Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Snowmageddon Redux

On Monday I wrote as if the snow event of the year was over.  In fact, almost as soon as I had finished that post up, scheduled it for Monday A.M. and shut the computer down the call came through: “we can pull the sled with the four-wheeler.”
I typically abhor motorized recreation.  It’s mostly on principle and not because it’s not a fun form of entertainment.  That and having grown up Lower Middle Class my family never really had the money for motorized toys.  A bike was cheaper than a dirt bike.  Skis are cheaper than a snowmobile.  The other factor is that I don’t like loud things.  Full stop.
On one hand I just wanted to sit at home sipping something hot or something soothing and maybe plink out a couple more pages on the book.  No, not the Leadville book silly!  But one more play session in the snow before it melted would be nice.  We all suited up and headed deeper up the Creek.

We ended up at the Crabtree Nordic Center and Flea Market where we joined up with a surprising bunch of friends and friends of friends.  Without hardly a ‘howdy do’ we dropped our sled at the top of the ‘slopes’ and took our turns on the established runs.
It didn’t take long before someone said we needed to hook up a sled to the four-wheeler, and then carnage ensued.
Hang on fellas!
Cause old bones break easy...

In the end it was a lot of fun.  I ran the human powered sleds and created a pretty good, fast run down the front yard.  But then two of the old fellas (but not as old as me) jumped on behind the four-wheeler and I had to break out the camera.
I had as much fun capturing pixels for posterity (and blackmail) as everyone else had being dragged around Gary Crabtree’s front yard.  Gary sported his typical non-plussed expression as he whipped and weaved all over the yard slinging kids of all ages into the powdery snow.  Good times were had by all.

Back at home we relaxed with more hot food and the knowledge that by next weekend the snow will likely all be gone.  School is still suspended until we get some thawing.  I’m back to work (as of Monday) and looking forward to the Kentucky Mountain Bike Meeting this coming Saturday in London.  Oh, and I’ll be turning 42.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Big Fat Snow Fun

The move from Colorado was a hectic whirlwind.  We left a lot of stuff behind because it simply wouldn’t fit in the moving truck and because we hadn’t had time to deal with the leftovers.  But one thing I was insistent on bringing was our skis. 

One Christmas Mandy and I went to REI and bought each other skis of the cross country variety. We managed to use them less than a dozen times.  The first time we went out together that wasn’t in a city park was also the first time we got a baby sitter for both kids after moving to Colorado. We’d been in a new state almost a full year before we felt comfortable leaving them with a stranger for the day.

We visited Keystone Nordic, Eldora (my favorite ski center), Brainard Lake, and various urban parks around the metro area.  The problem for me was that we didn’t get to ski often enough to get very good at it.  I never built the strength or agility to have much control or skill to truly enjoy it.  When we left the state I made sure our ski gear was stashed in the truck despite the understanding that Kentucky winters didn’t lend themselves much to Nordic skiing. 

A steep learning curve...

How could you not love Eldora?

Approaching Brainard Lake with the Indian Peaks Wilderness as a backdrop

But I knew of a few people who had skied around the Red River Valley over the years.  The couple I worked for as a fledgling climbing guide had skied out Tunnel Ridge Road.  And Tomahawk’s friend Chuck had experience snowshoeing and skiing out of state, but had his own gear, so I imagined on the few occasions that there was enough snow in Kentucky to ski he probably got out in it.

2014 was a good winter for skiing on the Creek.  And last winter provided a few good days as well. Well, it was actually March when we got our good snow.  And then the river flooded while there was still significant accumulation on the ground.

While the Powell County Nordic Center doesn’t have quite the same experiences as say an Eldora or an Indian Peaks, it does have some pretty good opportunities for kicking around and having fun.
Bean’s birthday was Saturday.  She had been out skiing on Friday afternoon, but the snow was much deeper on Saturday, so she and I and Mandy headed out from the house and down the road.  Last year we figured out that the roads were the best place to ski and with the statewide and county states of emergency there were few cars on the roads making it even more perfect for getting out and having some Nordic fun.

Kaincaid Mountain, 2013

Enjoying the Powell County (Impromptu) Nordic Center

It was a short ski yesterday.  We went down the cul-de-sac across from us and back.  And then when Bean and mom went inside for some hot chocolate action I continued up Chainringville Road for a few photos before returning to a steamy beverage myself.
Last year I ventured all the way down the Creek to the main road.  It was a slog, but it was a nice adventure when the roads were absolutely to nasty to be driving on them.  The year before when we had the long cold spell late in the season we skied around up in the woods on the backyard trail and some old logging roads and I even ventured out on the ice of “The Pond.”  I still get flack for that, but it may have been the only time in my life that the small body of water behind my house was frozen enough to hold my weight.  And believe me, I wouldn’t have gone out on the ice if it hadn’t been.

I daydream about getting up in the Gorge for a snow event like these and skiing out some of the forest roads.  Right now they’re all gated due to the weather.  It would be perfect fatbiking or cross country skiing conditions.  I’ve got my eye on a Marin Pine Mountain 1 so maybe next year I’ll forget the skis and hit the trails on the plus bike. 

