Friday, October 13, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Here's Hopeful Edition

I signed up for the Fig.  I'm out of shape.  I do have all the gear I need.  My strengths are my intimate knowledge of the terrain and my dogged determination and willingness to suffer.

My main weakness right now are these bum ankles.  It's both of them now, not just my "bad" left one.  Being out of shape simply means the suffering will start earlier.  Tweaking an ankle out on the course means probably not finishing. 

Last night I ran two miles.  Off the couch.  Felt good then and still feel good now.  Ankles held up.  I ran on absolutely flat pavement.  Still, I am hopeful.

I've got three weeks to get conditioned and in a little better shape.  I think I can do this.  Main thing will be to NOT injure myself prior to race day.  I'm not questioning my decision to do the Fig solo, but there's part of me that would like to do it with a team in the future.  I wanted my first go to be a test against myself.  Can I bring all of my skills together and pull off a decent showing?  Set a baseline for future efforts.

I've been itching to ride, so this weekend I'm going to ride, but I think afterward I'll focus on running and hiking.  Oddly, that seems like my achilles heel so to speak.  Historically, I've been solid on foot when other modes of movement have failed me.  Time to straighten this stuff out.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

It Figures...


Last Wednesday morning I signed up for The Fig.  It’s an adventure race in the Unbridled Series put on by 361° Adventures.  For years I’ve hem-hawed around to do an adventure race or more specifically to sign up for the Fig which is on my home turf.  I’ve had various friends through the years that have tried to convince me to join a team or to do it solo.  I’ve always had my reasons for not doing it.  Finally, this year, it came up again and again until finally I said “I’ll do it.”  What convinced me was when an experienced adventure racer (and now a national champion) told me I would do really well in the Fig based on my local knowledge and other abilities.  That was the final nudge I needed.  But I wanted to wait until the hundred mile race was over to commit.  So now I’m committed.

Water leg of the 2014 Fig 12 Hour Race at Mill Creek Lake
Bike leg in Big Sinking
 I have a month to physically prepare for it.  The race is November 4th.  Mentally I don’t think there’s much I need to do.  This kind of thing is my game.  I live to tromp around in the woods in (hopefully) cool weather.  I’ve laid out of races and events for a long while now.  I was going too hard and ended up grinding myself down.  I’m finally starting to feel like I should.  I’m finally itching to get back in the game.

The only hitch in my giddyup is that I’m running with a potentially sprained ankle right now.  I can’t figure out what happened.  It just started tweaking when I walk on flat ground a few weeks ago and just won’t go away.  I didn’t roll it.  I didn’t jump down on it that I can remember.  It’s just feels weak and tweaky.  Of course that won’t affect the bike or paddling legs of the race, but it will definitely slow me down on foot.  I’m actually afraid to try to run on it right now.  And I need to do some running to get into better shape for said Fig.

Anyway, I need to buckle down.  The post-race week is over and we’re into the second post-race week.  Things should be normal even though it feels like I have less time than before the race.  Ha!


Monday, October 9, 2017

Dear KYMBA - Bluegrass

In the weeks leading up to the Red River Gorge MTB 100 I had decided afterward I was going to post up a "Dear John" letter regarding my retirement from trying to build mountain bike trails. 

I have nothing but gratitude to everyone who participated in or volunteered to help us put on the hundred mile race.  On Sept 30 I saw the mountain bike community come together for the event and we could not have put on a successful race without those who were involved with us, gave physical, material and moral support, and who came out and raced. 

I want everyone to take this as me attempting to be diplomatic when I say all of this...I moved back to Kentucky five years ago and was disturbed by the lack of mountain biking advocacy and activity in Eastern Kentucky. Since then a lot has changed...but not because of the efforts of KYMBA. And honestly, in my estimation the progress in Eastern Kentucky has been in spite of KYMBA.

I was nominated and elected to the Bluegrass board of directors a couple of years ago, and when I went in and asked for help and support to develop more trails in the Gorge area I kind of got the cold shoulder. So I immediately stepped down from the board to focus my energies in my home area. I've spoken to other local actors in Eastern Kentucky and they don't have a high opinion of KYMBA. I'm not calling names and I'm not trying to cause division or heartburn in any way. I'm simply stating what I've seen. 

There is a persistent call for an "Eastern KY chapter of KYMBA" to address the needs of those few of us who want to make things happen where there is huge opportunity. Myself and a few others formed the Cave Run - Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance to try to do this, but we're struggling to get it off the ground because all of us work full time and are trying to do a whole lot on the ground with few resources at the same time.

I've decided I can't afford to try and keep the Alliance going and at the same time keep trying to build trails. And to be honest I can't do either one of those and put on a hundred mile mountain bike race. Since the race was successful I feel like putting my energy into seeing it succeed is really where I should focus. That leaves no one to keep the torch burning in the RRG even though there's tremendous potential. It's frustrating.

I’ve been in direct communication with Jon Kazmierski who is the new District Ranger for Cave Run and RRG and he will work with us.  He and I have identified at least two potential projects that could be game changers for the Gorge region.  I am not kidding you that there is potential for a 20 mile network of trails completely separated from the existing Gorge trails and which could all be oriented toward mountain biking.  But that project needs serious mtb community support to make it happen.

He and I have also broadly discussed a possible network of trails that could connect to Irvine which is now wet and is seeing a boom in the music and restaurant scene.  Again, huge opportunity, close to central Ky, but it’s not something I can do on my own. Irvine could be a mountain biking mecca with a little attention.

Eastern Kentucky has the potential to be as good as the other destination areas you all travel to: Pisgah, Brown County, etc, etc. And the areas in Eastern Kentucky aren't confined by city park boundaries. We could have long trails and complex networks of trails with interesting terrain. But we'll never have those things without some unity and cooperative effort.

