Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Free to a Good Home: Two Adorable Carpet Pissers

Mandy is out of town. So the persistent whining and scratching that signifies that the Naughty Dog wants to be let out of the bedroom to piss it up at the other end of the house fell onto my freshly wakened ears alone. Instead of releasing the pee hound from the bedroom I decided to take both dogs outside for their mid-night micturations.

I put the slip lead over Naughty Dog’s thick neck and decided to let the Therapy Dog go commando. She usually comes right back in the house, so I figured we were safe. As we headed out the door I noticed that it was 3:00am. Good, I thought, maybe that will hold everyone over until I’m ready to leave for work.

The carpet pissers both did their duty in the grass for once, and Naughty Dog trotted back into the house and waited patiently—as did I—for the Therapy Dog.

Now, I don’t refer to her as the Therapy Dog because she provides some psychological benefit to a member of our family. No-oo, Therapy Dog is in need of therapy. She has deep seated daddy issues. I volunteered to pick her up from the pound as one of my wife’s fosters. I figured I could do her a solid even though I am not part of the Save Every Dog in Powell County Campaign. In fact, I don’t think some dogs are worth saving. But I get ahead of myself.

Anyway, I brought the shadowblack darter home. She had puked in the crate and quivered as I carried her from the car to the kennel. That night she cowered by the kitchen door. She cowered for a couple of days.

She reminded me of a long gone Scratchy-dog. And so I became somewhat attached to the neurotic transient pooch that had taken up residence behind out kitchen door. She soon warmed to life in the Chainring household, but stayed aloof of me—her actual rescuer—for a few more days. She dodged me like oil slips from water. I couldn’t even pet her. But she took to Mandy right away. Dogs like her. They must enjoy seeing her eyes swell shut and her skin welt up. But Raven, as she was called then, was having none of me.

It took a couple of weeks but she finally came around. She fit right in with Radar (the Naughty Dog), and we enjoyed watching her kangaroo box the stuffing out of him. As we mulled over keeping her the name finally came: Roo. Once we had a name we kinda had to keep her. And she’s been a good addition, though why we thought we needed two dogs is beyond me. It made no sense and still doesn’t.

Both dogs are housebroken, though you wouldn’t know it. Roo likes to pee on anything fabricky that lays flat on the floor (like rugs) and Radar is a classic territorial pisser hitting the couch or one of our recliners like a war-seasoned sniper. Same spot every time.

And so I began to refer to them both collectively as The Carpet Pissers.

When we would come home and find they had turned our living room into a canine public toilet I would call out in my best Dude voice: “Do you think The Carpet Pissers did this?”

“Ma-an, that rug really tied the room together!”

Or:

“Roo, do you not want the room to be tied together?”

And then the Naughty Dog started killing chickens. One day he escaped the kennel and wham, bam, thank you ma'am three of our laying hens were laid out around the yard. Couple days later he somehow got off his cable tie out and whacked three more. The next day three more. Maybe one of those days he got four or five. We doubled and opposed the clips on his cable tie out. He broke the plastic buckle on his collar. Three more. All-in-all he probably killed twenty chickens. The second go 'round he even brought the Therapy Dog a chicken to play with since she hasn't learned yet to escape her bounds.

After the last gruesome round I was somewhat shell shocked. The last three were pretty gory. Partially eaten, laid out in the sun for a few hours, pecked at by other diabolical chickens. They looked so...brutalized.

“What do you want for dinner tonight?” Mandy asked as I sat staring absently at the kitchen table. “I have pork, and I have chicken.”

My stomach roiled.

“Pork?”

I nodded frantically.

I'm so done with dogs and chickens. But I love the fresh, organic, free-range eggs! I can't go back to store bought.

Last night I took both dogs out at 3:00am. I slipped the lead over the Naughty Dog's head and let the Therapy Dog go of her own accord. Both of them emptied their ample bladders. Naughty Dog returned; Therapy Dog disappeared into the blackness of night.

I sequestered Naughty to the bedroom. I didn't need him to slip free and relapse into his Radar the Ripper persona in the middle of the night. From the kitchen doorway I called in a loud whisper:

“Roo!”

“ROO!”

I felt stupid yelling the single non-sequitur syllable into the darkness.

She danced around the edge of the weak light from deep inside the house. She was avoiding me. Her savior, her benefactor...and she was making me stand in just my shorts in the doorway calling out her stupid name. I shined my bike light into the yard and finally found her. She stood beyond my reach. Eventually I had to chase after her and she scooted through the kitchen door in a panic just ahead of me.

“No treat,” I informed her, as I stomped through the kitchen, snapped off the light obscuring her confused expression, and went to bed.

I never fell back to sleep. I surfed the web, trolled through Facebook. I set my alarm up fifteen minutes, but that made no difference in the end. Finally I just got up and started getting ready for work. On my way to the shower I saw that the Naughty Dog had peed on the couch leg.


