Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Son Also Rises

We have smart kids.  Both of our children have made us proud over the years at how intelligent they are and how well they interact with the world around them.  When we moved to Colorado Boone acted like he’d never met a stranger and ended up making friends with the whole box of crayons, not just the ones next to him.  Lily has always been curious and active and she does well in school. 

Sometimes she gets shadowed by her brother, but only because he’s older and further along in life and not because she’s any less capable.  And they’re smart and talented in different ways.

I’m incredibly thankful that the kids are both healthy and well adjusted.  Of course they’re not perfect and they will both have their trials in life, but they’ve been blessed with tools to help them cope that many just don’t have.  Based on this I should never be depressed or feel like life isn’t fair. 

Last night we went to Boone’s academic team banquet.  His team (middle school varsity) was undefeated for the entire season in their league.  Boone got first place in many of the meets in the testing component, and he contributed fairly consistently to the quick recall team.  So he ended up with a couple of first place medals for the season and a couple second and third place medals.

While he is so smart, respectful, thoughtful, kind, and generous, he is also a clumsy oaf and just before we left for the banquet managed to push a hole in the drywall beside the refrigerator with his smart ass.

When he told his mother how he leaned against the wall and then started to go through he was giggling.  When Mandy saw the offending void he realized she didn’t think it was as funny as he did.  Haha.  Neither did I.

In his defense he has no common sense.  He’s lovable and incredible, but good lord, don’t wait around on him to get any kind of package open!  And like Einstein he never ties his shoes.

He’s taller than me now.  I can wear his clothes as hand-me-downs.  In less than two years he’ll be legally able to drive.  I almost typed “he’ll be driving” but I don’t know if he’ll be ready when he turns sixteen.  But then again he’s surprised us in the last year or so with how fast he’s growing up.  Still, I may just buy him a good bike.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Not So Lone Oak

The forecast was for snow flurries in the afternoon. My cough had mostly cleared.  My energy levels were up.  When Kris put out the Facebook inquiry about riding on Saturday morning I decided I needed to go.  We agreed on an exploratory tour of Marbleyard.  That’s the ridge and environs near Cottage Furnace on the Powell-Estill County line. 

It was clear, sunny and cold when I arrived at the unofficial parking area in front of the gate on FR 2056.  I sipped at my coffee and sat in the warm Jeep scrolling through Twitter for a minute before Kris showed up.  

He’d mentioned riding 12-17 miles.  I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.  It was easy enough to convince him to ride out 2056.  And in short order we were cruising along the ridge through a season’s worth of fallen leaves.  Even with bare trees and suddenly gloomy skies the ride out the obscure doubletrack is pleasant and scenic. 

When the old road became impassable due to deadfall we dropped the bikes, started walking, and threw all the dead stuff out of the way.  Oddly enough for half a mile there wasn’t a single blow down we couldn’t just heave out of the way.  So now there is a solid 1.5 mile out and back ride.  We left a few ride overs at the end of the gravel to prevent easy ATV access, but otherwise the ridge is now legal and passable.

Where the road took a sharp dip toward the Hardwicks Creek side we opted to go overland and stay with the crest of the ridge.  We saw some pretty cool terrain and hiked all the way to the tip end of the rocky ridge.  Both of us agreed a potential trail would be something unique in the area.

As we hiked back and were almost back to the bikes flurries began flying.  We rode out to heavier snow.  Once back at the cars we decided to head down into Irvine for some food at Steam Engine Pizza and drove back out Marbleyard to Chestnut Stand Rd and down into town.  By the time we were pulling into parking spots across the street it looked like the Christmas season had truly settled over Estill County. 

We got seats looking out on Main Street and when Kris went to get out his phone and text home he realized he didn’t have it.  So he went out to the car while I looked at the menu.  When he came back in he said “I left it up there.”

We tried Find My iPhone, but it said it was at 0% battery and unable to locate.  Then we remembered his GPS had been off all day showing him a couple of miles off.  There was no way we were finding it that way.

He said he’d go back up after we ate.  I said I’d go along as I could get back home almost as quick by going over the ridge as I could taking the main road back to Powell County (which I hate after so many years commuting to EKU that way).

The pizza was good and it was nice to sit in a warm place talking about mountain biking and watching the snow fall.  It wasn’t until I was driving back up Chestnut Stand and the nsow was actually sticking to the road and the ground that I realized getting back home over the ridge might be problematic.  And finding the phone might be too.  

Kris was about five minutes ahead of me as I had stayed to pay the check while he went on.  The farther I went the less of his tracks I could see.  When I was near the parking spot I passed two pickup trucks headed toward Irvine and figured if the phone had landed in the road (if Kris had left it sitting on his car) then it was probably smashed.

I’d almost given up when I reached the intersection of Marbleyard and Lone Oak Road (which would take me back home) and saw a black rectangle in the middle of the road almost obscured by snow.  I stopped and got out.  There lay Kris’s phone!

I picked it up and thumbed the button and saw nothing.  The screen looked like it was intact but there was quite a bit of snow on the phone.  I drove around the curve another hundred yards and pulled in behind Kris’s car.  He was looking in the snow around where he’d parked.  I got out and handed him the phone.

