Saturday, April 30, 2011


Last year I was shanghaied into participating in a Duathlon. Before I knew what was happening, I was registered and expected to participate. And participate I did. And it was one of my favorite running events that I participated in during the 2010 season. Probably because a good 50% of it was not running. So when we signed up for events this year I did so with full consent.

Last year, the weather was beautiful. Sunny and bordering on warm, a lovely late April day. The down side was a ferocious headwind for the second half of the bike. We started looking at weather reports for this year's event, and it didn't look good:

Saturday...Cloudy and breezy with rain tapering off. High 60 F. Winds WSW at 16 mph, gusting to 30mph.

Yes, WSW is the direction that we bike to get back to town. It's a 14 mile out and back. And while having a tailwind can be fun, that headwind sucked. And apparently it made an impression. Our friend Val said she wouldn't do the event again unless they changed the course. Her husband Eric was game, but earlier this week wasn't feeling well and begged off. My wife told me for 3 days straight how awful it would be. And then the morning of the event decided she wasn't going. I also got a text from a coworker who was signed up saying he also was going to call it. I decided to go solo, with Jim's useful catch phrase running through my head. "What's the worst that could happen?"

It rained, hard, the whole time I was driving south to Cannon Falls. But somewhat miraculously, the rain tapered to almost nothing as I pulled into the parking lot. I got my bike to the stuff storage area, took off my raincoat and felt pretty smart for deciding to go. I ran the first two miles without a lot of issues and I was happy with my performance. I transitioned onto the bike and felt pretty good. The wind was more of a cross wind, and I was anticipating a better second half on the bike than last year. Not long after I passed the marker for 6 miles on the bike, I noticed a strange sort of shimmy from the back end. Soon I could see the 7 mile turn around point for the bike portion. About that same time, I realized I was getting a flat rear tire.

After 10+ years of being a cautious, prepared cycle commuter I found myself up the creek without a paddle. Or more accurately, 7 miles out of town without a pump or spare tube. I tried to remember if anybody had mentioned a sag wagon for the event and decided I couldn't. So I started walking.

I walked about 2 miles when I heard a car slow down behind me. It was the Dakota County Sheriff who had been directing traffic at the turnaround. He offered me a ride and I gratefully accepted. What would probably have taken me another 2 hours turned into a 10-15 minute ride in the back of the squad. Once I was back at the transition I didn't even consider doing the remaining run portion. I grabbed my stuff along with a hot dog and hit the road. The spirit was willing, but the equipment was weak. But, DNF is better than DNS.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Resurrection Ale

We were fortunate enough here in MN to have not only a 3 day weekend, but some beautiful spring weather as well. I actually got a minor sunburn while hunting for Easter eggs with my niece. I am in the midst of a bathroom remodel, but I did manage to squeeze in a brew session on the morning of Good Friday. I brewed with a mug of coffee in hand instead of a beer, due to the hour, but it was still enjoyable. The downside is that if this batch doesn't turn out, and I have some concerns that I'll mention later, I can't blame it on having a couple of beers influencing my actions.

In retrospect, my main flaw in my approach to the brew day was trying to change too many variables at once. I bought a basic pale ale kit from Northern Brewer to brew for my second all grain batch. I plan to spend the summer refining recipes and creating a pale ale that I can call my own. I figured that the NB kit was a perfect jumping off point. I also have a few variations on clones of Summit Extra Pale Ale, which is probably my very favorite beer.

My thinking went off track before brew day even began. I decided to skip the yeast I bought with the kit and re-pitch some yeast that I harvested from my previous batch. I have never harvested yeast before, and never repitched, so not only do I have the uncertainty of being new to all grain brewing, but I also have an unproven yeast process. I'm learning more and more that having a repeatable process is key, especially in all grain.

The brew day itself was pretty much according to plan. But I missed a couple of numbers. I wanted to mash in at 152, but was a little low. A couple quarts of boiling water brought me up to where I needed to be. I also lost more heat during the mash this time, so I again added more water at the 30 minute mark. I'm not sure if this had any impact on my extraction rate or not. But my extraction rate was lower than I wanted it. If I calculated correctly, it was about 65%. Not horrible, but I'd like to get into the 70s. My pre-boil gravity was also lower than I expected, and right now I don't really have any explanation for that.

Toward the end of the boil, the neighbor across the street came over to check out the operation and we gabbed for 15 minutes or so. Normally, I would have been getting my fermenter ready to go during this time, so I was rushed. I went in to grab it, and realized I am missing the rubber gasket for my spout (plastic bucket fermenter). I have some cider in my big carboy, and I didn't want to ferment in my small carboy for fear of overflow. I only have airlocks, and probably would need a blowoff tube for the smaller one. So I kept the wort boiling much longer as I cleaned and sanitized a different bucket. The other bucket has a different spigot system, so I couldn't just use the gasket from that one, naturally.

While I'm sure that the longer boil had something to do with it, I can't believe the extra 10-15 minutes would account for the next issue. Once I ended the boil and ran my wort through the chiller, I only ended up with 4 gallons. So I lost 2.5 gallons during the boil instead of the approximately 1 gallon loss I expected. However, in this case things worked out well. Since my gravity was low to begin with, the additional evaporation brought my Original Gravity right in line with what my expected OG was.

So I was finally into the fermenter, and I pitched my yeast slurry. Fermentation started almost immediately, and was very vigorous. And it was done 3 days later, at least visibly. I haven't taken a reading yet. A fast fermentation is often a sign of infection, but I've heard that repitched yeast starts faster. I'm not confident of which is the explanation at this point.

So if this thing turns out, it will be nothing short of a miracle. Since I was reviving previously used yeast and brewing on Good Friday I am referring to this batch as Resurrection Pale Ale. Jesus turned water into wine, so I'm sure he won't mind me turning water and barley into beer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring is here

Spring is here, but I'm still slow to rejoin the biking community. This is somewhat problematic, because I am registered to do the Cannon Falls Duathlon in only a few short weeks. I've done some running so far this year, but the bulk of my energy has been going into our bathroom. After a couple of dumpsters full, it's down to the subfloor and studs. Also known as "blank slate" mode. Now comes the real work of putting it all back together.

My friend Joel came over on Sunday and we put together 3/4 of a stir plate project, something I'll post more about once it's complete. And I also managed to steal away 30-45 minutes in the afternoon to put together a batch of hard cider. It's my first attempt at a cider, and I'm finding it is very easy to make. The only difficulty comes if you want to get fresh apples and juice them yourself. I was content to just buy 5 gallons of juice at the grocery story and throw in a couple pounds of honey. I wanted to make this an SCD friendly batch of cider, so I used honey for my yeast starter instead of DME. I didn't realize my yeast had been in the fridge quite as long as it had been (November date on the smack pack) so I stepped the starter up once also. Making the two starters was the majority of the work. Sunday I just sanitized, poured the juice into the carboy and aerated for 30 minutes while I pulled nails out of the wall studs. After aeration, I pitched my yeast. I've got a good steady fermentation going after less than 24 hours.

If I hadn't been in a hurry to get back to the bathroom, I would have remembered to take a hydrometer reading. I plan to make another batch using yeast that I harvest from this one, and I'll use the same approach with the honey and juice, so I should be able to back into an approximate gravity reading for both batches that way. It won't be exact, but it will be better than nothing.