Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pay it forward.

A couple of years ago during the winter, I was filling my gas tank in a less than pleasant section of Washington D.C.  An African American man approached me to ask if I might have jumper cables.  "Man," he said "my battery is dead from the cold.  Everyone I ask says they don't have any cables.  I'll give you $5 if you help me start my car."  I hate to admit it, but my suspicion was aroused; the neighborhood, the man's appearance, the somewhat obvious setup.  Having grown up in a monochromatic suburban area of Pennsylvania, I felt out of my element.

But something stopped me from merely replying with "no".  It was the slight edge of desperation and loss of faith with fellow man in his voice that seemed genuine.  The biting cold only made me empathize with the man further.  While the chances of being robbed were probably equal to those of his battery being dead, I agreed.  My parents were in the truck too and had little reason to understand why I was driving into a blind alley behind a derelict garage.

In the end however, the stranger was standing next to a beat up station wagon, hood lifted, with one very dead battery.  As I connected the jumper cables and we got the car to turn over, he was generous with exclamations of gratitude.  The man who had looked so shabby and down earlier was positively beaming.  As I turned to leave, he thrust the promised $5 bill towards me.  I politely declined and said, "That's okay, you don't have to pay me.  Just help another stranger out when they need it and that's payment enough."  The man looked initially confused, but then smiled and replied, "Thanks man.  You know I think I am going to donate this to Haiti."  I am fairly sure this guy could use the money himself, but he grasped the need to help other folks who just had their island devastated by an earthquake.

Do something good for another human being without expectation for anything in return.  Ask them to do the same.  It makes the world a better place.  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

SWM seeking a clue.

I always sport the latest fashion.
Traditionally, right around the holidays there is a tremendous increase in online dating which is presumably an effect of people feeling lonely around the holidays.  Since I am a man of tradition (what?) I decided to try my hand at it.  I know that you, fair reader, cannot comprehend that I am single.  It took me a while to get over this impossible fact as well and sign in to a popular dating site.

After a fair bit of trying to create a profile, I gave up and deleted it.  I know that their questions were well intended, but answering them was like putting a square peg in a round hole.  Or housing your pet elephant in a breadbox.  And if I even completed the profile, was I going to be able to find a girl I was interested in based off of her answers to these questions (oh wait, that's what a date is for, isn't it?)?  Or maybe I was just lazy.  Instead, I figured it would be easier and more fun for me to write whatever the hell I wanted here.  Maybe someday I will be ambitious enough to adapt this for elsewhere.

So without further ado, I give you the dating profile of Tom Mrotek, AKA The Wild Dork, AKA "that weird guy in the corner".  Feedback is welcomed and encouraged.  (Also, for folks who just Google searched for "Tom Mrotek" and came up with this, this isn't the Tom Mrotek from Wisconsin.  I'm sure he's quite a professional guy, could be married for all I know, and probably hates me for all the stupid garbage I write here and people think it's him.)

The ladies cannot resist me.
I am seeking a female who is old enough to rent a car and not old enough to collect Social Security.    She can live anywhere.  Well, maybe not New Jersey.  I don't care what her height, weight, build, ethnicity, hair color, eye color or anything else is so long as it doesn't keep my date from mountaineering, paddling, laughing, biking, skiing, yelling at cows, meeting strangers, ice climbing (maybe just a little?), exploring strangeness, running, face painting, or bowling.  Okay, maybe not all of those.  She doesn't have to like caving.  Caving sucks.

My sign is Sagittarius but if you ask me what that means I have no idea.  I'm pretty sure we may be compatible even if the astrological charts say it's a no-no.

I am a middle child with two brothers.  Beyond being a simple icebreaker on a first date, I'm not sure how that's helpful information.

Why is there never an option for "everyone's wrong" when they ask you your political views?  I support gay marriage.  I own guns.  Where does that put me?

I consistently pull down 5 figures.  There may or may not be a decimal point in there somewhere.  I intend to keep it that way.  To quote Eric Beck, "At either end of the social spectrum there lies a leisure class."
Yes.  I am 'that' Tom.

I probably don't want kids.  Unless we're talking about infant goats.  Then, yes, I definitely want kids.

My record for not bathing is 28 days.  I can (and will) beat that.

Dogs?  Yeah, I like dogs (to quote Snatch, which is a pretty good movie).  Cats on the other hand are a completely different animal (I also like puns).  To date, I only have one experience living with a wacky cat that likes to drink out of faucets to the point of getting sick, does somersaults, meows loudly and incessantly, and plays with noisy plastic bags at 2am.  Maybe I'll warm up to a different one.  Birds, lizards, fish and scorpions are pets that I've been fine with in the past.

I think I got too close to the edge.
I like loud action movies with explosions in them.  And comedies.  And dramas, but cool dramas, not deathbed/crying dramas.

I don't smoke, it's a disgusting habit (to quote Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, which I quote a lot by the way).

I am educated but I do not have a college degree.  Having lived in a college town for 8 years, I can tell you that a college degree does not equate to being educated.

Most of my jackets and packs are red.  But I don't think red is my favorite color...

Extra classy cooler in a classy motel bathroom
I don't drink anymore.  I either didn't enjoy it or determined it was too expensive and I could afford to work less by quitting.  I forget.

I have a slender build.  This is either due to the fact that I a) was born that way, b) eat only rice and beans, or c) my fro is so large it makes me look skinny by comparison.

I speak English fluently.  I speak a little bit of Spanish or at least enough to have bribed a Mexican cop to stay out of jail.  I'd like to learn more Spanish so I can travel through Central and South America.