All in all it was a good day of exploring and losing and finding phones.  I’ve been letting this potential trail project percolate for a while because I had been committed to getting stuff done in Bald Rock over in Lee County.  This area (which I’m calling Lone Oak) is on National Forest and so to get approval to build trails there will be a process, but I’ve already spoken to the Cumberland District Ranger, the Powell County Judge and some other stakeholders about it.  I think it has great potential and Kris agrees.  It’s also halfway between his house and mine and much closer than Bald Rock and without the climber traffic making it much more appealing as a full blown trail project. 

Anyway, I feel back to normal, so my training for the 2018 Fig Adventure Race will begin shortly.  I’m ready to get back out and ride and run and hike and such.  I’ve been cooped up far too long.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Musical Chairs on the Titanic Edition

I used to write a lot more about politics and socio-political topics.  With this particular blog I didn’t want to do that.  I’m still not going to, except that this has been a rare week with the tax bill shenanigans and all.  If you’ve read much of this blog you’ll know that I’ve been a Never Trump person since…well, always.  I didn’t care for his ten second appearance in Home Alone 2.  I’ve never watched The Apprentice.  I don’t like Trump or anything he stands for—I never have and I never will—and I can’t support the notion of him being president of the country I live in but I’m stuck with it.

In my previous blog (From the Pavements Edge) I was definitely a Peak Oil Cassandra.  I’d love to get back to focusing on that blog and the topics I explored for those few years (2008 to 2013), but until I’m more of a utilitarian cyclist again I just can’t make myself go down that rabbit hole.  So I focus on outdoor recreation and adventuring here at the Chainring Report. 

I’m still sick.  I think I know why I’m sick, and I’m taking measures to kick the cough even as we speak, however, it feels like I’ve suffered a setback.  It’s going to take a little bit to get back to 100%.  My lungs aren’t at full power though I’m itching to ride/run/bushwhack and traipse the land fantastic ASAFP.  I miss being out in the woods.

Anyway, I don’t have much to report at the end of another week of being holed up with tea and honey, cough drops, and the sound of my own sniffles.  I hate it because this is my absolute favorite time of year to be outside.  Losing those long holiday days due to this funk is really heartbreaking, but I’m hoping to come back strong and full bore.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Fight the Funk

It’s been awhile.  I realize that.  No, I was not dead and come back to life.  That would be miraculous.  However, The Fig nearly done me in.  I’ve been fighting off my Fig Funk for three weeks as of yesterday.  But I woke up this morning and my chest felt freer…looser.  And the cough has subsided just enough to make me think I’m on the mend. 

It flat out pissed me off being under the weather over the four day (five with a personal day) holiday.  I did get to spend a lot of time with my family and friends.  I was a wet blanket for most of the time I was with them, but I enjoyed just hanging out and taking it easy.  I just wish it felt truly restorative.  It was as good as could be with the Funk.

I’ve tried to refrain from making predictions about my future exploits.  I was bad about that in the early days of The Leadville Saga.  I swore off of making bold assertions of my hoped for athletic achievements.  I’m more cautious these days.  But my caution has stifled my inspiration as well.  Sometimes I have to put my own feet to the fire to pull off my goals.  So here we go…

I’ve spoken previously about my intentions to gun for the Male Solo distinction at The Fig next year.  I’ve mentioned to a couple of key friends about this goal and believe it or not I’ve not gotten the “Heck yeah!” responses I expected.  Instead I’ve heard the closet realist come out in my friends.  However, I have better information regarding my abilities in this regard and I am confident if I get in shape* that I can take this podium.

One friend that is a regular adventure racer said there are a couple of guys who are trail runners that regularly compete in the Unbridled Series who are good.  I pointed out that when it comes to bushwhacking trail running skills kind of go out the window.  He acquiesced. 

That got me thinking that maybe instead of focusing on training specifically for The Fig that maybe it’s time I gave one more solid effort to the Rough Trail 50k which is usually the weekend after The Fig.  To make this all work I need to get my butt in gear this winter, get my diet under control, condition my core and everything generally, and have a solid training schedule ready for later in the year to be ready for Rough Trail.  The up side is that my secondary goal of slam dunking The Fig will benefit greatly whether or not I hit my full goal of finishing the 50k trail run.  If I’m fit enough for Rough Trail and I’ve put in the base effort to condition myself for paddling and cycling then I should have no problem coasting through the adventure race.  That’s not a bold assertion.  That is simple fact.

I miss trail running.  And I feel like I’m finally in a place where I can revisit it and maybe trail in sustainable manner.  I don’t need to rush or kill myself to reach that finish line.  I just need to put in the work.  I know I can do it.

My overall goal is just to be more fit and healthy.  I don’t need to be the fastest runner or mountain biker.  I don’t need to do a ton of races.  I just want to feel good and be able to enjoy outdoor activities again.  I want to climb rocks again.  And with my improved health over this past year from acupuncture and chiropractic visits to discovering that red tea really knocks out the squeak in my joints I feel like I’m finally on my way out of the years long funk that’s been pushing me farther and farther from the lifestyle I used to enjoy. 

On Saturday evening Mandy and I went and saw Tyler Childers at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg for a third time this year.  The shows just keep getting better.  Luna and the Mountain Jets opened for him with a (not) surprise appearance from the Laid Back Country Picker (reportedly the alter ego of Mountain Jets guitarist David Prince).  He played all of his standards including a few newer songs that we heard last show, and he closed out with a short acoustic set ending on his iconic love song Lady May.

