Friday, June 20, 2014

Tracing a Line

The new state master trail plan is smoldering.  Soon it will be hot off the presses.  Having worked on it for most of this past month has me frothing to go use some of our state’s trails.  In particular I want to get back to the Sheltowee Trace.  I’ve schemed about it for a while now. 

After Matt Hoyes' attempt to run it last year I began to develop an interest in ultrarunning.  The concept didn’t appeal to me at first, but then I considered it for a while.  It suits me nature and personality.  I am drawn to protracted suffering.  I am drawn to long distance traveling under my own power.  Why not ultra-running?
A) I have a family.
2) I have a full time job.
III) I’m old.
Quatro) I’m fat.
Training to be an ultra-runner takes time.  You have to run.  Lots.  Running long distances, even if you’re fast-fast-fast, takes time.  To train to run a 307 mile trail north-south across the state would take a lot of time.  I can't maintain the balance I want in life if I am always out running the roads while my family is wondering if I'm ever going to get down to the nitty-gritty of being a husband and father.  But I digress.  This post was supposed to be about mountain biking.  Or was it about the Sheltowee?
Recently I had opportunity to ride another portion of the ST near London, Kentucky.  I’ve trekked most of the trail between Cave Run and Heidelburg either on foot or on a bike.  I’ve ridden at Laurel Lake and Cane Creek near London.  The other day I rode the section from KY 80 south to FR 4255.  I did an out and back jaunt of 4.3 miles on a shared hike, bike, dirt bike section of the Trace.  Surprisingly the apparent dirt bike traffic hasn’t wrecked the trail for the most part.  It still has an intimate singletrack feel.  That was heartening.
Small stream crossing

Nice singletrack
Realistically I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the trail with dirt bikes present, but the condition of the trail is fine despite obvious use by motorized bikes.  And the trail rode well.  The climbing turns were reasonable.  There weren’t horrible ruts in the trail (except in one spot, see above).  It was an enjoyable ride.
Then I discovered another broken spoke.  Yep, my fat behind is breaking The One* down like a circus bear breaks down a cheap department store unicycle.  Actually, after consulting with Jeaphre we agreed the problem seems to be that he replaced five of my thin broken spokes with beefier new spokes perhaps putting greater (or less?) tension on the remaining original spokes.  The hub is in good shape, as is the rim (sort of) so all I need to do is procure 25 or so beefy spokes and nipples to replace the existing thin spokes, hypnotize Jeaph into thinking he wants to rebuild my wheel, and then ride off into the sunset (and hopefully not tacoing a different wheel in the process).
But I digress!
I had to cut my ride short once I realized I was in mechanical distress.  Of course since I was doing an out and back ride cutting it short meant I was still halfway into the ride.  I took my time and care in getting back to the car as I tucked tail and headed back to civilization with fewer miles than I’d wanted for the day.  But that’s alright, I’ll be back soon enough.
These interlocking concrete tiles were used to harden some hill sections.
They were pretty awesome too!

Limping back to the trailhead
The whole excursion into new territory got me thinking about the possibility of a trip down to Big South Fork to sample the MTBing there.  I need to ride more of the Sheltowee too.  I won’t be attempting a thru-hike, run, or ride anytime soon, but maybe by this time next year I can have the logistics worked out.  Maybe I’ll have my act together and be ready to give it a solid go.
As I see it there are many iterations of a thru-whatever of the ST:
  • Unsupported minimalistic thru-run (I estimate a strong runner could do it in 6-7 days)
  • Supported thru-run (5-6 days)
  • Unsupported minimalistic thru-hike (10 days)
  • Unsupported thru-mountain bike (2-3 days for uber-strong rider, 4-5 for mere mortals)
  • Supported thru-bike (2-3 days alternating mountain and road bikes)
I continually reiterate “minimalistic” because I have no desire to go heavily loaded on such a long jaunt.  Also, my intent in any of these efforts would be a single effort push.  I don’t want to necessarily section hike, run, or bike the Trace.  I want to travel end to end without stepping away and returning.  Stopping, in my case, would be quitting.  There is nothing to be proven by chopping the trail up into smaller bits for consumption.  It must be swallowed whole.
That’s what I want.  If you see it differently that’s fine.  I’m not saying you’re wrong.  I do think to claim a speed record on a long distance trail, or to claim to have thru-hiked it when you’ve done it in separate sections or with extensive support is being somewhat dishonest.
Speed efforts are about long term endurance.  Anyone could sprint the whole trail in 100 yard increments and claim to have done it in 20 hours.  Well, maybe not anyone, but you see my point?  Good style means you call your effort what it is and not try to portray it as something more than the accomplishment it truly represents. 
Endurance racing is not about speed alone.  It’s about being able to manage pain, manage pace, and manage your mind through a complex series of conditions, mental states, and obstacles between two points.  It’s about not being able to see the finish and yet striving toward it with intense focus.  It’s about looking many moves down the board and holding the strategy in your mind.  It’s about adapting to changing realities.
Endurance is the ability to mitigate suffering and delay failure beyond what seems reasonable.  Chasing these long-distance dreams is a way to temper the ability to face down any of life’s trials and to endure the unforeseen hardships that lie somewhere beyond the horizon.  These long distances are getting longer all the time.  I made the big mistake of the 100 mile Leadville trail run: “I would never do that.”  It’s a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.  When I say things like that I tend to be drawn to exactly the thing I didn’t think I could or would do.
On our hike the other day Mandy and I talked about organizing local trail events.  The conclusion seemed to be that a series of underground grassroots events makes the most sense.  Small, unofficial, no fee, no award, ITT-style efforts are kind of the up and coming thing.  This is the kind of thing I can do and do well.  We'll see what becomes of it.
*See my previous blog.  I call my Cannondale mountain bike “The One” because it was the chosen bike when I set out on my obsessive Leadville 100 quest.

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