Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Macabre Mile

Raven Rock from Chimney Top Rock

Sometimes the obvious prize is easily overlooked.  I've found a dusky trail running gem in the Red River Gorge.  It's been staring me in the face my whole life.  I have a small history with this particular objective but nothing earth shattering.  Still, some monoliths inhabit a certain space in your mind and become unmovable by time or the erosive properties of memory.  Raven Rock is one of those pre-eminent monuments in my mind.  It is prominent in the Red River Gorge; towering over the river at a distinct bend just downstream of the Iron Bridge below Nada Tunnel.  It guards the takeout I sat at so many days back when we rented canoes on the river as Red River Outdoors.

Raven Rock has an interesting modern history.  In the fall of 1976 two hang glider pilots were killed flying off Raven Rock.  My parents took my two year old self to spectate on that day in September, and when we arrived one of the deceased had just been taken away.  The festivities had ended.  That ominous legacy is still fairly well known to Gorge-goers.

My mother tells of riding in the family car up the winding and steep paved road to the summit of Raven Rock when she was a girl.  The fee was $3.00, there was a poor bear in a cage, and topping it all the promise of a novel picnic site.  There were also unrealized plans for a restaurant on the top.  The railing installed by the private developer still encircles the tableau of Raven Rock, taunting the daring of this day and age to lean on them or tie their rappelling ropes from them.

J. M. Smallwood built the road.  He likes to tell of driving his bulldozer up the narrow crest of the ridge just below the summit with the ground dropping away steeply on both sides.  It truly is an inspiring feat of road construction.  J. M. is extended family for me.  He’s another one of those fixtures in my mind that have been there forever and will remain with me until I pass from this life.  As many times as he’s told me the story I always listen with rapt attention.

The narrow spot in the road

Richard Brashear, a local climber and long time Red River Rescue Team member talked often about how climbers in the 1980s would frequently do the first two pitches of the enigmatic Nevermore and bivy on the big ledge. 

In the mid-nineties I made my hiking pilgrimage up there for the first time clutching Ruchhoft's Land of the Arches.  In the early aughts I hiked up to the base of the impressive east face with aspirations to climb Nevermore with a friend who had previously taken a spectacular fall from the crux pitch.  Neither of us screwed up the courage to finish it that day and I've never stood under that imposing line since.  It is on my bucket list still, an ink smudged line ominously taunting me from the page.

A couple of years ago I thought to ride my mountain bike up the old road, but I've not gumptioned myself up there...not knowing the condition of the road or remembering its potential bikeability has kept me away.  But then this trail running obsession took over and Raven Rock has lurked in my mind as a potential running challenge; a wicked hill climb; a dangerous obstacle to peace of mind. 

The opportunity recently presented itself so I took off for Raven Rock.  I had parked at the Iron Bridge to avoid having to pay five bucks to park and ran on the paved road to pick up the old dirt forest road that runs along the river to the north side of the ridge.  It was muddy but flat.  I made good time and was shocked that I hadn't remembered just how steep the road is right off the bat.  From the river bottom it climbs like a wall.  The old pavement section begins right at the very nadir of the climb.  From the base three hard switchbacks guard the upper flat section along the east slopes before the final ridiculous upper road.
With our goat-like Forester Gump (if the road were in pristine condition) it would be a crap shoot whether I could drive up it today.  It’s nauseatingly steep for a road.  I think it would make Cobhill weep with envy.  The vision and madness it took to conceive of a road to the top of one of the Red River Gorge’s most imposing promontories was profound.
What remains today is a hardly visible crumbling veneer of asphalt under a carpet of leaves, pine needles and moss.  There was a thin crust of snow and a sheen of ice making it difficult to descend from Raven with any kind of speed.  My knees said a silent prayer of thanks as I held back the reins.
But the climb!  Let’s not forget the glorious climb!
The first mile past the FS gate carries you along the river and under the wild east face of Raven Rock.  With the leaves off and the early morning sun bathing the face you get the full effect of its grandeur.  It seems to be taller than it possibly could be.  Then the nature of the route changes.  Upward you climb, steep as sin right off the deck.  Like a rocket you ascend heavenward if you have the guns.  There is no reprieve after the first switchback.  But at the second a short section of flat allows some recovery before the third grinding turn.  The road levels gradually and contours back around to the northeastern slopes where a full on recovery is just about possible before the final leg and lung incinerating climb.
The final ridge is the true crux.  First starting off as a sweeping steep climb it quickly kicks up into an insanely steep and narrow wall to gain the last couplet and a half of switchbacks: a hard left followed almost immediately by a hard right and finished off with the last world-tilting left switchback that gains the incredible final rocket ride into the sun.

