Monday, January 16, 2017

Misty Mountain Bike Hop

I finally figured out what my problem is.  Well, one of them.  Take this with a grain of salt; it's going to sound like I'm bragging.  But this is a serious neurological analysis.

It's been hard for me to motivate myself to get out and hike, or ride, and even get back into climbing.  Inspiration lurks in the shadows; elusive and tantalizing.

The problem is I’ve been kicking around this piece of ground that’s my hometown and the region TOO MUCH.  And it's not even that I've simply visited all the trails in the area, ridden all the roads, explored all of the nooks and crannies...I've visited them repeatedly in most cases...not really EVERY lost and forgotten place, but maybe they're just all starting to look the same.

Sooooo boring!

It seems like there's little out there to pique my interest.  A lot of my adventures are going through the motions.  I have to go further, be out longer, get deeper into the bush while getting whacked, and then I'm still just around the corner from the farthest point I had been before.

The novelty has expired.  I have to wrack my brain so much harder to dazzle myself.  I have made every exciting thing mundane.

This realization began to coalesce a few months ago.  I started seeing that most Instagram posts from average folks (I count myself as one) are of adventures much like mine, but maybe with more vigor and heft.  I could also see that a lot of those adventuring shots were novel to the subjects, shooters, and the peanut galleries.  What was the fundamental difference? I asked myself.  

The shine has worn off for me.  My outings are reruns and reenactments of my glory days.  Or they're hopeful rehearsals for bigger future expeditions. I think the solution to my conundrum is to recalibrate.  This is a mental fuse blown is all.

One mistake I've made over the past handful of years is keeping a driven pace.  I want to see more and I want to get in better shape for some nebulous athletic performance.  That, combined with my inattentive neurology, has kept me running and running to catch up with the sunning.

This past Saturday factors combined to make for a truly enjoyable experience.  More to support my theory the first half of my planned ride was a new place for me.  There was a little intrigue involved.  I also decided to practice my hand at velosexual pretentiousness.  I took my camp stove, coffee cup, and plans to sit on some dreamy overlook sipping local roasted, freshly ground, fair trade coffee.  I opted to leave the hammock at home.  The forecast was for rain.

I’m not going to go into fine detail about the beginning of my day. Let’s suffice it to say I rode past a number of “Authorized Personnel Only” and “No Trespassing” signs.  Once the legal gauntlet had been run I was rolling along a misty ridge through National Forest.  Straight up and down shadows blurred by as I cranked out the old road.  Winter bone trees were wrapped in mist and the black and white tunnel walls obscured the far vistas I knew were not far off.

The Pine Mountain rolled over everything.  Wet logs, thick leaves, hints of views that might be.  Despite lots of recent rain and soggy trees all around the road was solid.  Gravel under a few autumns leaves made for a solid but cush surface.  My GPS showed almost three miles when I finally came to the end.

The end of "trail" was a small clearing bounded by stunted pines.  I hiked down to an overlook that’s obvious few people visit in a given year.  I set up the backpacking stove on bare, damp rock and did a quick pour over.  As I waited for the water to heat up I watched mist flow slowly u the valley like a hundred year flood.  After a while a big fog wave piled up and over the ridge and visibility went to zilch.  Was it raining or just fogging?

Despite the damp and the chill I was comfortable in my layers as I sat on the rock.  I sipped coffee and enjoyed to quiet and the solitude.  So what if I was living the hipster dream?  It was comforting and restorative to hang on that rock for a bit.  


On the ride out I dreaded getting caught on the backside of the warning signs.  But I was able to get back to the car no problem.  I drove a short distance down the road and parked at a legal and legit forest road.  The second leg of my adventure involved riding out two user created singletrack trails on parallel ridges.  The two together equaled six miles of out and back bringing my daily mileage to eleven.  I’ve ridden these ridges infrequently for years.  They suffer from regular deadfall as the prevailing winds whip across the flat ridges and uproot large hardwoods rooted in shallow soil.  But even still, there were few mandatory off bike moments and I had a great ride in the continuing fog.

Coming and going on Tarr Ridge

Eventually I returned home and sat relaxing with some warm food and hot chocolate. While my body was home in the recliner my mind lingered in the mist out on that ridge. For a brief moment I experienced a satisfaction I rarely get to enjoy.  I was content and I tried to hold onto that warm feeling for as long as I could.  Even as I write this the memory of Saturday gives me an abiding sense of fulfillment. 

