Van Camping and Trail Riding

Had a great weekend.  Shauna and I went to Land Between the Lakes for some van camping.  We stayed at Hillman Ferry, which is one of our favorite campgrounds anywhere.  The spot we got had amazing view, and a multicultural feel.  A nearby family spoke French and just a bit down from us was a large group of Asian people, a bit surprising since this is Kentucky.


Since we are van camping sitting up our site was easy, just pull in and get the cooler and a couple items out of the van.  I went out to ride the Canal Loop Trail while Shauna built a fire and walked around.  I have ridden the Canal Loop several times but only a complete loop on Strava couple times, and neither time represented my best effort.  Saturday I went just about as hard as I could and set a PR on almost every segment.  It was fun, but one lap left me feeling beat.  There are so many folks out there who could turn faster laps over and over again.


The weather was probably the best camping weather you could hope for, it got down into the 40s overnight but in the van Shauna and I stayed warm.  The morning was stunning as the sun came up over the water, smoke began to rise  and then blew in waves across the glass life surface in hypnotic patterns.  As it grew warmer  Shauna chatted with the French people about the finer points of van camping while I wandered around finding wood for the fire.


We left around 10 and headed for Paducah where Shauna needed to do a bit of shoe shopping.  She had no luck but I came up with a pair of Birkenstock sandals clearance d for 29 bucks!


Around 1 PM Shauna dropped me off at Gossage for a big group ride where ironically several people from Kentucky were attending.  We had 19 riders which as a HUGE group for a Shawnee ride.  The trail was in excellent condition, and allowed us to ride fast and helped everyone avoid mechanicals.  I’ve never been in a big group like that where everyone was so well paced.  I rode some near the front and some near the back but we rarely had to wait more then a minute for everyone to regroup.  It was one of the best trail rides I’ve ever done.


I noticed about halfway through the ride the my saddle didn’t feel right.  Really I’ve been thinking there was something wrong with it for awhile.  I checked it out and saw the rails had been smashed down almost completely flat.  The nose is bent radically down and the rear of the saddle is lower then the middle.  It’s not comfortable and may have something to do with the lower back pain I experienced riding.


We capped off Sunday night by watching what I can only describe as a surreal presidential debate unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  We didn’t let this get us down though, especially after checking 538 after the debate.

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A Rude Awakening

Well for a bit over a month now I’ve been back to regular full time employment as a teacher, which is great.  I’ve got a tough commute and for the first couple of weeks it was getting the better of me, but I’m adapting.  My riding has indeed suffered, my weekly mileage is down by about half, which all things considered I’m happy with, but I’m doing most of that riding on the weekend and doing very little during the week, which can’t be good.


I had a couple of rude awakenings this weekend that warrant mentioning.  On Saturday while on my way to meet up for a ride I made a mistake that could have ended very badly.  A large vehicle came around me at an intersection blocking my line of sight.  I was quite certain the intersection was clear and proceeded.  As you can probably guess there was a car coming and had I been going slower or that car going faster I would have been hit.  It was probably one of the closest calls I’ve had on a bike and will be on my mind from now on.


The second rude awakening was at The Great Pumpkin Metric.  The Great Pumpkin Metric is usually one of my favorite rides of the year, even though I haven’t been there in a few years.  There’s always a big turnout with a diverse mix of riders.  The quality of the route, and sag support is excellent.  The awesome meal and band playing at the end of the ride is just icing on the cake.  It’s one of the best organized rides in the area.

Since I’ve started my new job with its included 2 hour daily commute my riding time has all but disappeared.  I’ve gone from 120 miles a week to 60.  Last weekend at the Pumpkin it showed.  Luke was kind enough to dial it back on the climbs and wait for me, and on the flats I rarely if ever got out of his draft.


