Home Theater PC - Totally Geeking Out

For two years I have wanted to get a Home Theater PC (HTPC). I fell in love with the idea of having most of the features of a TiVo and all my media on one box connected to my TV so it's easy to access. The problem is, I never had the money to splurge on it. I had hopes for the economic stimulus check, but a lot of it went to pay off the credit cards after a bad year of medical bills and various other financial surprises.

I also didn't know where to start. There are some many ways to go about it and a myriad of components to choose from. I visited a local guy to see his setup, and that helped me realize that it wasn't such a daunting undertaking.

Then last week I spotted a low-end, but still decent PC on sale for $300. I called the store Monday and they had a few still in stock so I drove down and snagged one. What I got was a Compaq Presario with a Pentium D dual-core 1.8 GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM, and a 320 GB hard drive - loaded with Windows Vista Home Premium which includes Vista Media Center. Not bad for $300.

I got it setup, downloaded the latest patches, ran DeCrapifier to remove all the preloaded junk software, plugged in the old PCI analog TV tuner I had and started to play with Media Center. But the fun didn't really get rolling until the shipment arrived on Wednesday with the video card with S-Video output and the combo analog / digital TV tuner card.

I was giddy. That's right, I was having so much fun playing with this gadget I was like a kid at Christmas. Media Center looks gorgeous. I had fun poking through the menus exploring each feature. I recorded some TV programs, "paused live TV" and even rewound to see a play in a soccer match in slow motion. I copied my music to it and let it shuffle play. I put some favorite photos on it and watched a slideshow, to my music. Played a DVD. I'm still tweaking and figuring it out and having a ball.

Where it will really shine is when the Fall TV season starts and I can set it to record every episode of my favorite shows to watch whenever I want - it'll be nice to not have to be in front of the TV when they air.

A few complaints though. Changing channels is on the slow side (a few seconds) so channel surfing is sluggish, but the program guide (especially the mini-guide) make up for this - I surf the guide instead of channels - when I find a program in the guide that sounds interesting, I change the channel and check it out.

The guide is key, which brings me to my biggest complaint: no program guide for digital TV sub channels. Each station can have up to 4 sub channels (i.e. KBYU has 4, KUED has 3). Currently the guide only shows me program info for the first sub channel. If the government has it's way, over the air (OTA) analog TV will be shutoff February 2009 leaving only digital TV. That's only 8 months away, and Microsoft still doesn't fully support digital TV with a full program guide. Ridiculous. I hope Microsoft gets this fixed soon. If not, I might try some other media programs like SageTV.

So, yeah, I'm a geek who likes to play with techno gadgets. Tomorrow I hope to have the digital audio hooked up to my surround sound receiver to get 5.1 goodness.

Update: Yesterday I installed Lifextender to delete commercials from recorded TV programs. I checked the results this morning and it looks like it accurately detected the commercials and deleted them. Sweet.

Alpine Loop #5 For 2008

I was planning to take Friday afternoon off work and go on a Fathers & Sons camp-out with my youngest child, and only son, Kade. But he got sick Friday (had fever and slept all day) so I decided to see if I could get in a ride Saturday. Jolene had a morning mountain bike ride setup so I needed to stay home to make sure Kade was OK. But Mark A. had e-mailed out an invite for a ride Saturday around 11. We talked and I arranged to meet him at the mouth of American Fork Canyon to do the Alpine Loop.

I arrived and met Steve (Mark's brother) - with Mark rolling in right behind me. We chatted for a bit and then headed up the canyon. As usual for Saturday, there were a lot of cars, and also a high number of bicycles. We climbed the lower canyon at a pretty mellow pace. But where it turns steeper near Mutual Dell, the effort went up to keep the pedals turning. Mark and Steve are strong climbers and I was able to stay with them until after the Timpooneke turn off. Then I started feeling Thursdays Alpine Loop ride in my legs. I trudged along OK, but didn't have much zip. I rolled into the summit a few minutes behind Mark and Steve. I told them I wasn't up for Cascade Springs today, but they were welcome to go for it. We decided to go down to Sundance.

With all the traffic, we took the descent mellow - and it was still very enjoyable. Swooping through the curves and taking in the beautiful scenery.

At Sundance we stopped to get some more liquids. Mark and I scooped water from the stream and dumped it onto our heads to cool off. Mark said a woman passing by looked totally disgusted upon seeing me do this. I don't know what she found offensive: me splashing "dirty" stream water on me, or me contaminating the stream with my "dirty" head. With urban types you never know what weird misconceptions they have about nature.

Mark and Steve want the full Alpine Loop experience so they went down with me to Provo Canyon so they could climb back up over the top. I has tempted to join them because it's such a fantastic climb, but I got cooked enough from the climb up the other side so we parted ways and I just went down Provo Canyon. There was another cyclist who descended with us and he and I put together an 2-man pace line. I thought about going down the Provo Canyon parkway trail, but I didn't want to go slow, even though the highway is noisy from all the cars and not as scenic.

I made it back home, ate a late lunch then worked on the brakes of the van - getting it ready for the long drive and from STP.

Lingerie Utah Valley Style

With it's large Mormon population, Utah (Greatest Snow On Earth; A Pretty, Great State; Where Ideas Connect; Life Elevated) has it's societal quirks. And I feel safe in saying that Utah Valley is the epicenter of Mormon culture which sometimes exhibits itself in unusual ways. Case in point:

A few years back Dirty Jo Punster, a lingerie and adult novelty store in Spanish Fork, put up some billboards, with the above design, along the freeway as advertisement. I believe they were the first of their kind in Utah Valley. I didn't read anything about it in the paper, but I know it caused a stir in this very conservative community.

