Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Musings of an Old Fat Dad or: I Used to Be Cool!

I moan about getting back into climbing rather frequently.  When we moved away to Colorado I had been quit of climbing for a couple of years and was happy to be so.  I was somewhat burnt out, disillusioned, and overuse injured.  When I found myself living in Colorado within spitting distance of Eldorado Canyon, the Flatirons, and the magnificent and mysterious granite slabs of the South Platte I marveled at my lack of interest.  I should have been giddy to be so close to climbing areas that I had read about for years and years and had dreamed of visiting.  I wasn’t.  I didn’t go straight out and start ticking off the classics I had pined for from afar.
My life as a boulderer went something like this…
As a new climber I found myself unsatisfied at the end of many days at the crags and would climb around unroped near the ground.  I knew this was an activity in and of itself.  Early on some friends had directed me to a boulder traverse at Tower Rock to help me get into climbing shape.  Bouldering was an outlet for my gumby frustrations.  Over time it developed into an end unto itself, but it took about five years before I started seeking out bouldering opportunities over roped climbing.
In 1999 my cousin and I began developing the easy and moderate bouldering below the cliffs of the Emerald City climbing area.  We also spent a good bit of time traversing and wallering around at Torrent Falls.  This was around the same time Chris Redmond had finished developing the Cove and the Coffee Shop.  He had also found and promoted the Junkyard and a few other areas.  His controversial bouldering guide came out at the same time I had a couple of guide type articles published in a grungy little free outdoor adventure zine called Extremz.  In addition to my own efforts and those of Redmond and his posse Scott Rennak was wandering around the Red and putting up some quiet problems.
I ran into Scott at Vedauwoo in 2010
He had a sprained or broken ankle and his wife was pregnant.
But we reminisced of the good ole days in the RRG 
While Dustin and I continued to explore and find new areas to clean and climb I would frequently do single and double circuits at Emerald City and Torrent Falls.  When I lived in Slade I climbed eight days a week without an intentional rest day for the better part of a year.  At that young age I tasted the pangs of tendonitis.  Finally the pain shut me down.  I decided to stop bouldering altogether and go back to roped climbing.
Stylishly sending Hierarchy at Lower Small Wall in 1996

That was when I fell in with a bunch of traddies and began climbing cracks almost exclusively.  Mandy and I climbed a lot in those years between 2000 and 2004 or so.  But in 2003 we had our first child and then our college careers began to get serious.  Climbing took a back seat.  Our backcountry climbing friends started to drift away…or climb sport…and life kept us out of the woods more than in.  I wasn’t ready to let that happen so any time I could steal a couple or dozen hours I would run to the woods with two crashpads and my dogs and explore.  I had dialed in how to find potential boulders from perusing a topo map and during my second round of obsessive explore-clean-boulder-promote I found a few substantial areas and had a grand old time frolicking on the smaller stones.
At that time I couldn’t drum up much interest in bouldering in the RRG area.  I mainly went out by myself with the dogs.  I suffered unsuspected and definitely undiagnosed depression during that time as well.  My wife thought I was trying to avoid her.  I didn’t know why I was so desperate to escape into the woods all the time myself.  And eventually I suffered a recurrence of the tendonitis.  Finally, it was too much, and I gave up bouldering supposedly for good.  It was heart wrenching for me to trade off my crashpad for a tent.  I knew even if I would ever get back into bouldering that I needed enough time off that it would be justifiable to buy a new pad someday.  By October of 2002 I was quit of bouldering seemingly for good.  In 2006 I laid off roped climbing for an extended hiatus.  Was I burned out?  Yeah.  Did I need to catch up on growing up and finding my place in life?  Yeah.  Did I really need to stop climbing to accomplish that?  Not really.
We moved west in 2008 seeking opportunity.  Five years in Colorado did finally incite me to dabble in climbing again.  I made a couple of trips to Vedauwoo and had a lot of fun.  I took the kids climbing in the South Platte.  We visited Eldo a couple of times.  The last roped climb we did while we were in the west was the Standard East Face of the Third Flatiron.  It’s one of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.  But all-in-all we didn’t climb much.
Edward's Crack, Vedauwoo

In my element on Jazz Dome, South Platte

Mandy summiting the Third Flatiron
One Christmas I asked for a new crashpad.  The first trip out I took the kids to the Flatirons.  Mandy and I made a day trip up to Horsetooth Reservoir a few months later.  I had wanted to visit Horsetooth for more than ten years.  It was bittersweet.  I was out of shape and weak and was unable to do more than brush dishpan pink hands across the holds of Eliminator and Pinch Overhang.  I wanted to go back, but I was averse to the feeling of disappointment I knew would come even stronger.
Goofing around under the Flatirons

Bittersweet at Horsetooth Reservoir
One of the struggles with bouldering development in Kentucky was the lack of recognition of bouldering as a standalone activity.  Another was the commonly held misconception that “there’s no bouldering in the Red River Gorge.”  I will admit that the Red will always be known for roped climbing and it will never truly be a destination bouldering area like Hueco Tanks, Horse Pens 40, or the Boone, North Carolina area.  The truth about bouldering in the Red River Gorge is that high quality bouldering is dispersed and mostly undeveloped or unpublished.  The USFS has a lot to do with the lack of print with their overly fascist “management” of recreational uses on the Daniel Boone.  The lack of development goes primarily back to the sometimes toxic climbing community and The Misconception. 