The addition of Jesse Helms on guitar/fiddle/etc to the Food Stamps seems like a smart move for Tyler.  His name was mentioned by The Local Honeys at Meadowgreen a couple of weeks ago and he added a distinct balance to the on stage performance of Tyler and the band.

Tyler Childers and the Food Stamps joined by the Laid Back Country Picker (far left)

In other unrelated news I’ve also decided to focus more on my photography and writing in 2018.  I’ve been nudging my novel along a little faster over the past weeks since I’ve not been able to get out and run around much.  I’m making steady and marked progress.  I also finally have some prints out for sale.  I think I’m going to look into putting out an online store once I figure out which images I want to try and market.  I’ve put this off for far too long.  It was the mid-90s when I started off to be a professional photographer.  I let too many things inhibit me along the way, the chiefest of them was a crippling self-doubt you may have heard me whining about in the past.  I’m done with that.

* The key is that I must get in the best shape of my life to clinch my victory, but that’s never been a possibility in any other competitive venture I’ve set out on. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Dare to Be Great Edition

Ok, so yeah, I’m now hooked on Adventure Racing.  I said I wouldn’t be, but I am.  Just back off, stop your smirking, and listen.  Imma tell you how this goes…

In my head, I train like a fiend, drop thirty pounds, get healthy, and in 2018 rock the Unbridled Series to its foundations.  I win The Fig on my sheer awesomeness.  Solo.

It’s conceivable.  First off, for those who may totally discredit this claim or the claim that if I had been in decent shape and had opted not to go after the two far flung paddling points that I may very well have placed or won my division this year…I’m not bragging about my navigation abilities.  I’ll dutifully admit I’m horribly unfit for this kind of venture, but I will not concede any ground when it comes to my geospatial talents.  I’ve just never found an outlet to express those talents.  Until now. 

2017 has been the Summer of Confidence.  That didn’t come from athletic achievement as I had been struggling to leverage for so long, but in other surprising aspects of my life.  What’s interesting to me is that my lackluster performance at The Fig has still bolstered my confidence even more.  By taking that first step into the AR realm I have discovered that there is a competition more suited to my talents than mountain bike racing.  Of course, I never had any delusions that I’d ever be a good mountain bike racer.  But I never expected to find something that I would be good enough at to be competitive. 

That’s all in my head, but how will it go in practice?  Will I struggle all winter with depression and make no physical gains to fitness?  Will I hunker down in a Seasonal Affective Disorder funk eating junk food and opting not to exercise?  Will I squander my gym membership?  Will I maintain my Clydesdale status into the Spring and Summer and finally give up on losing weight?

I want to say that I resolve that none of those things will happen.  I’m not going to make any bold proclamations for fear of failing yet again to meet my fitness goals.  And that is a sure sign—Dear Readers—that my confidence is not at 100% capacity yet.  It’s getting there.  But I know myself, and I know my bad habits.

All that said, I need to take charge of my life once again.  I need to stop being afraid of things.  I need to stop being lazy.  And most of all I need to start caring about the consequences of ALL my choices.  I need to be the rugged individualist that I used to take pride in.  I need to get back to my roots of being a hardcore solo adventurer.  That doesn’t mean I need to forgo socialization as I had for decades, but that I need to get back out in the woods and cover some miles.  Find the depths of my true soul again…  

That’s how I will become great.

I wanna be this guy again

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Race Report: Finally The Fig Part III

Continuing from Part I and Part II 


Prologue (trekking): 3 miles

Paddling leg: 7.4 miles total

Urban trekking leg: 3 miles

First bike leg: 22.2 miles

2nd trekking leg: 0.6 miles

Second bike leg: 12.3 miles

Total: 48.5 miles

I got 15 checkpoints and all 5 TAs and finished in just shy of eleven hours.

I raced in the male solo division (There’s No Team in I).  It was my first ever adventure race. 

I was 7th in my division out of 16 (Solo – male) and 34th out of 50 teams overall. 

What you see below is the breakdown of the top seven solo male racers.  The winner of the division came in an hour after I did but got ten more CPs. 

  1. Outlaw Donkey 6:52 - 25
  2. Trailheads Racing 6:17 - 24
  3. The D Team 5:42 - 22
  4. Mixed Nuts Adventure Racing 6:24 - 22
  5. Kudzu 6:57 - 21
  6. Where's North 6:12 - 16
  7. There's No Team in I 5:53 - 15

Things I could have done better:


I had no idea what I was doing going into this.  I knew I’d have a home field advantage, but I had no way to mentally prepare for where I was going to be racing or how I was going to find points.  I was able to take the map and plot all the points the night before, but I was also finalizing my gear and rushing around to get things together.  I didn’t plan well and ended up with the wrong food and too much gear.  I was overthinking things too much, and I didn’t give enough time to consider all the checkpoints and how I might get as many as possible versus starting at the beginning and hitting checkpoints until I blew up.