Then a few months ago I saw this billboard along the freeway on my commute into work:

Husband & Wife
Tasteful - Comfortable - Clean
Lingerie & Romantic Gifts

I laughed out loud in the car. It just seemed goofy. The message I got is, "we just want to add a little tasteful, comfortable, clean spice to our sex life, but we don't want to be dirty".

And what's with comfortable? Is that really a problem with lingerie and "romantic" products? I guess it depends on your kink(s), but just seems to be a strange thing to advertise.

But I fear for this fledgling business as their website is gone (here's a cached copy). Perhaps the target market wasn't large enough (or brave enough to walk in the door) to keep the store afloat?

This just in: I called (who wouldn't want to dial 756-LOVE ?) and they are still in business (time)! The woman who answered the phone explained that the website is down while it gets a makeover. It was fun doing a bit of investigative journalism.

BONUS: Since I'm on off topic, how about more. When I searched the web to find out if an old Ken doll we found in my grandmother's stuff was worth any money as a collectible, I came across Keeping Ken (www.manbehindthedoll.com - nice URL!). The About Me page is classic. Here's an excerpt:

ME Hi my name is Jef Beck and yes, consider Ken® to be a best friend. His world is pretty exciting, and I tag along like a good accessory should. I'm becoming a growing statistic with male collectors by collecting Ken®. After all, it's half the challenge, and not too hard to try to complete the entire collection. Welcome to a little corner of the super highway I have created for my buddy. I have to thank my partner Jim for letting Ken® move in with us. His patience with this whole project has been one of complete understanding. Also thanks to my cats Casper & Jaspar for their understanding as well. Like everyone that is caught up in all this collecting, I'd like to hear from you too. It may be a question about Ken® or something I left out about him.

Alpine Loop For Breakfast

If pain is weakness leaving the body, I have a lot of weakness.

Recently Rick mentioned his morning group ride schedule with Thursday being a ride over the Alpine Loop. Aaron asked if he could come along and Rick affirmed so I figured it was an open ride. I would have asked too, but one of my many weaknesses is sleep so I didn't want to commit to getting up early to ride. The Alpine Loop is one of my favorite rides, but I'm not a morning person. I figures if I were awake at 5:45, I'd probably go. Commitment is another of my weaknesses.

Amazingly I was awake at 5:30. And as I lay in bed, two parts of my brain groggily considered the options:

1 "I could just go back to sleep - ah, sweet restful sleep!"

2 "But the Alpine Loop is fun, and all the other guys are getting up to ride."

1 "Fun? How is it fun?"

2 "Sure, it makes me breath uncomfortably hard and my legs get tired and sweat drips down my face, but the scenery is nice and there's just something satisfying about making it up a long climb. OK, I don't know why it's fun, it just is. Some things should just be taken on face value and not dissected and analyzed."

1 "Sounds like some form of insanity."

2 "Maybe fun isn't sane. But I need some fun or I'll go insane for sure. I need to pee."

1 "I don't know why I bother trying to talk sense into you."

2 "Well, I'm up so I might as well ride."

1 "I'm going back to sleep."

Yes, I know, with my gift for dialog I should be a writer.

I left my house in Orem around 5:45 and headed north. No wind, 70 degrees, quiet - perfect for cycling. Why don't I ride in the morning more often?

1 "Because you stay up too late, moron!"

I arrived at the mouth of American Fork Canyon at 6:20 and was greeted by a nice wind coming down the canyon. Climbing AND a head wind - nice. I waited patiently, then went over to look at the stream, then rode down to see if I could see cyclists coming - hey, here they come! Dan was first. He lives in American Fork and said the wind was bad. We chatted a bit and then the big group came and we jumped on the back.

The 10 minute rest was just long enough for my body to assume I wasn't going to riding anymore so it was shutting things down. Jumping onto the back of a group that was warmed up and rolling kind of hurt. After a mile or so I was warm again and rode stronger. The pack had broken up and I tried to leapfrog from one rider to the next. I caught a couple riders just before the flat below Tibble Fork. I'm not a fast climber when it gets steep, but on the flatter stuff I can't help but crank up the speed. Elden called out "Kris is off on a break". I shook my head - I'm just taking advantage of the mellow grade. After a while I looked back and I was towing a line of riders. Well, that's cool - I'm usually just one of the guys in the pack following a wheel.

After the turnoff for Tibble Fork it turns steep again. I went a ways and then dropped down into the small ring. Elden and two other guys passed me. I kept in contact with the two, but Elden, rolling his single speed road bike, was gone pretty quick.

The rest of the ride was a solo grind. I coated the top tube with drops of sweat. But I did glance away from the road several times to admire the beauty of my surroundings. Simply gorgeous.

At times I'd close the gap a bit on the two guys ahead of me, other times I'd lose ground. I arrived at the summit about 30 yards back from them. Here's most of the gang:

Once most everyone had arrived, we went down - some back down American Fork Canyon, myself and others went down the Sundance side. It's very curvy and I flowed pretty well through the turns, but hacked through several of them clumsily. Still, a very fun descent. After Aspen Grove I tucked low and let loose the speed to catch up to Jon. I followed him through the switchbacks down to Sundance where we got behind a big delivery truck. Jon made a bold move to pass the truck - I chickened out and tailed the truck all the way down to Provo Canyon. We rolled a fast paceline (30 mph) down the canyon as one of the Omniture guys did a monster pull. back into Orem I said goodbye as I split off for home to shower, eat and head to work.

I very much enjoyed the ride. Who knew mornings could be fun?

Solitude Race - Executive Summary

I'm a travelogue guy. I tend to give all the details, usually in a not-so-entertaining, matter-of-fact way. So let me spare you the blah-blah with this executive summary:

Carpooled with Mark. Cooler than the valley. I toppled into a hole. Saw a moose. 3 snow patches. Endoed crossing one. Pre-ride lap felt good in middle ring. Tried to start out fast, just can't. Climb in small ring hurt - gasping for breath, rode slow. Some bad etiquette - racers who stall and don't get out of the way. Downhill rougher than I remembered, but kind of fun. DH guys ripped by me. Couldn't stay with Andy. Jim climbed hard and stayed with me on DH - we finished together. After race talked to KDay and met teammate Greg. Chocolate milk good recovery drink. Won shorts in raffle. Went home.

