Thursday, December 31, 2015

Here's to Another Year

Twenty fifteen started with a mountain bike ride and a shower remodel. Ironically, 2015 is ending with laying out a mountain bike trail and more home repairs. If you'll remember I conned Jeaph into helping gut and rebuild our leaky shower. He ended up doing most of the work (and truly did a great job) after the KYMBA New Year's Day ride at Laurel Lake.
I took Boone and Ty backpacking up Powder Mill Trail on MLK weekend. That was a great trip except I busted my good camera. Earlier in the fall I got a replacement camera, and for Christmas I finally got the lens to go with it. It's been almost a year...
Kipp got me back out on the small stones. I visited his BMW area a couple-three times and managed to reassure myself I was far from being in shape to rock climb again. I decided to focus on running and ended up losing even more fitness as my body broke down month after month.
Early in the year I bailed on doing my first ultra—the Yamacraw 50k—due to lack of training. I managed to do the Flying Pig Half Marathon off the couch with a not bad time. Afterward I did get back to running regularly with a brief return to mountain biking as a proofer for the Mohican 100. Of course that ended with a mangled derailer. Then I mangled the derailer on my road bike and was off of it until just a few weeks ago.
We had a hectic cross country season. I was an assistant coach while trying to train for my own runs. I returned to the Iron Horse after two years and broke two hours surprising even myself at the effort. But that was my running peak for the year even though I was shooting for the Rough Trail 50k a month later. I ended up dropping back to the 22k race, finished well, but totally quit running until just recently. My body needed the rest badly.
I was able to draft and get adopted a county wide bicycle and pedestrian plan for Powell County. In July I took up the PMRP mountain bike trail building cross once again. It's been quite the saga, but there is still potential and the pilot light is still lit on that fire. There will be a few miles of MTB trail there eventually. I've also poked my nose back into the possibility of a MTB trail at Natural Bridge State Park, and on New Year's Eve the Training Partner and I hiked a new section of potential trail to connect up to the Powder Mill Trail on Forest Service land with the blessing of the District Ranger. Things are moving forward.
New trails I rode this year were Jenny Wiley, Ben Hawes, Waverly, Cherokee Park, and two areas in Des Moines. I became a enthusiastic single speed mountain biker.
At the end of the year I finally started to get my act together. The road bike is roadable again. The Ute has been making the trek to town again. The Cannonball is sooooo close. And we started really working on the house. I've fixed some structural problems with the carport. We've started prepping for a new steel roof. We finally cleaned up the basement and the yard. We have a new flock of chickens. We fenced in the yard so the Naughty Dogs can't eat all of the new chickens.
My kids keep growing and amazing me. My son is almost as tall as me. He's so smart and an incredible kid. And Bean is smart, and funny, and just a great person. Both of my kids are fantastic. Mandy and I have been married over fifteen years now. And while the last few years have been rough it seems to me like we just get stronger. I appreciate her more and more all the time. I have an amazing life. I can't express to you how blessed I am and how thankful I am that I have her in my life.
Things have started to turn around. We are finally both fully employed. We bought our first “new” car this year. It was actually a 2014, but that's the first vehicle we've owned that wasn't at least ten years old when we got it.
I got a new trad rack for Christmas. Mandy and I are both excited about the prospect of climbing again. I have this gig GPSing crag approaches for a guidebook app. It's maddening to be hiking upt to multiple climbing areas and not being able to climb. Soon.
I've stalled on my book(s) but my short story will soon be published. I should work on more short stories and my longer works this year. I should get serious about my writing and start trying to improve and to sell myself.
Hopefully I will soon be able to share some exciting news from my job. I know 2016 is going to be another amazing year. There will be rough times. There will be dark times. But in the end I have a great life and I foresee this being an incredible year.

Have a Happy New Year.   