Lee County wants to apply for a rec trails grant to connect downtown Beattyville to the trail system I've been working on for three years. With the vision we have there could be a 20+ mile loop beginning and ending in downtown Beattyvillle.  Beattyville keeps getting beat up in the national press because of its poverty.  That could change in a short time if the community can embrace and develop its proximity to adventure recreation like mountain biking.  The opportunity is incredible, but the resources are scarce.  If/when Beattyville goes wet and sees some development it could also be a mtbing hub.  Things are moving in the right direction.

The real problem is that I am the sole actor keeping things going around the Gorge, and I am on the verge of burning out.  I simply cannot keep swinging a rogue hoe by myself and make it happen.  I wish I could turn to KYMBA, but KYMBA has been a dead end to me for five years.

I’ve been told KYMBA Bluegrass covers the whole state not already covered by Southwest, Lincoln Trail, and Louisville chapters, but that’s simply not true.  Bluegrass covers the Bluegrass.  The rest of the state outside the other chapters is unrepresented.

I applaud the efforts that got Veterans, CVP, Skullbuster, and LAC built.  But maybe it’s time for KYMBA Bluegrass to scale up and truly expand, or there needs to be a solid EKY chapter that focuses on the needs of those of us east of I-75.  Or we could let the opportunities die on the vine.  I think those are the options we have.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Origins of the Red River Gorge MTB 100--Or, a Long and Winding Path


In 2010 I went and watched Race Across the Sky 2010 in the theater.  My father-in-law (Tomahawk) recommended that Mandy and I watch Ride the Divide after he saw it on the Documentary Channel.  We watched it, were hooked, and then shortly thereafter heard about the premier of the Leadville movie.  Before I even got home from the theater I had decided I wanted to do the Leadville 100.  Over the next two years as I schemed there was also the idea that maybe the Red River Gorge would be a good place to put on a hundred mile mountain bike race.
Mandy and I had never put on an event like it before.  Part of my job in Colorado was to review special event permits which included a lot of road rides (including the first two years of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge) and the Bailey HUNDO.  I knew what it took to put together a good event. 
We had volunteered at Leadville, the Copper Triangle, the Denver Century and others, and both of us always watched and critiqued the events we participated in.  After we moved back to Kentucky in 2013 we volunteered for the Horse Capital Marathon, I proofed for the Mohican 100, and we began volunteering at trail running events and helping our friends Mike and Brandy Whisman with their Next Opportunity Events.  And in the meantime we rode the KY Century Challenge, the Mohican 100, and did a bunch of other cycling and running events, always keeping an eye on the logistics and the nuts and bolts of how events were being run and categorizing them.  Except for the Next Opportunity Events we always felt like we could do as good or better a job than the organizers. 
After we moved back, I ran in--and then we got involved with--the Rugged Red trail half marathon.  I’ve told the story elsewhere, but that fell through.  During the time we were helping Joe plan I mentioned more than once that we should also plan a hundred mile mountain bike race like the Leadville 100.  Joe (supposedly) reached out to Ken Chlouber and invited him to come visit us in Kentucky.  That never materialized. 
However, the seed had been planted.  I didn’t have a route; that had always been the problem.  I had been trying to come up with something for at least a couple of years going back to the time we still lived in Colorado. 
This route was all over the map, literally, and it incorporated Hatton Ridge and Powder Mill Trail into Indian Creek

 

By 2014 we were kicking around the idea of putting on a road event.  We invited a member of a central Kentucky cycling club to discuss it with us, but we felt like the meeting was more about maintaining control over events in the area and not really in helping us succeed.  We were told that we—the local cyclists—weren’t welcome to put on a road event in October because it would compete and potentially interfere with a club ride they put on.  The club was made up of folks outside the Gorge geographic area.  We decided no one was going to tell us when we could plan an event in our own hometown, but didn’t want to burn any bridges. At the same time Cliff Cantrell had given me the signs left over from the Tour of the Red River Gorge race.  Those signs were a constant reminder of the unplanned race.

The dream to put on a one hundred mile mountain bike race on my home turf was always there in the background.  I would sit at my computer at work and map routes on Map My Ride, but nothing ever seemed to be a good enough route; too much pavement, too much work to make broken connections, too many sections that would not be consumable for a race audience.
When I rode I dreamed about some day in the future when it would be possible.  I started working toward getting new trails built…looking for opportunities to make connections, trying to work out and develop stretches of forgotten roads and old trails. 
In late 2016 it all finally came together.  I had been riding sections of the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway with the personal goal of doing it all in a single day on my mountain bike.  I wasn’t sure of the exact mileage or route that fall, but when I saw a social media post with a map of the byway and the length listed as “90+ miles” it all clicked.
Over the next couple of months I kept riding little sections of it and trying to map out something reasonable.  There was a progression of course configurations before I finally settled on one that was fairly close to the final route.
Back when I was still considering it as a virtual race
This is about 60% of the final course
With this one I hadn't yet decided to use the tunnel or
Walker Creek and was still looking at routing through Hollerwood