What I would really like to do some time is head out before such a snow event, set up a camp, and stay in the woods until a its possible to return home.  And skis or a plus bike would be the way to go.  I’m thinking the bike with a trailer would provide the best platform for an extended stay in the snowy woods. Heck, even a regular mountain bike would work in most of ideal places around here.  And I have a set of bike chains from my winter commuting days.
Anyway, I had hoped to get into some winter trouble and have fun haps to report back on today, but alas, we only managed the short ski jaunt in our own neighborhood, but it was pretty fun and was good tonic for the soul on a day when we couldn’t have gone much farther.  Where we live we got about a foot of snow over the two days.  We stayed warm and snug and ate lots of good warm food.  It's become apparent that as soon as this slush goes away it's time to start running again.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: Snowmageddon 2016 Edition

Yes folks, it's Snowmageddon 2016.  State offices are closed.  Nary a school in the Commonwealth is open today. Even my office is closed.  In short, pigs now fly and Mel kissed Flo's grits.  El Nino ain't got nothin' on us.  It's got everything on us today.

There's a 3% chance the storm will break for lunch

I was supposed to be at the Kentuckians for Big Transportation conference.  They cancelled it yesterday.  I was dreading the default mandate to go on in to work.  The temptation was there.  Would anyone at work know the conference had cancelled?  In the end I resolved I'd either go in or take a day off.  Then the text came.  I was taking a vacation day.  Well, that's the new policy when the office closes.  But that's more humane than the previous policy of never closing the office and expecting everyone to risk property and body damage.  Better.

Inclement weather days should be a no-brainer.  When its slick or bitterly cold or both the best thing for society would be for everyone to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.  And I don't mean necessary like popping off to the corner store for a last minute milk sandwich.

You know what invariably happens.  The staunch capitalist mindset prevails and no businesses close. Schools likely do because these days school officials are pissing-their-pants skeered of lawsuits.  But everyone else scrapes crusted windshields and ping pongs their ways in to work.  Productivity is at its maximum on those days.  Because once you make it into the office or factory or McDonalds you can relax and not think at all about the return trip home.

But our communities would be so much better off if we didn't have to expend resources on emergency services on snow days.  And individually we could protect our own financial health by avoiding the risk of bad weather traffic.  That makes us more resilient.  That builds personal wealth.  Sure, the captains of industry might lose a few pennies, but do we really care more about them than our neighbors and ourselves?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Shades and Shadows in Wilderness

The deep shadows of winter were the backdrop to my journey in the light.  Despite the clear blue skies and the bright winter sun the air was bone-chilling cold on Monday as I tromped around Clifty Wilderness.  Those shadows were deep pools of cold that felt precarious to cross.  Its hard not to be cognizant of the consequences of an unfortunate twisted ankle off the beaten trail.  I had packed my day pack for survival not comfort.

I took a walk along Swift Camp Creek through the old campground below Sky Bridge.  At one time it was owned by cousins from Wolfe County.  My family missed our chance to purchase the land due to our not being millionaires.  But it was fun to fantasize what life would be like if we had. Maybe a simple little cabin overlooking Swift Camp...

Ice clung to rocks in the stream and in places covered slower moving water in snowy frost.  The black of tree shadows striped the ice and reinforced the starkness of the day.

I drove across the Gorge and up Tarr Ridge to an unlikely trailhead next to the Bowen Farm.  Not my family but the family of a good friend owns a farm overlooking Mariba Fork.  I locked my car though I hadn't seen a living soul under the sun since I drove into the Gorge a fee hours earlier.  Too cold.

I followed my nose down the broad ridge toward the hidden passage I knew lay ahead.  The trail to the Mariba Fork crag is unique.  You approach from the west and must descend the cliffband, cross the valley, and hike up the eastern side to access all of the published routes.  If you miss the gap its no easy prospect to get into Mariba.

I found it easily enough.  The years and the storm deadfall couldn't thwart my memory or my geographic spider sense.  I still marvel at the Tolkien-esque hidden passage in the rhododendron.  Its a narrow chimney crack at first; with a reasonable hiking grade down into what I call (incorrectly) the Hanging Cirque.

A box-like area contains massive hemlocks and tumbled boulders.  On Monday icicles dangled from the lip of the cliffs all around.  I pushed through curled up rhodo leaves to get a photo of a wonderfully pocketed sandstone face before descending the steep gully that guards the cirque from below.

Unlike on my previous visits to Mariba a well-worn user trail delivered me to a picturesque bend in the creek under the shade of giant hemlocks interspersed with bare and equally massive poplars where I paused to capture some pixels and enjoy the solitude.  It took a minute to pick up the climber trail on the other side of the stream but once I did it was easy to follow up the steep slope to another picturesque spot at the cliffline near the route Reach the Beach.

First I walked left.  I passed through a large rockhouse that showed obvious signs of having been a niter mine.  There was a small hanging column of ice from the lip and a misty cascade falling probably a hundred and fifty feet to a great blob of ice on the forest floor.  The whole scene was framed by more massive hemlocks and the quintessential Red River Gorge surreal sandstone backdrop.

I took some time to try and capture the scene with first my camera and then with video on my phone.  Of course neither method does the memory justice.  I'm comforted in the fact that I'll go back to climb Synergy soon and get to experience it all again.

