Monday, April 27, 2015

Celebrate the Small Things

It's been a rough few weeks.  But I don't want to focus on all of that.  I'd rather talk about how the Powell County contingent made a miserable showing at the Redbud Ride this year.
The forecast was rank.  Friday when we went down to London the skies were blue and the sun was shining.  But Saturday—the day of the ride—was supposed to be rainy and cool.  In the afternoon severe thunderstorms were on the menu.  As we slummed around London Friday evening we bemoaned the fact that the ride wasn't going on that day.
Tomahawk had bowed out due to impending rain.  Jeaph and Casey were no shows because he was supposedly sick.  That left Mandy and I and April and Avery.  None of us had been riding enough, two of us had/have jacked up knees and at least one of us was trying to pass a kidney stone.
Truly, at least for Mandy and I, our hearts weren’t in it.
When Mandy’s dad bailed we said if Jeaph and Casey were going we’d still go.  When they aborted we said we might as well go because we still had a hotel room and Avery and April were still going.  When we woke up and it was cold and damp we decided we might as well see how far we could go.
None of our decision were made in naiveté.  At each step of the way we fully understood the implications of the next pedal stroke.  The mood was not with us to the extent that I was the one that held everyone up on ride morning.  Finally as I was trying to wolf down my pancakes Mandy said they were going to go on and I could catch up.  I waved as they rolled away and finished my pancakes with no urgency whatsoever.  And then I chatted with “The” Mike for five minutes before giving chase to the Powell County crew.

Damp turned into rain.  Pissing cold rain.  When I overtook April it was still just moistly overcast.  But by the time I caught Avery in his all cotton kit, no gloves, and tennis shoes the sky was weeping laughter on us.  I hung with him until I caught sight of Mandy a few hundred yards ahead after making the route split.  She went the 59/100 mile direction.  I told Avery I was going to catch her.
She and I rode together through some of the best cycling country around as the rain continued to soak us.  We soldiered on.  We wondered if April and Avery would turn back.  But by the time we reached the first aid station somewhere beyond mile 17 we had decided we were done ourselves.  The only question remained: would we ride 17 miles back to town or bum a lift?
As we debated the issue a SAG truck rolled into the aid station and Rodney announced that the driver could take anyone back to town who wanted to go.  One hitch in Mandy’s breathing and I knew…
“Let’s take the SAG,” I said.  She agreed.  Her asthma was acting up despite the rain.  Spring is the most enjoyable time of year for her.  Spring bike rides double so.  In her defense she can muster through most of the time.  But that combined with the cold and wet and our chronic unpreparedness made the decision to retreat back to London easy.
It turns out April and Avery had bailed too.  Right after I left him Avery had a flat.  But we all had a pretty good time.  I think if the weather had cooperated better we’d have wanted to push deeper into the hurt we really deserved.  But all-in-all it was a good experience.
On the way down and the way home Mandy and I talked about how we were probably just burned out on century rides and if we just went back to doing the 20 to 50 mile rides around home we most likely would enjoy cycling again.  I’m not saying we’ve given up on the century altogether, but for 2015 I think there’s little chance you’ll see “100” on either of our cyclocomputers.
I’ve finally replaced my wrecked car.  The Camry was a decent car.  It got pretty good gas mileage and rode well.  It had a working CD player, nicely tinted windows, cruise control, and rockin’ air conditioning.  These things have never really worked in conjunction in any other car I’ve ever owned.  So I liked it.
My new-to-me car is a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid.  It’s small, but for the most part has all of the amenities I value in good fossil fuel dependent personal transportation.  And it’s a hybrid.  We drove it down to London, and with the two bikes on a rear rack we got 33 mpg.  This morning on my commute into work I got a whopping 37.4 mpg. 
If I had kept it at 70 mph the whole way instead of starting out at 75 I might have gotten 38+ mpg.  It didn’t take long to realize that holding back 5 mph would increase my fuel efficiency, so I did and watched my average climb.  That’s one cool thing about it too: along with displaying the gas/electric status the console also shows average and instantaneous mpg.
Once my knee is sorted out I’m committing to riding more too.  No more four mile round trips in the car to get milk.  We have the cargo bikes; we intend to use them.  Working on my community’s bike-ped plan has also reintegrated into my thinking the need to focus on advocacy and education and example and practice.
I’ve been experiencing lots of small successes that seem to be guiding me to the bigger payoffs.  It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and roll around giddy on the floor, but I’m trying to hold it all together and stay on top of everything to maximize my utility.
Bike Month is coming up.  Alas, like last year I will be at the KAPA conference on Bike to Work Day.  I will of course take my bike and ride from my room at the conference hotel to the venue.  But there’s mountain biking near there so I’ll get some riding in.
I think it’s time to start thinking about doing a bike commute again.  Last year Mandy and I had agreed I would ride some, but it never panned out with running taking over the obsessive parts of my brain.  Between my new uber-efficient car and this renewed dedication to choosing the bike I could possibly cut way back on my footprint and save a ton of money in travel expenses.
Back on that high horse…