And so, what I learned from all of this is that I need to be a little more intentional and creative.  I need to be willing to stop and take in the set pieces of my ongoing adventures and always remember to enjoy the ride without being so hyper focused on the finish line.  I know there are plenty of inspirational everyday adventures waiting out there for me.  I know I can find them and capitalize on the amazing landscape I have in my backyard. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Speeding for the Weekend

A few years ago I felt my metabolism crash.  Well, not literally—in a single moment—but you know what I mean.  Over the course of 2016 my physical activity dropped off to unpresidential (you read that right) levels.  While I didn’t put on a massive amount of weight last year I did go through a period of feeling completely and totally broken down, lethargic, and old of age.

I feel pretty good today.  My back is a lot better.  I still have some persistent tightness that I attribute to poor digital ergonomics.  I have energy the likes of which I had missed.  It’s not likely I feel as good as I did at twenty five, but I’m almost twenty years gone from those days so it really matters not.  I’d like to get back to feeling as good as I did at forty.  Pining for my younger days…

I ran too many days this week.  At least conventional wisdom would say you shouldn’t run four days in a row three or four miles a day without working up to it or at all.  But I felt pretty good on all four runs, my knees are holding up incredibly well, and I’m not pushing the pace at all.  Running is about all I want to do while the weather is so wet.  Wet.   Just wet.  Season of mud.  The air is damp, the ground is…saturated, and everything else is glistening with droplets of…wet.

I could ride, but I’m just sick of abusing my bikes.  I don’t ride them enough to justify the kind of abuse I put them through.  I need to start giving them some good quality miles.  So I abuse my running shoes instead. 

If I were a bit farther along in my new running regime I’d probably go trail running.  That don’t hurt nothing but your muscles.  And your cartilage.  And your noggin if you trip and fall.

Anyway, I’m just killin’ time tryin’ to get to the end of this post.  I like to hit 1,000 words for a normal post and somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 for a Ramming Speed Friday.  I’m currently at…360 and numbers don’t count.

So I sit here in a well-lit cubicle while the early morning drear wafts past the window here in the huge metropolis of LexingTON, Kentucky on a Friday morning in January.  I got the Tyler Childers and the Foodstamps performance on Mountain Stage playing in the headphones.  My eventual obituary should mention something about me being a hopeless Tyler Childers fan.  Paragraph or two tops.

But then despite the misty morning I’d rather be enjoying a misty mountain hop.  I like Tyler a lot—his voice is incredible—but I better love the music of the woods.  Nothing compares to the wind in the trees and the sound of falling water.  These harsh LED lights violate my brain worse than any beating the sun has given me.  I’d rather feel the cool of damp air on my skin, hinting at the edge of a chill, than the gentle unnatural breeze of the HVAC.  This is not my world.  These are not my people.  And again I say: twenty-two (almost three) year old me would punch forty-two (almost three) year old me right in the teeth.

I don’t live with regrets, but I do live with the heavy burden of being unsatisfied in life.  I don’t blame that on the conditions or wonderful people around me.  Good lord, my wife is a saint.  There’s a special place in heaven for her for putting up with my tangled neuroses.  Nothing seems to bring me contentment.  I get by.  I cope.  And for the most part I’m a happy person. I’m not complaining about life in general I guess.  There are things about the arrangements of my own life I would change if I could.  But then do we ever know the effects of small changes upon the greater landscape?  Not really, no. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Blah, Blah, Blahs of Winter

My original plan had been to ride on Saturday.  I knew it was supposed to be single digit temps.  I knew there was snow on the ground.  In fact, those were the very reasons I had decided to ride instead of build trail, run, hike, or think about home improvement projects.  Until Friday evening I was even prepared to ride.  I dug out my winter clothing.  I packed a backpacking stove for heating up a warm drink while out on the trail.  I even posted to Facebook asking if any other mountain bikers wanted to get out in the Gorge on trails for some fun pretend adventure.

By Saturday morning I had thought better of it.  While my long experience with cycling in frigid temps gave me plenty of confidence and the tools and techniques for a wintry ride that same experience also informed me as to the misery I would experience as my toes turned to solid blocks of ice while I would sweat under my torso layers.  I knew the ride would be a forced exercise in fun.

It didn’t take much mental acrobatics for me to conclude that I’d be better off hiking on Saturday than riding.  I decided to keep my destination the same but shortened my expectations somewhat.  After a breakfast of oatmeal, homemade biscuits and canned apple butter, and backyard eggs (don’t forget the wonderfully a pretentious freshly ground coffee pourover) I ambled around the house getting my things together.  I took a Klean Kanteen full of said coffee and a water bottle but little else.  I actually dressed somewhat light, but took some heavier layers just in case. It turns out I was pretty comfortable for the two and a half hours I tromped around on top of Tarr Ridge.

The sky was blue and the sun shone brightly with a cold, white light.  It was enough to take the bite out of the air.  While the stark winter shadows were a cold steel blue there was little wind, and my skillful use of layers kept me warm but not overwarm as I hiked out two ridgetops for a double out-and-back hike. 