Lingering only for a short while I took in the images and ambiance of Mariba Fork.  Its on the fringe of Clifty Wilderness.  It seems dark in the world in its remoteness, but it was easily confirmed once I returned home and glanced at Google Earth: the eastern Mariba Fork cliffline is mere yards from a cow pasture on top.  That pristine looking cascade is well steeped in modern agricultural substances.
Regardless, Mariba is a special place.  By water it is a long day of hiking from Red River through some wild (as wild can be in 2015 Kentucky) and beautiful country.

I had a great day doing some GPS work and taking photos.  Truly, I hardly noticed the cold.  I enjoy cold weather the most, and I'm getting my fill of it this week.

Monday, January 18, 2016

In Light and Life

Being a photographer has been somewhat of a spiritual journey.  I’m no professional.  I’ve made close to $0.00 on my photography through the years despite the constant admonition from family and friends that I should sell my prints.

I became seriously interested in photography as a pursuit after reading Wendell Berry’s The Unforeseen Wilderness back in the mid-Nineties. Wendell wrote of the difference between the Tourist Photographer and the Artist Photographer and his book featured some intriguing black and white large format photos by the late Gene Meatyard.  Those few black and whites still influence my eye as I travel under the sun and through the shade of trees and rocks.

Pockets of Resistance

Early on as I hiked around the Red River Gorge with my $10 point and shoot camera I sought out scenes and views that were hard for the average person to come by.  I took the postcard photos that a Tourist Photographer would be satisfied with mainly to add to my library of images, but what I truly labored after were the unique and “unseen” images that only someone who styled themselves as an Artist Photographer would produce.

What I’ve lacked through the years is the finances to purchase a good quality camera and lenses and the technical skills to realize the images I see in my head.  I’ve gotten better in both regards, though I still have not attained mastery in either respect.  And the other obstacle I face is my inherent impatience.

The best images I've captured have either been completely spontaneous—just being in the right place at the right time—or they have been the result of a determined effort to be patient and slow and to execute the photographic process with intent and forethought.  Obviously those images are in the minority.  My best photos really are mostly just pure dumb luck.  I’ve lost so many good photographic opportunities because I didn’t want to stop and set up my tripod or that I didn’t take the time to think through my camera settings and angles.

This photographic journey really reflects my life as a whole.  The best moments have not—for the most part—been a result of careful and intentional action.  I realize in both cases…that I could greatly benefit from slowing down and taking my time to realize my vision.  This is not easy for me.  It seems like it should be, but my synapses don’t fire the way they should, and each moment of my life is a battle to stay on top of the waves of thought, and impulse, and drive.

Written in Stone

I know that a mediocre image can be fantastic with a simple change in the angle of the sun.  Like showing up at 9am instead of noon… like crossing to the other side of the road…or even just getting out of the car instead of shooting while driving (guilty!). 

Too many times I’ve felt guilty for not giving moments and issues in life the appropriate amount of attention.  I feel like I gloss over things that are too important to gloss over.  I feel like I forget too many things that would make life easier or at least more enjoyable if I would remember them. 

These days my body feels like a knotty mess of muscle, nerve, and synapse.  I can’t relax.  This was not a problem when I was younger, but with the perspective of years comes concern about things that didn’t used to matter.  I can’t lay flat on my back and find relief.  It is my soul that does not conform to the air around it or the earth beneath it.  I’ve lost my space in the universe and am cramped by some shadowy feelings of inadequacy, dread, and fear.


I know that if I could find a way to slow down, meditate on life, and extricate myself from the rat race and the constant datastream that bombards me every waking moment that I might begin to carve out a space for my tortured mind and body again.  And I know that if I let it, the photographic process could act as the introspective therapy that I need so badly.

Wendell Berry describes the Tourist-Photographer like this:

“He has photographed only what he has been prepared to see by other people’s photographs.  He has gone religiously and taken a picture of what he saw pictured in travel brochures before he left home.  He has photographed scenes that he could have bought on postcards or prepared slides at the nearest drugstore, the major difference being the frequent appearance in his photographs of himself, or his wife and children.  He poses the members of his household on the brink of a canyon that the wind and water have been carving at for sixty million years as if there were an absolute equality between them, as if there were no precipice for the body and no abyss for the mind.  And before he leaves he adds to the view his empty film cartons and the ruins of his picnic.”

And because of this idea I was opposed to the inclusion of people in my photography for years.  I even offended a good friend once when she tried to pose a group of friends into an image I was composing. “I don’t like people in my pictures!” I said angrily and insensitively.  I still regret that I didn’t just take the snapshot that I was vehemently opposed to at the time.

But Berry also talks about the Artist-Photographer, and in equally compelling language he describes him/her thus:

“His search is a pilgrimage, for he goes along ways he does not fully understand, in search of what he does not expect and cannot anticipate.”

And he continues…

“The camera is a point of reference, a bit like a compass though not nearly so predictable.  It is the discipline and the opportunity of vision.  In relation to the enclosure we call civilization, these pictures are not ornaments or relics, but windows and doors, enlargements of our living space, entrances into the mysterious world outside the walls, lessons in what to look for and how to see. They limit our comfort; they drain away the subtle corruption of being smug; they make us a little afraid, for they suggest always the presence of the unknown, what lies outside the picture and beyond eyesight; they suggest the possibility of the sudden accesses of delight, vision, beauty, joy that entice us to keep alive and reward us for living; they can serve as spiritual landmarks in the pilgrimage to the earth that each one of us must undertake alone.”