“At least I'm housebroken,” I mumbled, and headed off to start my day.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Killed By Driver


I didn't know Mark HinkelWhen I heard that a Lexington cyclist had been killed by a drunk driver during the 2015 Horsey Hundred I worried that it was someone I did know.  I know too many Lexington cyclists.  Someone from the bike shop?  The BPAC?  People we've met on other rides; that I've worked with?  We're were pretty sure Jeaph and Casey hadn't gone to the Horsey,  but Jeaph could be considered a Lexington cyclist.

I didn't know Mark Hinkel, but I've been in Mark Hinkel's cycling shoes before: so close to the end of a ride I could taste the post-ride food, ready to gorge on anything I could get my hands on, wanting out of my crusty cycling kit, but wearing a face-splitting grin because the sky is blue, the weather is fine, and I've just spent most of the day riding my bike.

And then some jackass guns it in their truck and almost hits me.

And then some jackass...

In all of my years of riding I've had a lot of close calls from inattentive, oblivious, antagonistic, and sometimes downright hostile motorists.  I can think of exactly one time when the close call was my own fault.  I tried to beat a red light making a left turn on a busy street in Dayton and the car I thought I could get the jump on had more horsepower than I did.  I learned my lesson.

I've spent the past twenty years being hyper-vigilant on the bike.  And despite my lifelong love of bikes, riding for fun and for utility in four different big cities, and despite care in prolonging my own life on the bike...I've been hit by motorists twice.  Both instances were minor, but mindshaking to me.  The close calls were even more traumatic.  There have been times I was certain the motorist blaring their horn, speeding past mere millimeters from me, disregarding my humanity...intended unreasonable harm to me simply because I was riding my bike.

I often say that most people don't take driving seriously enough.  I really mean that.  I know a lot of good, honest people who deceive themselves about their driving skills.  The more you think and defend that you're a good driver the less likely I am to believe you.  And believe you me, the cultural standards for responsible driving are pretty grim.

So as a cyclist I have adopted the mentality that every motorists is either a) drunk, b) texting or high or both, or c) a psychopathic killer out to get ME.  It's not a realistic state of mind to exist in.  But its the survival tactic that will keep you on two wheels in an unforgiving environment.  Until some random piece of space junk crashes into your satellite.

The odds of getting hit by a motorist while out riding your bike is relative to the probability of some hunk of metal in HEO crashing into some other functional or non- hunk of metal.  The window is narrower.  Whatever.

The worst thing about all this is that the perception of an unsafe environment (not some exaggerated reality of physics) is an honest-to-God barrier for most people to ride bikes more.  To be perfectly honest, that perception has been a barrier for me of late.  It's kept me from running or riding on the road.  It crept in and took up building a web in some dark corner of my mind.  Now that entire corner if full of cobwebs and I'm loathe to touch them to begin the sweeping change in my mind I need to get back on that two-wheeled horse.

Mark Hinkel didn't deserve to die for riding a bike.  No one does. 

I don't understand the absurdly elevated status of any old slob behind the wheel of a car.  Why any of us think our drive to the grocery store is somehow more important than the lives of our friends and neighbors  is baffling to me.  And how can someone look at a human being on a bicycle and think that its okay to menace and endanger them so selfishly.

It sounds like Hinkel's killer was drunk.  So maybe there was no ill intent.  A witness commented online that the driver was impatient and passed on a double yellow line while the news outlets have been reporting that he was drunk, dropped of the right side of the road, overcorrected, and struck Hinkel.

It would be easy to loathe Mr. Paz-Salvador.  He made bad choices.  His poor judgment ended a man's life.  My anger is directed more at the cultural disregard we harbor toward our destructive dependence on the automobile.  I'm not absolving the drunk driver of his personal responsibility, but the environment that allowed such crass ambivalence toward the easy power of the internal combustion engine is toxic and we have to stop denying its destructiveness.

I hope Hinkel's family and friends can find peace.  I'm thankful it wasn't a close friend that was killed during the Horsey, but that's really small consolation.  He was a cyclist and someone I likely have more in common with than just any random stranger on the street.  While I didn't know Mark Hinkel before his passing has affected my life, my thinking, and my outlook going forward as each event like this in my life has.

As much as I hate to say it I'm getting more sober as I get older.  I'm letting the misconceptions of others creep in and influence my judgment.  I don't want to fear living my life.  And so I need to maintain control over my thinking and segregate myself to a place where I know truth from unreality.



