Friday, December 30, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: Chainring Year in Review

So many people are hating on 2016.   And I get it.  Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Bernie Sanders…it’s been a big year of losses.  The rise of Donald Trump has been the scary shadow darkening it all.  I don’t necessarily want to delve into the political apocalyptia, though I fear in the future I’ll be unable to ignore it.  Instead I want to focus on the focus of this blog which should have been reporting on my outdoor adventures in 2016.

Early in the year I spent some time revisiting Clifty Wilderness.  It wasn’t an intentional hiking theme; it just seemed to happen.  I hiked the Douglas Trail into the Upper Gorge, along Swift Camp Creek below Funk Rock City, and I made a trip down into the amazing gorge of Mariba Fork.  While I had a different reason for visiting (GPSing climbing area approaches for Rakkup) I used the opportunity to capture some of my better imagery of the year.  Those three hikes along with others I made over the course of the year tugged me back toward the Gorge on foot to explore and enjoy my favorite wild place on earth.


Also early in the year we experienced Snowmageddon.  On Bean’s birthday we enjoyed the Hatton Creek Nordic Center’s fine offering of completely ungroomed terrain.  The best skiing was along Hatton Creek Road after my neighbors had packed it down into a solid sheet of ice.


The year has definitely seen the explosion of interest in mountain biking in Eastern Kentucky. My own efforts to grow mountain biking in the Gorge area have yielded fruit.  We completed the Flat Hollow Arch Trail and “The Extension” section of the Hillbilly Hayduke Trail.  We also began what will become a marquee riding experience yet to be revealed.  And I started work on the Shackle Rod Trail in Bald Rock which I hope will become one of the coveted easy/intermediate difficulty rides in the region. 

Dave and I worked with the Forest Service to identify a viable reroute to the old school Powder Mill Branch Trail.  Surprisingly they have agreed to divert resources into the trail and it’s in the pipeline to be studied and hopefully approved for much needed reroutes and a significant extension which will nearly double the length of the trail and make it a much better experience.

In other locales ongoing efforts have come to light and a great deal of interest has been shown for the Prestonsburg trail system at Jenny Wiley known more commonly as the Sugarcamp Mountain Trails.  The trails at Cave Run and around Morehead have been growing and we finally got momentum behind an Eastern Kentucky mountain bike advocacy group in the Cave Run – Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance which will soon be a chapter of IMBA.

Of course the presidential primaries yammered in the background throughout the early part of the year.  It was hard to believe the Republicans offered up such poor quality candidates while the Democrats focused on making Clinton their one and only champion.  Of course we were entertained just like the Romans who loved watching their favorite gladiators.  And in the end there was just carnage and ruin.  But I digress…

I also worked to improve the quality of recreational life in my small community.  I’ve been working to get two new boat accesses in Clay City on the Red River and in the long term to get more small craft accesses along the River along the entire length of the river.  We’re soooo close now!  I also championed a short multiuse trail south of Stanton through the community industrial park and applied for a grant to get it built.  We haven’t heard yet if we were awarded the money, but there is a distinct possibility that it may see daylight in the coming year as well.  I convinced my employer to create a space for me and they agreed for me to be the unofficial (for now) regional bike-ped coordinator and trails and greenways specialist for our area.  While I’ve been focused a lot on land use planning I have been busy working on other trail projects and we hope in the future that I will be able to dedicate all of my time to these efforts.

I also spent a few months as a board member for KYMBA Bluegrass, but left to help get the new IMBA chapter going.  I’ve been elected interim president until we have enough members and a full board but I have a feeling the title is going to stick for a while.

Our Slade Trail Town efforts have paid off as well.  I sat on that committee and provided significant input into a vision for trails in the future.  I think Slade’s recognition should have been a foregone conclusion, but I’m happy to have been a part of the committee that actually saw the process through and made it happen.

Through most of these efforts I’ve struggled with my role.  The deep and honest truth is I don’t want to be an advocate.  I don’t want to be the guy who works to create trail opportunities and who plans and builds trails.  I really just want to come home from a hard day of writing from home, throw on my kit, and go hit the trails until dark or hunger overtakes me.  To be one hundred percent honest I don’t care about community or synergy or any of those lofty ideas.  I just want to ride my damn bike.  I get dragged into all of the other things because no one else has stepped up to be the champion in my area and so therefore none of the experiences I want to have exists.  I teeter between selfish ambition and in a lucid vision for what the area could be.  The vision is what keeps me hyperfocused, and the selfish ambition drives the strategies to recruit, cajole, and shame others into helping me realize the vision.

I rode in a few new areas this year.  I went to Knoxville, Tennessee in the spring for the Professional Trail Builders Association conference.  It was a great conference, and I got to sample riding in the area including the Knoxville Urban Wilderness, Sharp’s Ridge, and Bandy Creek in the Big South Fork.

