Friday, September 30, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: So Many Social Engagements Edition

Time.  I don’t want money.
Recently I had the thought that I really don’t care for things anymore.   I think I’m content for the most past.  Oh, I go on about getting a new mountain bike, and I’d like to replace my road bike with a hipster touring bike, but otherwise I don’t sit around and pine for things I can’t afford.  It might be because I finally have a reliable automobile.  And maybe that has made me too complacent in regards to cycling.  However, I don’t browse Amazon and I don’t try to come up with reasons to swing by the bike shop. 
This summer we bought kayaks.  I have new and refurbished climbing gear (minus a decent pair of shoes) and there really aren’t any around the house tools I need.  I say all this knowing there are things I’m going to want and need, but my point is that I feel as if I’ve reached a financial and mental state in life wherein I don’t really want for stuff.  I kind of wish I never had wanted stuff.  I think in some ways we’re wired to it, or at least conditioned by our TVs to believe we want stuff.
All that said to make this statement: I don’t care for money.  As long as my needs are met I don’t have an interest in seeing numbers in an account.  I don’t need a wad of cash buried in a shoebox under my bed or in my backyard. 
I make more money now than I ever have.  Mandy and I together make a lot more money now than we ever have.  Of course, saying “a lot more” doesn’t mean we make a lot.  It just means we’ve never had much individual or combined income to speak of.
The tradeoff is that neither of us have much time anymore.  We’ve traded our temporal lives for money.  I have more responsibility, more work, and more traveling to have gotten to the dollar figure I make now.  We both have more stress and far less time to deal with it.  We don’t have time to exercise or recreate.  And if I continue on my career path that time is going to continue to erode.
I have my coping strategies which I am smart enough not to reveal here.  But it’s not enough.  We are caught up in the hamster wheel.  The rat race.  The most frustrating thing is that I can’t find the balance of time and money I want.  I realize I need money to participate in society.  But I don’t want extra money.  I just want my needs met and cash in the rest of my time for personal growth.  I mean that seriously.  I don’t mean I’m going to go play in the woods all the time.  I mean improve my home environment, build my personal health, maybe start a part time home business, maybe grow a garden.
I like my job okay.  It’s not something I can’t live without.  While I feel like the organization does good work I don’t necessarily feel like my presence is crucial, and I’ve accepted that my natural habitat is not a cubicle.  I would also like to work more directly in my community doing the things I do and not be spread so thin across a region working in communities that I have no other ties to.  It’s not some innate competitiveness in me, but rather that I see the inefficiency of my station.  I’m over-appropriated and under-allocated.  So too many things get left undone.
I don’t have enough time at work.  I don’t have enough time at home.  And I don’t have enough time for myself.
Instead of a raise in cash I would prefer to gain more time as I progress in my career.  It really doesn’t seem profitable to work more hours for the same money as you gain skills and experience.  My inclination would be to earn more time as I work myself toward death.
This year, for the first time in my life, I’ve started to say no to things I think are worthwhile.  I just don’t have the time to keep putting more irons in the fire.  I can’t take on any more balls to juggle.  In fact, I’ve given up a few things.  Unfortunately I keep moaning about not getting to ride/run/hike/climb etc. enough.  Priorities man.  But I can’t stop being active.  Being able to experience and explore is what motivates me to race the rats. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Battle of Cincinnati

I told the cop that I understood.  He was a bit incredulous when I explained my side of the story.  “It’s a sporting event…people are going to be loud.”  I could hear the hint of mirth in his voice over the roar of the crowd.  I doubt he was thinking: Geez, what did this autistic guy expect coming to a football game? I kept glancing over at my distraught family and ignored the other bystanders.

The Gator Fan (inside joke, he was really a Bengals fan) to my right tried to demonstrate (for the third time) the “Let’s go BenGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALS!” fog horn call he had been making when I turned around to tell him to stop doing said noise directly into my ear every three seconds.  Even the cop was annoyed at the third (and fourth and fifth) demonstration.  But the guy kept doing it as if somehow reliving the moment would vindicate him or condemn me finally so he could go back to rooting on the home team.

I didn’t punch the guy.  I never made a fist.  When I said (I think, because my mind turned off and I went into a pure animal state of fight or flight) “Stop yelling in my ear!”  he turned his cupped fog horn hands directly into my face and continued cheering his favorite team against the back of my skull.  I lashed out.  But not in anger.