I'm not sure what it was, but I felt I should have been able to climb faster. A little frustrating. But it was good to see so many folks and chat. I left feeling kind of, eh. Maybe I'll try another Solitude race just to see if I had an off day, or I simply stink at MTB racing.

Update: The (2) people have spoken in favor of more details. So I'll bring the "falling into a hole" story out of the comments:

I was pre-riding and going slow around a hole (probably dug for the base of a new lift tower) when my front wheel hit a clump of grass and stopped and I tipped toward the hole (since that was where I was looking - doh!). I unclipped and stuck my foot out into air as I toppled over and into the hole. Mark said I just disappeared. The hole is 5-6 feet deep with a vertical side where I fell in. I banged my forearm, but nothing big. When I came to rest I started laughing. It was just so comical. The cartoonesque foot trying to stand on air, toppling over the edge, leg flailing to find something solid to break my fall, landing in soft dirt, getting untangled from the bike. Pretty funny and embarrassing crash.

Fat Cyclist TriathAlon

Jolene and I had a great time at the Fat Cyclist TriathAlon. (I'm pretty sure the extra "A" was added by Elden to poke a little fun at the many Utahns who say it that way.)

We left home a little later than expected and ran into a parade in Pleasant Grove that slowed us down. We arrived late, but just in time to jump into the group photo and leave with the group for the mountain bike ride.

I've never gone up Hog Hollow, and while it's an old dirt road and not single-track, it has some charm. It's a long climb with a moderate grade. The fast guys went off the front and I rode with Bob and then Mark at a decent pace. Elden had to take a call at the bottom, and sure enough he caught up to me. For a while I thought it was Mark pushing the pace, but then turned to see it was Elden. As Elden passed I gave him a pinch - payback.

At the top we headed east to climb up to Jacob's Ladder. I've done this climb 2-3 times now. There a hillside where three trail split and the rejoin near the top. I decided to be a little daring and took the middle "harder" trail. It worked me a bit, but I made it. The group stopped at "the saddle" so riders could decide if they wanted to continue on to Jacob's Ladder or go down "the chute" to Sliding Rock.

Jolene and I did Jacob's Ladder, but it was more loose and rutted than that last time I rode it. I told Jolene it's was a spicy decent, but she could handle it. But with the worsened condition of the trail, I hoped she wasn't going to be mad at me for my mild opinion of the trail. She made it down OK and had a smile on her face - I was glad. She rode with Lyna, Bob's wife, and they seemed to have fun together.

Ghost Falls was next after Jacob's Ladder. Some took the flowy new trail (cut a few weeks ago), other took the steeper old trail. The shade was welcome as it was a hot day (in the 90s).

Next was Clark's trail and I was finally able to ride it in my middle ring this year. After my success doing it on my road bike on Thursday in that tall gear, it would have been shameful to go back to the small ring. But it still hurt.

At the top we had to climb back up the same way we went to Jacob's Ladder, and I was already feeling pretty smoked. Mark and I decided to just roll easy in the small ring. But we did take the right "hardest" route up the hill. We still had some moxy left.

At the saddle we regrouped and then descended "the chute". Mark and I were a bit nervous about this downhill since Elden noted that every single one of the guys he rides with has crashed on this descent at least once. So we hung off the back so we could go slow. Mark rolled it fine, and he's only been riding mountain bikes for 3 years. I rode it all without putting a foot down, except when I had to stop for a rider in front of me. But it's a treacherous, rutted out, old dirt road and I could see how just one small slip or mistake and you're going down.

At the end of the chute we had a short uphill to Sliding Rock. I was so looking forward to cooling off in the stream here. This was the second event of the triathAlon. There's a natural slide down the granite rock where the stream flows into a pool below. This event was judged so I brought a costume to enhance my performance (does that make me a doper?). On my first slide I buckled at the waist when I hot the water and cracked my tail bone on a rock on the bottom (it's still hurting a day later), so I learned to stay flat. Dug was true to his word and went down head first (several times) and even convinced Elden to do it. Here are some photos of the event:

After the water event, we biked back to Elden's house for brats (bratwurst). Fish is a fantastic cook and he boiled and grilled those brats to perfection. We enjoyed the brats on a slice of Kenny's home/hand-made bread - delicious. Jeff had some tunes going and we all relaxed, ate, talked and enjoyed ourself.

Elden raffled off some goodies and I won a nice Gary Fisher 29er jersey that I gave to Jolene to go with here 29er Gary Fisher Sugar. She later won some Fat Cyclist socks and gave them to me.

Thanks, Elden, for creating and hosting - we had a great time!

Click for More Pictures

Clarks TT Experiment

As reported earlier, today I had good time trial up Clarks that resulted in a time of 12:37 - more than 3 minutes better than my first / previous time and moving me up from the bottom spot (at the time that was 16th) to 12th. But the pecking order doesn't interest me as much as the fact that I never imagined I could get a 12 minute time. I was hoping to at least get in the 14s, and held out a sliver of hope for the 13s. So I'm thrilled with my 12:37 time.

Here's how it went down. I'd had a nice ride on the mountain bike on the trails in American Fork Canyon yesterday and felt pretty good. This morning I thought about doing the Clarks TT, but wondered if the ride yesterday had left me less than fresh today. But when lunch time rolled around I decided to head over to Clarks and see how I felt.

I started up the bottom of the trail and felt good enough that by the time I arrived at the bridge (the official start) I'd decided to give it a shot. I clipped into both pedals with one arm leaning against the rail then hit Start on my stop watch and off I went.

