Monday, October 31, 2016

Flat Tires and Warm Hearts

All I wanted was to take the afternoon off and dull the edge of the week I’d had.  It wasn’t the most stressful week of my life, or of the year, or of the month I guess.  But it’s October and I have decided I’m not going to squander my life—especially the fall foliage peak—on the mundane.  Unfortunately climate change has taken the favored crisp October air and hidden it behind a blazing sun of summerness.  But I digress.

My adult responsibilities parried for the time, I headed for Spaas Creek with my mountain bike.  I wanted a rematch with the climb to the ridge top.  You’ll remember not so long ago I rode Spaas Creek and over to Pumpkin Hollow but cursed and grumbled as my spectacular spectacles stayed fogged in the heated humidity and slowed progress and obscured the fun of the ride.  But I digress.

I found my normal parking spot occupied by an RV.  There was a nearby campfire smoldering but no one seemed to be around.  There was plenty of space to park along the road for a few dozen yards to the south, so I turned about and slid off the left side just beyond sight of the RV.

As I dragged my bike out of the Jeep I heard a dog barking and saw a furry critter coming down the road toward me.  Great, I thought, all I need is another dog bite.  Now, the last time I was bitten was probably two years ago and before that I never really had a dog bite of consequence, but it’s one of my perpetual fears.  The last one was pretty painful.

Before I could stress too much the dog stopped barking and returned to the RV (I assumed), but I knew I would have to deal with it again as I rode past.  I finished shrugging into my pack, snapping on my helmet, and then I turned my front wheel toward the depths of the Spaas Creek drainage, and pedaled off.  When I reached the RV, vigilant against canine violence, I was rewarded with not one but two dogs rounding the vehicle, snarling and barking, and charging straight for my bare ankles.

I yelled something.  Then I yelled “Get your dogs!” to the lonely forest.  Finally I dismounted and began using my bike as a shield, and—for a brief moment—as a bludgeon.

Far too late to be of any help to my vulnerable lower appendages a middle-aged couple came running around the RV.  I reiterated: “Control your dogs!”

The man grabbed one of them and apologized.  The woman threw up her arms as the other dog ran around still frantically barking but somewhat timid from being fork-checked.  I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she made some defensive comments about being in the woods and the dogs should be able to run free.

“This is a county road and we’re surrounded by public land,” I said gesturing at my feet and overhead.  “There’s a county-wide leash ordinance as well.”  That’s true, but we were on the county line, and I’m not sure if Menifee County has an ordinance or would enforce it if they did.  I suspect not on either account.  I know Powell has an ordinance and enforcement is inconsistent.  But still…

The man apologized again and again. The woman just snarled in disgust and told me to go on, pointed up the road, and shrugged again in defiance.  My intent was not to go up the road due to the rather large mudholes, so I followed the nicely packed ATV trail through their campsite and on up the creek bank.

I was keyed up for a few minutes as I pedaled up the road, crossing Spaas Creek which is startlingly low for late October, and continued through a pine grove.  Slowly I recomposed myself, and by the time I came up on the four horsemen I had mostly forgotten the Dog People.  I slowed and waited until the rear equestrian heard me.  I stopped as they moved to the side of the road and then rode slowly past them, keeping the pedals turning so my Hope hub wouldn’t clack and make too much noise.  I kept talking to the men as I rode past as well.  I felt pretty good about my interaction with them and they were pleasant enough.

The climb up the head of the valley was technical and challenging.  I rode everything clean, but failed cardiovascularly within sight of the summit.  I walked a few yards of the steepest terrain and then got back on to ride.

Once at the top I turned left and southwest and rode the long rolling ridge all the way out to a place called Wild Country Wall.  I’d been out from the Jeep for an hour at that point.  That was all the time I had.  In order to make it back to town to pick Boone up from school I needed to make tracks back.  So I turned the bike around and pedaled still.

The descent down into Spaas Creek from the ridge was noticeably faster than the climb up.  In fact, as I neared the final creek crossing I noticed it had taken me about half the time to descend Spaas as it had to gain the ridge.  I came up on the equestrians about a quarter of a mile from the crossing.  We repeated our dance and I chatted a moment with them as I continued past, and then I was thinking about the prospect of having to pass the Dog RV once again.