I know it would be hard for most people to understand, and after the entire tale is told and I give you a better picture of my headspace leading up to that moment I know you’ll probably still think I lashed out in anger.  But I assure you there was no anger in my body. All emotion had left, dumped into my bowels with forty gallons of adrenaline.  I swatted his hands and that fog horn wail out of my own face in defense.

The Gator Fan commenced to pounding on my head with his closed fists.  I have the evidence in the form of half a dozen goose egg knots on the top and back of my head this morning as I write this.  His  handlers tried to pull him off while his girlfriend yelled for me to stop.  While he was pounding on my skull with his hands I was looking for my eye glasses which he had knocked off in his first strike.  That’s why he was hitting the top of the head instead of the face.  Myopia saved the day.

Security pulled us both out, and bona fide law enforcement presided over the affair.  I was thankful for that.  It calmed me down having someone in authority standing between us, even though my gut reaction was that I was completely in the wrong.  After a few hours of analysis I don’t think so anymore.  I made one bad decision: go to football game.  Afterward the only other decision I could have made to have prevented the fight was to have gotten up from my seat a few seconds earlier and walked out to the concourse to give my assaulted nervous system time to process the overload.  But I’ll get to why that didn’t happen in a few minutes.

The lady two seats to my left was yelling at someone fifteen seats away.  The people in front of us stood up and were blocking our view of the field and waving their arms trying to get someone’s attention.  The sun beat down eliciting a flood of sweat from my pores making me itch and squirm in my seat.  I had nowhere to move or shift my body.  It sounded like I was sitting on top of a loudspeaker.  My painfully thick glasses distorted both the small forms on the field and the images on the screen and I was unable to distract myself and follow the game.  I was hot, sweaty, confined, bombarded with sound, blinded by sun and a sea of moving visual stimulation, and then this Gator Fan crawled inside my head and started doing his fog horn.

Now, I’m not a football fan.  Until a couple of years ago I had no idea how the game was played, what the rules were, or how in the world games could go on for so freakin’ long without everyone losing interest and going home.  This story has nothing to do with my regard of the sport of football.  I will say because my wife is interested in the game, and particularly in the Denver Broncos, that I have come to a certain appreciation of the game if not so far as to actually following and enjoying it.  Basically I won’t get up and leave the room when a game comes on now.  Before I couldn’t even muster the interest to let it play in my background.  I’ve gotten past that.  This story has nothing to do with football.

So when Mandy’s mom got us tickets to go see her beloved Broncos in Cincinnati I was excited for her and excited to go with her and share the experience.  I like Cincinnati (oddly considering this story) and I always have fun hanging out with my wife.  Our nine year old was excited too, as she is also a big Broncos fan.

Lily.  When Fog Horn Gator Fan began signaling the barges on the river two feet from my ear I steeled myself against it and was trying to talk myself down.  Given the sensory space and a little time I would have concluded that getting up and leaving the seat was prudent.  But when Lily cringed against me every time he wailed, tucked her head in her lap, and covered her ears with her hands I became more and more defensive of my own space, but also of my daughter’s space.  I know he could see her cowering directly in front of him.  I know he could tell it was in reaction to his voice.  Unless his judgement were somehow impaired I can’t imagine why he would keep doing the thing that was causing pain to the child in front of him unless he were a raging asshole.

Remember, I said anger did not play a role in my actions.  I am here to reassert that.  When I stood up and turned around there was no anger or any other specific emotion in my body.  I was a hollow shell of numbness and weightlessness.  I was invisible to myself.  The attack had to stop or I was going to defend myself.  And oddly, when he started hitting me with his fists the fog horn stopped and I think that was the moment when my tortured nervous system relaxed.  I stopped being defensive when he started hitting me.  I simply bent down to pick up my glasses while he pounded on the top and back of my head and his friends tried to pull him off of me.

My family was upset.  Lily was crying.  I had ruined Mandy’s Broncos game.  And the poor security supervisor had to decide whether or not to throw me and/or the Gator Fan out of the game.  In the end GF went back to his seat and security tried to find us new seats in a sold out game.  As we walked through the stadium on a quest for seats Boone told me he was getting ready to stab the guy when they pulled him off of me.  He had his pencil and drawing pad because…Boone.  He was joking, but I was painfully aware that my actions had an effect on my kids.  They had front row seats to my impending meltdown.  After a diligent effort on the supervisor’s part Mandy told him thanks, but we’d just leave. 

