Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Fourteenth Reason


My wife and I recently watched the first season of the Netflix series based on Jay Asher’s book Thirteen Reasons Why.  My first reaction as a parent is that I don’t want either of my children to go to high school…or interact with other children, period.  I know that’s unrealistic, but the show echoes my own high school experiences—at least the general tone and atmosphere that I remember—and we all know that being a teenager in America just sucks.  This piece is not about raising teenagers.  Good lord, that piece is going to be so much harder to write…
I was hesitant to watch the show at first in part because of my own history with depression and suicidal thoughts.  I was hesitant because in my life I have known in passing more than a few people who have ended up committing suicide.  The most recent was probably the one I knew best other than my childhood friend who died of an overdose a few years ago.  Jon was not a close friend like Shane, but he and I had a lot in common and he and I had been on track to getting to know each other much better as we worked on developing trails in the Gorge area.  We agreed on a lot of things.  We had the same kinds of passion and energy to make a difference in our shared world.  And then Jon attempted to end it all.  And then Jon was successful.
I could distance myself from what the main character was going through in the series.  That was easy.  I’ve never been a teenage girl, so the situations portrayed were not my experience of being a teenager.  They were heartbreaking situations mind you, but they didn’t resonate with me like the experience of the other main character did.  I truly related to Clay.  He seemed to occupy the same niche I did in the high school ecosystem.
I’m not going to give away the show, but I am also not going to strongly recommend that you watch it.  It’s well written.  It’s compelling.  And I think it’s an important work that deserves attention.  I think if it were possible that showing this to high school kids could be useful.  I’m just not sure it is possible to do so in an effective and non-detrimental way.  Where 13 Reasons Why (the series) is most useful I think is for parents and adults who work with teenagers and children to recognize situations that they didn’t live through themselves.
But the last episode…it’s intense.  I was good until the last episode.  I’m good now; I need to clarify that.  The day after we finished it I struggled to put it out of my mind.  It didn’t bring suicidal thoughts to the forefront of my mind, it was just dark, and sad, and I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have affected any neurotypical person in an adverse way, much less someone like myself who struggles with the same kind of negative thoughts that the main character Hannah let drag her into the abyss.
Be assured, I know this show is fiction.  I realize the actions were portrayed by actors and the story was made up.  However, I believe it accurately portrayed the situations as they could happen and likely do daily for someone somewhere.  There were a few plot lines I think may have been unrealistic, but overall I think the series shows how a teenager can devolve from happy-go-lucky, bright, and functioning to depressed and oppressed to the point of harming themselves.
The show starts out with Clay Jensen, a high school student who had been close to the main character Hannah Baker, receiving a collection of cassette tapes from Hannah which he soon discovers contain recordings by Hannah explaining the thirteen reasons why she killed herself.  Those thirteen reasons end up being thirteen people in her life who—in her estimation—led her into the darkness and heaped more and more on her until she could bear no more and ended her own life.
Based on my own experiences with profound depression and a scary brush with destructive thoughts and the eventual realization that those thoughts were more than just escapism or run-of-the-mill moody “depression” I believe that Hannah left out a crucial fourteenth reason: herself.
Now, before you think I’m being harsh or get judgey of a perceived insensitivity take a breath and just read.
My own worst day occurred after a long stretch of self-reflection.  There were a few factors that fed into the torrent of bad thoughts that raged through my mind, and at each confluence I picked up more volume and velocity until the dark thoughts scoured everything else from my mind.  I was dealing with a toxic relationship at work.  An individual had taken it upon themselves to “supervise” me when they had no authority to do so, but since he was in a position of authority I believed he had the mandate to do so.  And he pushed me around, made me feel incompetent, and used me to do his own work while threatening my job security if I didn’t keep him happy.
Personally, I was dealing with a couple of years of unresolved issues.  I had unceremoniously moved my family from a happy life we had made for ourselves back to a place we had tried to escape all because of my own unhappiness.  I felt guilty, useless, and trapped.  My relationship with my extended family and a lot of old friends were souring over a personal crisis of faith.  In every facet of my life I felt a profound lack of confidence in myself and powerless to change anything.  Then I added two critical factors which pushed me over the edge.
I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was fifteen years old.  By 2000 I had written over 3,000 pages in spiral bound notebooks.  Sometime around 2005 I started keeping a digital journal and have written a couple thousand more pages in the decade or more after, though I never wrote with the frequency or intensity that I did in my late teenage years.  But in early 2014, just a couple of months after my childhood friend had died of a heroin overdose, I began keeping an audio journal using the voice memo app on my iPhone.  I went to this method because I just didn’t seem to have the motivation or time to write things out.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around the keyboard and type into a word doc my thoughts and feelings, but I knew so much of important thinking was not being captured.  I was wrestling a lot of demons but always seemed like I was going it in the dark.
Maybe the voice memos alone weren’t my tipping point.  This may sound silly, but at the same time, on a whim and without much forethought, I decided I wanted to revisit music from my heyday.  I graduated high school in 1992 when grunge was taking off.  Nirvana’s Nevermind album and Ten by Pearl Jam were those pivotal musical works in my life that changed everything.  Prior to those two albums I had been interested in hard rock and heavy metal because I liked the guitars.  But with the songwriting of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder I found a love for lyrical words.  I tried to write songs and recognized that lyrics could be poems.  I tried to write stories.  My journaling hit a stride during that time as well.
And so, while wallowing in the mire of my own mind and dark thoughts I made myself a CD with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Anthrax, and probably Metallica.  There were songs like Nothing Else Matters, and Down in a Hole, and State of Love and Trust.  In retrospect, I set myself up.  Maybe the songs reflected my mood.  Maybe it was simply nostalgia for bygone days that led me back to those songs.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the abject desolation of spirit that would result in my listening to that CD coming and going between a cubicle hell that I felt trapped in and a home where I felt like I had screwed up everyone else’s life.