J. M.’s story of riding his bull up the ever crumbling narrow crest of the north ridge of Raven Rock—at least to me—is one of those stories that border on folk tale.  It’s a tall tale for sure.  But then there is that narrow, tattered ribbon of pavement that continues beyond the narrow spine of the forested rock that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that someone built a road into the sky on Raven Rock once.
Car to car I made my ascent of Raven Rock in fifty-five minutes.  It involved an incredible six hundred and sixty feet of vertical gain in just under a mile.  That’s an average 12% grade. 
I’m not thumping my own chest here.  I was shocked I pulled it off, and I realize there are a lot of stronger runners out there who could do that climb much faster.  I’m old, fat, and falling apart.  So here is my challenge: do it faster!
Beginning at the Forest Service gate near the $5.00 parking the time to beat is 44:34 for the 3.6 mile out and back tag of the summit.  I ran a counterclockwise loop around the perimeter of the top of the rock as well.  There is a distinct user defined trail that parallels the old rusty railing.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dancing Her Heart out

Bean turned eight over the weekend.  She's our free spirit. On the way to Meadowgreen Music Hall she told me when she's old enough she's going to do the Leadville 100.  In part it might be her people pleasing nature, but I know she really does love riding her bike and has a competitive streak in her.

Since we got the schedule for Meadowgreen back in the fall she's eyed this particular date—her birthday—because the Farm Hands Quartet would be playing.  We saw them last year and both kids thought they were funny.

When she and I rolled in the opening act—Ma Crowe and the Lady Slippers were already playing.  Lily shrugged out of her coat and ran down to the floor in front of the stage and did her best clogging dance.  She actually picked it up from the Mozhican kids last year, and despite her completely untrained technique she's not half bad.

No one else wanted to come so it was just the two of us.  Mandy was busy working on race registration and Boone and Ty were being lazy.  That's okay.  Bean and I had good time.

I was pretty beat from my twelve mile snowy run out Tunnel Ridge Road that morning and the late night birthday party/sleepover involving seven little girls and a lot of cake.

Our bathroom remodel is almost in the books.  I rushed around a chiropractor appointment Friday afternoon to get it in good shape for the party.  Basically we're down to trim and staining.

The back cracker straightened me out.  Earlier in the week I began suspecting my hip and knee issues of late were due to a misalignment so I made the appointment.  Sure enough once he started twisting, prying, and thumping on me I found strength once again in my left knee.  My hip fell out of pain.  I'm healed!  Praise Jehovah!

Anyway, he really did set me right.  I'm not 100%, but the improvement was unmistakable and I was able to do a twelve mile run in the snow the next morning. 

Why so many so early in the year, you might ask.  I signed up for my first ultramarathon: the Yamacraw 50k.  The hitch in my hip has delayed full on training and I'm about a week behind on my long runs.  Last week work kept me from doing a single weekday run and that's maybe why I struggled after mile nine on my snowy twelve.

It's time to kick into training mode.  I've not lost a pound and I still mostly feel like I'm falling apart, but with less than three months to go I have no choice but to move forward and train smart.  My goal for Yamacraw is simply to finish.  I'm going to stop worrying about pace.  Finish, finish, finish!  That doesn't mean I don't want to throw down a good race.  I'm just not going to kill myself doing it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Seeing Stars

I set out to get one photo.  The journey was long and potentially fraught with tribulations galore.  To get myself into position for the photo I proposed to take my eleven year old son and nephew backpacking for the first time.  In the end I produced a photo I liked, but not the one I sought.  In the end I carried a wrecked camera out of the woods but developed some amazing memories along the way.