As a family we made a couple of trips to ride the Dawkins Line to our immediate east.  I made one detour and quick ride at Jenny Wiley on the way back from a SOAR conference in Pikeville.  Continuing in the conference opportunist theme for early 2016 I rode at Waverly and the new Parklands at Floyd’s Fork in Louisville during the Governor’s Local Issues Conference.
Dawkins Line Rail Trail

Parklands at Floyd's Fork

Sheltowee Trace south of S-Tree

I also finally rode at S-Tree south of home.  I meant to ride the singletrack section of the Sheltowee north of the campground but ended up taking a wrong turn and rode quite a bit of the multiuse (ATV/MTB/hike/horseback) section south of S-Tree.  While it wasn’t a terrible experience it did just reinforce in my mind the travesty of the management of the Sheltowee Trace.

Over Fourth of July we camped at Zilpo on Cave Run and paddled a bit in our new kayaks.  We obtained two as birthday/Mothers Day/Fathers Day gifts for Mandy and I and two more so we could take the kids.  We also spent time on the Red River and checking out some area lakes and ponds over the summer.  We’re really looking forward to improved access on the Red at Clay City in the coming year.

Once again Mandy and I and her dad and Jeaph and Casey made our annual pilgrimage to Loudonville, Ohio for the Mohican 100.  Jeaph did the race and I committed to photographing the race.  Afterward Jeaph insisted that my photos were the best of all those he saw online from other photographers.  I was skeptical, but when I looked at the other galleries I realized I had taken some memorable shots.  That inspired me to try and shoot the Rough Trail 50k ultra-trail run in November and try to sell my images.  While the photos turned out good I failed to capture the entire field.  I also lack the technical skills to set up a working online interface so I have yet to put the images out for purchase so I feel I have somewhat failed even though I managed to get some decent shots.  I don’t know that I’m ready to start doing this even part time until I sort out the business side of it.
Mohican 100

Rough Trail 50k
In writing I finally got to see my name in print.  Keith Snyder’s third installment of the RIDE short story collections was published.  My piece “All You Haters” was the first story in the book.  That boosted my confidence and gave me a shot of inspiration.  I still have not put Leadville or Bust out into the world but I got a lot closer.  A good friend designed a stellar cover for me and I almost pulled the trigger to buy ISBNs for digital and print editions.  Soon…

I also penned a piece I called “The Economy of Rock and Dirt.”  It began as a blog post here, but I also submitted it to my local paper and they published it.  While I didn’t get a lot of positive local feedback it has become a sort of outline for my public meeting rhetoric in regards to economic and tourism development.

While I still long to be a professional writer I just don’t see the clear path out of the dark labyrinth of my mind carrying the words and ideas I have been burdened with.  It’s complicated and exhausting to think about.

Last Christmas I got some new climbing gear.  Alter in the year I sent my old camming devices off to have their slings replaced.  While we didn’t exactly have a good ROI in 2016 I am determined to return to climbing at least at a casual level.  I may never climb hard again, but I will climb as long as my body allows.  I fully intend to be active into my sixties, seventies, and hopefully beyond. 


I made a disappointing but enjoyable return to mountain bike racing in 2016.  Instead of shooting for the moon with endurance racing I tried my hand at short course mountain bike racing.  Initially I had intended to participate in a slew of the Kentucky Point Series races but only managed to make the Cave Run and Capitol View Park (Bluegrass State Games) races, and I finally bit the bullet and did the 12 Hours of Capitol View race though it cost me some recovery time after a couple of hard crashes in the mud.  Mandy and I also participated in the Wildcat Mountain Challenge in Livingston.  While I enjoyed it thoroughly despite being woefully unprepared for the effort many of the racers were rightly annoyed at the poor course markings and slipshod organization of the event.  It did act as a sort of shakedown cruise for our new kayaks.
12 Hours of CVP
The summer was punctuated nicely by the KYMBA Women’s Clinic.  I volunteered as a “local trail guide” and Mandy participated in the event.  We both had a great day and it inspired us to go visit Cave Run soon after.  Mandy enjoyed that trip as well, despite it being a ride suspiciously like many of our historic epics in the past.  But instead of being disastrous it was actually an enjoyable mountain bike ride in the woods.  I can’t say enough good things about skills clinics.  I feel like my own riding would greatly benefit from one and Mandy and I both agree the Women’s Clinic did a world of good for her.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have it in her to be a good rider.  She’s been a solid road cyclist for years.  She’s put in hundred if not thousands of miles on her bike and knows her way around velocipedic conveyances, but just simple demonstrations and practice of basic skills can bring a rider up to a common level of proficiency that increases the enjoyment of the activity whatever it may be.  I hope that the CRRRGMBA can host many such clinics in the coming years.

