Monday, November 30, 2015

Home Crap Home

We bought our house in January of 2002. It was kind of a hand-me-down from my parents. My parents bought it from my paternal grandparents. My grandparents built the house—a modest ranch with a walk out—in the Sixties (I think).

In buying the house we became victims of the housing bubble and didn't know it. My parents had been renting it to a cousin and no rent had been paid. Mom and dad needed to get out from under it and we were looking to get out of the dump we had been renting for $300. The Dump was so bad. The furnace went out in the middle of the winter and the landlord ignored my phone calls until I left a message that said: “We're going to stay with family and your pipes are probably going to bust.” He showed up within an hour and fixed the furnace. But we had been shivering for days.

Anyway, we wanted a place of our own. We'd been married for over a year, so...why not?

I simply inquired of the bank what it would take for us to get a mortgage for my parents' house. At the time we were both going to EKU full time and I was working at UPS part time on call. And by “on call” I mean I worked two or three days a week for a total of about ten to twenty hours at $8-something an hour. At the time Mandy worked part time at the video store where we met. And $300/mo for The Dump seemed extravagant. We were barely scraping by.

When the loan flunky asked what we thought we could pay in mortgage per month I speculated that maybe we could swing $350. And for quite a while we heard nothing from the bank. In fact, we kind of forgot about it. My parents were talking about just renting to us or letting us rent to own.

After weeks and weeks the loan stooge called and asked: “Are you going to come in and sign these papers or what?”

And so on my twenty-eighth birthday we signed the papers for our first mortgage. The monthly payment? $450. By the time we moved into the house peak season was over at UPS and I hadn't been called in for weeks. Our income was basically nil. For a few years we were desperately dependent on residual money from our student loans and the few semesters we qualified for Pell Grants.

In 2005 we refinanced and a different mortgage company gave us a check for $9,999.99 and our balance kicked back up near where we were when we started out. Again, we were somewhat stunned that a lending institution would take a chance on us the raging financial liabilities that we were. But with that refi check we were able to buy all new windows and doors. We installed them ourselves. 

That was the beginning of our remodeling attempts. We also gutted and remodeled the bathroom, but made a miscalculation in the purchase and installation of the tub/shower which resulted in our second bathroom remodel last winter.

So what's my point in all this?

We've struggled with finances for fifteen years. Circumstance has not favored us economically. I started my job in Colorado in 2008 before the bubble burst. Mandy was unable to find a decent job out there and we were unable to sell our money pit.

We said we'd never live in the house again, but here we are. Fourteen years later we're both gainfully employed and finally able to maybe do the home repairs that have needed to be done for so long. The house needs a roof, siding, gutters, septic work, general drainage, a stout kitchen remodel, the geothermal likely replaced, and a lot of cosmetic TLC.  I keep saying that it would be best to bulldoze the whole thing into the basement hole and start over.

If only it were that easy.

A big part of the problem is me. ADHD, depression, and other neurological friction is notorious for impeding progress on home improvements. It's no excuse, but it is an explanation.

Recently we've started working on marking things off of the TO DO list that should have been done ages ago. I recently replaced two of the three Bikeport support posts. The rear post had sunk a few inches when the slab settled and slumped. The middle post had been missing for as long as I can remember. Now I don't worry about the damn carport collapsing all the time.

And in preparation for a new roof Mandy and I spent most of this past Friday ripping off and replacing rotted fascia and soffit boards. It was pretty bad. Next is the roof. The plan is to put on a steel roof, then wood siding, and then make it all look pretty. We need decks under our front and back doors too.

Mandy commented that her parents would never have done that kind of project themselves; that they would have hired it out, but it has never occurred to me to call a contractor for anything. Dad taught me enough about plumbing, electricity, and carpentry that I can fix leaks, replace light fixtures, and do basic home repairs. I'm not great at it—it always looks like its been half-assed because it has—but my meager skillz made it possible for us to get stuff done that we desperately needed done.

I look forward to the day when I just pick up the phone and say: “Give me a quote.”
I'm thankful for the abilities that I have been blessed with. I know a lot of people wouldn't risk doing things themselves. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nauseous the whole time the corner of the Bikeport was jacked up waiting for my concrete footers to cure.

It's times like these when I feel capable and resilient. I know I can get by for the most part. And if I were going to put together a Responsible Adult Wish List I would say that in a perfect world we'd go on to install solar electric and solar water heating as well as putting in nat gas for backup heating, cooking and water heating, and/or that we would just burn it all down and start over with our dream house.