The playlist I was listening to on repeat at work at the time
All of that led to a moment where I was sitting in a lonely trailhead in the Red River Gorge on a cold, sunny day talking into my voice memo app about how bad my life had become.  My thoughts became anchored to an image of myself walking off a high promontory at the end of the trail just beyond the bumper of my car.  I couldn’t get the thought out of my head.  I couldn’t erase the notions that I needed to escape everything that my life had become.  I couldn’t turn off the music, the words, the memories, or the emptiness that threatened to consume me.
My conclusions were not that all those other—thirteen or however many—reasons were to blame.  When I was thankfully back in my right mind and able to analyze my thought processes leading up to that moment I realized I had to stop recording my negative thoughts and I had to stop listening to songs that reinforced the despair in my heart (I absolutely cannot listen to the song More Than Life by Whitley anymore).   
In pondering the chain of events that led to fictional Hannah’s eventual suicide I can’t help but think that her and her real-life counterparts may have contributed more to their own demises through wallowing in darkness and heaping on layer after layer of negativity.  In recording the tapes where she told the story of how bad things had become for her Hannah may have pushed herself past the tipping point.  And in a documentary we watched after the series one writer of the show suggests that Hannah set up the last “reason” to fail and so perhaps in a twofold fashion Hannah was reason number fourteen for herself.  I did that to myself.  By the grace of God or whatever I am here to tell you the tale.
The fourteenth reason is whatever you carry around in your mind and refuse to let go of.  Human beings are resilient.  The story depicted that led to suicide in Thirteen Reasons Why is a story that more people survive than succumb to.  I firmly believe the difference in survivors and those who give in is the recognition within of negative self-talk and the casting off those internally induced shadows.  The house might be haunted, but if we can just open the shades things will start to look a lot better in an instant.  It’s hard to refute the sun that shines on everyone.  All we have to do is let our inherent strength prevail.  We all have it.
I’m much more careful these days.  If I’m having a good day but start feeling bad after listening to a certain CD or even just the news on NPR I will turn it off or change what I’m listening to.  I don’t record my own voice talking about how bad things are.  For whatever reason that medium has a power over the mind that is shocking and firm.  I don’t write as much privately either.  While I want to express myself, I fear the words written in the dark with only myself as the intended audience.  I’m an introvert and tend toward being anti-social.  I’m more apt to venture into the world alone.  Therefore, the healthier trend for me is to move toward others instead of away. 
I don’t execute these strategies perfectly, but I also don’t beat myself up for imperfection.  I don’t fear the void that once attracted me with a persistent voice.  Likely it will always be there.  But if I don’t walk toward it or think much about it I’m sure its power will diminish.  Negative self-talk is the roadmap to hell.  While it’s not always easy to self-affirm, it is better, and its helps to talk to people who aren’t trapped within the same current and who can steer you toward the eddies in life and help you get your breath before moving on down the river.
While we can't always change the behaviors or torments of others we absolutely CAN change how we talk to ourselves and the background music we play on the soundtracks of our own lives.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Scouting for Eagles


Last week I went to a conference at Lake Cumberland State Park.  There is no mountain biking at that park and the trails for hiking and/or running are sparse.  Not that I could run anyway.  This ankle thing is refusing to heal, and it’s starting to bug me.  I did take the bike, and on the first evening I ventured back across the line into Pulaski County to ride at the county park and the infamous Eagle Scout Trails there.
 
I rode that area back in 2013 when I was in the area for a Lake Cumberland ADD meeting.  I was impressed by the machine cut trails interspersed with the old school, hike-a-bike, legacy trails.  I parked in the wrong spot and rode it all jacked up, but I had a good time on that first trip.  I knew work had continued and that there were more trails and the existing trails were getting more attention so I was eager to revisit.
Right out of the gate (a truly posh trailhead, but I’ll get to that later) I had to decide between the older machine cut trail and a really fresh machine cut trail.  I chose the new trail because that’s how I’m wired, and I soon came upon a guy running down the trail on said machine.  He let me pass, we exchanged waves, and I kept on going down the trail.  The new stuff followed one of the older and more difficult trails but it switchbacked where the old trail fell down the hills.
Eventually I picked up the older machine cut stuff and carried on.  On my first visit I ran out of time and energy and didn’t ride all of the old stuff in the back.  I was determined to do that.  By the time I reached Piney Grove Loop in the back I was tired.  The loop itself is fantastic, but the out and back to reach it is of dubious value.  Even if you were strong enough to ride most of it there are just some stupid steep sections.  It needs some rerouting to make it a truly great trail.  For some reason I didn’t remember it being so hard.  Maybe I was just jazzed about the other trails and forgot about the slog.
When I got back out of the back forty and onto the Hamby Hollow Trail I remembered why I had liked the area so much.  The new trails are flowy and fun.  It’s a beautiful setting.  And there’s a decent amount of riding to be had.  The only thing that besmirched my more recent ride was a massive tree that had fallen across the Low Line Trail and a little bit of poor drainage on the Hamby Hollow Trail that has resulted in a boggy situation.
The Play House Loop is ridden in nicely now.  When I first rode it the tread was fresh and rough.  I absolutely flew along the ridge so fast that my old bones tensed for impact more than once.  This area seems like it could be a really fast ride if it was dry, you knew the trails, and had fresh legs. 
The trails are a pleasant surprise for sure.  The area is somewhat removed from the beaten mountain biking paths.  It’s not really too far from Laurel Lake and London, but it’s far enough that most people may not stray in that direction on a rumor.  Well, let me put those rumors to rest: the Eagle Scout Trails at Pulaski County Park are worth taking the time to go ride.  If you’re still not sure plan a full day around exploring it and riding Laurel Lake or Cane Creek WMA or the Sheltowee Trace off of KY 80 near London to make it worthwhile. 
At the trailhead there are restrooms with showers and a bike wash station outside.
 