I exercise 12-15 times a week.  I'm pretty sure that isn't an exaggeration.

Hey sexy!
My idea of a good time is... probably every other person's idea of a nightmare.  My good time includes some amount of physical suffering, adolescent and/or adult humor, indistinguishable food that's most likely been burnt, and perhaps a chance encounter with some wildlife.  If you would rather stick to a more traditional date, I would opt for a hole in the wall diner where I will order breakfast, regardless of the time of day.

You want to know if I am really spiritual or religious?  Let's just say if this is one of your "deal breaker" requirements, you may want to look elsewhere.

I have thick glasses.  People say they make me look sexy.  Actually I say that to try and convince people.  Also, apparently everyone thinks you're a computer geek if you have thick glasses.  Which is funny because I actually work for a computer programming company, but I don't know anything about computers.

[Author's note 12/31/2011:  Somehow I forgot to include my musical tastes in this profile.  Allow me to remedy that.]

My friend, Ieva, says it best: "Tom really likes heavy metal and hair bands.  If the band's still together, Tom probably doesn't like them."
Wow.  With a profile like that, I'm sure that women would be falling over one another trying to get a date with me.  Falling over laughing.  Which is good.  I like a woman who laughs.

Monday, December 12, 2011


One experience stands above all others from my ride with Eric Durante this fall: riding through the C&O Towpath's PawPaw Tunnel at night.  I tried to capture my exact feelings at the time.  This may come off as overly melodramatic and for that I make no apologies.  Certainly it could be an unnoteworthy portion of the trail under different circumstances.
The passage of time had become irrelevant as we pedalled through the night.  The efforts of our lights only revealed several yards of the C&O Trail ahead of us before being swallowed by the omnipresent darkness.  In this way, the idea of distance was ignored as well save for the occasional passage of a mile marker.  After having already covered over 90 miles by bike that day, all I wanted was to get off of it.  Let my aching legs lie still for a moment.  End the continuous rubbing and prodding my ass was receiving.  Replenish my body with something more appetizing than another handful of scary-orange cheese crackers.

It occurred to me that with each additional pedal stroke made in the inky stillness around us, Eric and I were further breaking the law.  Technically, one is not supposed to travel after dark through this national historic park.  While neither of us get too hung up on rules or regulations, I began to think that there could be some actual reasoning behind this one.  In my beleaguered state, it was all I could do to wind my way around fallen branches lying across the trail or duck to avoid those still attached to their respective trees.  More than once my light exposed pairs of brilliant green eyes or a waggling white flag of a tail as deer bounded across the trail.  My shoulders and arms and eyes grew a little more tense with each additional hindrance.

Making our way through a left hand bend, we were struck by a rushing course of cold air akin to standing in a high mountain pass.  I knew that this was a sign that the tunnel we were expecting was immediately ahead of us despite our lights doing nothing to confirm this.  Our flagging enthusiasm was buoyed as our intended campsite lay directly out the other end of the corridor.  The railroad tunnels that we journeyed through earlier in the day contained electric lights or offered smooth, paved surfaces.  As the pitch black lurking beyond the mouth of the tunnel made the night sky look ablaze by comparison though, my spirits sank.

My bike carried me through the entrance and the path immediately narrowed to a uncomfortable width.  The brick wall of the passageway arched over my head by what seemed only inches.  The icy cold water dripping at random added to the illusion that I was in some sort of medieval crypt.  Off to my left, our lights struggled to reflect off of the murky, pea soup that filled the canal.  The only thing that separated me from a soaking was a handrail of splintering, weathered wood that inspired little confidence.  The situation may have been sufferable were it not for the roller coaster like surface that served as the path.  It was all I could do at that point to maintain any semblance of momentum while avoiding striking either the wall or handrail.

The gauntlet seemed to never end and in reality went on for the better part of a mile.  At long last, the faint echoes of fat water droplets falling from the cave’s exit and splatting on the ground below announced an eventual finish.  As I maneuvered past one more string of potholes, I was greeted by a surge of warm, sticky air that seemed out of place for an autumn night.  Regardless of its incongruity, this tropical embrace was also one of salvation.       

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Have Bike & Skis- Will Travel

I know that there are others out there like me (actually, I know that there's no one as dumb as me out there, but I needed an introduction...) who routinely ask themselves, "Self, since your only mode of transportation is a bike, what are you going to do during ski season?" and Self replies, "I'm gonna build a custom ski carrier for my bike!"
Do I even need a caption here?

My goal is to carry either my lightweight cross country skis or carry my heavier, wider alpine touring skis on my bike and be able to bike 10-20 miles roundtrip.  I came across a couple of solutions online, one being carry them on a pack A-frame style.  I have done this before and not only do I hate having a pack on while I'm riding, but the skis make it additionally annoying.  The other idea that someone posted somewhere online (I cannot find it again) was to mount them vertically alongside your rear rack with a PVC pipe holder.  This sounded great except for one thing: it would only take one low branch or one forgotten doorway to truly mess up your experience with the skis sticking up that high.  Another thought that came to me was to carry them on my BOB trailer but once I was trying to maneuver this on snowy fire roads it might be really tricky.
The only thing that I have seen commercially made that could fit the bill might be a surfboard carrier made for bikes, but it cost $100.  Since I apparently have a lot of time on my hands, building my own solution would be cheaper and more desirable.  This weekend I set about building a proof of concept.  It turned out to be fairly heavy since I used 3/4" plywood and 2"x4" scraps that I had lying around.  Nevertheless, I succeeded in making my ski carrier.  It holds the skis at approximately a 45 degree angle to keep the overall height to about 6' and would theoretically allow low branches to sweep up and over the skis rather than stopping me dead in my tracks.  Initial tests showed that while my bike had the wobbles as if I had it fully loaded, the skis were held securely and quietly.  I also used a lash strap to keep the skis in place in the holder.