But if wishes were hand grenades...or something like that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

All Jacked Up

I’ve been working on mountain bike trails in the RRGCC’s PMRP since July.  Four of us hacked out a short section of the new trail project not too long ago.  It’s going to be incredible when it’s finished.  Alas, there is still a little bit left to do on the extension project we started at the Johnny and Alex Trail Day (JATD).  And since I had two ongoing projects why not add a third?
Last week I finally set to fixing our sagging bikeport roof.  I knew it was going to be a…
Hey, I realize it’s hard to read someone who changes direction so often.  Bear with me.  They’re related.
…Anyway, I knew it was going to be a stressful and sketchy operation.  In concept it was simple: jack up corner, dig out concrete and dirt, pour new footer for corner, set post, and unjack.
The initial barrier was the jacks.  I didn’t know what to use.  Drunk Uncle supposedly had some, but I could never seem to get him to commit to finding them so I could borrow them.  On a whim I ran to Ace Hardware one afternoon to see if they had something I could rent.  Turns out for $60 I could just buy two hydraulic bottle jacks.  Done.
I “borrowed” three red oak 4x6s from the sawmill for supports and before you knew it I had that danged corner jacked up.  There was nothing but to start busting and digging.  I spent a few hours slogging away at sixty year old concrete.  It went deeper than I expected, but was only about eight inches in diameter below a misshapen mass under the slab.  Definitely not to code.
Haha, we have no codes here.  What do you speck of dhese codes?
Anyway, I ended up with a three foot deep by two foot in diameter hole under the floating corner of the roof.  And one JUBAR lower back.  And wrists.  And hands.  I pounded on that concrete for a long time.  My body absorbed a lot of the energy in my weakest links.  Friday I was useless.  I wanted to die.  I was tired, sore, and feeling like someone should just jam me under the corner post.
Mandy told me I could do whatever I wanted on Saturday; she didn’t need me for anything around the house and had her own plans.  The weather forecast looked fantastic.  I was despondent.  My barely animated corpse was not going to enjoy such a fine day with no responsibilities.
I dragged.  Sleeping in felt nice.  Still beat both kids awake and set to making breakfast.  Bean was up and eating with me, and when I mentioned that I was thinking about going and doing some trail work she let me know with a series of Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!s that she was in.  I had no aspirations to cut bench or to move dirt in any way conceivable.  I decided I might be able to make some progress on an idea I had for a short easy/skills loop adjacent to the Flat Hollow Trailhead. 
Right is north
Current Flat Hollow conditions. Blue is old trail, red is new project, green is easy/skills loop planned.

Detail of skills loop (actual GPS track)
Creek runs along road and slope begins to the left (right is north-ish)
There’s a slip of bottomland between the creek and the base of the slope to the west of the parking area.  My longer term plan is to connect Flat Hollow TH with the Drive-By Trailhead via a trail along the creek through the area.  But that one small area struck me as a perfect place for a short and easy loop.
I intentionally took only a leaf rake, loppers, and a machete.  Bean tagged along.
The other option would have been to work on the creek crossings near the parking lot for the new trail we started recently.  While my plan there is to do some pitching and armoring I just didn’t think my body would appreciate moving enough rock to make it worthwhile, so clearing the short loop seemed like the best use of our time.
And that’s what we did.  The loop begins opposite the old Flat Hollow Trail across an oil access road and immediately drops to the bottoms.  I cleared along the base of the steep slope until we reached a point where the creek sidled up to it and then followed Bald Rock Fork back to the beginning.  The loop is about 0.15 mile long.
Aspiring trail gnome
The cool thing about it is that we can start with a rideable easy loop and then go back and add features like berms, table top jumps, skinnies, and the like.
Saturday I’m meeting up with Dave there to try and make some more progress on the newest trail trail.  I have a feeling our real progress is getting ready to fly over the handlebars of winter.  We’ve had lots of below freezing nights the past week or so.  There won’t be much bench cutting getting done over the next few weeks.  It’s likely that no bench cutting is going to get done until spring.  And that’s okay.
If I find myself in need to make progress when the ground is frozen I have about six miles of trail corridor to clear in the meantime.
I put in the back and middle posts last night.  It felt incredible to let those jacks down and lay the supports on the ground.  There are currently two 6x6 red oak beams supporting the bikeport roof.  I have to watch the weather closely for an above freezing window to jump through to replace the front corner post.
Might be a tad overkill...
Well, since I won’t likely be plinking about here on this back alley wall of the internet before Monday have a Happy Thanksgiving! 