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Shhh...I'm Hunting Wabbits

We’ll come back to that.  Stick a pin in it.  Trust me; I won’t forget.
My body is giving out.  After the Rough Trail race my activity level has fallen to nearly 0.  I’m at like 0.01% activity.  I sit a lot.  My muscles stiffen a lot.  My soul dies a little more every day.
I don’t run.  I don’t ride.  I rarely hike or walk or take the stairs.
I have done some trail work in the past couple of months.  Mandy and I have been going to a personal trainer at the gym, but consistency is still a problem.  The holidays just suck, okay?  In case you didn’t know.
It was a relief to be finished with Rough Trail and know I didn’t have another event on the calendar.  I was happy that my “training schedule” was blank.  But since then I have had absolutely no motivation to get out and do…anything.  I rode two days a couple of weeks ago before the rain set in.  I’ve ran exactly one time since RT and I hated it.
There is a lack of motivation.  There is a lack of inspiration.
Leadville is an option to fill that void.  When I say “Leadville” I am referring to the Leadville 100 mountain bike race which is also abbreviated LT100 or Leadville Trail 100 MTB.  I tend to use the “Leadville 100” shorthand, but ultra-runners take that as reference to the original one hundred mile trail run.  Still…
There is baggage with Leadville.  I want to go back and get a buckle and finish my book.  But there is a huge cost.  The entry fee is $345.  The cost of the trip out there is going to be significant.  And the cost if I fail to perform (again) would be onerous.  There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go back to Colorado.  Ever.  Some days I see moving back to Kentucky as the biggest mistake we’ve ever made.  Some days.  Most days I just want to put the past behind me and make the most of the path ahead.  So yeah, going back to Colorado might be detrimental to my mental well-being. 
Why does it have to be a race? you ask.  I need the pressure to motivate me to improve myself.  Just saying I’m going to take a mountain bike trip to Brown County this year does nothing to motivate me to eat better and try to stay healthy.  I can ride my bike in Brown County as a fat slob.  I can’t crush twelve hours at Leadville without commitment and focus.
Ah, focus!  The one thing that is most elusive in my life…if I could unlock the secrets of focus then I might finally be able to feel like a normal human being.  I might be able to feel successful and grounded.  I might be able to shrug off the self-doubt.  Signing up for a race doesn’t grant focus, but it incites it.  As much as I can be incited to focus, anyway. 
The book was focused.  It just didn’t have a good finish.  The end is a dangling participle. 
And I can’t just go out and finish the Mohican 100 in less than twelve hours and be satisfied.  I should be able to…I should be able to have normal feelings of self-worth without seeking some odd validations like finishing a mountain bike race, or being a rock climber again, or living outside my cubicle when the paycheck is hidden somewhere inside.
Monday night two weeks ago I got home from work and my body was defeated.  I collapsed on the bed in a limp heap; breathing hard with all my synapses firing out of sequence.  I sit too much.  I’m not active enough.  It feels like the longer I’m lethargic the more lethargic I become.  And it happened so fast this time…
The smart thing to do would be to skip Leadville this year.  I could do the Mohican.  I could do a different NUE race.  I could do a different Leadville Race Series event. All of them look appealing, though none are closer than nine hundred miles to where I live. The NUE races are closer.
Tomahawk has nothing bad to say about State College, Pee Aye.  He raved about it after a visit there with his bike some time ago.  There is a NUE race there: The Wilderness 101.  It’s about an eight hour drive versus the six hours to the Mohican.  That’s doable.
Anyway, my life is a constant struggle now to keep myself from taking on new activities.  I don’t need new obsessions.  I need to learn to focus on one or two good obsessions and let the extraneous stuff go.  I need to learn to let go. 
But in order to stay active and healthy I need to have a target to shoot for.  That is a reality.  The real puzzle is how to do that with the least impact on the rest of my life.  Where do I get the most bang for my buck?  I want a healthy activity that I enjoy that I can do close to home in a short amount of time.  Long distance trail running almost hits that target.  It just takes too long.  Mountain biking would be the magic activity if there was a decent amount of legal mileage closer to home.  I hate road running.  Road cycling ends up taking up a lot of time and I get bored of doing short rides.  Rock climbing ends up taking up too much extra time and I know I’ll become overly obsessed with it if I focus too much.  Bouldering could work if my elbows, knees, and lower back could handle the abuse.
If knitting burned more calories…
Having an event to train for gives me a fiction of focus at least.  I tried trail running and it banged me up too much.  Mountain biking is really what I love to do and what I would pick over everything else except maybe rock climbing.  So there you have it.
This is really as close as you're going to get to a New Year's Resolution with me.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Weekend Ride Report: Bowen Loop

This is what I need to get back to doing. Writing about riding. There are hundreds of miles of fantastic roads within a day's ride of my house. I need to be riding them, and I need to be touting them to the wide world (albeit ineffectively since this is the back alley wall of the internet).
I am a big proponent of “front porch” rides. Why subject your bike to the indignity of being hauled on your car (phrase blatantly stolen from Bike Snob NYC) when you can just use the bike to get where you want to go?  The problem is that to me my front porch rides are mundane. Yes, I ride from the house almost 100% of the time unless I'm mountain biking or traveling to some organized ride like the Redbud. 
I've lived in Powell County most of my life so I take our scenery and great roads for granted. For my own sake I need to learn to better appreciate the roads within striking distance and to better enjoy what I have at my immediate disposal.

Enjoying what I have at my immediate disposal
I live about a mile southwest of Stanton on what used to be a quiet county road.  To get from our house to a main road involves one of two steep ridge crossings or a short but steep descent down to KY 11/15 at Turkey Knob.
Excluding the Mountain Parkway there are two major state highways that bisect the county from west to east and south to north. In truth there are five, but there's overlap with two and the fourth is KY 77 that splits off of KY 11/15 at Nada and heads north into Menifee County through the Red River Gorge. Number five is KY 82 between Clay City and Hargett and I wouldn't recommend that as a bike ride even to my idiot ex-brother-in-law.
KY 11 and KY 15 merge in Clay City. KY 11 comes south into the county from Montgomery County and KY 15 from Clark. They run together to Slade where they split again and 15 climbs Slade Hill toward Campton and KY 11 dives south toward Beattyville through the Natural Bridge state park area. KY 213 runs south to north from Furnace Mountain (with origins in Estill County) through the middle of Stanton and continues north to the Montgomery County line.
Almost any road loop of consequence is going to involve a significant portion of time on KY 11/15 and/or KY 213. While low in comparison, the average daily trips (ADT) on those roads is locally high. The roadway geometrics are third world in comparison to what most Americans are used to: no shoulders, steep drop offs, narrow travel lanes, and excessive motorist speeds.
For my post-seasonal ride of desperation (too much pie!) I chose a modest nineteen mile loop. No, that's not true, I chose a twenty seven mile loop with enough climbing to make a mule puke, but bailed at Bowen for a shorter ride with enough climbing to only make a roadie puke.
My intended ride was to approach High Rock from South Fork and return home via the rolling ridges of the Furnace Mountain area. Instead I dropped across the river bottoms at Bowen and returned to town on North Fork/North Bend.
North Fork is the absolute best cycling road in the county. It has low ADT, passes through picturesque farmland, and the road is in pretty good condition. North Bend has a lot more residential development and a few problematic dogs, but for the most part riding east to west they're not a problem as you can maintain pretty good speed through the cluster of dog-cetric homes and avoid the worst of it.
I sound like a wuss. I know. There's no reason I couldn't have gallantly climbed High Rock and surfed Furnace back to the Red River Regional Bikeport. But at Bowen my rear end hurt from lack of riding and I wasn't able to find my bike gloves before leaving the house. Wah, wah, wah, I know...
Normally I dive headlong into endurance activities regardless of how long I have been on hiatus. This past year has taught me nothing. But I have decided to ease back into long road rides instead of cramming the whole proverbial energy bar down my throat at once.
Going forward I'll try to make a solid format to highlight some good rides in the area. This ride is a fairly straightforward loop from Stanton and is a good one to build up to for beginning road cyclists or to built up from into longer rides.