No lie, I texted the Training Partner, on Powder Mill Trail on the way to --------- ---- we saw twenty people, a dog, and two horses.  I’m not going to share exactly where we went because I didn’t expect to see a soul.  According to the Former Crash Test Librarian the new found popularity of this obscure overlook is likely due to the cursed internet.  So there!

The horses had been a shock.  Ty and I went off trail to check out the arch and Ty commented that someone had taken horses up the drainage just as I looked up and saw two horses tethered to small trees.  We were both shocked.

I'd been bitching over how the horses had torn up yet another mountain bike trail in the area and here were the culprits.  It was a local elderly father and his daughter.  They were nice enough.  That wasn’t potent enough salve for my bruised sensibilities.

The hike was slow going—slow like a middle-schooler cleaning his room.  I knew we were gaining elevation, but again, I thought it was a slow burn.  It was steeper than it looked from below.  Up we crawled the long valley.  At one point we stopped amidst a picturesque boulder field with amazing potential and I considered setting up camp so I could explore.  But Ty and I both wanted to get to the overlook I had promised.  We hauled packs onto tired shoulders and pushed on.

What made it slow going was Boone’s frustratingly slow walking pace.  He’s always been a slow hiker.  And now that he’s approaching his teen years he’s started taking on that obnoxious middle-school aged perspective on life.  He wants to make you laugh…always…and he wants to prove his comedic prowess and command of trivia to the world.  Boone's relentless forced wit finally wore through Ty's and my good spirits.  I wished I'd had some.

I kept warning him.  He kept pushing the boundaries.  When we reached the overlook we all agreed it had been worth the haul getting in.  I'd decided on the location simply because it once was obscure and I had wanted to get out in the woods and see the stars.

Since moving back to Kentucky I've continually marveled at the clear night skies, but at my house where they're so incredible there is still a lot of light pollution.  When I try to stop and take in the soul-wrenching dome of stellar madness I am continually distracted by ignoramuses tearing up and down the road near my house.  Apparently it’s not enough to make nothing but poor life choices, but some people have to do it loudly as well.

I saw taking the boys backpacking as a way to get out beyond the lights of our small town and gaze upon the deepness of the sky.  Finally there was a break in the winter weather.  Saturday of MLK weekend looked promising, so we made our plans.  I was looking forward to introducing impressionable minds to something more than car camping and the superficiality most locals regard the Red River Gorge with.

In my mind I saw us hiking merrily to the overlook, setting up camp nearby and having a nice small campfire, then I’d set up camera on the exposed overlook and get my star shots, and in the morning we’d hike out after a nice breakfast. 

Let’s cut to the chase.  It was forecast to be windy and a distinct chance of rain overnight.  While our destination was once obscure and now is not thankfully there are no obvious campsites, or even good tent sites, near the top of the rock.  And I was adamant we weren’t going to set up on the bare cold stone.

We found a tight pad next to the unofficial trail a couple hundred yards from the rock.  We fired up the camp stove and ate a quick dinner in the cold wind and watched the sun set.  We cleaned up dinner, slung our bear bag, and headed back to wait out the stars.

That’s when I made my money shot.  I told the boys to sit still where they were, snapped a hurried shot, and then turned my camera on the sky.  Orion was rising over the trees of the ridge.  I tried framing my shot.  I finally thought I had it right and promised the boys as soon as the constellation was in clear view I’d get my shot and we could head for the warmth of our sleeping bags.

I fired off an early shot just because, thumbing the remote, and stepping back.  I’d been keeping a hand on the tripod because of the wind, but then Ty asked where Orion was.  I let go of the tripod and leaned in to aim his eyes in the right direction.  Just as he indicated he could see the hunter in the night sky I turned back to release the remote, but a gust of wind slammed the camera down on the flat stone.

It’s a wonder it didn’t go right off the top of the cliff.  But yeah, it’s hopeless.  I managed to get the images I had taken off of it, but there’s no going back.  My camera is dead.