Monday, November 23, 2015

All You Haters in My Mind

I’m a (soon-to-be) published short story author.  It’s true.  Keith Snyder’s forthcoming RIDE 3 collection of bicycle-themed short stories is due out…well, soon!  He’s included a short story I wrote back in my Colorado days.  I should probably be more excited about it than I am.  I should be more inspired to polish up my other works and start submitting them for publication in other places.  Or put them out on Kindle just for kicks.  I should buckle down and write my magnum opus.  It haunts me all the time. 
There are a lot of things I should do that I don’t.  Story of my life.  One thing that doesn’t need to be done anymore is obtain and install a derailer hanger on my road bike.  Done.  Why has that been an issue?  Geez, I can’t even remember when it was—back when it was warm, sometime last summer—I got new cables and housings for the Sporty Sport Bike (the original SSB), and installed them. 
Got everything adjusted and was dying to get out for a ride.  I took off one afternoon for a thirteen mile ride around between Clay City and Stanton.  I was happy to just be back out on the road on the bike.  Mountain biking is really my thing, but I miss bike commuting and I miss just getting out on the road bike under the blue sky.
I rode over Pompeii.  The first climb went fine.  The bike was doing okay.  But that stupid short crux at Beechfork…ugly words.  I geared down a cog or two and stood up on the pedals to power over the steep little hill and instantly dumped the chain into the spokes and ripped the derailer near off the frame.
There was no fixing it.  Mandy was out somewhere beyond SAG range.  I called Tomahawk and he came to my rescue.  I hate not being able to fix stuff in the field.  This was pretty catastrophic though.
The bike sat in the Bike Cave for many long months as I occasionally lamented my intentions to get it roadworthy again.  It kept sitting.  The Cannonball has been down with a lame hydraulic brake too.  That left me with my two mountain bikes.  And for the most part that’s been okay, except now its five o’clock dark, and I don’t have quick and easy mountain biking options near home.  You’ve heard my whining and efforts to improve that situation.
I ended up putting more effort into running for a few months, but I didn’t want to be running.  I’m a cyclist. 
Friday I wandered into Pedal the Planet and once again mentioned my intent to fix my road bike.  “I’ve just gotta pull that hanger and bring it in here.”
“It’s a Specialized?” he asked.  I acknowledged the bald fact of it.
Scott produced a hanger.  It looked right.
“If it doesn’t fit you can return it.”
So I bought the $12 hanger.  And it fit. 
I’m minus a chain for the bike.  The ripping also broke the chain outright.  All I need now is to get a chain and get everything tuned in such a manner as it will not dump said new chain back into spokes.  It’ll be like a new bike.
Why did I put it off so long?  Geez, I couldn’t tell you.  Except as I sat in the cramped bike cave elbows to bike stand, pump, hanging bikes, and a storage shelf it hit me.  Right in the back of the skull.
The reason I’ve stopped maintaining the fleet is because I have nowhere to work on them.  We moved all the bikes into a different room in the basement and the fung shui just didn’t jive.  I didn’t acknowledge it until this past weekend.  But that’s the thick and the thin of it.  I just haven’t had the space to throw a bike up on the stand and piddle like I needed to.  Otherwise I would have had the hanger off that Focker the day after it was mangled and in to the bike shop the day after that.  I knew the little aluminum J-hook wouldn’t cost much.  I knew it. 
This is the story of my life.  There is too much clutter in my house and in my mind. 
I surf the tides of irony.  I’m getting the wheels back under my steeds just as winter settles onto the land like a rock slide.  Oh well, I like to suffer.  No, I really don’t.  But sometimes you have to accept reality and savor life regardless of what you desire.  I don’t hang onto regret too much.  I recognize that regret negates an appreciation of the good things in life.  Things could have been different, but I’d have to sacrifice things like my family to get other things I want.  That’s not my priority.  Family is.
I miss being a full time bike commuter.  I miss riding often.  I feel like I’ve lost a lot of inspiration in my life by not being on the bike.  Running doesn’t do it for me.  Running doesn’t tie into a deeper root system of transportation related issues and social problems like cycling does.  For better or worse that kept me plugging along for a few years.  I’ve lost the lifeline that led me to transportation planning in the first place.
As much as I want to I’ve not been able to master the mental acrobatics that would allow me to be even a part time bike commuter again.  Part of that is the road bike.  The last time I tried to commute to work the bike utterly failed me.  That spurred me to get new cables and housings.  That led to a broken bike.  Too much friction…
I need a tuneup of body, mind, and soul.  The bike part is easy after that.

Friday, November 20, 2015

You Don't Have to Live Near a Refugee

I don’t do this as a matter of practice or principle.  Politics and religion, man!  I grew up in the church.  I was taught from my earliest years that it is good to treat people well and evil to treat them poorly.  It was pretty easy to understand from the Bible that God expects us to get along and do nice things for each other.  My intent in writing this piece is not to debate religion.  In fact, if you get hot about this and want to go all crazy on my comments section you're probably missing the point (and will be sorely disappointed).

Likely no one in my intended audience will ever read this post.  You might ask why I go ahead and post it anyway.  This is part of my narrative.  My feelings on this and related matters are complicated.  Complicated, but clear to me.  I am not confused in my understanding of the Bible.  I am conflicted over how Christianity is practiced in the modern world.  Not confused...conflicted.

These days I am continually baffled by the cognitive dissonance that reverberates through American Christendom.  I’ve seen YouTube videos that teach that as a Christian, if you’re not arming yourself (the preacher in the video is target shooting an AR-15) that you are not doing your Christian duty to protect your family.  I’ve heard people I once respected say that poor people don’t deserve their help and that “yes, God said give to the poor and needy, but my government has no right to legislate how much.”  I don't understand the attitudes and politics of most of my Christian friends when my understanding of God's will has less right to bear arms and more love for my neighbors.

