Monday, September 18, 2006


You know you're a home owner when...

Your hamstrings are sore not from powering through personal best pulls doing deadlifts followed by an hour on the time trial bike, but from bending over sealing the deck.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

New Low for DIY

My DIY projects hit a new low last night, and I thought I'd share the boring task with you. Hey, why stop now? I spent two hours cleaning out my vacuum cleaner. I had sucked up tons of dead bees during the big honey purge a couple weeks ago and filled my upright vacuum with some nasty, sticky, awful-smelling stuff. It was definitely a job for a wet-dry vac, but not having one, I tried it with the upright. I gave up after it became obvious the fan blades were going through hell chopping up sticky insect bodies and if I continued, would probably ruin the vacuum for good.

I took the entire thing apart, soup to nuts, and scraped out goo and hosed everything down in the backyard. I dripped some turbine oil down the motor shaft, then reassembled. Everything went back together pretty well - I only forgot one piece and had to backtrack a couple steps to get it back in properly - and it fired up like new.

It was definitely one of those "you know you're a homeowner when..." moments. You know you're a homeowner when you get a lot of satisfaction from a well-cleaned vacuum. When I hit the switch and the air came whooshing out, smelling all fresh, I had a real moment of triumph, followed by a slight nagging feeling that it might have been more fun to get outside and ride my bike instead of pulling smelly bee goo out of a vacuum.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Wax On, Wax Off

Mr. Miyagi was a wise man. I got a nice shoulder and core workout in this weekend. I washed, polished, and waxed both steeds in the barn. I got handy with a drill and dremmel and took off some big rust spots on the old Corolla I'd let go for too long, and then primed, glossed, and clear coated them. The rust was mostly along the top of the windshield. I ground it down to bare metal as best I could, masked it off, then repainted. In a fit of lack of observational power, I didn't bother to notice until I was done that the Corolla is black metallic paint rather than just black, so the patches I put on stands out from the rest of the car a little. Oops. I hit a ton of little touch-up spots on both cars as well with the tiny brushes. The first owner of the S4 blacked it out, painting the chrome load bars, side mirrors, badges and grill. I like the look, but they didn't do such a great job, and the paint sometimes peels off in large strips. I'd touched up every last little chip and peel on the car, polished and glazed her, then was in the middle of waxing when my finger hit the edge of a loose paint strip on one of the load bars and took off about a two inch square section. D'oh! Oh well, the imperfection will give her character until the next touch-up session.

The stock 2001 S4 is rated at 250hp from the 2.7L six cylinder and twin K03 turbos. She has lots of get-up-and-go already, but I'm toying with the idea of fiddling with her and putting in some modifications. I don't think I'm up for the expense of upgrading the turbos (yet?), but it wouldn't be too painful to put in a new chip and cat-back exhaust. I've read that one can pretty easily top 300hp with just those simple modifications. On the other hand, it'd be nice to start with suspension and brake upgrades to increase driving fun in the curves since lack of power really isn't an issue. The problem is, you see, I've been reading several websites recently dedicated to modifying the very-modifiable stock S4, and they've gotten my blood going. However, I have lots of self-educating to do and lots of budgeting to do before I decide to become a true Audi enthusiast and start tinkering.

Over the weekend, I also ordered a Pella replacement window from Lowes. It'll arrive in about three weeks, and if we like it, we'll order a few more and replace windows in some of the colder sections of the house. The purchase of replacement windows may be one of the many things that keep me from playing with the Audi. Luxury car parts versus windows to keep us warm... hmmm... decisions, decisions. Oh well. Better to be nice and snug in the winter than to have extra horsepower that you can't really use on the highway anyway.