Based on my last paddling trip before the Fig if I had dropped CP2 and just beelined it for Beattyville it would have taken me forty-five minutes instead of the two and a half hours I spent in the boat freeing up an hour and forty-five minutes of race time and a whole heckuva lot of calories.  Assuming I would have had the energy to go for twelve hours that would have given me an additional two hours and forty-five minutes on land to snag CPs.  That would have been plenty of time for me to find most of the Hell Creek points (approx. 4.5 miles of trekking) and all of the Land of the Arches points (another 4+ ridgetop miles) putting me closer to—if not over—the winning number of 25.  Then it would have come down to time.  And on the bike and foot even though I was not running I would have been able to cover a lot of ground had I not been bonking.  In the end my failed strategy had to do with the lack of energy conservation.


Let’s face it (I already have), I trained zero for this race.  The little bit of activity I managed was less than my normal recreational outings.  I overdid it at the gym about a week and a half before the race and had to lay off.  I haven’t run in months and my cycling has been pitifully insufficient for the effort I needed to put forth.  And I haven’t been paddling since spring really.  I tried to eat well the week leading up to the race but just couldn’t stick with the plan I didn’t have.  Failing to plan is planning to fail and I nailed that. 

Things I did well:


When I realized I had less than a week and no idea how to plot UTM points I watched a YouTube video and practiced a little and figured it out.  When I got the race map and coordinates I could quickly go through and plot them with confidence.  When my fantastical ambitions for the race were dashed in a bonked-out haze I recalibrated and still worked to maximize my end result. 


It would have been insanely easy for me to give up and call for SAG pickup.  I’ve done it before.  It would have been easy to call it in Beattyville when I was nearing the bottom of the dark pit I’d sunk into.  Somehow I was able to joke and banter with the volunteers and believe it or not that helped me out of my own funk.  Eventually.

I had fun.

In the end that’s all that really mattered.  Yes, I suffered a lot.  Yes, I didn’t do as well as I would have liked.  But I never got my hopes up too high to boost my expectations to unreasonable levels.  I was happy to be out in places I feel like I never spend enough time in on a beautiful day and with a great bunch of people.  My only regret is that I wasn’t conditioned well enough to enjoy more time out in the woods and do a little better to pad my own ego.  But otherwise my first taste of adventure racing was a great success. 

I think even if I hadn’t paddled too far I would have felt pretty rough by the end of the day and would have maybe suffered worse because of the pounding I would have put myself through on foot.  My ankles and feet are unconditioned for this kind of effort and the only thing that saved me was I spent a lot of time on the bike after I got out of the boat. 

The things that had kept me from doing an adventure race before ended up being the most fun.  I actually like paddling more now (even though it’s not my strong suit) and the orienteering component was a lot more fun than I expected.  It really is right up my alley, and I guess I really am addicted now.


In case you wondered, I am planning on doing the entire Unbridled Series in 2018 with hopes of making a strong showing as a solo male across the series.  This kind of racing really plays to all my strengths and I feel like I may have found a niche where I can excel unlike mountain bike racing where I’m just too old and slow on the bike to pull it off. 

For me the first step is going to be continuing to get some of my physical ailments fixed (mostly back, ankles, and to a lesser degree my knees), and concurrently working on getting conditioned for endurance events.  I don’t need to go into Olympic training mode, I just need to be as normally active as I have been saying I want to be for a long time.  The main thing is I need to stop being lazy and get outside and stop being afraid and get on the roads on my bike.

It looks like Unbridled will kick off in June.  There’s a 4 or 8 hour (rogaine) in Brown County, Indiana in January and The Flow 4 hour race at Capitol View Park probably in April.  I may try and convince my family to do The Flow.  It sounds like it would be a lot of fun!

How to AR

A quick tutorial for those who kind of wonder what this is still about…and there are plenty of other and better sources on the internet if you're really interested. 

Adventure Racing (capitalized) involves multi-discipline races.  An over simplistic description would be like a gritty triathlon with orienteering thrown in to make it interesting.  But it’s subtler than that.  The Fig involved running/hiking, paddling, and on/off-road biking. 

The night before the race you’re given a map of the area with no TAs (transition area) or CPs (checkpoints) shown on the map.  You’re also given a list of coordinates with vague descriptions.  Being the local boy with a lot of local knowledge I had a home court advantage when it came to plotting points.  That also helped with my minimal strategizing.  I knew the straightest ways between points.

You take your coordinates and your map and your hand UTM plotter and you mark the points on the waterproof map with a Sharpie.

When the race starts you take your map and passport and navigate to those points where in most cases you’ll find a checkpoint with a flag and a punch.  Whomever gets the most checkpoints wins and if you tie for total number of checkpoints then whoever has the fastest time wins.   

Passport shown in front of the punch at a CP

You can’t turn off your brain and sprint to the finish.  There’s planning, and strategy, and a lot of decisions that need to be made well.  You can’t just be a good runner and count on that to carry you through.  Same goes for paddling and biking.  You need to be somewhat versed in all three and have pretty good endurance across all disciplines or you will bonk.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Race Report: Finally The Fig Part II

Continuing from Part I 

Clean bike at the Top of Happiness (not really)

I was slower on the bike than I expected.  I bombed down the descent from Happy Top and turned left onto White Ash Road and settled into what Jeaph Mowsur would call a “puppy pedal” and just weak-cranked along the gravel road that parallels the Kentucky River and the CSX railroad.