I’m saddened by the greedy and heartless attitudes that have crept into the church.  It has been befouled by modernity and capitalist values.  I even had one friend from my childhood who continually argues that “only Christ and capitalism can save America.”  He goes on to shoehorn Jesus into capitalism and translate scriptures for me in ways I think are somewhat blasphemous.  He is a paid gospel preacher.

After Friday he posted on his facebook wall a tirade comparing Islam to Christianity and it paints ALL Muslims as evil and ALL Christians as good.  He ends with this:

“In short, when one follows Christ and the teachings of the New Testament, you get intact families, good citizens, honest workers, faithful spouses, generous givers, kind people…”

Oddly enough I have to disagree.  In theory this statement is true, but my boots-on-the-ground observations don’t support it.  Christian families are dysfunctional and sometimes broken.  Christians aren’t necessarily any better citizens than average--and sometimes use their Christianity to avoid doing the right things.  I have seen plenty of Christian workers that grumble and shirk responsibility while their worldly counterparts outshine them.  And it’s been my experience that worldly organizations far outgive the church.  Kindness is starkly absent in my experience of the church.

I have a few observations to make based on my understanding of the written Word of God.  I’m not professing to be an expert.  I’m not preaching from a holier-than-thou pulpit.  This is just my take on the current refugee dialogue.  I may borrow snippets from others, but in general this is just my take on the situation.

Jesus said: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)  I always took this verse, along with the passage about the birds and flowers not worrying about how they are clothed as a reassurance from Jesus that if I have faith and put my trust in him that regardless of what happens to me on this earth that I will forget suffering in the next world.  That kind of gives us a free pass to do the right thing.  We may suffer on earth for doing right, but we have to look beyond temporal boundaries.

So if I let fear rule my life—fear of harm from my brown-skinned neighbors, fear of bedraggled refuges, fear of government, and fear of my less well-to-do fellow Kentuckians—and it prevents me from helping my neighbors then my faith is weak. 

In Leviticus 19:33-34 it reads: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and  you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."  Again, the ending seems to say you might think it’s better to follow your gut, but TRUST ME, I’m God.

A few friends have commented that we already have a problem with homelessness and illegal immigrants, and that we can’t afford to take on more welfare cases.  In regards to the Syrian refugees I don't see any evidence that shows these people don't want to work.  They're fleeing war and oppression.  What really bugs me about these kinds of statements is that they reflect a complete blindness to the issues that they cite as a reason to turn our backs on even more people.  God never promises that doing the right thing will be easy or bear no cost.

I look at it this way: I’d rather have Syrian refugees living next door to me than the druggies, pillheads and thieves that live in my community.  And I have a feeling I could have less contentious conversations with foreigners than some of my radical right-wing acquaintances.  I don’t fear brown people.  I have no reason to.  And I don’t want them to fear or revile me.  From a Christian perspective I should love them just because they exist.

I could go on.  I’ve been wrestling with this post for a week and I know I’m not saying all the things I wanted to say, or making my case as clearly as I would like.  In short I want to end with a final Biblical passage.  I think it speaks for itself.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.   And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,   I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’   Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?   And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?   And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’   And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Age Old Question: How to Get Mountain Bikers to Build Trails

Everyone that comes out for a trail day knows it.  No one really understands it, but it’s a known fact.
And it’s not just mountain bikers.  The phenomenon spreads across all trails recreation groups.  I've seen it time and time again with rock climbers.  Heck, I'm sure it even permeates non-outdoor rec groups.
You schedule a trail day and no one shows up.  A month later you plan another and offer bribes.  No one shows up.  You finally get the trail built and everyone comes to ride, but when the flood of the millennium wipes out part of the trail no one comes out for the trail day to repair it.  But once the trail is repaired the clowns come out of the woodwork.
As a trail steward you beat yourself up.  Maybe if I had announced it sooner.  Maybe if we had a sponsor with better swag.  Maybe kaybe, but don't hold your breath.  It’s easy to get frustrated and/or angry.  And the best thing to do is turn that rage into a blog post about why no one ever shows up for trail days.
No, that’s not right.  Anyway…
Actually, I get it.  I’m a busy guy.  Surely those trails will get built and maintained regardless of whether I make a measly trail day.  Right?

Is the trail day half full or half empty?
When we moved away to Colorado in 2008 my sum total of mountain biking experience had been on old dirt roads, forest roads, and the like around my home stomping grounds in the Red River Gorge area.  No one maintained those roads.  They had been there forever.  So when we moved back to Kentucky in 2013 I assumed those miles and miles of roads would still be great places to ride.
Wrong assumption.
Off-roaders had torn them all to heck and back.  Except for the ones the Forest Service had intentionally obscured and destroyed.  And no one had built new purpose-built bike-optimized trails while I was away.  It took two years for me to come to grips with the fact that I moved back to mountain biking hell.  All this wooded undeveloped land—much of it public lands—and nowhere legal or even physically feasible to ride.