Speaking of wax, by the way, it turns out that the little larvae pictured in my bee report from a while back were probably wax moths, which infest honeybee hives. The bigger larvae I saw, and whose photographs I did not include in the blog, were the baby bees. Not terribly important, but I didn't want to spread misinformation about honeybees.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Chris Thater Race Report

The Chris Thater is a big deal, National Race Calendar criterium in Binghamton, NY and for me always seems to mark the culmination of a racing season. To that end, I trained extensively for the high-power output efforts necessary in a hard criterium. In the 27 days leading up to the race, I took one 50 mile tempo ride and two easy to moderate spins of about 30 miles each on my road bike and rode my mountain bike about ten times with groups of small kids. When it came time to race, man, did I ever reap the fruits of my training program! (They were mealy and tasteless.)

I woke up that Sunday morning early but not quite early enough. It was starting to spit rain as I bolted out the door. Once on the road, I realized that, even if I sped between state trooper radar traps, I'd reach the racecourse with about twenty-five minutes to go before the race. The rain was alternating between sprinkles and moderate showers when I arrived. I quickly threw the bike together, tossed a helmet on my head, said a quick hello to my dad who'd come to watch, and took off for registration. It was great to have my dad there, but I felt bad knowing that he'd driven half an hour, early on a Sunday morning to, unknowingly to him, watch me have a very mediocre performance in a rain-soaked race.

I signed in quickly, and then got dressed with enough time for a couple warm-up laps. Usually I like to warm up for crits with about 40 minutes on the trainer, so I knew I was in for some pain right off the get-go. I picked a nice place center front, said hello to some guys I knew, and waited in the rain for the starting whistle. Starts in crits can be a little hairy. Everyone takes off like a rocket to be the first to the first corner, and you don't want to be behind the guy who can't get his foot in the pedal. Worse yet, you don't want to be the guy fumbling to clip in while everyone else disappears down the road. I've learned over the years to just stomp on the pedal and take a few revolutions to get up to speed before worrying about clipping in. Today, a good start would be especially important. When the roads are soaked, it's nice to have a few corners at the front to settle in without a big group around. The slide-outs always seem to happen early before guys get a feel for the available traction, and I knew the strong boys in the bunch would be pushing hard just to thin out the pack for safety. I got lucky with my stomp and clipped right in and found myself leading into the first corner and up the hill. The PT read 500+ watts and no one wanted to go any faster, so I was first into the first two corners before I let off the gas a little and let myself drift back a few places.

I could see guys' rear tires sliding a little in the corners and I could feel mine doing the same. We started the hill on lap two and I glanced back to see the peloton stretched way out with lots of little gaps already. By lap three, the gaps were becoming significant, and I was beginning to suffer some, my excellent month of training starting to show.

I switched over to survival mode pretty quickly. The prime laps were tough on the hill, and I didn't feel comfortable in the corners, so I was always chasing hard after turns. My brain just wouldn't let me hang it all out on the wet corners in the last race of my season in a race I had little hope of placing in.

A few more laps into the race, a guy rode past and told a teammate of his that he'd been in a crash. It appeared to be pretty minor, but combined with the wet roads and the efforts to thin the herd, it broke up the peloton very quickly. A third into the race, we were down to about 20 guys of the original 50.

I hung on to the back of the little pack until about 8 to go, when I finally got gapped for good coming out of the last turn. There are two little manhole covers there plus some crosswalk paint, and I was probably being overly cautious there. My trepidation through that corner finally took its toll and I couldn't get back on after a surge.

After a couple more laps alone, the ref signaled to me that I'd been pulled. I waved and departed the course to join a couple of my teammates who'd been pulled earlier to watch two other teammates take a solo second place and ninth. Officially, I ended up in 19th place, four places out of the money. It's been several years since I've been pulled at any race. It's not a terrible feeling. It's a bit disappointing, but it ends the hurt early and since I knew I didn't train at all for the race, getting pulled was not a surprise. I thought fondly for a moment of my glory days of getting 5th at Thater in 2002 and winning seventy bucks and a watch, congratulated my teammates, then headed back to the car for some warm, dry clothes.

My dad suggested he buy me breakfast at Denny's and although I'd eaten already, I agreed to join him at least for a cup of coffee. As I arrived in the Denny's parking lot, my dad was still in his car and drove up alongside.