That's not to say there was no community, or that nothing good came out of that premillennial explosion of bouldering activity in the area.  Redmond, Rennak, myself and other guys like Nick Rueff and Rhett Fulkerson had a passion for seeking out and climbing those rare bouldering gems in the temperate rain forest that is the Cumberland Plateau for their own sake, and not as a diversion from roped climbing. 

Redmond left the state not too long after his guide hit the stands.  I never wrote another article promoting bouldering the in Red after being raked over the coals by Redmond and others for my two Extremz pieces.  Every time I mentioned bouldering in the forums on KY Wilderness or Red River Climbing the snide comments or crickets deafened me.  As a younger man I took all of that as slights to my values and personhood.  I'm a little thicker skinned these days.
Recently Kipp Trummel, a voracious route developer in the Red, discovered and began developing and promoting a new bouldering area.  Not so long ago a guy named Tommy Wilson and his friends began quietly developing boulders around some of my old haunts.  And I moved back to the state.  Maybe it’s time the Red River Gorge saw its first bouldering renaissance.  Wonder where Redmond is these days?
Kipp’s area is fantastic.  Located at the very headwaters of the Red River it’s not technically within the Gorge area.  But then again neither are most of the popular roped climbing areas of the past fifteen years.  Most of the mainstream climbing development has occurred in the Kentucky River watershed unbeknownst to most climbers.
Anyway, the BMW Boulders are surprisingly good.  People are raving about them.  When I first saw photos I knew they couldn’t be in the Gorge proper.  I know my geology.  They didn’t look right.  Then I found out “BMW” stands for “Breathitt-Magoffin-Wolfe.”  The area is located near where the three counties come together.  It’s private land, but climbing development has occurred with full-knowledge and support from the non-climber land owner. 
But when Kipp described them to me I knew that my three most favorite areas within the Red proper were similarly formed.  See, the BMWs (and my Area 51, Muscle Beach, and Greek Boulders) are essentially smaller cliffbands on the crests of ridges.  They aren’t slump block boulders that tend to be soft and overgrown.  Neither are they the uber-high quality slump boulders that have fortuitously managed to stay sheltered by the towering cliffs of the Red.  But they do exist and provide for fantastic unroped climbing opportunities.
In the last days of my bouldering disco I was exploring based on topographic maps.  I would find a ridgeline where the large cliff ended and further out the rockless spine another outcropping would occur.  I had finally come to the conclusion that between the main rock outcroppings and the lesser isolated ones was the terrain most likely to provide quality concentrated bouldering.
Quality will always be debated, but I found my concentrations.  While the naysayers persist, the Red River Gorge does have bouldering in quantity and concentration.  Kipp has shone light on that fact and has not only shown the climbing world, but he’s also given me the final bit of justification I needed to come out of the shadows.  He and I share a similar philosophy of climbing: that the journey is as rewarding as the route you end up climbing.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to begin roaming the earth as a Red River Gorge evangelist.  But it does mean that I’m coming out of the closet.  Yes, I once bouldered in the Red and it was a good thing.  I don’t know if I will ever be a boulderer again.  I hope I can overcome my tendonitis and get back on the short stones as well as go back to hanging ropes.  For now I am merely hopeful.  For now I live mostly in memory as a climber, but those memories are so rich and bountiful.
I took my seven year old Bean bouldering a few days ago.  She had a great time.  She was so proud of herself for sending the downclimb on the Shelf Life Boulder at Emerald City.  While I was somewhat despondent that I couldn’t send the area classic: Shelf Life, a mere V0+, I was happy to be out in the woods with one of my kids and sharing with them the joy I used to find roaming out under the sun amongst the rocks and trees of the Red River Valley.
Bean tickling the starting holds of Shelf Life

As an addendum, and what I think is going to be terribly ironic and frustrating is that once I get myself fully back into climbing and being so into running now that at some point I'm going to look back on the epoch we lived in Colorado and be like: "I wasted those years on cycling!"