I nabbed the next remote checkpoint.  There was actually a volunteer at the point on Contrary Creek off of White Ash Road.  As I walked up to him I said: “I’ve got a deal for you.  You take this bike, and I’ll take your chair.”  He laughed and offered me Halloween candy but I declined.  I was in a sugar funk as I’ve been in on other long races.  I desperately needed real food and hoped the next checkpoint—the convenience store at Yellow Rock—would be open.

Contrary Creek

Between me and the store was the steep slog out of Contrary Creek to the ridge and KY 399.  I kept the knowledge I had of that climb unfocused in my brain as best as I could until I left that checkpoint and it was the next obstacle I had to face.  I walked the whole thing.  It was brutal.  It was grueling.  And it seemed like it took forever.  At the top I was happy to be on the pavement on my bike, but I felt like I was barely moving and it seemed to take hours to reach the store.

I had high hopes for the store.  CP7 was at this store that has been closed in the past when I was out on road rides with Jeaph or by myself.  It’s never been open, and I’ve always hoped it would be.  I’ve always needed it to be. 

Thankfully it was open on Friday.  Unthankfully they had no sandwich materials because their cooler had been on the fritz.  I punched my passport and bought a bag of cheddar and sour cream Ruffles, four Slim Jims and an Ale-8.  Lunch of champions right there!

My backup plan had been to take a short detour over to the store at Bear Track if the one at Yellow Rock had been closed.  In fact, I had not decided (before I got to Yellow Rock) I was going to drop down into Big Sinking and nab the three points down in there.  If the store had been closed likely I would have only grabbed the point on top off of New Virginia Road and then backtracked to Bear Track and rode the paved roads to the last two TAs to become only an official finisher with no chance at any kind of placement.

In the back of my mind I held out hope I’d get a second wind and would be able to sweep a bunch of points in Hell Creek and those on the ridge at Land of the Arches.  I’d long given up on the lone point in Walker Creek.  I knew folly lay in the decision to drop down into that valley so late in the day.  And by then I had processed that going after one lone point far off the mainline of the course was just not a good strategy for someone in my shape (round and blobular). 

After leaving out of the store at Yellow Rock I slowly started to feel better.  I didn’t feel solid and strong, but I definitely felt less like I was hitting a wall and bonking and more like I was just out on a long ride having fun.  And I was getting ready to drop into my most familiar territory.  Big Sinking is my place on the planet.  In some ways its more my spiritual recreational home more than even the Red River Gorge proper.  I feel a deeper connection to the land there.  And it’s more friendly to me and my mountain bike.

399 is easy rollers.  I’ve ridden it a few times and as my pace picked up so did my spirits.  By the time I turned onto New Virginia Road and got another taste of gravel along with some bare sandstone riding I was fighting off a silly grin.  The food had been good for me.  I feared the return of the bonk, so earlier than necessary I sucked down a gel.  I was happy to have found the devious next point.  I reapplied some chamois cream while I had a little privacy, and then I was back on the road heading down into Big Sinking. 

New Virginia Road

"Don't look Ethel!"

As I eased down the gnarly descent I thought back five years to the one and only time I rode up that monster clean on a ride with Jeaph from his house.  I got it clean but then suffered the rest of the day.  That was one of those epics that ended in misery on Pilot Road that I talked about in my route description and history of the Red River Gorge MTB 100.  And while my mind was a bit free to ponder such things I considered the penitential nature of endurance mountain biking.  You turn inward and meditate not only on the stupidity of your choices, but on the deeper things in life outside the moment.  It’s a way to find and lose yourself in time and space.  I miss that in my life.  I need to go back to the altar of suffering more often.

Anyway, I slugged along the nice forest road on the south side of Big Sinking Creek.  I was looking forward to punching the point at Hauk Branch and the next one at the intersection with Bald Rock Road.  When I reached the turn off for Hauk Branch I met a group coming out of the woods and saw dozens of tire tracks.  One benefit to being late on the course if being able to follow in the footsteps of others.  That can be good and bad.  Like suffering.

When I got to the spot I believe the CP to be I dropped my bike and started looking around.  I didn’t see a flag anywhere.  I walked a few yards up the right fork and saw another racer on his way out.  “Not up there,” he said with a grim look.  I turned and went up the left fork quite a ways, again following tire tracks which eventually petered out.  I was pretty sure the point wasn’t very far up either fork based on my plotting.  I got back to the confluence and the other guy was still looking.  I’d wasted twenty minutes looking for a point I felt should be fairly easy to find and decided it was time to move on.  I wasn’t winning anyway.  So I started out of Hauk Branch and as I glanced quickly to the right before hitting a creek crossing I saw the flag and stopped.  “Found it!” I called to my fellow racer, and waited until I knew he saw where I was before trudging up the hill and punching my passport.

Rolling into Hauk Branch

Left fork of Hauk Branch

He was close behind as I remounted my bike, but I took off like I really was in a race.  When I regained the gravel forest road I felt a renewed energy.  I had rabbits to chase not too far ahead and a hound on my heels.  I’d mostly been on my own since the first paddling checkpoint I punched.  It hadn’t felt much like a race…just a slog.  But when I found myself in the “middle” of the pack again somehow energy sprang forth.

The next point was right beside the road and I got it and kept going.  I turned onto Caves Fork and plowed headlong toward the next (and likely my last) brutal climb.  Not so long ago I rode Caves Fork for the first time (had driven it many) and rode the climb at the head of the drainage up to KY 11 clean and solid at the end of my ride.  I was hopeful but realistic on Saturday.

