Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Po-Tay-To or Po-Tah-To?

I was off half a day Friday as previously mentioned.  Okay, I’m off most of the time, but let’s try and stay on topic.  Ooh, shiny!

The plan was to go home wherein Mandy and I would build three potato bins (of “Grow 100 Pounds of Potatoes in 4 Square Feet” fame) and plant potatoes and other garden type plants in the afternoon time.

It didn’t work out that way.  The day was beautiful.  I travelled home expediently.  We obtained plants, seed potatoes, and we returned home.  After a few false starts I found myself sitting in the dark living room staring impotently at the screen of my iPhone.  There were myriad factors that kept me from being productive on Friday, but the underlying root of the matter was depression.  It just hit me full in the chest and settled there through most of the weekend.  There was no reason. 

The most frustrating thing about it was that I knew getting out in the sun and being active should be the best therapy I could give myself, but I was shut down like the EPA in a republican controlled world.  Saturday I set out on an intentionally epic mountain bike ride.  Friday night and Saturday morning I felt ambivalent concerning the ride.  I could have cared less if I rode or not.  I was most definitely not fired up to go and that wasn’t because I was scared of my own ambitious scheme.

Jefe wanted to do a big road ride, but considering the dry April weather and an impending May Mohican I just couldn’t relegate myself back to another paved ride.  I had to get out on dirt.

I dallied Saturday morning.  I didn’t get out until after 9am.  I climbed Furnace Mountain easily in my experimental 1x9 gearing.  It went fine.  I rolled out to Furnace feeling pretty good and marveling at the banners and bunting of redbud blooms skirting the roadway.  At Furnace I turned on Mountain Springs Road, and for a little while I felt pretty good.  But when I stopped to eat a little before descending fast past Crazy Kinley’s cabin (“Don’t shoot, your son is a good friend of mine!”) my spirits were definitely muted.

I’ve applied the moniker “The Hog Troughs” to the section between the last cabin heading east and Pilot Road.  ATVs and ORVs have rutted the road into near uselessness.  Even to themselves.  There were four-wheeler tracks around many of the big mudholes.  I botched the first Hog Trough, but only because I chose the wrong line.  Hog Trough #2 is the real beast and I made it maybe a third of the way up and then walked.  But I did clean the third Trough before bombing down to the last long section from Pilot up to the road.  The more mudholes I had to detour around the fouler my mood became.

Hog Trough #2

Mountain Chapel

A good place to rest in the midst of a mountain bike epic?

Proof that I wasn't cheating on an ATV

The "Nar's" (Narrows)

Popular historic dumping site

I rested at Mountain Chapel next to the cemetery.  I ate more.  I texted Dave L. that he should be out with me.  He’s a connoisseur of a good sufferfest too.  After I could rest no longer I dropped down on Red’s Hollow quickly to a long, steep gravel climb.  At the bottom I was certain I was going to walk it.  But after making it halfway and still being on the bike I decided I’d clean it or pass out trying.  In the loose gravel it becomes a real test of finesse to maintain traction and to not scratch out.  It was an even finer line with the 1x9 that I was used to.  I couldn’t gear down.  I just had to ply force and maximize traction.

Then I was up and over and within a couple of minutes bombing again down Barker Branch Road.  Blah, blah, blah, I rode a while and stopped to contemplate my route home.  Repeat.  Repeat.

I finally found myself on the Sheltowee Trace nearing White’s Branch Arch (somewhere along the way I climbed up to the "Nar's").  That’s when I came upon the two gentlemen hiking.

“How far to the bottom?” the older gentleman asked as I rolled to stop near them.

“Where are you trying to get to?” I asked to make sure I understood what he was asking.

“There’s a way down to highway 11,” he replied.  Ugh, they were in for a sufferfest if they wanted to head down Sterling Road.  Jeffro and I slogged up that on a scouting mission last year.  I have nothing good to say about the Forest Service since making that trip up Sterling Road.

I explained how to get there, and that once they started down and hit the massive section of blowdowns that they should keep going because the road opened up not much further down.

They cautioned me that beyond the arch heading toward the state park there were a lot of blowdowns.  Inwardly I groaned.  But quickly I determined that it would still be quicker to push on than to go back.  Plus, I was out of food and low on water.  Adding ten miles to the trip to avoid some deadfall seemed unnecessary.

Easily cleared section

Not so easily cleared or bypassed

Of course I acknowledged to myself that it could get really bad really fast.  I’ve done my share (and probably yours as well) of bushwhacking with a bicycle.  I know how bad it can be, and yet I soldiered on after wishing my fellow travelers good luck.

