Saturday, September 26, 2009


"Dad," Juliana asked, "can I play with your iPhone?"
"No", I responded. I was in the middle of trading IM's with a friend, after all.
"Living in the wilderness is hard" was the flat reply. Not a trace of emotion or sarcasm in her voice.

This was last Saturday night, just after she'd downed a S'more, sitting around the campfire after dinner. The tent was up, the Dinty Moore Beef Stew was down, and the fire was keeping us warm, now that the sun had retreated from the day's beautifully clear sky. The three of us had driven up to Tully Lake Campground that afternoon, set up our campsite then gone off to explore a bit before settling in for the evening.

Tully Lake is the campground I'd ridden to last year on my Schwinn, but this year I drove, and without bikes, at that. Nighttime temperatures were forecast to be frosty, and I didn't relish the idea of riding cold the next morning before packing up. Instead we brought our sneakers and hiked for entertainment. Turned out to be just as much fun anyway, and I didn't risk denting my car's roof with the gooseneck of the trailer bike, like I'd done when we took the bikes down to the Cape.

We started by heading up to Doane's Falls just outside the campground. There are several distinct falls and natural sluiceways where Lawrence Brook makes its way down an insanely steep little hill into Tully Lake. Tully Lake itself was created by the Tully Dam, a flood control dam built just after World War 2 out in Royalston, MA. Just as an aside, the top photo was shot from the top of the dam overlooking the lake.
Anyway, back to the falls. They've apparently been the site of several mills over the years, though none stands today. There are two obvious building foundations along the brook, and someone who knows what they're doing could probably identify other such sites. There's a trail that follows the falls and whether you're supposed to or not, there are a bunch of places to get close to the edge of the rocks overlooking the falls for a better look.

I have to say it's a bit nerve-wracking to hike with little kids in those conditions. The brook isn't a raging river, but it moves along fast enough at this point to wash someone away, especially someone small. Plus it's all rocks at this point -- no sandy bottom to break one's fall.

Neither of my girls has much experience in the woods, and Juli in particular tends to gallop along rather than moving with any degree of care. That's why we have a picket fence at the house, actually -- to keep her from running blindly into our busy street. She did a fair amount of stumbling and tripping along the path, as a result, but I don't think she ever fell. Ava is generally more cautious and seemed more open to my suggestions/requests to slow down and plant each foot with at least awareness, if not deliberation.

In any case, it's a pretty area and a good introduction to camping to the girls. You can park reasonably close to the sites, but the sites themselves are either right on the lake shore or in wooded patches that are nicely isolated from other sites.

The weather gave us only one challenge -- cold. I have a +35 bag, and the girls have Disney Princess bags that have no identifiable rating on them. We borrowed a friend's 4 person dome tent, which kept the condensation nicely at bay -- much better than my own tent (which is at least 30 years old, and acquired as points award from I think a Cub Scout fundraiser). It's time for an upgrade.

The girls slept on the Thermarests I picked up for backpacking at the Grand Canyon a dozen or more years ago, in clothes, in their bags and under fleece blankets. I slept on a poofier ground pad (getting too old for a Thermarest), in clothes in my bag, and then later in a fleece sweatshirt. I was awakened no less than 6 times in the night by Ava, who wanted me to stop snoring ("Daddy, stop doing that!" "Doing what?" "Making that noise!") or to change the batteries in a dimming flashlight (one was left on at all times) or to fix her blankets. We all slept cold, and I rebuilt the campfire the next morning to warm our bones. The frost was thick and clumpy on my car when we made our way up to fetch our breakfast and hit the bathrooms.

After breakfast, we took a guided hike around the campground, then made our own way back to the falls for a bit, and then over to the little recreation area for a game of horseshoes and to exercise the playground equipment over by the dam. All in all, a good 24 hour camping trip.

The only equipment-related challenge we had was my stove. I had a Camping Gaz campstove (note the past tense, there). It was an impressively compact and hot unit I bought probably 12 years ago for the aforementioned trip out west. I had also bought a large Camping Gaz propane/butane canister for it, because I figured it would make a more stable platform for cooking than the smaller one. Problem is, the flame burns so hot that unless you're cooking constantly with it, you just don't use much gas, so I had that same canister for 12 years, and it was still well over half full. With age, the seal on the canister's valve wasn't so good. Some gas escaped around the seal, causing some flaming down by the valve, which in turn melted the attachment point on the stove. Scratch one Camping Gaz stove.

I used it outside to boil a Caphalon spaghetti pot full of pasta the other day (which it did just as quickly as my Thermador range), let it burn for a few hours to try to burn the gas off, and then dropped it at the propane tank area of our recycling center yesterday. So in addition to a bigger and better tent, I need a new stove. Next time I'm going with a Trangia set (burner, stove and cookware). REI has a mini-set and Rivendell carries two larger sets that look like they'll trap the burner heat really well. Based on my experience with the Gaz setup, I really don't need what amounts to a blowtorch to cook with, and I like the idea of little refillable alcohol burners rather than tanks that become a disposal question later. Plus I keep denatured alcohol around for shellac, so I'll consolidate those two supplies into one.