The boys offered their condolences.  I appreciated their sympathy, but assured them it was little more than spilt milk. Time to head to bed.  Snugged into our tent and warm bags we settled in for the night with full bladders.  Two round of peeing later we lay in the tent with Ty and I insisting that Boone just shut the heck up so we could go to sleep.  It took awhile but finally sleep came.  I slept well despite the wind until the rain began early in the morning.  We were staying dry so I managed a couple more hours of fitful—but warm—sleep.  At six o’clock I was up for the day.  The boys roused soon after and we were packing by 6:45.  By daylight we were out of the tent.  The rain had stopped and all but our tent fly was dry.  We were on the trail out by 8am with the promise of breakfast at Joe Bowen’s B&B.  We’d been invited two days before.

It took two hours to get back to the car and another fifteen minutes to get to Joe’s where we laid into the remains of breakfast with gusto.  Coffee, OJ, biscuits, bacon, eggs, and then another round…it all went down while Mandy, Joe, and I talked Rugged Red with Joe’s guests.

Despite my exhaustion and constant berating of my son for his diarrheic monologues of Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Transformers trivia he walked out with a grin on his face and gushing to his mom that he had a great time.  I enjoyed taking him and will do it again…soon, but not without some way to entertain him along the way.

My nephew Ty...he's like another son.  I've not always shown him a lot of attention, but I love the big lug.  He's eleven and as tall as me.  He can wear my clothes but not my shoes.  While I love my own son dearly and want to find things like this to do with him I know Ty appreciates it so much more than Boone and he needs it.

His own father is a slug, and his mother's boyfriend isn't quite the father figure he needs.  So it's me and Tomahawk.  This trip—at least in my eyes—was more about spending time with Ty.

And so, the image I walked away with, stored on a useless DSLR, was the one of Boone and Ty sitting on the edge of the overlook with their headlamps dampening the naked stone as the last light faded from the western sky.

As a bonus I got one good shot of Orion peeking out from behind the ridge...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Still as a Stone

I've never been one for sitting still for very long.  It just ain't possible.  I've learned to appreciate yoga.  And when I can suck it up and go I enjoy the distinct relaxative benefits thereof.  Otherwise—for the most part—I'm subconsciously averse to stillness.
I've had friends that were critical of my recreational habits of constant movement.  The Former Crash Test Librarian and I had disagreements about it.  I agree that my pace on the trails doesn't foment reflection of the minutia of the woods or an appreciation of the noisy quiet thereof.  In my defense, it’s not a choice to speed across the face of the earth.  My turbocharged neural network compels me to constant motion.  I absolutely fail to be able to enjoy stillness more than superficially.
That's not to say bouldering, running, or mountain biking don't offer opportunities for deep thoughts and spiritual revelations.  Of course they do.  On the other hand, when I'm running or biking or hiking my brain is still going nine hundred miles a minute.  For me that’s a different and also crucial type of meditation.  For me focused brainstorming and creative daydreaming offer a strong respite from the mundane.  My unfettered mind provides a unique kind of adventure playground.  But back to the matter at hand… 
I figured out that the laser focus of hard bouldering incites just the right kind of meditative state that clears the mind and resets the nervous system.  Hard moves on vertical stone require clearing the mind—purging the mind—and being fully and intentionally in the moment.  If you’re doing it right at the crux moment everything disappears from existence except your core essence and four points of contact.  In a deep bouldering state it is you and one point of contact that consume all of creation.
If done right there is no fear or desperation though the consequences of losing focus may be dire.  It’s finding and holding onto a state of flow.  It’s being absorbed into the living stone.  It’s becoming willingly detached from this world for the briefest of moments.
Crux move of Phish Power V1, The Junkyard, RRG
A long solitary bouldering session is for me the only type of movement therapy that clears my head.  All of my other schemes only fill my head with more thoughts.  On my best days I had an almost ceremonial routine:
First, I carefully laid out my crashpad using fuzzy math to determine exactly where it would be best located to cushion the singular worst fall possible.  Second, sit on pad and depending on the gravity of the situation would face toward or away from the imagined problem line on the rock.  Next I did the Mister Rogers shoe change into my climbing shoes, wipe the soles clean, dab fingers in chalkbag, and stretch out any tightness in the shoulders or forearms.  Finally, I would stand, touch the rock, and with a deep breath enter into another dimension of existence.
Typically less than a minute would pass and I would find myself slammed back into this world with a fall from the stone or I would be sitting on top of the path I had just travelled.
Desperate sloper match on Naejabbanobadda at Torrent Falls, KY
The closest I come to this state in other activities is when the terrain becomes oppressively complex.  Technical mountain biking, high speed descents, tough trails to climb on foot or awheel…those are the places where it is possible for me to find the elusive state.  It’s hard to be caught up with the troubles of life when all of your brain is dedicated to finding a line and keeping your legs pumping.  Or in hanging on to the tiniest hold over a rubble patch that can break you up bad.
Mountain biking always seemed to be filled with comings and goings, cadences and PRs, KOMs and crunched in lunchtime sessions.  I have rarely had the luxury of taking a leisurely mountain bike ride.  I do it to myself.  But for me it’s about the distance.  It takes me seven or eight miles to really get warmed up and find a state of flow on the bike.  And that’s if the trail is demanding.  Like Skullbuster.  The day after Thanksgiving I went out there and rode for an hour and a half.  I had no time constraints and just let the bike carry me over root and rock until my brain was humming with whitenoise.  It was sublime.  But it was not stillness in the sense most people would understand.  Strangely enough to me it felt like stillness.  So much so that with two miles left to go back to the car I began to get bored.
The curse of being me…I guess.
Anyway, I am not currently a boulderer.  Maybe I’m mulling a grand return.  Maybe I’m pining for my glory days.  I’ve decided not to write myself off at the tender age of forty (almost forty-one!) so if I can get myself back into condition and strengthen flabby muscles I might really once again roam the woods looking for new problems to unlock.  My littlest one seems to like the notion of bouldering.  My eldest may never get into it, but he’s got a few years yet to grow and find himself.  I can only hope…
Regardless of whether or not I create little minions to help me bring about a Red River Gorge bouldering renaissance (there was a heyday, believe it or not) I still have my haunts amongst the stones of the Cumberland Plateau.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Do It Yourself