Around 25 miles in we ran into the BIG LOOP cyclists from Carmi, I’ve heard alot about these guys but this was my first time riding with them.  The pace was a solid 20-22 mph which in a group of 6 riders should have been cake, but left me gasping at times.  I was off the back on every climb and when I tried to put down more power I had the early warning signs of cramps.  I was saved from blowing up by a front flat requiring a quick tube change.  Fortunately Luke came back to give a me a pull in.

Now despite feeling pretty horrible and being under the impression that I was pathetic during the entire ride, I still managed to average 18.1 on the somewhat hilly ride, and that includes me and Luke taking it easy on the last 15 miles.  Still, I better get out the trainer.


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Giving Back

I’ve had a great deal of help from many people and I’m sure I’ll never give back as much as I’ve been given, but here’s a few of my bicycle related good deeds lately.


A few weekends ago a crew of eight mountain bikers attacked the Gossage area of trails and cleared them out.  We dug drains for mud holes, cleared lots of downed trees, sticks, briers, and generally made the trail way better.  I say we, but I had to bail out early, the other folks did much more work than I.  Thanks to this effort Gossage is riding better than it has in a long time.  We rode there this weekend, a group of 8 riders.  It was a blast.  Of course there was the mandatory group picture at Pedro, or Julio if you prefer.


One of my mountain bike friends has been riding with a huge Camelbak HAWG hydration bag for as long as I’ve known him.  He’s a strong guy, but often suffers on the climbs.  I picked up his pack a couple weeks ago and was stunned by it’s weight.  I couldn’t help myself and began a campaign to convince him to shed the extra weight.  Ironically I’ve benefited from his pack multiple times, he carries extra pedals which I’ve used, an extra tire, which I’ve used, and enough tools to field repair about anything, which I’ve borrowed.  He weighed the pack and found it was at 17 pounds.  Just for some perspective, my buddy Luke carried 25 pounds when he rode from from Canada to Mexico and did it with a frame pack not a back pack.


This friend of mine took my advice and dropped over ten pounds from his pack, he instantly became a far stronger rider, not only on the climbs but everywhere.  All that weight on his back was ruining his ability to negotiate the trail.  He’s seriously like a completely different rider.  I’ve never seen him ride so well.


On Saturday morning I did a road ride with my Mom and Dad.  Out on route 13 we passed a gentleman on road bike.  We effortlessly glided past the rider, who was dressed in legit bike clothes, but riding a department store road bike.  In short order we were about to make a left on to Dykersburg, the gentleman was a few minutes behind us and I couldn’t help myself.  I turned around and road back to greet him.


The Gentleman is riding some serious miles, getting a 60 miler in every Saturday, he’s doing this on a road bike that weighs 30+ pounds.  Worse then that the saddle was at least 3 inches to low.  I couldn’t help myself.  I offered to raise the guys saddle which he was very excited to accept.  He had no idea how to adjust anything on the bike.  I can’t even imagine riding 60 miles on 30 pound wal-mart bike with a saddle 3 inches to low.  It’s like hell for a cyclist.  The guy was thinking about buying a 2000 dollar bike at a bike shop, which I whole heartily endorsed, though I told him a low end bike shop road bike would do him wonders.  This is where our super cheap Box Stores fail us.  No one is going to leave a legit bike shop with a new bike that fits terribly.

This may look like a fast sleek road bike, but looks can be deceiving.

This may look like a fast  and sleek road bike, but looks can be deceiving.

Oh yeah, I gave my brother a mountain bike, though I’ll be surprised if he ever takes it outside.  See he’s got it cleaned up real nice and he’s scarred to get it dirty.

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The Dog Days of Summer

It’s September but it’s still hot, brutally hot and humid.  It’s a great time to get up early and go road bike riding at 6 AM so naturally I’ve been going mountain biking at noon, you know to catch the heat and humidity at it’s height, plus it gives the spiders time to wake up and get their webs going.


Riding in summer, especially later summer means spiders, thankfully the ticks are gone and the poison ivy is less poison, but the webs are intense.  Even though these spiders appear pretty dangerous they don’t seem to bite, I’ve had them all over me the last couple weekends.