Monday, December 29, 2014

Eyes Up Going Into the New Year

The Training Partner texted:
What are you doing Friday [after Christmas]?
I replied:
Whining about how old and fat and stiff I am for awhile.  Then probably going out and trying to overcompensate and end up hurting myself.  Then feeling sorry for myself and the whole cycle starts all over again.
He asked if I had been reading his diary.
The past couple of weeks I've been feeling as if I'm falling apart.  I'm afraid to lay off exercise to heal.  I'll balloon up like one of those Macy parade characters.  But I'm determined to get fit for the coming year of running.
One day of easy bouldering caused my tendonitis to flare up.  I've laid off climbing for eight years hoping it would get better.  Obviously ignoring the problem isn't going to make it go away.
I've lost all of my previous climbing fitness.  I'm stiff as a board, I can hardly hold my body weight on big easy holds, and I'm carrying the equivalent of a small dog when I try to escape the earth’s gravitational pull.
A climbing friend who is fired up about developing a new bouldering area has inspired me to revisit my old haunts and writings on the matter.  Looking back through my climbing journals I discovered that between 1999 and 2002 I "put up" over 500 boulder problems in the Red River Gorge area.  The pinnacle of my efforts was a sublime overhanging obtuse arĂȘte in an obscure area near home.  Fifteen feet tall, overhanging three feet, and desperate for the grade of V3: Who Remembers Briseis? was the bouldering experience I searched for those three years I tromped around with my crashpads and my dogs looking for boulders.
Who Remembers Briseis? V3
The Greek Boulders
The other day when I visited the area (out of curiosity more than any other reason) I discovered I lack the ability to get my feet off the ground on the problem.
Finally I might have discovered my motivation.  Twelve years gone I'm not the climber I once was and I hate it.  I want to feel strong again.  I don't have to feel young, but I will be strong once more.
Saturday Jefe and I rode our bikes.  It had been too long.  I only rode twenty-seven miles but it felt like enough.  I had originally thought to do the fifty-two mile Gorge loop ride from home.  I realized that would be folly.  While the ride was nothing special other than a good time out on the roads I did manage a PR on High Rock from South Fork. 
I really began enjoying the ride out beyond Rosslyn.  Traffic was light late morning on Saturday, and after I turned onto South Fork Road there was no traffic whatsoever.  In fact, I can’t remember a single car passing me/us until we were five miles from Stanton on Furnace Mountain.  By then I was over twenty miles into my ride.
Santa brought me lots of good running stuff.  Mandy and I got each other new shoes a bit early for Christmas so I already had those.  But I got some tights, a wrist mount GPS with HR monitor, and a few other things.  We had a gluttonous holiday stretch so yesterday I felt the strong urge to run.  I've been in a holding pattern at 197 lbs.  So I ran.
I went down to the park about an hour before dark with no intentions other than to run my standard 5k.  I have a hard time running farther there.  I get bored to tears after six laps around the park so that's all I ever manage.
It was drizzly and grey—my favorite running conditions—and I was out of the gate in good spirits.  On the first lap I knew I was on a strong pace.  By the third lap I knew I had a shot at an adult 5k PR.  I never looked back.  My pace and my heart rate kept climbing until I redlined just as I reached 3.1 miles.  It was a PR by fourteen seconds.
A High Rock PR on the bike and a respectable and unexpected 5k PR at the park...and I'm as fat as I've ever been.  The auld war wound pestered me after the ride, but I felt downright teenage after my blistering run.  I did three sets of dead hangs on the playground afterward.  Baby steps.  And I've got to start somewhere on the long climb out of my funk. 
So here we go...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Run Yourself Rugged Redux


There are going to be some subtle changes here.  I do this every once in a while: announce big or little changes and then totally not follow through.  Basically I’m making a prediction.

First off some good news; I’m officially a paid writer.  It wasn't much, but it was cash for my work all the same.  I've mentioned that Keith Snyder chose my short story “All You Haters” for his RIDE 3 collection?  Well, it’s official.  I mean, it was official before, but now I have the bank statement to show I am a paid writer.  Unless you’re an IRS investigator, and then it really wasn't enough to claim.  Really.

From the Pavement’s Edge is still out there and I've tried to make weekly contributions to it, but it’s been hard as I've not really been an active cyclist for some time now.  That must change.

I've also agree to be an unpaid contributor to a couple of different blogs, but my strategy is to use these venues to get my name out there.  People seem to like my writing (especially when I go the extra mile and try) so I think I just need to get some name recognition.  More on these efforts later. 

Along those lines I have a draft of Leadville or Bust that needs publishing and I have a rough rough draft of my “pseudonym book” that I’ll be working on over the coming months.  In addition to those I have a post-apocalyptic story I've revived and have begun brainstorming on.

Finally, Mandy and I are officially the new planning team for the Rugged Red.  She is The Race Director and I am the Assistant to the Race Director.  We’re getting jackets made with those titles on them.  Joe is still the founder, host, and personality of the race, but Mandy and I have brought our considerable expertise to the event and our vision combined with Joe’s vision promises some great things in the near and far future.  I think I’m safe to share that we want to turn this into a race series in the vein of the Leadville Race Series but with an Appalachian flavor.  Our ultramarathon will be hard.  I’m grinning as I write that.  Please take no offense if the Leadville 100 is your holy grail.

In conjunction with our involvement in the Rugged Red I have begun creating an online persona to be a voice for the race: The Ruggedeer.  I’ll be composing weekly posts that are short and pithy in nature with inspirational photos of the Red River Gorge.  We’ll use the official Rugged Red social media outlets for official announcements and the like, but this gives me an opportunity to be slightly more creative and less official while promoting outdoor adventure activities at home.