I had been working on new singletrack in the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) owned by the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition.  I was also exploring possibilities within Hollerwood Park (motorized off-road).  After a couple of rides with friends through Hollerwood they talked me out of using that area.  It was simply too muddy, and there is too much off-road traffic and issues that I wouldn’t have time to solve before a fall race.  At that point we had decided on fall…late September…though I can’t remember if we had announced it yet or decided on an exact date.  But the prospect of trying to build new trail in two different locations (PMRP and Hollerwood) was daunting as I was already having trouble getting help in PMRP.  I decided to abandon the Hollerwood area and focus on one system of singletrack to maximize the distance for the race.
The original format of the race was going to be a virtual, underground, grassroots type race like those in the Colorado Endurance Series.  I had participated in the Cougar Slayer after my first Leadville attempt and I figured that format would work and that way I wasn’t on the hook to a bunch of mid-packer and elite racers who would expect too much.  There would be no overhead on my part and it could just be a way to get folks together to see what the Gorge area has to offer.  Initially my working title for the race was the Red River Gorge Epic.  That never really pinned it down for me.  It left too much unexplained.  But that didn’t matter when it was a virtual race.
Then I heard that Joe Bowen was planning on putting on a hundred mile mountain bike race in the Gorge.  Without really consulting Mandy I put it out there that we would put on the first ever one hundred mile mountain bike race in the Gorge.  I didn’t know at the time if that meant the underground race or a legit paid event.  It didn’t matter.  I had to get it out there.
Joe eventually told me he would bow out, and by then we had committed to a full blown paid event.  From early summer on, the race loomed and there were so many unanswered problems that just wouldn’t get solved until early to mid-September.  I had my moments of doubt.  There were a couple of times I did the math and figured I could refund most of people’s money as we hadn’t spent much yet.  And then we bought the finisher belt buckles.  Then we ordered t-shirts.  Then registration was growing.  The option to cancel the race had evaporated and the pressure and stress mounted.
Folks kept asking if there was going to be a shorter version.  Out of the gate I responded with a resounding NO.  I tried to map a viable shorter option, but nothing materialized that would be efficient without including a lot of extra pavement.  I finally decided it would take a lot more resources to try and put on an event with multiple distances spread out over the region and that it wouldn't be a good idea.  People still ask for a shorter distance.  I stick to my guns for now.
The course at that time started at 4 Guys RV Park in Nada, then it went through Nada Tunnel, turned west on North Fork Road until it picked up the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway (DBBB) on Cane Creek and followed it all the way until it hit KY 11 near Zoe.  There the course deviated into Bald Rock to access the singletrack before rejoining the DBBB at Caves Fork.  I was never happy with the section that went into Campton on a long stretch of busy paved road.  I finally decided to explore Walker Creek, which was an internal spur of the DBBB shown on the official maps.  Walker Creek turned out to be pretty amazing.  It’s an old railroad alignment through amazing terrain.  I decided to deviate onto it, picking up a few more miles of off-road and bypassing the bad section of paved road.
A couple of days later I had a meeting with Wolfe County Search and Rescue and one of the members asked how I was getting out of Walker Creek.  I told her, and she said “Oh no, you need to come on down Walker Creek and come out through our property.”  Mandy and I went the next weekend and met with Carol Schoolcraft and walked through her horse pasture and down a steep road through the woods to where it met with the old rail line over two miles further south from where I had originally intended to climb out for a total of six miles on the “rail trail” in Walker Creek.  We had our final course minus the singletrack which was still under construction.
For three years I had been working on trails in Flat Hollow and Bald Rock Fork.  I had a few successful trail days, but progress was slow and frustrating.  I built a lot of trail alone, clearing old logging and oil access roads and establishing treads to form a four mile loop around the valley.  With the help of a few dedicated friends we managed to eek out a couple of miles of actual trail, but I never could seem to get the other two miles on the north end finished.  Finally it came down to needing 0.2 mile of singletrack cut to make the crucial connection to pick up the north side for the race.  I scheduled two trail days.  No one showed up for the first one and no one expressed any interest in the second one.  To say I was fed up is an understatement.  I was downright pissed, and burned out, and just tired of begging people to help me. 
My original vision for the race was to bring more mountain bikers into the area.  I figured if we could boost some interest maybe we could get more people to come help build trails.  I know it’s a long drive for a lot of people, but that’s absolutely no excuse.  The Red River Gorge became an international rock climbing destination because climbers drove from Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Columbus and beyond to develop and promote the routes that have become known throughout the world.  The excuses that it’s too far to come and build trails or come and ride don’t hold water.  Once the nearby Sugarcamp Mountain Trails started gaining popularity and Cave Run began seeing a revival mountain bikers from Central Kentucky and points west have been flocking to those areas which are deeper into Eastern Kentucky than the Gorge area.  I began to take it personally.  A month before the race I decided I was done building trails.  Someone else could take up the torch.  Six days after the race I’m not sure yet if I’ve changed my mind on that. 
Final version of the race course without singletrack section
There was one final course consideration to make.  Mountain Springs Road on the Powell/Estill County line was a contentious segment of the DBBB.  Legal access had been tied up in court since soon after I began seriously planning the race.  I held off putting out a course map for a long time waiting to see what would happen.  Finally I put it out with a caveat to be careful riding that section for training.  Two weeks before the race and a couple days after the judge determined the road should stay open for public use I rode Mountain Springs road from the 90 mile point on the race course.  I remembered why I enjoyed it the few times I had ridden in in 2013 and 2014.  But it was tough, technical, and it would come at mile 90. 
In the end I decided to drop Mountain Springs Road from the course because I didn't want racers to be going in there late in the day into a remote and difficult-to-access section of the backcountry and risk getting seriously hurt and then pulling search and rescue into a night extraction.  I opted to drop it for safety reasons even though it meant trading those few miles for more pavement.  I still feel like it was a wise choice and will stick with it in future years unless conditions change favorably. 
Anyway, the cutoff for registration was coming up and we still had a lot to do with only three weeks to go.  At the last minute registration spiked and we ended up with 102 signed up for the inaugural race.  Immediately after registration closed we had quite a few people ask if they could sign up late, so we decided we’d allow a Friday night late registration at packet pickup.  It looked like maybe we’d have another ten to twenty sign up Friday night.  We mighty actually have one hundred racers start on Saturday morning. 
Most of our volunteer and aid station commitments came within the last month.  Almost all of the volunteers confirmed in the week leading up to the race.  In a way that was better for me because I have a feeling even if I had people committing six months earlier likely I would have had to be pinning down the details that last week again anyway.
With each new item checked off our to-do list in that week it was looking more and more like things were going to go extremely well.  By Thursday everything had kind of fallen into place.  On Friday evening I told someone “I’ve done everything I can do to make this a success; at this point its up to the racers and the volunteers to carry it home.”  Don’t get me wrong, Saturday was a lot of hard work, but the ball was rolling determinedly down the hill at that point.  Nothing was going to stop the race. 
It went off relatively without a hitch.  We had a few small issues, but really nothing to write home about.  All the complaints and issues raised were things that didn’t affect many people or things we had thought of but were unable to incorporate into the event the first year.  In the end we were both incredibly happy about the outcome and so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that our hearts near burst with gratitude. 
2017 was a test run.  We needed to see how the course was going to be received and I have heard almost unanimous positive reviews of it.  We needed to see if we could rally enough volunteers to make it a safe and enjoyable event and we pulled that off too.  Going forward there is no reasons for us not to pursue this event like a full-fledged mountain bike race with everything you would expect including sponsors and prize money.  And now that we have a successful inaugural event...
The race is a vehicle.  I want to see it improve the communities it passes through.  I want to see it bring sustainable tourism business into the area.  I want to see it support the construction of new purpose-built bike-optimized singletrack trails in the area.  I want the race and any other events we develop to raise and channel money directly into the hands of local young people and to be a conduit between the communities I love and the outside world in a positive way.  And the truth is I would love for this race and other events to be an opportunity for me to get out of office life and back into the outdoors more.  Whether that happens or not is secondary to my other visions and dreams for the race, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I hoped for. 
The race is finally starting to wrap up, wind down, and demand less of my time.  I figure in a week or so everything will be organized and put away and folks will stop asking about drop bags and the kudos and comments will taper off.  That’s a good thing.  I feel really good about what we did.  And it was a big WE effort.  Maybe it was my vision to begin with, but I get the distinct feeling it’s not just my thing anymore.  A lot of people are invested in this now, and a lot of people are looking forward to coming back next year.  And I don’t mean just the racers.
There you have it, the whole story, or as much as I care to tell, of how the Red River Gorge MTB 100 came to be.  I’ve chronicled the personal struggles I went through during that time, but that part doesn’t need to go down with this more concise summary of this past year.  If you care to go back and read I won’t stop you, but it’s unnecessary to understand or enjoy riding your mountain bike in the Red River Gorge.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Hump Day Harangue: The Story I Told