Friday, May 22, 2015

Keep the Loonies on the Path


It’s not brain damage.  No, no, I'm not concussed.  The stars aligned and I rode two consecutive days at Skullbuster this week.  I had meetings in Georgetown and took the lunchtime window of opportunity to ride.
For all intents and purposes I’m back.  I thought it would take me longer to get back into the swing of mountain biking but not so much.  Gasp, I even considered signing up for the Mohican 100 when I saw that registration was still open, and when Jeaph and I were riding at Jenny Wiley last week and he was talking about the upcoming race I thought, maybe
But I had already committed to volunteering this year at Mohican.  It’ll be good.  I’ll still get to ride.  I’ll still get a shirt and free meal.  And we’ll all still be held hostage to the Proofer’s oddball routines and whims, crammed into The Tank for six hours one way, but having a blast all the same.
Yesterday was my fastest ride at Skullbuster ever.  I attribute my speed to last week’s riding in new places, and having a second day to ride at SKB while the trails were still fresh in my bones.  I maintain that Jenny Wiley is a challenging trail system.  It demanded laser (not “The Lazer”) focus and was not as forgiving as I’m used to. 
Ben Hawes wasn’t as demanding, but it’s flow-i-ness sucked me in and I rode with abandon there.  I rode intentionally faster than I’m normally comfortable with.  I tried to bust through the thin wall of fear that always hold me back.  Speed in this case isn’t about winning Strava segments.  I knew I wouldn’t do that.  Going faster at Hawes and this week at Skullbuster was about overcoming hesitation.
My technical riding skills are decent—nothing to write home about for certain—but I have a lot of room for improvement.  Not so long ago I did a lot of foot dabbing.  I stopped for logs (no matter how small) across the trail.  Since this time last year I’ve pushed myself to ride over bigger and more complex obstacles.  On a side note: I’m really glad there’s a detour at Skullbuster around the notoriously narrow passage between the two trees.  I could never clean that one on the way in.
Letting go at Hawes was about defeating the little fear, the mind killer, which holds me back all too often.  This is not about abolishing healthy fear.  We’re not talking about killing the “good germs” of mental health.  I’m talking about pushing all unreasonable fear aside to maximize potential and enjoyment.
Two days ago I was somewhat disappointed with my showing at Skullbuster.  I felt sluggish and sloppy at first.  By the time I was gunning back on the Blue Loop after looping Orange I had finally started to find my groove, but I was getting tired.  Based on the weather forecast that night I didn’t expect to return on Thursday.  I took a chance and loaded up the bike in the MBDV and hoped for the best.
And my bet paid off.  The trails were perfect on Thursday.  My mind was flying free as I tore into the woods on the Green Trail.  Right out of the gate I felt fast.  American Pharoah wouldn’t have been able to catch me.  I was able to keep up a steady solid pace until I was climbing out of the Orange Loop back to rejoin the Blue.  I paused at the junction only long enough to suck down some water, and then I launched into the long return.
Quickly I found my second legs and pushed harder and faster to get back to the trailhead.  I kept my fingers far from the brake levers and carved, glided, and rolled over everything in my path. 
What scares me is that even if I were to misplace my thirty pound spare tire there is a limit to how fast I would be willing to go.  Strava shows my max speed at 23 mph for one of those two rides.  That’s darn fast when you’re passing millimeters from stout saplings.  So when I look at how fast other riders are going I am skeptical.  Space junk?  Maybe.  Admittedly I could ratchet up my overall times by climbing much faster.  Maybe I’m not being outrun on the descents.
If that’s the case then I have nothing to lose by losing some mass.  Unless that whittles away my descending edge…
It’s all so complicated!  And then it does sound like I’m competitive.

 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

An Eastern Kentucky Mountain Biker's Manifesto


I am a Kentucky native.  I’ve lived most of my life in the Bluegrass State, though I’ve never really identified with Bluegrass culture.  I’m Eastern Kentucky through and through.  Except…I live in Powell County which is really on the fringe of Eastern Kentucky.  Technically the Knobs Region…I think.
Anyway, I’ve lived in three other states.  Most recently I lived with my family in Colorado for five years.  I left Kentucky a burned out rock climber looking for inspirations in the mountains, and I came back a rabid mountain biker.
Testing out a new turn on a backyard MTB trail somewhere in Powell County
 
The year before we moved back I made my first attempt to finish the infamous Leadville Trail 100.  I DNFed at mile 87.  When we moved back to Kentucky I was already signed up to return and try it again.  That first year back in Kentucky I looked high and low for mountain biking opportunities. 
I returned to Leadville a Kentuckian, and I finished.  But after leaving Colorado in 2013 I turned my mountain biking aspirations firmly toward the East.
I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the work done by the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association (KYMBA) in the short years while I was away.  My early mountain biking experiences before moving to Colorado included a couple of disappointing trips to Cave Run in the early ‘00s and tooling around the Red River Gorge area on old logging roads.  So when I came back and discovered that my old haunts had been obliterated by ORVs, ATVs, and ERVs (Equine Recreational Vehicles) I was thankful for KYMBA’s efforts in Central Kentucky.  There are dozens of miles of well-built and accessible trails from super smooth flow to techy and challenging.  But they're in Fayette and Franklin and Scott and Woodford Counties.
My new job was located in Lexington, so as soon as the winter trails dried up enough I hit Veteran’s Park.  The flow trails there became my lunch-time go to destination, but as I go out and about in the District I also visited Capitol View Park, Skullbuster, and eventually Life Adventure Center.
Somewhere along the Sheltowee Trace in Powell County

