Thursday, June 22, 2017

Finding Ourselves In Memory


TRIP REPORT: Or How I Learned How to Mess Up a Perfectly Good Summit Hike
 January 02, 2009   
Yesterday as the first dawn of the new year was breaking I crossed over Kenosha Pass into South Park and saw the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen in my life. I drove on toward Jefferson, CO with snow blowing in a straight line across the road. That made me nervous since my objective was the summit of Bison Peak, which was a few thousand feet higher than the windscoured flats of South Park.
I drove down Tarryall Creek, past the frozen Tarryall Reservoir and marveled at the alien landscape.
At the Ute Creek Trailhead I anticipated bonechilling temps higher up because it was very cold as I wrangled my gear around. My hands were numb by the time I got my car door locked and was on my way. Fortunately it got much warmer as the day grew. Unfortunately I had overpacked and ended up stashing my snowshoes halfway up the trail. I continued on with my skis (bonehead!) and after much labor, depleting all my water (2 liters plus a liter on the drive over!) and slogging through steep but shallow snow I finally reached the surreal summit plateau of Bison around 12:25pm. I had been hiking for four hours and forty minutes and had traveled about 4.25 miles.
I had read a lot about Bison the past few weeks. It sounded like an absolutely amazing hike. And it was…but it took too much out of me. Remember my epic 28 mile round trip in 24 hours summit attempt on Clingman's Dome over Christmas Break of '05? No, well, yesterday was my next most epic hike ever. I did about 10 miles in 8 hours and 45 minutes with about 3,600' in elevation gain. I had returned to Colorado only two days prior and I have a feeling my lack of acclimatization and my overall unfitness contributed heavily to my failure on Bison as well as my poor choice to take my skis, snowshoes and crampons along.
Failure? Yeah, I made it to within 100' vertical feet of the summit. Why not all the way? I dropped my pack by the distinct spire just south of the summit and pushed on with only the clothes on my back. I was ragged, headaching, sucking wind, legs watery…I was in no shape to go on. I really should have turned back long before. But once I reached the vast open summit plateau I could see my goal. So I went for it.
But once in the summit complex of blobby Lost Creek granite I couldn't figure out which was the true summit and all options looked like they were going to lead to 5th class climbing, of which I was most definitely not up to. I tried to get up on one less difficult looking hump but gave up after the wind gusts had battered me to the point of cursing. My mind was less than clear and my body was shutting down. I turned back.
I hated to have walked away after having put so much effort into going so far. But I didn't want to risk climbing myself into a situation I couldn't get out of, or of falling up there.
The trip down went faster, but drained me beyond what most outdoor efforts would. The whole day I ate a cinnamon roll, a Clif Bar, a Milky Way and a couple handfuls of almonds. My best calculation says I burned over 5,000 calories. I was absolutely spent by the time I staggered up to my car just after sunset.

***

June 22, 2017
I’ve been thinking about this trip all week.  For whatever reason, earlier in the week I pondered what was the most amazing place I had ever been.  I’ve been to some pretty cool places.  I thought of peaks I had summited, ambitious bike rides I had done, and when it came down to it from an aesthetic and spiritual point of view I had to put Bison Peak in the Lost Creek Wilderness and Tarryall Mountains just to the east of South Park, Colorado at the top. 
From the summit plateau of Bison looking over South Park
The other two trips which are contenders for the coolest position I’ve gotten myself into is the summit of Father Dyer Peak in the Tenmile Range and the summit of Squaretop Mountain after riding to Guanella Pass from the plains and hiking to the summit.  All three trips I did solo and while Mandy and the kids were visiting Kentucky, but the cool thing about Bison is I went back with Mandy later and we summited.
What was significant about my failed attempt on Bison on New Year’s Day of 2009 was the sheer distance I was able to put between myself and my mundane every day life.  The trailhead is 80+ miles from Denver, 40 miles from Bailey which is the nearest decent sized town, and 20 miles from Jefferson which is little more than a ghost town in the middle of desolate South Park.  South Park is one of those places that really make you feel like you’re on the moon.  And to get to the Ute Creek Trailhead you drive down into South Park from Kenosha Pass (one of my favorite places on earth) and make a hard left at Jefferson and then drive past nothing.  And more nothing.  And then a little bit of almost something.
Along Tarryall Creek
The summit is six miles from the trailhead and on 1.1.09 as I began getting my gear out of the car I couple came off the trail to get in their own car.  They looked at me shouldering my heavy pack with my skis strapped to the back and with sternly concerned looks on their faces asked me where I was going.  They became more stern when I told them I was headed for Bison Peak. 
I assure them I knew what I was getting into and bade them farewell.  As they drove slowly up Tarryall Creek I had the moment of realization that I was completely dependent upon modern technology for my continued survival at that point.  If Forester Gump decided not to start—dead battery or something more innocuous—or I were to sprain my ankle somewhere out on the trail I would be up a creek of the crap kind.
When I reached my high point on that hike I was as far from “civilization” as I had been in my entire life.  And I don’t think I’ve been so alone or isolated any time before or since.  I have to admit it was an intoxicating feeling, though terrifying in its own way.  There was only one other time in my life I felt as tenuously attached to the world as I did that day.  But that’s a story for another time.
 