After three days we’re still digging out from under the race.  Mandy got our living space mostly put back together yesterday.  I rounded up the last few loose items in the yard and threw them into the trailer this morning on my way to work so our guy could mow the yard today.  Our basement is a wreck with piles of signs, race debris, and the random collection of junk from our lives that was unorganized before all this chaos.  Tonight, I wade in to put things in order.
The Red River Gorge MTB 100 was a great success.  Next year is a go.  October 13, 2018 will be the date.  Same venue.  Basically the same course unless singletrack miracles happen.  Same folks.  Same friends.  Same racers and then some.  It’ll be grand again.  We’ve learned a lot and we’ll make sure to incorporate everything we learned into the race next year and into anything else we do. 
I’m going to throw my name back into the Leadville lottery.  It might be stupid with our event coming up, but I think I can balance it.  The key will be just being healthy.  I’ll ride what I can and do my best to eat well and have good habits.  That’s the thing I never did right before.  If I don’t get in that’s okay.  I’ll pick a different race to throw myself up against.  Probably something shorter and closer to home.  Maybe I’ll try to improve my Mohican game.  But I think I want to do something different.  And no, I won’t be racing in the RRG MTB 100, lol. 
I do intend to ride the course this year though.  I had fully intended to do it before the race, but I never got the opportunity.  Well, I’ll have it now.  I’m going to do it before next year’s race.  Probably solo.  Probably unsupported.  That’s just how I end up doing things.  Or, I’m certain, my lovely wife and the real Race Director will run SAG for me.  We’ll do it all quiet like.  No fanfare.  No timing.
Maybe that’s the only hundred mile race I’ll need to do…the one against myself on the course I came up with.
The course is autobiographical.  I’ve mentioned this to a few people, but I want to explain it.  My earliest memories in life include the Red River Gorge.  The first dream I can remember having was a nightmare about colors swirling in the muddy river, reds like blood and browns as I was used to seeing as my parents drove me around the county.  Nada Tunnel has existed in my awareness since I became aware.  And it was on Cane Creek where my child’s mind began to remember and process the world.  The race goes through the tunnel, up North Fork, and then onto Cane Creek past the trailer where I lived and the farm my family owned.  I remember playing while they stripped tobacco and cut soybeans.  I remember playing in the creek, climbing fences, and sledding in the big snow of '77.
Then the race drops over into Menifee County by way of Pumpkin Hollow and then returns into the woods to drop into Spaas Creek.  Spaas Creek was the first place I mountain biked with intention; riding around in my surplus camo pants, hiking boots, cotton tee-shirt and no helmet.  From there it follows pavement through the Red River Gorge.  The Gorge has been my solace and refuge throughout my adult life.  And as a child my family spent a lot of time there hiking and canoeing, picnicking and going for drives.  The Gorge is my home.  I am native to this place.  I’m not at peace anywhere else.
From Sky Bridge Station the course takes KY 715 past the small community of Rogers before dropping into Walker Creek.  Walker Creek is a new discovery for me, but it is part of the old Kentucky Union Railway which I have been familiar with my entire life.  Railroad Street in Stanton follows the same line.  The tunnels at Natural Bridge and Torrent are part of that line.  Old buttresses I’ve seen from the car window across farm fields and while paddling the river were part of the KU line.  So discovering that I could ride my mountain bike for six miles on a fairly unspoiled section of that old railroad was exciting to me.  I had to include it on the course.  And in my opinion it’s the best part of the course and the section that makes it all worthwhile. 
Then the course climbs onto Shoemaker Ridge, traverses Hell Creek, and then winds its way to Bald Rock Fork of Big Sinking Creek.  Bald Rock is part of the Big Sinking Oil Field and my maternal grandfather—“Papaw Lacy”—worked all over that area for Ashland Oil until he was too sick from cancer to keep working.  He told many stories of his exploits there, and in my adult years, after he was gone, I found myself continually drawn down into that part of northern Lee County where my mom grew up and where Papaw made a living to support his family.  As a rock climber I spent time in Bald Rock and exploring the greater area.  As a mountain biker I have always gravitated to Big Sinking Creek and the first time I rode with another person was to show my good friend Dave Lutes a four mile technical loop I had worked out.  Back then I rode a fully rigid 26” Cannondale M300.  I still have that bike, and I still ride that loop. 
Climbing out of Hell Creek
Doing the short, severe climbs on the
Cumberland Plateau can put you in a state
of meditation, make you delve into your spirit...
 