I started to cry.  Lily started to cry.  The whole mess started only five minutes into the game.  By the time the security guy walked off it was into the second quarter.  A couple of nice ladies stopped and asked Lily what was wrong and somehow deciphered through the blubbering that we were going to leave the game and one of the ladies offered us her ticket.  Mandy thanked her and said no, but she then told us her section had a lot of empty seats.  We gravitated that direction.

In the end we finished out the game in better seats with a much more respectable crowd around us.  No fog horns.  No gator fans.

As the game started to wind down and a Broncos win was imminent many of the Bengals fans began to exodus from the stadium.  With a couple of minutes of play left to go and the Bengals down by more than two touchdowns and the Broncos taking possession of the ball the mass exodus began.  I hoped the Gator Fan’s fog horn was deflated.  The win made me gleefully and sinfully happy.

I looked out at the stadium finally and said: “Where did all the orange go?”

My son, the one we jokingly call ‘Max' sometimes, the one who seemed non-plussed through the whole ordeal in the first quarter, said without hesitation:

“It smells like disappointment.”

Yes, I should have known being sensory defensive that a professional football game was not a good place for me to go.  Yes, I should have removed myself from the situation before things got out of hand.  Yes, yes, yes.  But I think it is also important to point out that our country is going down a dangerous path where people find it socially acceptable to be rude and intentionally offensive.  People think it’s perfectly okay to yell in someone’s face because BenGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALS!  People think shoving a t-shirt with the slogan “Hillary Sucks But Monica Sucks Better” and “Trump that Bitch” in my kids’ faces as we walk down the street is acceptable behavior in a civilized society.  We’re losing our civility, and it’s going fast.

I have mental health problems.  My wife assures me that I’m not broken, but I know that the charade of my sanity is thinner than I would like it to be.  For some strange reason I have shakily adapted to this too loud, too bright world without knowing how I did it.  The fact that I can function in every day social settings is testament to the survivability of the human mind.  By all rights I should be an addict at best or dead by my own hand or with a few suicide attempts under my belt already.  I’m not saying this to be dramatic.  I don’t understand where my strength comes from.  It betrays me when I go looking for it as an ally but silently pushes me along through a world that I do not choose to live in.

I have mental health problems.  And I’m tired of hiding them.  I’m tired of pretending that I am who I want to be when clearly I am not.   

I enjoy quiet places.  Cities offend me on a primal level.  As an intellectual stimulant I love cities, but my wiring is so knotted up that I can tolerate them only for short periods of time.  I'm hyper-attuned to every movement of my neighbors.  We live on half an acre and the residential density where we live is probably about one home per two acres in the immediate vicinity and more like one per ten acres within the creek.  And I see and hear everything that goes on in my neighborhood.  I have to sleep with a fan running to drown out the ambient noise of night.  I'm beginning to realize that my sensory defensiveness is much worse than I try to convince myself on most days.  I don't feel like I'm crippled by it, but my main focus in life is escaping the sensory overloads that are my daily and hourly existence to the exclusion of other good and noble endeavors.

What I experience is similar to PTSD.  There are theories that traumatic births can cause sensory disorders.  I was a breach birth.  I don't think I have any early childhood traumas that contribute to this condition, but I can't say with one hundred percent certainty.  And at forty-two years old I am beginning not to care the whys as much as the how can I live a normal life question.  I cope because I am really, really smart and have been able to come up with effective work-arounds to allow myself to function and appear normal.  But my smarts don't help me when I find myself cowering in a corner with my hands over my ears yelling na-na-na-na-na-na and hoping the world will just go away and leave me alone.

I didn't go to jail.  I didn't hurt anyone else or get hurt myself (physically anyway) but I find myself grasping at a thinner and thinner thread trying to pull myself to shore in a raging storm that just seems to grow in intensity as I get older.  I'm not able to fix myself from within.  There is no owner's manual for this model and the windows are too fogged to see the way forward.  It's time to pull over and try to flag down a ride to someplace where someone can help me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hump Day Harangue: Would Even Ride in the Rain