***
 
Here's the account of the backpacking trip Mandy and I took which put us on the summit of Bison Peak:
Summit Day: Success on Bison Peak
I wasn't sure if I should start thinking about going down or not. But even if I decided we needed to go down I wasn't sure how we would manage. Mandy sat on the opposite side of the trail, elbows on knees and head bobbing as she nodded off again.

Glancing up I saw towers on a far peak and I realized I might possibly use the cell phone. I got it out of the pack, turned on the cellular data and saw a bar and a half. Hallelujah!

It took a couple of minutes of moving around on the slope looking for a clear line of sight to the distant towers, but I finally managed three bars and as soon as I had connectivity I googled "altitude sickness symptoms."

We've both been affected by altitude before. Mandy has never had trouble between 11-12,000'. We were just shy of 10,000' when she started nodding and being lethargic. As I perused the interweb she snoozed and I tried not to worry. But when I saw "fatigue" as a major symptom I let out a sigh of relief. I was concerned that something else was going on.

She finally stirred and I laid it out: "You're being affected by altitude. We need to decide if we're going to head down now, or if we're going to go on. If we go down, we need to go down NOW. It's after four o'clock. If we decide to go on we're committed and if you don't start feeling better we're going to have to stick it out for the night."

Mandy assured me she could make it to Bison Pass, a half mile distant and only a few hundred feet higher. We could see the pass above and I knew from my previous attempt on Bison Peak in the Tarryall Mountains in the Lost Creek Wilderness of Colorado that the pass is relatively flat and many good campsites exist there.

I knew all of this because on New Year's Day 2009 I drove from Denver to the Ute Creek Trailhead, arriving just after dawn, and I made my solo winter attempt on Bison.

I failed, mainly because of the effects of altitude, but partly because I carried too much crap. We had just bought cross country skis and I had not had a chance to use them, so I took them along hoping an opportunity would arise. I also took my snow shoes because I figured if I needed to slog through deep snow the skis wouldn't do me much good since I knew nothing about using them. Yeah, I know how that sounds.

I was barred from the true summit that cold day by the devious false summit which lured me into it's 5th class western side. I gave up as my head throbbed in the thin atmosphere. I bailed within a few hundred yards of the true summit. I discovered my folly when I returned home and checked out the area in Google Earth.

I had not returned to attempt Bison in the intervening months because it was a long drive and a full day on the trail: 12.2 miles as listed on Summit Post. Our kids have been visiting family for the month of June and this weekend would be our last alone together before the kids return. We opted for backpacking, and Bison popped to the front of my mind and the top of my short list.

We threw it all together Thursday night. I had Friday off and the plan was to get up early and head out. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the trailhead, despite gas stops, traffic in the metro area and construction on Tarryall Creek Road.