The result of apathetic land management
To co-opt a sound bite: if not you then who?  A little over a year ago I decided I would get involved with developing new trails.  The lowest hanging fruit was the few hundred acres owned by the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition.  Earlier progress had been punctuated by the leaving of the previous trails champion.  I decided I could turn that period into a comma and move forward.
Out of the gate there were roadblocks.  There were personality conflicts with the former land manager.  So I threw up my hands before building a single yard of trail.  Months rolled on.  In the meantime no one else was doing anything, and it didn’t look like anyone ever was going to do anything.  Meanwhile no other trails were being built nearby.  Meanwhile no one else was even talking about building trails in my neck of the woods.
This past spring I decided if I was ever going to have easy access to mountain bike trails without moving to another town I was going to have to make it happen myself.  It’s not like I have a yearning passion to build trails.  I like using trails.  It’s a lot easier than building trails.

It's hard to get this many people together in the same room (much less all those trees) and convince them to build trails
The real problem is that trail construction is labor intensive.  The misconception is that it’s insanely difficult or backbreaking work, and that’s just not true.  The construction principles are simple.  And if you have a small crew the work goes fast without overly-taxing any one person’s lower back.  But you need at least a small crew to make headway.  I’ve proven to myself that one guy can’t build a trail.
I tried working on a piece of wooded land that some cousins own behind my house.  I can hack about fifty feet of trail out at a stretch.  That’s maybe an hour and a half to two hours of work.  But then I’m shot.  My back is the weak link.
To build a mile of simple trail (no bridges or features) at that rate would take me 150 to 200 hours.  I tried to tell myself that if I just did two or three hours a week I’d have a runnable and bikeable loop in no time.  The painful truth is that I ran out of motivation really fast.
I can be at the Flat Hollow Trailhead in thirty minutes from my house.  There is a storage unit full of trail tools on the way there.  While I wouldn’t say I have carte blanche to build trails there I would say that I have more work I can do than I would ever be able to do by myself.  And there is the rub.  For me to have a trail that’s rideable using only my own power I would never be able to maintain the energy or motivation to make it happen.
Even after my partner-in-crime Kris got involved we’ve not been able to knock out the miles like we want or need to.  I have managed to motivate the Training Partner (Dave) to get involved.  Bradley—a fellow Powell Countian—has been helping too.  We get some help from time to time from those outside the current Circle of the Know.  It’s slow going.

It's ALL training
On Veterans Day four of us showed up at Flat Hollow and despite not coloring inside the lines we managed to make a lot of progress on the new section of trail.  A lot.  I had big plans to finish what I call “the extension.”   We’ve been working on that half mile segment of trail since July.  It’s 90% finished.  It’s 99% rideable.  The newest segment will create a one mile loop with the extension.  And it will be the trail I really wanted to build instead of the travesty that resulted in my initial efforts.  That is another story in itself and I won’t go into that on a public blog.
So here we are…heading into winter with momentum and a clear view ahead of where the trail should go.  Can we maintain enough brainwave activity through the cold season to pick up where we left off once the Spring thaw and Summer drying out occur?  I think so.  It’s going to be a maddening time for me—the guy who can’t sit around and do nothing when he knows that there’s so much to be done.  But I’ve seen the effects of frozen ground on hand tools.  It’s not pretty.  And I don’t want to break myself before I even get a chance to ride the trails. 
I don’t know why it’s so hard to get people to come out and cut new trail.  There’s an energy that grows as you see new twists and turns being unearthed.  It’s like creating sculpture or painting.  You get to see something coming to life.  The difference is that once it’s created you get to experience in a different way.  You ride.  Or run or hike.  And then the trail experience becomes more satisfying and gratifying. 
I guess the answer lies somewhere in the neighborhood of: threaten access to trails; or take it away completely.

Build it and be the first to ride it!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Roughed Up Beyond All Recognition

Discretion being the better part of valor, I'm happy with my decision to run the 22k+ version of the Rough Trail Ultramarathon.  I almost ended up doing the 50k anyway.  It was an accident.  I didn't do a good job reading my event emails and was unaware that the 22k race started at 9:00 and not at 7:00.

Al was kind enough to let me know.

"I didn't think you were doing the 50k," he said in surprise when I found him in the crowd as the field formed up at the start line.

"I'm not," I said from deep in oblivion.

"Well...the 22k starts at nine."

At least I didn't have to worry about not getting into the port-a-john before the start.  I did have to worry about staying warm for two hours.  It was seasonably cold on Saturday morning.

Pre-race meeting
The 22k field lined up at the start facing the wrong way
 The start ended up being anticlimactic.  The initial pace was almost slow, though I pushed myself pretty hard for the first five miles.  We ran out Koomer Ridge with a detour on the Hidden Arch Trail and then on toward Buck Trail.  I was hoping the field would spread out before the descent into the Right Fork of Chimney Top Creek. 