I got more adventurous and as I visited neighboring Districts I was able to visit the Pulaski County Eagle Scout Trails, Laurel Lake, and Cane Creek in Laurel County.  I trail ran on Cromer Ridge and was glad I didn’t take the mountain bike there.
Eventually I was able to make a few trips to Cave Run again and have been pleased with the progress that's been made there.  A friend who has now moved away had been working hard to get mountain biking in the Red River Gorge area.  He even had a Recreational Trails grant that eventually reverted back without being spent.  But he and others had managed to build a couple of short trails on Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition land in Lee County and I was stoked to ride his Flat Holler Trail.  But for the most part nothing has developed in the Gorge.
This past year I’ve managed to hit (for me) some outliers.  Greenbo Lake State Park was surprisingly awesome.  When I visited General Butler State Park this time last year all of the trails were closed for some kind of forestry work.  I’ve not made it back there yet.  But most recently my regular riding partner and I visited Jenny Wiley State Park and enjoyed stellar new trails—some only two months old! 
The day after we rode at Jenny Wiley I had the good fortune to be on the other end of the state in Owensboro and rode at Ben Hawes.  The worst thing about Ben Hawes is that it’s three hours from home.  I had so much fun I rode the entire trail system twice in one day.
Yesterday I revisited Skullbuster in Scott County.  I try to get up there any time I’ve have a meeting in Georgetown that corresponds with my lunch hour.  When we first moved back over two years ago I felt completely unschooled in Kentucky mountain biking.  Now it’s different.  I’ve got a lot of miles under my knobby tires.  And I’ve definitely got more to go.  I still haven’t really even touched anything in the Louisville area, and I am desperate to visit Big South Fork and the Breaks area.  I haven’t even bothered to look toward Western Kentucky beyond my recent window of opportunity in Owensboro.
Skullbuster Blue Loop
 
It seemed to me that my Colorado mountain biking experiences were limited as well, but when I started listing all of the areas I have ridden in my home state for this piece I went back to my recent Colorado stint and did an inventory.  I was somewhat surprised at the variety of areas I have been able to ride there. 
My very first mountain bike ride was in early 2008 when my old trusty ’94 Cannondale M300 arrived on a truck with our furniture.  The next day I hauled it up to Evergreen and beyond to the Alderfer/Three Sister Open Space Park owned by Jefferson County.  From the trailhead I pedaled my bike up an amazing trail to the summit of Evergreen Mountain.  I was hooked.
Most of my mountain biking experiences in Colorado were on Jefferson County Open Space; mainly because Jeffco has some exemplary open space parks and fantastic trails for hiking and mountain biking, but also because they were convenient for me.  Between home and work I could make slight detours and hit any one of eight public parks with legal mountain bike trails.  A short drive into the foothills afforded me access to a dozen more.  An hour from our home in Arvada was the world class Buffalo Creek.  Alas, I was only able to visit it three times with a bike!

I miss North and South Table Mountains
 
And finally, we made one family trip to mountain bike in Vedauwoo, Wyoming, only to be driven off by high winds and hot temperatures.
All-in-all I’ve had great experiences on my mountain bike.  The singular major void in that experience is my home stomping grounds of the Red River Gorge.
I’m hesitant to put it out in the universe that the Red River Gorge should be a mountain biking destination.  The Gorge is well known for being “loved to death.”  But I live near the Gorge and I love to mountain bike.  The landscape of the Gorge region is perfect for world class, epic and unforgettable mountain bike trails.  But there are none.  I won’t even mention the singular designated mountain bike trail in the Gorge section of the Daniel Boone National Forest.  It’s a travesty.
I’m not suggesting that the Auxier Ridge Trail should be designated as a mountain bike trail.  Most of the existing hiking trails were probably built in the ‘30s and ‘40s from the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps and in no way shape or form are suitable for mountain biking. 
But there’s a lot of National Forest land that would be perfect for mountain bike trails.  Possibly—literally—hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails. 
The Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition has over 1,200 acres of land designated for “human powered recreation.”  They welcome mountain biking and there are no governmental or regulatory restrictions on development there.  Of course the RRGCC should write a land management plan for the property to head off any user conflicts at the pass.  That’s the land use planner coming out in me.
There are large tracts of private land in Powell, Wolfe, Menifee, and Lee Counties that might be opened up for mountain biking trails if the right conversations were to occur. 
The Red River Gorge region has the potential to be for mountain biking what it already is for rock climbing.  And it’s the RED RIVER GORGE.
I don’t know what has prevented this from happening before now.  I’m determined that if any barrier can be removed to allow for more mountain bike trails in the Red River Watershed or nearby then I will do what I can to help remove them.
This is important to me because my community is one of the unhealthiest in the state.  And we live in one of the unhealthiest states in the nation.  This is important to me because mountain biking has provided for me the best therapy against depression and general poor health over any other activity I’ve ever engaged in.  I know it can provide the same benefits to others.  And I know so many others that need choices for fitness and recreation and better access to those choices. 
And I’m sick and tired of hearing people moan about how “there’s nothing to do around here!”

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kentucky State of Flow

Who is Ben Hawes? Jeaph texted.

Had he heard a word I had said the day before? I'd told him I was going to Owensboro for a conference and had even asked him if he'd ever ridden at Ben Hawes. He'd said no.

His text was in response to my own text informing him that the trails there struck buttocks podiatrially.