My heart rate shot up quick and I was panting hard within 20 seconds. I didn't expect to be working this hard so soon. I thought "this isn't a good sign", but kept going anyway.

The bottom was a little rough from horse hooves, but not bad. I threaded past the root nubs and rocks, trying to keep my speed up. The lower third of the trail worked me pretty good and I was concerned because I knew it gets steeper in the middle section.

Then I hit the section where the grade kicks up a good notch - in the trees. It hurt! Not a pain like getting hit or cut, but an oppressive and extreme discomfort that screams "Stop!" There were only two choices: stop, or keep going - and I clung to my determination to not stop. It rolls a bit in this section and each up was brutal. I'd stand to pump up these and have an insignificant flat before it kicked up again. I played a game of self deception: "the switchback is just over that next rise." After playing that game four times, I finally did arrive at the switchback.

I had considered checking my time earlier, but dismissed the thought, reasoning that I was going as hard as I could and knowing the time wouldn't motivate me much, but had a good chance of demotivating me. But at the switchback I glanced at the time. 10 minutes! I could hardly believe it. I got excited that I might get a really good time here.

After the switchback I told myself it wasn't as steep from here to the top. Another lie I told myself. It was a tiny bit easier, but hardly detectable. Under duress, I pushed on - encouraged by the time check. I made it past the fence where they close the gate when the trail is muddy. Then a little dip and the last steep slope. It's fairly short, but my exhaustion was catching up to me at this point and it looked forever long. I kept going, staying to the smoother and non-loose left edge of the trail. I made the top of this slope and knew I had it, but there was still 30-40 yards to go.

Down a little dip I noticed I was catching a mountain biker - the first person I'd seen on the trail. He looked at me oddly, then scooted up the trail. I crossed the dip and start up the bend around the stand of scrub oak. I was nearly spent and had to will myself sternly to keep pushing, telling myself I was almost done. I rounded the corner and saw the three signs close up ahead. I gave it what little I had left and after I passed the 3rd sign I braked and hit the stopwatch.


I could hardly believe it. But before I could consider it further, I laid down my bike and myself. I flopped on my back and lay there panting for a good 2 minutes. I closed my eyes and felt like I was spinning and tumbling. Finally my heart rate and breathing dropped enough I felt like standing. I got up, leaned my bike against the sign and took a picture.

And now it's time to reveal the crazy secret:

Yep, I took my road bike up Clarks. Not a cyclocross bike - a regular road bike.

Let me explain. Months ago when Mark setup the Clarks TT blog and we talked about doing this time trial, I joked that I should try it on my road bike since the trail was pretty smooth and my road bike was the lightest bike I have (I only have two bikes). We laughed about it, but that's when the crazy seed was planted.

Then yesterday I was talking with Mike at the UMB shop and we got on the subject of time trials. He had done the Clarks TT with Todd two days ago when Todd set the new record of 9:49 (the first time under 10 minutes). Mike had a decent time, but felt he could do better. Mike noted that we had similar times up American Fork Canyon so he suggested that maybe the weight of my mountain bike was to blame for my slow Clarks TT time. That's when I decided I had to at least try TTing Clark on my road bike.

I rode from work (near the prison) to Clarks. I took it easy, but didn't feel strong on the climbs. I arrived at the Coyote Hollow Court trail head and decided to at least see what the road bike felt like on the trail. So I shifted to my lowest gear (little ring of my triple) and started up the trail. It was a pretty tall gear, but the lighter bike felt pretty good. I was surprised how well the slick, skinny (23) road tires gripped the trail. Even standing up to pedal the rear slipped only a little. I hadn't put air in the tires for a few weeks so I knew they were a bit low and seemed about right (I checked and they were both around 80 psi). So when I reached the bridge I had decided to give it a try.

The bottom part was the roughest and I thought the tires would skip over the bumps and cause me to loose a lot of energy, but it wasn't bad. I was careful to thread trough the rocks and roots for fear of a pinch flat. Because of careful steering, and some luck, I didn't get a flat. (Note: The more work the climb became, the harder it was to steer well.)

While the lighter bike surely helped, I feel the bigger factor was the tall gear. I only had two choices: keep going or stop. I had no lower gears to bail me out and let me go easier. I was basically forced to keep turning that big gear and that equaled speed. But it hurt (extreme discomfort)! I was breathing very hard on the lower section, but full on panting from the middle to the top. I can't remember the last time I was this maxed out on the bike. I remember thinking, "this better be a descent time because I am NOT doing this again!"

Another interesting thing - at the top my legs weren't totally shot. They were tired, but I didn't even have rubber legs. I can only conclude that currently I'm limited by aerobic capacity, not leg strength.

OK, the rest of the story. You may be wondering what it's like to take a road bike DOWN Clarks. Well, I didn't find out. I considered it - I could go really slow and probably be fine. And I'd had the foresight to wear my mountain bike shoes so if the bike slipped there was a good chance I'd catch myself. But it seemed better to head for Traverse Ridge road and take pavement back.

I started off on the gravel road and it was pretty easy going. I even crossed a little flow of water. I followed the road to the base of the paved road, 50-60 feet above me. I shouldered my bike and hiked up the the steep dirt slope, stopping a few times to catch my breath. At the top I lower my bike over the guard rail, got on and climbed the last 100 yards or so to the 4-way intersection at the top.

I zipped down the north side - even hitting 51 mph on the S curve. Yeah, I was feeling good. As I pedaled back to work I felt more and more excited at what I had done. I'd pushed hard, endured the pain and came out with a result far better than I had hoped. I was on a high for the rest of the day.

P.S. Mike tried the Clarks TT less than an hour after I did it and hit his goal of an 11 minute time. Congrats!

12:37 Clarks TT !