I tried to let my hub clack as I pedaled along the creek.  I kept my eyes peeled and ears attuned as I rolled closer and closer.  But when I could finally see for certain the spot where it had been parked the RV was gone.  And someone had jammed a branch between two trees where I had entered the trail I was returning on.  It was easy enough to duck under, but I wondered if it had been aimed at slowing me down.

As I rode through the pulloff I saw the campfire had been put out and cleaned up and there was no garbage anywhere.  I felt bad that the couple’s day had been tainted, but I still didn’t think their letting the dogs run loose was justified.  I felt justified in defending myself from the charging dogs.  I had no way of knowing if they would bite or not, and I had seen no human handlers anywhere and had no reason to assume they were within earshot.  I shook my head and pedaled on the last few strokes to the Jeep.

When I neared the back of the car I saw that my passenger side rear tire was flat.

My first thought was the Dog People had slashed my tire.  But then I corrected myself.  No, maybe I had run over something on the gravel road.  Occam’s Razor.  Benefit of the doubt.

I bent down and inspected the tire.  There was no obvious puncture.  It was flat flat and no air was still rushing out.  I checked the valve cap.  It wasn’t tightened so I pulled it off.   And jammed up inside was a small stone.  I dropped the bike and circled the Jeep.  The driver’s side front tire was flat and there was dirt jammed inside that cap.  The other two tires looked fine, but my hackles were up, and my brain was in paranoia mode.

Until recently I had been keeping a bicycle floor pump in the back of the Jeep.  I have two.  But for whatever reason after I took it out the last time I didn’t put it back.  All I had was the small low volume seat bag pump I carried on the bike.  My situation wasn’t dire, as that spot on Spaas Creek is less than fifteen miles from my house.  I could and have in the past ridden home from there.  I enjoy the ride even.  However, it was 2:35pm and I needed to be at the middle school to pick up my son in less than an hour.  That wasn’t going to happen.

Then I heard horses clomping down the road.  The four horsemen were returning to their trucks and trailers about a half mile further down Spaas Creek Road.

As the first guy approach I asked: “Any chance any of you would have an air compressor or pump in your trucks?”

They didn’t think they did.  When I told them what I suspected had happened they were aghast and said the Dog People had given them a little trouble too.  The dogs came out and barked at the horses and the couple hadn’t seemed too happy about the horses being there. 

They rode on to their trucks, and I was left with my problem.  It only took a minute or so to decide I had the power to help myself so I put my pack and helmet back on, locked the Jeep once again, and started riding toward home.  When I reached the horse guys one of them was waving a small box.

“I did have a pump!” he exclaimed.  It was one of those cigarette lighter powered tire pumps.

So I was able to air up both tires and get to town just in time to pick up Boone from his grandparents’ house.  He had walked there from school and said it was such a nice day he didn’t mind.

What was most troubling about the ordeal was that I didn’t do anything to antagonize the Dog People.  I was simply riding my bike on a public road through public land.  The dogs came after me.  I didn’t intentionally hurt either one of them and if I did make contact with the one dog it wasn’t hard enough to inflict injury.  My words were a little harsh for the couple, but I was justified in pointing out that they needed to keep control of their pets.

They fully intended to inconvenience and perhaps strand me in the woods.  I hope they didn’t think it would do damage to my Jeep. I know that driving on underinflated tires can damage all-wheel drive and it’s definitely not good for the tires.  I had to drive slowly back to town to fully inflate them both.

The incident wiped some of my typical anti-horse sentiment.  I could go into a whole post about the interactions with those guys.  Afterward I felt more inclined to reach out to the horseback community to partner for the Powder Mill Trail project.  I think I needed that interaction to open my eyes a little bit.

The weekend was packed with activity, but this one event took quite a bit of page space so look for another report around Wednesday.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Taken to Church

I once got bent out of shape because a friend countered my excuse for not rock climbing on a Sunday due to church with “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God than in church thinking about mountains.”  At the time I didn’t feel like his sentiment was valid in a strictly Christian sense. 

Back then I didn’t see spending time in the woods as a particularly spiritual endeavor.  For me getting into nature was an escape from adult responsibility.  I’m not saying that’s not what it is now, but I realize that even back then the desire to be out under the open sky was partly mental health maintenance and partly communing with something greater than myself.  It didn’t fit together with my Judeo-Christian puzzle, but in the years since I’ve come to accept that I can seek God outside of a church building, and sometimes in the out of doors I do feel closer to the Divine.