In typical Gholson fashion I’ve been breaking things.  In fact the last 3 mountain bike rides have ended in failure, luckily right near the end.  I broke the hanger on my scud last weekend, right after I told the world it was unbreakable.


This weekend I took out the old school Beast of the East and shredded the rear wheel.  And yesterday I simply had a slow leak  in the last mile of the ride and rode it until the tire came off.


We went to One Horse Gap on Labor Day and found there was alot of action at the Gap.  A few horse back riders, some pilgrims on ATVs, and of course us goofy mountain bikers.  This is only really noteworthy because we rarely see anyone on our rides.


Sunday I handled the heat pretty well, you see heat and humidity have always been my achilles heel mountain biking.  Monday got the best of me.  In a matter of minutes I produced enough sweat to drown a rat.  The trails at One Horse Gap suck, they are full of chopped up horse holes and downed trees.  It was impossible to keep any speed and the cooling airflow that comes with it.

At one point while climbing the coon I had “hit the wall” and was having a hard time going forward.  A small patch of loose dirt caused me to simply just fall off my bike.  Luckily our leader the 70 year old Joe, kept morale up and made a command decision to turn the ride around.

Think it’s time to switch back to road, at least while I wait for some new parts to ship!

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So Long Monte

I said goodbye to a faithful companion last night, I sold my Monte Carlo.  This was the first car that I purchased myself in 2005.  It was two years old and only had 20,000 miles.  The Monte was as fine a car as a person could ask for, and had many high end luxury features like lights that come on automatically when it’s dark and plush comfortable seats.

The Monte is a mountain biking machine

The Monte is a mountain biking machine

For the last two years I used the car hard.  I removed the center console and used it to deliver mail.  Everyday the car would get a new scratch or ding.  Yet even after 2 years of constant stop and go driving in the harshest conditions imaginable Monte never failed me.

My final day of delivering mail a couple weeks ago saw a huge monsoon rain.  Inches of rain fell in a very short time and I was forced to drive through high water.  By the end of the day the engine light had come on, the exhaust was loud, and the power steering fluid was leaking.  With our new van and my new job I had no reason to spend any money on it.

Monte Carlo!!!

Monte Carlo!!!

Selling the car on craigslist proved to be a challenge.  I started it at 800 and generally had several offers a day, people wanted to trade boats, motorcycles, trucks for it.  People offered 300, 400, 500 dollars.  Many people wanted it but wanted me to hold it for a month or two while they saved up the cash.  Some people were 100% planning to buy it but never showed up.

I finally sold the car to the first person who showed up to check it out, for 500 bucks.  I hope it serves them well.  I know I will miss the luxurious style of the Monte Carlo.

The Monte had dropped us off at the start point.

The Monte had dropped us off at the start point.

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Why I Ride Junk Mountain Bike Stuff

When I did my mountain biking trip in the U.P. I actually wished I had a better bike.  Don’t get me wrong, my 2×7 drive train was adequate, my brakes stopped me, and I didn’t have any flats; still there were times I would have benefited from a faster shifting drivetrain with a wider range, a more responsive fork, and a lighter bike.  I had such an enjoyable time riding those trails that I actually thought about saving up for a better mountain bike.


Last week I rode in the Shawnee for the first time since Spring with my pals Joe and Drew.  It sucked.  Normally this is when I start mountain biking again.  The woods dries up, less bugs, less poison ivy, less mud, more fun.    This is the wettest summer I think I’ve ever seen.  In the last 14 days the Southern Illinois area has received 5-8 inches more rain that normal.  The trails appeared to have gotten alot of horseback use and were in bad shape, they weren’t as soft and muddy as they can get in the spring, but a chunky chopped up mess.


Looking on the bright side, while it was difficult to ride the trails, it wasn’t impossible.  If you could keep your speed up and avoid the deepest section of the chop you could power through many of the mud holes.  Clearing a section of chop was a great accomplishment.  We rode about 3 hours and probably covered 10 miles.  Many people wouldn’t even call this mountain biking, though I wouldn’t call alot of what some people do mountain biking either.