I know it’s all lofty, fluffy words but it resonated with me as a young man. They still resonate in me and I feel it all the more strongly in a body more attuned to the stresses of life.  I need a focus that I can’t find.  But perhaps if I could develop a discipline through photography then maybe I would find the thread to pull that would lead me to the focus I seek. 


Finally, in one of my favorite passages in any writing, Berry speaks of the photographic vision of his Artist-Photographer:

“It is an endless quest, for it is going nowhere in terms of space and time, but only drawing deeper into the presence, and into the mystery, of what is underfoot and overhead and all around.”

I won’t quote the “Journey of One Inch” passage (yet again) because it truly is my favorite quote of all time, but it is summarized in that last quote which speaks of a journey of discovery with no travel involved. 

It’s that stillness I desperately want but cannot attain.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: Public Spaces for People

Somewhere in the West
...ern Gorge region
I whine about not having places to ride my mountain bike.  Maybe I’m like Emo Kylo Ren.  But I sometimes forget that I was perfectly content to ride my mountain bike on Hatton Ridge, the Short Creek Rim, and along Whites Branch and Big Bend so many years ago.  When I found the four mile Big Sinking loop down near PMRP back in 2006 or so I was stoked!  That seemed like what mountain biking should really be.  It was a nearly abandoned oil access road that had been torn all to hell, to a dry creekbed, to a dirt county road, and back to the dry creekbed.  I even dragged the Training Partner down there once to ride and we were both pretty stoked.
After being spoiled in the mountains of Colorado on primo singletrack I have come back to Kentucky feeling somewhat cheated in life and I’ve been on this downward spiral into singletrack hell.  I DO believe there is incredible potential for singletrack where I live, but I’ve also begun to rediscover that I love riding on what is already out there to be ridden.
Hatton Ridge is an incredible place.  While there is the scant danger of being burglarized by Methbillies (or Methnecks if you rather) that danger is…scant.  Back in the early aughts I roamed around Hatton Ridge, Spaas Creek, and the Short Creek Rim almost exclusively.  I had shifted away from recreating in the Gorge proper and was systematically exploring the western regions of the National Forest in the Gorge area looking for potential trad routes and boulder clusters.
I can honestly say I’ve hiked almost every scrap of cliffline and quite a few dozen miles of old logging roads in that area.  I know it well.  As well as anyone else.
Dave and I have alternately been working on flagging reroutes on the Powder Mill Trail for the USFS for possible inclusion in their 2016 work plan.  We’ve been hopeful that our efforts will lead to improvements on the only legal mountain bike trail in the RRG region of the DBNF.  And so we’ve been meticulous in our map studies, our field work, and in deciding where a potential reroute should go.  If we’re going to do this we want to make sure it’s done right this time.
But during this process I have ended up riding my mountain bike on Hatton Ridge Road again.  I revisited an old unofficial trail out to a cool over look on my bike.  While technically not a legal trail it’s also not illegal in the strictest sense of the word.  Off road travel is allowed by non-motorized methods in the national forest, and I simply followed a “game trail” on my bike to an overlook.  I made no improvements (other than tossing a couple of deadfall branches aside) and I’m not going to publish here where that particular trail is.
While that ride doesn’t reflect the same kind of experience as following purpose-built singletrack it is enjoyable and desirable to someone like me who just likes to get out and be active under the sun.  If I were to ride Hatton Ridge and all of the Short Creek Rim it would take me most of an afternoon and I’d get in near twenty miles.  The scenery is amazing and it’s a very quiet and vast place as long as there aren’t a lot of ATVs and ORVs buzzing about.  The solitude is typically unparalleled for this area.  That whole region is not as well known or as frequently visited.  And that’s primarily because the reasonable access is from Menifee County in the north and not from the Gorge side where all of the outdoor recreation traffic comes from.
Throw in a mix of private lands with uncertain boundaries and it’s not as inviting a place for the masses.  But for someone like me it’s a recreational paradise.
I posted a piece earlier in the week about the standoff in Oregon on federal lands.  The Y’all Qaeda folks want all federal lands turned over to the states and “given back to the people.”  Of course we know this is balderdash.  The “people” they mean are those who stand to profit from extractive industries on those lands; not the general public who might want to recreate or otherwise enjoy public lands.  In essence these people want to pimp out our public lands to the highest bidders.
I have social anxiety.  It’s related to neurological conditions I have dealt with my entire life.  In my forties I am beginning to understand that I’m not anti-social, I just react negatively to crowded situations or situations with complex social interactions.  My wiring doesn’t function as smoothly in a cluttered social environment.  And the best therapy I have found (instinctively I might add) is regularly being in the outdoors away from the built environment.
While I would love to live in a little cabin in the woods far from any semblance of a town I actually don’t need that.  I just need access to some wide swaths of woods or prairie or an alpine environment to escape into from time to time and reboot my system.  And while I think I am overly sensitive to the stimulus of civilization I think all of us benefit from such reboots. 
There isn’t enough public land in the US.  I feel bad for the people that live in wild and rural western states who are offended by the fact that the federal government owns a large percentage of the land in their states, but I think those public holdings are important to the health, safety, and welfare of our country and society.  And while I don’t agree with every policy of the USFS or BLM and wish in a lot of cases we had more freedom to develop recreational opportunities I am perfectly willing to work within whatever framework we have because I recognize the importance of having regulatory policies to protect our great natural resources.
Making money doesn’t directly benefit any of us.  And so, making a cash withdrawal from our forests, fields, and mountains isn’t automatically a good thing.  What we do with the cash that has been converted from mineral into currency is more important to that societal health.  And if we act in a greedy manner our cultural soul will become sick.  It is sick. 
The best medicine to our disease of greed is to get out in nature and remember that we live in a beautiful world that has intrinsic value in its natural (or as close to natural as we can have these days) state.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