This blog won’t go away, but if you see lapses in regular posts please don’t fret.  At the least I’ll try to cross post stuff here when relevant. 
Anyway, that’s the thumbnail status update you've surely been waiting for. 

I will also be running lots and trying to dabble some in cycling and...dare I say...ROCK CLIMBING!

My precious!
I won this at the RRGCC raffle.
I'm not sure what it is, but I think it'll make me climb like a superhero.
Alternately, I know for a fact this is the perfect sized (#1) Black Diamond Camalot
for the crack on Environmental Impact at Pebble Beach.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Playboy Bunnies Dead in Red River Gorge

It was a big weekend.  First I hiked out to Pinch Em Tight Gap from Tunnel Ridge Road to try and get some trailrunning selfies.  Yes, I am that vain.  This post is about me.

I remembered the unofficial trail to Pinch Em Tight off of Rough Trail being casual and easy.  Since I was last out there eons ago there's been at least one big wildfire.  The trail is overgrown with thick pines and there are tons of deadfall from large trees killed by the fire.  It's a steeplechase for sure.

I wanted to get some photos at the top of the gap of Revenuers Rock on the north side and of Chimney Top Rock across the valley.  Once I'd gotten my panorama photos I made my way over to Hanson's Point.  I played around with running selfies. 

Looking across Pinch Em Tight Gap at Revenuers Rock, Chimney Top Rock is in the distance to the right

Running at Hanson's Point

Running at the bigger Ledford Arch

To be honest my intent was more of a test for when I can get someone more photogenic out there in better foliage.  I made a side trip to Ledford Arches and discovered the fire had reached that ridge as well.  At the end of yet another bushwhack I grabbed a few photos there as well before heading back.

All along the way I lived with one foot in memory and one foot in the present.  I longed for enough time to cross Pinch Em Tight and scramble up on the incredible monolith of Revenuers Rock.  But I also remembered the exploratory hikes from twenty years ago out there, the ascent of Duke's Day, and the one time Scratchy-dog somehow climbed up the end of Hanson's Point after getting lost on a hike.

Saturday night was a big shindig at Sky Bridge Station.  A good friend--and actually the best man at our wedding--Jason Tyler Burton (we call him JB; see the previous post) and cellist Ben Sollee performed a benefit concert for the Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition.

Jason Tyler Burton (JB) performing at Sky Bridge Station

Ben Sollee sawing on the strings

More mellow

Lily meeting old friends

We were tripping through nostalgia.  So many friends and acquaintances showed up.  Hugs and handshakes were followed with deep reminiscing.  JB and Jeff, Kris and others shared the night.  I talked Xtracycles with Ben before the show started. 

JB and Ben played together years ago at Live Wire in Richmond.  We first saw JB play there too.  I've followed both of their musical careers.  It was great to get to see both of them play and it was incredible when they played together. 

What a great night!

It started out with "Hey Ben, wanna play a song?"  The night climaxed with a stellar cover of When the Doves Cry. Along the way Jason played Paper Angels and Hillbilly Hayduke.  Ben played Bury Me With My Car amongst others.  Together they played a mind boggling rendition of JB's A Finer Line.

Ben and JB playing to a packed house

It was great to pick right back up with old friends and enjoy good music.  I won a new #1 Black Diamond Camalot in the raffle.  It's a sign that I DO need to start climbing again.

Mandy and I also got out on the second section of the Rugged Red course for a hike/run and to better familiarize her with the course.  I am pretty sure that by September I’m going to be really freakin’ sick of the Rugged Red course.  But I don’t mind :)

I hadn’t been on the latter part of the course since race day and the memories flooded back.  Of course we talked race for next year so we were analyzing and conceptualizing all along the way.  It was one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on.  I do that kind of thing in my mind all the time when I’m out solo.  I typically even imagine that there’s someone else with me to bounce ideas off of.  To actually have another live mind to work through the issues of putting a few hundred racers on that trail really got my synapses humming.