Lily Bean ran her state competition on Saturday morning.  She did really well—no PR—but well all the same.  Afterward she and I decided to go bouldering while Mandy went for a walk with her mom.  We trucked up toward the Gorge, dodged a few tourons, and then landed at the startlingly unoccupied parking spot for Lower Small Wall.

At Muscle Beach last week the problems I revisited were low angle or vertical.  At Lower Small Wall the problems were short but overhanging. The lower boulders are notoriously abrasive as well.  When we arrived I spent a good bit of time cleaning the Stump Boulder, the Bowling Pin and the Aptly Named Boulder.  Aptly Named is one of my all-time favorite boulder problems. 

Once I was finished cleaning I sat down under Grimace of Coolness, a short, steep V2 on the Stump Boulder.  I couldn’t do a single move on the sharp, severe crimps.  Maybe if I warmed up first… So I got on Seven-Ten Split.  After one try I was able to do the single move dynamic problem.  It’s all about foot placement.  After that we moved up to try Aptly Named, a high quality V0+ on rock that appears to be chossy when in fact its solid and good quality.
Pulling off Seven-Ten Split with old-man ligaments
photo by Bean
Looking for my try-hard on Aptly Named
photo by Bean
I couldn’t do two moves consecutively on it.  At first.  But after a few more tries I was able to do a couple of moves, a couple more moves, and I felt like I was going to be able to link them, but in the end I just didn’t have it in me to make the moves on the problem.  I finally gave it up.  I need to drop pounds and do some conditioning.  So we headed home. On Sunday I was sore all day.  My back muscles hummed in pain whenever I moved or picked something up.  It was a good sore.

A friend posted a pic from Blackburn Rock on Instagram late Saturday, and it inspired me to take the family back out there on Sunday afternoon.  The kids had both been there, but Mandy never had.  The watershed moment came: bike out the ridge or hike up Powder Mill Trail.  We opted for mountain biking.

I loaded up the bikes on the back of the Jeep and we drove over through Montgomery County into Menifee and then out Hatton Ridge.  We didn’t see anyone as we drove out and seemed to have the place to ourselves.  When we got to Hatton Cemetery we made an interesting discovery: the gate is open.

Hatton Ridge and the two roads that make up the Short Creek rim to the west are gated Forest Roads.  Quite a few years ago a climber friend and myself made the discovery that the Forest Service opens the gates during hunting season.  We had biked out the ridge between Short Creek and Cane Creek to Wild Country Wall and as I was getting ready to clip the anchors on a sport route we heard a vehicle approaching.  We looked over toward the road and top our wonder and amazement saw a pickup truck pulling an airstream camper.


So yeah, the gate was open, but we still decided to ride out to Blackburn from the cemetery, though the new development opened up some positive and negative possibilities.  Like, would Bean clam up and insist we go get the car and drive back to rescue her when the return trip got too hard (she didn’t)?  Or, would it maybe be possible to run up to Blackburn next Friday evening for more fall photos and to watch the sun set (that’s the plan)?

The ride out went well and we spent a good bit of time chilling at the overlook.  I pondered a ride from home estimating fifteen to eighteen miles one way coming up through either Cane Creek/Pumpkin Hollow or up Spaas Creek (when I got home and mapped it I found it was twenty-two miles one way).

I finally got the panovista photo I wanted.  Seeing Becky’s on Instagram (I’d seen others from that viewpoint before) inspired me to get back out there and get my own shot from the photographer’s point due south of the impressive overlook.  The fall colors still aren’t at their peak, and I know it’s going to be tricky catching everything just right.  I may have to take a day off work if there’s a particularly amazing light and color day.
I call this one "Old Man and Mountain Bike"
photo by Mandy

Cell phone shot of Blackburn Rock from the south
We lingered still at the overlook after I got my photos.  Finally we decided to head back toward the car and eventually home.  For whatever reason I again felt no urgency in getting out of the woods or of traveling to and fro during the day.  Hatton Ridge had worked its time-freezing magic on me again.