Despite the onerousness of the journey beyond the Narrows section of the Sheltowee this was the only section where I was able to focus on the moment and for a while forget my heavy mood.  As I’d traveled the easy section of Big Bend to where the United States Fascist Service obliterated the trail I hit the low point of the day.  I wanted to stop the bike, sit down, and just not move until someone came looking for me.  I was brain-tired and spiritually diluted.  Nothing seemed worthwhile to me at that point.  I was done.

But the challenge of getting through to Boyd Holler awakened the part of me that thrives through adversity.  The hikers were right: the ridge beyond the arch was insanely thick with trees hanging drunkenly toward the ground, and sometimes passed out in a throng across the trail.  One 200 yard section of trail was impassable, and the detour around was nearly as thick with small pines, greenbriars, and deadfall. 

I rode when I could, vowing to return with a bow saw in the near future.  The old road out there is amazing with lots of exposed sandstone to ride on, sweeping vistas visible for split seconds through the trees, and the challenge of some technical terrain courtesy of our very own USFS.

I paused at the top of Pot Hollow to text Mandy:

I’m not sure if the epic is almost over or just begun.  Got a mile or so of potential bikewhacking to get back to the main road.

The descent ended up being about like I remembered it from last year.  Again, it has potential, and just needs a little pruning and a few whacks from a mattocks.  At least it doesn’t suffer from mudholes anymore.

Finally I made it out to the pavement on South Fork and was beat down, but oddly, my spirits were somewhat raised.  I had no cell service, and after a few miles when my connection to civilization returned I saw I had a text from Mandy offering to pick me up in Bowen. 

Please! was my response.  I added that I’d meet her at Joe Bowen’s place.  He’s now a Bluegrass Bike Partner don’t you know?  We visited with Joe and talked local events for a while.  For a few moments I was coasting on the improved mood of my latter sufferfest.  

I didn’t get back to the potato bins on Saturday afternoon.  I wasn’t wrecked from my ride, but I didn’t have the will to be productive.  Sunday after church my family had a dinner for those with April birthdays.  We didn’t settled at home until nearly 3:00.  I knew if I was going to get those potatoes planted this spring it was Sunday afternoon or never.  And so I set about building three 2x2 bins and a low raised bed for lettuce and broccoli.  By the time Mandy returned home with The Boy from baseball practice The Bean and I had finished the bins, planted the potatoes and was mostly cleaning up. 

Getting ready for some row planting as well

And finally, for the first time all weekend, I was somewhat at peace.  The whole day on Saturday as I rode I meditated on how throughout my life I had felt those moments of apathy when I was in the midst of doing something I wanted to be doing, just for myself, and I wanted to stop doing it.  I was receiving no pleasure from the activity.  Before we had kids I was a prolific boulderer.  I would go out in the woods exploring with my two dogs and two crash pads until I found a cluster of boulders and then I would clean and climb as much as I could in a day.  If it was a good area I’d return and climb more.

Toward the end of my bouldering days I had more and more moments when I’d find myself in the woods, having walked aimlessly and then retreated in apathy back to the car without having climbed anything—and having repeated in the same day this process two or three times—only to find myself alone, with no desire to keep going, and absolutely no desire to return home without having climbed anything.  I’d hit these endless feedback loops and could never figure out what was going on.  Why was in so close to what I desired but unable to enjoy it?

I theorized back then that what I really wanted was human companionship and was lacking it.  But I’ve spent most of my life as a solo adventurer.  I truly love being alone and being self-reliant.  It fulfills me.  It had to be something else nagging me.

In the past year I’ve finally come to accept that I suffer from depression.  And I think the reason I never made the connection between my recreational apathy and my neurological malaise is because there are so many other factors that come into play when you’re exerting yourself.  You could have low blood sugar.  You could be dehydrated.  You could just be generally fatigued.  I assumed for so long that I was just overworking myself when it came to spending time in the outdoors. 

Saturday I was physically fine.  I had plenty of food up until the last hour, and that was when I felt best.  I had plenty of water until the last half hour I was on the bike.  The sun was shining.  I’d had plenty of rest.  There was no physical reason for my putrid state of mind. 

I wanted this post to be a light-hearted rendering of the weekend, but I can’t make it light-hearted.  I can’t sugar-coat this.  Most of my daily sugar-coating is an attempt to mask this I think. 

The bigger question for me is this: is the depression an effect of other issues I have (ADHD, SPD, etc), or is it a root cause that compounds the other issues?  Does it matter?

See, I didn’t have to change my whole blog format to write about gardening and my mental health issues!  I worked bikes into the story.  I could’ve even worked in a few of the transportation issues I pondered along the way as I rode on Saturday.   Like how and why so many ridiculously steep and curvy roads were built in the backwoods of Kentucky, and the disheartening demise of the country store, or what possessed the idiot who almost ran me over as I was making a left onto Joe’s road despite the fact that I had taken the lane and had given a left turn signal.

Tomorrow I promise to try and return you to your regularly scheduled asinine programming.

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