Indian Arch

Work along the Sheltowee Trace

We closed the loop from Bison Way back to the car at the suspension bridge by walking/running along KY 715.  We were almost in sight of the car and there was a group of attractive young people loitering in the middle of the road.  While we were still a couple dozen yards away one of them distinctly said: “Maybe they know.”
They seemed out of place.  The young ladies (ahem) looked ready to go out dancing while the guys appeared to be ready to shoot a catalog spread for high fallutin’ hiking duds.  One of the four girls (they were all young) was kneeling beside a small daypack trying to shove an aluminum cook kit into it, while another tried to untangle a wad of thin white nylon cord.  One of the guys sat halfway up the uber steep bank over the road and another guy stood pointlessly and protectively near the girls with music blaring from his phone.
As we got closer they seemingly ignored us while continuing to almost completely block the road.  We were going to have to split their group or walk off the edge of the road.  When we were only a few paces away they finally spoke.
“Can you turn that down?” one of the smoky-eyed vixens asked the Protector.  Technically he did.
“Do you guys know where the trail is for Cloudsplitter?” they asked in unison.
Mandy and I answered in contradiction.  She later claimed it was because they were pretty, but I countered that it’s a kneejerk reaction for me to provide helpful information about the Gorge area to people in distress.  Too late I caught her cues to be vague, but by then I’d already revealed that I knew exactly where they needed to head to get to Cloudsplitter.
As we walked away shaking our heads in disbelief they regrouped to head off for a summit bid on Cloudsplitter.  Despite fairly accurate directions I seriously doubt they made it onto Cloudsplitter.  Maybe I would be surprised.
Anyway, it was a busy weekend.  Sunday night we lay in bed with Radar groaning between us every time we moved and watched The Wolf of Wall Street.  Let me warn you now, it’s not appropriate for puppies.  According to Wikipedia the movie used the “F” word 569 times.  We both agreed there seemed to be a wandering decimal in that equation.  And how in the world that movie wasn’t rated NC-17 is beyond me.  We were so tired we didn’t even have the energy to turn it off.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Cave in the Sky

What follows is a piece I'd written for publication in a local magazine that is now defunct.  I offer it here for your reading pleasure.  I have lots of old climbing stories that I occasionally put into black and white.  This is a relatively new composition whereas a lot of my climbing stories were written years ago and have only been updated recently to blog or go into print.

I told Alexis she didn’t need all of that gear.  For one thing, there was almost nowhere to place gear in the huge deep chimney, and for another, it would just get in the way as she wriggled through the tight spaces on her way to the summit of Tower Rock.

I glanced over to get confirmation from JB.  He was nowhere to be seen.

“Right!” a voice called from somewhere inside Tower Rock.  Alexis and I craned our necks to see his head poking out of the dark shadows of the chimney crack of Cavers’ Route.  I went back to trying to convince her to leave thirty or forty pounds of gear behind, but Alexis had always been a timid leader and was insistent that she needed every piece of climbing gear she owned to climb the route.

“Even if you fall…” I began, utilizing my climbers’ morbid sense of humor in a last ditch effort to persuade her, “ …your body will get wedged in the chimney anyway.  You won’t deck.”  Decking is what climbers call falling from a climb and hitting the ground.

“Har, har,” she replied and took off climbing up the first pitch of Cavers’.

Caver’s Route is the oldest known climbing route in the Red River Gorge area.  It was climbed as far back as the 1950s by—you guessed it—cavers practicing their ropework for deep caves.  The route follows a wide crack system that splits the entire south end of Tower Rock from the rest of the formation.  Tower Rock is a free standing block of stone roughly the size of a fifteen story office building, completely separated from the main cliffline and lacking a non-technical climbing route to the top.  That means you can’t just hike up and check out the view.  You have to earn a view from the summit of Tower.

I followed Alexis up the route.  All-the-while JB was mysteriously absent; though we could occasionally hear giggles echoing through the cool shadows of the crack system.  While Alexis was timid JB was comfortable scampering unroped up and down the easily climbed and downclimbed fissure in the rock.

Like a woodrat, he slipped unnoticed around us as we made slow upward progress.  At times we’d see him on the ground looking up and playfully taunting us.  And then at other times he’d be on the summit tossing down words of ridiculing encouragement.  I thought it was funny, but JB’s constant climbing up and down the rock without gear and sneaking through the cave-like crack unseen had started to unnerve Alexis.

“I’m stuck!” she called back to me.  I sat on a sunny ledge at the outer edge of the chimney and about 75 feet above the ground as she trailed the rope through the actual “cave” section of the route.  It’s a crawling traverse through a tunnel filled with various sized rocks and boulders. 

Stuck?  I thought.  Scrawny Alexis…stuck?  Then she explained that her rack of climbing gear was hopelessly tangled up.  And she could hardly move her head because she’d insisted on wearing a helmet even though JB and I had both told her that was a bad idea. 

All of that aluminum hardware that was designed to catch a falling climber is also very effective at halting a crawling climber when it dangles between rocks and gets wedged into tight places in the darkness.  And while helmets are a good idea when caving and climbing, they can frequently make squeezing through tight places more difficult than necessary.

I refrained from calling back “I told you so!” and instead offered the best advice I could:

“There’s no way I can get in there and rescue you; you’ve corked the bottle!”

Much grumbling and cursing ensued as she worked for quite a long time to untangle slings, metal gear, the climbing rope, and all of that long red hair from the gnarled innards of Tower Rock.  Finally the rope went taut as she crawled out of the second pitch of the route to the far side.

I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot when I had crawled through to the other side and saw her frazzled look. 

“I told you you only needed three pieces of gear,” I couldn’t help myself.  I think she may have punched me in the arm on the way to my face.

Somewhere deep inside the rock I heard giggles.