Unfortunately I was held up by more timid descenders.  In the bottoms I was able to improve my position somewhat with a dancing pass at each creek crossing.  I was afraid those I had overcome would dog me up the Buck-U climb, but oddly I was able to increase the gap between myself and the mid-field.  I was definitely lagging behind the leaders.  To give away the ending somewhat, after leaving the creek along Buck Trail I basically ran by myself with only a few brief encounters with other runners for the remainder of the race.

Once I had gained the ridge I anticipated reaching the Gray's Arch trailhead.  Mandy and the kids were manning the first aid station there with Friends of Powell County Pets. It was along the section of Pinch Em Tight Ridge leading to the trailhead where I finally began feeling the effects of my lazy training regime.   

I only lingered long enough to shed my undershirt, gloves, and headband.  Then I was off for the finish so many miles thence.
The trails are familiar to me.  I've run them all in the past couple of years.  And this year I have spent more time on Rough Trail itself and running in the Martin's Fork and Gray's Arch area.  I was a bit disappointed that I didn't have the pluck to really hammer along like I'm used to.  But by the time I started down into King Branch I was in survival mode.  I knew my knees were coming apart.  I knew I couldn't slam down all of the brutal descents ahead of me.  In total there were five typical Red River Gorge descents and climbs and a sixth that was lesser in severity (the Hidden Arch detour). 
Climbing up to Rush Ridge two weeks ago
A “typical” RRG trail climb is about four hundred feet of gain in 0.3 to 0.4 miles.  Along Rough Trail those type of climbs come with little recovery and separated by equally brutal descents.  Rough Trail is rough.  The profile looks like a ragged rusty saw blade.  The trail surface is criss crossed by gnarly pine roots, half buried sandstone rocks, and at this time of year covered by a thick carpet of fallen leaves.

The last climb was Cuss Joe Hill. I plodded up, reflecting on this trail running journey I've been on.  I was all alone.  No one overtook me after I left Chimney Top Creek.  I didn't overtake anyone else in the last two miles either.  I had a lot of time to think.  My body was screaming at me, and I had to fight to quiet the noise.  I was weary, beaten down, but resolute to reach the finish. 
I don't think there was a single moment on Saturday that I considered not finishing the race. I guess it was a possibility at any given point.  I rolled my ankle painlessly once.  That scared me.  But I was over-careful as I ran on the late autumn trails.
The last mile felt it.  I didn't have much more to give when I finally crossed the finish line after a deceptively long wend through the campground on the paved roads and a final short climb on a trail up to the amphitheater.  And there at the finish was my beautiful wife.  I joked that I took so long getting in to give her a chance to get from her aid station to the finish before I got there.
Out of fifty-six 22k racers I came in 18th overall.  I was 3rd in my age group (40-49) and 5th of everyone over 40 years old.  My official finishing time was 3:33:38 for 14.7 trail miles.
The physical toll wasn't too bad.  The ongoing mantra these days is: "I've done less and felt worse."  It's true.  Somehow I'm beginning to plateau and not lose too much when I fall back to "normal" fitness levels.  I've learned a lot about endurance activities in the past six years or so.  I have so much more to learn. 
Right now I'm not signed up for any events.  I want to throw my name in the hat for Leadville next year.  I think I want to do the Mohican again.  But for now there's nothing on my horizon and I think it feels pretty good.  I want to spend the winter getting in shape, finally losing the weight, and working on building some world class mountain bike trails.
Hanging out in Pine Ridge Saturday night