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Status Report

I hate when this happens.  I’ve not posted in a while.  In fact, I’ve not composed a blog post in a while.  Now there is too much to catch up on and I don’t even know where to begin.  I’ll try to hit the high points.
My left knee is jacked up.  In other medical news my elbow tendonitis seems to have responded positively to self-imposed physical therapy.  The Redbud Ride and the Flying Pig half marathon both loom and I have no mileage behind me for various reasons.  Woe to me.
Work is going well.  I’ve had some good ideas which are painting me in a good light going into annual evaluation season.  I’m starting to see some possibilities for making the job more fun, and I’ve been exploring where this career path might take me.  That’s good because I get down when I don’t see a clear path to better grazing down the road.
Spring is in full force so other than perpetual rain the weather is definitely improved over our short but severe winter.  If I can get healed up soon I might begin making the strides which I need to carry me to my 2015 fitness goals. 
The Powell County bike-ped plan process is in full swing and we had a really great turnout for the first meeting.  Interest seems proportionately high for a community of our size.  Good things are afoot.
In general my interest in all things bike-ped has renewed and I’m beginning to think more like a One Less Car kinda guy again.  Not being able to ride because of weather and injury may drive me bonkers.

My dad has been in ICU going on three weeks now.  He had surgery for colon cancer after a major heart attack.  Initially things went well, then he had a second exploratory surgery to see why he had swelling in his abdomen and then things went downhill.  He was heavily sedated and on a ventilator for another week.  Finally he has been slowly weaned from sedation, the ventilator, and now he may be getting moved out of ICU.
The whole affair brings to light some real life issues for me.  I’ve never really lost many people close to me.  A couple of elderly family members, some friends over the years that I was out of touch with when they passed, and really no one else.  I’ve not lost anyone I was close to at the time.  It concerns me.  But not that my dad was ever on the verge of death.  He was a high risk for surgery, and he had unstable vitals for a time, but now he seems to be out of the woods.  It’s going to be a long slow recovery, but the worst seems to be behind him.
Somehow I’m finding confidence in myself.  Speaking of a slow process.  It’s shaky yet, but I’m getting better and better all of the time.   