Okay, first off, I didn't do any of what I'm about to describe by myself.  I owe Jeff and our friend Bowen a whole heck of a lot.  Mandy worked hard too.  And my parents, grandmother, and in-laws helped by taking the kids at strategic junctures along the way.  We couldn't have remodeled our bathroom without all of their help.
Having said all that, we're going to dedicate it as the Jeaph Mowsur Memorial Bathroom.  Without his help we'd still be living with a seriously leaking tub and the stress of rot and decay under our showering feet.
Not quite ten years ago we had some extraneous cash and did quite a bit of remodeling on our house.  My grandparents built the place probably fifty years ago, my parents bought it from them twenty five or so years ago, and Mandy and I bought the house twelve years ago this month. 
When we moved to Colorado we tried to sell it, but that was 2008 and we got stuck with it.  My parents moved in because they were going through a tough time, so when we moved back from Colorado two years ago they offered to find another place so we could move back in.  At first we refused the offer.  When we moved away we made some absolute statements.
First that we'd never move back to Kentucky, and if we DID move back we'd never live in Stanton again, but if we DID live in Stanton we'd never live in our old house again.
I'm here to tell you friends...never say never.
We finally conceded and took my parents up on the offer.  In self-disgust with a hint of despair we moved back in.
The house had gone downhill.  The tub had started leaking shortly after we'd installed it.  There was no way I was taking it out to get our money back or a new tub.  We installed it in a gutted room.  There was no feasible way to extract it and install another.  The bathroom had literally been built around it.
Every time someone took a shower there was a huge puddle on the basement floor afterward.  To my shame I ignored it for close to ten years.  Finally I couldn't take it anymore.
Right after Christmas I’d had enough.  It was time to fix the rot in the soul of our house.  Two years back and I had put off so many things I needed to do.  Maybe I was holding out for the apocalypse or my first best seller.  But the magical solutions to our home owning woes never materialized.
For two weekends I put off almost all recreation.  This past week I took off from running hoping to line out my hip.  It's still a bit sore, but I'm going to try an easy run tomorrow.
Anyway, our shower is tiled.  I put the grout on last night.  We still plan on trimming out the rest of the bathroom and have some other minor things to get it all the way we want it.  And then on to the next home improvement project.
Daily life offers a different kind of endurance opportunity than those contrived adventures I send myself on.  Sometimes for me the mundane is more difficult than the novel and extreme.  Both sides of the coin are complimentary to the other though. 
It feels like a switch has flipped in my brain.  I’m tired of sitting back and trying to squint and not see the decay right in front of my eyes.  Up til now it has been kind of a survival tactic.  Maybe mentally I just wasn’t ready to take it all back on.  I know my brain feels somewhat tired this morning after a solid week of living with this remodel.  But it’s a good tired.  Right?  We know how that feels in body.  Do we recognize it when it affects our mind in a positive way?
The only way to build any kind of endurance is through incremental positive exercise of the muscle involved.  Or brain.
I’ve not delved into it too much, but the last year of living in Colorado, and the move back to Kentucky, followed by the first year of trying to settle in…well, it was traumatic.  It was traumatic for all of us.  And I know we all tried to pretend everything was fine because…why wouldn’t it be?  In the eyes of everyone around us we should be living the high life.  Perceptions are rarely accurate.  And in the case of the Chainring clan that is definitely the case.
Oh, we’re resilient.  We’re on pretty stable footing these days.  And for the most part the past fifteen years have been nothing less than an incredible and humbling journey and the fulfillment of dreams.
It feels so amazingly good to have begun mending what has been wounded for so long.  And like I said, it took the help of some pretty amazing friends.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