I know I write a lot about my failures and pontificate about future ambitious schemes that never come to fruition.  That’s just how I roll.  But I try to balance that all out with trip reports of actual trips and adventures.  On the other hand this blog is entitled “The Chainring Report” not “My Trip Reports.”  See how I did that?
I started out my Iron Horse training going strong last week. Then over the weekend life took over, and I’ve not been on schedule at all really.  I also wanted to ride my mountain bike today.  Something is wrong with my eyes.  They stay inflamed making it imprudent to wear my contact lenses.  My glasses are thick, heavy, and uncomfortable at best when exercising and sweating in the out of doors.  See how I am making excuses? 
But the glasses thing is real.  I’m blind without correction and they fall off my face when I run or ride or climb or hike or twirl around seeking proprioceptive stimulation.  It’s the most frustrating thing in my life aside from my neurological idiosyncrasies.  I quit whitewater kayaking after only a few months in my early twenties because the myopia made it difficult and nearly impossible to learn to roll in fast water.  I’ve nearly quit professional life many times over because of the other issues.  But I digress.
The Training Partner texted that he was riding at VP this morn at 9am.  I replied that I wish but no, there is just too much to be done and too little time in this cubicle occupation that the world calls work.  Pixels in a file.  Words on a screen.  All in trade for a little bit of money.
My original scheme for the day involved a lunchtime ride at Skullbuster after a Scott County meeting.  I acted the conditioned grownup and opted not to because my only reason for going to the meeting was to have an excuse to mountain bike afterward.  Well, not the only reason but the main one anyway.  The time out of office for travel, meeting, and ride were unjustified even for my proprioception-starved nervous system and recreation-obsessed mind.  I’ve got to get some work done.
But then, here I sit composing this post and not “working.” Mayhap I should have gone biking with Dave after all?
This could be you, or me, and was me, but not today.
This should be my office.
My last mountain bike ride was on Saturday at the KYMBA Women’s Clinic at CVP.  I can’t help but project myself back in time to those few short hours on the trail in a steady rain and wish I could even be back there enjoying some quality trail time.  I don’t care to wish I could be running.  When I’m engaged in the activity I find enjoyment in the moment, but the reality is I’d rather be biking.  The movement of cycling appeals to my most basic physiology in ways I can’t even begin to describe or understand.  To fly across the land at inhuman speeds in near silence at ground level…well, that is so much like flying that I can’t even dismiss that as its main appeal.
Flying through the rain on Saturday I felt free and untroubled by a troubling world.  Trump.  Terrorism.  Police brutality.  Protests.  Economic distress.  Coal mining jobs.  Skittles. 
I have less time in the day than I used to.  I try to steal it back when I can.  I protest a world I see as unjust by injecting my own anarchy back into it.  I don’t agree with the values assigned to our cultural norms.  It’s not the social structure and economy that I value.  I’ve lost so much time in my life to “commuting” and trying to appease the corporate/industrial clock.  My time is not my own.  Too many people make demands upon time I will never have and expect my priorities to align with theirs.  More people depend on me than I am able to satisfy.  If I had it my way it would be simply my wife, my kids, and I.  Future life and career choices will eliminate others from the dependence queue.
Each day in my life has become a battle for personal space.  At one time that was a selfish quest to carve out time for fun.  Now it has become a struggle for survival in the rat race.  Who requisitioned this garbage?
The only answer I can give is “me, myself, and I.”  I have only myself to blame.  Choice.  Consequence.  Results. 
I don’t make the best socially acceptable choices.  Ever.  I’m not saying I’m a failed people pleaser though.  I’m not saying I make bad choices based on what I know is best for me.  Maybe I’ve been in psychological survival mode for more than a few years now.  Going on ten actually.  I’ve developed coping skills that if revealed on a performance review would result in reprimand and possible corrective action.  I can’t say this changes anything from my point of view.  Survival is survival.  Compromising self-preservation tactics results in not surviving.
So I won’t ride today.  I’m going to try to run my six intended miles this evening.  I’ve adapted my training schedule slightly for this week.  I should be resting today but yesterday was an imposed rest day.  I feel better of body today than I did yesterday at least.  Watching the cross country meet last night in Mt. Sterling I felt the strong urge to run more.  I know I’m going to be better off focusing on cycling after this silly half marathon coming up next month.  At my age…
Well, coffee break over, everyone back down on their knees as the old joke goes.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Let the Girls Race

Being the introvert that I am I tend to get bogged down thinking that no one else out there is like me:  I feel like I’m stranded on the Island of Misfit Toy most of the time.  I’ve struggled the past two or three months because I can’t seem to get people to commit to helping with building trails at Bald Rock.  I feel the urgency to not let this opportunity slip away.  We should have had a mountain biking community born here twenty years ago, and I’m not willing to let things languish for twenty more.  