Monday, April 13, 2015

...And the Follow-Through

Last week some things really started coming together in one of my latest schemes.  I won’t go into details now because it’s far too early in the process to divulge much.  Suffice it to say that its related to the matters I discussed in my last post but not in a way you would immediately ascertain.
It’s about the Red River.  But not the Gorge.  And not the source.  But it’s ultimately about the entire drainage and the communities that exist within it.  Once I romanticized the river.  And after a near tragic event I walked away from it and did my best to forget it.  The river I’ve forgotten has been forgotten by most of the residents within its reach.  Except in times of flood or drought.  When the river gives too much or too little we curse it.  But when it is at peace with us we take it for granted.
I want my community to stop taking the river for granted.  I’m not on a new crusade.  It just so happens that an opportunity became clear to me.  I started poking around, and I woke a beehive of interest and there’s a motherlode of honey there if we are persistent and intentional as a community.  We can reconnect with the river in a positive and meaningful way.  Maybe we can use it in a way that heals it, strengthens it, and takes away some of its menace.
The story of our river isn’t unique.  The issues at hand are not novel.  And so the solution to this conundrum—how to reconnect the community with the river it depends on—has already been found elsewhere.  We simply have to do our homework and then our legwork.  Such is life.

In other news that probably doesn’t apply to you: I’m beginning the process to develop a county-wide Bike-Ped plan for Powell County this week.  It’s all related and all ties together with the blueway scenario.  There seems to be a lot of support for this scheme too.  If only I could get people fired up for mountain bike trails…
Anyway, I’m glad it’s Spring, even though we’ve entered the flooding season.  Mud sucks, but sunshine is nice.  And that’s what road bikes are for.


Friday, April 10, 2015

The Lead Out...

The long drive to the BMW/Town Flats Mine area (the Horse Pens of Kentucky…literally) leaves ample time for conversation.  And what we talked about was how different bouldering is than other recreational activities.  While ultimately I enjoy singular sports, there is a social and team aspect to it.  While it is a subset of rock climbing it is also distinct in its tactics and form.
What avails me to bouldering over rock climbing is that it is social while being more fast paced from an activity sense.  Let me describe for those unfamiliar.
Typical rock climbing scenario:  Two climbers hike to a crag which may or may not be crowded like a mall on Black Friday.  Climbers must lay out gear, tie knot in rope, feed belay device, on belay-belay on, climb until tired or to end of climb, lower off.  All total it might be a half an hour after starting before the second climber gets an opportunity to tie in and climb.  Then you pick it all up and move down the line to the next climb.
Typical bouldering scenario: Two climbers arrive at the boulders and throw down crash pads below project.  Within ten minutes both have tried the problem.
Now, add a half dozen other participants.  In the same two situations on a single climb/problem a couple hours goes by with the roped climbers while the boulderers have all tried the problem within fifteen minutes.  Others are possibly working lines within close proximity. 
Everyone is actively climbing instead of sitting around while one guy hangs the draws.  Or two people.  Or three.  But in the roped climbing scenario things move much more slowly.  And unlike bouldering no one is really involved in the climbing other than the climber.  Oh, sure, you can watch and cheer from the ground, but in bouldering the action is condensed.  The spectators are spotters and in a fast rotation become climbers and then spotters/cheerleaders, and the cycle continues until everyone is too tired to climb anymore.
This appeals to my ADHD wiring.  This appeals to my proprioceptive cravings.  That’s why I’m out there to begin with.  It’s not for the briars, bugs, and sunburns.  The fresh air is nice.
Cycling appeals for related but different reasons.  Everyone is mobile.  I’m not waiting while you’re riding.  We can get on with things and no one feels left out or like they’re wasting their time.  Bouldering is like the mountain biking of the climbing world.  And mountain biking is like bouldering in its approach to the landscape.  Except someone has to first build trails.  Bouldering isn’t exactly that dependent on development.  Kipp would argue.
Speaking of mountain biking…I’m itching to get back on the bike.  One day at Veterans whetted a voracious appetite.  But rain keeps coming.  I want to get out on the road again too.  Word has it Jeaph has a new sporty-sport bike.  Maybe I want to ride solo for a few rides to get my derrier conditioned and my cycling legs back under me.  I’d love to haul my mountain bike out to the strip mine and ride around.  I’m afraid the four wheelin’ crowd might have used up all of the potential mountain biking.  Sigh.
Up and down the Mountain Parkway…one way to work and one way to fun.  And somehow I live in the middle of it all.
I’d like to own a piece of land in the middle of nowhere for a weekend cabin.  It could be pretty basic.  Maybe not even electricity or water.  Nah, I think I’d want indoor plumbing at least.  But out there?  There are even strip mines and the potential for strip mines all over that area.  I saw just a couple of days ago that my home county of Powell is considered a coal county.  We have never had a substantial coal mine.  Definitely not a strip mine.  That is worrisome to me.
I know my watershed.  I know that there is no coal mining and even little oil drilling going on upstream of my faucet.  But it’s oh so close.   The squagmire of Big Sinking is just over the hill.  The ecological disaster that is “the oil fields” where my Papaw Lacy worked out his life is in the next watershed over, but that formation extends across watersheds.  More drilling is possible.  Fracking is not a remote possibility anymore.  And apparently there might be coal in them thar hills.
I’ve never seen myself as an ecological activist.  Maybe an interested party, but...a protester?  Nah!  That’s for younger, angrier people.  Except when it’s not.
I can’t help but watch the ragged logged-out hills blur by as we speed out to the newest boulderfield in Kentucky.  I’m confused by what I want for my home state and home area.  I think I want coal to go away.  I think I don’t want to see the destructive logging practices of the 19th and early 20th centuries come back.  But I’m willing to trundle and scrub and level landings all the day long.  Am I just as bad?
I feel like my presence in those hills is more noble.  I’m really not taking anything out, and if I’m giving anything its access and opportunity for others to get out and enjoy the landscape in a less extractive and destructive manner.  But do I really understand the full impact of my presence?  I can’t say that I do. 
A while back I was looking for bike touring destinations.  I guess it was around the time I went to the KBBC Conference at Jenny Wiley.  I rode out early that day and met Mandy there.  It was an amazing ninety mile ride from my house through this very area (well, a couple miles north) and afterward I perused the map and found the source of the Red River.  It was there near where Breathitt, Magoffin, and Wolfe Counties come together.  B. M. W.  Looking at the map back then I wondered if I could find a discreet place to camp out there.  I didn’t know there is an abandoned strip mine and some vacant wooded land owned by a guy who would eventually welcome recreationalists like myself.  Now I know.
The idea of a bike tour to the source of the watershed I live within had a deeper significance to me even then, when it was really just for a lark to explore the river that flows near my house.  But now, knowing about the mine, knowing about the recreational possibilities in the area…it seems like a pilgrimage I should make at some point in my life.  To trace out that Red River, to find the source of the waters of my life…it could be inspirational. 