After a bit more testing, I may seek to build a lighter model with PVC pipe.  After that, I will begin mass producing them in carbon fiber for the vast market that my friend, Jeff, insists exists.  I am accepting advance orders.  Just write your bike and ski specifications on the back of a blank, endorsed check and mail it to me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sure it’s cold outside, but I’m still not going to a gym.

This morning, I got up early enough to go for an hour long run before heading to work.  As I quickly gulped some oatmeal and sugary/salty tea (no, I’ve never heard of energy gels or Gatorade), the sky turned from pitch black to a dim grey revealing a layer of frost over the grass, car windshields and trees.  I slipped out the door and took off down the sidewalk, running at a casual pace that I knew I could maintain for hours if need be.  In the cold morning air, town seemed to be sleeping yet and all sounds were muffled.  Despite the fact that people were assuredly awake, I didn’t cross another runner in my path for a whole hour.  It felt simultaneously satisfying for the solitude, but a touch lonely.  Running and cross country skiing in the winter months are two of my favorite activities and I only wish I could share the experience with more people.
Many times, when I invite people to accompany me, I get rejected with a few difference excuses.  One response is “I’m not in shape.”  Well, you gotta start sometime.  Either you want to or not and anything I write probably won’t change that.  Another response I get is “It’s too cold outside.”  Well, that is something that I can fix for you.  What I want to detail here is the clothing system and accompanying techniques that I use to be comfortable whilst doing aerobic activities during the winter.  With over 6 years of experience working in a specialty outdoor store and seeing every garment made by major outdoor manufacturers, it’s not a stretch to say that Tom knows what he is talking about.  After reading this, you are just left with the reality of deciding whether or not you want to get out, because your excuses have dried up.

Okay, so there’s usually one more thing that I hear and that is “I don’t have enough money.”  Well, be that as it may, if you’re addicted to doing a bunch of different outdoor sports, you probably already own all of the stuff necessary.  More importantly however, if you’re going to be buying stuff for the first time, it’s important to purchase things that are not only good quality, but the most versatile as well.  I tend to shy away from new and improved technologies because clothing and equipment that use them are typically very specialized for their sport or season.  I choose things that are multifunctional across many seasons and many sports.  The goal should be to do more with less and not the other way around.  Keeping that in mind, if you spend your money right the first time, you should be set for many activities.  Within this post, I may specify a particular brand or style, but rather than being the final say in what you should use, it’s meant to be more of a starting point so you have an example of what I’m talking about.  (Yes, I like Patagonia, before you call me out on it. Also, anywhere I say synthetic you can substitute wool if that's your fancy.)
We have all heard of the term layering (I hope) and that’s exactly what I stick to, which should come at no surprise.  Start off with a long sleeve synthetic t-shirt as your first layer.  I like Patagonia Cap 2 the best for this. Get it in a color that you can live with so you can wear it year round as a t-shirt for any occasion. For running in temperatures down to the single digits, I don't wear a mid-layer. If I am running in colder weather or going snowshoeing/xc skiing, then I will add in something like the Patagonia R1. Better yet, get the hooded version and then you have an emergency hat that will also fit under your climbing or biking helmet year round. Lastly, top off the whole shebang with a wind and water resistant jacket. Don't wear something waterproof as you will overheat and die. If it is truly winter, the white stuff should be in solid (and not liquid form). My choice is a Patagonia Houdini Jacket which is a great crossover for hiking and climbing, but if you're also biking a lot, you should look for something without a hood.

In my travels, I have found that my legs need less attention than my torso. I am willing to bear them getting a little bit warmer and colder than I would my torso. That isn't to say your legs aren't important, but I wouldn't stay up at night worrying about them. Remember to wear synthetic boxers, briefs, thongs or whatnot as you want these layers to move moisture away and evaporate it as well. Gentlemen, please keep in mind that you have a gender specific protrusion that can get very, very cold if not attended to. I still have a pair of Patagonia Wind Briefs with a windproof crotch that unfortunately stopped being made. Terramar and Smartwool currently offer them. You will only forget this once on a windy day and will never ever leave home without them again. Since these are really season specific, you can save money and shove a glove, plastic bag, or something else down there to block the wind. Don't laugh... it sucks otherwise.  

Next I put a pair of medium weight fleece tights on. These work great for climbing, biking and breakdancing as well. I have a pair of Outdoor Research Radiant Tights but many things will do. It's nice if they have pockets and it's an added bonus if you can slip them on over a pair of biking shoes. If I am running above zero degree temperatures, that's all that's on my legs. If you are xc skiing, you may start to get a little chilly and it is best to have a wind resistant layer over this. Instead of buying a pair of softshell pants or other stuff, just put a pair of synthetic hiking pants on over the tights. No, you probably won't make the cover of GQ. Who cares?
Oh boy. People get really particular about shoes and stuff. Well, assuming that you already run and know what you like, I'm not going to convince you to change up your footwear. If it is above 20 degrees and I'm running on dry pavement or trails, I wear just a Wigwam Merino Comfort Hiker backpacking sock. "Ohmygosh, that's not a super duper techy fitted sock!" you exclaim. Get over it. They're warm and they have yet to fail me. I can wear these year round for absolutely everything. I buy them in grey. Since I am wearing a shoe like the Montrail Mountain Masochist with a roomy toe box, I can just tie my trail shoes a little bit looser and not even notice I'm wearing a thick, cushy sock.