It threatened to rain for the last half of my ride.  There were a few sprinkles but nothing significant.  However, the next day of the conference dawned wet and ominous.  My drive home that afternoon was sketchy to say the least.  It’s not been a continuous rain since then, but we’ve had some fairly strong storms and the Red River is up in its banks.  That’s disconcerting because work has started but not finished on the boat accesses at Clay City Park.  I’m hoping when the waters recede that the drain pipe and gravel they put down on Friday will still be in place.
And in Bald Rock news…I got out Saturday morning and blazed Rock Jock (formerly known as Hillbilly Hayduke).  After discussing it with the land manager and sign maker we decided minimal signs and blazing would be a good balance and a good solution.  Reports are coming back of people having trouble finding and following the trails.  I need to blaze the Flat Hollow Arch Trail, Chainwhip, and the two trails that are currently under construction.  Curtis and Audrey have been making signs and soon those will be up. 

 
Riverfest is this coming weekend and after that it will be full on planning and preparing for the Red River Gorge MTB 100.  I’m looking forward to having a few of these other things behind me so I can focus.  This past year has been the perfect example of how not to be an easily distracted person and function in life.  I’ve got to stop coming up with new ideas, schemes, and projects until more of these big ones in my life are finished. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Skin of the Buck

I grabbed two handfuls of brake.  The bike slowed; its rear end wobbling around under me as the tire finally--incontrovertibly--went flat for what I knew was the last time.  I stepped off, let the bike over into the thick undergrowth, and ground my face into my shoulder to try to soak up the sweat in my eyes.  I failed in that my shirt was already sopping wet with three and a half miles of mountain biking grime.  Despite the flat I was grinning like an idiot.  Despite the heat and humidity I was stoked. 

My presence at the intersection of the Buckskin and Cave Run Trails on the Daniel Boone National Forest at Cave Run Lake way back in 1997 was proof of my induction into the mountain biking community.  I had ventured out the Buckskin Trail on the recommendation of Dave Lutes.  Dave and I were long time climbing partners and Red River Gorge acolytes.  It just tore him up that I didn't take my 1994 Cannondale M300 out on trails.  I mostly rode it on the road when my ailing car left me stranded.  So after a long conversation about the merits of mountain biking I decided I needed to try it out and at Dave's behest drove over to Zilpo with my bike.

Along Buckskin sometime in the late 1990s

I had no idea what I was getting myself into as I struck out west from the trailhead dressed in surplus BDU pants, a black Metallica tee-shirt, and a small day pack with a Nalgene bottle full of water and a bike pump.  I pedaled into the sweltering forest above the shore of the lake on flat pedals wearing hiking boots.  The trail was narrow, precariously snaking along a contour on a steep side slope looking down on the earthy green water, and I was hooked.

Buckskin was hard.  It was hard then, and it's hard now.  I walked a lot that day nearly twenty years ago.  But I was a different mountain biker then than I am now. 

***

In the twentysome odd years since I rode out Buckskin with no clue what I was doing I've ridden all over on so many different types of trails and in different conditions. 

I've climbed mountains in Colorado on my bike, cranking above treeline and sucking the high, thin air.  I've carved through prairies, dodging plague infested prairie dog towns.  I've raced on muddy Ohio trails, plowed through snow, explored neglected backcountry sections of the Sheltowee, and I've ridden numerous urban and suburban trails.  Buckskin was the experience that kicked me off down this path.

That day on Buckskin was a learning experience for me.  My tube had split and no matter how hard I pumped it wouldn't hold air.  On my very first singletrack ride I learned to always carry an extra inner tube.

More importantly I learned that while a mountain bike provides easy access to the backcountry it can also leave you S.O.L. if you're not skilled at trailside bike repair and being self-reliant.  In many of my long distance adventures I've been cognizant of how vulnerable to a broken derailer hanger or catastrophic flat I was.  That awareness was rooted in my experience on Buckskin.

***

I feel like the Red River Gorge is cursed.  At least in regards to mountain biking development.  The lone legal trail in the RRG system has been plagued since the '90s with neglect and poor design.  Modern efforts to build trails have run aground numerous times for various reasons.  I have been tilting at this windmill for the past three years doggedly to refute the notion that there is no mountain biking in the Red.  There's no good reason for there not to be.  I want to succeed where previous efforts have failed.
 