Of course as soon as I was in the woods crunching over an inch or two of snow I wished I’d brought the bike instead.  Or my running shoes.  I soldiered on, hiking through the winter-bare trees and catching glimpses of white-tinged valleys below.  The occasional distant sandstone cliffline accented the normally drab scenes with blazes of yellow and orange and an offwhite-ish gray stone shining in the peaceful midmorning sun.

I only saw one person on my hike.  For the most part it felt like I had the world to myself.  As I lingered at the end of Tarr Ridge on top of the towering Fortress Wall climbing area I felt more at peace than I had of late.  Life has been more hectic with the holidays, a return to cubicle life, and in my insane plan to put on a mountain bike race.  I’m having my first moments of doubt as I wish I could walk away.  And I want to find a way to stop caring about building new mountain bike trails in the area.  I think this all stems from normal winter blahs.  While Saturday was enjoyable in its frozenness the days leading up to it and for certain coming in the week ahead have been typical Season of Mud diurnal anomalies.  Meaning: I can’t really be building trails while everything is do damp and dreary, and I can’t do much planning for the race so early on when there are critical things that need to be sorted out.  It’s just bad timing for the obvious biochemical degradation that goes on at this time of year anyway.

These are the doldrums of each year—January, February and to some extend March…ugh.  While I love winter and cold weather the mundane day to day existence that is the Season of Mud is intolerable. 

I did good last week with running.  I put in two days with a 5k each day and felt good afterward.  I planned to get in my runs before the weather turned and that was a good thing.  And then I hiked six miles on Saturday.  Sunday was a wash but I kept waiting for the stomach bug to hit me that had afflicted the rest of the family.  I didn’t want to get too far from aid so I lounged in the recliner all day.  Ugh. 
Don’t get me wrong…I have wanted to take my big boned bike out for a bona fide winter ride on real (not fake made at a ski resort) snow.  I rode it a lot in mud around the holidays.  I put it through a lot of abuse for only having it such a short time.  I decided I needed to give it a break and let it recover from its abuses.  But soon.  And I need to start riding to town more often.  Instead of driving to the grocery or hardware stores or to pick up the bi- or tri-weekly pizza…I need to get on the bike!  Which reminds me, I have a cargo bike.  

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Using Mass Instead of Velocity

This week I have returned to running.  I ran Tuesday and Wednesday three miles each day.  I ran at the Stanton and Clay City parks respectively.  The Clay City Park’s new walking path was the allure for Wednesday’s run.  I wasn’t really feeling it, it was a bit cold, but in the end I decided it was worth going down and spinning a few laps around the park.  I was involved in the grant process for the trail though I wasn’t the grant writer.  Basically I made the made for the application and obtained the permits from Division of Water and the Army Corps of Engineers for the construction.

So it was nice to go out and run on the nice paved trail around the park.  It’s just shy of half a mile but close enough.  The section that runs along the river is nice.  And the river was flowing pretty high.  That will lead to the one downfall of the trail: when it floods it will need to be cleaned off.  Hopefully it will stand up to the rigors of a Red River flood.

Anyway, I felt good though neither run was fast.  But the fact that I can go do a 5k off the couch and not feel wrecked the next day makes me feel pretty good.  So what if I didn’t hit a PR?

Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm! Those milk sandwiches are tasty!  We got a little snow beginning on Thursday.  The drive in this morning was winter-esque but not so bad.  Of course I drive a Jeep now too—for the first time in my life I have a 4WD—and there wasn’t a lot of traffic.  It’s still stressful to drive in snowy weather.  And making the forty-five mile commute even on a good day is tiresome.  A couple of days ago as I pulled into the parking lot at work I realized that the commute had taken quite a bit of mental energy.  I really just wanted to turn around and go home.  It’s akin to my Colorado bike commuting days when I said as I approached the building I just wanted to ride right on past and into the mountains for the day.  Back then I said “too much work; not enough commute.” Now maybe the motto is “too much work; too much commute.”

I’m not saying I don’t want to work. Really I’m not.  But the time commitment for working far from home is a drain on your life energy.  The stress of being in the car in traffic degrades your quality of life and the associated stress diminishes life expectancy.  It’s not the work itself that’s so stressful; it’s the associated absurdities of living in modern American.    

This is a problem I can’t continue to ignore in my life.  I need to find an acceptable solution to this conundrum.  Most people would say the solution is simple: move closer to work.  It’s not that simple though.  Because of decades of land use shenanigans in the name of our state’s showpiece mammals property is expensive in the counties neighboring Lexington.  I live two counties away in the shadow of Central Appalachia.  As a sensory defensive the thought of living IN Lexington makes me ill.  I honestly don’t know how I survived Denver for five years.  Heck, it’s too noisy on the creek I live on in the rural part of a rural county.  My only real means of escape is to retreat to the woods.