Friday, November 13, 2015

50 - 28 = 22

I made a lot of concrete assertions that I was going to finish the Rough Trail 50k tomorrow.  Over the past few months I’ve gone from 100% confidence to absolute zero.  In this case it’s not as much a matter of lacking esteem as reality checking in and letting me know that the laws of physics still apply.
Kipp has tried to shame me into excelling as a trail runner.  It doesn’t work for me.  I become violently passive-aggressive and dig in my heels.  I’ve suffered enough abuse of that nature throughout my life that it absolutely fails as a motivational tool.  I only operate on positive reinforcement.  This is not a threat, just an acknowledgment.
The reality check is that as a father, husband, employee, aspiring trail builder, wanna-be writer, and so forth and so on…I do not have the temporal resources to train for a 50k trail run at this juncture in my life.  Kipp says it’s because I don’t have my priorities straight.  I say they’ve never been straighter.
When I was younger I gave up any kind of career progress to be a full time climbing bum.  I sacrificed opportunities.  I made deals with the devil…just so I could be a mediocre and frustratingly unsatisfied rock climber.  At nearly 42 years old I am not willing to make those kinds of bad decisions again.  I have a career.  I have boatloads of opportunities vying for my scattered attention.  And I have a family which I love dearly that I owe so much to.
My kids are eight and twelve.  My wife has just started back into her career and has needed my support more than ever.  I owe her so much more than I’ve been able to give.  There have been times that I even wish I could be a stay-at-home dad, simply to take some of the burden off of her. 
While setting out to run my first 50k trail race was ambitious and perhaps admirable, when it came down to it and my time was stretched too thin to put in the requisite miles I relaxed my grasp on that goal.  It was a johnny-come-lately bucket list item anyway.  The appeal of trail racing was taking away from my long held ambitions that may actually result in a better career stance or more personal wealth at some point in the future.  And I’m not just talking De Niro. 
Tomorrow I will suffer through the 22k race and applaud the 50kers.  And after that I think I’m hanging up the ole Cascadias.  My trail racing career is on indefinite hiatus come Saturday late morning.  I will be able to go back to riding my bike because that’s what I want to be doing anyway.  I like to run, but I hate to feel pressured to run. 
I still have some trail running ambitions.  I still want to do a crossing of the Red River Gorge along Rough Trail and Swift Camp Creek Trail.  I still want to run sections or all of the Sheltowee Trace.  But I can’t live under a timeline for training for big running efforts anymore.  They just need to come as they do.  I enjoy things better when they come that way anyway.  Some of my most cherished memories of the outdoors have been times I just said: “y’know, I think I’m going to go try X today” and I went out and shocked myself at what I was able to do.
I am content in this decision.  After the Iron Horse I lost all interest in running.  And just now I’m starting to feel a glimmer of excitement thinking of being able to get out on the trails in the morning and just run.  I can foresee going out on solo jaunts and revisiting the trails I’ve been training on the past couple of years and hiking for decades prior to that. 
But I also look forward to putting energy into building new mountain bike trails and in getting better and more longsuffering on the bike.
The only event I’m going to commit to in 2016 is the Leadville 100 MTB if I can get in the lottery.  In all likelihood I will run the Flying Pig half and the Iron Horse again, but only if my wife is interested in doing them.  They’re great events and lots of fun, but I don’t need them to motivate me anymore.
I got so close to running a marathon distance.  I managed twenty-one plus miles a few weeks ago.  It was an ugly run.  The twenty mile run I did a couple weeks prior to that was much more enjoyable.  I felt stronger and had a better experience.  I did it unsupported and had actually picked out a really great route for it.  I realized then that going beyond twenty miles for me at this time is difficult.  I don’t have the running background for it.  I need to put in the miles and pay my dues before I go chasing such big numbers.  I’m not ready for 50k.
But 22…I’ve knocked down a few runs and even a race at that distance.  I can do this.  Of that I have no doubt.  For once I’m not already looking ahead to the consolation prize or the next big related scheme.  I just want to get back to the routines that work for me that I love.

Monday, November 9, 2015

I Like Chicken and I Like Eggs

I peaked at the Iron Horse.  I’m certain of it.  While my training schedule was aimed at a 50k trail run this coming weekend my energy was expended when I threw down that mid-blowing sub-two hour half marathon.  I still don’t know how I was able to do it.  Based on my normal running performance I should not have been able to run at that pace for that long.
Anyway, so going into the Rough Trail race I have decided to opt for the 22k distance.  And since that’s not what I have put my energy toward for most of this past year I find that I’m just not motivated to do it at all.  I’ll go.  And I’ll limp through it.  But my running season was over on October 11th.  
Oh, and where did the sun go?
Twice I have started a post about night riding.  Twice I have abandoned it because I can’t progress beyond “this is a good time of year to think about night riding” and there are already quite a few of those type posts out there.

I would love the opportunity to ride my mountain bike at night, but the reality is that it’s currently easier for me to ride at lunch than ride at night.  When I return home at night there is no place for me to ride.  But at lunch I can shoot over to Vet’ran’s Park.  Sometimes I can swing by CVP or Skullbuster after (or before) a meeting out in the district.
The realization that night riding is off the table for me has brought to light that despite my residential proximity to the Red River Gorge and its vast network of trails I have no mountain biking resources at my disposal.  I am in a mountain biking desert. 
And that’s why I took up trail running to begin with.  It was a proxy activity for my more loved pastime.  I had to stop and think hard about what to write next.  Why am I not as jazzed about trail running?  A big part of it is that there is no real outdoor community where I live despite being jammed right up against one of the outdoor meccas of the Eastern US.  And so my recreational/therapeutical activities do not fulfill any of my social needs.
This was the tradeoff so I could become a transportation professional.  I’m not saying it was a poor choice.  It’s frustrating to me to see hordes of obnoxious buzzing and roaring off-road gas guzzlers descending upon my backyard every weekend, and I can’t even find a respectable short loop to ride that hasn’t been obliterated by said ATVs.
But I digress.
Anyway, I need to get myself back in motion.  Once the Rough Trail Ultra was only a couple of weeks away I kind of gave up on everything.  Unfortunately that coincided directly with daylight savings.  It's not been a good two weeks.  It’s time to get control of things once more and remember that I’m an active person.