No History of Arm Noogies: A Roundup

Apparently I’m going to be on the radio this coming Thursday.  Gary Bentley hosts Bike Talk (on a rotating basis with John Fry) on Thursdays at 1pm.  You can listen to Bike Talk on WLXL 95.7 fm or tune in at
Hopefully I won’t choke and start trying to sing old Guns N Roses ballads while giving Gary arm noogies.  I’m not saying I have a history of this kind of thing, but I have been interviewed on the radio before.
Maybe next Fatty will put me on the FattyCast and we can talk about how I have absolutely failed to return to Leadville to claim a belt buckle.  I did let the lottery window slam shut on me this year.  I didn’t even throw my name in the helmet.  In other racing news Tomahawk and I have been talking about going up to State College, PA for the Wilderness 101 instead of doing the Mohican this year.  While I would miss going up to Loudonville I think the W101 would be a nice change in scenery and would be just the challenge to get me inspired to get into early season shape and keep my mtbing skillz honed. 
Speaking of.  Since summer I have been focused more on creating and leveraging opportunities for mountain biking as opposed to actually mountain biking.  It’s fun until you look back and realize that trail scouting, flagging, and building miles don’t equate too much of a Strava training record.  It’s hard to get KOMs swinging a rogue hoe.
Not my tire tracks...
The Training Partner and I have been trying to crack the Powder Mill Trail nut.  The lower section scouting/flagging went well and we think we have a pretty good layout to present to the Forest Service, but the upper section is an enigma wrapped in a mystery.  At first I just figured the trail builders of auld took the path of least resistance with no thought for the long term sustainability.  I mean, that trail was “built” in the mid to late ‘90s.  But after wandering around the upper drainages of Powder Mill I have concluded they did the best they could.  And I was afraid we were going to have to concede hike-a-bike defeat.  And ultimately if we conceded to a mandatory hike-a-bike section then there’s no reason to even move forward with rehabbing the trail.
But after long studies of topos and a final quick scouting run to the upper drainages I think I may have found the northeast passage!  I need to drag Dave out of his bikepacking fantasies and scout what might be a reasonable diversion to gain Hatton Ridge.  If we can find a potential physical connection we’re fairly certain the FS will go for it to get the trail out of the creek and off of the current steep and unsustainable hike-a-bike exit section. 
Geez, some people are obsessed!
I’ve also had a conversation with a Slade local in the know about the sleeper project to create a mountain bike trail at the state park.  There has been some work done and there is potential outside the nature preserve area for a world class mountain bike trail.  That project just needs to be revived and nudged forward.  What got me interested in it again is the state parks’ interest attracting more users to the system.  While Natural Bridge is probably the most visited state park in Kentucky it also caters to a very narrow user profile.
The PMRP trails have not died.  I need to get a small crew up there and do some creek crossing work.  Once we knock out two short crossings and the bog crossing on Sore Heel then the trails should start winding out across the landscape again.  The weather has finally turned winter, so I don’t know when we’ll get back in there.  Hopefully early enough that by summer there will be some rideable trailage.
And finally, two things that I really wanted to throw out.  First, right now Senate Bill 80 is before the (Kentucky) Senate Transportation Committee.  SB80 is the “Safe Passing Law” that has been proposed and championed by Dixie Moore. 
Basically SB80 is:
AN ACT relating to the overtaking of bicycles on a roadway.
      Amend KRS 189.300 to require operators of bicycles to travel upon the right- hand side of the traveled portion of a highway; provide that bicyclists shall not have to ride on the shoulder of the highway; amend KRS 189.340 to require vehicles overtaking bicycles to pass at a distance of at least three feet; specify when a motor vehicle may pass a bicycle to the left of the center of a roadway.
And secondly, there is going to be a Kentucky Mountain Bike Workshop in London on January 30 and 31.  It has been organized as a kind of ad hoc get together to discuss statewide opportunities and potential for new trails and to preliminarily plan a 2017 statewide mountain bike summit. 
Bike was too clean, decided to ride it down that muddy road
That’s the news roundup here on the Chainring Report for the second week of 2016.  Stay tuned for (hopefully) another Ramming Speed Friday post in a couple of days.

Monday, January 11, 2016

You Have the Right to Remain Violent?

I don’t know exactly how allemansr├Ątten—the right to roam—works in other countries in regard to state versus private ownership.  What I mean is, I don’t know what ratio of public to private lands exist.  Maybe right to roam laws exist because there is very little public land.  Or maybe there is a lot of public land and the laws are in place to ensure uninterrupted access by the public across private lands.
Regardless, these Y’all Qaeda YeeHawdist insist that they’re fighting to give land back to the people.  Now, I’m 100% certain they aren’t referring to Native Americans.  White Supremacists don’t give stuff away free to brown or red people.  So who do they want to give the land back to?