As we pedaled north on the road I couldn’t help but marvel, mouth agape, at the sunlight flooding through the canopy and creating a ceiling of stained glass overhead.  There were peaches, umbers, and golden panels catching and diffusing the sunlight and painting amazing pixeled pointillisms across the surface of my brain.  My vision problems of late have subsided for the most part, but I think I must still be sensitive to light on some level.  While this is typically annoying, when it causes such fireworks in my brain it’s absolutely Divine.

It was a great day and we had some quality family time in the out of doors in the best season of all seasons.  I didn’t even feel guilty crashing into the recliner when we got back home to watch TV and edit photos.  When I got up from time to time I could feel my muscles protest.  But these are good aches, not the debilitating old age sharps and pinches I’ve felt for the past couple of years.  However, the aches I feel now are from activities that once would have felt less than warm-ups for me and would have been movements I could have repeated all the livelong day without consequence.  Each groan made me think of a quote I heard on NPR over the weekend; a snippet of a Leonard Cohen song:

I ache in the places where I used to play

This pretty much sums up how my body feels at this moment in time.  But I’m happy and content and that’s all that matters.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: Frankly Four Eyes Edition

On Wednesday my run of antibiotic eye drops was up.  I also picked up my new contact lenses.  I’m back to normal vision.  It’s odd to be able to see without distortion and for my eyes not to burn and bubble in their sockets.  Whatever all that was I’m glad it’s passed.

Saturday is Bean’s last cross country meet of the year.  We’re all glad.  It’s been a tough fall to this point with frequent regular practices and some weekends eaten up by races.  I meant to have a new roof on the house by now.  I meant to have a lot of things finished at this point.  I am a chronic procrastinator.

Its fall now and I want to climb.  This is the perfect season to be out in the woods caressing sandstone.  I don’t even mind the recent rains and windy conditions.  Still better to be in the woods.  Still better to be wrassling pebbles or swinging on ropes.

My body feels pretty good right now.  All those bloggable chronic injuries have quieted.  I can see.  That’s important. 

2016 has not been too bad from an event and racing standpoint.  I did three mountain bike races.  Didn’t do much running.  I am glad to have scaled back and taken it easier.  There was no internal pressure to perform at a certain level.  There were no mileage goals. 

I have no plans for big events next year.  At least not organized fee events.  I’ll probably do the Mohican 100.  We’ve talked about doing the Flying Pig half marathon and likely we’ll sign up for the Iron Horse again.  I want to do more of the Kentucky Point Series races and I’ll definitely do 12 Hours of CVP again.
Sweating at the KY Point Series race/Bluegrass State Games at CVP
photo by I Can't Remember
Other than the Mohican and the two running races everything else can be approached impromptu.  And so that leaves me flexible for more adventurous endeavors.  I have two in mind that I want to train for. 

I’ve spoken at length in the past about my desire to attempt a thru-bike of the Sheltowee Trace.  Next fall I intend to give it a serious effort.  If the opportunity presents itself earlier in 2017 I’ll likely go ahead, but fall is my target.

The other big scheme I have for the coming year is to ride the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway in a day and throw down a serious FKT.  It’ll be 90+ miles of suffering on the Cumberland Plateau.  It’ll be hard on the bike and hard on me.  But I think it’ll be a worthy goal for the year and great training for the Sheltowee.

I am painfully aware that I throw out goals and schemes like this all the time.  In the past I’ve thrown down some heavy gauntlets and I think if I approach these two goals with focus and the right kind of preparation I’ll be successful.  And we’re not talking a one hundred mile mountain bike race.  We’re talking about a fun day out in the woods of pain, suffering, and heartbreak.  What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Backwoods and Byways: Exploring (Like) Daniel Boone

Wrote this last week but for reasons forgotten I didn't put it out.  I had a late meeting last Tuesday so I was able to run out that morning for a couple hours of riding near home.  So here, for your blogged pleasure is a bonus post:

I was moving slow in the morning.  My eyes were still inflamed so I was going to have to wear my glasses, and it was a balmy 45F in the out of doors.  Otherwise I had my stuff together.  The bike was ready.  I just needed to get dressed and get going.
The loop I'd planned was eighteen miles--almost nineteen--and is one of the cruxes for putting together the ninety plus mile loop of the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway.  The DBBB is an "off-road" scenic loop through Powell, Menifee, Wolfe, Lee, and Estill Counties that is comprised of public roadways and the majority of which are driveable in normal passenger four wheel drives.  That means you don't have to have a customized Jeep or some other rock crawler or mud-hog to do the route.  While I normally wouldn't seek out such routes the recent dry weather has me thinking the DBBB might be in fine shape for mountain biking, so I was conditioning and scouting for an attempt in the near future.  
After two muddy stints at CVP I had to replace the bottom bracket of The One.  Well, two muddy stints at CVP and a whole lot of sand and mud grinding across the Plateau over the past few years.  It was time for a new BB to be sure.
What better way to break it in than a baptism by mud?  I drove up to Spaas Creek and parked at the Powell/Menifee line.  It was cool but not cold and I was comfortable heading down the gravel road with my long sleeve jersey over a poly pro tee shirt, bib bike shorts and knee warmers, and my ankle cut wool socks.  I also had my wool cycling cap on under my helmet.  I didn't expect to overheat on my morning ride.  Sometimes expectations are way off.  I sweat all the time.  My engine just runs hot.

Spaas Creek was in better shape than it has been for awhile.  There was still quite a bit of mud, but the standing water stood low and the creek crossings were low enough my feet didn't get wet.  The worst part of it was all the sand that accumulated in my drivetrain.  I started the ride spic and span clean, but less than a mile in I could hear grinding.  I began to curse those who went before and kept the road a muddy soup.  Ages ago Spaas Creek was a relatively flowy mountain bike ride with hard packed dirt and sand and a few wet crossings.  

Anyway, as elevation was gained my heart rate climbed.  My head put off so much heat my glasses stayed fogged which made riding through the rocky and moderately technical terrain a frustrating chore.  I had to stop repeatedly to wipe my lenses.  I finally stopped and stripped off all the cold weather gear and stowed it in my pack.  The fun level had tanked; though I think with clear vision the ride would have been muy enjoyable.
When I gained the ridge I was surprised to find a trail sign.  I wasn't so surprised to see it had been broken off at the ground and propped up against a tree.  Some people's kids, man.

I continued out the gravel road to pavement at Fagan.  The DBBB follows KY 713 for a short distance and from Spaas Creek Road it's a bomb run descent to the turn off on Pumpkin Hollow Road.  I noticed the DBBB sign the other day when the kids and I were coming back from Hatton Ridge.  That sign was the key to my ride.
Despite the road sign and the trail markers I was a bit hesitant to turn on Pumpkin Hollow.  It looked like a driveway right to someone's front door.  But as soon as I had passed the house I was sure I was on the right path.  It was a long techy slog to the watershed divide and the Powell County line, but with contact lenses and a little more cardiovascular conditioning I believe I could make it clean.

At the top I knew the rest of the ride was cake.  I stopped to wipe off the fog one last time and then dropped into the Cane Creek drainage.  It was a nice long descent on a picturesque dirt road.  When I exited the woods onto the pavement I knuckled up a few gears and got the pedals cranking.  I still had about ten miles to go at that point and had been riding for over an hour.
The ride back to the Jeep on Spaas Creek was uneventful except for the one dog.  I Halt!ed his tail and kept cranking.  I returned to my starting point a few minutes shy of two hours.  With stops it was probably a two and a half hour ride.  I could easily turn it into an hour and a half jaunt if I could tone down my flab.

Still not treating my bottom bracket right
Putting all the DBBB pieces together is going to be a challenge.  I think my first attempt should be an overnight bikepacking trip with a single day effort to follow.  I know the route now.  Logistics are no problem.  Finding the depth in my bones to tackle the route will be.


My eyes are finally cleared up.  Doctor prescribed drops with an antibiotic and steroid and my ocular state is much improved.  I pick up new contact lenses this afternoon.  I'm hoping to be able to get back to being as active as I want to be henceforth. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Muscle Memories

 Truth be told the fall foliage is far from its peak.  The seasons shifted late.  Right now there's still a lot of green vistas in the region.  Of course under the canopy there's no doubt fall has arrived.  Things will change fast though.

For me fall has always meant the promise of cooler weather.  I loathe heat and humidity.  I love sunny days, but I prefer them in February over bright days in July.  If I had my way work would be suspended from the beginning of October until the end of the year.  I see this time of year as the ideal vacation season.