Anyway, winter is fully upon the land.  On one hand I’m happy because I love playing in the snow.  On the other I’m anxious for the shoddy weather ahead I’ll be forced to commute through.  Such is life.

We didn’t get quite enough to make it worth my while to drag the new Pine Mountain out into it with its plus-sized tires.  Well, it’s always worth getting the bike out. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Monday of All Tuesdays

I could start out the new year by waxing poetic about all the things I will do in the coming year.  Well, things I want to do in the coming year…  I could start out by spewing hope and change and give Donnie a chance.  I obviously won’t do that.  I’m sitting in my cubicle on the first work day of the year in the pre-coworkers dark of the office.  I want this year to be different.

Last year I changed the subtitle of this blog to “less gadgets, more game.”  I think this year I’m going to live by those words.  I have too much clutter in my life.  I look at too many screens.  I am too easily distracted by comfort and ease.  In short, I want to get off my ass and move.

I’ll have to admit, the thought of putting on a one hundred mile mountain bike race is daunting.  I have faith that we can pull it off, but I also know the road ahead is going to be rough and rocky at times.  I think in the end it’ll be worth it.  The thought of continuing to plug along building mountain bike trails with little help and moving at the speed of smell is a bit disheartening.  Though, to be fair, I think 2017 will be the year we hit critical mass and things take off.  I need that.  I need to get the rocket in orbit and then let someone else take the helm. 

Again and again I keep coming back to the thought: I don’t want to be the guy driving these things but I’m sick and tired of no one else doing anything about the situation.  And the situation is that there is so much opportunity it hurts but nothing is getting done.  I don’t want to build mountain bike trails—I want to ride mountain bike trails.  And I live in an area with soils and terrain that would allow for year round riding.  My area could be a winter destination for a lot of people.

Then I think: do I really want more people to come here?  I tend to prefer when less human traffic is moving about.  I was once a persistent advocate for bringing on the apocalypse post haste.  I don’t know—maybe I’m okay with bringing more mountain bikers and other human powered recreationalist to somewhat displace the internal combustion crowd.  Then I think about the hordes of rock climbers that come here.  It’s a ravening herd of idiocy that.  For the most part.  I’m still not sure why Natural Selection continues to turn a blind eye to the shenanigans that go on in the RRG most weekends.  And I’m not really talking about just rock climbers.  Pretty much every user group represented needs a little culling.  I jest. 
Except maybe hammockers
This winter looks like it’s going to be wet.  Winter in Kentucky is the Season of Mud.  This winter is likely going to be normal to above normal.  I think it’s time to get back on the road bike.  It’s time to run and hike more.  And when the weather is agreeable I think it’s time to get back to rock climbing.  Winter really is the best climbing season.  There are fewer people and there are no bugs, snakes, and the humidity doesn’t cause your pores to gush sweat.  All the pests are absent.

I plan on signing up for the Mohican this year.  I’ll only do the 100k, but I know I need a distance event to train for.  I’m hoping for a better showing at the Point Series races and 12 Hour of CVP this year.  But in the end I just want to be active and enjoy the activities. 

The other thing is that as a family we want to shift back to the lifestyle we were cultivating just before we moved back to Kentucky and were derailed.  I’m going to get the cargo bike fixed up again and start riding it for all of my short trips.  We live two miles from town.  There’s absolutely no reason to be driving as much.  Well, except for Steamshovel Hill.  Just that one reason…

Our values are still more green than greenbacks.  The derailment came in the midst of the stress and turmoil of moving twelve hundred miles unexpectedly and trying to reintegrate ourselves into a culture we never thought we’d be part of again.  Slowly but surely we’re regaining the ground we lost in the move.

Of course I fully expect that about the time we hit our mark Trump will bring about World War III. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: Chainring Year in Review

So many people are hating on 2016.   And I get it.  Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Bernie Sanders…it’s been a big year of losses.  The rise of Donald Trump has been the scary shadow darkening it all.  I don’t necessarily want to delve into the political apocalyptia, though I fear in the future I’ll be unable to ignore it.  Instead I want to focus on the focus of this blog which should have been reporting on my outdoor adventures in 2016.

Early in the year I spent some time revisiting Clifty Wilderness.  It wasn’t an intentional hiking theme; it just seemed to happen.  I hiked the Douglas Trail into the Upper Gorge, along Swift Camp Creek below Funk Rock City, and I made a trip down into the amazing gorge of Mariba Fork.  While I had a different reason for visiting (GPSing climbing area approaches for Rakkup) I used the opportunity to capture some of my better imagery of the year.  Those three hikes along with others I made over the course of the year tugged me back toward the Gorge on foot to explore and enjoy my favorite wild place on earth.