Here's what "people" do when they have unrestricted and unregulated access to land.

Well, currently federal lands for the most part are public.  See, what that means is that the general populace has access to those lands.  That doesn’t mean you or I can go out and plant a garden or cut firewood on BLM, USFS, or other federal lands without going through the proper channels.  And maybe there are policies in place which won’t allow us to grow carrots in a Wildlife Refuge.  But for the most part we have unrestricted access to visit and enjoy public lands.  Even designated Wilderness Areas are open to the public typically without an admission fee*.
These Vanilla ISIS ranchers got their feelings hurt because the Feds won’t let them graze their big dumb hamburgers for free on public lands.  Y’know, I’d like to go onto the hundreds of thousands of acres of National Forest in Kentucky and build mountain bike trails.  Ultimately I want to do that for my own selfish interests, but I could also capitalize on the presence of trails to open a bike shop, rent bikes, and maybe even open a mountain biking summer camp. 
Fortunately there are policies in place which limit me doing that.  Because—and I think I’m 100% right in this—if I could do that, then so could ORV enthusiasts, equestrians, and any other slob in a smelly t-shirt, and pretty soon there would be user conflicts galore!  Regulation is important in a civilized society.  The Constitution does not protect some hypothetical “right to anarchy.”  And let’s face it—that’s what these altruistic people mean when they say “give the Constitution back to the people” and give the land “back to the people.”
Bypassing someone else's "constitutional rights"
The people they refer to are those with the strongest interest and the most might to defend their interests.  Governments exist to protect us from anarchic tendencies.  That’s really what our Constitution protects us against. 
I find it disconcerting that the government is allowing the occupation of public lands by armed militias that truly have no legal standing.  I'm writing this prior to the weekend for a Monday entry, so maybe by the time this posts things will have changed.  I'll respond accordingly.
Mandy and I recently watched the documentary Cowspiracy and it took me near the edge of becoming vegan-lite.  I don’t know if I could totally swear off meat or animal products, and I know I could commit to only locally sourced animal products if those were more economically and geographically available to me.  But this controversy surrounding public lands and the supposed right of ranchers to make a buck at the expense of those public lands drives me to the brink.
If it would shut these morons up I would give up beef forever. 
Oddly, I think it is a network snarl of public policies that cause my hamburgers to be ranched in Oregon and not on perfectly good farmland straight across the road from my front porch.  I remember a time when there were cattle grazing on the auld Chainring family homestead.  Now the only things that graze in the field in front of my house are suburbanites.
If we didn't subsidize the wrong people to grow plants and animals for food (in the driest part or the country) then maybe our economy would be stronger and the White Supremacists wouldn't have so much political power.  If there are any real complaints against gubment they ought to be directed toward policies that financially favor a vocal minority over the greater good.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: An Unhealthy Love?

I love my home state.  I know; I shouldn’t.  We definitely have one of those “But I luv him!” kind of relationships.  But I’m attracted to Kentucky.  The landscape is incredible.  Kentucky has the most chiseled six-pack abs of any state.  Is it my fault if it’s so gosh darn hunky while being completely abusive and denigrating all at the same time?
The topography is unreal.  The geology speaks to my very soul; lighting up all the dark places in my heart with its rugged good looks.  I bask in the glow of its forest floors all cast in ambient gold and green light through heavy summer tree canopies all slashed through and dappled with black shade.
But Kentucky denies me—as a mountain biker—its essence.  There are few legal purpose-built bike-optimized trails in the state compared to other attractors like Colorado, Utah, California, North Carolina.  And basically any other state in the Union.  Hehe, union.
Semi-legal trail in RRG
Kentucky could be a bike friendly state.  The residents are friendly and typically accepting of others.  At least they’re not outwardly hostile to outsiders and oddballs like I’ve seen in other states (I’m looking at you Alabama!).  Rural areas are amazing places to ride with low traffic counts and heartbreaking scenery.  And there is so much undeveloped wooded land! 
Oh, Kentucky! We could have hundreds if not thousands of miles of world class singletrack in the Bluegrass State!

Remember that time we rode the Short Creek Rim and returned home down Spaas Creek?  Remember those hairball descents of Pot Hollow with no helmet and pumped forearms?  Remember that time riding over South Table Mountain...ah, er, that was a different state.  Anyway!
My state has so much potential.  I know once it grows up a little bit, after it sows its wild oats, it will settled down and make me very happy.  I just know it.
Kentucky showing its soft side
I have my days when I think I should leave Kentucky.  I’ve experienced the nice states like Colorado with its state-next-door good looks and ample systems of trails.  I know what it’s like to have the comfort and security of already developed trails with a large community of mountain bikers to maintain them.  But I think somehow I must like the thrill of seeking out new possibilities, and I must--for some reason--enjoy the uncertainty of a future in mountain biking in my state. 
I look to the future when I may be able to retire as a bike shop owner and be regarded as the elder statesman of mountain biking in my hometown.  I need my beloved state to help me out here though.  It needs to settled down, get off the hooch, stop betting on the ponies, and live up to its responsibilities.  I just know it will!
Here's to a blissful future!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Trip Report: A Return to the Upper Gorge