When I got to the bottom of the last steep part I felt maybe I could grunt it out.  I pedaled the first pitch with the sound of engines climbing up from below.  Jeeps.  The first one passed within inches and the second driver called out his open passenger window “There’s fifteen of us” to which I growled back “Great!”  The next two or three also passed within inches and I conceded defeat to the recreational interests of others.  In the loose gravel on the steep hill there was no way I could maintain a straight line so I walked.  And the 4WDs kept buzzing me at slow speeds.

I got back on the bike at the top and felt like all that second wind energy had evaporated like clean power initiatives in a Republican controlled government.  I would get the last two TAs and return to the state park. 

I crossed over KY 11 and picked up Gabbard Drive which skirts the dump and then goes out a nice long ridge.  It’s one of the best kept secrets in the area.  It’s a nice obscure ridgetop gravel road with almost no off-road traffic because of a gate at one end.  The TA was at the cemetery at the end of the road and I was surprised to see a ton of bikes there.  Then I realized the next few points were supposed to be trekking points when I had thought they were bike leg points.  I’d already decided to nab CP11 because it was relatively close to the TA but had opted to ignore all  the ones in Hell Creek.  Having the revelation that I would have needed to get to them on foot was enough to make me be glad to be heading on to the finish without even attempting them.  I was simply too spent to carry on in race mode.

I texted Mandy and said I would probably be to the finish by 6:00pm.  She said she would head that way, and then sent another text later letting me know she was going to go to Beattyville to pick up my boat.  I was immensely thankful she was going to be doing that!

Along KY 11

All that was left was twelve miles of pedaling.  First, on the ridge along 11 to KY 715 was fairly flat and straightforward, but then after a quick side trip over to Land of the Arches Campground to punch the last TA it would be a long steady descent down KY 11 through the Graining Fork valley to one little bump at the dam at Mill Creek Lake and then the final wall before the Woodland Center and the finish.  I knew I could pull it off.

Even still, getting to Land of the Arches was a mental feat.  It was so hard to pedal up the hill at the 11 / 715 intersection instead of just dropping into the valley.  I got the TA and then it was definitely on…a race to the finish.

True to my estimate I got to the finish just before 6:00.  I walked the last hill and again the cameras were rolling as I slogged up.

I was so happy to be finished.  And I had already began planning my strategies for doing the whole Unbridled Series in 2018 even before I was off the bike. 

I’m going to offer up one more post-race post to summarize and strategize.  But that concludes my official report on the 2017 Fig Adventure Race.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Race Report: Finally The Fig Part I

Disappointment does not play in to my first adventure racing experience.  I knew going into it that I was going to suffer.  I hoped for a “good” sufferfest but understood a bad sufferfest was possible.  My friends and family kept saying they had faith in me and “You got this!”  I’m a realist.  I knew I had not a chance in the world of winning The Fig Adventure Race XV, much less making a sizzling display.  So weeks out I was already looking toward next year with the intention of making 2017 a deep learning experience.  And that it was.

Other than signing up a month out with no training I made one fatal mistake and one poor choice.  Early on the stage was set for an epic sufferfest as I fought my way from St. Helens to Beattyville and then back to Natural Bridge State Park.  As my day unfolded I realized all of the things I could have done differently to pad my effort for success.  What follows is my attempt to share with you the experience, but also to analyze where I went wrong and also the things I did right.

First, I should give you the quick backstory of how I got into the Fig to begin with.  Ultimately, I have known the namesake—Don Fig—my entire life.  Don was a fixture in the Gorge for decades as an authority on the history of the area, as a US Forest Service Ranger, and as the leader of the original Red River Gorge rescue team which preceded the current SAR teams by years. 

Back in the late ‘90s a few of my friends participated in adventure racing and always seemed to be trying to get me to join a team with them.  Back then I didn’t do organized events and the races seemed cumbersome and involved combining recreational activities that I didn’t feel needed to be combined.  The Fig came along fifteen years ago, but I wasn’t really interested back then either despite it being in my own backyard.  I was climbing hardcore, at the peak of my guiding days, and I was newly married and in college.  I just didn’t have time to go mucking around with adventure racing.

In 2014 Tomahawk asked if I wanted to ride along and go spectate the day of The Fig.  I said yeah and took my camera along and got some good photos of the event.  As we stood near one of the checkpoints and talked to some of the racers I decided I was somewhat interested in doing the race.  I know the area well.  At the time I was pretty strong on the bike.  And I believed it would be fun based on my endurance mountain biking races.  When I got home I looked it up and saw the entry fee.  I decided that was way too much to spend to do the things I already do in my backyard for free and decided not to sign up in 2015.  In 2016 while scouting for a passage through the cliffline in Bald Rock for a mountain bike trail I came across a checkpoint a few days before The Fig.  The day of the race that year I had organized a trail day and we watched as racers came through the area far off course and away from the checkpoint.  I knew I could do better.

Images from the 2014 Fig

I had not committed to the idea of signing up for The Fig in 2017 until after the Red River Gorge MTB 100.  I began seriously considering it after the KYMBA Women’s Clinic.  Casey is a member of the Chickpoints—USARA Women’s National Champions—and was a participant at the clinic.  She suggested I should do The Fig.  And so I began thinking about it.  When I mentioned it to others everyone said I should and that I’d do great.