Now keep in mind, I am still wearing my non-waterproof shoes that I have been hiking and kickboxing in the other three seasons out of the year. I don't have a pair of Gore-Tex (or any other waterproof membrane) running shoes because I want to keep things simple with one pair. So when it gets below 20 degrees or I'm running through snow, I wear a pair of SealSkinz socks which are made of waterproof neoprene. These also work pretty well in mountaineering boots and cycling shoes. The astute observer will note that these aren't breathable at all. Yeah, well, wear a pair of Gore-Tex lined shoes and tell me how breathable they feel. I wear a pair of thin wool socks against my skin for additional warmth and comfort.

If there is one thing you should bring with you regardless of season (even summer!) it is a good hat. Nothing is more guaranteed to keep you the warmest for its size and weight than a hat, except for maybe some gasoline and a road flare. My absolute favorite hat is the Mountain Hardwear Transition Dome but now they call it the Effusion Dome with different fabric. It is still windproof and quite thin, so it will fit under helmets as well. For temperatures in the twenties, I am typically wearing a fleece glove made of Powerstretch which is made by a ton of companies. Knock yourself out. Once it gets colder, I switch to a windproof style with the Outdoor Research Gripper Glove being my favorite, but many others will do. Both of these gloves will come in handy when biking, ice climbing, picking snotsicles, etc.


If you hold down a 9-5 job or have aspirations to do so as some point, you are going to be running before or after work. Which generally means you are going to be running in the dark at this time of year. The Black Diamond Icon headlamp is definitely my favorite because it is bright as day, rechargeable, and is well balanced on your head when running. For most stuff, you're probably going to want a pack for some munchies, a bottle of water (your hydration bladder is going to freeze), some Yaktrax, a map and whatever else you need. While it may not fit as well as a specialized running pack, I just use my Black Diamond Hollowpoint which is great for climbing and also serves as my briefcase.

All of the above are suggestions and you will need to tailor it to your specific needs.  Some people are "warmer" or "colder" than others, I know.  Regardless, the trick in all of this is to not be warm from the outset.  If you step outside and you are comfortable, take some layers off.  You want to be a bit uncomfortable and chilled for the first ten minutes or so (whatever you're doing in the winter) because you're going to warm up quickly.  And when you do, you start to sweat into your layers which will eventually make you very cold.  Keep adding and subtracting layers.  Tuck your gloves and hat into the waistband of your tights and tie your jacket around your waist.  Try to keep slightly cool and you should be just fine.
The aim of this post is not to prove that I know it all and have a perfect system worked out.  I only hope to lower the physical and psychological bar for folks who don't want to sit indoors during the winter.  Perhaps you too cannot deal with the thought of running on a treadmill watching the stock ticker on CNN in a sauna like room.  Whatever the motivation may be, I hope to see you out on the roads, trails, and mountains this season.  Of course it still occurs to me that people may just find me downright offensive and are trying to excuse themselves for other reasons. In which case, enjoy the gym I guess...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

All I want for Christmas is a clean conscience.

I could write a novel (and don't think I won't!) regarding my views on many humans' extremely consumptive lifestyles. In the same spirit, Patagonia took out a full page ad in the New York Times on Black Friday this year in order to discourage people from buying and consuming more than is necessary.

The message is so clear and compelling and one that I really believe in.  I was actually going to expand upon my own feelings on the subject in this blog.  But this morning I came across a post from Brendan Leonard at that does just that, albeit with much better writing and images than I could produce.  So rather than look like I am copying off of him, I'd rather just try to hang onto his coattails (I sincerely doubt Brendan wears any coat with "tails") for a short while and encourage you to go to  instead. I hope that you take something away from it.

And instead of buying me that dolphin shaped kazoo for Christmas, keep your wallet closed, avoid using the gas you would spend driving to the mall and donate all of your resulting savings to your local foodbank, an environmental organization,  or another equally deserving cause.

Peace & love to all,

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ice screw sharpening 101

With just a couple of days of cold temperatures and an instance of flurries, naturally my thoughts turn to ice climbing.  For weeks now I have been doing pullups off of my ice axes in the garage.  On cold days, I walk around without gloves to try to condition my hands again.  Before I know it, I'll be teetering my way up a half frozen waterfall, hands freezing and calves shaking.
Towards the end of last ice season, I was attempting an ascent of Glass Menagerie, a Grade 4 ice route at Roadside Gully near Lock Haven, PA.  Halfway through the steep curtain, I struggled to thread an ice screw into the ice.  My screws, having endured 5 seasons of climbing, were fully dulled.  Why I hadn't sharpened them beforehand or even in an earlier season is beyond me and inexcusable.  At that moment however, I was just tired, scared, and fumbling to get a dull ice screw in to protect myself from a long fall.  I managed to sink a screw, finish the route, and promised to sharpen the damn things before the next trip.
My real reservations in starting the process is that to sharpen ice screws yourself, you need to take a metal file to a $60 object that is responsible to keeping you alive and well.  With a dozen screws to tune, I could destroy $720 of gear or bust my ankles, back or neck.  Rather than let that bother me, I watched Black Diamond's handy video on sharpening screws.  I bought some new files and built a wooden jig to hold the screws.
After working on the first one with some hesitation I succeeded in not destroying it.  The following 11 went fairly easily after that.  Now all that remains is for the weather to get cold and stay there... that and I need to do about 600 more pullups.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires- Initial impressions