Today at lunch I wandered over to Clarks with half a thought to try a time trial up it. I felt good when I got there so decided to give it a go. I'll save the details for a later post and just get straight to the result:

12 minutes, 37 seconds !!!

My previous time was 15:50, and even though at the time I knew it wasn't my best effort, it still hurt. So to beat that old time by more than 3 minutes is huge to me! That moved me up from the slowest Mens time, to something respectable in the 12s (Clarks TT results), and even faster than the top Woman (Whitney Pogue at 12:58) - not that I have issues with being beaten by a girl ;-)

After the run I was mellow (I was too exhausted to feel differently), but as I recovered I got more and more excited. I was on a high riding back to work - pumped and happy. I called Mark and my wife. I'm almost giddy. I'm not sure what it is, but maybe when the pain of a hard effort results in a personal victory it amplifies the sweetness.

In my next post I'll give the details - including a crazy secret.

Timpooneke Loop With Mark

This morning Mark asked if I wanted to hit some AF Canyon trails this afternoon. How can I say no? We headed up and did the classic Timpooneke Loop.

With the dry weather, and more motorcycles than I've ever seen up there, the trails are turning to moon dust and loose rock, but it was still pretty good riding.

Mark rolled the middle ring the whole ride - nice. I lacked faith and hit the little ring a few times. Either way we kept a good pace going and enjoyed the climbs and relished the downhill.

A few notable tidbits: I was feeling the downhill and opened up the speed more than usual, I almost crashed on the downhill a few times (risk and reward), I cleaned the plank bridge across the stream coming back to the parking lot. I haven't been on a ride with Mark in a few weeks so it was good to cruise some mountain single-track with him.

Who Is This Todd Guy?

Todd has made some waves in the local cycling scene (most recently his sub 10 minute time trial run up Clark's trail in Draper), and since I've known him for a few years but most people haven't heard of him, I thought I'd offer my impressions.

I used to work with Todd at Linux Networx in Bluffdale. He's been cycling off and on since he was a kid. We had a cycling group at work and rode fairly regularly. Todd was always the strongest rider and often commuted 3-5 days a week, 15 miles each way, over Suncrest.

The last 2 years he has really stepped up his training (especially this Winter) and it shows - he can output some impressive watts. He's got a good climber build: light with big lungs.

He races for UtahMountainBiking.com and has moved from Sport to Expert and is considering the move to Pro. He's placed 1st, 2nd, and 4th in the three Expert Men 30-39 ICup races he's done this year.

He does some road races and crits. He's only Cat 4 right now, but only because he's slowed down by the upgrade system and doesn't have the time to race every points race. He took 2nd in the Cat 4 road race at Sea Otter and recently won the B flight crit at DMV. By ability I'd say he's easily Cat 2.

He's physically (genetically) gifted for cycling and trains hard so I'm not surprised he's winning races and moving up fast, but I was still shocked he got a sub 10 minute Clarks TT. But then I'm used to being amazed at what Todd can do on a bike. I don't doubt his time, I've never known him to lie.

He has a blog and posted about the Clarks TT run. Also read up on his other personal bests and the brutal training sessions he did over the winter.

He said it wasn't the best scenario for a TT, but still laid down that killer time. Some may take his "excuses" for bragging, but he's just telling it like it was. He probably shouldn't have put that stuff in there as it may ruffle some feathers. But since I know him I can vouch that he's not playing mind games or being cocky.

Todd's a nice guy who loves cycling. He's married with 2 kids (twins) and lives in Pleasant Grove.

Pedals & Pellets

Tonight was my second mountain bike biathlon and my first one this year. It's part of the weekly race series at Soldier Hollow and Sundance. My first biathlon was at the end of the season last year and I really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to doing another one this year. And better yet, Jolene was going to give it a try - her first biathlon.

I zipped home from work and we loaded the bikes and family in the van and head up Provo Canyon. We arrived in time for a little pellet gun shooting practice and a lap on the short, 2 mile course. We got some last minute rifle range and racing instruction then lined up. In Sport I would be doing 4 laps, Jolene 3 laps. As usual, Sport was a large group.

I tried to go fast off the start, but it just doesn't work for me. I was in the back third. I passed a few racers up the pavement then funneled into the long line heading up the single-track and breathed in lots of that yummy, powdery dirt. It was slow, but I just sat in and waited for the top where I got by a few more racers. I passed a few more on the paved uphill section then settled in for the twist downhill single-track. Back on the pavement heading to the range I poured it on and got past 8-10 racers - I didn't want to be in a long line waiting to shoot.

My plan worked and I didn't have to wait long for a rifle to open up. I plopped down on the mat and methodically hit all 5 targets.

Four down, one last black dot target to hit.

Here's Jolene shooting:

I got back on my bike and looped around for lap #2. Our children were there to cheer us on - you can see our youngest waving at me.

And here's Jolene rolling through the start:

After the shakeout, I was feeling pretty good on lap #1 and I felt good on lap #2 as well. I pushed the pace and didn't feel like I went much slower than the first lap. But I did miss one target and had to do a penalty lap.

Lap #3 I was a little slower on the climb, but I hit all 5 targets and kept it pretty fast on the downhill.

Going out of the range I had a Mad Dog guy in front of me as my carrot. I worked hard to catch him, but although I made some small gains, in the end I don't think I advanced on him going into the range. I knew if I were to have a chance of catching him I'd have to hit all 5 targets. Well, that was a jinx. I didn't get the rifle I'd used the 3 times previous and I missed the first target. I hit the next one, but missed the 3rd, then after I cocked the rifle I accidentally touched the trigger and missed the 4th, but hit the 5th. Ug, 3 penalty laps and my chase was over. Oh well, I still had a good race - I had fun and felt like I pushed it pretty good.