So that’s why I ride junk.  There is no use for someone who mainly rides in the Shawnee to spend much money on a bike.  One of my smartest moves thus far was switching from a nine speed drivetrain to a 7 speed.  The SCUD was chronically breaking derailleurs and hangers because while in the first couple of cogs the derailleur was so close to the spokes it was getting caught by them.  The hanger on this bike is particularly wimpy, so if I brushed a stick or a rock it would get pushed a bit into the wheel then SNAP!


Using the 7 speed cassette eliminates that problem.  The seven speed cassette fits on a normal hub with a couple metal spacers taking the space where the two largest cogs would be.  My first experiment was with a 6 speed from an old road bike where the largest cog was a 28.  It worked great, no amount of force could push the derailleur into the spokes.  I wanted a bit more on the low end and found another benefit of the 7 speed cassette is price, a new chrome SRAM 32-13 cassette was 9 dollars shipped.


The 7 speed shifts with a Shimano thumb shifters.  The action is slower then  rapid fire, but I’ve found myself adjusting to it.  The rear derailleur is a Shimano “Light Action” and it shifts very well.  Seven speed has a larger space between cogs on the cassette and seems like its less prone to crappy shifting in bad conditions.  I’m using a 9 speed chain right now with the setup and it works fine, but I’ll buy a 7 speed when that wears out.

My enjoyment of 7 speed has me asking the question, why do mountain bikes need so many cogs?  Who needs tiny gear spacing on their cassette?  Who even needs a cassette?  I’m no where near as awesome as my buddy Joe who was riding a 10 year old Monocog that has equal amounts blue paint and rust.  His single speed bike has seen more trail miles then almost any and it’s still going strong.  Then there’s Moe who rides his single speed exclusively just about everywhere and seems to be faster on it then his geared bike.

The horrible condition of Shawnee trails, the mud, water, and sand make riding a nice bike here an exercise in futility.  Save yourself some headaches and cash, ride junk!


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Matt and Shauna Go to Duluth

After my successful van camping trip last month Shauna wanted to try and since Southern Illinois humidity was bringing us both down we went North to Duluth.  Why Duluth?  I really don’t know, it was Shauna’s idea, she liked their weather and the fact that there was several things there to do.  I liked that they had several area mountain bike trails.


We packed up the van and headed out early Tuesday morning.  At some point I checked a Wisconsin Dells waterpark’s website and found they were doing a super internet sale of 5 dollar tickets.  Shauna said she was interested so I bought tickets for Mount Olympus.  She asked me if I packed my swim trunks and I said, “sure did”, then I glanced back and realized I’d forgot to put my bag in the van.  My bag with all my clothes, and all my bike stuff, including my bike shoes.  Oh man!


There may have been some foul language followed by acceptance of a quick stop at Wal-Mart for some swimming trunks.  After I found some 5 dollar trunks I started thinking, maybe this is a trap.  The tickets are suppose to be 45 dollars each and I just got them for 5, this must be a trap.  Well I was right, but only in so much that water parks and amusement parks are designed as people traps.

We found the place and after driving though a maze like series of parking lots and were greeted with a 20 dollar charge to park.  OK, that’s not too bad.  We walked through a lackluster amusement park and arrived at the water park where we found renting a locker was 10 bucks, OK still not that bad.  We go to some kind of wave pool thing, Posiden’s Revenge or something.  We walk in and it’s not doing anything, I walk out into the water and then here comes a massive wave, it bowls me over and yanks my glasses off my face.  Let the good times roll.

After some time floating around the lazy river I talked Shauna into a doubles water slide.  This turned into a 40 minute wait trapped in line for a 15 second slide.  I should note that Shauna did not want to do this, and I promised her it was completely safe and nothing bad would happen.  As we were flushed from the tube into the pool Shauna banged her front teeth into the back of my head and I lost my glasses again.  When I regained my senses I realized the glasses were broke and the back of my head was not injured.  Well it’s not the first time I’ve put her safety in jeopardy for my own enjoyment.  On the plus side my broken glasses weren’t really a problem since they were worn out and I only really need them to drive at night, which I would be doing alot of.