Just as I felt like momentum was growing and I had finally gotten frustrated activists on board to finish up the project...the Forest Service put an ACE crew out on Buckskin, Cave Run Trail and Crossover to clear and do some light maintenance.  They were out there for two weeks and got a lot done.  They opened those trails up.  And so…I lost my main partner in crime—Dave—to the promise of a Buckskin revival.  I get it: Buckskin—like many of those old classics at Cave Run—have suffered neglect as well; years of neglect through a crisis of poor land management and contentious user conflicts.  It doesn't help that Buckskin is remote.  It's almost as long a drive to the Zilpo side of the lake from Morehead as it is for me from the Gorge area.
 
***

I texted my Winchester posse toward the end of the week and asked who was down for riding at Bald Rock on Saturday morning hoping I could ride and also give the tour to the two who are less familiar and whip up more interest in the project.  Dave texted back:

Well, you’re probably going to shoot me, but I’m probably riding at Buckskin…

Rob was out due to family commitments; that left Josh.  My hopeful reply:
 
My man Josh won’t let me down.

Dave shot back:
 
Uh, well, he had talked earlier in the week about Buckskin.

Damn Buckskin fever!

It took me a day or so, but I finally conceded defeat.  While I could have gone solo down into Bald Rock I decided I really needed some group ride therapy and clunking around the west side of the Giant Canada Goose Pond (no lie) was just the ticket.  No progress, but mental health benefits galore!  By the time I was driving over through Menifee County early Saturday morning I was absolutely stoked; probably more stoked than I had been out on the trail twenty years earlier when I was grinning ear to ear and in danger of not only being stranded in the backcountry but having my dang-fool head fall off!
 
***

Josh and I met early and struck out from the eastern trailhead near Zilpo Campground.  Dave was coming in later from the eastern end at FR 1225.  If we timed it right Josh and I would be getting there about the same time as Dave.

I have a strange talent for remembering topography and terrain.  While twenty years have come and gone it felt like I had been on Buckskin just yesterday.  I remembered the lay of the land.  I took in everything in a nostalgic wave.  Now, to be straight with you, Dave and Dirty Harry and I made a foray a little ways out Buckskin last Fourth of July checking out the conditions, but we walked as much as we rode, and we turned back about a mile and a half in because the corridor was just too thick with blowdowns. 

Josh blowing one of the old school creek crossing turns
(in his defense so did I)
As Josh and I pushed deeper into the backcountry I forgot about Bald Rock.  I forgot about work.  I forgot about stress, and time, and the past week’s bad weather (oddly, as the forest was still soaked with recent rains), and I landed myself in the moment squarely where I have wanted to be for weeks now.  Like so many rides in the recent past I found myself astraddle memory and moment.  Sections of trail felt like old friends.  Maybe there was a shred of regret that I didn’t visit Buckskin more in the intervening years.  But for a few hours on Saturday it was really as if there had been no passage of time.  It was almost as if I had regained those years and just for the morning I could enjoy the day with no regrets.  In some ways the experience was like a long, lucid dream with real life forgotten until I drove back to civilization and wokenness. 

There were amazing stretches of trail—as good as anything I’ve ridden anywhere else—and I felt myself being sucked in.  I wanted to come back the next opportunity I could steal away.  I looked at drainage problems and sections that needed slight benchcutting, or better blazes, or a little more clearing and I ran through solutions in my head.  I couldn’t help myself.  That’s who I am now.  I am activist and advocate.  At heart I’m as much a trail builder as a trail rider now. 

We climbed out of the valley on the Cave Run Trail. Its old school like Buckskin: narrow, steep side slopes, switchbacks as sharp as safety pins, and nice and rocky.  My engine ran hot, but I was surprised that despite my lack of cardiovascular fitness I kept climbing.  Near the top I came up on Josh.  He had stopped to retry a cluster of rocks and roots, so I took the opportunity to drag out the camera and get some actions shots.  The upper section of Cave Run was amazing with some steep and slick rock ledges.  Of course we did a little hike-a-bike.  We didn’t mind as there was so much good riding between the sections where we had to get off the bikes.



Dave rolled into 1225 about ten minutes after we got there, and the three of us continued around the lollipop and Dave was along for the ride back to Buckskin trailhead.  The descent down Cave Run Trail kept us on our toes.  Josh pulled away and Dave and I made our way steadily down Big Cave Run Branch riding along the creek swollen by recent rains.  It felt like we were in some faraway mountain biking destination.  There were huge trees, gravelly stream crossings, and singletrack winding through May ferns.  Could this be Kentucky? I kept asking myself.  Believe it or not, I didn’t lose the moment.  I wasn’t anxious for the progression of time.  I didn’t feel the pull of the world dragging me out of the backcountry.  It was a nice long ride through the primeval forest.

Riding Buckskin back with Dave was interesting.  He and I had talked about that trail so many times over the years, but we’ve never ridden it together except the short scouting ride with Harry last summer.  And while I had fussed at him for being so stoked about Buckskin while I struggle to keep anyone interested in Bald Rock I had to admit I understood why.  The west side of Cave Run Lake is a special place for mountain biking.  It’s Kentucky mountain biking history.  This is how it started.  And somewhere along the way we lost the character of those trails.  Modern mountain bikers expect flowy trails.  We expect to be able to ride and not have to get off our bikes ever.  Buckskin represents the adventurous spirit that drew a lot of us into the woods and eventually into mountain biking in the first place.  Once you resolve yourself to give in to the experience the short hike-a-bike sections are just as fun as railing berms.  Once you reprogram yourself to enjoy the old school trails a slower speed and having to dab a foot from time to time does not detract from the experience. 