I’m here, I have the ability and the drive, so therefore trails are going to get built.  I’ll tilt at this windmill as long as I can.

What I forget is that I’m a known member of a community.  I briefly touched on this in a recent post, but I have to reiterate after the KYMBA Women’s Clinic this past Saturday at Capitol View Park in Frankfort that it is a strong, if small, community of like-minded individuals who all have a love for our state and the existing and potential trails that we share.

Mandy signed up for the clinic a while back, and I volunteered as a local trail guide.  I’m maybe not the best guide for CVP but I know it well enough to speak authoritatively.  As of this summer I feel like I can visualize the trail system with some accuracy.  I think maybe we were both a bit skeptical that she was going to enjoy the clinic, but (to spoil the cliffhanger) she had a great time.  We’ll get to that a little later in the post.

When we got to CVP Saturday morning I naturally gravitated toward my friends in the group.  Once again, this was a gathering of the people I tend to socialize with on media on a daily or weekly basis.  I was coming from our most recent Cave Run-Red River Gorge IMBA chapter steering committee meeting and stoked about our progress and the bright future of mountain biking in Eastern Kentucky. 

After the clinic I am even more reaffirmed that we’re approaching a tipping point or some event horizon beyond which the future is unknown but certain to be explosive. The clinic was great.  I can’t say enough about how positive and beneficial it was.  Other people expressed that our state is beautiful and ripe for mountain bike trail development.  I’m not the only one; these dragons are not windmills!

But back to the clinic.  For the first half of the day the IMBA certified instructors took the groups and worked on basic mountain biking skills.  A lot of the stuff they went over are things I either learned by trial and error or not at all.  So I would definitely take a skills clinic myself at some point in the future.

There wasn’t a lot for me to do early on, so after a half hour I took off on the trails myself to kill some time and get out of the way.  One thing about women’s clinics is that they’re supposed to be environments where women can ask questions and be open about their concerns without the typical male-dominated rhetoric and social pressures.  While I try my best not to be the kind of person that makes anyone uncomfortable I decided my presence did not directly contribute to the experience and I left.

CVP was in fine condition.  I rode about six miles of the loop and checked back in with my group occasionally.  As lunch approached I gravitated toward the shelter to see if my help was needed.  The drizzle started just before lunch.  By the time all the groups were in to eat we had a steady rain.  Which continued through lunch and beyond.

Before the rain

When it was time to hit the trails after lunch it was apparent the rain was along for the ride.  We all sucked it up, cinched down our rain jacket hoods, and headed out on the trails. My group rode over four miles in a steady downpour on wet trails.  To those that started out intimidated we tried to reinforce the notion that if they could ride in those conditions then they were going to be positively brimming with confidence in good conditions.  I think they all got it.  And everyone seemed to have a great time.  I know I did.

I was happy to run into my wife on the trails when our groups crossed paths and she was so excited to tell me about the things she had learned and what she could do.  I saw her a few times chasing after Troy Hearn who I myself have chased at Capitol View and felt very accomplished to hang on his wheel for even one lap at the KY Point Series Race this past summer.  Afterward Troy bragged on her and told me I couldn’t just let her ride my hand-me-down bike that she needed her own mountain bike.  I agreed.  So now we’re in the market if anyone has a great deal on a really good used women’s mountain bike.  But truly she deserves a new one.

The title of the post comes from a conversation the group I went out with had.  Vince—one of the instructors—told about a kids’ race I which two of the girls were dominating the field so thoroughly the organizers split the boys and girls into their own races so the girls weren’t competing against the boys.  One of the participants said under her breath that that would all change after puberty.  To which I said out loud: “Let the girls race the boys.” Why do we need to protect the boys’ egos from being beaten by a girl? 

The truth of the matter is that not all men are athletically superior to all women.  It may be true that in general elite men outpace elite women in athletics, but I guarantee there were women out on the trail at CVP with me in the rain on Saturday that can kick my butt on a bike…mountain or otherwise.  For average folks men do not have an unequivocal athletic advantage over women.  I’ve never been in a race where a girl or woman hasn’t beaten me except in races where the women raced separately.  I think its misleading to make statements like: “men are faster than women.”  Only a very small minority of men in some activities are better or faster than all women.  That absolute statement ignores the reality that there are a lot of women who are better than the majority of men and other women at the things they do.  And that’s not limited to athletics.  That’s not something we should ignore in all aspects of life.  Women are not lesser than men.  In fact, a lot of men do not have a fraction of the drive of even average women.  It seems to me like we need to stop drawing lines based on gender.  And why does anyone need to say that in 2016?