My ride was 19+ miles, but the loop is 14.7 miles as described.
If you come from out of town you can park at the Stanton City Park behind the High School or at the Park n Ride near the Parkway interchange. Take KY 11/15 (Campton Road) east from the intersection with KY 213 for 6.2 miles. Turn left on KY 613 (Little North Fork Road) and then another left at the tee intersection beyond the river and Parkway (KY 599/North Fork Road). At the next tee turn left again onto KY 615. Ride on KY 615 for 5.6 miles to yet another tee intersection—this time with KY 213. You guessed it, turn left. Take care crossing the narrow bridge (will be rebuilt within the next three years) and you'll quickly hit the town limits for Stanton. Continue south on 213 to the main intersection where you began (per these directions).
I take the lane on the narrow bridge. Cars do not have room to pass you if there's oncoming traffic. It's statistically the most dangerous spot on the ride described, but it's short and manageable for the road savvy cyclist. Once the new road is constructed there should be wide shoulders with bike gaps in the danged rumblestrips (the District 10 planner assures me) but until then just pray and ride with purpose.
That said, the Bowen Loop is a great ride and is worth checking out if you have an hour or hour and a half to explore in Central Powell County.  

Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa Speed Friday: Seasonal Greetings

Well, Merry Christmas.  Hope you got everything you were fervently wishing for.  Hope you're reading this on a fangledy new smart device.  Well, not really.

Broke out the Christmas jorts when the mercury hit the upper sixties yesterday.  Wanted to crank the AC but was afraid it would dry out the faux tree.  I ended up doing some drainage work in the yard and sweated like a hog.  Though about cutting the danged gum tree that's going to fall on the house some day,'s Christmas!

Mandy and I finally tackled the catastrophe that was the basement (aka, the Bike Cave) on Wednesday.  That eliminated the bike maintenance barrier that had kept me out of the saddle for so long.  The X is still brakeless, but I dragged the Ute out, upped the PSI, and rode it to town to pick up Mandy's gift and get some pipe fittings.

Ran into Santa Claus at Ace.  He was wearing his Christmas jorts and complaining of having to run the AC in his sleigh two days deep into winter.

I had to go back to the hardware store on Christmas Eve.  I appreciated they were open but kinda wish they hadn't been.  It ended up being moot as I still have a leaky pipe.  Sigh.  However, I rode the Ute again.  My car hasn't moved since I got home from work Tuesday afternoon.

Mandy and I settled in for our long winter nap and immediately kicked off all the covers.  Then out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

It was just my cousin and her baby daddy having a knock down drag out tinsle-filled domestic disturbance.  Guess the full moon and the summer like temperatures bring out the best in us during the holidays.

Next time I'm calling the cops.

You should have heard the dogs going nuts when eight tiny white tails ran across the field in front of the house on Christmas Eve.  They acted worse than when we trim their nails.  Our mighty beagle/corgi mix the deer slayer...

Looking out  across the yard this winter morn' I could almost imagine a new fallen snow if only it had been about thirty degrees colder.  Instead we're worried about flash floods and the Bike Cave flooding.  It is not, and the SS(MT)B is up on the stand awaiting the bolting up of a bolt on wheel.  I also need to put on the rigid fork. I'm going uber retro on the Redline.

The other big news is that I now have a proper trad rack.  Santa brought me a full set of cams.  This is the first time ever that I have more than one new cam at a time.  The prospect of getting back on the rock again is exciting!  Too bad the monsoon season has directly corresponded with my imminent return to climbing.  And in the past new climbing gear at Christmas was accompanied by cold weather woes.  Its not too cold in 2015 just too soggy.

I'm thankful for a happy and healthy holiday with my family.  We have a roof over our heads and food to eat.  And we have each other.  In the end those are the things that matter.

I wish you the same, and a Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Kooky Kwanza/etc, etc!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Last Post...

...of 2015?

Maybe; maybe not.  It depends on what kind of trouble I get into with so many days off of work.  Dave and I had talked about doing some flagging on Powder Mill and there's always the traditional KYMBA New Year's Day ride at Laurel Lake.