About me and my riding style (or lack thereof):  My bicycle is my only vehicle.  I expect miracles out of it.  It should be able to do anything that my old Chevy pickup truck could do.  It hauls way too much stuff on racks and on a trailer.  It gets ridden on asphalt, concrete, chip 'n tar, gravel, broken glass, sand, dirt, mud, entrails, snow and singletrack.  It takes me to the grocery store as easily as it does rock climbing or cross country skiing.  It cooks me breakfast as well.  The bike in question is a mostly stock Surly Long Haul Trucker.  I only want to own one bike and I want it to be ready at the drop of a hat, no futzing or changing components before I go for a ride.  I am a 6' 1" male who weighs 150lbs after eating 5lbs of tortellini.  I am unrealistic.


Whenever I first got my touring bike, it came stock with Continental Contact tires.  After riding them for approximately 4,000 miles they were ready to be replaced.  While the Contact isn't a bad tire, I found them lacking for my needs.  On road riding they were perfectly acceptable with the exception of durability.  Riders in Pennsylvania will find a lot of shit on the sides of roads including nails, screws, glass and indistinguishable rusty crap.  This could be easily extrapolated to roads everywhere.  I got punctures from screws, nails and glass in the Contacts which is to be expected from time to time.  But even after putting a boot over the resulting hole, the rubber would slowly chip away leaving a bigger and bigger hole.  Uh, I don't think I want to ride too much further on something like that.

On mixed surfaces, I did not like those tires.  Riding on loose gravel felt akin to riding my bike on a skating rink that had been freshly greased.  My tires would frequently slip riding uphill on gravel or dirt as well.  Since about 25 to 30% of my riding is off road, this traction issue is pretty critical to me.  Granted I keep my tires inflated at 85 psi, but I don't want to have to change tire pressure each time I go off road.


Since I barely trusted my Swiss cheese like rear tire to get me to work and back anymore, I decided it was high time to get a new set of tires and while I was at it, get a new type.  So I went down to Freeze Thaw Cycles to check out my options.  I decided to get a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Mondials which looked like they would offer better traction.  Most people also tout Schwable tires as the most durable out there.  I was pretty stoked about them.  Jordyn happily took my money and told me to go "constructively beat the shit out of them".

While I will hopefully, do a more in depth review of the tires after I have ridden them further, I wanted to share my initial impressions.  After only one 50 mile ride, I believe I may have found my "unrealistic" tires.  My one hesitation with purchasing these tires was that the overall tread was deeper and there were bigger lugs on the outside edges of the tread pattern than my old Continentals.  I worried that they would be slower on the road and there would be a "buzzy" feel/sound like when you ride a mountain bike on the road.  To start off the ride, I rode 16 miles of rolling farms roads that is second nature to me.  Absolutely no time difference from the many times I've ridden that stretch with the Continentals and they didn't feel "slow" either.  Over the next 30 miles, I then tested them out on a pea-gravel rail trail, loose and hardpacked gravel fire roads, grass, dense dry leaves, and pine needles with plenty of climbing and descending on each.  The Schwalbes gave me great confidence on all surfaces and held straight riding through long sections of loose gravel (which used to be my nemesis).  I capped the ride with a 1000 ft descent on pavement and again there was no sensation of them being slow.

I will continue my research on these tires and hopefully have a little more to say later, but for right now, I am pleased.  Moving right along, my roommate and I are emptying some beer bottles to smash on the sidewalk for the durability test.



CONTINENTAL CONTACT 700X37C Inflated to 85psi

Friday, November 4, 2011

Something is missing.

I miss...

the feeling of despair and nausea you feel when your rappel rope sticks and you realize it will take you two hours to fix it.

the smell of walking through an evergreen forest in summer.

the inability to sleep before a 12:30 am alpine wakeup, when you need it most.

the screaming barfies (when your hands get extremely cold and the resulting pain of warming them up makes you want to alternately scream and vomit).

the beckoning sound of wind coursing through a high mountain pass.

the heartfelt embrace of a family member or close friend.

the feeling of utter freedom when putting on a pack or sitting on a bicycle that contains everything you need to live and nothing that you don't.

the reassurance of a really good axe placement.

the raison d'etre.

the beauty of watching the sunrise from the side of a tall mountain... or volcano.

the utter futility of cooking in the rain.

the acceptability of having Wild Turkey for breakfast because time doesn't matter in the backcountry, three other friends are joining you, and it's the only way you'll put that 100lb pack back on.

the feeling of a 100lb pack on day three.

the accumulation of filth garnered from 2, 5, 20 days of backpacking, cycling, or mountaineering.

the incredible pleasure of taking a lukewarm shower that you paid $5 for because you haven't bathed in 4 weeks.

the acceptability of loudly farting whenever and where ever the need or desire may arise.

the draining of your spirit that another 1000 foot climb on a fully loaded bike brings.

the smile that a 1000 foot descent on a fully loaded bike brings.

the silence of the desert at night.

the feeling that you don't give a shit and that there is no where else you would rather be or no other person that you would rather be with than where you are and who you are with right at that instant.

the feeling of terror when you are runout and your arm strength is rapidly fading.

the appeal of mixing 1/2 a stick of pepperoni, 1 lb of cheese, and 1 lb of pasta and convincing yourself that it is the finest meal you have ever made.

the times you laugh so hard you cry and your sides hurt for a while afterwards.

the serenity of an isolated mountaintop.

the open road.