We finally got it sorted out. I had wolfed down my conference fare and bolted for the trails during the lunch session. The Rudy Mines area at Ben Hawes was only about five minutes from the convention center. I made a quick superman change in the parking lot and tore off into the woods. The daily directional sign was easy enough to figure out and I was stoked there were only two cars in the parking lot. My mind and legs were somewhat loosened up from my ride at Jenny Wiley with Jeaph the day before. Right out of the gate I was carving and cranking!

I was somewhat sluggish for the first ten minutes, but I was still crushing the pedals like a madman. I eased into berms and kept a finger on my brake levers through each screaming descent. Finally all of my cylinders were firing, all of my synapses were blazing, and I stopped being so hesitant to let the bike roll through obstacles.



Nothing was technical like Jenny Wiley. It was pure flow trail. And find a state of flow I did. I knew I was deep in it when I almost started getting bored. I was so in the moment that I stopped looking around and seeing where I was. The terrain out there in Western Kentucky is a little different. The soil is different. But a trail is a trail is a trail. And I kept right on riding for all I was worth.

Where Jenny Wiley changed character constantly and was a technical challenge, Ben Hawes was fairly homogenous and the true challenge there was learning the nuances of the landscape well enough to anticipate what was around the next berm. I tried to open it up as much as possible. By mile four I was no longer thinking about the possibility of coming up on a hiker or trailrunner and trusting in providence to keep the path ahead clear.

Then the true state of flow enveloped me and I was one with the bike and the trail.



I rejoined the shorter easy green loop and was back at the trailhead in no time after that. I had ridden at least seven and a half miles in about an hour on a completely unfamiliar trail. I changed back into conference clothes and raced into town for the next session.

At the end of the day (after a great panel discussion on sustainable practices in Kentucky!) I decided to head back out to the trail for another go-round. I needed more food, but I hoped a gel and a sleeve of Clif Blocks would hold me over.

The second pass was much faster. And while the parking lot was jammed with people I didn't see another mountain biker once I got out of sight of the parking lot. I did see the same trailrunner three times, but he could hear my Hope hub coming and he was always standing to the side of the trail when I did come up on him.

That second ride around Ben Hawes was perfect. I went all out, pedaling like my life depended on it where I needed to build momentum, and standing on the pedals and gliding over the ground when I could maximize the well designed trail. Much like the day at Jenny Wiley the weather was perfect. It wasn't too hot, and being under the heavy canopy I was able to forego my sunglasses.

The one downfall of such a great flow trail is that for a solid hour I could hardly take a hand free of the handlebars to grab a drink from my bottle. But I rode without stopping for that hour with a big stupid grin on my face.

A second lap wasn't enough for me to learn the trail well enough to ride from memory, but I felt well-schooled on Daviess County topogragy and what I couldn't remember I was much better able to read on the fly as I absolutely tore it up on my second trip.

According to Strava I tore nothing up. But I was consistently in the top half—or close to it—of most segments.

Ben Hawes/Rudy Mines was my first foray into Western Kentucky mountain biking. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it—not that I didn't expect to—but I was thinking I'd find something along the lines of Veteran's Park. Ben Hawes was a level of quality better than VP.

Hawes just flowed better than VP. Where VP is a lollipop Hawes was a double loop, so...no backtracking. The terrain is less homogeneous than at VP. It's all wooded where VP has the feel of a utility corridor (because it basically is).

I didn't ride any of the double track. And I'm not above riding non-singletrack. I was just jazzed to be on such fantastically built flow trail. But the singletrack alone was about 7.75 miles.

After a second go 'round at BH I retreated back to my hotel. I ate quite a bit. And I set my alarm for 7:15 so I could make the first conference session at 8:30am. I slept fairly well, but woke up around 3am before falling back to sleep. I woke finally to full sunlight. I sat bolt upright and grabbed my cellphone. 6:20. Being on the edge of an alien time zone had skewed my perception.

Since I was wide awake and had almost two hours before I had to be across town I decided to go out on my mountain bike and explore Owensboro's greenbelt trail. I couldn't get there straight from the hotel, but I managed to find my way to it easy enough. It's a nice trail along Horse Fork. I took photos to take back to good old pee oh cee oh.




I managed thirteen miles out and back on the greenbelt trail. I kept thinking it is facilities like that multiuse trail that we need to see in my small hometown. Planning for that type of transportation is what I truly want to do. I've educated myself over the past few years about the issues and why planning and building for active transportation is important. I think its time I focus on the second phase of my education: how to plan and build bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.


I'm off to a good start. I'm nearing pinning up the rough draft of the Powell County Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan. And before I even have a completed draft an opportunity has opened up. I'm not going to go into details just yet, but I have managed to evoke some positive change in my community. The seed is planted. The watering has begun.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bluffing Wiley


No matter how furiously I pedaled I was not going to outpace Jeaphre. It was not wise to take point into the Floyd County jungle in the deplorable state of fitness such as I have persisted lo these past few months.

Wait, how had I gotten in front? I let him go in first, and somehow I got ahead of him descending bermed switchbacks with painfully tight radii. My riding partner wouldn't be reigning in on the brakes like I am habituated to do. When we hit the nadir of the holler we were traversing I yanked myself to the side of the trail.