Why visit Deluth?  This is an example of how cool the town is, this is  under their public library. Ranma 1/2 up there with Catcher in the Rye!

After the waterpark I did a lap on some go karts in the amusement park.  Since I’m a “champion” bike racer and have spent hours on racing games I know how to corner, you know like apex and stuff.  So I was using my secret knowledge to make my go kart go a bit faster then everyone.  I was exiting a curve and a 8 year old kid and his Mom had their karts hogging the track.  There was a about half a go kart width between them so I just went for it and knocked them both out of the way.  Won my second race in as many weeks with that move.


Well with the amusement over we were back on the road, we spent a pleasant night at the Eau Claire Wal-Mart and then hit Duluth about 9 AM Wednesday.  First thing was a train ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad.  This was great, a two hour train ride where we were free to walk around the train and check out all the different types of passenger cars.  Made me wish I was on the Empire Builder heading west.  After the train we wandered around the Duluth Skywalk which was a series of passages that connected several downtown buildings second stories and even crossed the interstate.



Next we took in the Freshwater Aquarium.  The aquarium was nice, but not one of my favorite parts of the trip.  They did have this really cool huge model of the great lakes where you could put a toy tugboat in the west end of Superior and through a neat system of toy locks and dams your tug boat would end up going over Niagara Falls.  This may have been designed for 5 year olds but I loved it.  We spent the night at the very nice Jay Cooke State Park, which I think could have easily been a trip in itself.  We only scratched the surface of this park, walking a couple miles of trails.



Our second day in Duluth featured a boat ride on the Vista Star.  It was a good time, the narrator was really very informative and funny, he kept the ride interesting with stories about the Duluth bay.  The boat ride offered epic views of the Aerial Lift Bridge and of course a really awesome trip under it.  After the ride we checked out Canal Park and ate at Little Angie’s where I had the best salad I’ve ever had in my life, like a salad to make all other salads pale in comparison.  Next up was the lakefont area with a really nice Army Corps of Engineers museum that was FREE!



The lakefront area is home to Wheel Fun Bike Rentals and I talked Shauna into renting a bike and riding the Duluth Lakewalk trail.  It was nice, but very busy.  This was my only ride of the trip sadly, though without bike shoes SPD pedals are pretty uncomfortable.  The Canal Park and lakefront areas were teaming with active people, all manner of cyclists, walkers, joggers, and even inline skaters!  Yes rollerblading inline skater people, I wish I’d brought my skates, it would have been the ultimate.



Next we checked out Park Point, which is a 6 mile baymouth bar, or essentially a big sandbar in the bay, big enough for it’s own small community.   The end of the bay is a big park and recreation area featuring a huge beach, and we had a great time there swimming and you know, just hanging out doing beach stuff.  Finally it was time to leave Duluth, having never ridden any of their great mountain bike trails.  Gives me a reason to go back.

After driving late into the night we overnighted in the fine Black Forest Wal-Mart in Wisconsin.  Friday morning we arrived early at The House on the Rock, our final bit of touristing on this trip.  House on the Rock is an oddball roadside attraction of epic proportions.  It’s like a museum, except that it has absolutely no historical context and most of it’s contents are fake.  It’s hard to describe The House on the Rock, it’s really just weird and huge.  It took us 4 hours to walk through it all.



So our Duluth trip was great, and our camping van strategy worked perfect.  We saved around 200 dollars avoiding motels and had more time to see cool stuff and have fun.  Duluth is the place to go in the Summer, their hot days are like our coolest summer days, and the dreaded mosquitoes everyone talks about never really showed up.  Of course in the winter I think I’d prefer Southern Illinois, or maybe Florida.



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