We struck out from the trailhead about 11:30am. It was around three o'clock when Mandy started to feel the acute effects of altitude. Not without irony, the trail steepened around the same time. Our pace slowed to a crawl, almost literally. I began to fear another failed attempt on Bison. A second failure wouldn't bother me if it meant we were bailing so Mandy could feel better. I was okay with the idea of descending to alleviate her altitude sickness. I was miserable on my solo attempt on Bison. I took too little water and bit off more than I could chew. It's amazing to me, even now, that I didn't get stuck descending from Bison in the dark.

On this recent trip we took quite a bit of water, but it was still spare in context. After the second mile of the hike in there was no water source. I was hoping we'd find patches of snow or pools of water leftover from the snowmelt up high.

We struggled to Bison Pass and found a
suitable campsite. We dropped the packs and then set about putting up the tent, stringing a line for a bear bag and fixing dinner
. Mandy's spirits seemed to rise as we rested in camp. We talked about the next day and our plans. Water was going to be a concern. We had about two and a quarter liters. Altitude sickness was a related, but more pressing issue. Mandy felt better in camp and we agreed if she felt okay in the morning we'd make an attempt on the summit.

Camp was relaxing. We rested in the tent
with the rain fly off
as the sky darkened and the air cooled. At sunset the temperature was about 60°F and the forecasted low in Jefferson, about 2,000' lower in elevation, was 40°F. The temperature had dropped about ten degrees when the sun went down so I got out and put the fly on, but left the door unzipped.

Around ten o'clock I was tired enough so I shut the phone down, zipped up the fly door and turned in.

As usual, I didn't sleep well in the great out-of-doors. It was TOO quiet. It was a calm night, very little wind, and nothing was stirring. I'm used to sleeping with the white noise of a fan, so the stillness, while soothing in its own right made it difficult to sleep.

It never got terribly cold. I checked the thermo-meter early in the morning before dawn and it was about 40°F in the tent.

We were both awake by 5:50am. We dressed and ate a cold breakfast and were on the trail headed toward the summit plateau of Bison by 7:00am.

Hiking slow, we took in the expanding view as we climbed toward treeline. We were first rewarded by a
clear view of the Puma Hills, then very soon after we found an overlook where we saw a good portion of the Continental Divide as well as the lower peaks of the Tarryalls
.

At our first stop we discussed out options. We'd talked about the potential side trip to McCurdy Peak the night before. McCurdy would be an additional 4 miles total for the day. We decided we'd give McCurdy a go first, and then bag Bison on the return trip since it was a shorter detour than McCurdy from the main trail.

Continuing our slow and steady pace we soon rose above treeline and the breathtaking views did not help our bodies acclimate any faster. The sun blazed over the ridge just as we reached the summit plateau.

We paused to survey Bison's summit area and then followed cairns across the tundra toward McCurdy.

We reached a point where it was obvious that an ascent of McCurdy from our current location was going to involve crossing a deep saddle. We could see the entire route and it looked straightforward, but neither of us had the gumption to make that crossing. We decided Bison would be enough for us for this trip.

When I had reached the summit plateau on my solo push the first day of 2009 I topped out on the plateau after slogging through deep snow from Bison Pass up through the trees to treeline. I had stashed my snowshoes and skis far below just before the Ute Creek Trail steepened. Wallowing in hip deep snow on a steep slope will take a lot out of you and magnify the effects of altitude whilst increasing your dehydration.

I staggered across the plateau toward the looming false summit full of determination that I would push through my pain and discomfort and summit. But I failed. My addled brain made some poor choices. I got sucked into a deep gully between the towering fins and domes of the false summit massif and tried to ascend some 5th class terrain. Finally I gave up. I was beaten. I was spent.

My long descent is foggy in my memory. I made it to the car before sunset, water bottles dry as my lips.

I drove home in darkness, dejected at my failure, but reveling in the experience.

Mandy and I strolled happily across the expansive summit plateau. I planned out a route as we looked up at the piles of huge stones around the summit.

Moving slowly we made steady time. Each time we tried to pick up the pace the thin air smacked us down. The last two or three hundred feet were steep and our path wound through boulders and slabs up through the tundra to the backside of the true summit.

