

The game is expensive by App Store standards. At a full price of $59.99, it’s priced like a desktop game. This is a primary source of complaint within the reviews on the App Store, and certainly one can see why folks used to typical app prices would find this jarring. However, this plays like a fully-fledged desktop game and has one important variation from other, cheaper games on the App Store: no in-app purchases are required to play it. The game does offer a couple of scenario packs, but these are enhancements that are completely unnecessary for regular gameplay. To my mind this compares quite favorably to games that are structured to put gameplay progress just out of reach unless one purchases "coins" or other game assets in order to move forward - a game design strategy that is pervasive in the App Store and which no doubt has the potential to be quite lucrative for game designers, since its difficult for a player to keep track of just how much they are spending during the course of a given game. I’m more than happy to pay a premium at initial purchase to keep this sort of thing at bay.

However, if the price is still off-putting, be aware that the game has also frequently been on-sale for as much as 50% off, so the patient and watchful buyer can get a foot in the door - and a settlement on fresh, virgin soil - for far less.

If this sounds like your sort of game I can highly recommend it. Now if only someone would convince Blizzard to make the next version of Starcraft for iOS...