I'd like to return with the girls for a similar trip next year, and this time maybe work in the bikes. Speaking of which, I've got a plan and have been gathering parts for the Columbia, and will share more about my goals for that bike next time.

All for now,


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wald Baskets

Lately, I've been trying to make my bikes useful.

Bikes are already useful, of course -- for exercise, sightseeing, family fun, sport, and with bags and trailers, they can even carry cargo and stuff. But I've had this sort of fantasy, I suppose you'd call it, of being able to commute by bike or do a lot more shopping and stuff by bike. It's a fantasy because I live in Southborough and work in Lowell, which is a long way away, and because the closest supermarkets are either a very dangerous 5 miles away by bike or a less dangerous 7 miles away. Not insurmountable, but not five blocks south and two west, either. Short of the fantasy, I'd like at least some of my fleet to be able to schlep stuff around readily for when the opportunity arises.

I've got bags of various sizes on all of my bikes, and racks of various types on a couple of them (and more to come). Bags and racks make it easy to carry a snack or jacket, or lash something down to bring it with you. Oh -- to the snack thing: I've found that bananas tend to liquefy in handlebar bags. In the skin, so it's not messy -- but not appetizing either. Anyway, I've even got shopping bag panniers, and those are pretty useful for lugging stuff around or doing actual shopping. But they're not very rigid and won't carry heavy stuff very well.

When I was on vacation with the kids on the Cape this past summer, I was impressed with how handy Juliana's little white plastic handlebar basket was for beach duty, so a month or two back, I bought a Wald basket from Rivendell. It's the smaller of the two they sell. And it has pretty much sat around, since, while I figured out what to do with it. I don't have a sufficiently substantial front rack on any of my bikes to hold it, and the drop bars on all of my road bikes are narrow enough that I wasn't fond of the idea of mounting it up front.

The little Specialites TA rack on my front Mafac brake is teeny and really limited to steadying my front bag hanging from my Velo-Orange decaleur, or perhaps carrying a small box of Munchkins back from Dunkin Donuts. The saddle bag support on the Motobecane is not suitable for a basket, really -- just for holding up a saddle bag. One larger than the one currently on the bike, at that.

So that really leaves the rear Velo-Orange rack on the Schwinn as a likely perch -- at least until I rack-up the Columbia or Paramount. But today I got home from a Saturday at the office and figured I'd cable-tie it to the Schwinn and see how it looked. Looks fine, as it turns out, and should be out of the way of the gooseneck on the trailer bike, too (the concern for which is what kept me from just lashing it on here in the first place).

I'm not the only one in the family who needs to carry stuff on their bike, either. On my two most recent rides with the girls, Juli had a skateboard lashed to the modified Pletscher rack on her Fuji, and my handlebar bag was full of her body armor. Riding in pads isn't convenient, and the skateboard hung way off the back of her rack like a set of wheelie bars on a dragster -- it looked pretty silly. So I told her a week or so ago that I'd find a set of baskets for her Fuji. Which I did, as you can see, and they're now mounted to her bike.

As you can see, they're these neat pannier baskets with a lightly arched inner side. They came with all this crazy hardware designed for mounting them to either steel balloon-tire cruiser fenders or the rear supports of a banana seat. After a quick look-over this stuff, I gently put it back in its bag so as not to disturb the past, and proceeded to mount the baskets with a single Nitto band clamp wrapped around the frame of the Pletscher. Then I cable-tied each basket to several other points on the rack or its struts, mostly for added stability -- the clamp is really where the strength is -- however much that is. The mousetrap on the top of the Pletscher is unaffected by the baskets and is still an option for holding stuff down. The arched sides stand a little proud of the rack top, though, so they might get in the way of something wide and flat going up there. I think these look great, and I might get another set for myself.

When the girls were dropped off at the house today, I sent Juli out to the barn to take a look. She gave me an A+ on the job (I'm so proud). Her skateboard will fit just fine on one side and her pads in the other, though a bungee net is probably called for to keep everything in place. I'll pick up a pair at some point -- one for each of us.

In both cases (mine and hers, that is), the baskets appear to be uncoated steel wire, though they may be galvanized. I'll give them a light coating of car wax every once in a while to protect them and they shouldn't rust. Of course I don't expect them to last forever, especially Juli's -- kids are hard on their gear in this stretch.

Incidentally, Wald is a company that has made stuff for bicycles for over 100 years. If you go up on eBay and search on Wald Baskets, you'll find an amazing variety of new and old styles of baskets for bicycles -- sexy (if there is such a thing) and modern quick-release ones, and simple old-fashioned ones like the one I bought from Rivendell. Their website is also a good source of info for the stuff in current production, of course, but eBay seems more fun, somehow. They're still making bicycle components in Kentucky today -- a true rarity these days.

This post, by the way, marks my one year anniversary of blogging and of Bronze Gears. I'm enjoying sharing and hopefully my visitors are getting some value from what I've posted here.

