29 July, 2013

Road of Milestones

No matter your passion, there are usually milestones that mark your passage from an amateur to a hardcore. It might be your first unguided steelhead on the fly. Or comfortably skiing an out-West black diamond. Or dropping your first pheasant with a single shot. I'm fortunate to have hit a lot of them in recent years.

This year, my goal was to drop 25# over the Summer. I've learned for me that I need to improve both diet and exercise to meet this sort of goal. Doing one of the other never seems to yield much result. The problem? I hate gyms. In fact, hate may not be a strong enough word to adequately cover the vitriol I feel toward the dank, windowless caves of pain and suffering.

So, what to do? Every since I was young, I've always loved bicycles. The freedom. The adrenaline rush. And the self-reliance. All appeal to me. Oh, and you burn calories and build fitness. I stopped riding for quite a while post-college. But in 2006 I picked it back up after purchasing a Giant OCR3 road bike. That got some upgrades, and then I built up a single-speed 29er mountain bike. Over the past 2-3 years, my cycling had tapered off for a lot of reasons. This year, at the urging of my buddy Josh, I signed up to ride the Komen Ride for the Cure. I knew that many experts say charity rides are the perfect way to set goals. And it's worked for me. The ride is this weekend and I've tripled my fundraising goal, and also decided to double my mileage.

This past weekend, as I was on the return loop of a 43 mile ride, I started thinking of the milestones I've hit this year:
  • Broke the 20 mile barrier. And then the 30. And the 40. And the 50. This weekend, if all goes well, I'll break the 60.
  • Wore out a set of tires. Just flat rode them until there wasn't enough left to protect the tube. Cool.
  • Overcome my aversion to hills. I went out on Saturday looking to get in some time in the hills. And, I stayed on the big ring in the front. This is huge for me.
  • Stopped talking myself out of rides due to the potential for poor weather. I rolled out Saturday knowing full well of the 90% chance of thunderstorms. And, I paid for it with 10 miles in some of the hardest rain I've ever seen.
  • Bought my first carbon frame. It arrived today and it's going to be SWEET. Thanks to eBay and a guy who wanted a dedicated triathalon bike, I now have a Giant Defy Advanced. More coming soon on this.
  • Dumped my triple chainring front crankset. Nothing says "old fat guy" like a triple.
  • Purchased my first pair of bib shorts. Turns out they really are as comfortable as everyone says. Go figure.
It feels really cool to recognize all of this. Being down 17# so far doesn't suck either.


26 July, 2013

Soo True

Ever since the first time I saw Capt. Brad Petzke's presentation on fishing for Atlantic Salmon in the St. Mary's River in Sault Ste. Marie, MI (called "The Soo" by Michiganders), I've been intrigued. The opportunity to catch this rare species, coupled with the legendary fight makes it pretty attractive.

But in the early days, my hard-earned budget for guides was typically spent learning new spots, new fishing styles, or building my skill set. I don't have access to an appropriate boat, nor the necessary gear to even consider doing this on my own. Nevermind that the St. Mary's has fast, tricky currents, major shipping traffic, and many other challenges...

Last year though, the "bucket list" (I hate that term, for the record) came to include doing Brad's program to catch an Atlantic. Want proof that Brad's the MAN for this program? Check his availability. The best dates go fast. I'd been looking at 2014, when July 2, 2013 opened up! As this was the day before my Dad's 70th birthday, I locked it down quickly.

The morning started off slow, and EARLY (5:15am). Dad quickly hooked - and lost - a sizable whitefish. This is another fun aspect of the Soo fishery - it's a mixed bag of species. Then he landed a few whiteys. As a general rule, I'm a catch-and-release angler. But whiteys are another story. These aren't a sport fish - they're a DINNER fish! Suddenly Dad turns into Captain Whitey -- with strike after strike. Meanwhile, I'm getting nothing. Oh, except for one SOLID bobber down. Immediately, I realize I just missed my first Atlantic Salmon. DAMMIT!

After a couple of hours fishing the chutes of the Hydro Dam, we move to another location. One of the things about fishing with Brad is that he likes to keep his secrets. He's spent years scoping out the Soo (as well as a lot of the rest of the UP) and knows some amazing places. So, I feel compelled to keep his secrets. This spot proves fruitless for Atlantics. But...

Dad with a 23" rainbow!
Dad hooks a personal best 23" resident rainbow! After a quick fight, this beauty is landed, photographed, and returned to the river safely. Then I get a 17" rainbow myself! OK, now I'm on the board! Dad hits another teener and we decide it's time to return to the Hydro dam and have a lunch break.

After lunch, as predicted, we mostly have the chutes of the dam to ourselves. It's pretty cool to watch Brad hopscotch us along the dam. Dad picks up a juvenile Atlantic, so at least we've seen the species. By now we're to the point in the day where I'm starting to wonder, "Is it going to happen?" when WHAM!!! Bobber down! A hard, well-timed hookset (not always something you can count on from me) and I'm on my first Atlantic Salmon. Experienced guides always amaze me with their ability to quickly and deftly perform a multitude of tasks, all while coaching the client to not freak out. Within seconds, Brad has us unhooked from the dam, has my mammoth pile of line up with me on the back deck (where he had me move) and is spinning the line up onto the reel so I don't have to handline one of the most challenging freshwater sport fish around.