"You can't even get in the door!" he said, shaking his head. My dad's not the kind to sit and wait for a table for more than ten minutes, so he wanted to try the Ponderosa down the street for breakfast. I followed.

There was absolutely no line at Ponderosa, so we entered. The only breakfast item though was the "breakfast buffet" which cost seven bucks. With coffee, the total was around $18. I felt guilty at this point and decided to try to make a good show of eating some food even though I wasn't hungry.

We filled our plates, more or less, and the waitress filled our coffee cups with a mysterious just-off-clear liquid. It smelled and tasted vaguely like coffee, but looked like maybe they'd made this batch from the fourth run through a single batch of grounds. The food was nasty, and I picked at it and kept my opinions about it to myself.

Just a few bites into the meal, my dad said, "These pancakes are terrible. And look at this sausage!"

So we had a little lesson about what the length of wait to get into a restaurant might indicate about the food. Otherwise, it was fun talking about guy stuff like him patching up the old house with new shingles and me trying to get rid of a bee infestation. We topped it off with a quick stop at Lowes (for some more shingles) and then I headed to my mom's place for a visit, glad to be inside in the now pouring rain while the runners ran and the pros rode back at the Chris Thater course. It was very nice to be done racing by 8:45 in the morning with a full day of doing something else ahead of me.

With my mind shifted away from road racing, I'll be hitting the singletrack more now, and turning my attention to more home projects and maintenance fitness. I have to replace some windows, seal and re-caulk a shower, weed and prepare the garden for fall and winter, and paint a couple rooms. We're also looking to buy a used, beater pick-up truck - something we can haul big stuff in and something I can drive in the winter so the Audi can stay nice and snug and rust-free inside the barn during the cold, salty, winter months. With her quattro footing, she loves to go out and play in fresh powder, but daily driving on salty, slushy roads makes her feel itchy all over.

By the way, the very cool poster in the above picture is straight from France. My brother-in-law, Mark, was in France during the time of the 2005 Tour and passed through a town a little while after the Tour had gone through. Some street workers (not to be confused with "street workers") were ripping down the promotional posters and he asked for it, folded it into his backpack, brought it home and gave it to us. We had it mounted (they did a great job - the creases and staple marks are only slightly visible) and the colors go perfectly in our dining room.

See you on the trail!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

56 Pounds

Most. Disgusting. Weekend. Ever.

My wife, our friend Jeff, and I spent about seven hours riding the trails at Shindagin Forest in Ithaca last Friday. The weather was cool and dry, perfect for a day in the woods. We finished off the adventure with a nice dinner at the Commons and then headed home. With a full day of recreating under my belt, I was ready to tackle some big house projects over the three day Labor Day weekend. Well, at least I thought I was ready.

It had been a full two days since I’d seen any bee activity in the attic. I had told myself that after two days of inactivity, I’d start digging further into the wall to really get a feel for the size of the battle before me.

Let’s review for you latecomers. When we looked at our current house in October of last year before buying, we saw some honeybees entering the outside wall between the attic windows. There’s a decorative, flared section of the wall, providing a perfect triangular void for insects to set up a nicely protected home. A helpful neighbor said that the previous owners had, from time to time, battled bees. We decided that the bees wouldn’t stop us from buying the house, even though by the time we’d close on it, they’d have had at least a full year of hive building completely unopposed since the previous owners had moved out the previous February. Sue is allergic to bee stings, and the bees were finding their way under the baseboards into our finished attic gym. Doing situps with bees crawling around on the floor didn’t sound like a fun idea. In addition, the outer wall of the house showed some evidence of stains from dripping honey from years past. We decided that the bees had to go. I read up on getting rid of problem honeybees and the news wasn’t good. We wanted to take them out alive, but all indications were that beekeepers wouldn’t want to do the carpentry work to get them out, and exterminators would cost an arm and a leg and kill the bees anyway. Advice on Cornell University's web pages said honeybees in a house required a professional exterminator to come in, kill the bees, and remove the hive and honey combs. Professional, shmofessional, I thought. I could take care of this myself. Pushing my guilt aside, my battle began with some tubes and Sevin-5 poison in powder dust form. I made myself a bee suit, cut a section of the drywall away, drilled a peephole, fashioned a poison dust puffer from tubing and an old bike pump, and applied doses daily for a couple weeks, inside the hive from the back and also into the outside entrance, which I reached through an open window with the tubing duct taped to an unwound wire clothes hanger. Whenever I had a hole in the wall, I’d put up screen to keep the little buggers as contained as possible.