Monday, April 6, 2015

Angle of Repose

There is a threshold.  Once crossed there is no going back.  You can approach the line slowly, gradually, feeling your footing slip as the angle increases and gravity begins pulling at you.  But once crossed you rocket away from the line with no hope of holding on.

I've mentioned that I felt like a sham as a climber these days.  I'm overweight, underflexible, and all kinds of soft from head to toe.  The last two times I've been out bouldering with others I've gone home somewhat dejected because I've not been able to do more than the easiest contrived problems I could find while everyone else was having fun on better things.  I kept my gaze locked on the goal—that if I persisted eventually I would be able to enjoy bouldering once again.

I've struggled to find inspiration.  Truthfully I've not been as jazzed about getting on the Horse Pen stuff as I would have been ten years ago.  Even the stunning highball arête Kipp was holding off for me didn't blaze a white hot line in my memory and keep me obsessed with making the 45 minute drive.

Until Saturday.
David King attempting High Lonesome
His left foot is about six feet off the ground

The last time I was there Kipp encouraged me to try the problem Dwarf Warts. It really didn't do anything for me except piss me off because I couldn't get it.  I was so close.  So this past Saturday I was determined to put that problem in its place.  To me it seemed like a one star problem and yet I wanted it more than I wanted the tall arête problem (that we're calling High Lonesome). Right out of the gate I jumped on it.  I figured fresh fingers would be the key.  Whatever was different I managed to get it.  Three tries and ugly as sin I finally sent the derned problem.  It’s V1 at most.