As an aside, but definitely related, my cousin was posting updates on Facebook on Saturday of her daughter's crushing of the field at the Trek CXC Cup in which she was killing it even against the boys.  Saturday she won her (gender) race and came in second on Sunday morning.  But she beat a lot of boys in the process.  

Anyway, it was a fantastic clinic.  I had a great time and I was not even a targeted beneficiary.  Again, it was a reflection of a close knit and positive community and we need more of that in our world.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lead and Iron

I’m signed up for the Iron Horse Half Marathon.  I guess I knew this since Mandy signed us up early this year.  But last I heard neither her, nor her mom, nor her aunt (who were all signed up as well) were going to do the race, so I had just let it settle into a dimly lit corner of my mind.  I’ve not been running.
Now we’re five weeks out from the race.  At least I won’t be doing it off the couch.
Cross country season is in full swing, but much like last year I don’t get to run much at all because we have practice every night, and I’m an assistant coach.  It’s also been hot as sin.  If I had been running all summer it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’m not currently acclimated to running in the heat.  Starting before Fair Day might be fatal to my old fat self.
That said, I’m going to run the first training run of my Six Five Weeks to a Half Marathon plan today.  I understand the folly of jumping from zero to thirteen point one in five weeks.  I understand.  I won’t be shooting for a fast pace.  My goal will simply be to run as much as possible and finish the race.  I got a decent PR last year.  It was a surprise.  I still don’t know how I pulled off a sub-two hour half, but I did. 
The Iron Horse was the peak of my fitness last year.  Everything fell apart after that.  I’ve only felt well enough to pull the ears of a gundark in the past couple of months.  I feel positively superhuman right now as I am taking an anti-inflammatory for a weird rash I’ve had for a couple of weeks.  My bad knee feels like it’s made of steel.
Maybe a five week training window will be good.  I have to be extra cautious and not injure myself, but I can maintain focus for five weeks (ha!) and as long as I adhere to the schedule I shouldn’t be running longer distances than I have business running.  It’s not like I’m new to running.
I got though the August (emotional) doldrums.  I can’t speak for certain about last year, but I know the year before August was a rough month for me.  This August has been challenging.  And as fast as the demons fly at me to bit and scratch they fly away and some unforeseen conversation soothes my soul.  I don’t know which is better: wallowing in the dark mire or riding the roller coaster.  Regardless, I think I’m through my late summer funk and looking forward to fall.  I love fall.  I always have.
I'm biding my time for the release of Leadville or Bust. Truth be told I really just need to purchase ISBNs and then I can begin the final steps to put it into the world.  The sense of urgency is passed because I know how close I am.  Since the 2016 race is behind me I just don't feel like a big announcement now is going to make much of a splash.  Maybe when the lottery opens for 2017...

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Put Out the Thanksgiving Decorations It's Labor Day!

I didn’t labor too hard over the weekend.  The long holiday started off sluggish.  Well, sort of.  I took a mental health day on Friday and spent a good long time working on trails in Bald Rock.  My current project is to extend Hillbilly Hayduke (formerly known as “Flat Hollar Trail” from its upper end, down to the Drive-By/Bob Marley Trailhead and back along Bald Rock Fork to the Flat Hollow Trailhead.  I’m making pretty good progress, but I’ve whittled it down to mostly just the hard bench cutting.  So Friday I labored a bit.

On Saturday I had intended to work around the house all day and catch up on stuff I have put off for too long.  However, I started the day early with a headache and it never seemed to subside enough for me to get much done.  I felt wretched enough that I just sat in the recliner and binge watched the last season of Justified.  I finished up the series as I composed this half-@$$ed post on Monday afternoon.

The weather on Saturday was depressingly nice. It pained me to no end to be cooped up in my infirm state.  Sunday was almost as nice, but a tad hotter, and I finally felt okay enough to install a new dishwasher and putter around putting laundry away in the afternoon.  That put my recreational plans off until Monday, but I was okay with that.  And my patience (ha!) paid off.