This train of thought was kicked off by a conversation with my friend Ieva yesterday.  Some of my ideas may mirror her own.  The list is by no means complete.  Feel free to add more in the comments.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Days 7-11: Home is where you stop pedaling

With this last installment, my friend, Eric Durante, and I just completed a 750 mile bike tour through Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and Maryland using as much rail-trail as possible.  This ride also benefits Our Children's Center Montessori school in State College, PA.  For more details on the genesis of the ride or how you can donate, see here.
Two nights ago, Eric and Tom rode back into State College.  It was probably 10 o'clock at night when they got to Tom's house.  They had woken up at 6 o'clock and rode for a long way to make it!  The trip ended up taking 11 days overall and they rode 750 miles in all.  It was such a fun time and they can't wait to do it again.  Come see how the last part of their trip turned out!
When Eric and Tom got to Washington D.C., they decided to take a day to rest.  On this day, they rode around the city.  Here is Tom's bike with the Washington Monument in the background.  They also met Sacha Buckland and his parents too!  It was so fun to see them.
Nails make your tires go flat!  This happened to Tom's bike when they were riding between Washington D.C. and Baltimore.
North of Baltimore, Eric and Tom couldn't find anywhere to camp and they didn't know anybody who would let them sleep at their house.  They got a motel room.  The people let Eric and Tom bring their bikes into the motel room with them.
 To get from Maryland back to Pennsylvania, they rode a trail up to York, PA.  There were railroad tracks next to them the whole time.  Here is Eric riding.
Tom thought it was time for a new bike!
In eastern Harrisburg, Eric and Tom saw a Caribbean bakery.  They had never been to one before so they decided to stop.
To make it back to State College, Eric and Tom had to ride on the sides of highways sometimes.  It wasn't as nice as a trail and pretty noisy, but it was okay.
About two or three times each day, Eric and Tom had to stop and eat to give them energy.  Here on the last day, Eric is drinking a quart of chocolate milk somewhere around Penns Creek, PA.

That's all for this trip!  Eric and Tom hope you enjoyed seeing pictures from their trip.  Now you should stop reading this, go outside, and have some fun!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Days 3-6: We pause our regularly scheduled program

My friend, Eric Durante, and I are taking a ~700 mile bike tour through Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and Maryland using as much rail-trail as possible.  This ride also benefits Our Children's Center Montessori school in State College, PA.  For more details on the ride or how you can donate, see here.

In the past four days, Eric and Tom rode their bicycles 300 miles from Greensburg, PA to Washington, D.C.  Some days it was bright and sunny and some it was cold and rainy.  The whole time, they had lots of fun and saw many interesting and beautiful things.  Today (Friday) they are taking a day to rest.  Their legs are tired and their bums hurt!  They will come back to State College soon.  Right now, look at what they saw over the past four days!
Behind Tom is a gas well in western Pennsylvania.  This made Tom and Eric sad.  The gas people had to cut down all the trees and made the animals living there move away to do this.  It was really noisy and dirty!
Here is the Great Allegheny Passage trail.  It was nice and flat the entire time.  Eric and Tom rode on it for a day and a half.  The whole time there was a big river next to them and trees with their leaves changing color.
It was still a long way from Washington D.C.!
Once in a while, they had to ride over the river or a big valley.  There were long wooden and metal bridges there for just people hiking and biking to use.
Eric and Tom had to eat all of the time.  Biking all day takes a lot of energy!  Here they are eating an egg omlette with tomatoes and green peppers and cheese as well as potatoes and toast.  They probably could have eaten two or three plates each.
Here is an old caboose they saw along the way.
Sometimes the trail would go through a tunnel in a mountain instead of going up and over the mountain.  Here is Eric riding through the longest one.  It was over half a mile long!
At one point they ran into a coal powered steam engine.  It was pulling about 10 train cars along.
For three nights in a row until they got to Washington D.C., Eric and Tom camped out along the trail.  It was really nice except for the night that it rained a lot.  They still managed to sleep okay.
The second half of the trip they were riding next to the Potomac River.  Here it gets really wide and makes some rapids and waterfalls!
Eric is a little crazy after four more days of riding!  (He's okay.)
Tom is feeling a little bit tired after four more days of riding.  (He's okay too.)

Well, that is all for now!  Tomorrow, Eric and Tom will start riding again up to Baltimore, then Lancaster and then back to State College.  They'll probably be back in town in several more days.  Check back to see how they are doing!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Days 1 & 2: Westward the wagons!

My friend, Eric Durante, and I are taking a ~700 mile bike tour through Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and Maryland using as much rail-trail as possible.  This ride also benefits Our Children's Center Montessori school in State College, PA.  For more details on the ride or how you can donate, see here.

Friday night after work, Tom rode his bicycle over to Eric's house.  It was dark the entire time he was riding.  When he finally got there, Eric, his wife, Meghann and his dog, Toby were there to meet him.
They all ate burritos for dinner.  Eric and Tom probably at 6 each because they knew they would need it the next day!  Then they set to making sure they had everything they would need.
Toby was sad to see Tom and Eric go.  He wanted to go with them on their adventure.  Toby doesn't know how to ride a bike yet.
On Saturday morning it was cold outside and very windy!  Tom (left) and Eric (right) were still happy to get started on the trip!  
Eric and Tom rode for a long time that day.  There were big mountains to ride up and over.  The wind kept blowing in their faces and slowing them down.  At one point, the wind even blew Tom over!  It turned into night and Tom and Eric kept riding.
Eventually, they got to Ebensburg and guess who lives there?  Sergio Drayton's grandparents!  They were really nice and fed Eric and Tom and let them sleep there.  They also got to hang out with Sergio.  In the morning, they said goodbye and started riding again.
Sunday was much warmer and less windy.  Eric and Tom were a lot happier.  They rode on the Ghost Town Trail.  These were the only ghosts they saw that day.  Last time Tom rode here, he saw two black bears!
All day, they got to see many beautiful things: lakes, trees with bright leaves, chipmunks, and the sunset.  Eric and Tom also met many nice people.  The people asked them where they were going and wished them luck!  They have been having lots of fun and can't wait to ride again the next day.  Now it is time for them to go to sleep in Greensburg.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Do it for the kids!