Coming into the 4th lap I saw Jolene ahead and caught her and gave her a little pat as she headed out for her last lap. She felt like she could have gone harder, but she said she had a good time and enjoyed the extra twist of the target shooting.

After the race we talked with people, I ate some chicken tenders and I won an insulated water bottle in the raffle. Then we drove home. A nice evening out with my sweet wife and awesome kids.

Photos taken by my daughters Jamie and Kara.

Work & Play Saturday

This morning (Saturday) Jolene and I drove to Suncrest to do some trail work. A downhill trail is being built there and we joined some other volunteers for some construction. After some instruction we picked up some tools and walked down the trail. A lot has already been done and it looks like a fun trail - the DHers are going to love it.

Our assignment was to do a bench cut into the side of a slope greater than 45 degrees covered with brush. They had cut down the brush with chainsaws. We used Pulaskis and McClouds to chop out roots, rocks and removed dirt to cut into the hillside. Even at 9 in the morning it was warm due to the sun and with not much labor I was sweating. As an avid cyclist, guess how strong my upper body is? Not much, I discovered after swinging these tools.

This is what the "trail" looked like before we started (Jolene digging in):

And here's what it looked like after a line of us had been working a few hours:

Just before noon we stopped and hiked back out. It was hard work, but gratifying to see what a group of people can do.

We were pretty beat, but we'd brought our bikes and American Fork Canyon was calling, so we answered. We started at Timpooneke and rode up the Salamander Flat trail then up Pine Hollow to the Ridge and back down. The trails were general in great shape and it was cool, green and lovely.

Timp Foothill Trails Tour

A week ago Jeremy e-mailed me asking about the trails in the foothills of Mount Timpanogos near Orem, since I've blogged about them several times. After a few reschedules we met today so I could give him a tour of the goods.

We started at Timpanogos Park (I rode from home) and road up the dirt road then turn onto the Race Course and at the top we climb up to the Water Tank Road. From there we took Betty up to the 4-way intersection with the pile of rocks (The Altar) and turned left onto Betty's Lament and took it out to Crank (with a short ride past the Crank turnoff to peek into Dry Canyon). We descended Crank then took the Roller Coaster trail back to the road then took the Cliff trail back down to the Race Course to finish it off and cruise back to the parking lot.

It was a nice ride. I thought I was OK, but not far heading up to the Race Course I could feel yesterday's race in my legs. About half way up my legs started to loosen up, but I still was not 100% for energy.

Jermey is a strong rider, but he was riding his single speed with an 18 tooth cog on the rear - ouch! He cranked it well though and was only stopped by a few of the really steep and loose spots.

It's really green up there right now. Maybe too green - the grass is already growing over the trails in places. But it looks so nice it's hard to complain about not being able to see the trail.

Back at the parking lot we spotted the Gary Fisher Subaru team car and a few minutes later Chris Holley rolled up. We all chatted for a bit and then went our way.

I rolled easy back home and savored another good mountain ride.

Wednesday Sundance Race

The weather held so Jolene and I decided to try the weekday (Wednesday) race at Sundance. Got there a little early, got registered and had time for a little pre-ride of the course. It was also fun to see so many riders we know and chat with many of them.

They started 3 waves, roughly: Experts, Sport, Beginner. The Sport group was large. And the start is up the paved road only 150 yards or so before the single-track started so if you wanted good position you had to go all out up the road. Except I'm not a sprinter. I tried to push it, but my heart rate shot up and I entered the single-track in the last 1/3 of the pack. At first it was OK as I was able to pass a few riders, but it's tough to pass on Archies so I lost a few minutes there. The downhill was fun, but there are lots of riders who go down faster than me.

The half lap was good. I was chasing another rider ahead of me. I got close to him once, but I ran out of steam and the gap opened. On the downhill we were about the same and I was even able to push my comfort zone, let loose a bit more and gain on him a bit. I was 50 feet back at the bottom and I tried to sprint for the finish, but it wasn't long enough and I didn't catch him. Still, the chase was kind of fun.

Jolene had a pretty good ride and enjoyed herself.

I had an OK time, but in my opinion Sundance is a great place to ride, terrible place to race. Just too hard to pass. Except for the biathlons, I think I'm done with mountain bike racing for the year. The mountain trails are opening up and I'd rather spend my time riding all the sweet single-track we have around here.

Update: I got 11th out of 18, Jolene got 2nd out of 3.

Big Spring Hollow Boys

In my last post I reported on a nice ride up Big Spring Hollow with my wife. Adam commented that he was riding with some Mad Dog guys up there tonight and I'd be welcome to come along. With bad weather possible tomorrow, I decided I should ride tonight even though I only had until 6:15.

I arrived at the Big Spring Hollow parking lot a few minutes after 5 PM. I saw a few other cars with racks and wondered if I'd missed them. But Jared was already there and Adam and Keith arrived a few minutes later.

We headed up the trail and took the usual route heading to the springs then took the left fork at the Tee to enjoy the sweet turny goodness of the Enchanted Forrest then the small meadow. After the meadow they showed me some new trail as we turn right after switchbacking to cross the gully and climb the other side. I had gone this way once before years ago and didn't recall going very far or thinking it was any good. I was wrong on both accounts.

After the climb we crossed another lovely meadow - this one larger than the others. It was downhill and fast. At the other side we veered right and up a long, tough climb. I was in my middle ring, but should have been in the little ring. I'm not good at the low cadence grinding, but somehow I made it all the way up, but I paid the price. I wasn't completely blown, but it took a good chunk out of me.

After the climb was some nice single track after we veered right onto it. A bit chewed up from the ponies, but nice lines. The area was loaded with Mule's Ears starting to bloom. There were several switchbacks then we joined into an old jeep road. We took it back to the meadow where I took the only photos of the ride.

Adam, Kieth and Jared above the big upper meadow.

We took the old road across the meadow which dumped us back into Big Spring Hollow.

