28 May, 2013

D*mn That Felt Good!

Sunday marked a pretty huge day for me as a cyclist. I completed my first ride over forty miles. This is a milestone I haven't achieved in at least a couple of decades, if not more. I owe a ton of credit for this to my buddy Josh, who in recent years has become a fairly serious cyclist. His persistence in getting me out to do rides, extend my pace, and generally push myself outside my comfort zone has been huge.

While I had been putting in a decent number of miles a couple of years back, none of my rides were every very long. My most common was a 17-mile loop along the river up near my house. I'd manage a couple of pushes to 25 by adding to that loop, but nothing beyond that.

This year's been different though - for a lot of reasons. The first is simple. Now that I'm closer to 50 than 40, I recognize that I don't want to be a fat tub of goo at 50. And, since I've get three years until then, I'm motivated to use them. Skiing in Colorado this Winter really brought that home. Between the altitude (which really hasn't effected me in the past, and the physical activity, I was just GASSED. Not just at the end of the day -- the first few runs had me wheezing like a fat guy chasing an ice cream truck. This was a brutal wake-up call for a guy who's generally been fit and athletic.

The bike gruppo upgrade has also been huge for me. My trusty Giant OCR now has more jump, shifts SO much better, and feels like a whole new bike. It should -- the Shimano Ultegra gruppo it now sports would be standard equipment on $4,000+ bikes. Having a bike you love to ride sure does help.

But it's also been building a steady base and then pushing to progress to longer mileage. I started out early doing my 17 mile loop a few times, just to get my "sea legs". Then I agreed to ride the Bike Ypsi Spring Ride - planning to do the 15. But as the event got closer, both Josh and my sister said I should do the 30. And I knew they were right. While that ride had some tough moments, it showed me I could do 30 no problem (actually 32.5, due to my navigational error). Now, my preferred weeknight ride is a 25 mile loop that incorporates the old ride. And I'm going out at marginal weather times I would have simply avoided before. I did the 17 mile loop last Friday despite low temps and high winds. Was it miserable? Yup. Did I return happy I'd gone out? You bet.

When lining up plans for Sunday, I quickly offered to Josh that I'd like to do the Saline-Manchester loop, which I knew was over 40. Happy to have me advance, Josh quickly agreed. In addition to being as beautiful as I'd expected (a perfect bluebird day didn't hurt), the ride went really well. I started off with my "unhappy knee" popping and grinding badly. Not a good sign. But after a few miles, that stopped and I started to find my groove. The rolling hills and moderate traffic on these country roads had the miles zipping by.

I did make one major discovery. Take food. At about mile 25, after a few climbs and some time battling the wind, I was on my last legs - wondering the the hell I was going to make another 15. Then I remembered the power bar in my jersey pocket! Fished it out and wolfed it down. Sure enough, 10 minutes later, I've got renewed GO!

Making progress. Oh, and dropping a few pounds, too!


24 May, 2013

If You Can't Row, You Can't Go

So, I've rowed various rivercraft a little. Rowed a buddy's Hyde on the Flint River last
Summer for a couple of hours (at very low flow). And I logged some hours on the sticks on my raft. But, as I've been reminded - a raft is like rowing a balloon. One of my favorite comments came that morning from Chuck Hawkins, of Hawkins Outfitters, "Rowing a hard boat will be a LOT easier". That pretty much says it all about the raft.

Last Tuesday's float on the Manistee river marked the true beginning of my rowing instruction. The ever-patient Jon Ray agreed that our float was a good time to get me some time on the oars. I didn't know this particular section of the river, so I was in for a surprise. On my arrival, I find that it's big water - which is good to avoid playing bumper boats. But, it is WAY up from late Spring snowfall and melt. So this should be interesting.