Where is he?” Alexis demanded.  I shrugged as much as I could in the tight confines of the third belay perch.

Two more short but less dramatic pitches carried us to the flat summit of Tower Rock.  We enjoyed the view of the Middle Gorge and after JB had finally joined us we pressed him to explain how he’d been getting up and down the rock repeatedly to be above and below us without directly passing us on the route.  It was too convoluted to explain, but involved rappelling down obscure routes and climbing uproped up other easy routes to bypass our “Student Climber” party.

After it was all said and done Alexis agreed she’d brought far too much gear.  She’d seen for herself what JB and I had tried to describe.  For one, there’s no need for a lot of protective gear.  The climbing is secure deep in the crack.  There’s little opportunity that a climber could fall.  And second, the tight spaces of the crack don’t leave enough room for a climber, their gear, and all of the mental baggage that gets dragged along.  Sometimes it’s best to trust your friends and give up a little control.  And some people only learn the hard way.
As an aside, JB (Jason Burton) and Ben Sollee are going to be performing a fund raising concert for the Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition this coming Saturday at Sky Bridge Station in Pine Ridge Kentucky at 6:00 or 6:30pm (conflicting advertisements).  There is a suggested donation of $5 to $10.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kicking Off the Ankle Weights

I can still remember the first time I ran on a trail.  Well, I can remember a time I ran on a trail that might have been the first time.  I was depressed and hiking on Auxier Ridge.  It was probably 1994.  I was twenty years old. 
Back then I ran in hiking boots.  Oh, not the kind old Sierra Club members wear when they hike the Pacific Crest Trail with two layers of thick wool socks and a fifty pound backpack.  No, I always hiked/trailran in light hikers.  Of course I never called them “light hikers.”  They were just my hiking boots.  I wore them with white athletic socks and never got blisters.
The first time I hiked out to Courthouse Rock I was alone.  I was suffering from what I believed to be lingering teen angst.  I had dropped out of college early in my third semester.  I had decided it was preferable to stop racking up so much debt and just get a job.  I was stupid then.  That angst has never really gone away.
I distinctly remember writing in my journal: “I’m going to buy myself a hiking rig and spend the next year getting to know the Gorge.”  That’s exactly what I did, except a year turned into twelve or so.  Then I moved west.  Then I moved back.  And so now I’m getting reacquainted with the Gorge after twenty years with twenty more years’ worth of baggage.
As I neared the end of Auxier Ridge and Courthouse Rock was almost visible through the trees I could perceive that the narrow ridge was running out.  High cliffs were on both sides and they closed in on me as I hiked on toward Courthouse Rock.  Off to my left I saw a red-tailed hawk flying along with me.  It moved slightly faster and was going to pull away.  I picked up my pace and matched speed with it as we both neared the end of the ridge.  I kept my eyes on the magnificent bird.  I ran.
The tiniest thought entered my head: what happens when we reach the end of the ridge?  I answered myself: maybe we keep running.
Instead my survival instinct took over and I came up short as the hawk sailed on over and beyond Courthouse Rock.  I took my time descending the steps at the end of the ridge.  I climbed up the crack/gully on the east face of Courthouse that day.  That’s a cherished memory.  I’ve visited Courthouse and Auxier Ridge many times since then.
Another early trail run I took was on Rock Bridge Loop.  My family had moved back to Kentucky from Ohio when I was a sophomore in high school.  My good friend Shane came down to visit and we went hiking in Red River Gorge. 
He was recovering from shoulder surgery as a result of a wrestling injury and was supposed to take it easy.  As we descended the rough asphalt trail toward Creation Falls Shane took off running, and I followed.  As we lost elevation we picked up speed.  Just above the falls Shane stumbled.  He went down hard on his stitched up shoulder.  Shane—being Shane—hauled himself back to his feet, brushed it off, and continued down the trail. 
Shane was tougher than me.  He was in the Order of the Arrow, and I was too chicken to face The Ordeal.  Shane was a Navy SEAL, and I was scared of boot camp.  Shane ODed last year because he couldn’t deal with his pain.
I started seriously trail running sometime after his death.  I know how to deal with my pain.  I obliterate it through effort and good wholesome self-abuse.  In long trail runs I finally found my drug and my therapy.  I don’t dwell on his death, but when I think of it I have the perfect dosage: four and a half miles.  Auxier Ridge and return on Courthouse Rock Trail.  I’ve even raced a hawk or two this past year. 
Running doesn’t have to be about escaping your demons or chasing answers to life’s difficult questions.  It can simply be about finding a groove and reveling in the movement of your limbs.  It can be a vehicle to enjoy nature.  It can be an excuse to do something good for yourself.  It can be a selfish pleasure.
For me running is most often something I make myself do because I know it’s good for me.  It’s not like eating brussel sprouts.  It’s more like…well, running.  It’s good for me, but I enjoy it even when I’m not in the mood. 
Of course there are too many days when the last thing I want to do is run.  My body aches and is stiff.  I feel fat and slow.  Rain, cold, wind, dark, heat, ice…demons, phantoms, memory, and pain…there are days I would rather curl up in bed and sleep.  But when my brain is most exhausted from the mundane stressors of life I know that is the best time for me to go push myself down a trail with whatever legs I find myself dragging on that day at that time.
Maybe a mile passes.  Maybe two.  But then blood begins coursing through my limbs and mind and body loosen up.  I don’t think about that red-tailed hawk.  I don’t think about Shane.  I don’t think about weakness, or laziness, or the end of any ridge out ahead of me.  It’s at those times I’ve found what I seek in life: balance, flow, and peace.  A bad day running (and to be fair a bad day cycling as well) is better than a bad day doing anything else.  When I’m moving at least my brain is functioning and the worlds seems to be in its proper place.  I solve problems and answer life’s mysteries when my body is moving through space.  The downside is that it’s hard to write while running or mountain biking.
These days I run mostly to stay out ahead of depression.  I don’t suffer from it.  I simply stride over it and keep going.  What I regret are those times I let the gravity and darkness keep me planted on the couch when I could get out and provide for myself some free and proven therapy.
I can say with authority that a strict regimen of anarchistic exercise will keep you happy and sane.  While there is definitely the danger of taking it too far (because I am an obsessive personality) it seems as if I have better balance than I did when I was younger.  It seems as if I have enough control to keep my proprioceptive pursuits from becoming destructive.
It was a year ago December 16 when Shane responded to me in a discussion about writing:
"My advice to you is, write as though you don't give a damn if anyone ever approves of your work or not."
This past year that became my silent mantra.  It may not appear as a visible thread in what I've written here, but that advice has resulted in a rough draft I think I'm going to be proud of...though I may have to publish it under a pseudonym.
Shane was dead within a week of our discussion.  He had given me a piece to read that was full-on self-destruction and pain.  I believed it to be simply artistic expression.  I didn't realize he had been acting the story out and maybe he was telling me how things really were for him.  There are times I ponder the sparse conversations we had in the twenty years since we'd really known each other--like brothers we were close--and wonder what I might have heard if I'd been listening.