Jeaph started climbing like the beast he is. I trailed behind mumbling puns to myself for a climbing turn or two and then resigned myself to pedestrian progress. It wasn't that I outright surrendered to my inner wussitude. I rode when I could, but relentless upward progress was not within my 1x9 capabilities on that particular trail. Halfway up I climbed back in the saddle and rode consistently until I had gained the aesthetic ridge. That whole section from the parking lot seemed like a fresh cut. We'd find out later when we ran into local Don Fields that it was two months old.

Aptly named

A breeze wove through the dappled green canopy around us. The weather was perfect like you might dream of from your cubicle or a sick bed. Turning the pedals felt natural. True, I was shut down on the steep climb, but as we charged on through the forest above I felt strong. Mentally I was a bit stiff.  Synapses blew out the winter crud and fired in tight sequence as the miles passed through me.

“Huh?” Jeaph pulled up short at a hand painted sign indicating “The Bluff.” Each section's length and difficulty was indicated in rough lettering. Sections were categorized as “Fast/Steep” and “Tight/Technical.”



At first I didn't see how the sections that had been signified as fast and steep or tight and technical were exactly that. But the intensity built as we barreled along. I finally started to feel in the groove but that feeling was short lived as we tore through the last technical section and hit some truly steep and wickedly tight bermed switchbacks. They were too fast for my comfort so I walked them. Apparently I am not an “advanced” rider.

After the last challenging section the trail passed through what is typically known as a Cherokee Marker Tree. I am kicking myself for not getting a photo, but it was pretty cool to have to duck under the trunk which long ago had been bent to almost touch the ground making an archway.

Jeaph then got his sights set on this long steep climb that must have been part of the old “Mountain Bike Trails” that show up on the state park trail map. I tried to talk him out of it, but he kept going and going and going. I walked my bike up the long slog visiting dire deeds upon Jeaph in my mind.

Finally we turned back downhill. In short order we passed a campground. I begged off to visit the facilities. Unfortunately Jeaph saw a space shuttle jouncy toy at the campground playground. While his idea was funny, he actually wanted to go through with it, and that was a problem.

I fiddled around until a found the ten second timer in my cellphone's camera app. Then I absolutely failed to prop my phone up to take the photo. Jeaph was able to figure his camera out and the timer started to beep. We ran to the child's toy and both climbed on as fast as we could. What were we thinking?!

That it was better to use the timer than to ask the random stranger jogging through the campground to take the photo of us instead.

I know how this looks, but its not what you think

We finished our ride—sort of—and Jeaph wanted to explore one other fork in the trail near the parking area. I kept saying I needed to get home. I had promised to (try to) be home by 5pm. It was twenty to four when we reached the trailhead the first time. Jenny Wiley is a solid ninety miles from home.

“Do you think we can be rolling out of here by four?” I asked. There was really no arguing with Jeaph. So we took off up the ridge once again. But the second time we ended up looping back on that initial section and that's where we ran into local fitness and bike shop owner Don Fields. He was slogging up the new climbing switchbacks and we were bombing down them.

We chatted for a few minutes and Jeaph found out Don owned the shop in P-burg.  As we parted ways Jeaph offered: “We'll check out your shop on the way out.”

I cringed. Jeaph is a shopping fool. Be it first take retail or second hand glop he will pilfer through bins, comparative shop, harass employees for deals, and generally camp out in a retail establishment until I start getting angry texts asking where the @#$! I am and when the @#$% I'm coming home. My wife is not an angry person, but Jeaph can keep me out so long that she becomes an angry person.

When I gave him directions out of the state park he asked if the road we were turning on would take us to the bike shop.

“If you don't mind can we head on home? I told Mandy I would be home by five.” It was far too late to keep that promise.

“Really? What, do you have to get home and do dishes or change the oil in your car?”

I explained that I had agreed I would be home by five and therefore I needed to try and be home by five. Goodnaturedly Jeaph headed west. But as we were on the outskirts of Prestonsburg and I mentioned that we could stop and get a milkshake he was curt: “Nope, got to get you home.”

I took out my phone a little ways down the road to take a pic of the construction on the Mountain Parkway. Jeaph made as if to block my photo. “No! No time for pictures! We have to get you home!”

And that's the fundamental difference between Jeaph and I. I'm content to get in my ride and retreat back to the Bikeport. Jeaph likes to maximize his time away. Once he's out he's going to stay out until he has no reason not to go back home. And that's okay. But I am okay with missing opportunities. You can't do it all, and I got to do what I wanted.

The new mountain bike trails at Jenny Wiley are pretty amazing. I want to go back. That Bluff Trail is more challenging and technical than anything else I've ridden in Kentucky. It made me think of some of the rocky trails on North and South Table Mountain in Golden (that's Colorado). I miss grinding all over the mesas. I miss the trails out west.

And while I like Bluegrass flow trails I miss the amazingly good proprioceptie stimulation that is a good rocky, technical mountain bike trail. I think it's time I got started making it a reality in my neck of the woods.