 
I say give in to the Buck.  Give it a try.  If you don’t fall in love with the experience then I can’t help you.  I may not speak your language.  Or maybe you need to give it a second go.  Even if that’s twenty years later…or if you haven’t been on Buckskin in twenty years maybe it’s time to go back.  I can say for certain that this network of trails will be getting the love and attention it’s needed for a long time.  I can guarantee that over the next year Buckskin and Cave Run and Crossover and Hog Pen Trails are all going to start looking better.  You’re going to see more folks out on those trails.  I can say with certainty that eventually, when our race has finished on September 30 I’ll be looking at doing more riding out there.  I know for sure Dave and our other partners in crime will be out and about making right what time has thrown to chaos. 

The revival of Buckskin Trail has begun.



Friday, May 12, 2017

Blackberry Winter


“I have terrible periods of lack of confidence…I just don’t believe I can do it and no evidence to the contrary will sway me from that view. I briefly did therapy, but after a while I realized it is just like a farmer complaining about the weather. You can’t fix the weather—you just have to get on with it.”

Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Everyone has their moments of doubt.  Even the most arrogant and narcissistic of us lose faith from time to time.  It’s hard to be human and not see out fundamental humanness; that unbelievable frailty in a world that should have killed us off long ago save for the grace of God.  I still believe that even though I don’t believe in most of the garbage filling up the emotional baggage I tote around these days.
I am the opposite.  I have my moments of clarity.  Sometimes I find faith.  The rest of the time I simply feel like I am the lowest man on the totem pole.  I feel like Sisyphus’s little brother.  I am colorblind to success and competence and worthiness.
For whatever reason I am also blessed/cursed with being a high-functioning neurotic.  I don’t have the luxury of being able to check out and be absolved of this nightmare.  There is some drive within me that keeps me working toward being responsible (and failing) and holding myself accountable.  For the longest time after my ADHD diagnosis in 2007 I wrestled with God on the matter.  How could I be unwired to focus?  How could I not have the capability to participate in religion, society, and occupation and yet still be held to the same standards as everyone does?  How could I have the ability to appear normal but not the skills to be neuro-typical?  Is God letting Satan afflict me with psychological boils for a lark? 
Maybe it was my perception that was flawed.  Maybe there was NOTHING wrong with me.  In which case I must be the most horrible, selfish, uncaring person on the planet because I don’t seem to interact with other people the same way as other people do.  A year or so later I began wondering if I fell somewhere along the autism spectrum.  Maybe I lack the emotional sophistication to successfully interact with my peers.  But again, what if I was simply looking for excuses for my character flaws?
Despite the good things in my life…despite successes, reaffirmations, people who love me, and despite the fact that I am high-functioning…I live with constant crippling self-doubt.  I presented a statewide plan that I co-authored to the former First Lady of Kentucky at the Capitol.  I operate on a first name basis with a lot of important people.  My name gets thrown around in places I still struggle to believe is possible.  I get credit for things I can’t believe are happening in my life.  On an intellectual level I feel like within the next five to ten years of my life things will become even more surreal and positive.  I don’t say these things to brag but to show the contrast between the reality everyone else must see that is separated from my own mind by a shroud.  Even saying these things about myself doesn’t make me feel any increase in self-worth. 
Ten years ago tomorrow I graduated college.  I first started down that path in 1992.  I went to (not including a short stint at a photography school) two different universities in three different attempts over fifteen years.  The last stretch was mainly unbroken between 2000 and 2007.  My academic performance improved toward the end and I was actually on the Dean’s List at least two semesters.  Graduated just shy of a 3.0 gpa only because I failed to drop a class I had stopped going to early on and never made it up.  I couldn’t erase that F. 
I’ve been a professional planner nine years now.  I convinced my current employer to promote and replace me so that I could work more directly on bike-ped and trails projects.  A lot of people have told me I should actually be doing this job or that job and again, I feel like within five or ten years I’ll be even more sought after for my experience and knowledge.  Even though I don’t actually feel like anyone should want me…I’m not worthy of such attention.
I did all of that living with a debilitating neurological disorder, depression, anxiety—all undiagnosed—and with the crippling self-doubt that resulted from that condition.  High-functioning curse; I get myself into too much trouble.  When I get a little rein I run as far and as fast as I can with it.  When I get just a taste of success or hint of confidence I bolt like a wild pony running for the horizon.  And the same goes for when I get a whiff of hope.  When the clouds break for a moment and it seems like my moods may shift I have learned to take full advantage and try to get as much done as possible before the storms come blowing back into my mind and break up whatever warmth and light remains.
Like riding a bike I have to keep moving forward to keep from falling.  If I stop pedaling and coast the ride is going to be over.  I’ve never afforded myself the luxury of coasting.  I can’t.
In light of the tangle of invasive neurologies in my mind I don’t know how I am able to present to you anything cohesive or valuable.  My mind is a maze and I have always been lost within it.  I keep looking for a way out.  I keep hoping to unravel the mystery of it.  But I’m tired.  I’m losing hope in ever changing the layout of the space I inhabit.  The map is not to be found within me.  I know that as sure as I know I’m trapped.  I’ve given up trying to solve this puzzle from within. 
One thing I do know is that I desperately need to simplify my life.  I have too many things competing for a non-existent attention span.  I’m done with writing a regular blog.  I want to be done with social media.  After Riverfest and after the mountain bike race I'd love to just going to delete my Facebook account once and for all.  Twitter the same.  Instagram gone.  I’m going to do my best to pull out of the internet all together.  It’s not helping me.  My life has not gotten better because of the virtual world.