So, here we have an interesting new challenge. I'm left-handed (as is my Dad). And, of course, I've got this fish hooked on a right-hander rig. I've fought and landed my fair share of wrong-handed fish, but it seems like it never gets any easier. Somehow this time, I found the mental clarity to just put the rod in my right hand and reel left.

This fish has some GO! That's a 9 weight bent in half!

The fight on this fish is just astounding. It's as strong as even the biggest steelhead I've had on and unlike a steelie, this thing just doesn't let up! I'm starting to feel like one of these Hemingway characters who needs to get strapped into the fighting chair. I've got a 9 wt. Scott A4 bent in half for most of the time.

Yeah buddy - my first-ever Atlantic Salmon!
Eventually, I start to get the upper hand - gaining more line than I'm giving. As we ease the fish to the net it's evident this one's a solid beast. Brad estimates around 10-11#. After a few quick pictures, and back in the water we go. As I'm holding this stunningly beautiful fish in the clear blue water on a bluebird day, I think of how lucky I am. I live in a biologically diverse state with a wealth of outdoor opportunities. As of right now, the St. Mary's river is the only place in the United States where you can catch an Atlantic. And I've been fortunate enough to make friends, like Brad Petzke, who know how to help you access these opportunities. To make it even more surreal, Brad points out that there are no clipped fins - meaning this could be a wild fish. Sweet. I'm hooked. See ya' next year, buddy!

If you want a truly special experience, check out Riversnorth Fly Fishing and Brad's program. In fact, if you want to experience any of the magic of Michigan's Upper Peninsula on the fly, Brad's your man.

25 July, 2013


Headed out on Sunday morning for a long ride. Got an early start on a hot day. Legs felt fresh. Didn't have anyplace I needed to be or anything I needed to get done. Perfect - I'm thinking it's time for some longer miles, some hills, and a nice solid ride. On August 3, I'm doing the Susan G. Komen "Ride for the Cure" in honor of my late friend Pam who lost her life to breast cancer a couple of years back. I signed up for this earlier this year as a motivator, and to honor a good friend. My base goal was the 30, but I quickly set my sights on the 60 mile ride.

A quick run out Huron River Drive to Dexter is followed by a nice smooth roll into Chelsea. So far, so good. Not much wind. Body feels great. But this is all familiar territory. I've done a shorter loop that includes Chelsea, but this time, I want to head north on M52, up to North Territorial Road (North T to us locals) which I'll take back to Huron River Drive and then home. I know it's a pretty ride, plus there are some solid hills. The Komen route has some pretty rolling terrain, so I need to work on surviving hills.

M52 goes quite nicely. I'm maintaining a solid pace. Though long at times, the climbs are manageable. There's a lot more ascent than descent on this stretch. But it's all feeling good. Plus, this part of Washtenaw County is really very scenic. A super nice ride. I make good time as I swing onto North T. And then...

F*ck me. Chip seal.

Few things strike fear into the cyclist than this evil road re-surfacing. It's cheaper, so strapped County road commissions are using it a lot on rural roads. But it SUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKSSSS to ride on. Initially, it's nearly like riding on gravel. Scary and shifty and completely uncomfortable. As it wears in and firms up, it's more like riding on one continuous vibration. You never really notice how unpleasant it is until you hit conventional asphalt. Then you realize the stuff was loosening your fillings.

But I make the best of it. My pace slows a bit and my riding is a bit more tentative - especially in corners on descents. As I'm riding, I start to wonder how long a set of road bike tires should last. And are mine going to protect me on this road full of sharp cinder. My trusty Michelin Krylion Carbons have been on my bike since 2006. I don't even want to speculate on the mileage I have on them.

And shortly, we have the answer. Yup, flat tire. OK, no big. I've worked on bikes all my life and spent several years working for bike shops. I've changed about a gazillion tires on every conceivable sort of bike. So I find a shady spot under a tree and get to work. Naturally, I find the my tire levers never made it into my saddle bag when I switched to the Fizik system. F*ck me, again. A quick try by hand yields no results, so I switch over to the screwdriver on my multi-tool along with the trusty dollar bill to protect the rim. This goes pretty well and shortly the tire is re-installed, inflated, and I'm on my way.

Now you know it just can't end here. Otherwise, I'd never have bothered to write this entry.

After another 3-4 miles I notice the familiar squishy feeling from the rear wheel. A quick check reveals that I have yet ANOTHER flat. This is a more significant problem. I'm 15+ miles from home. So I start running through the mental list of potential rescuers. Wife's travelling. Hadn't seen my cycling next door neighbor this weekend. Maybe my other neighbors, but they were in the midst of a yard project when I left. Training partner Josh is likely out on a ride of his own and lives a decent distance away. Ah-HA! Schultzy - my fishing guide buddy I know he's home as I'd coordinate a meet-up to get my boat back from him. Fortunately he's around, free, and happy to come get me. And, as a bonus he hitches up my boat and he delivers me, my bike, and the boat all home. Bingo! It's good to have good friends you can count on.

Back at home, showered and rested a bit, I do some online research and find the latest equivalent Michelin tire. A quick call to the local bike shop secures two (in stylish red accent, no less) and within the hour I'm back in the basement shop replacing them. Naturally, I find a sharp cinder that's penetrated the casing that I missed during my on-road swap.

Last night was my first ride on the new skins. In a word: Wow! I needed new tires. Badly. Lesson learned: new tires every five years.