Also early in the year we experienced Snowmageddon.  On Bean’s birthday we enjoyed the Hatton Creek Nordic Center’s fine offering of completely ungroomed terrain.  The best skiing was along Hatton Creek Road after my neighbors had packed it down into a solid sheet of ice.


The year has definitely seen the explosion of interest in mountain biking in Eastern Kentucky. My own efforts to grow mountain biking in the Gorge area have yielded fruit.  We completed the Flat Hollow Arch Trail and “The Extension” section of the Hillbilly Hayduke Trail.  We also began what will become a marquee riding experience yet to be revealed.  And I started work on the Shackle Rod Trail in Bald Rock which I hope will become one of the coveted easy/intermediate difficulty rides in the region. 

Dave and I worked with the Forest Service to identify a viable reroute to the old school Powder Mill Branch Trail.  Surprisingly they have agreed to divert resources into the trail and it’s in the pipeline to be studied and hopefully approved for much needed reroutes and a significant extension which will nearly double the length of the trail and make it a much better experience.

In other locales ongoing efforts have come to light and a great deal of interest has been shown for the Prestonsburg trail system at Jenny Wiley known more commonly as the Sugarcamp Mountain Trails.  The trails at Cave Run and around Morehead have been growing and we finally got momentum behind an Eastern Kentucky mountain bike advocacy group in the Cave Run – Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance which will soon be a chapter of IMBA.

Of course the presidential primaries yammered in the background throughout the early part of the year.  It was hard to believe the Republicans offered up such poor quality candidates while the Democrats focused on making Clinton their one and only champion.  Of course we were entertained just like the Romans who loved watching their favorite gladiators.  And in the end there was just carnage and ruin.  But I digress…

I also worked to improve the quality of recreational life in my small community.  I’ve been working to get two new boat accesses in Clay City on the Red River and in the long term to get more small craft accesses along the River along the entire length of the river.  We’re soooo close now!  I also championed a short multiuse trail south of Stanton through the community industrial park and applied for a grant to get it built.  We haven’t heard yet if we were awarded the money, but there is a distinct possibility that it may see daylight in the coming year as well.  I convinced my employer to create a space for me and they agreed for me to be the unofficial (for now) regional bike-ped coordinator and trails and greenways specialist for our area.  While I’ve been focused a lot on land use planning I have been busy working on other trail projects and we hope in the future that I will be able to dedicate all of my time to these efforts.

I also spent a few months as a board member for KYMBA Bluegrass, but left to help get the new IMBA chapter going.  I’ve been elected interim president until we have enough members and a full board but I have a feeling the title is going to stick for a while.

Our Slade Trail Town efforts have paid off as well.  I sat on that committee and provided significant input into a vision for trails in the future.  I think Slade’s recognition should have been a foregone conclusion, but I’m happy to have been a part of the committee that actually saw the process through and made it happen.

Through most of these efforts I’ve struggled with my role.  The deep and honest truth is I don’t want to be an advocate.  I don’t want to be the guy who works to create trail opportunities and who plans and builds trails.  I really just want to come home from a hard day of writing from home, throw on my kit, and go hit the trails until dark or hunger overtakes me.  To be one hundred percent honest I don’t care about community or synergy or any of those lofty ideas.  I just want to ride my damn bike.  I get dragged into all of the other things because no one else has stepped up to be the champion in my area and so therefore none of the experiences I want to have exists.  I teeter between selfish ambition and in a lucid vision for what the area could be.  The vision is what keeps me hyperfocused, and the selfish ambition drives the strategies to recruit, cajole, and shame others into helping me realize the vision.

I rode in a few new areas this year.  I went to Knoxville, Tennessee in the spring for the Professional Trail Builders Association conference.  It was a great conference, and I got to sample riding in the area including the Knoxville Urban Wilderness, Sharp’s Ridge, and Bandy Creek in the Big South Fork.

As a family we made a couple of trips to ride the Dawkins Line to our immediate east.  I made one detour and quick ride at Jenny Wiley on the way back from a SOAR conference in Pikeville.  Continuing in the conference opportunist theme for early 2016 I rode at Waverly and the new Parklands at Floyd’s Fork in Louisville during the Governor’s Local Issues Conference.
Dawkins Line Rail Trail

Parklands at Floyd's Fork

Sheltowee Trace south of S-Tree

I also finally rode at S-Tree south of home.  I meant to ride the singletrack section of the Sheltowee north of the campground but ended up taking a wrong turn and rode quite a bit of the multiuse (ATV/MTB/hike/horseback) section south of S-Tree.  While it wasn’t a terrible experience it did just reinforce in my mind the travesty of the management of the Sheltowee Trace.