We start out with Jonny rowing, and I stick a nice 15" warm-up brown. Before long, it's my turn. But first, a note about my river relationship with Jon. We met a few years ago through some business fishing and have grown to be good friends. But, I told Jon at the outset that I love to learn. And, if I'm doing something wrong he can yell at me. Like the best river guides, Jon's really gifted at figuring out how best to relate to the client to help them grow as an angler (and catch nice fish!). So our style is kind of "boot camp". He definitely keeps me on my toes, as I know I'll get a barrage of sh!t if I blow it. I've had lessons like, "If you reach for the reel, I'm going to smack you." when I was learning to throw streamers for trout. That lesson has stuck with me, and as a result, I land more trout on streamers.

Our agreement is I row, Jon fishes. But when he sees I'm in danger I won't know how to get out of, a quickly uttered, "switch!" and I'm grabbing the rod while he hits the sticks to set us right. In the first half hour, this happens a half dozen times. Did I mention Jon's patience? Yeah, he does this all without losing his cool. It's really pretty impressive. But after a little bit, I start to gain the muscle memory (a little) and some insight into boat position. Don't get me wrong, we're definitely still in survival mode, but I'm making progress. Fortunately, I've got a guy in the bow who can throw an entire fly line, so putting him in the perfect spot is less critical.

After a particularly chaotic moment my brain on vapor lock, it's decided. That I'm back to fishing. This time, however, I'm far more aware and alert to the subtleties of an expert oarsman. Boat position. Angle. Subtle strokes that make a big difference. And so much more. Oh, and in the midst of this, I stick and land my largest brown trout ever. Not bad.

When the river slows and widens a bit, I'm back on the sticks. And this time it's definitely better. I'm starting to learn to read the river, watch for what's coming up (not just what I'm grappling with at the moment), and set myself up better. Sure, we have a couple of "SWITCH" moments, but we also have a couple that I get myself out of!

All in all a really fantastic day on the river. Biggest brown ever. And I've started to build some solid rowing fundamentals!


17 May, 2013

Shot At the Title

In recent years, I've gotten hooked on streamer fishing. I'm not sure if it's the "hunting" nature of targeting a likely spot, or the visual of watching a big fish hunt down the streamer - but it's addictive. I started on trout, but then moved on to smallmouth as well.

Tuesday was a huge day on the river for me. My buddy Jon Ray and I set-up a float to chase big trout on big water. With the rivers swollen from a snowy Winter (and Spring!), there was a lot of flow, a lot of color, and a lot of opportunity. I really see this as a big part of my evolution as an angler. Where once I'd have been giddy sticking lots of 8"-12" fish on a float, now I want a 20"+ hog.

My set-up for big water like this has evolved a bit as I figured out what conditions demand and matching it to gear I have. For today I was running a Scott S3 958-4 rod (9' 6" 8-weight), my trusty Orvis Battenkill Large Arbor V, and an older Rio 200 grain sink tip. The S3 was one of my earliest high-end rods. After I discovered switch rods, it didn't see much use, but in the past couple of seasons I've re-purposed it as my chuck-and-duck (when necessary) and heavy sink tip rod. Works just great for both!

Our day starts off well enough - within the first hour I stick a nice 15-16". Decent, but I forgo the photo. Sorry, pal, you're not what I'm here for. Today is also my first day of rowing instruction, so I take a turn on the sticks. More on this later. Let's just say I went from complete chaos, to managed chaos. Look for more in a future blog.

The interesting part of this float is that we're picking up fish mostly in the middle. I'm more used to targeting pockets along the bank and near cover. My first fish is dead center, as is one Jon picks up as well as a couple of follows we both have. I think this is a result of the BIG water and high flows - fish feel more protected by all the color in the water, I suppose.