Most rock climbers would agree that fall is the ideal season for climbing.  The Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition's iconic annual festival/fundraiser which just took place is Rocktoberfest.  Right now the crags are packed like a New York subway at rush hour but with trees and rocks.  When the humidity of summer evaporates the sandstone of the Gorge become grippier.  In a sense the climbs become easier, as sweat and condensation no longer combine to make hand and footholds greasy and hard to hold onto.

Non-climbers flock here for seasonal pilgrimages too.  The Gorge area is popular with the leaf viewing crowd. Cooler nights make for clear star gazing, better sleeping while camping, and fewer biting bugs and venomous critters.  The foliage is the draw, but all those other things are the hook that brings you back.

On Saturday Bean and I took to the woods to wrassle some pebbles.  I had the strong, sudden urge to revisit the Muscle Beach bouldering area.  In my younger days I had spent many a day climbing lines on the low sandstone outcropping at the northwest corner of the ridge that makes up the actual roped climbing crag.  The pinnacle Minas Ithil perches on top of the narrow spine of rock and the exposed sandstone layer averages about ten feet thick with regular breaks.  Some of the rock chunks are boulders, but the bulk of the climbing is on formations I referred to as “blocks” because they are just segments of a low cliffline and not slump block boulders.  “Block” is my term and not a geologic term.  Unless it is.

Boulders and blocks

Bean seemed excited about the prospect of bouldering.  I couldn’t roust the teenager.  At 9:00am he rolled over and replied to my inquiry into his interest level for going out in the woods with a: “I just woke up, Dad” though he really hadn’t. 

She didn’t even fuss on the half mile hike in.  The trail is overgrown and follows an old logging road.  It’s really not a bad walk in the winter, but now, at the close of summer, the weeds, greenbriars, and low hanging limbs mostly obscure the trail.

Once we reached the boulders memories came flittering back.  I chose to drop our gear at a rock I called “Tennis Shoe Boulder” back in the early Aughts.  Likely I put up the problems fifteen years ago.  Bean put on her shoes and started slumming around as I walked amongst the boulders letting my soft, pink hands glide over the moss and lichen covered rocks.

Doin' her dad proud on Strider Left V0-

Some quality father/daughter time

Finally I put on my own shoes and waltzed up a problem called Strider Left.  Apparently I never climbed Strider, which is the vertical right side of a featured arĂȘte.  The left variation is a lower angle easy problem which also serves as the downclimb for the boulder.  Bean followed me up and then we had fun getting her back down.  I extolled her on the value of developing solid downclimbing skillz. 

We moved next door to the Summer Block and I did some light brushing.  But for the most part the holds were good.  Without much ado I grabbed onto the starting holds of another featured arĂȘte called Sleepwalker and balanced up the vertical corner on excellent holds.  Despite the fact that I probably only climbed the line half a dozen times or less well over a decade ago muscle memory kicked in.  My body remembered the holds and the movements required to ascend twelve feet into the air and deposit itself on the flat summit of the block.  

There was a surreal moment when my fingers wrapped around an iron oxide protrusion and the synapses in my brain all lit up in recognition.  The previous holds on the climb had seemed familiar, but one in particular triggered a flood of memory.  Images and sensations flashed through my mind and threatened to drop me off the corner onto the crashpad below.  I smiled to myself, contracted flabby old muscles in an organic reboot of how they would have moved so long ago, and I finished the problem.

Attempting Eye of the Dragon V1
Did every move except the dirty top out

Bean got bored until I let her take photos with my expensive camera.  And then I finally decided the better part of valor was leaving while I could still walk the next day and open jars of pickles with my bare hands over the course of the next week.  I reluctantly packed up the gear and pointed Bean toward the car. 

It’s a long path back to peak climbing levels.  I know that.   Since I’m not a full time climbing bum anymore I need to be smarter about any return to climbing status.  I can’t count on frequency and volume to get me into shape.  I must cross train my body.  I have to take care of myself better than I did in my stupider days.  And I need to maintain perspective and priority in my life.  Balance.