I'm getting fat and sluggish so I need to be moving and bending.  I need to ride.  Running would be helpful.  And I have it on good authority that Santa is bringing me some shiny new climbing gear.  Rock climbing gear!  I have too much pre-season blubber to haul up the cliffs.  I need to slim down a ton or two.

I used to be cool. Maybe I can find the tattered shreds of my coolness and weave them into some kind of Mad Maxian garb to cruise the post-apocalyptic social landscape that I dwell in. 

If you don't hear from me until the early hours of 2016 do not be alarmed.  I'm just in a sugar coma or out testing new gear or finally riding the bikes I've neglected for so long.  The Sporty-Sport Bike went down in June and it's finally roadworthy again.  I'm such a slug.  The Cannonball is soooo close to be rolling again.  I'm going to dig out the xmascycle lights too.  Just for fun.

My amazing wife suggested we bike out to Indian Creek after the Xmas glut.  We will see, Dear Readers; we will see...

Also, I had promised Bean a backpacking trip.  If the tropical weather holds I will likely be incommunicado for a few hours out in the woods.  Or not.  When I took the boys I had great 4G service. 

So until next time: have a Merry Christmas and  a Happy New Year from the Chainring clan!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Angle the Deflectors

Major SPOILERS to follow. Do not read further if you don't want to know...

The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars premier my kids have seen as well as their first Star Wars movie on the big screen.  I've now seen all of them except The Empire Strikes Back in the theater. I had a chance to see it when the movies were digitally remastered and re-released in theaters. I blew it then though. A friend and I vowed that once all three were in theaters at the same time we'd go see them all in a single day. We were never able to coordinate the marathon and I missed my chance at seeing Empire on the big screen.

The only burning question I have after seeing The Force Awakens is: who is Rey?

I loved the scenes on Jakku. The movie starts out with a post-apocalyptic feel as Rey scavenges amongst the wreckage of a Star Destroyer and other spacecraft that crashed during the Battle of Jakku. Both Boone and I thought the character of Rey and many of the elements and scenes in the movie seemed to borrow from Nausicaa and the Valley of the Winds. But especially the scene where Rey is moving through the derelict Star Destroyer echoes the scene where Nausicaa explores the shell of the Ohm.

It was good to see Han and Chewbacca walk into the Millennium Falcon again after so long. Harrison Ford's line “We're home” is more than apt. But seeing Rey try to take Chewie's place and then ultimately Han's as pilot of the Falcon seemed right.

Again, with new characters, new organizations (The First Order and the Resistance) it was a little hard to see this as the Star Wars universe early on. The familiar crashed ships on Jakku helped. The fallen AT-AT that Rey makes home...BB-8 is most definitely a Star Wars droid...but just sticking Harrison Ford in a Han Solo costume does not a Star Wars movie make.

It took me a little while to swallow it all. It finally came. The scene where Han tells Finn “That's not how the Force works!” sealed it. The scene where the Death Gang confronts Han was classic Star Wars. But some of his lines were odd and out of place. Finn had a few lines that I loathed (“Droid, please!” comes to mind). “Mister Solo” had no place in the film. And Han acting like he had never seen Chewie's bowcaster was somewhat sophmoronic.

But Rey was flawless. Kylo Ren was the quintessential Star Wars villain. The helmet that was an obvious homage to Vader's along with the mechanical voice that was unnecessary but wonderfully menacing. I loved the voice. Ren was exquisite. Some of the best scenes in the movie were his or had him in them.

Ben ran away because Han and Leia wouldn't let him play tackle football

My favorite moments were both Rey's though. When Rey first uses the Force Voice to make the Stormtrooper release her the subtle change in her expression and the final tone she used to make the Voice work was cinema magic. And likewise, when she and Kylo Ren were locked together by lightsabers and he tells her that she needs someone to teach her...that moment when she finds calmness and harnesses the Force...incredibly well done!

While I wouldn't call it one of my favorite scenes, the Betrayal of Han Solo was by far the most well played scene in the movie. When Ben says: "I'm being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do but I don't know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?" it's ambiguous, but you get he feeling that he doesn't mean that he wants to escape the pain of the dark side, but that he wants to be free of the conflict of attachment. It's not hard to see what is going to happen even though the filmmakers begin to lead you toward his potential redemption. You want to believe the light side can triumph and so you read his face a certain way, but his words reveal an already lost son.

The whole scene was reminiscent of the "I am your father" scene in Empire except nobody lost a hand.  Darn.

The end of Rey's quest is also a great scene. The entire movie builds up to the last minute in way that you know exactly who you're going to see immediately before the credits roll to John Williams' lively space symphony.

I will sell no wine before it's time

But who is Rey? The kids and I believe that Rey is Luke's long lost daughter. I reserve a shred of skepticism because there is no hard evidence to this end, but I'm nearly 100% certain that she is not Han and Leia's daughter. I wasn't sure until the scene where Leia hugs Rey and then I was certain. Leia would have known her own daughter even though Vader did not know his.

But Rey has too many parallel experiences and talents with young Luke. The dark childhood on a desert planet, the talent for piloting and strength in the Force...shared with both. And Rey being called by Anakin and Luke's that not a clear foreshadowing moment? She has to be a direct descendant of Anakin and Luke.

Of course the missing link is the mother. We don't know that part of the story yet, but I am certain that it will involve a connection between Luke and Rey.