Over Fourth of July we camped at Zilpo on Cave Run and paddled a bit in our new kayaks.  We obtained two as birthday/Mothers Day/Fathers Day gifts for Mandy and I and two more so we could take the kids.  We also spent time on the Red River and checking out some area lakes and ponds over the summer.  We’re really looking forward to improved access on the Red at Clay City in the coming year.

Once again Mandy and I and her dad and Jeaph and Casey made our annual pilgrimage to Loudonville, Ohio for the Mohican 100.  Jeaph did the race and I committed to photographing the race.  Afterward Jeaph insisted that my photos were the best of all those he saw online from other photographers.  I was skeptical, but when I looked at the other galleries I realized I had taken some memorable shots.  That inspired me to try and shoot the Rough Trail 50k ultra-trail run in November and try to sell my images.  While the photos turned out good I failed to capture the entire field.  I also lack the technical skills to set up a working online interface so I have yet to put the images out for purchase so I feel I have somewhat failed even though I managed to get some decent shots.  I don’t know that I’m ready to start doing this even part time until I sort out the business side of it.
Mohican 100

Rough Trail 50k
In writing I finally got to see my name in print.  Keith Snyder’s third installment of the RIDE short story collections was published.  My piece “All You Haters” was the first story in the book.  That boosted my confidence and gave me a shot of inspiration.  I still have not put Leadville or Bust out into the world but I got a lot closer.  A good friend designed a stellar cover for me and I almost pulled the trigger to buy ISBNs for digital and print editions.  Soon…

I also penned a piece I called “The Economy of Rock and Dirt.”  It began as a blog post here, but I also submitted it to my local paper and they published it.  While I didn’t get a lot of positive local feedback it has become a sort of outline for my public meeting rhetoric in regards to economic and tourism development.

While I still long to be a professional writer I just don’t see the clear path out of the dark labyrinth of my mind carrying the words and ideas I have been burdened with.  It’s complicated and exhausting to think about.

Last Christmas I got some new climbing gear.  Alter in the year I sent my old camming devices off to have their slings replaced.  While we didn’t exactly have a good ROI in 2016 I am determined to return to climbing at least at a casual level.  I may never climb hard again, but I will climb as long as my body allows.  I fully intend to be active into my sixties, seventies, and hopefully beyond. 


I made a disappointing but enjoyable return to mountain bike racing in 2016.  Instead of shooting for the moon with endurance racing I tried my hand at short course mountain bike racing.  Initially I had intended to participate in a slew of the Kentucky Point Series races but only managed to make the Cave Run and Capitol View Park (Bluegrass State Games) races, and I finally bit the bullet and did the 12 Hours of Capitol View race though it cost me some recovery time after a couple of hard crashes in the mud.  Mandy and I also participated in the Wildcat Mountain Challenge in Livingston.  While I enjoyed it thoroughly despite being woefully unprepared for the effort many of the racers were rightly annoyed at the poor course markings and slipshod organization of the event.  It did act as a sort of shakedown cruise for our new kayaks.
12 Hours of CVP
The summer was punctuated nicely by the KYMBA Women’s Clinic.  I volunteered as a “local trail guide” and Mandy participated in the event.  We both had a great day and it inspired us to go visit Cave Run soon after.  Mandy enjoyed that trip as well, despite it being a ride suspiciously like many of our historic epics in the past.  But instead of being disastrous it was actually an enjoyable mountain bike ride in the woods.  I can’t say enough good things about skills clinics.  I feel like my own riding would greatly benefit from one and Mandy and I both agree the Women’s Clinic did a world of good for her.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have it in her to be a good rider.  She’s been a solid road cyclist for years.  She’s put in hundred if not thousands of miles on her bike and knows her way around velocipedic conveyances, but just simple demonstrations and practice of basic skills can bring a rider up to a common level of proficiency that increases the enjoyment of the activity whatever it may be.  I hope that the CRRRGMBA can host many such clinics in the coming years.

As a final bookend of the year I had an epiphany.  Ever since I discovered an unnatural love for long distance mountain biking I’ve wanted to see a one hundred mile mountain bike race occur in the Red River Gorge area; not within the Gorge proper but in this immediate area.  I’ve considered putting one on myself ever since we moved back from Colorado.  The main hurdle was the lack of a good off-pavement route. 

Autumn was dry in our neck of the woods as it was in many places.  After a protracted dry spell I decided it was time to go out and revisit some old haunts that I had found destroyed by ATV/ORVs while we abided in the Colorful State.  First I rode Spaas Creek and Pumpkin Hollow in an eighteen mile loop.  I realized I was riding a portion of the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway which had opened to the public earlier in 2016.  It had been pieced together as an “off-road” scenic tour of the Gorge area for street legal off-road vehicles.  It was advertised as being all on county “maintained” roads.  I enjoyed my Spaas/Pumpkin loop and when I looked deeper into the DBBB I discovered it was a ninety mile loop.  Ninety.  That’s almost one hundred.