From Big Sinking (Fixer Road) the course climbs up to KY 1036 and passes through Leeco and Standing Rock.  My Lacy grandparents owned a store at Standing Rock and I have dim memories of the time I fell off a stool at the lunch counter there.  The course runs with the Sheltowee Trace for a mile or so on the pavement, and the Sheltowee is a bright line of light in my mind most of the time.  I want to see it developed into a more mountain bike friendly trail.  I was stoked with Josh Patton and friends thru-rode it a few months back.  Josh designed our race logo.  The threads are tangled in this story, I know.
From Standing Rock the course turns onto Barker Branch Road and eventually crosses what locals call “The Narrows” (generally pronounced ‘Nars’) which is not the Narrows at White’s Branch Arch a few miles away.  My mom tells stories of freaking out in a school bus crossing that narrow saddle of rock and sand. 
The course turns onto the last dirt and gravel section into Stump Cave Branch.  Doc Townsend lives just a little further down the road—just out of sight of the turn—and he is the father of one of my best friends from high school. The first (and one of the only) time I rode a dirt bike I almost wrecked it turning around at that course intersection. 
After crossing into Red’s Hollow and exiting onto the pavement at Mountain Chapel (where I have family buried) racers pick up Pilot Road.  I hate Pilot Road.  I’ve ridden Pilot Road after many miles of road and mountain biking myself; cursing every hill, bonking, wishing I could call for SAG but having no cell reception… Pilot Road represents ultimate suffering on the bike in my mind.  I’ve never ridden it fresh, and I’ve never enjoyed riding it.  So, it’s fitting that it comes after mile 90.  I know the darkness you feel in your soul out on those lonely roads.  I know it well.
After one of those epics that finished on Pilot Road


And finally, somewhere in the mid-90s you hit the bottom of High Rock on the Rogers Chapel side.  Our cycling friends that live nearby call it “Ray’s Hill” because Ray lives at the bottom.  It’s not the toughest road climb in the area, but it’s tough enough.  High Rock is one of the highest points in the county and is the location of a long gone fire lookout tower.  Four roads intersect just beneath the cliffline around the massive promontory of this high country landmark. 
From High Rock it’s seven miles of mostly downhill back to the finish.  By the time you reach the main road at the bottom of the Cow Creek descent you’ve ridden through my cycling history.
What I’ve described is mostly the highlights of the course.  Folks who know me know I like to tell stories, and there are hundreds more stories I could tell about the course along all parts of it.  This is not just a few lines on a map I pieced together and marked for people to follow.  The course is a tour through my psyche.  I may not be an elite mountain bike racer, but I’ve suffered on those roads.  I understand why that race should be appealing to people, and it was incredibly satisfying to have people come up afterward and compliment me on the course.  I worried a lot about how it would be received, and all of that worry is gone.
I have to say it again though, while I am the master of the course my incredible wife threw the rockin’ party back at the Barn.  We are a pretty good team.  It’s like we were meant to do this.
Four days later I’m still basking in the afterglow.  Putting on the first ever one hundred mile mountain bike race in Kentucky was fulfilling.  It was hard, and stressful, and time and time again I wanted to give up.  But it was worth it. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Race Director's Dream


“It’s like we’re supposed to be doing this.”

That became our mantra from about Thursday on.  For six months or more Mandy and I had fretted over being able to pull off the first ever one hundred mile mountain bike race in the Red River Gorge area—for certain—and likely the first ever in Kentucky. 

As the weekend and race day rocketed toward us things were falling into place like precision tooled components into a well-oiled machine.  Those months of uncertainty and worry had paid off a hundredfold.  Instead of my anxiety mounting, with each new development, each new confirmation text, each eager volunteer, each milestone of early registration, late sign-ups, and finally packet pickup passed it seemed more and more like we were going to pull it off.

Mandy and I got to this place because for the last decade we’ve participated and volunteered in numerous running and cycling events.  Also, in my previous job I was the planner that reviewed special events permits for a county of 500,000 people.  USA Pro Cycling Challenge?  I reviewed that permit in 2011 and 2012.  I’ve got the cred to pull something like this off, but the Red River Gorge MTB 100 was the first “from scratch” race Mandy and I had attempted. 