With TINY feet
 Looking ahead to 2016 I’ve decided that I don’t want to sign up for some stupid ambitious trail runs.  I may end up doing the Flying Pig and Iron Horse halfs again.  I’m pitching my name into the hat for the Leadville 100 MTB race again.  We’ll see what happens with that.  And the Mohican…I’m not sure what’s going to happen with the Mohican.  If I don’t get into Leadville I’ll probably want to do it again this year.  If I do get into Leadville I’ll probably want to do it again this year.  But there are other factors which make me NOT want to do it again this year.
The other mtb race option (if I don’t get into Leadville) would be to do the Silver Rush or another LRS event.  If I do the Silver Rush I’m going to want to do the Silver King.  Run fifty miles?!  That’s just effed up.  Like Whitesnake used to say…here I go again.
Nah, I don’t think the Silver King is in the cards for me.  But we haven’t been back to Colorado in a while.  The Silver Rush MTB race would be a nice reason to go back for a week or two.  It wouldn’t interfere with the school calendar.  It’s short.
I’ve considered moving on to a new mountain bike too.  I’ve had The One since 2011.  It’s not that I don’t like the bike anymore, it’s just that I think maybe a new bike would mix things up a bit.  But I’ve also gotten it to the point where The One is almost the perfect geared bike for me anyway.  Maybe upgrade the wheels.  Maybe get the fork rebuilt or upgrade the fork.  Carbon seat post and a new saddle?  New pedals?  It would be like a new bike.
I don’t think it’s the bike that has sucked the inspiration out of me.  It’s the lack of local trails.  If we had more local trails there would be more local trail users.  But to get more trails we need more users.  That’s the crux.  That’s the conundrum.
What’s really frustrating is that every time I head east toward the Gorge I see numerous cars with really nice bikes on the back or on the roof.  Mountain bikes…road bikes…but I rarely see bikes off the cars.  I know the local demand is high, but there is no local infrastructure.  They’ve already come; we just need to build “it.”

An "Egg"
The "Chicken"
I’m a complicated social character.  This past weekend I wanted to stay in my den and avoid other people.  I feel that way often.  But I also yearn for a community of like-minded people who enjoy doing the same things that I do.  I’ve never been able to find that fit. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Importance of Being Able to Roam

There is a concept in the world called the Right to Roam.  In Swedish the word is allemansr├Ątten or “everyman’s right.”  In the U.S. we typically don’t abide by this concept except on publicly owned property.  The vast majority of land in our communities is privately owned.
Because of our strongly held beliefs in the sacredness of private property it is difficult to carve out a sliver of new public space for roads, utilities and even sidewalks.  And because of our dysfunctional fear of liability more and more land is being cut off from public use altogether.  Sometimes even on publicly owned property.
What generally remains as public space in small communities and rural areas are the public road right-of-ways.  Unfortunately those rights-of-ways tend to be narrow and rarely include any accommodation for the non-motoring public.  We have an epidemic of roads that have been designed for cars and not people. 
It may not be a concern to people who own hundreds of acres of land or who live near ample public facilities such as parks and recreation areas.  But for the masses access to space for recreation and exercise (or even non-motorized transportation) is at a premium.  We have limited time to enjoy our meager public spaces with our jam-packed work weeks and far-flung commutes.  For a society that values convenience we sure have sold our souls in regards to trading proximity to the outdoors for the pleasure of driving our cars.
Our world has provided tools of convenience and labor saving devices which have nearly made our bodies obsolete.  And we're suffering for it.  We're losing skills like hand writing and we've lost most of our opportunities to stay naturally healthy.  So now we have to fashion or find ways to exercise our bodies.  We drive to the gym to run on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike.  Why don't we just ride our bikes?  Fear?  Conditioned to convenience?  Maybe it’s that guy that yelled out the window of his SUV to “get on the sidewalk” or “roads are for cars.”
One way to maximize public space is to build more trails.  It doesn’t matter if they’re singletrack dirt or fourteen foot wide paved multiuse trails.  Trails provide more experiential surface area to any community.  They connect us to remote places; they connect us to near places.  They connect us to each other, and they connect us to strangers.  Trails invite us to move, to travel, and when we travel we strengthen important neural connections in our brains.  We exercise our minds, and we exercise our bodies.
Trail require little real estate.  And in fact, they don’t require prime real estate.  For dirt singletrack often junk land is best.  You can even build multiuse trails in places where no one wants to do anything else.  Floodplains are great places for paved multiuse trails.  Utility rights-of ways.  That fringe along the edge of an industrial area.  All good places.
Trail in Berea, KY

A narrow sliver between platted neighborhoods in Arvada, CO

Trails in the Cherry Creek floodplain, Denver, CO

Multiuse trail in a power line easement, Arvada, CO

In conferences and meetings I continually hear about how important physical activity is.  I hear that it is vital for us to have access to opportunities for exercise and movement.  I wonder why we have to talk about it so much if it’s so important.
I remember that when I was a kid there were all kind of places I could ride my bike and hike and play.  There were pockets of wooded land where my contemporaries build forts and ran amuck.  It was an important part of growing up.  It seems like a lot of those places have vanished or have been fenced off.