More on flow trails tomorrow.

Closeup of my Strava track for the day

Trails in relation to lodge: lodge is below "Dewey Lake" on this map
 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lost and Found Again

"Darlin' come into my arms; embrace this wretch, yes, kiss this fool,"
~ Jason Tyler Burton, Wedding Ring


I miss Colorado. Sometimes I find myself following some old synaptic path around my hometown in Kentucky and I remember that we spent five years at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. I don't miss the toxic occupational environment I endured. I don't miss the financial uncertainty that squeezed my heart every day that we were there. But I miss Colorado. I miss the friends we made. I miss the mountains. I miss the trails I plied on my mountain bike. Kentucky isn't the same even if it is the place where I can feel rooted and at peace.

The last few days leading up to our big move back east were a rush and full of bittersweet moments. It was cold. Winter was settling hard on the Denver area. And when I went out scrounging for boxes to pack all our crap in on my bike I let the bitter dry cold scrape the spiritual sores I suffered in the same way Job sat in the ash heap with a shard of pottery and scraped his deviled lesions.

I rode around Golden and Arvada looking for cast off boxes. I dumpster-dived behind the two grocery stores we frequented. I absconded with a whole pile of boxes someone had cast upon the curb in hopes they would be picked up. I obliged.

I would pull up on my cargo bike, tuck my gloves in a coat pocket, whip out my handy pocket knife, slice the tape, and break down each box. I am old hat at this. Years of working in factories and other places with heavy box traffic has taught me the efficiency of cardboard breakdown. I'd fold them all up, strap them in my cargo bags, slip my gloves back on, and head off for my next prospective box habitat.

Back at our soon-to-be former home I peeled off my layers and rubbed pleasantly chilled appendages. I noticed then that my wedding ring was missing from my left hand. I distinctly remembered that I'd had it on while out box hunting. I turned up and squeezed out my gloves. Nothing. I searched the bike. Nothing. I looked all over the house around where I had taken off my gloves, deposited my house keys, and had deposited other spoils of my searches for the day. Nothing.

When Mandy got home I apologized. It had been an honest mistake. My fingers had been numb from the cold and I probably just didn't feel when it slipped off with my glove and hit the ground. Knowing I had covered a lot of ground I was fairly certain there was little point in going back to look for it.

She told me it was okay. I complained that I should have gotten that wedding band tattoo I'd talked about for years. It's okay, she reiterated and kissed me. I knew it wasn't okay. She didn't want to move back to Kentucky. She was giving up everything for me. And I went and lost my wedding ring. I had...have...a history of...misplacing...my ring. Being sensory defensive I end up taking it off more than I should.

More than once in the past fifteen years I have "lost" my ring. It was different that day. I knew it was gone for good. Not only was it hopeless to try and retrace my steps but within a week we'd be twelve hundred miles away with no looking back.

Mandy was used to me not wearing my ring. She never really liked it that I would take it off, but she understands my aversion to watches, rings, and jewelry in general. In the chaos of the move we didn't get right around to replacing the ring. But after a year or so we talked about it. A couple of months after we decided to replace it she came home with one for me one day. It didn't fit so she took it back.

 
I felt bad. That original ring had some sentimental value. We bought our rings cheap. In fact, I think my ring was free after we paid for hers, or greatly reduced in price. Our rings, like the rest of the wedding, had been economical. There was a sense of pride that we hadn't wasted money in the ceremony or the traditional accoutrements or matrimony.

"I found your wedding ring," she told me over the phone one day while I was at work.

"What?!"

When I got home that day she had my ring.

"Where did you find this?" I slipped it on my ring finger. It felt alien.

"I was getting ready to throw out some boxes and it fell out of one." She grinned.

It's just a silly circle of metal. I know the symbolic nature of the ring. I know what it's supposed to represent. But the practical side of me says the ring doesn't mean so much as our culture says it does.  What's important to me is that it's important to my wife. What it means to me is something bigger than just a wedding ring. That ring that my wife put on my finger and said "with this ring" came back to me when I thought it was lost forever. It shouldn't have survived the chaos of our move. It truly should have fallen out on the street somewhere in Colorado.

"I like seeing you wear your ring," Mandy told me on Saturday. I had taken it off of my keyring where I'd been keeping it and had slipped it on just the day before. She rubbed the ring as she held my hand. It made me feel good to know wearing it makes her happy. I need to wear it more often.

Of course right now as I write this I have no idea where it is. She said she thought she saw it on the kitchen counter. Maybe one of these days I'll get the tattoo.



Monday, May 11, 2015

Splitting the Clouds


The irony is that my son named "Boone" does not have the adventurous spirit you'd expect.  That's not to say he doesn't like the outdoors.  He just doesn't like the legwork involved in getting to the interesting places of the woods.  He prefers the world on his own terms and those terms are unique.

I always swore I'd not force my interests upon my kids.  For the most part I don't; except to expose them to the wide world.  Boone didn't want to go hiking.  But I made him go.