The recurring theme was that my knowledge of the terrain and my knack for bushwhack navigation would give me a distinct advantage.  I hope this isn’t a major spoiler but you can’t have a winning advantage when you have a flabulous body.  I knew going in, even before I registered, that the limiting factors would be my fitness.

I worried as the day approached that the navigational aspects would also confound me.  I’m a geospatial genius, but I’ve never had to learn how to plot a course using UTM coordinates.  So I was much relieved on Friday night when I got the race map and coordinates and was able to go home and plot all of the points.  Confidence blinded me briefly to reality, and I forgot what a slug I have become.

The start was anti-climactic.  After a dark bus ride from the state park to St. Helens which is just east of Beattyville there was a quick countdown and we were off.  The first leg—the Prologue—was optional, but it seemed everyone did it.  We ran along KY 52 with headlamps bobbing in a line in the darkness.  I pushed a little too hard for not having run recently and for wearing a pack.  I had to slow myself down a couple of times.  The initial leg was three miles.  As I started down the access road to the ramp I heard one of the Chickpoints call out that they had been going 36 minutes.  In the whole scheme of things that shouldn’t have hurt me too badly, and I don’t think it did.  However, running cold like that was my poor choice that contributed to some of the bad suffering I went through later in the day.  My fatal mistake came at the end of it when I had to decide how to approach the paddling leg.

I had two options.  Well, three.  While I plotted all the points the night before I didn’t measure the paddling distance.  That may have informed better choices in my race, but my rationale was tenuous anyway.  The first option was to paddle three miles from the put-in to the take out and bag one checkpoint along the way.  The second option was to snag both of two points not between the two access points.  The first (CP2) was one mile upstream on the North Fork of the Kentucky River and then upstream on the Middle Fork another mile and a quarter.  Obviously then I’d have to paddle back to the put in and beyond.  The second far flung point (CP4) was a couple of miles upstream on the South Fork of the Kentucky.  The third option was to hit one or the other of the far flung points.  I opted to go after CP2 on the Middle Fork.

This was my fatal mistake.  I’ve haven’t paddled in weeks.  And I had no idea my little jaunt was going to be the 7.4 mile slog that it became.  I was in the boat a solid two and a half hours.  I got wet, and cold, and stiff sitting in the boat.  The three mile run wasn’t bad for me until I just sat and got cold all over immediately after.  I had fueled well, and had plenty of food to take with me the rest of the day until I expended so much energy on the river.

Once out of the boat there was an “urban trek” segment.  It involved running around Beattyville to different sites to be able to answer five questions.  Well, in my case it was a stiff shuffle and not a run per se.  I was cold, and at the Veteran’s Memorial I stopped to put on a long sleeved shirt, something on my head and gloves to warm up.  I continued on and got all the points and answers. I didn’t write them down; I just remembered.  The last place to visit was the Art Factory.  When I walked in a made another minor mistake: I bought a cinnamon bun the size of a bean bag.  I ate the cinnamon bun as I walked the rest of the way to the TA (transition area) at Happy Top Community Center AT THE TOP OF THE HILL.  Happy Top.  Not so happy…

Looking back down on Beattyville and the Confluence of the North and South Forks of the Kentucky River

I was hoping some extra calories would help.  But by the time I was near the transition to my bike I was slogging pretty bad.  I was beginning to sink into a dark place.  As I walked up to the TA I instinctively felt the need to make the volunteers feel better.  I don’t understand this compulsion in me, but as bad as I felt, as deep a dark hole as I was in, I had a deep need to make them laugh.  John Aragon was there filming as I walked up.  “Oh, you want me to run don’t you?”  Slight chuckle. 

One of the organizers who knows me from my mountain biking exploits in the area asked if I was ready to be on the bike.  I emphatically said yes even though I was ready to quit.

We bantered for a bit and I got on my bike and rode across the parking lot to the bathrooms at the splash park.  No one else was around so I took my time changing into a dry bike jersey, dry socks, bike shoes, and eating and drinking a little and resorting my gear for the long push to the finish. 

I didn’t have any energy.  I debated taking a nap to try and recharge, but in the end I decided to keep moving.  When everything was finally packed up I got on the bike and headed for White Ash Road about noon.

I’ll pick up there tomorrow in Part II of my Fig adventures.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Putting on My Race Face Edition

Kris loaned me a sixteen foot sea kayak for The Fig.  It should be a little speedier than my nine and a half foot turtle.  Hopefully there won’t be any checkpoints up some narrow creek.  We’ll see.  Having the longer and better tracking boat will boost my confidence a little.  Having no idea how long the paddle will be had given me pause.  I’ve not been paddling much lately.  When we did the Wildcat Mountain Challenge our boats were brand-spanking-new and the paddling segment was four miles.  I was able to maintain a steady clip, but I felt it for sure. 

I’ve decided to ride The One (26” Cannondale Trail SL2) instead of the Pine Mountain.  There is a distinct weight difference.  Again, I decided since I have no idea how far I’ll be riding that maximizing my chances by reducing the friction I’ll be creating makes the most sense. 