At 9:30am we finally we sat at the top with an absolutely amazing panorama wrapped around us.
Mount Evans to the north, The Divide to the northwest and west. Silverheels to the west above South Park and snowy peaks continuing south. Pikes Peak dominated the south with the southern summit plateau of Bison and McCurdy in the foreground. To the east jutted Buffalo Peak and Windy Peak
as a backdrop for the rugged landscape of Lost Creek.

We signed the summit register "Found ourselves in Lost Creek Wilderness" and took the obligatory self portrait and began the long trek back. We left the pinnacle at ten o'clock.

Of course as we started down we both began to feel better. We were not pushing ourselves away from the earth any longer. We were letting gravity do the work. Recognizing that gravity would beat our feet and legs all to pieces over the next 6 miles as we would lose 3,500' in elevation., we took things slowly.



At noon we were at the Ute Creek and Brookside-McCurdy Trail junction on the west end of Bison Pass talking to a nice middle-aged couple who were headed for the summit of Bison Peak from the Lost Creek Trailhead. We had lunch in our bellies and all our gear packed up and on our backs.

Bidding the couple success on Bison and giving them a couple of pointers on finding the true summit we turned south and began the steep descent down the Ute Creek Trail.

We knew it was going to be rough. We knew it was going to be painful on our soft toes and unconditioned knees. We were right.

The water was gone. The sun was high and beating down on us. The trail was steep and gravelly and four miles long from Bison Pass back to the car.

Not far from the wilderness boundary we reached the highest source of water. Of course we were only about a mile and a half from the car at that point. We were just thirsty enough that it was worth getting the filter out and pumping a couple of liters of cold water.

Down. Down. Down. We continued as blisters formed. We continued as out feet ached more and more. Mandy's legs jellied. When she stopped and picked up a foot it shook like crazy. We talked about dinner. We sucked down the water as we hiked out.

Finally. Finally we reached the valley alongside Tarryall Creek. We could see the road across the valley and the stand of trees where the trailhead is located. The home stretch.

Mosquitoes drove us out of the parking area before we could stretch our legs at all. And then we were flying northwest on Tarryall Creek Road toward Jefferson.

At Jefferson we turned right on US 285 and were soon climbing over Kenosha Pass. I fought off sleepy as I pushed Forester Gump toward home.

It was a good trip. Mandy's first backpacking trip. It was my second attempt on Bison and her first. We found ourselves in Lost Creek Wilderness.
 
 

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Captain Fantastic


I am a father to two great kids.  They’re both smart and funny and not very likely to be able to find a pair of clean socks in their rooms if their lives depended on it.  They’re thoughtful and helpful and they are well behaved with good manners.  Well, the little one falls short sometimes, but I think her age contributes, and then again, when she’s good she’s really good.
 
I am uncle to some great kids, too.  I can’t take full credit for how they’re turning out, but I can take a lot.  I’ve taken them rock climbing, mountain biking, paddling, hiking, and dirt digging.  So yeah, I’m kind of a good dad/uncle.
 

Dirty kids are the best kids
 
They were miserable that summer they spent with us
When I was younger I wanted to have a big family.  I wanted a lot of kids.  I was the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family so I was used to having a lot of younger kids running around.  And then we had Boone.  Boone was a great baby.  And he was a funny and interesting kid.  We decided one was enough.  For me, it was more overwhelming to have a kid than I had expected and suddenly the thought of having a whole slew running around chanting “Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad! DAD!” was too much.  Boone was going to be an only child.  And then my lovely wife began chanting in my ear: “If we’re going to have any more kids we should do it soon…you’re getting old!”  And so Lily Bean came along.
Attempted family bikepacking trip near Colorado Springs
When we lived in Colorado we were tight as a family.  We did almost everything together.  It would have been hard not too; we were a one car family and we didn’t know a lot of people for the kids to visit while Mandy and I went off on our own.  We became good at family adventures.  They were hard but rewarding.  We biked, climbed, hiked, and summited mountains together. We took up geocaching.  We visited cool towns all over Colorado and saw a lifetime worth of incredible things in five short years.
Climbing in the South Platte