I’ve only put mountain biking on hold as I cure up the inflammation in my eyes.  I visited the optometrist last week and he gave me these miracle eye drops which are curing me pretty good.  I pick up new contact lenses later this week, and then I should be back in business.  I figured bouldering was a safe bet with glasses, but I cursed and raged against the perpetual fogging and obscuring of my vision.  I’m really sick of being blind.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: Little Donnies Edition

The other day I was listening to a radio interview and the interviewee indicated that a lot of boomer-aged American men feel as if they’ve been bypassed in society or made obsolete in our Digital Age.  They represent about a third of men in our country.  Whether they actively participate in or acknowledge the Good Old Boy system they have benefited from it for a long time and they see the foundations of their lifestyles and career cultures eroding out from under them.  They’re not used to working for or under women.  And so someone like Donald Trump appeals to this demographic.

There is the…”Little Dickie” theory that men overcompensate for minute genitalia by surrounding themselves with big and loud toys like oversized diesel pickup trucks, high caliber or expensive guns, glasspacks, ATVs, power tools, trophy wives, and annual gym memberships.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things except ATVs and glasspacks (and your wife should be more than a trophy).  However, possession of these things are clear symptoms of a lack of confidence in sexual or physical prowess. 

I find this interesting because I myself suffer from a chronic, persistent, and debilitating lack of confidence.  I doubt myself mentally and even physically most of the time.  While I’m a hearty 5’9” and 190+ lbs and a lot more muscle than in my younger days, my self-concept is tainted by a couple of decades of my early life where I was hardly 140 lbs soaking wet and couldn’t fight my way out of a wet paper sack.  Throw in some fairly profound myopia and poor taste in clothing and you can imagine what kind of bully-magnet I was in school.  I’ve really never learned to fight, as you may remember from my most recent foray into professional sports watching.  While I'm not the scrawny, geeky kid anymore I do still carry around a lot of residual baggage from that time in my life and still have a poor self-image because of it.

Ironically, I don't feel the need to assert my dominance over women.  Donald Trump does not speak to me or for me.  I don't feel left out of society or commerce because of minorities and women.  I've done fairly well in life despite a slow pace to prosperity and some setback along the way.  A lot of my problems stem from my mental health issues and therefore and not directly related to how our society treats me or mine.  Of course I have my scathing critiques of how people with mental "abnormalities" are expected to behave, but I'll not digress down that rabbit hole today.

As a white male I am deeply offended by Donald Trump.  I'm also deeply offended by his defenders who claim that all men talk like this and many even express that if you're a man and you you don't there must be something wrong with you.  I'm offended by the women that say its just part of the way the world works and therefore you have to accept it.  I don't buy that either, because as a man who does not participate in the locker room misogyny, the racism, the gross stereotyping, and the upholding of all things white male I have struggled myself to advance in my life and my career.  I don't like organized sports and I end up being ostracized by my peers because I don't have a favorite team or play fantasy football.  Even though the sports I enjoy take a lot more mental endurance and fortitude that some measly game on a court or field.  I don't like golf and therefore don't have the opportunity to rub elbows with powerful old white men who might help me along in my career toward six figure nirvana.  My intelligence and experience count for little in a world shaped by the Good Old Boy network because I refuse to play the game.  And I've been chastised for my views on playing said game.  If I don't play then what should I expect?

I expect that if I work hard and obey the law that perhaps I should be able to support my family without fear of losing everything I've worked for.  But without the Good Old Boys that's hard to achieve and hold onto.  I expect that if I treat others well and take care of my family that perhaps I should be able to live in peace according to my own unobtrusive values and beliefs.  But without adhering to the Good Old Boy standard talking points I'm just a "libtard" and an "egghead intellectual."

Y'know, I maintained political independence until just this year.  But I finally couldn't take it anymore.  I changed my party affiliation to "democrat."  It was purely in defiance to the GOP.  I decided if politics in this country only work in polarity then I'd go ahead and pick sides now while there was still time.  I wanted to express to the world that I abhor what the Right has done to this world.  I detest that my religious beliefs have been co-opted by so called conservatives in order to garner the votes of the masses.  I detest that I can't even say the phrase "social justice" without being lambasted by a wingnut cult member.  I've been branded a Marxist in 2016 because I think human beings ought to be able to walk in their home towns without being run over by maniacs behind the wheels of cars.