That revelation alone didn’t spawn a one hundred mile mountain bike race, but the gears were turning.  What popped my clutch was learning that good old Joe was planning to put on a one hundred mile mountain bike race.  Joe—who had no idea people raced mountain bikes that far before meeting me—Joe—who is not a mountain biker—Joe—who has never raced mountain bikes in his life or participated in a mountain bike race…Joe was going to realize my dream and vision.  If it had been anyone else I think I would have been stoked.  If someone else were organizing the race that would mean I could just sign up, train, and utterly fail to win.  BUT, that would also mean things had really changed in the area and mountain biking was really taking off.  Instead, it was just Joe trying to capitalize on something he knows absolutely nothing about.  Deep in my bones it felt wrong.  Something in me snapped, and I began fighting to make my vision for a mountain bike race reality.

I have days that I just don’t want to do it.  I regret ever committing to doing it.  I could still walk away.  I’ve not invested much money in it yet.  Just a couple of URLs.  But I want to see this happen.  There has been a huge wave of positive interest in the race.  I have people offering to help.  And I’ll need help!  It’s going to be a lot of work.  It’s going to be a big thing. 

I harbor no illusions that someday my job will be organizing this race, so that hangs out there like some space junk for our colony ship to hit.  Our Starship Titanic. 

Something holds me on this course.  For now.  I want to see this through.  Too many things in life I give up on.  Too many things in life I leave undone.  It’s my burden and my curse.

When I do complete things they end up being good.  That should be enough to keep me motivated, but somehow it’s not. 

I got a new bike this year.  It’s a mountain bike.  It’s a plus-sized bike.  It’s designed for moderately paced adventure and not so much for racing.  The bike is fun to ride.  It provides opportunities for escape and for experience.  I guess for a bookend to 2016 that’s a pretty good thing to sign off on.  I have the tools to pedal away from my front porch and go out into the world a-wheel and just be.  That should be enough.

I’ve decided in 2017 I will go back to tracking my bicycling miles.  And running.  And maybe hiking and paddling too.  I won’t do this to humble brag.  My intention is to keep myself motivated and inspired and hopefully to show others what is possible. 

My hope is that a year from now you’ll be reading a more mellow and satisfied Chainring.  My hope is that a year from now I will be offering you less gadgets and more game.  My hope is that in the coming year we can forget the coming atrocities, neglect to care about socio-political divisiveness, and just ride our bikes.  Or hike on trails.  Or paddle the rivers.  Or lay on our backs under clear night skies and lose ourselves in the stars.  I don’t need a moon to howl at.  I go quietly, and carefully, and try not to make my presence known so much.  I rather to look back and talk about where I’ve been and who I’ve ran with and dream about where I’ll go next time.

The last thing I really need to say is that I have come to appreciate my family for different reasons this past year.  I know I may not have conveyed that distinctly here, but its been something I've worked quietly in my mind.  I love my wife more than ever.  We've had our rough times in 2016, but after seventeen years together I am as confident now as I was all those years ago that we are right for each other.  We compliment each other in ways I truly still do not understand. 
My children are growing into amazing people.  It's hard to believe they're almost ten and fourteen.  They've shared this journey with us and they've been a part of all of my adventures whether they were with me or I was thinking of how I could include them the next time I visited whatever incredible place I was in at the time.  I may have failed to crack the nut but not for lack of will.  I wrestle with other demons that make it difficult for me to process the world outside my head.  Sometimes I get lazy and opt to focus inwardly.  That's my own struggle, and I forever seek to throw off that burden from my shoulders, but as of yet have not.
Having said all that, I look forward to watching my kids grow into adults and to see who they become and all of the amazing things they'll do in life.  I hope I have brewed some recklessness into them, but also a sober and thoughtful approach to life and to changing the world.  If not, that is my intent in the coming years.  The underlying and perhaps unstated theme of 2016 for me has been: "if not me, then who?" 


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fatter Than Average

 Ages ago I was a non-traditional college student at Eastern Kentucky University.  I was in my thirties, married, and had two kids.  Of course I was less than cool.  I felt myself invisible on campus to the younger crowd.  Late in my tenure there I took a gen ed health class.  I had put it off for as long as I could, but finally, I had to take the class as I approached graduation.  I won’t even go into the STD video I was forced to watch.  I begged the TA to not make me watch the graphic video, but it was a requirement of the course.  To graduate ultimately…

Anyway, one of the required assignments of the class was to attend a campus health fair.  At the second station a pretty young co-ed asked me to stand on a scale.  I sighed and stepped up.  I knew I was fat.  I knew to the nineteen year old very fit young lady standing there with the clipboard I must look like a middle-aged slob.