My friend, Eric Durante, and I are going to do a charity bike tour for children.  I don't know what will confuse people more; the fact that I have at least one friend or that I am doing something for anyone other than myself.  After you get over your initial confusion, I would like to explain to you what is going on here.  Because I am being serious.
Example of all around nice guys
Our Children's Center is a local Montessori school.  If you're not exactly sure what a Montessori school you can look at an explanation here.  Basically though, these schools serve preschool and kindergarten age children (2.5 to 6 years) and provide a non traditional education approach that focuses on independence and experiential learning.  I am aware that I am over simplifying and possibly misrepresenting Montessori education and for that I plead some ignorance.  Our Children's Center (OCC) is a private non-profit school and I know friends, coworkers and other community members who enroll or have enrolled their children there.  Being a private school, a tuition is required; a tuition that not all parents can afford entirely.

The OCC maintains a scholarship fund comprised mostly of donations to help offset a portion of the tuition for children who need such assistance.  Parents annually hold fundraisers for OCC and this year they are planning a group bike ride on October 16th for both adults and children.  Coincidentally, Eric and I have been planning a bike tour that is slated to begin the 15th.  We joked with the event organizers that our ride was just an extension of the preplanned routes and we still wanted to participate.  This joke quickly turned into the idea that our entire tour would be a charity ride to benefit the OCC!
Hundreds of miles of riding sans cars!
So here's the deal:  Eric and I are planning a roughly 650-700 mile ride starting in State College, heading to Pittsburgh, going down to Washington D.C., then going north through Baltimore and Lancaster until we make it home.  The route encompasses as much rail-trail as it can including the Ghost Town Trail, the Great Allegheny Passage, and the C&O Trail.  We are going to enjoy our natural surroundings, meet up with friends and generally have a terrific time.

What we are asking for:  Eric and I are seeking folks to pledge a certain amount of money per mile that we ride together to be donated to the OCC.  If you wanted to donate a penny for ever mile ridden that would come out to $7.00, a nickel would be $35.00, $100 would be $70,000 and so on.  Absolutely every cent donated will go to the OCC.  Eric and I will pay for our own rice and beans.
We know you're jealous.
Why you should donate:  Well first off, you will be directly funding children's early developmental learning.  That in and of itself is certainly reason enough.  However, Eric and I wouldn't leave it at that, would we?  We plan to update this blog every day or two throughout our week long adventure.  We will specifically write it geared for 2-6 year olds in the hope that with either teachers' or parents' assistance, students at OCC can follow our progress.  Folks who have been following this blog probably won't notice any difference since I usually write at a preschool level.  Our intent is that readers will come away with three lessons or ideas that are especially important to young children:

-embrace a physically active lifestyle
-appreciate the natural outdoors
-maintain a healthy diet

We believe that if we can not only assist raising funding for the students but also impart some fun and important lessons to children (and adults!) then we will be wildly successful.
Who needs fried chicken when you have 5 different types of quiche?
I encourage everyone to make a donation, no matter the size.  All of it will go directly to the scholarship fund for students at OCC.  If you wish to make a pledge per mile, please email me directly at tfmrotek <at> gmail <dot> com.  I will then ensure that your pledge is recorded with the fundraising coordinator at OCC.

In the back of your head, there still probably lies the nagging suspicion, "Why is Tom really doing this?".  A valid point and one that I asked myself.  First off, children should receive a proper education.  Then they can grow up, get a steady job (which is something I still try to avoid) and pay into my Social Security benefits.  Secondly, children should learn how to lead healthy lifestyles.  So in the future, they won't be putting additional burden on the Medicare system that I will be taking for all it's worth.  Third, children should appreciate the outdoors.  Once I have retired from the job I won't have and subsisting off of Social Security and Medicare, I want some trees and mountains to still exist to mindlessly putter around in!  And lastly (and most importantly), I want to impress the ladies with my big heart.  So if there are any single women out there that think bike touring is sexy and are overwhelmed by my compassion for children, you should email me too.

See... it still is all about me, isn't it?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Interesting article

I was eating some delicious broccoli and tomato pizza for lunch today, reading a back issue of Wired magazine.  Typically this magazine gets on my nerves because it is dedicated to discussions of technology and its intersection with society.  Oftentimes, it is championing technology and "progress".  Anyone who knows me well can tell you that technology doesn't usually blow wind up my skirt.

Regardless, I was reading the cover story which was an article by Joel Johnson examining the story behind 17 worker suicides at one of the world's largest consumer electronic mega-factories.  What began as an account of working conditions and labor practices at the factory turned into a serious discussion of consumerism and collective guilt by the end of the article.  While I found the entire article interesting, two statements especially stood out for me that I have never been able to adequately elaborate for myself.