MIA on the Trace: Part II

My “training plan” involved a ten mile run this past weekend.  Then there was the aforementioned home improvement ultra.  I had hoped to get up early Saturday morning and put in a couple hours of wrap up work and then cleanup.  I totally misjudged the amount of work that was left and Mandy and I spent all day Saturday cutting drywall pieces, laying linoleum, and cleaning up the massive mess Jeff and I had generated on Friday.
Friday night we slept like logs.  Saturday night we slept like logs.  Sunday I felt stiff as a log.
Ten miles.  Ugh.
I needed something easy.  No ridiculous Red River Gorge traverse on Rough Trail or some rot like that.  Easy.
Fellow Ruggedeer Al had thrown out an invite to run over the weekend and I had replied that I would love to but my weekend was pretty much locked in to the bathroom project.  So on Saturday evening when I sent a message that I could possibly still run on the morrow I knew likely he would be headed back home to Ohio.
To my pleasant surprise he replied that he and his wife were going back Monday and that he’d be up for a run Sunday afternoon.  I caveated that I would be slow and perhaps wussish due to wrecking myself in the bathroom but Al was still game.
Mandy said she’d take the kids hiking at Natural Bridge while Al and I ran the Sheltowee Trace south from the lodge parking lot.  So we gathered up all of our respective gear and headed out to meet up with Al.
When we arrived in the parking lot Al was ready to go, and so was the fam, so we all took off.  With almost no warmup we headed up the Original Trail/Sheltowee Trace.  If you’re not familiar with the Original Trail at Natural Bridge it’s a bear to run cold.  In four tenths of a mile the trail gains about four hundred feet in elevation.  It’s about an 18% grade average with lots of steep steps (but not as many as Balanced Rock Trail!).
Graciously Al let me set the pace.  My heartrate was high, my breathing was maxed out, and I felt like I needed a seriously long nap.  But once we topped out and had some relatively flat ridge running ahead of us I was able to settle into a comfortable pace that I was eventually able to ratchet up.  I’d cautioned Al that I would probably only be able to manage an 11:00 or 12:00/mi pace.  In the end we ran 12:04.  There were times I had to push kinda hard to keep it up.  Other times I felt like I was going to crash spectacularly. 
My trick hip hurt the entire run.  On Monday I was staggering around like an old man waiting for a hip replacement.  The same side ankle ached like I had sprung it, and the opposite knee felt swollen and inflamed.  I’m freakin’ falling apart.
The major positive aspect of the run was seeing that the USFS abused section of the Sheltowee south of the state park has been cleared of trees and is both runnable and bikeable right now.  Reportedly the Sheltowee Trace Association got in there and did some major clearing work.  Kudos to Steve and the STA!
Since the forecast is for obscenely cold weather this week I think I’m going to forego running altogether and spent my time in the gym doing general conditioning and babying my delicate appendages.  I’ve noticed distinct weakness in both my upper body and now in my knees.  I know I’m not so old that I just can’t function anymore, but something is up and I am determined to find my strength again.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy New Shower: MIA on the Sheltowee Trace