Let me just say this…she can throw one heck of a party.  The after party, the organized packet pickups, the results and registration…all her.  She ran the admin and numbers side of the race like someone who has been doing it for a decade.  I was the logistics and volunteer coordinator, but truly we shared race director duties.  She was not my co-director.  We were both co-directors. 

I grew up in the Red River Gorge.  And I’ve explored more than the normal weekly visitor to the area and honestly more than most natives.  And I have a knack for geospatial awareness.  My memory of the terrain, my extensive lifelong encyclopedic knowledge of the roads and backroads allowed me to put together a course that connects all of the best backcountry riding in the area with some amazing rural country roads.  No one could have come up with a better 100 mile mountain bike course in this area.  I’m owning that.  It’s my intellectual property.  

Unfortunately, what this meant for me was there was no one else I could count on for coordination into some of the remote areas where we needed volunteers to make sure our racers didn’t race into the wrong county.  There were places that if someone had taken a wrong turn we’d still be looking for them.  I absolutely did not want that to happen.  I dropped a really fun, but tough and technical section of road two weeks before the race because it came at mile 90.  I decided we couldn’t have people hitting it that late in the race, tired and frazzled, and risk people getting deep into the woods late in the day and getting hurt or lost.  That would have put many out after dark and potentially put our emergency responders in dangerous and difficult situations.  And while I have complete trust in them, I didn’t want to ensure that we’d test their readiness and resolve. 

Going into next year I know I have a team of volunteers who will be able to help me lay out the course and keep everyone rolling the in the right direction.  Having so many people I could trust out there gave me peace of mind.  They also were the heroes of the day, adapting and making sure all the racers stayed safe.

I can say we met all of our course goals.  The vast majority of racers loved the course. I was called a “sadistic bastard” a couple of times by people who also shook my hand and said they had a great time.  We met our after party goals.  The awards setup looked amazing.  The venue was stunning and perfect (when I get a little more time I’m going to add to this post a list of everyone who helped us pull it off—we did not do this on our own and owe our success to our community).

I told someone on Friday that at that point I had done everything I could to make the race a success.  From that point on it was on the volunteers and racers to make it happen.  And strangely, on Saturday, I felt like I had nothing to do at a couple of points.  Everything was moving like a well-oiled machine.

Volunteers….wow, we know good people.  Great people.  Our local friends who care nothing about mountain biking or bike racing came out and supported us far above and beyond anything we expected.  I’m not even going to try to list them by name because I absolutely do not want to forget and leave a single person out.  They all stepped up and helped us pull it off without a serious hitch at all.

As of Monday morning I’m aware of four people that had medical treatment.  No one was transported off the course by ambulance and the ones I spoke to were doing well and in good spirits.  There were no serious issues out on the course.  There were some mechanicals.  At least one person went off course early on.  But otherwise everything went according to plan.  The race was a success.  A dream come true.

I realize that every year won’t be this smooth (oh yes, we’re doing it again!) and I realize that there are probably issues that I’ll be made aware of over the next few days.  But when it’s all said and done the event and the experience far exceeded our expectations. 

We had 88 folks start on Saturday morning in the fog.  An amazing 74 finished!  Brian Schworm of Morehead won with a blistering time of 5 hours and 55 minutes.  Our last racer—Winchester native and good friend of mine—Rob Lootens came in at a respectable and inspiring 12 hours and 12 minutes.  I asked a few people if the course was too easy because people were finishing so fast, but no one would concede that.  It was hard in its own unique way.  The pavement sections let people recover from the brutal and technical dirt climbing and it also allowed them to make up time and keep a high average pace. 

The start delayed a few minutes to let the sun come up a little more and the fog to burn off

Leaders hit the pavement

Turning onto the first gravel section


Nate Cornelius (L) and Brian Schworm (R) rocketing out of Aid Station 1 on the second pass

Aid Station 1

Olivia and Chris Shannon climbing out of Hell Creek

Mile 66.6 climbing out of Hell Creek

Aid Station 3.  It's hard working at an aid station.

Not Josh Nolan providing entertainment at the after-party.

Men's open podium: Michael Scott (3rd) and Brian Schworm (1st) not pictured was Nate Cornelius who came in 2nd overall.



This was our test run.  We made planning decisions based on that.  Next year will be different.  The course will be the same.  The venue will be the same.  The difference will be that we know we can do it, and we know we can do it better.

Thank you--and I know I speak for Mandy when I say: thank you ALL--anyone and everyone, who gave us moral support, who wanted to help or race and couldn’t make it (life happens and life is important), and thank you all who raced, who volunteered, who helped us with awards, food, signs, t-shirts, the venue, traffic control, promotion, behind the scenes support, and most especially for all of you who I approached quietly when I wanted to quit and you told me no, that I needed to do this.  You all bought into my vision and you wouldn’t let me quit on my dream.  I owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.

I picked up a guy long after the cutoff at Aid Station 5.  He was walking up the hill.  He had a smile on his face and pushing his bike.  I walked down to meet him.

“Hey man, this is the last hill,” I said with as much compassion as I could manage.  He took a couple of more steps and then stopped.  He realize what that meant.  He started pushing the bike again and there was a hitch in his voice.  His eyes were welling with tears.  He apologized.  I told him no.  “No, don’t apologize.  I’ve been right where you’re at now.”  I walked with him up to the jeep and loaded up his bike.  On the slow ride back as we paced Rob in the last few miles we talked and I got to hear the story of how he found out about the race and came up from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to do the race with his step-father.  And I heard the steel determination in his voice when he said he was coming back next year to finish.  That’s why I do this.  Those moments are powerful.  It was incredible to watch Brian Schworm come powering over the finish and look fresh an hour later (he ran four miles the next morning according to Strava!), but it’s the moments with the people in my part of the pack who are there to test themselves that inspire me to do what I do.