This new gig is a walk down Memory Lane.  Well, the lane in this case is a bunch of trails through the woods.  Over the holiday weekend I hiked up to six different trad crags in the Red River Gorge.
The last two were Eagle's Nest (I know, Eagle Point Buttress blah blah blah) and Wall of Denial.  Denial is one of the most remote crags in the area.  It is actually within Clifty Wilderness and there is really one feasible way in and out along the river. 
Eagle's Nest is where Foxfire is located.  It's a 250' three to five pitch classic 5.7.  I have a history with Foxfire.  I've climbed it with over ten different people.  Each time I climbed it was with someone who had never climbed it before and a completely different person/people.  I never had the cahones to rope solo it.
Eagle's Nest 1/4/14
Anyway, Wall of Denial is a great crag.  But it's far back in the Upper Gorge.  It's not the kind of place where you want to take a bad fall or twist your ankle on the approach.  For both walls you follow the unofficial Douglas Trail.  “Douglas” refers to the well-known environmentalist Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.  To draw attention to the potential damming of the Red River in the '60s Douglas came to Kentucky and hiked his unofficial namesake trail.
It occurred to me on my recent hike that the Douglas Trail should be built to a modern standard and entered into the official RRG trail system.  It’s kinda a travesty that it’s still an unofficial trail.
Along the Douglas Trail looking toward Eagle's Nest

Looking downstream toward the Eagle's Nest buttress

Upper Red River from the Douglas Trail

From the Douglas Trail

From the Douglas Trail
Anyway, back to my anyway paragraph. 
I haven't been above Eagle's Nest since at least 2007.  It had been years since I had hiked all the way back to Clifty Creek.  Memories flooded my synapses as I visited the spot where I ran into my mom and dad as I paddled out of the Upper Gorge the morning after a friend had almost died in the Narrows.  I had hiked back in to retrieve the boats we had abandoned by myself.  I broke down in tears on the beach when I saw them.  Dad helped me go back in and bring out all the boats.  But that’s a long story for another time.
I hiked down to the splash dams and got some photos.  I had intended to scramble up on top of Wall of Denial and get a shot of the Eagle's Nest buttress and the massive wall to the left with my 300mm zoom lens, but when I found the gully I pictured from twenty years ago it was a bit more committing than I remembered.  Of course it was literally twenty years ago when I last climbed up on top of Denial.  Twenty one year old me was a bit braver (and/or reckless) than forty one year old me.  I was too far from the road and I'm not as spry as I used to be.
I intend to go back this winter and hike over from Eagle's Nest along the ridge to get my photo.  I have some ideas for crag panoramas to take and print.  Eagle's Nest and Denial are two of them.  Denial will be an epic hike.

The Upper Red below Clifty Creek

At the mouth of Clifty Creek

Splash dams on the Upper Red
I forgot how much I love that place.  The Upper Red above the Concrete Bridge is the wildest section of the area.  While it is popular, it is also tough to get in and out and there are plenty of forgotten nooks and crannies to explore.  The rumble of the rapids on the river provide a natural backdrop to the rugged landscape. At night there are (or at least used to be) no manmade lights visible.
There is a peace and stillness woven into the fabric of the sun and shadows there.  It's lonely and dark and a hidden place.  In my mind I think I dwell there more often than I realize in the sun above the shade of the gorge, hanging out on some lofty ledge under a blue dome of sky.  The green of the deep pools, rhododendron, and hemlocks stand out against the oranges, yellows, reds, purples and blacks of the sandstone cliffs. 
Last year I took Boone and Ty backpacking to Blackburn Rock over Martin Luther King Day weekend.  I think I'm going to take them up the Douglas Trail this year.
In the meantime I'll fantasize about getting back on the rock.  When I was only twenty one my fantasies were not informed with a voluminous background of experiences to color them.  Even though I have been visiting beloved crags and not climbing there is still a deep satisfaction and comfort in the memory of where I have been and what  I have done.

Monday, January 4, 2016

On Being an Ascentionist

I once had a voracious appetite for rock climbing. As evidenced in my climbing journal I often climbed eight days a week. At the height of my bouldering days I literally climbed every day without taking rest days. I pay the price now with lingering tendinitis and other joint maladies that typical numbing agents barely touch.
I was young once, but now I'm older. Maybe I'm wiser, but I know enough not to proclaim my wisdom and let others point it out now. I spent years exploring the Red River Gorge. I spent years climbing as many different routes as I could. I sought out unpublished and unclimbed cracks, boulders, and potential faces. In a three year span I almost single-handedly put up five hundred boulder problem first ascents. I have a climbing notebook full of likely unclimbed trad crags.
Even before we moved to Colorado I had become burned out and run down. Twelve years of an obsessive pursuit of new routes had finally left me burnt out like a shorted out light socket. I gladly walked away from climbing and was reformed to the point that I didn't obsess over climbing in the Silver State when I knew I should have been pursuing Colorado crags at a self-destructive pace foregoing even my job and family to experience all of the Front Range classics I had fantasized about for all of my years in Kentucky.
We only climbed a few times. A couple of trips to Vedauwoo in Wyoming, a few short jaunts to the South Platte, and one real excursion to the Flatirons to climb one of the “Fifty Classic Climbs in North America” the Standard East Face of the Third Flatiron. I did a little bouldering at Flagstaff and we ventured up to Horsetooth Reservoir only once. Horsetooth was the Elysium I pined for when I was a hardcore boulderer. Alas...