Rey is a fantastic Star Wars hero as well. Or heroine if you prefer. Daisy Ridley nails the character better than I could have imagined. Rey is firmly rooted in the Star Wars realm. Her wonder at meeting the mythical legends Han Solo and Chewbacca and finding out she had just piloted the famed Millennium Falcon seems all too real.

"It really IS Mark Hamill!"

My least favorite character in the movie was Finn though I wasn't terribly impressed with Poe Dameron either. I didn't hate Finn, but I felt like his burden to be the comedic relief gave him a slight Jar Jar effect and at times his presence was cumbersome. But at other times he really shined. The story needed Finn, but it needed him to be less silly. Han Solo and Chewbacca can handle the snark very well on their own. Finn as the reluctant hero was believable and endearing. I just wish he had been written a little truer to the universe.

I think what happened with this one that made it clunky was the instant addition of a ton of leading characters.  Episode IV came to us with three strong central characters: Luke, Han, and Leia (with Obi-Wan Chewie and the droids supporting) and one bad guy.  Empire added Lando, Yoda and some bounty hunters, and Jedi gave us the Emperor and a herd of teddy bears.  But it worked because we already knew the core characters before we were introduced to a host of other potential action figures.

Awakens seems to have entered a new storyline with the same amount of charactorial clutter as Jedi. I think we needed to be slowly introduced to this new Star Wars realm with a more gradual reveal.  There were just too many heroes.  And while the villains were fewer in number why the heck were we given full disclosure on Snoke's (worst Star Wars name ever) appearance?  While I hate three-movie teasers to see Gollum in full frontal, I really didn't understand the full inclusion of the shadowy puppet master who is pulling Kylo Ren's evil strings so early in the new saga.

In the end I loved the movie. There were times it didn't feel like a Star Wars movie, but seeing TIE Fighters and X-Wings ripping around and hearing Chewbacca's howl again made it impossible not to get drawn in and abide for a short time again in a galaxy far, far away.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars Awakens

A long time ago in a chapter of my life far, far away…

I’m of the Star Wars generation. You could say I’m a Gen-Xer, but in reality my generation is the one that came into being just in time to pick up Star Wars as part of our deepest ingrained world view. I was of an age to want to possess and play with the original Star Wars action figures and play sets. I was enthralled by the action, by the mythology, and by the aura of the films. I had no context for them. Star Wars was my context.

I’ve compared all fiction in my life to Star Wars. I was a fanboy from the beginning, and it was the first thing I was a fan of.

I can remember listening to the radio play in my room one night when I was very young. I was dialing through the airwaves when the sound of blasters ripped through my room. My mom worked at a factory that made electronic parts in the town where we lived and one day she brought home the bottom half of a Millennium Falcon toy. Why that toy was there I have no idea, but despite being incomplete it was my favorite toy for a long time.

In 1982 the original movie was re-released in advance of the premier of Return of the Jedi. My mom took me and my sister to see it, and then the whole family saw ROTJ when it came out. It was two years later after we got our first VCR that I was able to see Empire Strikes Back.

My mom’s youngest sister came across a movie poster for Revenge of the Jedi and gave it to me. I still have it.

Christmas of 1983 was amazing. I got an AT-AT, a ton of action figures, a TIE Fighter, and some other stuff. It was a Star Wars themed Christmas and the most memorable from my childhood. Star Wars eclipsed all other interests in my childhood. While I played with other toys and watched other movies none inhabited as much of my synaptic landscape as George Lucas' space fantasy saga.

Now, having said that, as an adult I think I've scaled back my obsession somewhat. I don't buy toys to collect (or to play with), and even though I went to see all of the prequel trilogy on their respective opening days that was about as far as I went in my fandom. I love taking my son to Comic Con to see the cosplay peeps and the cool sets and paraphernalia, but I'm not going to forego my next new mountain bike to buy Mandalorian armor. Though, to be fair, if I wasn't into mountain biking I might.

I had planned to take the kids next Wednesday to see The Force Awakens. I was going to take the day off and we were going to go early and make a day of it. But hearing talk all day yesterday of “Star Wars this”, and “Star Wars that” drove me online where I bought tickets for this afternoon.

The kids are all psyched. We all have our respective Star Wars t-shirts. We actually have to pick one up for Bean before the movie. I'm even going to concede and let them buy popcorn and soda at the movie theater!

Perhaps Monday I'll give a good SPOILER review of the movie.

Until then, may the force be with us all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Generic Post Title: Or Rediscovering an Old Favorite

I might be tilting.  Maybe.

Sunday afternoon the Chainring clan (including canines) hiked out what I call Dunkan Ridge in Red River Gorge.  Some people call it Tarr Ridge or more appropriately (but still not official) Tarr Ridge East.  It is the ridge that is the watershed divide between Dunkan Branch and Wolfpen Creek in the Red River Gorge.  Its one of my favorite easy ridgetop hikes anywhere.

In the past I have ridden the trail along the crest of Dunkan Ridge.  Its an unofficial trail so there is no ban on bikes.  Its not in the designated wilderness area.  It is, in essence, Unofficial But Legal (UBL) for mountain bikes.  And its a great trail.

On the west side there are some high and narrow ridge fingers which end in exposed overlooks above Dunkan Branch.  All along the ridge you can catch glimpses of the massive and remote high cliffs of the upper Wolfpen drainage.  Its really just a great but little known area.