Jack Lootens running alongside his dad Rob toward the finish line
 
I realized after the race that being a co-race director means you can’t quit.  You’re in it until the last person finishes.  You can’t give up at Aid Station 3.  You can’t even really push your bike up the hills.  You’ve got to be there every pedal stroke to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to find within themselves the strength to keep going.
 
Thank again to everyone who helped make this possible.  We can’t wait to do it with you again next year!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Suddenly September Edition


Its two weeks and a day until the Red River Gorge MTB 100.  There’s still a lot to do, but there’s also a lot that’s already been done.  There’s a lot that’s not going to get done.  I tried in vain to get more singletrack built in Bald Rock this past year.  I’m not going to put any more effort into that. I’m no quitter, but I also know when to stop beating my head against the wall…when it’s going to be my head that breaks and not the wall.  Someone else can take up this cross to bear—Red River Gorge mountain bike trails—and I’ll go back to riding my bike.

So I’m refocusing after the race.  No more trailbuilding.  And I’m stepping away from advocacy.  I’m not your guy.  I don’t have the organizational skills, the fundraising skills, or the people skills to pull it off.  I’m not your guy. 

I want to go back to Leadville at least one more time.  I desperately need that buckle.  I need to prove to myself the things I almost proved.  I should be okay with just saying “I did so good!” but in my mind it wasn’t good enough.  And not in a I’m-so-inadequate kind of way, but in a I-should-have-tried-harder kind of way.  If I can go back and claim that big belt buckle then I’ll have proved I can manage the demons.  It’s not really about the bike, or the belt buckle, or the race…except that’s the path I chose to follow.  And for it to be real that’s the journey I need to complete.  To make some lesser goal at this point in my life and reach it would not prove anything.  I need to reach the insanely ambitious finish line I set out for seven years ago.  Not because I love mountain biking.  Not because I love Leadville.  Not because I love Colorado or suffering.  But because I love myself, and I need the closure, and the self-validation that will come from powering up and conquering that summit. 

I’ve not gotten serious yet.  There’s too much baggage right now.  I have to simplify my life, and that will be part of this process.  To let go, to prioritize, to pare away all the dead skin…that will be the first real pedal stroke toward the red carpet.

I’m going to turn this into a silly spiritual quest.  But I need that in my life now more than ever.  I have to find some sound footing from which to launch myself into the next decades of my life.  I’ve not really touched my potential yet, and I’ve been doing great things.  Life after Leadville will be the real journey and the real prize. 

There’s a lot of stress in my life right now.  Between work and the race I’ve got a million things to get done in the next couple of weeks.  So I’m going to take a hiatus until October.  I’ll catch you all up then—on impromptu September adventures and on how the race goes—but for now I’m going to take a little break from the Report and maybe try and charge my batteries a little bit.  I’ve got some exciting prospects coming up in October that I can’t wait to share with you.  But it’ll have to wait a little longer.  


Friday, September 8, 2017

Walking the Walk in Walker Creek

Walker Creek tried to eat me.  Walker Creek didn't know what it bit into.  Chris Chainring doesn't walk (or ride) lightly into anything.  I know my $#!+.

I needed to do some preliminary course marking for the Red River Gorge MTB 100—it's coming up fast like a log on a steep downhill—so I loaded up the Slutty Single Speed on which I have recently installed a Redshift Sports ShockStop Suspension Stem.  I was eager to see how it performed on the RRG MTB 100 course. 

While our race isn’t strictly a gravel ride, it does have a lot of gravel and technical dirt roads as well as long stretches of pavement.  That’s the nature of the beast.  That’s why I wanted to put this race on in the first place.  We need more singletrack and we need better riding opportunities in the Red River Gorge area,

Last year I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover Walker Creek.  What I simply call “Walker Creek” is the old Kentucky Union Railway alignment.  Or rather what’s left of it along Walker Creek of the North Fork of the Kentucky River.   


Walker Creek shows up as an interior spur of the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway loop.  I juts north from about 6:00 on the loop and connects up to KY 715 between Zachariah and Rogers.  The route drops in from the ridge between Zachariah and Rogers off of KY 715 via a gravel road and a ridiculously steep and rugged jeep road.  If you ride in this way or do the RRG MTB 100 take care with the descent into the Walker Creek valley.  This will be the first dirt descent after the long paved section through Red River Gorge proper.

Following the race course along KY 715 there will be a left onto gravel Smith Road.  Take care making the left and climb a short and moderately steep hill.  Continue past a cemetery, bear right at the first fork (Paradise Valley) and travel a little further to a less well-traveled dirt road that disappears into the trees on the right just before a second Paradise Valley sign.  It’s best to ride in from the park and ride at Zachariah or the Hollerwood trailhead at Standing Rock as there is no good public parking in this vicinity.

Approaching the turn onto Smith Road

The descent is steep and rough.  There are huge ruts in the road and there are big ledges.  It’s okay to walk down a little bit, as the steepest sections are short, and you’ll quickly find yourself at the bottom even if you do end up walking.  Go all the way down to the creek, turn hard left, and you’ll be on the old railroad.