Bean's first rock climb, South Platte

Boone at the top of Easy Listening, Jazz Dome area

Leading Kim, at Vedauwoo, Wyoming

Leading Edward's Crack at Vedauwoo

Mandy topping out on the Third Flatiron

Timidly sitting on top of Gill Pinnacle, Horsetooth Reservoir
It's taken three years of being back in Kentucky within sweating distance of the Red River Gorge to finally relapse. I asked for a new trad rack for Christmas. I got it. I have a nice beefy rack, new quickdraws, a bright and springy rope, and a voracious new appetite. What's even worse is that I keep getting dragged deeper into the scene. And now I have THE Gig.
I grew up near the Red River Gorge. I've always loved the area, and wanted to somehow be gainfully employed and contribute to society by working in the outdoor realm in or around the Gorge. I don’t do that.
I did do that for a few years working as a rock climbing guide, though it would be a stretch to call my employment at that time “gainful.” I’ve been a borderline semi-professional photographer who has minimally benefitted from images I’ve taken around the Gorge. I could (and intend to) leverage that more in the future.

My knowledge and experience of the Red has landed me in print in an Indianapolis magazine, as an interviewee on an Louisville radio show, and has made it possible for me to contribute photographs to the most recent (5th Edition) Red River Gorge Climbs North guidebook. I’ve contributed online content to websites for climbing and hiking as well as meager mountain biking resources in the area. 
I’ve written (free) articles about the Gorge for regional publications.

Other than my time as a guide I’ve never been paid for my knowledge of the Red River Gorge. This is mostly my own fault. I spent years developing an encyclopedic knowledge of one of the most popular outdoor recreation locations in the Eastern United States, and I have absolutely failed to capitalize on my own investment.

But even sitting on your laurels opportunity can find you. Recently a friend asked if I wanted to be involved in a GPSing project. He had intended to do the bulk of the work but needed someone to help with more obscure areas and if he was unable to continue once his “season” of work began. I said I was interested, and then he came back a few days later and said the gig was mine if I wanted it because he wasn’t going to be able to work on it before he had to go back to taxes.

Unfortunately walking below all of the climbs I once enjoyed frequently has only awoken a monster of obsession in me again. I took Bean up to Fortress Wall on Friday to GPS the approach. I showed her all the routes and told her some of the stories. At one point I said: “Mom and I spent many happy hours here...” and it struck me hard—a spear point to the heart—we had spent a lot of good days out under the sun at the crags of the Red River Gorge.

And I felt a strong desire to revisit those places and share those experiences with my kids. I miss those times. And there's no reason we shouldn't be climbers again.

The pinnacle of my climbing life was the first ascent of Dreams. Dreams is a boulder problem at Pistol Ridge. I discovered it after meeting Pistol developer Erik Farley at the wall to tour some of the unpublished lines Erik and his partners had pioneered at Pistol in days gone by. We walked past the last published route to the left of the wall toward more obscure lines, and I saw it. We walked through an airy rockhouse and centered in the chasm was a behemoth of a boulder.

I caressed the opposing slopey edges of the overhanging slab that threatened to crush you into oblivion. The line has a distinct human quality, or maybe resembles a thick flank of meat. Its thick and solid and begs to be grappled with. Erik asked if I was coming. I reluctantly followed him to survey mediocre trad routes.

As we walked back past the boulder on the way out I took a little longer to examine the line. Rubble for a landing. The top out was sketch. Oh, I would be back!

On a failed attempt
It took a little while. But in the late fall of 2000 I began working on Dreams. At first I went alone. I would haul my two crash pads in and position them strategically below the top out before sitting down at the base, reaching out in a stigmata pose, and them trying to tension and thrutch my way to a first ascent. One day of working turned into two. A third time I went back with my regular climbing partner and my wife and only managed a scary fall from the lip when I just went for the summit hoping a spotter would change things. But the moment of truth was a lonely experience for me.

Finally, in the depths of January of 2001 I went back up alone. I sat on my crashpad at the base of the boulder watching a light snow fall over the Indian Creek Valley. I was warmed up. I stripped off my jacket and gloves, dropped my fleece hat to the ground, and let my warm hands conform to the stone cold stone.

The moves fell away as I had practiced. I rocked my way up the opposing edges until quickly I was at the lip, a different hand on the only positive edge to be found, and my right foot settled onto a high foot, and before I knew it I was rocking over onto the top of the boulder.
Dreams. The name was a reflection of that moment in my life. I had married the girl of my dreams that previous summer. A good friend had played a piano arrangement of the Cranberries song of the same name as we left the altar in a scene straight out of a John Hughes film. Just a few short months later I pulled down my legacy climb. Route or boulder problem I've never found or sent a more notable and significant problem. People still say Dreams is one of the best problems in the Red and the best problem of its grade.

It's likely there will be no return to my climbing glory days. And that's probably a good thing. I don't recover like I once did. Old bones break easy as they say. But there's no reason I shouldn't spend a few more happy hours in the sun under the cliffs of the Red River Gorge before I die.