Tuesday night the same Chainringers headed off to Lex Vegas to observe the Southern Lights at the Horse Park.  Since the SAG Wagon was at capacity I opted to stay behind.  Suddenly I had a window of opportunity about an hour and half wide.  It was time to take the Simply Simple Bike to the Gorge!

Since the sun was sinking fast I took along the Lazer Mark II though I had no idea what kind of charge it had.  I parked in the unofficial lot at the top of KY 77 past Fortress Wall.  And I had decided on the drive up that I wanted to revisit Tarr Ridge proper as well.  I'd only been out that ridge once and probably in '94 or '95.  It was much as I remembered it.  For about a mile I followed a gently rolling distinct double track which ended in an open field on a knoll.  The road seemed to punctuate in a hardly used campsite so I turned around to backtrack and then ride Dunkan.

The only deafall I couldn't ride over or around

There was still good light as I crossed 77 and dropped fast onto the narrower trail on the east side.  Dunkan Ridge must have been at least partially double track in the distant past, but now its just a wide and smooth single track that rolls with the crest of the ridge.

 Trail faeries have chainsawed deadfall from the path and I hammered down on the SSB driving further and further out the ridge.  Finally I reached the last big campsite before the trail turns tight amd narrow with a barrier of downed pines.  Without slowing I slingshot around the campsite and pointed my front wheel back to the car.  It was just as fun and fast returning as it was riding out.  I burned my light but never really needed it.

In the end I rode 4.2 miles.  To be honest that was a good mtb fix to be so close to home. I'll keep working to get more and better trails in the area, but for now Dunkan might be just the trail I need to preserve my sanity.

Friday, December 11, 2015

My Old Kentucky Roads

People in small towns tend to get fired up when a big national paper like the New York Times does a piece on them. The righteous outrage is even hotter when it’s a foreign newspaper.
Back in July (timely, I know!) the NYT published an article by Seth Kugel in a column entitled “Frugal Traveler: Tips for how to navigate the world on a tight budget.”  The article was titled “A Bike Tour of Eastern Kentucky’s Back Roads” and it made the Facebook rounds with most of my cycling friends.  In general it was well received.  I have to say up front that I liked the article.  It was great writing and the author toured through my stomping grounds!  How can someone not be jazzed about that?
Dawkins Line bridge over KY 114 (Mountain Parkway)
My criticism with the piece was the overemphasis on a certain person.  And because of my personal connection and history it ruined the article for me.  I recognize that doesn’t make it a bad article, and I am trying to rectify my previous radio silence.
Any article that begins with “Ale-8-One is…” must have something good inside.  Ale-8 was the first liquid that passed my lips besides milk.  I have a certain uncle on my mom’s side whose traditional role in the family was to administer the first Ale-8 to each baby for the first time.  We have photos…
Anyway, the disproportionate ink given to Joe obscures what might have been a great description of the author’s self-discovery of the Red River Gorge.  But everything Mr. Kugel says about Eastern Kentucky is true…even the stuff about Joe.  
Paris, KY
At some point I would like to recreate the article from an insider’s viewpoint of the roads the author travelled.  It seemed his main criticism of the area was the sparseness of services including cheap lodging.  From Abner’s motel where Mr. Kugel stayed his first night to Paintsville is about seventy-five miles.  A detour through the Red River Gorge would add nine miles.  If he had aimed to stay at the Budget Inn in Salyersville (I’m not suggesting anyone should) it would have been sixty-six miles from Stanton with Gorge detour and then another eighteen into Paintsville the next morning to get his rental car for his return trip to Lexington.
I appreciate that Kugel didn’t harp on loose dogs and the ramshackle look of the homes along the way.  Too many people want to point out the ills that exist in every state as if they’re unique to Kentucky.  Maybe we air our dirty laundry (literally) more prominently, but ours is no dirtier than yours.  Kugel doesn’t point out the figurative grass stains he obviously saw.
Kentucky is a fantastic state for cycling.  Eastern Kentucky gets a bad rap, but the truth is the cycling of the Cumberland Plateau is amazing.  There are problems.  None are more frustrating than those pointed out by bike blogger Tony Cherolis in his September 2015 post “Don’t Go to Kentucky on a Bike. Ever.” on his The Beat Bike Blog.
Great reason to ride in Kentucky.  Pilot View Road, Clark County
I also agree with Cherolis’ view of Kentucky bike travel.  Well, I don’t agree with his post title.  I think he had a bad experience along a certain stretch or road at a certain time.  I’ve had exactly the same bad experiences with gravel trucks on my home roads and can relate, but I’ve also had many more wonderful experiences on my bike in my home state.  It’s partially having the home court advantage and knowing where to ride and partially being able to deal with the frustrations of poor infrastructure in creative ways.  That’s something that’s difficult to do on a bike tour when you’ve planned a certain route and don’t know the best detours.
Paolo Laureti (in the lead) and Giorgio Murari climbing Big Hill in Madison County during the 2014 Trans-America Race
But I get his frustration at the poor bicycle accommodations.  The rumble strips on tiny shoulders are one of my biggest frustrations.  And I’ve been in meetings where well-meaning transportation planners and engineers have politely told me that those rumble strips are for safety and maybe I had better rethink my position.  And I typically counter with less good manners that we need to stop making it easy for people to drive inattentively.  We’re training drivers to text and talk more and giving them a “safety net” to do so when we should be demanding that they (we) stop ignoring the road.
I was in a meeting last week and a slide came up on the screen which showed a streetscape with trees along the roadway and the transportation planner next to me leaned over and said: “That would never happen; we don’t allow trees in the clear zone.”
I held my tongue in that particular instance, but I was incredulous.  I have begun to understand why Kentucky towns are becoming ugly and uncharming: safety policies.  Instead of educating and encouraging drivers to take more responsibility and to take driving more seriously we are just padding the roadways and telling any unfortunate soul that gets in the way of out-of-control vehicles piloted by mobile device zombies “too bad.” 
When I speak up in transportation planning meetings regarding my opposition to the arcane policies that are making our roads less and less bicycle and pedestrian friendly I feel like a lone hold out.  The very people who should care most about creating and fostering better accessibility to roads for more modes of transportation conceded defeat to the notions of motor vehicle dominance in our culture.  It’s not because the motor vehicle IS a superior mode of transportation but that we’ve allowed ourselves to believe it is.
I have to continually remind myself that if I don’t stick to my guns and fight the good fight then then apathy and stubborn attachment to 1960s thinking wins.
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Monday, December 7, 2015