I will likely continue to post here, but not on a schedule, not out of duty, but when there is something truly worthwhile to share.  I write as an outlet, and I know I'll miss it if I stop doing it altogether.  But I can't maintain the focus of doing this thing while so much else around me needs to be done.
Like I said, there are a few things I still need to deal with and have a presence, but from this point going forward I’m going to do my damnedest to keep from making any kind of commitment which will keep me shackled here.  If I could I would just sweep aside all of my commitments at this point and start over fresh, but that goes back to what I said in the beginning about being driven to be responsible and of holding myself accountable.  I’ve failed on too many commitments in my life because of these demons.  Whatever power I have over them I will exercise now and follow through as best as I can.  But I’m not going to let any more demons be conceived to continue to dog me.  I will eradicate the horde of them if I can.
I am a high-functioning neurotic.  So therefore I believe I should be able to defeat this.  I may need help doing it, but I do still have hope.
 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Festive Edition


Its official, the Clay City Riverfest 2017 is on.  This will be the first of hopefully an annual event for the city.  The purpose behind the event this year is to kick off and do a ribbon cutting for the new boat access sites at the city park and at the new park we’re calling Lazarus for Lazarus Powell whom Powell County is named for.
If you’re inclined toward paddlecrafting please come to the Clay City Park on May 29th and help us celebrate this great new opportunity for the city and for our community.  These access points make it possible to do a leisurely hour long paddle around the town with no vehicle shuttle involved.  It’s a truly unique situation which promises to bring new tourism into the city.
In other Chainring news the first ever Cave Run – Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance trail clinic is fast approaching.  For the most part it’s all ready to go and we have a pretty good response.  I’m hoping this will lead to more interest and energy in building new trails in the Gorge area.  With the most recent connection made in Bald Rock progress can move forward with more momentum now.  Maybe by race day the trail network there will be in pretty good shape.  Fingers crossed.

 
 
 

 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kentucky Dirt and Water

I shoveled backyard eggs into my mouth—alternating washing it down with steaming coffee from my new favorite mug (a steel mug they gave us when we went to the Outdoor Partners Expo at REI Cincinnati) and Mandy’s homemade biscuits with pear butter made from pears we picked from Mamaw’s tree next door.  I ate quickly because we were planning to paddle the Kentucky River from Beattyville to Heidelberg with Jimmy and Ethan Murray and I needed to unload the Jeep from the trail work the day before, hook up the trailer, and get the boats loaded ASAP.

I was excited because I’d never paddled that section of the Kentucky.  Years ago me and my dad paddled the three forks above Beattyville to ascertain the feasibility of expanding Red River Outdoors’s business to the Kentucky for when the Red River was too low.  I fondly remember those scouting trips.  I distinctly remember that the South Fork of the Kentucky between Booneville and Beattyville was the best section, but there wasn’t good access to put in.  Now there is a nice public access just below Booneville.  Next time we’ll run the South Fork, but it is a bit longer at ten miles than the six we had planned to run with Jimmy and Ethan.

Mandy and the kids and I ate lunch while we waited for the guys to arrive at the put-in in Beattyville.  We’d already dropped a vehicle at Heidelberg and scouted the take-out above the lock and dam to make sure we could get out there.  We knew we needed to stay hard to river right to avoid getting near the dam itself, but it looked like a no brainer so we were all set when they pulled in to the parking lot at the put-in.



In short order we set out with six kayaks.  I towed Bean because we had misplaced one kayak paddle.  Ethan, who is the same age as Lily, paddled on his own for a long way, but Jimmy was pretty sure he would have to tow him too.  And in fact he did end up dragging his kid as I dragged my kid for probably four of the six miles.  Dads got a workout for sure.

At the put-in the river was flowing fast and heavy from recent rains.  I was slightly concerned, but once we got a few hundred yards downstream past the mouth of the South Fork we entered the long pool above the dam and there was hardly any current.  And that was the theme for the entire trip. We paddled.  And we paddled.  And we paddled. 




It wasn’t a terrible slog, though the last couple of miles there was a stout headwind.  It was strong enough we were riding over decent sized waves and at times there were whitecaps over the brown water.  For a half mile or so I remember putting my head down and just plowing ahead—calling back to Bean to have her hunker down in her boat to reduce wind resistance—and we sallied on.

The trip was mostly uneventful.  About half way in the kids all got out of their boats and swam in the chill water.  It was still April after all.  Bean and Ethan dashed for their boats when I told them about the giant catfish that reportedly live in the river. 



All in all it was a great fun trip and we’d definitely do it again.  I do want to do the South Fork next time we’re able to get over through Lee County.