I had just enough time for one small loop so up we went again. I didn't have the same energy this time and had to use lower gears. But it was still a nice climb. Back in the small upper meadow I bombed down the gully while the others took a bigger loop. I flew down the meadow (my one glance at the cyclocomputer read 26 mph) and down the rest of the trail back to the car. Such a sweet trail - hard packed and fast.

I loaded up quick and made it home on time so my wife and daughter could go to their activity.

Thanks to Adam, Kieth and Jared for a short but sweet ride. I'm pleased to have been shown the additional trails up there. It always seems a bit hard to justify driving up there for 3.5 miles of single-track (even though it's so good), but now that I know there's more it will make Big Spring Hollow a more tempting riding choice.

Big Spring Hollow Blitz

Jolene rode the Big Spring Hollow trail this morning with a friend and reported that it was in excellent conditions. So we made plans to hit it tonight after I got home from work. After we fed the kids and got things settled it was 8 PM - better go fast.

After a nice drive up Provo Canyon and South Fork, we arrived, unloaded the bikes and set off. My legs are still sore from the Triathlon Saturday and I was hoping I wouldn't be in horrible pain. To my relief the pain discomfort was tolerable. Strangely my left leg hurt much worse than the right.

I started in the middle ring and started off hard hoping to flush the junk out of my legs. It did seem to help, slowly. I stopped at the bottom of the big lower meadow to let four bikers go ripping by and to warn them not to run over my wife. Her she is coming up the trail (in her new pink Fat Cyclist jersey):

We continued on and here's a shot along a little spring-fed stream:

After the road crossing I dropped to the little ring since it gets steeper, but I stayed out of granny even though the legs complained. We could hear the kids at the Big Springs camp singing and otherwise participating in a campfire program. I made the climb and shot Jolene cresting the top:

The downhill from here to the upper meadow is sweet - hard-packed, bermed and curvy. I tried to push the speed and plunge into the corners and put more trust in the tires to hook up. It worked. I'm slowly gaining more faith in cornering at speed.

We took the trail around the upper end of the meadow and Jolene snapped these shots:

Can you spot me in the photo above?

Everything was green, green, green with a sprinkling of wild flowers and blooms on a few trees. Just lovely Spring mountain scenery.

We bombed down to the lower meadow and I nearly lost it in the gully. We opened it up across the lower meadow and I had fun taking the corners and a little air here and there down to the parking lot. The whole ride is only 3.5 miles, but it is some seriously fine single track.

Salem Triathlon Becomes (Bad For Me) Biathlon

I'm not superstitious, but the two triathlons I've attended have had bad weather and I'm thinking it's a sign to give up triathlons. The Kokopelli Triathlon last September was canceled because of a powerful thunderstorm. But I thought the Salem Spring Triathlon (what a horrible Flash website!) in June would be weather-safe when I registered for it months ago. But no.

I woke up Saturday around 5 AM and looked outside to see wet ground. I checked the KSL weather website and the radar showed a big mass of rain right over Utah Valley. It was moving, but slowly. My hope was that it would clear in time for the start of the triathlon.

I ate two bowls of Froot Loops (the breakfast of champions!) and finished getting ready. Swim stuff: wetsuit, swim goggles, towel - check. Bike stuff: shorts, FatCyclist jersey, jacket, socks, bike shoes, helmet, gloves, bottles of CarboRocket and water - check. Run stuff: running shoes, shorts - check.

I was doing this Tri with some neighbors. I saw Matt across the street at Wilkey's so I took my bike and stuff over and we loaded up. We picked up Scott and headed to Salem.

It was raining as we drove - not heavy, but a consistent drizzle. And the temperature was only 45. We parked near Salem Pond and took our gear over to the transition area. Then we waited in line for 30 minutes or more for check-in and packet pickup. Got body marked and picked up our timing chips.

All this time we were hearing rumors of changes to the event because of the weather - possibly even cancellation. The organizers made the decision to shorten the swim and cancel the bike - no change to the run. I was not happy they canceled what would surely be my only strong event. At least the swim would be shorter.

Let me pause here to explain my triathlon training (or lack thereof). I ride my bike a lot. That's all. Before the Kokopelli Tri last year I went to the pool exactly once and swam laps for 750 meters to make sure I could do it and not drown. I also ran a slow 5 k loop around the neighborhood to make sure I was capable of running that distance. I had not done any running or swimming since then. My strategy should be clear. I was hoping to just survive the swim and run, but fly on the bike - possibly passing any of my neighbors who finished ahead of me in the swim and giving myself enough of a gap that they couldn't catch me on the run. Perhaps now you better understand my bitter disappointment (that's too mild, I was ticked off) that they canceled the bike. But here I was, I'd paid my money, I might as well do it.

We got cold enough that we got into our wetsuits to stay warmer. This is June?!

The start was pushed back to 9:30. We went to the truck to get warm and load the now-useless bikes (grrr). At 9:15 we headed over to the start. The waves before us started and soon it was our turn.

Matt told me about his first triathlon and how he lined up near the front for the swim start and got beat up by all the swinging arms and kicking legs. So our plan was to hang back and let the water clear a bit before swimming. Kerry was up front and he called us forward, we shook our heads and tried to explain that it wasn't a good idea.

At the start the front swimmers took off and Matt and I waited for the water to open up and give us some space to swim before we swam out. A triathlon swim is chaos. A mass of flailing bodies trying to move in the general direction of the first turn buoy. I started with the forward crawl, but had to stop several times when I ran into someone, or they ran into me, or a wave caused me to suck in water instead of air, or just to take a look around and get my bearings. After 50 yards I gave up and switched to the back stroke. This kept my face out of the water and I breathed in less water. When I was a kid I swam backstroke in races so even though my form is off, it's still a comfortable stroke.