So, finally, last Saturday morning arrived and I hadn’t seen any movement or heard the usual buzzing in two days. The smell from the wall was becoming stomach turning. A few thousand dead, rotting bees put off an indescribable smell. I donned the bee suit and started cutting the hole in the drywall bigger, then bigger, then bigger. My bee suit consists of a layer of cycling rainsuit plus plastic-coated painting overalls, so I end up soaked with sweat within ten minutes. It's terribly fun. As I cut further into the wall, I discovered that someone had done this very thing at least once before. The sections of drywall I cut away revealed a wooden panel screwed into place over a hole that had been cut in the original wallboards. I unscrewed the board, held my breath, and pulled it out.

Oh. My. God. Filling the cavity before me was layer after layer of honeycomb. Underneath the comb, the void in the wall was filled with little rotting corpses. I set down several garbage bags to cover the carpet, with one open in a milk crate, and began pulling out the comb, chiseling it away from the slanting wallboards, and filling the garbage bag. It was heavy with honey, and it dripped down my rubber gloves, over my tools, onto the corpses below, and covered everything. There is a wall partition to the right, but to the left, the hive extended into another wall section. Bees occasionally popped out from that side, angrily checking me out and then heading to a nearby window. I spent Saturday cleaning out the right side, and then screened it all up for the night. The work was messy and the smell disgusting, but otherwise it was very interesting. Little did I know the next day would be oh so much worse.

On Sunday, I cut away the drywall on the left, found another screwed-in panel, and removed that. The left side of the void was filled again with comb, but most of it looked different. I knew that this side must be where the brood comb would be, where the baby bees are raised. The smell was heavier here, and I occasionally escaped outside to take breaths of fresh air. I dug out the comb, filling another garbage bag. The honeycomb on this side was at the top, and then I got down into the brood comb. I pulled out the layers, revealing piles of squirming, maggot-like larvae. Between the sight of the wriggling grubs on the wall and on my hands, and the smell of the rotting insects below, it took quite a bit of willpower to keep my lunch down. If anyone had been walking below the open window, they would have heard some gasps, exclamations, near-gags and a lot of colorful language. By Sunday evening, I’d cleared out the left side. The next day, I’d tackle the bottom of the wall void.

I set up a third garbage bag Monday morning, and began scooping out the layers of dead insects, bee waste, pollen, and other rotting material that had been compacted in the wall over the past couple years. I wiped cologne under my nose and wore a facemask to try to keep the smell at bay, but it worked only for a couple minutes before the odor became overpowering again. It was not my idea of a fun time. With my face inches away from honey-covered roofing nails and dead bee larvae still stuck to the wall, I reached deep into the hole and dug out rotting, stinking death and waste.

I filled a third garbage bag, then sprayed down the wall with a bleach-water solution to try to knock down the smell. I’ll let it set open for a few days to dry out, then I’ll staple up the inside of the outer wall with some sort of insect barrier, then fill the void with insulation, put back the wood panels, then patch up the drywall.

In the end, I removed fifty-six pounds of honey and brood comb. No joke. I'll say that again. I carried out fifty-six pounds of honey, wax, and bee larvae in three full milk crates. I kept my food down during the entire three-day process, so I’m calling it a success so far. This weekend will definitely be recorded as my most disgusting Labor Day weekend ever.