She noted my weight, handed me my form to take on to the next station and said “Next.” As I walked to the next health station I looked at my weight results.  There was weight, height, BMI and where I expected to see “overweight” or “obese” the young college student had written boldly “FATTER THAN AVERAGE.”

I had to laugh to myself.  I knew that couldn’t be a clinical term.  It probably applied to me.  But c’mon, fatter than average?  Oh well.

The first time I had the opportunity to ride a fat bike was at a Surly bike demo in Buffalo Creek, Colorado. We were living in the Denver metro area at the time.  I was a fully time bike commuter, fledgling mountain biker, and Leadville 100 aspirant.  Actually, I think it was right after I had DNFed during my first Leadville attempt.  Anyway…
Surly Krampus, Buffalo Creek, CO
My local bike shop had sponsored the demo along with Surly and I desperately wanted to go ride a Krampus which is a 29+ bike.  That is, it’s not a fully fat bike with 4” tires, but slightly slimmer with still very large 3” tires. I loved that bike.  The plus bike was a dream to ride on the pea-sized decomposed granite of Buffalo Creek.  I was smitten to be sure.  In fact, I wanted to leave Surly with my empty debit card and just ride off into the sunset on the Krampus.  But like the civilized human I am I returned the bike and continued to pine for it for years.  Money was an issue.  I couldn’t justify the coin needed to procure a Surly Krampus whilst housing two other mountain bikes, a cargo bike, and a road bike.  Still I pined.

Last year I came across a review of the Marin Pine Mountain.  I had been riding my singlespeed Redline almost exclusively.  I had put a rigid fork on it and was loving the simplicity and elegance of a rigid singlespeed bike.  However, I wanted a better geared bike for my aging knees and hips that would inspire me like the singlespeed.  I wanted a bike that would appeal to my love of that old 1994 Cannondale M300 that I’d converted to a cargo bike.  I wanted a bike that would speak to my sense of nostalgia.  Marin’s fully rigid 27.5+ 1x10 Pine Mountain fit the bill. And so I Pined.  I called Mike’s Hike and Bike as they were the only local Marin dealer.  They didn’t have them.  Would be after the first of the year (2016).  I called back.  And again.  Until they had them and I went on a cold day and rode a large frame Pine Mountain around the parking lots of downtown Richmond, Kentucky.  I was hooked. 

My new bike is fatter than average.  Oh yes, I finally got one.  It’s a funny story that.

I was racing around the day of the Rough Trail 50k taking photos and shuttling aid station supplies when I ran into THE Mike of Mike’s Hike and Bike at Koomer Ridge Campground.  I stopped to chat for just a second.  I wanted to ask if his shop could rebuild the suspension fork on my Cannondale.  It’s been five years; the bike needs some serious love in its bearings and seals.  He said he could and gave me a ballpark idea of the cost.  He also offered a suggestion accompanied with a knowing grin:

“Maybe it’s time for a new bike.”

I agreed, haha, and mentioned I needed to get bearings for the front wheel of that bike too.

Before I bolted to interject myself back into the race I also mentioned that I was still interested in the Marin Pine Mountain he had in his shop.  With that I was off and racing my own race in support of the race.

Back at home that evening I mentioned to Mandy the conversation I’d had with Mike. I gave her the less than thumbnail sketch of the conversation I described above and near the end of my epic tale she cut me off:

“I bought you the Pine Mountain!”

I was uncharacteristically speechless.

In a flood of words she told me how she had called the bike shop and purchased the bike.  She defended telling me of it because listening to me tell of my conversation with Mike she panicked and was afraid I would do something rash like buy the bike outright or put it on layaway like I had threatened a couple of times.

In my defense I wouldn’t have done either of those things without consulting her.  The only bike I’ve bought without previously discussing was the Redline singlespeed and that was because I sold Minus to fund the purchase.  Bike-for-a-bike kind of situation…

Anyway, so now I have a bike I can better relate to from a body-type standpoint.  We’re both “fatter than average.” I’ve never really been drawn to the full fat Pugsley or Moonlanders and their ilk.  While I can see the appeal the plus sized bikes have seemed more my speed and shape.
Imitating my ride
I do have to add that when I do the Mohican this year or any KY Point Series races or the 12 Hour Race I will be riding the Cannondale (aka, The One).  Its lighter and more nimble.  The Pine Mountain is just not a racy type bike.  But then again, I’m not really a racy type guy.  I occasionally donate money to various race events and then proceed to get in the way of everyone behind me who is gunning for the finish. 

I don’t know, maybe I will race the PM on shorter courses.  But for the long stuff—for Mohicans and Leadv…other endurance races—I’ll likely ride The One.

And that is my post-Christmas report.