As the day rolls on, the sun comes out, so I move back to the banks. Hucking big flies into likely hidey holes. Around mid-day I toss into an eddy behind a log. Suddenly I see the telltale flash and BOOM! Fish ON! Just from the size of the roll and the heft on the line, I can tell this is a good fish. I've learned from previous losses that this is a game of showing the fish who's boss almost immediately. I get some bend in the rod and start putting to boots on this one. For a moment there's some back and forth, but I get the upper hand. When we get it in the net it's evident - this is a 20"+! Fortunately, Jon has a client who's on a quest to boat a big fish, so there's an excellent measuring device aboard. To my surprise, my fish tapes out at 23"! And it's not just long, this is one fat pig of a brown. WOO F*cking HOO!!!!!! My personal best-ever resident trout! I was able to break 20" in Montana last Fall, and I've taken a very large lake-run while pinning for Winter steelhead (we didn't measure, and doesn't count in my book anyway.) The adrenaline is FLOWING!

After a few pictures, in which we find out I can't hold a big trout very well (Jon: Don't you know how to handle that thing?" Sean: "Dude, I've never caught one this big, of course I don't!") we get some nice pics and even film the release. I spend the remainder of the float completely jacked up after the experience. This, of course, has fueled my desire to break the two foot mark.

Stay tuned. It's only just begun.


06 May, 2013

A View from the Saddle

Participated in the annual Spring ride put on by Bike Ypsi yesterday. At the urging of my buddy, and frequent riding partner, Josh I decided to do the 30 mile ride. This was by far my longest ride this year. The first ten miles were up-and-down for me mentally and physically, but shortly after that I found my groove and was able to settle in and enjoy the ride and observe my element. So, a few things I found:

  1. An awful lot of drivers are true dumbasses. When you don't have any oncoming traffic, why do you feel the need to pass so close I feel your miror on the hairs of my forearm? And yes, that is exactly as scary as it sounds.  And, yelling at cyclists -- seriously, is that necessary? If we're out there in a herd all lycra'ed up and riding bikes the cost of a house payment, chances are we know the law better than you do. We have to, for self-preservation. Yes, dumbass, it is legal to ride two abreast. Finally, there's the horn issue. I know you're back there. You're driving a multi-ton vehicle with an internal combustion engine. I heard you a LONG way back. So honking the horn to let me know you're there is not only unnecessary, it's dangerous. 
  2. Cycling, like many sports, has etiquette. Invest a few moments to learn it. It's much easier to draft behind a rider than to be out there busting the wind on your own. Don't just sit on my back wheel, offer to pull here and there. Or, just admit that you're gassed and ask if it's OK to hang back there.
  3. Bikes are peaceful places. Miles 10-25 took me through pastoral settings on a sunny day. The wind hadn't started up yet. When you find your groove it's just completely a Zen thing. As though time and space cease to exist (or, at least, to matter). For me a 17-18 mph sustained solo pace is pretty rare. Yesterday I probably rode 10 miles at that pace. Not bad for a fat guy. But it felt like sitting in the easy chair.
  4. Wind sucks. I hate wind 99% of the time. Yeah, a breeze at a baseball game on a blistering day is nice. But it sucks on a bike. It sucks on a Winter steelhead river. And, it sucks on a ski mountain. I'm learning to tolerate it on my bike, but on mile 27, uphill, on a rough piece of road yesterday, it was not a welcome companion.
  5. I love gear. With over 200 participants, there was a lot of cool hardware running around. One group included guys on single-speeds with full custom titanium frames, belt drives, etc. Just completely trick bikes. But the gear I loved best? MINE! From a fairly modest beginning, I now have a solid ride with super-strong custom wheels, a Shimano Ultegra grouppo, a top-notch Fizik saddle, and more. The result felt fast, responsive, and stable. It made my ride far more enjoyable.
  6. Cyclists are cool. Yeah, some of them are cooler than you and happy to remind you of that, but most are welcoming, open-minded, inclusive, and just want to be sure everyone has fun and stays safe. A great group of people to spend time around.
  7. I hate urban riding. We probably had 5ish miles getting into and out of the City. I do not find that relaxing, or comfortable. The roads in SE Michigan suck, drivers are a$$holes (see Point #1), and I feel as though I'm always dodging SOMETHING. Small town, big town -- no thank you.
Thanks the the Bike Ypsi crew for a fun event that got over 200 people united and excited about cycling!