I don't mourn anymore for my friend.  There's no benefit in mourning him.  I don't try to find meaning in his words anymore either.  When it comes to searching for enlightenment maybe I'm more the expert than he was.  So I'll trust in my own intuition in that department.

But I can't help hanging on that scrap of advice.  I can't help thinking in all of the turmoil and pain that he cast upon the world that maybe there was one shining bit of treasure in there.  At least I won't completely discredit it until I see reason to otherwise.

The past few months have been good for me.  I've dreaded going into the holidays and into the winter months, but maybe I'm finally beginning to keep on top of things instinctively.  I know that being around people is good for me even if its not what I have programmed myself to do.  I'm not as anti-social as I would have the world to believe.  Awkward and pathetic at times...but not necessarily anti-social.

Running has been much more beneficial to me that cycling ever was.  I get a lot of bang for my buck.  I think that's why I want to excel at it.  Running is an activity that has given me a lot through the years.  I didn't appreciate it until now, but looking back I can even see my stint in cross country as a freshman was the most socially rich era of my teenage years.

So I will keep running.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sleet Feet in Porkopolis

Streetscape in Baconburg
Last week I spent three days in Flying Pig land attending the NADO Rural Transportation Conference.  The Race Director went with me.  Who?  Oh, Mandy is now the Race Director for the Rugged Red.  We're actually both working as a team to help organize and execute the 2015 Rugged Red and to develop some new events.  My official title is "Assistant to the Race Director."

Anyway, she went with me and we hung in Cinci for three rainy days.  I was bummed because I wanted take a lot of photos and run lots, but with five o'clock dark and the cold rain I only managed some cell phone photos and one good run.  As we are apt to do Mandy and I came across a protest in downtown Thursday evening as we were leaving Lucy Blue Pizza.  Matter of fact I'm kinda surprised we didn't end up on the evening news.


The hotel where we stayed provided wallet cards that showed two running routes from the building.  On their advice Thursday I went out for a six mile run from downtown along the river, up to Eden Park, across the Purple People Bridge and back to the hotel.



Fat flakes of wet snow fell as I ran down to the river.  Slush built up on the concrete of the Riverwalk and the Barney bridge.  I didn't boulder at Eden park due to frigid temps and the icy ambiance.  The paths and sidewalks were never slick, so my wrist was safe despite the wintry mix that fell all around me.

I think I mentioned that I'm signed up for the Flying Pig Marathon.  I have a better idea what I'm up against now.  It's hilly around Baconburg, but I ain't skeered.  Around home it takes more effort to find a flat distance run.  Hills are kinda the norm.

Thought I'd ask this dude for directions but he don't know nothin' about Cincinnati

Remember, I started out near the river
I've got less than a month until I start training for Yamacraw/Pig.  I'm not waiting until then.  Conditioning has started and it's time to begin reigning in my diet.  I want to have lost twenty pounds before April and thirty by mid summer.  If I can lose thirty pounds and stay injury free then Cloudsplitter is going to be the pinnacle of 2015 for me.