On Saturday Josh Lowry and I (and his twin boys) finished section 2 of Hillbilly Hayduke in Bald Rock.  I say “finished” but we really just made the final connection.  The trail still needs considerable work, but it’s rideable now and that was the goal.  I need to go back really soon and cut out a couple of stumps and do some geometric work and some drainage work, but otherwise that section is ready to go.  Time to move full on to building out the Shackle Rod Trail. 

In other news: the Clay City boat accesses are moving along well.  The put-in at the city park is almost ready to move in with concrete truck and do the pour of the steps.  I’m hoping this week…
 
And then we can move on to the take-out at the new park.  A group of us are planning a big shin dig on May 29th (Memorial Day) to kick off and ribbon cut for the accesses and the new paved walking path at the park.  We think this might be a really BFD.

Anyway, that was the weekend.  Hope yours was great, and hope I have more to report as the week goes on. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Ramming Speed Fridays: Dreamland Edition


You find yourself on a trail in the woods.  It flows.  It surfs the contours of the hillside.  You pedal along the top edge of a sandstone cliff overlooking a fog-filled valley.  Dimly visible across the hollow are spectral walls of ochre, tangerine, and sand mirroring the cliffs below your knobbies.  It’s quiet, cool, and the day promises to be a bluebird of happiness in your life.
Three hours earlier you drove out from the city.  First you turned off the interstate onto the parkway.  Another half hour you were pulling off into Slade as the land began to be revealed by the growing daylight.  Twenty minutes deeper into Eastern Kentucky the low rumble of gravel under your car tires perked you up.  You down that last sip of coffee from your Klean Kanteen and crack the driver’s side window to smell the morning air.
From the car you warmed slowly as you climbed the first easy hill on an obscure Forest Service road.  Your clacking hub seemed overly loud in the shadows of the mist shrouded hills.  But then for a the longest time the only sound was your breathing as it increased in intensity and volume as a result of the efforts you were putting forth to climb on your mountain bicycle from the valley to the ridgetop some four hundred feet higher.  Having a 44t granny gear can only help so much.  Once the grade hits a certain threshold the climbing is just hard.
At the top of the long climb you pause at an intersection to drink from your water bottle.  The trail you seek is still another mile or so out the ridgeline.  You’ve heard about a hidden network of trails—all legal—but not promoted widely nor written directions provided.  There were simply photos revealing amazing vistas, brown dirt ribbons of earth through untrammeled forests, and the promise of adventure.  
The local told you to go straight through the four way intersection at the top of the grueling climb.  But that way looks the least well-travelled.  It’s an old doubletrack that almost fades into invisibility in the forest.  There are thigh-high weeds, pearled with dew, and inviting you deeper into the shadows of the forest.  You urge the bike onward.
True to the rumors you heard there are trails where the road finally disappears into the landscape.  You’ve had to ride around and over fallen logs, skirt historic mudholes in the road, and your arms bear freshlets of blood from the greenbriars that reached out to grab you as you pedaled the road.  But all of those obstacles guard the trails from interlopers.  They appear to have been built for your fat-tired bike.  And within the first couple of minutes you know that someone who loved mountain biking and loved adventure had a hand in building them.  There is no turning back.
The morning is spent learning the system.  There is an inner and outer loop on the broad forested ridge.  The outer skirts near the cliffline but is wider and easier.  The inner loop has tighter twists; it carves and surfs the terrain near the crest of the ridge and incorporates more rollovers, skinnies, and rock obstacles.  You marvel at the work that has gone into the trails.  It had to have been a true labor of love.  And you are grateful that a friend shared with you the knowledge of these trails.
Your lunch is eaten on a rock promontory overlooking the valley where the fog has finally lifted, revealing miles of sandstone clifflines, bare patches on the valley floor where oil tanks with blue peeling paint stand in a sentinel line along a gravel road far below.  Somewhere in the distance is the echoing clank and hum of a pumpjack bringing crude up from deep below the Appalachian vista.  There is the faint scent of pines and sulphur on the light breeze.
On the way out you take your time.  You don’t want the moment—or the day—to end.  Another lap around the ridge trails takes an hour at your slower pace.  But the turns feel right.  The views keep bringing you up short.  And finally, reluctantly, you head for the exit road and the descent back to the valley where your car awaits.
The dream ends.
“How was your ride?” your significant other asks when you return home, crusty and dusty from your efforts.  The smile is still distinct on your lips.
“It was a dream,” you reply.
 
***

It is.  It could be.  Everything you just read is as described except the trails.  The land is there.  The access road is there.  The views, the sublime mornings going unnoticed almost every day…all there.
But right now the story I just told is still only a dream. 




 

Monday, April 24, 2017

I Don't Like Mondays...Or Do I?


I’ve updated my classic Earth Day photo with a quote I saw on a protest sign on social media over the weekend.