Follow the mostly arrow straight abandoned railroad for four miles to reach Old Fincastle Road on your right (to the west) across Walker Creek for a climb out of the valley which will put you close to the descent into Hell Creek and a continuation of the race course.  On race day only there will be the option to continue two and a half more miles down Walker Creek and climb out of the valley via private property.  You can ride the railroad section anytime, but you’ll have to backtrack to Old Fincastle Road to get out.  Or, you can do Walker Creek as an out and back ride which is what I usually do.

Which is what I attempted to do yesterday afternoon. I wanted to try out the Redshift Sports Shockstop Stem.  I had installed it on my fully rigid 26” single speed Redline Monocog (dubbed the Slutty Singlespeed).  My original intent had been to take it to Veterans Park in Lexington for a lunch time ride, but I decided I needed a better test of the stem and I also need to be doing race prep…so why not go for a quick jaunt down Walker Creek after work?

I walked most of the descent and tied off a few ribbons to mark the route.  When I got down to the railroad I was stoked to have that long line stretched out ahead of me.  And I want to explain a little more about Walker Creek…while this is an abandoned railroad it is by no means a cushy multiuse path along a greenway.  Walker Creek is remote, rugged, and has been unmaintained for decades.  While there are nice straight, flat sections that are fast and smooth there are also sections where old trestles are simply missing and you have to detour down a steep and loose rocky slope to a creek crossing and a mirror climb back up to regain the railbed.  The surface is not fine crushed stone, but big rock base mixed with finer stuff.  It’s a rough ride.  There are a lot of decades old water holes that ride like flowy sections of trail.  Walker Creek is a technical rail trail. 





The first thing I realized once I got the bike up to speed is that the Shockstop Stem does not have a subtle impact on ride quality.  I ride the fully rigid singlespeed to get bucked around.  That didn’t happened with the Redshift stem on the bike.  It was a much softer ride than I’m used to on the singlespeed.  I ride regular sized knobby tires and had about 20 psi in them.  They typically don’t take much of the chatter and chomp from the trail or gravel.

I’m forty three years old and have abused my knees and elbows throughout my adult years.  It took almost a decade after being an obsessed rock climber for the tendonitis to heal in my elbows.  I could greatly appreciate the dampening effect of the stem over the ragged surface of the railbed.  My elbows felt good.  My teeth didn’t chatter.  The bike handled fantastically. 

That was the other thing.  My other 26” hardtail has a suspension fork.  While it does wonders for my old bones and ligaments I find that my sloppy riding is better with rigid forks.  I have better front wheel control and I tend to stay in better position over the bike.  The Shockstop Stem maintained that stiff feel in the front end of the bike and I had the same control I would have with no dampening or suspension.



In short, I love the Shockstop Stem.  I wish it came a little shorter.  I would put it on my plus bike if it did.  But for now I’ll leave it on the singelspeed and that is reason enough to ride my slutty bike more.

I intended to do an out and back ride.  When I had about three and a half miles to go I there was a funny feeling in my pedals.  I stopped the bike and looked down to find a huge sidewall tear in my tire right along the rim.  The tube was bulging out like a bubble of black gum.



Not a bad walk at all

Walker Creek had taken a chunk out of me.  And so I walked Walker Creek all the way back to the car. 

Over the next few weeks I’ll be riding more as I scout out and mark the race course.  Also to note: Redshift Sports has provided three Shockstop Stems for the race winners.  We’ll give the top male and female their choice in lengths and raffle a third stem to some lucky racer.


In the meantime you can use the code RRGMTB to get 20% off anything in your cart from Redshift Sports through October.  I highly recommend the Shockstop Stem.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Chainring Symphony


This moment in time is a point on a line.  This moment is but a snapshot of your ride along the trail of life and all that you can see around you between blinks is what exists.  The tread stretches out before you and behind you as you flow past trees, past the emerald green water of the lake, and as you stand on the pedals to drive the bike up and over a tangle of roots, the bike legato under you.
The trail takes you around a hillside and into a dim hollow.  The lake narrows below you until it’s a trickle, then the trail dips sharply—you stand on the pedals and glissando—and crosses the intermittent stream over rock armoring.  You power up the short, but steep climb on the other side; only a few piston strokes of your legs.
The bumblebee buzz of your hub mingles with the sounds of the forest.  The crunch of stone and leaves under your tires adds to the cantata.  You enter a hemlock grove—a nocturne parade of stark giants and aspiring members of the chorus of trees.  The bike runs arpeggio over a long flowy section of contours, surfing over the backs of the trees.  Then a more sinuous segment of trail presents itself, the rhythm of the bike changes, dipping between high notes like a slow tremolo.
Chainslap percussion jumps out from the subtler underlying rhythm of your pedal cadence—not hard sounds—but the oscillation and pump of your tires as you push the pedals up and down, round and round.  Somewhere under the counterpoint is also the driving guttural low notes of your breathing.  The farther along the line you progress the more intense becomes the bassline.    
As legs grow tired your octave range increases.  Gears go up and down contrary to the terrain.  Grazioso fades into a less rhythmic finale.  The climbs become less smooth, less certain, as muscles threaten to cramp.  As lungs begin to burn with the effort.  Harmony is unraveling.  It’s time to wrap up the performance before the unseen audience decides to go home unsatisfied.
The ride becomes capriccio, spirited, improvisational.  You saw the chain like a fiddler on his fiddle in a lively ragged reprise as the night closes out.  You’re drawn to the coda in desperation.  You drive the bike like a frantic conductor.  Sweat flings into the trees, muscles burn in anticipation of relief, and the cacophony of breathing, pedaling, grinding, woodwinds and blood rushing in your ears…all drown out the subtle symphony of the forest.  Until…
Conclusion…and the last note is sustained as your bike comes to a halt at the trailhead.  A soft thumping rhythm persists—your heartbeat—until it fades, and the ride is truly over.