It’s Monday.  Early this morning I hit the last snooze signifying the end of the holidays.  Coming off a four day weekend I felt the full weight of a solid five day work week.  I don’t know if I have the stamina for it.
The New Year’s break was bookended with recreation but full in the middle with volumes of home improvement.
Jeaph recruited Mitchum and I to head down to Laurel Lake for the annual KyMBA-folk New Year’s Day ride.  We were both reluctant and Jeaph was relentless. 
I had conceded jokingly that I would ride on New Year’s Day if Jeaph would remodel my bathroom.  Well, not exactly.  Monday he texted me:
Jeaph: Any word on London MTB on nyday?

Me: I don't think I'm going.

Jeaph: C'mon 'ring!

Me: You got much going on thurs-sun? I can go if I fix the shower afterward. nagging me to fix the shower.

Instead of a text response I got a phone call:
"So for one mountain bike ride I end up getting to work for you for three days?"

"If you’re offering," I replied.

He just wore Mitchum down with daily texts and phone calls begging him to go.

We headed south catching up on and talking about the silly nonsense of life that means so much when it’s traded in the company of friends.  So the three of us found ourselves headed south on I-75 at a sinful hour on New Year’s morn oblivious to the catastrophe that awaited us on Laurel Lake Dam.

We pulled into the trailhead at the dam just as Troy was framing another of his famous selfies-slash-group pictures and hit the ground running from the warmth of the truck cab to the cold lineup with a group of kooky Kentucky mountain bikers.  As the other mountain bikers streamed away toward the Sheltowee Trace Jeff, Mitchum, and I scrambled to get our bikes and ourselves ready and rolling. 
As Mike and I finished up Jeff took off across the parking lot on a collision course with a rocky ledge.  If it had been anyone else I would have cried: “Lookout, you’re going to hit that wall!” but knowing Jeff I kept tugging my warm socks over pale feet and didn't even flinch as he hit the ledge full speed.  He turned skyward and we all heard a sound like a chain crossing gears under high tension; a loud ‘ping!’  Except Jeff was riding a single speed.  And then he coasted back across the parking lot toward us trailing a cloud of expletives.  He’d destroyed his rear cog.

Two hour drive for a thirty second ride...
Mitchum and I completely understood the gravity of the situation.  As much as it would have been a disappointment to the both of us we didn’t want to ride off and leave Jeff with his broken bike at the trailhead.  After all, he had coerced…I mean, convinced the two of us to come out on a frigid New Year’s to ride our mountain bikes.  The least we could do was show support.
He insisted we go ride.  I began to suspect some sinister plot to make Mitchum and me suffer for some previous slight.  Jeff wouldn’t even entertain the notion that he was punishing me for the remodel to come.
The two of us rolled away in a missing man formation toward the Sheltowee and chasing after the strong pelexoton.  We were the laterne rouges.  We were the weaksauce interlopers. 
It turned out to be a great ride.  Neither of us felt inadequate.  We were well-matched in ability and pace.  After the ride I didn’t feel like I needed to lose fifty pounds and do a gazillion leg presses before the next ride.  I couldn’t figure out the curious feelings.  And then I remembered that Jeff was stuck in the parking lot with a three piece freewheel.  I grinned and charged on.
We rode all the way up to KY 192 and turned around.  By then we’d passed almost everyone else headed back toward the dam.  We fell in with a small group on the return, but quickly sorted ourselves just slightly ahead of them.
I had forgotten how enjoyable the drop in to the lake from the ridge is.  We were bombing in at a blistering pace.  The trail flowed and we took full advantage of the gravity of the situation.  Miles and miles passed and we kept a pretty high average speed.  I had finally warmed up and found my inner mountain biking strength.  It ebbed quickly, and with a couple of miles to go my quads became a hollow fire.  I lost the power to push the pedals and finally slowed to a more human pace.
A Jeffless ride...