Last week was rough. I really needed that mental health day and a long weekend to reset the ole synaptic network.  I had intended to ride the Sheltowee Trace from Turkey Foot at some point, and that’s what I woke up to do on Monday morning. I’d made an effort to get Jeaph to go along with me, but he had family plans so I opted to go solo.  I wasn’t sure what state the Trace would be in down in the heart of Redneckery where the trail is legal and well-traveled by ATVs.  I hoped for the best but was sure of the worst.

It’s about an hour from my house to Turkey Foot.  Would be quicker if there was a four lane modern highway connecting me to it, but then it probably wouldn’t be the diamond in the rough that it currently is.

The free campground was quiet and hardly used despite the major holiday weekend.  I did get there at 7:30am, but I saw not a soul on the trails and hardly anyone on the roads.  I took off with a morning full of promise ahead of me.  My intent was to ride north on the Sheltowee toward Arvel.  As I pulled into the campground I saw the connector trail.  Once I was awheel I headed for the trail and found myself on a very nice ATV trail.  Of course there were some drainage issues.  I didn’t trouble myself with the fact that I saw no split in the trail.  I assumed I was headed north and kept pedaling.

Despite being ATV legal the trail was enjoyable.  I was able to skirt most of the mudholes and ride through a few. The tread was rocky and rooty. It was Appalachian mountain biking goodness at its best.  I rode steady but slow.  It was hard to manage the four and a half miles an hour I averaged.  There were three mandatory detours around massive deadfalls—all recent—and the techy nature of the trail hung a weight around my neck I could not shake.

But even still…the ride was perfect.  On one hand I cursed every side-by-side, Gator, Razor, dirtbike and ATV ever made as I negotiated my way around intermittent mudholes, but then I marveled at the incredible trail that is the Sheltowee Trace.  I hadn’t noticed the climb much.  It was gradual enough, but eventually I found myself on a ridge and paralleling a gravel road.  My memory of the map didn’t seem to gel with where I found myself, but I cranked along, following Trace blazes along a really nice and sandy section of trail.  And then I dumped out on KY 89. 

As soon as I hit the pavement I knew exactly where I was.  I’ve passed that trail crossing a few times in the past three years.  It took me a couple seconds to process what had happened.  I’d ended up going south on the Sheltowee instead of north.  Two more seconds and I turned my wheel back toward Turkey Foot on the asphalt. It didn’t take long to get back to the campground.  I swung by the Jeep and added some air to my tires, ate a Clif Bar, and then turned back toward the trail intent on finding the Trace north.

I headed back onto the spur where I started earlier aiming to look for the trail to the right that I must somehow have missed.  I rode for a few dozen yards but when it didn’t seem like I was going to find a side trail I decided to turn around and follow the gravel road which I knew the Trace paralleled and eventually crossed.

After a short ride along the road I found the trail coming in from the left.  I continued down the road a few more yards and saw a marker on the right, but the trail was overgrown.  I rolled up to it and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Sheltowee north of Turkey Foot is only open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians.  I dropped into the singletrack to find a hidden gem.  There was hardly a whisper of even a bootprint along the trail much less hoofprints or bicycle tire tracks. 

The tradeoff is that the trail is in rough shape.  The tread seems fine for the most part, but the undergrowth and deadfalls are thick.  I rode until I hit a deafall that covered the trail.  I stopped, whipped out my small folding saw, and trimmed the tree back until I could get through on the bike.  

A few yards later there was a rotted log across the trail.  I threw it over the hill.  I little further another, and I gave it the same treatment.  Again and again as I continued north I came across logs and branches. I could have gone on, but eventually I came to a short road that connected back up to the gravel road to the campground.  I opted to cut short my trail maintenance and rode back to the initial section I had missed and rode it to its junction with the ATV trail. 

I can see why I missed it the first time.  The sign had been knocked down and was leaning against a tree facing south.  Shortly thereafter I was back at my car and loading up.

I rode about fourteen miles and had a great time.  It’s hard to believe that a free campground in the National Forest had so little traffic on a major holiday weekend. 

The trip to Turkey Foot was strategic.  I’m hoping for a thru-bike bid on the entire Sheltowee Trace next fall.  I’ve wrestled with what my next big scheme would be.  Motivation is absent in my recreational/fitness life, and I doubt Leadville is going to be in the cards anytime soon.  The Sheltowee is a worthy goal.  Strategy and tactics will play a big role.  Fitness is key.  And in the end a successful unsupported thru-bike of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail would be a serious mountain biking feather for my cycling cap.  Bucket list.