I would still bump into someone, or they me, at times - but it was tolerable. I'd pause every so often to make sure I was headed the right way. I got into a pretty good rhythm where I was breathing heavy but not labored and stroking at a pace I could sustain. Still, a few times I felt a little panic that I was too tired to keep going and would drown. Not a good feeling. But I pushed through these min-panics and kept going.

The first turn buoy came and went pretty easy. The stretch to the turn-around buoy seemed longer, but I made it. It was a little crowded going around it so I swung wide. Now it was the home stretch to the water exit. I plugged along and eventually I looked to the side and saw a few people standing chest deep so I stood up and touched bottom. As I waded toward shore I felt a bit dizzy and my legs felt shaky like it was suddenly unnatural to use them for walking. I'd heard that water in the ears can mess up your equilibrium. Throughout my life I've spent a lot of time in the water and never noticed this effect. But if I do another tri I may use earplugs to see if it helps. But I'm pretty sure it's just an odd effect of swimming hard for so long.

I trotted along the path to the transition area and saw some of "the gals" (wives of my neighbors). They cheered and I waved weekly. They took some photos and I can't wait to see what stage of grim death I looked like. My wife was with my two oldest daughters at a youth conference.

Eric had made it out of the water first and was changing for the run when I got there. I set to work getting out of my wetsuit, but he was gone half a minute later. I had trouble with my shirt (FatCyclist jersey) - I had pinned my number through front and back - duh. Matt helped me with it (thanks man!). I put on my socks and shoes next, but Scott had dressed faster and was already off. It was a slow transition, but I was finally off and running.

I could see Scott up ahead and hoped I could catch him. I did so when he stopped to walk, but he started running again when I caught up to him. Evidently that energy drink he had wasn't sitting to well and he had a nasty stomach ache. We ran together for two block or so then he said his stomach was hurting again and he was going to walk. I kept running - it actually felt more like jogging.

There was a gentle incline for 3-4 blocks and I was amazed how much I could feel it. I loped along trying to keep the pace up but not wanting to burn out on this hill. It was more flat for the next few blocks and I went a bit faster. Then it was downhill and I tried to push the speed, but found it hard to really let loose and I didn't want to slap the feet so hard I'd get shin splints (something that usually afflicts me when I run).

The course jogged a few blocks and then suddenly I could see the pond. It was a big boost to know that I was close to the finish. The course follows a road that goes around the southern tip of the pond. I picked up the pace a bit here, but pulled back when I saw a short but steep hill at the southern tip. I started up it and was amazed at how much of a drag it felt. I thought about walking it, but I had been running the whole way and I wanted to be able to say I at least ran the whole thing. I trudged up the hill and was breathing pretty hard at the top - like when I've done a short climb at a bike race. I motored down the other side of the hill and pushed to keep the pace up for the finish. The finish was on the top of a short grassy knoll. That last little up on the grass hurt, but I chugged on. The cheers from the gals and the crowd, and the encouragements from the announcer on the PA system, helped. I gave one last push to cross the finish strong.

I was handed a water bottle and took some drinks from it. I grabbed one cup of water along the run, but had a hard time drinking it and almost gagged. I gathered some food - orange slices, mini cinnamon rolls, trail mix - and wandered over to the finish to see the other guys come in. I missed Scott while I was grazing, but saw Matt and Kerry come in. I could feel my thigh and calf muscles tightening up. I stretched them a bit - it hurt and I don't think it helped much.

Eric checked the results. He made 12th and I took 14th, out of 22 finishers. Not bad, I guess. According to the results, the swim took me 12 and a half minutes - sure seemed a lot longer. The transition took me 5 minutes - wow, that's slow. And the run took 25 and a half minutes.

We stood around chatting for a while then made a plan to go eat at Cracker Barrel on the way home. I had the meatloaf, yum.

I felt pretty good for the rest of the day. My legs hurt some, but it was tolerable.

Overall it was a good experience. I was bummed about the cancellation of the bike portion. But I was happy to prove I could do the (shortened) swim and run. Even though I seem to be triathlon cursed, I may try another one since I'd like to see how I'd do with all three events. I may try the XTERRA Sport race near Ogden - it sounds like fun to mountain bike and trail run. Maybe it's just my bad luck, but I'm leery of these organized triathlons because it doesn't take much to mess up one event and they cost considerably more than most road or mountain bike races.

Update: My legs (mostly quads and calves) were painfully stiff and sore Sunday and Monday. Going down stairs was the worst and I'd grip the handrail tight and lower myself down each stair. By Tuesday it was mostly gone and Wednesday the soreness was all gone.

New Ghost Falls Trail

I'd heard that a new trail had been cut for upper Ghost Falls so after work I went to check it out.

I parked at the Equestrian Center and went up the lower Corner Canyon trail then east on the BST then up the dirt road to the Ghost Falls trail head.

Sure enough, a new trail has been cut in starting at the usual Ghost Falls trail head. The new trail goes right then goes left and crosses the old trail then switchbacks and heads north. In general the new trail follows the old trail but sidehills and switchbacks more instead of going down the fall line like the old trail does in many places.

The new trail flows pretty good, but it's rough cut and soft right now. It'll take a lot of tires, feet and hooves to pack it down. And there are lots of tree roots sticking up. There are 3-4 new bridges in place over the small streams. The dirt was gooshy in spots from the rain, but in general it was a good ride.

At the end the new trail Tees into the old trail. Left goes across a bridge on the North trail while right takes you past the falls and over another bridge on the South trail. I took South down and hooked up with the Gasline trail. When I hit the BST I went down into Corner Canyon and took the trail on the west side hill then back to my car.

I went easy because I have my first triathlon tomorrow.

The new Ghost Falls trail flows likes Clark's and should be a good addition to the Draper trails. The old trail is more fun because it's steep, but it's eroding out and not a trail that will last - it's already a pretty deep rut.