Once back in the truck we began a long, long ride home.  I won’t go into the details, but after a drive back up to Richmond we snagged heaps of Qdoba before depositing Mitchum at his car.  Then Jeff and I went on a quest for bathroom remodel materials and second hand deals on clothes, DVDs, and CDs.  Man, while Jeaphre is a yard sale hound, he really comes into his own while perusing discount clothing stores and second hand entertainment emporiums!
The bathroom turned into about twenty hours of demo, reco, and cleanup.  I owe Jeff too much.  He said in repayment I can help him move a lot of earth so he can do another concrete pour.  Somehow I think he may end up being the death of me.
I managed a recoup Saturday afternoon and evening and was facing a prospective ten mile trail run on Sunday.  But we’ll get to that in the next post.

It was pretty bad.

Now its pretty good.
Have to do the finish work, but it's already 100% better.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Old Long Since

2014 was an interesting year for me.  It was the year I turned forty.  It was a year—like so many years—that I discovered a whole bunch of profound things about myself.  My son turned eleven (these go to eleven), my daughter turned seven (seven-eleven…get it?), and my wife…

…became the Race Director for the Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon.

Which I ran for the first time in 2014.

I ran.  I finally did the Midsummer Night’s Run in downtown Lexington after so many years.  I finished the Mohican 100k mountain bike race.  I rode my Xtracycle up Sky Bridge Hill…and Tussey Hill…and Cobhill.  I shaved off ALL my facial hair for the first time in over ten years.  I became the head transportation guy.  I finished my book.  I became a paid author.  Those last two things are not directly related.

In 2014 I almost began to believe that I could be a great writer.  I am…so close.

Late this past year I renewed my interest in photography.  I am a good photographer.  Again, I could be great if only I applied myself.  See, I can say that.  It was only wrong when written on my report cards.  I have a photo in a Cheyenne, Wyoming tourism brochure and I was also contacted by Rails-to-Trails about using my photos of the Medicine Bow Trail in Wyoming.  Seems Wyoming likes me as much as I like it.

Obligatory New Year's fireworks show

I became a certified professional in my chosen occupational field.  I was invited in to help draft a plan for recreation in my stomping grounds.  I’ve started to find the career channel that will carry me forward into the future.  I say channel because nothing ahead of me is set in asphalt.

I made new friends.  I started coming more and more out of my shell.  I acquiesced to the reality that I’m not now nor ever have I been anti-social.  I am sensory defensive, but that’s not the same thing as anti-social.  I actually thrive with human interaction.  I don’t always seek it out, nor do I always enjoy it, but I always find my social niche and run with it.

I feel like my family is stronger now that it has been for a while.  I feel like I am stronger than I’ve been.  Maybe not physically—I complain about that all the time—but emotionally and intellectually I’m finally beginning to shrug off the sluggishness that has plagued me for years. 

I think somewhere along the way I quietly let go of Colorado.  I still love the place.  I would still move back there if the opportunity presented itself.  But I finally moved on.  I needed that.  It was holding me back.  I am a Kentuckian now.  For all that its worth and all that means…

MORE fireworks!

I’ve made no resolutions tied to this new year.  I have resolved many things, but I decided over the past few weeks and months that I wouldn’t necessarily wait to change things until the calendar had changed.  My sixteen week to 50k training plan began Monday.  I needed to be up to ten miles of running by then.  So I was already running and preparing.  I’ve been conditioning at the gym.  I’ve been berating myself in a positive way to somehow healthily shame myself into making healthful changes in the coming months.

Many of the assumptions that I’ve carried throughout my life have fallen away.  What is real, and good, and beneficial I have kept.  But I merely dropped a lot of the mental baggage I’ve been carrying around for no good reason all of these years.  I owe it to an old friend who was willing to speak truthfully to me.  That conversation allowed me to give myself permission to trust in my own judgment finally.  And so the seeds of confidence have been planted.  They’ve been quietly growing for months.  Soon they’ll sprout.  Soon you’ll see a new Chainring emerge.  That new Chainring will come in 2015.  2015 is my year.

So have a Happy New Year.  Walk boldly in the light.  Don’t be a slave to illogical assumptions.  Trust your gut.  See the evidence of God’s power in your life for what it is.

Prior to the aforementioned manscaping