"But I believe that humankind made a subconscious collective bargain at the dawn of the industrial age to trade the resources of our planet for the chance to escape it. We live in the transitional age between that decision and its conclusion."
"I don’t know if I have a right to the vast quantities of materials and energy I consume in my daily life. Even if I thought I did, I know the planet cannot bear my lifestyle multiplied by 7 billion individuals. I believe this understanding is shared, if only subconsciously, by almost everyone in the Western world."

I don't want to escape this planet.  I want to relish it in all of its beauty and wealth and variety.  It is arguable whether or not everyone in the Western world understands this, even subconsciously.  Either way, I want people to get it out of their subconscious and into their conscious and change their lifestyles before it is all too late.     

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Adventure is a state of mind

What do you think of when you hear the word adventure?  Probably most of us think of huge mountains, foreign languages, gold, or any other grand idea that we've read in novels or watched on the big screen.  According to, adventure is defined as "an exciting or very unusual experience".  So I take that to mean that if I am excited about doing something in a way that I haven't done it before, then that would count as an adventure.  I don't need a Spanish armada, a treasure map, and an eyepatch to have an adventure.  When I was confronted with what to do this past weekend, I initially made a plan to drive up to the Adirondacks in a sleepless push, climb something horridly long in the backcountry, and have an epic that lives up to the fine storytelling tradition.  What I ended up doing couldn't have been further from that, but provided me with just as much adventure.
Gravel roads, loaded touring bikes, & approaching nightfall
Friday evening, Jeff "Spotted Zebra" Carlson, Eric "Seven Fingers" Durante, and I set out with loaded up touring bikes and a simple plan: have an adventure in our backyard without a car.  Since Jeff has a real job, we waited until about 6 to take off, making it into Rothrock State Forest around dusk.  Our bikes handled the gravel ascents and descents of the fire roads neatly and we eventually found ourselves making a stop in the dark at Detweiler Run.  Our friends, Clay Chiles and Peter, Jess & Sacha Buckland, were camping there for the evening.  We stopped and said hello and as a reward, Jess gave us malfunctioning glo stick bracelets that ended with me looking like a glo in the dark cheetah.  Since we still had about 20 miles of riding in the dark left that night, we bid them adieu.
Ridgerest = bikepacking crashpad
By about 10 o'clock we made it to the parking lot by Hunter's Rocks where we cooked up a delicious dinner of tortellini before finding a campsite along the Link Trail.  The next day we took all of our stuff over to the Powercut climbing area where I bouldered, Eric went hiking, and Jeff sought out the best vantage points for meditation (or was he just sneaking off with the group whiskey supply?).
Jeff, the upper crust of society, holding a boxed wine and string cheese party for one
I managed to claw my way up some familiar problems and also give some pointers to other folks.  I was impressed that two guys, Dan and Davey, had driven all the way from Gettysburg to get in about 8 hours of bouldering at Hunter's and the Powercut.  Unbeknownst to us, Eric got to see an enormous hawk migration from an adjacent ridge.  Concluding an evening bouldering session later, Eric and I were delighted to see our friend, Tor Nordmark, appear through the trees.  
Eric, myself & Tor
Tor had stopped out to do some hiking and to check up on our condition.  In fact our conditions couldn't have been any better.  Our camp that night was situated on a ridgetop with stellar views off of the surrounding rocks.  A convenient fire ring (well that and a few nips of whiskey) allowed for us to stay nice and toasty on a night where we could see our breath.  And against common belief, there were adequate flat, rock free spots to house our tents.
 The next day, Eric and I parted ways with Jeff.  It wasn't a mutual disgust of each other's fireside flatulence or adolescent humor (of which there was plenty), but instead we had another climbing objective whereas Jeff wanted to keep riding.  (It turns out that Jeff had some climbing to do of his own as anyone who has ridden northbound on 26 over Pine Grove Mountain can attest!)  Eric and I rode further south to Donation Rocks.  Of course a rope and harnesses were among the items strapped to our bikes so we were able to enjoy several hours of toproping.  Then began the business of riding 30 odd miles back to town before nightfall.  Not following Jeff's lead, we rode back through Rothrock and had a longer albeit much more gradual climb than he did.
The definition of "fully loaded touring"
"So, whoopedydoodah, you spent a weekend riding your bike around like you always do and climbing in the same places you always do.  What an adventure!", you might say with a rolling of your eyes.  Eric, Jeff and I could not disagree with you more.  I think we could all agree that we had an exciting and unusual experience.  Yes, we were familiar with a lot of the elements of the trip.  But when you descend Bear Meadows Rd in the dark with a fully loaded bike, it is a whole new ride.  And when you're pulling climbing moves with just your foam sleeping pad under you instead of a cushy 6" crashpad, it's a whole new problem.  And when your legs and not your car carried your tent, food and malfunctioning glo stick bracelets out to that ridgetop, the campsite seems all the more sweeter.

So like the title says, adventure is a state of mind.  I think many of us (and I include myself here) get too caught up in making grand schemes that rely on lots of money, time and preparations.  Instead of doing what we love, we spend our time making money, building up vacation time, or ordering a new mapset.  Finding a new way of doing something local or familiar can bring adventure and fulfillment just as much as a "big" trip.  I may venture to say that I had more fun this past weekend than when I went on a three week roadtrip out West this summer.  In the end, don't hold yourself to lofty goals that may only end up in preventing you from doing anything at all.  If it is "an exciting or very unusual experience" no matter the scale, seize it!

Author's note:  Does this mean that I am abandoning all of my grand, stupid, far-reaching plans?  Hell no.