Well, the rain is pounding on the roof.  It's time to go out for a run.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fly...You Fools!

Because I'm in that kind of mood...

I had posted the "Alas, He Was a Good Boy" photo on my cubicle at work and someone stuck a post-it note on the bottom that read: "Fly you fools!"  So I had to render the photo in paint.  Please forgive my crude ministrations.  It was on the fly, but it got the requisite laughs.  I had to share here as well...


Monday, December 1, 2014


I won NaNoWriMo.

But everyone who validates 50k words "wins."  I really am more competitive than I used to think I was.  It was a big letdown to "win" that way.

Anyway, the book is of the Appalachian Gothic genre.  And I'll be publishing it under a pen name.  If I can get it published.  I've still got a book entitled Leadville or Bust sizzling on my hard drive.

I'm signed up for the Flying Pig.  Yeah, I'll win that.  In a pig's eye!

Recently another Kentucky ultra was announced: the Yamacraw 50k.  It'll be held in Big South Fork shortly before the Piggy.  My plan is to run it.  2015 is fleshing out like this:

Yamacraw 50k
Flying Pigarathon
(Rugged Red)
Cloudsplitter 100(k)

We've also discussed some road halfs like the Run the Bluegrass, Horse Capital Half, Iron Horse again, Derby Half...there's a distinct horse theme going on...and of course I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for other trail runs.  But I don't intend to do too many next year.

I'm leaning toward the 100k distance at Cloudsplitter.  Until this Yamacraw thing came up I was stuck on 50k as I didn't want to get in too far over my head.  Yamacraw is early enough I'll have plenty of time to learn from my mistakes and move powerfully toward Cloudsplitter.

I think if I have good success at Cloudsplitter in '15 then I'll try to get in through the lottery for Leadville in '16.  Lucky 42!

My pipe dream would also be to do the Silver King this summer.  Y'know, you ride and run the Silver Rush 50 on two consecutive days?  I've not stowed the mountain bike for good.  Heck no!  In the past month I've ridden at Cave Run, CVP, Skullbuster, and Veterans.  I'd have ridden the past week or so except I jacked up my wrist falling on the ice.  It's still jacked.

Not the ice at the park

I might be okay as long as I keep the brace on now.  Need to take a cautionary ride and see.  And I need to get healed.  The wrist is keeping me from the strength conditioning I'd just started and had vowed to finally follow through on.  The wrist is keeping me from the hot new bouldering area not too far away.  The wrist is killing my motivation.  On Thanksgiving and the day after I couldn't screw up the gumption to run for fear of the ice I knew was lurking at the park.

I have been running fairly regularly.  I'm easing back to being comfortable at a ten mile distance, though without any structured approach.  I ran at Indian Fort in Berea last Monday, then did Sand Gap, and finally last week before my turkey hiatus I ran two and a half miles up Sand Lick and back.  I lost track of how many times I stomped through a calf deep creek.  I crossed Sand Lick too many times.

Thanksgiving vows to exercise were soundly broken.  I lazed around the house all day Friday trying to trick myself into running.  Aforementioned park ice and a physical and mental lethargy kept me anchored indoors.  I did manage to sprint home on NaNoWriMo that day though.  Maybe it was a fair trade.
A good reason not to run
Rock Garden Trail, NBSP

I had set my mind to running the Hood Branch Trail at Natural Bridge but pissed Friday away in a state of apathy.  I kept thinking by the afternoon I'd be chomping at the bit to get out and exercise, but the cold temps, tryptophan, and a generally foggy mind kept me indoors until the sun was actually on its way down.

I decided I would not waste Saturday so frivolously.  I was up and out the door (with—for better or worse—a belly full of biscuits and gravy) by nine o'clock.  I hit the trail from the Sky Lift parking lot dragging a lot of mental baggage.

If I had ever been on Hood Branch Trail it was twenty years ago when I was ticking off all the official trails in the area.  As I ran along the trail I never got a hint of memory. But twenty years is twenty years no matter how good your geographic memory is.  I'll remember it now though.

Hoods is a good shorter option to Sand Gap.  It still feels remote, even though your come crashing out of the woods long before expecting to.  While Sand Gap is 8+ miles Hood Branch Trail (both combined with Low Gap and Rock Garden) is a mere 4.2 and shares the same termini.

As I turned it over on Hoods something occurred to me:  Natural Bridge State Park has the best concentration of loop trails in this part of the state.  The Red River Gorge proper lacks good long loops.  Tunnel Ridge provides a few loops of similar difficulty and length.  There's nothing on par with Sand Gap outside the state park.

Anyway, my plan is to back off the hard stuff through December and ramp up the speed and distance on flatter and less technical terrain while doing total body conditioning.  As of January 1 I'll be ramping up for Yamacraw and the Pig.  It'll be here before I know it.