All for now,


Monday, September 7, 2009

White Hole

I've discovered a new spatial phenomenon. It's similar to a black hole -- you know... collapsed star, all this matter compressed into this little teeny space, super gravity, light can't escape, etc. Well, a white hole is the same thing, except it's time that can't escape. Oh, and it's my house, not a collapsed star.

(Actually, there really is a white hole in astrophysics -- at least hypothetically. And the definition is a lot different than mine above. But I've already made up a new word in French on this blog, so let's just ignore that for now.)

I've noted before that my house consumes an astonishing amount of time, and that's never been more true than in the past month. Literally every weekend since my last post (four weeks ago) has been consumed with mostly housework. Plus many nights in between. I've been going like hell getting the place ready for listing.

The outside is now (professionally) painted, and much of the inside too. One room downstairs has been completely recolored. Most of the trim downstairs has been repainted, the upstairs and downstairs hall walls have been repainted in a lighter shade than they were, and in general, the place just looks fantastic. All I have left to do is to paint some grit-laden paint on the stairs to the basement, paint the front stair balusters (that'll be fun) and finish spackling and painting the ceiling in the downstairs front hall. A few more hours worth of work is all that's left and it's done.

By the way, there are 5 posts on the front porch, as you can see. Four of them were made by me (the one just to the left of the front door was made by the previous owner -- the rest are mine), along with a similar but shorter pair on the Kitchen porch. I wrote about starting one post here. As you can see (far left in the picture) it's done, and with the help of a friend, I put it in place earlier this summer. The old one broke into three pieces as we took it out, even though it looked mostly fine on the surface until last fall. Houses are exciting that way. Especially old ones.

The real question is what's next. I have a good feel for what the place is worth, and I could start over somewhere else with the cash I'd take out of the place. But I'm struggling with letting go of it. It's not just a nice and unique old house, it's been my home for the better part of the last a decade (notwithstanding the 9 months I was in Framingham). And it's essentially been a the source of a lifestyle -- making it mine and keeping it in shape has been a labor of love, a source of pride and a constant challenge to the skills I brought to the table when I moved in. It's a white hole, yes, devouring time like nobody's business. But's it's mine, and I'd like to hang onto it if I can. Not at the expense of everything else, mind you -- only if I can make it work.

Anyway, as I've been doing all of this work, I've stil managed to get some biking in. Last week I had my kids for a few days before the first day of school, and we got out for 14 miles or so. Juli strapped her stakeboard to her Pletscher rack, and we went over to her school's playground, stopping first for lunch at the local pizza place. Then this weekend I've logged two 24-mile days on my two older road bikes followed by a shorter ride today with the girls.

Riding them back to back I was struck by how different they are. The Schwinn is better sorted than the Motobecane, and it feels like a more modern bike, even though it's older. The brakes feel better, the shifters pull more cable and are more responsive, and the bike is more stable. It's also much stiffer in the frame than the Motobecane, which feels willowy by comparison. If I watch the big ring for deflection as I crank up hills, there's little to no flex in the Schwinn, where the Motobecane's big ring flexes a couple of millimeters left to right as I pedal. So the lower part of the main triangle is much stiffer on the Schwinn than the Motobecane. The trade-off, though, is that even with a Brooks Professional (vs. the wider B-17 on the Schwinn) and narrower tires, the ride quality of the Motobecane is sooooooo much more supple -- it's really a lovely bike. Anyway, it's fun having a bunch of bikes and experiencing their differences back and forth, back-to-back.

In terms of projects, I've been playing mostly with accessories the past few weeks, having bought a handful of Wald baskets (one for my use, and two for Juli's Fuji for schlepping her board and pads around). I'm still working out the installation of those, but I'm looking forward to having some carrying capacity. I also picked up a couple of new bags from Rivendell, and have been gathering parts to fix the front end of the Columbia. I have a fork, a headset, and a set of hubs. I still need a front brake cable hanger and a new stem and bars for it. Optionally, I need a new seatpost.

The short-term plan is to install the fork with the appropriate spacing on the steerer tube to handle a set of front brakes. Then replace the bars with adult-sized bars, and the stem with 22.2 stem to match the new fork. I'll have to cobble the headset together a bit, using a top nut that I have leftover from my wife's Bianchi project (the original steel top nut), but that's not hard.

And then when I'm ready to put a cantilever brake on the front (and I have a cool one to put on -- an old Dia-Compe) I'll need to figure out what to do about wheels. My thinking is to have a coaster brake setup with its fat tires, and a second set of wheels with a front canti brake only. I could mix it up I suppose, too. Easy enough to figure out. When the time comes, I'll get the hubs I picked up (SR suntour threaded hubs and a single speed freewheel) built up with some silver 26" rims and that'll be that.

That project may drag into the winter though. Fall is fast approaching (it was 50 degrees this morning), and that means that I've got only 4-5 more weeks before I have to start dealing with leaves and it's already time to think about taking the gardens down and putting all the vines into the compost pile. Whatever happens with staying or selling, I've got at least one more autumn here, and it's generally a lot of work.

All for now,