Radioactive Radio Silence

I once knew a cyclist.  He was nicknamed “Chainring” and he rode mightily upon the Cumberland Plateau.  He affeared no cargo bike ascent or twenty-eighth mile of rolling ridgeline.  But now I’m just a lowly sometimes mountain biker and don’t ever run into that guy anymore.  Maybe he’s out on some epic ride.  I sure hope he’s okay.
I keep meaning to send him a text or give him a call.  I figured if I could help him out by getting his road bike worthy again, or helping him get his hydro brakes lined out.  He needs to remember to log out of Blogger if he’s going to be on long rides…
In a recent post I indicated that bike culture (along with most other forms) is lacking in my neck of the backwoods.  Afterward I longingly browsed through a few archived Pavement’s Edge posts and stumbled upon more than a handful that featured Jeaph and/or the Crash Test Librarian.  Tomahawk made some appearances as well.

See, it’s not that there isn’t nor ever has been bike culture in Powell County; it’s just that there seems (to me) to be a lull at the moment.
Mark moved west into other Twilight Zones of Time.  Tomahawk still rides, but he’s a kind of a lone wolf hawk dude anyway.  We ride, but he always begs off because everyone is faster than him.  This is true but irrelevant.  Joe burned the bridge between us though he was never a riding partner.  Still, he was an element of the dysfunctional bike community that has existed in some form or another in the area for a long time.
And then there’s Jeaph.  Or, more accurately…there’s NO Jeaph.
Jeaph!  Where are yooooo?
A strange radio silence emanated from Furnace Mountain after the Mohican 100.  Truly I was down for the count.  My mountain bike was wrecked after my proofing stint.  I got it fixed rather quickly, but it was still down.  My road bike went down in a similar fashion soon after.  The Cannonball spewed brake fluid all over Hatton Creek one day so I’ve gone since summer without it as well. 
Even if Jeaph had called or txted me asking to go for an epic ride through Lee and Estill County I would have regretfully declined.  But no call or txt came through.  And I didn’t make fixing my road bike a priority.
I’ve got nary a good excuse for putting off my bike repairs for so long.  Also, there is no reason for me to completely surrender to fear and laziness.  And rest assured that fear and laziness have contributed to my lassitude.  The lack of a robust bicycle culture in my hometown is a factor.  I lack good examples to shame me out of the oversized gas-powered wheel chair that I use to whisk around the land.
Too many times I’ve been confronted with the barrier walls of biking costumes, inclement weather, the fear of traffic, and other friction that derailed all of my plans to ride.  I can hardly call myself a cyclist anymore.  The closest I’ve come to reclaiming that coveted status was during my conference trip to Des Moanes when I did some amazingly fun singletrack night riding and some midday lunch-time prairie biking in the ‘burbs of Iowa. 
When I returned home I basically stabled the bike and have only gotten fat and sore and stiff.
I say all this—not to air my dirty laundry or to call anyone out—I say all of this to exhibit the fragility of small town and rural subcultures.  It doesn’t take much for groups of like-minded people to drift apart.  Small rifts end up being major fault lines down the road for seemingly no reason. 
Bike friends are precious.  There probably aren’t many of them.  Cyclists are a small percentage of the population.  And not all cyclists are friends.  That means that those of us that share a passion for bikes need to stick together.  We need as much synergy as we can get.
Going it solo can seem noble, but in the end you lose too much crucial snark and group energy.  I’ve been pondering this for some time now.  I’ve wracked my brain to try and figure out how to build up a community where none exists.  There’s no easy answer. 
Hopefully I can broaden my view a bit and look beyond comfortable horizons.  We need new blood and new energy.  I need a shot in the arm myself.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Stranger in a Strange Land

I have self-esteem issues.  Confidence in me and my abilities is at best a thin veneer that is easily ripped.  There are myriad factors that have contributed to this condition, and my purpose in this post is not to go into those factors.
I often second guess myself.  That is a common side effect of low self-esteem.  When it comes to major life events like moving your family twelve hundred miles to escape a rotten work environment into know social and cultural decrepitude it would be easy for anyone to have doubts and to question their own sanity and judgment. 
Earlier this week I was in the Pit of Despair.  I don't hate my job—in fact I actually quite like my job—but the lack of bike culture, the social cul-de-sac of rural life, and the persistent fire resistance of our Money Pit had me down.  Down enough that I went to 303 Cycling's job posting page for bicycle industry jobs in Colorado.  Jackpot.
Bicycle Colorado—the statewide citizen advocacy group—has posted a great position.  And it would start around $50k/yr.  I semi-jokingly sent the link to my wife.  She replied:

That's kinda how we got into our current situation.  But I digress.
No sooner than she had replied to my text than my immediate supervisor came by my cube.
"Can you come down to my office?  David [our executive director] and I want to talk to you."
I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a little nervous.  But it was all good.
I had pitched to my boss a few months ago the idea of our organization creating a regional bike-ped coordinator position.  My current position as Regional Transportation Planner is mandated by the federal government and funded through a contract with state government.  I operate under an Annual Work Plan written by the state transportation cabinet.  Within that AWP I have little latitude to do actual transportation planning, much less bike-ped specific planning.
My pitch was that if the ADD were to create a standalone bike-ped or trails and greenways position outside the transportation contract that person (hopefully me) would have more flexibility and in essence more influence to advocate and plan for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and culture in our region.  The higher ups liked my idea.  But...
...How do we fund it? they asked.
We wracked our brains for a few weeks, but then the answer seemed to hit us square in the face.  Our land use planner is overwhelmed by the sudden tide of contract work that our organization has been able to attract.  There's so much current work and upcoming work that the organization was faced with the reality of hiring a second regional planner.
The purpose of calling me into the principal's office was actually to ask me if they should put out a job posting for a regional planner or for a transportation planner.
I'll let that sink in.
I filled in for a few months when our previous two planners left out of the blue.  My background is land use planning.  It would make sense for me to step into the position as much as it would make sense to hire someone.  But...this is also an opportunity to make an early move on the board toward having that dedicated bike-ped-trails position.
"We want to provide an opportunity for you to have professional growth and likely you won't have that where you are now.  And you have a passion for bike-ped stuff.  I firmly believe that if you give someone a job in their passion you'll never have to worry if they're working."
I paraphrased that poorly, but when the director said that I wanted to hug him.  In my life I've never had an employer that even seemed to care about my passions and my professional development.  I would be a damn fool to leave the organization. I had nary another thought about the Colorado job.  I'd love to live in Colorado again, but only if I could take my employer with me.  Alas, it is not to be.
Most of the rest of the week I've actually been in training to write pedestrian plans.  It's clear to me when I sit in those types of meetings that I'm where I need to be.  More needed reinforcement; more validation. 
We left a place where I had a ten mile bike commute.  We lived in a 1950s neighborhood which was within easy walking/biking distance of every civil institution a person could need access to.  I gave it up because my work environment was unbearable.  There’s a small part of me that thinks I should have stuck it out a little longer—that things would have eventually gotten better—but I waited four and a half years for things to get better and there was no end in sight. 
I traded biketopia for a forty-five minute (one way) car commute each day to fight with Man O War Boulevard traffic and cubicle lethargy.  I traded an ideal living arrangement for SOV hell.  But I did it because I saw an opportunity to make a difference and contribute my experience and knowledge in a positive manner in a place where a paradigm shift was long overdue.
It takes patience.  It takes endurance.  My patience seems to be paying off somewhat.  There’s still a long road ahead to get where I want to go.  Heck, maybe I don’t even want to stop the trip!  The journey is valuable unto itself.


On Tuesday I received an email notification that Woodford County has been awarded a Transportation Alternatives grant for a sidewalk project that I helped develop and applied for on behalf of the County and City of Versailles.  It's a pretty big deal--nearly a half million dollar project--and I can take some credit for making it happen.  Truth be told it was a local magistrate that had the passion for the project, and she became the champion of it, but I provided some guidance and assistance which helped move it all along.

I say this not to thump my own chest, but to provide some contrast to the typical negatively charged self-talk you're used to here on this bathroom wall of the internet.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Tao of Yehuda

I miss daily Yehuda Moon comics.  I discovered Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery when I was at the height of my bike advocacy blogging during my long stint as a bike commuter in Colorado.
This morning I realized that Yehuda has been sneaking out with new strips from time to time.  I had seen a few unfamiliar strips but thought maybe they were just some of the bonus strips from the printed books.  But then I saw the hashtag #NewYehudaMoonStrip and the sun broke over the horizon.
The recent Kickstarter campaign has renewed my interest in Yehuda somewhat.  We have the first four books and there are two more now.  I liked it as a webcomic, but honestly, I’ll take Rick Smith and Brian Griggs’ peek into cycling culture in any shape I can get it.
Yehuda seemed to speak as I wanted to speak.  Maybe he was a little over the top, but I felt like his windmills were my windmills and I would gladly tilt at them together instead of plodding along by myself.  Yehuda seemed like Truth.  What dedicated bike commuter hasn’t thought about going out with a brush and a can of white paint and just putting in their own bike lanes?
One strip struck me particularly.  And honestly, I saw through the top layer and saw the less cyclo-centric Truth underneath.  When I commented on the strip via Twitter I got a surprisingly funny response from Yehuda:

© Rick Smith |

And that is the beauty of Yehuda Moon.  While to many he might seem a radical activist with crazy notions about bikes and cars in the end he’s just a regular guy like the rest of us.  And he probably doesn't read "Missed Connections" on craigslist.