 
The photo was from Earth Day in 2011.  I was commuting home on my cargo bike and saw a traffic jam on I-70 in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.  I had to stop and take the photo.  For years when I’ve shared it I’ve captioned it simply: “Happy Earth Day!”
The Chainring family may have fallen slightly off the green living wagon over the past few years.  It’s hard to maintain focus when there are so many other things going on in life.  That’s no excuse.  However, I will say that the good strategies that we have continued practicing were ones we had incorporated early and practiced repeatedly.
I’m a chronic unplugger.  And I learned decades ago from my dad to yell at kids for leaving lights turned on in unoccupied rooms of the house.  My family produces as little as a single kitchen bag of garbage in a week and usually only on holidays or when we have a group of people over to the house do we generate more than two or three.
I’m not patting us on the back.  There are still many things we can change to reduce our impact on the environment.  However, I would say we are above average for the US and definitely in the highest percentages of success in our locality when it comes to reducing our energy usage and waste generation. 
This is not a commitment to a renewed or strengthened resolve to be more sustainable and less impactive, but I think it’s time we did start moving in that direction as a family.
The rain over the weekend may have affected the start of construction on the boat access in Clay City, but I’m hoping it wasn’t too much.  More as developments unfold…

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Patience Pays Off Edition


It’s spring so I shouldn’t be surprised.  It’s going to rain when I need to be riding.  I always seem to be moaning about something.  I know. 

But the real news isn’t about bikes this week.  Or the woods.  Or hiking, climbing, trail building, etc.  If everything goes according to plan the contractor will begin work on the Clay City Park padddlecraft access on Monday.  According to those more in the know than I about pouring concrete we could have the entire project finished by the middle of May.  That’s pretty exciting. 

I took the idea to the city in the summer of 2015.  I can only blame myself that it’s taken so long to get it done, but (and this is strange for me to say) I can take a lot of credit for this one.  It was my idea and I have been the champion for a long time keeping it going.  And now that it’s finally close to completion I feel a great deal of satisfaction. 
 
 

I look forward to the same sense of satisfaction regarding the mountain bike trails at Bald Rock, on Tarr Ridge, and hopefully some day on Marbleyard.  But I digress.

As a result of my efforts I have landed myself on the Clay City park and rec board.  But it makes sense as I have been working to improve the facilities at the park and to develop a new park around the proposed take out.  And while I can take a big measure of credit for this whole thing I have to point out that it has been a group effort and while I come up with some good ideas in this regard it’s the people around me who help refine and legitimize the concepts. 

Last summer Mandy and I invested in kayaks for the family.  It’s an activity that she sees more as her own that mountain biking.  We enjoy hiking and climbing and cycling, but I think water is really her space.  And I do love paddling, but I really love faster movement.  I have a dark history with whitewater paddling, so that’s really not something I’m interested in anymore.

Wednesday afternoon Mandy and I and Bean paddled the loop around Clay City.  It’s a great hour long jaunt; about three and a half miles or a little more.  The river is beautiful, and has been at a good level the last week or so.  It’s hard to beat a family friendly paddle that’s shuttle free.  When we wallowed out at the ol’ sewer plant (soon to be Lazarus Park) the mosquitoes were biting something fierce.  But quick as a whip Lily and I went over, got the Jeep and returned to load up the boats and we sped home.  Basement door to basement door was about two hours.
 
 

We’re planning a big shindig for Memorial Day weekend to kick off the new boat accesses and to show off improvements at the park.  There’s a new paved walking path by the river and around the park.  We’ll soon have great public paddlecraft access right in town.  I’ve also been working on the first comprehensive plan for the city in my capacity as planner for the ADD.  Clay City is becoming quite the renaissance town.  That kind of sounds crazy to say, but the reality is things are a-changin’.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Rebel, Rebel; Minions in Training


"Great things are afoot."

~ Slartibartfast

 
We ain't makin' planets, but it feels like we're creating new worlds. "We" is the Cave Run - Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance.  On Saturday Mandy and I and the Training Partner drove to Cincinnati to promote the (rebel) Alliance and the RRG 100 mountain bike race at the REI Outdoor Partners Expo.  They placed us next to the guys from the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance (CORA) and we had fun getting to know them and talking advocacy and riding.
 
 

While it wasn’t the raging membership drive we’d hoped it was a positive step for the (rebel) Alliance and things are looking great.  These are our first steps and so far we’re making steady progress.  In ten years we’ll look back on this time with wistful eyes I’m sure.

After the Expo—at the recommendation of the CORA guys—we drove over to Milford where Mandy rode the Little Miami Trail while Dave and I checked out the Jim Terrell Park trails and some other urban shoehorn trails.  I love stuff like that.  And the little network we rode reminded me vaguely of Capitol View in Frankfort, but even more of a mini-Knoxville Urban Wilderness or the trails I rode in Des Moines last year.  Heck, they were a lot like the trails I pieced together in Colorado in the greenbelts and neighborhoods in some ways even.  But the ecosystems were reminiscent of Tennessee and Des Moines more than the big cow town of Denver.
 


 

So that’s got me thinking more and more about what kind of opportunities I could drum up at home if I just put my mind to it.  Problem is my mind is pretty heavy with a million other unrealized schemes.  Priorities man.  So I need minions to go forth and do my work.
 
One minion--mwah, ha, HA
 
In related news: the Kentucky Point Series Cave Run race has been “postponed.”  It was supposed to be next Sunday and the plan was to go and promote the hundred mile race and the Alliance full throttle.  I mean, that’s home turf for the Alliance and pretty darn close for our RRG race.  I’m bummed.  I know the locals in Morehead will be bummed, and they had been trying to get more involved with the organizer to boot, so it’s a double disappointment.  With more time we could have easily taken it over and gotten it done. 

Anyway, lots of things are going on.  It’s looking like I may be posting more than once or twice a week in the coming months.  Stay tuned!