I wanted to go off by myself and clean and send some stuff.  That's really my M.O.  To the far right at Reactor there's some slabby stuff over a good landing.  And I don't mean low angle easy slab, but closer to vertical and likely to be edgy goodness slab.

But Kipp suckered me into doing the small pocket problem.  And it turned out to be good, another V1-ish.  I nailed it second try without much effort.  It felt good.  The problem wasn't pretty, but it was solid and the movement was good.  I'd call it three stars at least.  Then I got suckered down to a slabby corner Kipp had cleaned with some weird runnel features.  I wasn't going to get on it either, but it was a pure friction problem over an iffy landing.  Okay, okay, I can't pass that up.  That's like candy to me.
Starting move of the friction problem*
Photo by Kipp

I nearly nabbed the FA from Kipp, but easily seconded it.  Pure friction.  It even involved some palm scums to maximize friction.  Solid three move crux to a twenty foot runout through lichens to the summit.  And then a combination downclimb/dropoff to get off the massive boulder.

When I took the freefall descent onto the piled up pads I felt like a boulderer again.  I laughed out loud as I jackhammered into the cush. 

Then we worked a heady slab problem.  I avoided making eye contact with High Lonesome—next time—and I worked the vert to slab problem next to the popular scoop with Kipp but was unwilling to commit to the sloper lip turn. 

He had one more he wanted to try.  On the way over we looked at a blunt arête he had put up a couple of days before.

"You want to try it?" Kipp asked.

"Yeah, I do," I replied, "but you try the other one first.  I'm really running out of gas."  We'd been at the boulders for a solid five hours.  In between attempts on problems we had been scrubbing new lines, prying large talus with metal bars, and then trundling them.  I really was beat.

Kipp gave his last problem for the day a good thrashing, but in the end the key hold was too damp and he was tired.  He gave an exasperated but satisfied sigh and began tossing pads under the arête.

"Get your shoes on," he said.  My choice had been made for me.

He gave me the beta, but it was actually pretty easy to see the line.  After the first try I knew it was a quality line.  I just didn't choke up on the pocket enough and rock over my foot.  Second try I stabbed bad into the pocket and then pawed sloppy with my left foot.  I was sure I would get it the third time.  Nabbed pocket, rocket up good, latched the sidepull/pinch, and looked high to the nice clean rail.  My fingers began to uncurl from the pocket.  I was off again.
Beginning my final descent
Photo by Kipp
I'd reached my threshold for the day. I was okay with that though. I had managed so much more than  I had during a long bouldering session in years.

That earlier friction problem we named Angle of Repose.*  The name is apt considering the nature of the climbing.  It means "the steepest angle of descent or dip relative to the horizontal plane to which a material can be piled without slumping."  Beyond the angle of repose material begins sliding off the pile.

My life seems to be slowly coming back under the threshold. It’s not just that I'm climbing again.  I'm trying to live by the mantra "never say never," and I'm trying to go back on promises I never should have made to myself. I once loved rock climbing and it consumed me.  Instead of moderating my activity I decided to cut it off.  Maybe that was the best thing to do.  But now I think it might be possible to reintroduce it in my life at a healthy level.

It’s a constant struggle to rein in my inattention.  So I'm back to making to-do lists. I'm back to caring somewhat about the things I've neglected for so long around the house.  It’s a fine line I tread because thinking about how much there is to get done and how much it will cost usually results in my being mired in depression.  But if I can push through and feel productive it usually counters the enmirement.  Yeah, I made that word up.

For now I am centered and in balance on the thin friction holds of life.  I've been good at this dance in the past. Pushing on into unknown territory and committing through the cruxes and through again has historically paid off.  I've not fallen yet.