As a final bookend of the year I had an epiphany.  Ever since I discovered an unnatural love for long distance mountain biking I’ve wanted to see a one hundred mile mountain bike race occur in the Red River Gorge area; not within the Gorge proper but in this immediate area.  I’ve considered putting one on myself ever since we moved back from Colorado.  The main hurdle was the lack of a good off-pavement route. 

Autumn was dry in our neck of the woods as it was in many places.  After a protracted dry spell I decided it was time to go out and revisit some old haunts that I had found destroyed by ATV/ORVs while we abided in the Colorful State.  First I rode Spaas Creek and Pumpkin Hollow in an eighteen mile loop.  I realized I was riding a portion of the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway which had opened to the public earlier in 2016.  It had been pieced together as an “off-road” scenic tour of the Gorge area for street legal off-road vehicles.  It was advertised as being all on county “maintained” roads.  I enjoyed my Spaas/Pumpkin loop and when I looked deeper into the DBBB I discovered it was a ninety mile loop.  Ninety.  That’s almost one hundred.

That revelation alone didn’t spawn a one hundred mile mountain bike race, but the gears were turning.  What popped my clutch was learning that good old Joe was planning to put on a one hundred mile mountain bike race.  Joe—who had no idea people raced mountain bikes that far before meeting me—Joe—who is not a mountain biker—Joe—who has never raced mountain bikes in his life or participated in a mountain bike race…Joe was going to realize my dream and vision.  If it had been anyone else I think I would have been stoked.  If someone else were organizing the race that would mean I could just sign up, train, and utterly fail to win.  BUT, that would also mean things had really changed in the area and mountain biking was really taking off.  Instead, it was just Joe trying to capitalize on something he knows absolutely nothing about.  Deep in my bones it felt wrong.  Something in me snapped, and I began fighting to make my vision for a mountain bike race reality.

I have days that I just don’t want to do it.  I regret ever committing to doing it.  I could still walk away.  I’ve not invested much money in it yet.  Just a couple of URLs.  But I want to see this happen.  There has been a huge wave of positive interest in the race.  I have people offering to help.  And I’ll need help!  It’s going to be a lot of work.  It’s going to be a big thing. 

I harbor no illusions that someday my job will be organizing this race, so that hangs out there like some space junk for our colony ship to hit.  Our Starship Titanic. 

Something holds me on this course.  For now.  I want to see this through.  Too many things in life I give up on.  Too many things in life I leave undone.  It’s my burden and my curse.

When I do complete things they end up being good.  That should be enough to keep me motivated, but somehow it’s not. 

I got a new bike this year.  It’s a mountain bike.  It’s a plus-sized bike.  It’s designed for moderately paced adventure and not so much for racing.  The bike is fun to ride.  It provides opportunities for escape and for experience.  I guess for a bookend to 2016 that’s a pretty good thing to sign off on.  I have the tools to pedal away from my front porch and go out into the world a-wheel and just be.  That should be enough.

I’ve decided in 2017 I will go back to tracking my bicycling miles.  And running.  And maybe hiking and paddling too.  I won’t do this to humble brag.  My intention is to keep myself motivated and inspired and hopefully to show others what is possible. 

My hope is that a year from now you’ll be reading a more mellow and satisfied Chainring.  My hope is that a year from now I will be offering you less gadgets and more game.  My hope is that in the coming year we can forget the coming atrocities, neglect to care about socio-political divisiveness, and just ride our bikes.  Or hike on trails.  Or paddle the rivers.  Or lay on our backs under clear night skies and lose ourselves in the stars.  I don’t need a moon to howl at.  I go quietly, and carefully, and try not to make my presence known so much.  I rather to look back and talk about where I’ve been and who I’ve ran with and dream about where I’ll go next time.

The last thing I really need to say is that I have come to appreciate my family for different reasons this past year.  I know I may not have conveyed that distinctly here, but its been something I've worked quietly in my mind.  I love my wife more than ever.  We've had our rough times in 2016, but after seventeen years together I am as confident now as I was all those years ago that we are right for each other.  We compliment each other in ways I truly still do not understand. 
My children are growing into amazing people.  It's hard to believe they're almost ten and fourteen.  They've shared this journey with us and they've been a part of all of my adventures whether they were with me or I was thinking of how I could include them the next time I visited whatever incredible place I was in at the time.  I may have failed to crack the nut but not for lack of will.  I wrestle with other demons that make it difficult for me to process the world outside my head.  Sometimes I get lazy and opt to focus inwardly.  That's my own struggle, and I forever seek to throw off that burden from my shoulders, but as of yet have not.
Having said all that, I look forward to watching my kids grow into adults and to see who they become and all of the amazing things they'll do in life.  I hope I have brewed some recklessness into them, but also a sober and thoughtful approach to life and to changing the world.  If not, that is my intent in the coming years.  The underlying and perhaps unstated theme of 2016 for me has been: "if not me, then who?" 


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