I’d been hoping for cooler weather.  I’m hot natured and thrive in cool and cold weather.  The worse it is the more my advantage goes up.  I don’t shy away from recreating and exercising in bad weather.  The forecast now is for the low 70s and a chance of rain.  That’s not as much advantage as I was hoping for.  Even still…

Even as I prepare for the 2017 Fig I am already looking ahead to the Unbridled Series in 2018.  I’ve decided not to throw in my name for the Leadville lottery in 2018.  It’s not that we can’t afford it.  For the first time in 18 years of marriage the cost is probably not a major factor in a Leadville vacation.  Ok, it’s not the single most major factor.

I do need performance goals to motivate me to better fitness.  And there is where the Unbridled Series comes in.  I’m even on the fence now as to whether I will sign up for a single 100 mile mountain bike race in 2018.  I had said if I couldn’t get into Leadville that I would pick another race.  Problem is there’s only one hundred mile mountain bike race within six hours of where I live.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Weekend of Colors

It seems we’ve reached peak fall colors this past weekend.  That doesn’t mean the colors are now gone, just that as we go through the week I think we’ll see the decline of vibrancy as the leaves fade and fall.  On Friday I was a bit frantic as I had not gotten out to get any photos of the colors and the light was bad most of the time when I had opportunity.  I finally decided this year I needed to focus on getting images under the canopy in low light.  That worked out fairly well.

Friday afternoon I rode a six mile loop in Bald Rock.  I ended up chatting with Ricky Marshall who is an oil worker in Bald Rock.  I’ve talked to him before, but he and I chatted for quite a while on a beautiful bluebird day when I should have been neither chatting or riding and instead should have been roaming around the Gorge taking sunny photos of the fall colors.  Alas.

The ride was good.  And talking to Ricky opened up some interesting possibilities in Bald Rock.  The main one is that a few issues I’ve got with the trails can be resolved much easier now.  All I have to do is get with Ricky again. 

I have a specific goal in Bald Rock now.  I want to finish the singletrack loop before the end of May.  It won’t take much at all.  We’re talking maybe a half a mile of full on benchcutting and grooming the rest of the corridor.  On the south side where the existing trails are there are a lot of small projects that need to be done, but they can happen over time.  And when I say “finish the loop” I’m talking roughed in, not built out.  Built out is five more miles of singletrack, but that’s going to have to come when there are a lot of people coming to ride and willing to put in the time and energy to get it done.  I’m working strategically now.

I’m counting down to The Fig now.  I have no idea how I’ll do, but if the past weekend is any indication I’m going to suffer.  It’s a twelve hour race so I figure I’ll suffer one additional day for each hour out on the course.  I know that sounds extreme, but I am extremely old.  TO be fair, I’m not as sore and stiff as I expected after the weekend’s shenanigans.  And for once I am not the most injured in the adventure party.

Saturday I did a quick bushwhack jaunt up to the base of Blackburn Rock to try and get some foliage with a colorful sandstone cliff backdrop.  I was able to eek out a few I liked, but nothing mind boggling.  It was a short 2 mile out and back off-trail in cool weather.  This is the kind of hike I cut my teeth on and the kind of outing I live for.  Forget all this mountain biking, rock climbing, paddling, etc, etc.  I’m in my element when I’m off trail, wrestling my way through rhododendron, and getting wet and dirty. 

That’s also how I stayed skinny and sane for so long in my 20s and 30s.  I need to get back to those roots.  And if I’m going to win the Unbridled Series next year I definitely need to be doing more of that.  Wha-what?!

Anyway, it was good to get back home where it was warm on Saturday evening.  Sunday afternoon Mandy and I went for a hike.  Her criteria was lots of hills.  I obliged by choosing Rough Trail from Martin’s Fork.  That’s always a good choice for climbing and if you want the option of varying distances.  I was hoping for a full traverse of Rough Trail from Martin’s Fork to Pinch Em Tight and back.  That was not in the cards.

At the top of the first climb and just before the last rocky step up to the Gray’s Arch Trail Mandy caught her left kneecap on a stump or something.  It drove in kind of deep.  No skin was broken, but as of this morning there is an oogly purple knot on her knee.

She toughed it out and we hiked down to Gray’s Arch and continued on Rough Trail to Rush Ridge.  By the time we gained that ridge we were both feeling the miles (a couple more than I had remembered it being) and opted to cut short and traverse Rush Ridge back to Pinch Em Tight and return.

The hike ended up being seven miles when I had guessed three to five.  In my defense distances only mattered to me when I was trail running and I’ve never really known solid distances in the Gorge. 
We spent a good three hours hiking, talking, and enjoying the colors and the crisp weather.  Icy pellets rained down on us a few times, and after devouring a couple of burritos at the Rockhouse a full on rain/snow mix was falling as we drove toward home.  It was an enjoyable day in what is really the best kind of hiking weather in my estimation. 

I worried I would be too stiff and sore this morning, but oddly my body feels pretty good.  There are a few sing-song complaints in a couple of joints, but overall I feel pretty good.  Mandy—on the other hand—she was in a good bit of pain last night.  Her knee is going to peak in color as the leaves are falling and maybe even after all of the foliage is gone.

Anyway, it looks to be a busy week, so you may not hear much form me until after Th Fig.  I’m not going to pontificate much about how I’ll do after this.  The dice are cast.  We’ll see where they fall.