While I lack self-confidence, I am confident that I don't need some bloviating megalomaniac acting as a spokesperson for my political concerns.  I'm confident that I don't need to drive a loud pickup truck up and down Hatton Creek Road rattling the paint off of everyone's house to verify my virility.  I'm confident that on a level playing field that I'm actually a normal and competent person and have a lot to offer my community.  I'm not threatened by women, minorities, or tight pants.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Little Late, But Still a Good Report

So let's get this out of the way early on...I'm no climbing hard man.  The closest I ever go to that coveted status was maybe when I went out solo exploring and bouldering and put up tons of stuff without a soul around.  And maybe those quasi-suicidal ground up ropes solo first ascents (which were all sub-moderate in difficulty). 

Mandy and Bean and I met up with some friends at Dip Wall on Saturday to climb.  Recently Mandy and I took Runaway Rhonda (the teen niece) to Dip Wall and I had a poor day of climbing.  I backed off a route I'd led many times.  When we arrived at the wall Miles was cleaning the route next to it and getting ready to lead the one I flubbed a few weeks ago so I jumped on the one Miles had just vacated.  And had to back off.

photo by Becky Brewer

I top roped Green Eggs, the left route, and felt old and fat.  Then we moved to The Grinch/Whoville area and I conned Miles into leading The Grinch, a sandbagged (literally and figuratively) 5.4 that is still somehow fun.  I didn't feel much more solid on The Grinch, though I think I was starting to find my climbing legs again.  My feet were definitely part of my confidence problem. I'm not conditioned to standing on small edges in ballet slippers anymore.  Most people have the misconception that rock climbing is all about the upper body, but truly it isn't.  It's a full body assault.  I'm sore everywhere today.

It's nasty and green.  Do you understand why they call it "The Grinch" now?

It was fun.  The smells of climbing activated long dormant recesses of my brain.  The sandstone, the chalk, the nylon all blended together in a unique aroma that clings to you long after you return home.  You have to shower it off like the smell of a bad affair.  There's no denying you played hooky to go climbing in the Red River Gorge unless you exfoliate that essence from your body.

We ate like fiends without guilt that night.  Our bellies sang an off key chorus of hunger as we struggled to get through the grocery store without ripping into the chip aisle. Nom! Nom! Nom!  Food tastes better after a day of climbing.  I've done numerous studies.

Sunday afternoon I cleared out, taking the kids out to Hatton Ridge to mountain bike and leaving Mandy to a quiet and relatively obstruction free house.  I used to spend a lot of time roaming Hatton Ridge and the drainages that flank it.  A LOT of time.  

We parked at Hatton Cemetery and pedaled south along the rolling ridge, passing the upper terminus of Powder Mill Trail, and then turned west onto the unofficial spur trail to Blackburn Rock.

Boone wasn't feeling great.  In retrospect I think it was a combination of little physical activity in his life and dehydration.  First world problems.  But he soldiered on and eventually we made our way out to the stunning overlook.  Bean rode the user defined singletrack like a pro even successfully hopping a couple of logs.

Couldn't bunny hop this one

It was such a nice day with perfect temps and a startling blue sky we lingered in the sun-baked rock for a good long while.  I balled up an unnecessary fleece jacket and lay for awhile in the aromatic pine needles a few yard into the woods to protect my sensitive eyes from the solar dome of the sky.

Finally I had to coerce Bean to give up more time at Blackburn.  She had contented herself to occupying the overlook.  Boone and I chilled in the woods.  But our time trickled away.  I was cognizant of how therapeutic it was to just be.  To just lay in the woods and absorb the peace and quiet into my bones.  I go too much too fast and parry a daily fusillade of background noise.  I needed that respite. 

But even the ride back was therapy.  Usually my high subsides as I feel myself being drawn into the gravity well of normal life.  I held onto the now--held onto being in the moment--far longer than I usually do.

All was good until the second moderate rolling climb.

"You said it was all downhill on the way back," Bean whined as she pushed her bike up the hill.

"I said it was mostly downhill on the way back," I corrected, but I really couldn't remember what I said.

The last half mile to the car was a battle of wills.  I'm not sure what my nine-going-on-nineteen year old expected me to do.

It was a miserable half mile.  In the end she said she had fun [I had to clench the steering wheel a little tighter when she said it] and Boone seemed to be in great spirits too.  As the day wound down I couldn’t help but think that dwelling in the moment, spending time with my kids in the out of doors, was terribly good for my soul.  We had a great time. 

It was a great weekend.