It's not like Bean was rampaging to go hiking either.  She's a people pleaser, so when I asked if she wanted to go to Cloudsplitter of course she said yes.  Fifteen steps down the trail the first meltdown ensued.  I nearly lost my cool.  No, to be honest summer has come early and I lost my cool a week ago.

What should have been a stout, but easy hike felt like a death march.  I couldn't believe we had to stop three times in twenty minutes and we hadn't even gone a mile.  After spotting Lily up the crux I waited too long on Boone. I spied him sulking back down the trail.

"Come on, Boone!" I yelled, breaking my own volume rules for the woods.

Sulk, stomp, sulk, stomp, sulk, sulk, stomp.

Once we reached the top of the rock he started to come around a bit.  Bean gleefully taunted him as he climbed the redneck rope ladder.  Yeah, I restrained myself from cutting it down. Maybe next time.

We visited the crack/cave/arch. Except Boone.  He couldn't make his gangly limbs propel him upward.  There was too much performance anxiety I think.  And his frustration pokes through too easily.  He punched the log everyone uses to climb up into the narrow part of the crack.

It might have been easier if there hadn't been thirty people swarming around and trying to get into or out of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the Red River Gorge.

Bean had already scrambled through and my parental instincts drew me to her and away from my surly son who I knew was safe and sound in the cool mossy chimney.  So I climbed on through.

We were fortunate the one big group had decided to leave just as we got into the cave/arch part.  I was able to get some uncluttered photos.  I'm not sure why I never took any photos in there before. All of my early visits to Cloudsplitter were more lonely.  Maybe my technical skills were lacking.

Finally we headed down.  The whole affair was probably less than two hours.  Despite the familial friction it was a good hike.  I can't believe I had waited so long to take the kids up there.  We need to get out more so they'll begin to condition to the experiences and not be so adverse.

We stopped for Ale-8s at Sky Bridge Station on the way out.  No harm, no foul I guess.

Oh, highway 15 has been paved from Cat Creek all the way to Slade.  Can't resist fresh asphalt!  Got to get the sporty sport bike out there.  Probably do the Gorge Loop soon.



Pano from the ledge on the outside of Cloudsplitter Arch


From "inside" the arch looking out


 
I've really got to start being more selective with the HDR filter...sheesh!

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Effing Pig


At 6:20am I found myself standing in corral F.  Apt, universe.  Apt.  I realized between me and the start line there were many port-a-johns.  I started moving forward.  By the time I had woven my way to corral D I noticed everyone was moving forward.  Then I heard over the PA that there were thirty seconds.

Then it was on.

I should have been stressed.  I had a lot of reasons to worry.  I hadn't run in weeks.  At the beginning of the week my knee seemed to be the main limiting factor.  And of course I'm still hauling around the thirty pound boat anchor.

As I jogged from the hotel down to the starting area I had not a shred of worry.  I couldn't find Mandy and her mom at the start.  I'd hung back with a roiling tummy and lost any possibility of finding them in the throng.  So I took off running along the Ohio with a few thousand of my newest friends.  I felt good over the bridge into Newport and good back across to the Buckeye state.  In fact, I kept a steady pace until the long grade up to Eden Park.  The park is amazing.  It makes you forget the gain you're dragging behind you as you overlook the river.

I hoped when we started back downhill into Porkopolis that I could really pick up the pace, but when the grade declined my thighs began stiffening.  I couldn't open it up.  It hurt to keep moving forward.  Around mile ten I worried I might lose my knee and DNF.

When I saw mile 12 coming up I could tell I was running on borrowed time.  I was two or three miles past what was truly reasonable for me off the couch.  But...

I had reached mile point 5 at 1:02.  At mile 10 I was out 2:01.  With 5k to go my impromptu goal became to come in under 2:30.  I knew a PR under my 2:14 Iron Horse time was out of the question, but 2:30 was entirely possible if I could keep moving.

That last mile was an ugly, lurching affair.  I ignored and refused to make eye contact with anyone who yelled for me to run harder.  I did not kick at the end.  I did not sprint, pick up the pace, or give up.  I worried that I had wrecked myself.

With an official time of 2:27:20 I became a member of the Off-the-Couch Half Marathon Team.

 

Tonight is the Powell County Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan Workshop.  Yes, I have a master plan for world domination.  I’m hoping for a good turnout.  At my first informational meeting sixteen showed up.  In a community of 12,000 people.  Pretty good number.
I should never doubt myself.  I make my dreams happen.  A long time ago I wanted to have a family.  I wanted to be a good husband and father.  I won’t boast and say I’ve achieved that exactly, but my family is amazing and I can’t think of how my home life is not the dream I once imagined.  On a lesser scale I once decided I would become a rock climbing guide and I did it.  A few years ago once I became a staunch bike advocate I pondered how I could somehow make my hometown a better place.  I didn’t map it out this way exactly, and it was never the primary focus of my scheming…but here we are.
I ran the Pig.  Okay, so I didn’t run the full marathon.  I am not in a place where I can do that off the couch.  But someday…



The scene of the swine

 
The pig pen
 
 
Or the hog lot?

Sunrise over the Ohio

As we ran back from Newport


The feeding trough



Well deserved post-run agony