Hiking in Indian Peaks Wilderness

Taking a break from mountain biking at Vedauwoo, WY
Then we moved back to Kentucky.  Since moving back we’ve tried to maintain that sense of adventure and wonder, but to be perfectly honest we’ve not been as tight as a family.  Mandy and I do run off by ourselves more and leave the kids with family and friends.  We don’t do as much with the niece and nephews.  All of that hard work it took to do big kid-friendly adventures isn’t mandatory anymore and I avoid it if at all possible.
Bean riding the Dawkins Line Rail Trail

The boys enjoying their first backpacking trip a couple of years ago
Long time readers may already be doing the math and realize that my bouts with depression and anxiety and chronic lack of self-esteem have driven me more inward and away from the world.  That includes my family.  I’ve chosen to hide and run away into the woods alone more often than not over the past couple of years.  It’s not that we haven’t had family adventures, but a lot of times I’ve chosen to adventure alone hoping to improve my mental health and not cause myself more stress by including everyone else.  I’m not saying these were wise choices, just that they were the ones I’ve been making.
For Fathers Day we were going to go out and have a big family adventure.  On Saturday I went out and did some scouting for a new mountain bike route.  And on Sunday we were going to go have fun.  Bean requested rock climbing, and that’s the direction I was leaning.  Unfortunately some kind of leaning threw my back out of whack and I felt pretty wretched on Sunday.  We made a lazy day of it and didn’t get out in the woods. 
In a short time we’re going to be going to Colorado for a visit.  We’re all looking forward to it, and nephew Ty has requested mountain biking at Valmont in Boulder and Bean wants to rock climb while we’re there.  I’m going to entertain whatever of their requests that I can.  I’ve decided I’ve been letting too much time slip away waiting for better conditions, better circumstances, and for me to feel better myself.  Today is the best.  Maybe tomorrow will be better and maybe it won’t.  All we have is today.
Mandy and I profess that we won’t be sad empty nesters, but I am now feeling the distinct urge to knuckle down and give my kids more of the great experiences I think they’ll remember for a lifetime. 
Recently Mandy and I watched Captain Fantastic.  I have to confess...I had fantasized about living that type of life with my family when I was younger.  Off the grid, well educated kids, quirky and odd... We did pretty good for living on the grid.  And maybe it was for the best considering the things I've discovered about myself in the intervening years since I dreamed about having that slew of kids.
My two are the only slew I need.  I have the best family.  Immediate, extended, and adopted through proximity and friendship... My life is full of great people.
They got me a Walz cycling cap and a cool bikey tee for Father's Day...
 
Addendum (this was my feeble attempt at a Father's Day post on my dad's Facebook wall):
My dad taught me to dry off top to bottom to avoid having to do extra work. He taught me not to drive with cruise control on in the rain, to keep my eyes on the road, and the key concept of responsibility that if I hit something with my car it's my fault.

He gave up his own time so I could enjoy Boy Scouts even when I didn't act like I appreciated it. He worked a second job so I'd have spending money when I went away to college (and I'm sure just to pay tuition) but didn't disown me when I dropped out.

Yes, he sent me looking for tools "somewhere in the basement" but he also taught me how to fix leaky pipes, change my own oil, and use a chainsaw. He and mom helped me realize my dream to be a climbing guide.

I've had a lot of good memories with my dad. There were all of those scout trips which shaped who I am today. There was that time we picked up the safe in Bath County that we didn't have a combination for in a truck we didn't own and then the headlights shorted out as we drove through Mt Sterling at dusk. We paddled the Red and the Three Forks of the Kentucky. We ran an outdoor business together. And before that a recycling business.

Whenever I have a question about how to fix something around the house or whatever, dad has a practical answer for me. Dad is unflappable and always seems to keep his head when things are going crazy. I get that from him.

My life would have been a lot different without my dad in it and I'm thankful for him.

Happy Fathers Day!

 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dragonslayers Anonymous


I’m guilty of writing more when things are bad than when things are good.  I’ve been horrible at this in my private journal and almost as bad with blogs and other social media.  And aren’t blogs dead, anyway?
Things are good.  It feels like a switch has been flipped in my brain.  Maybe a circuit breaker had been tripped and I finally found the right switch.  I honestly don’t know.  I can point to a few contributing factors. 
It’s summer.  The days are longer and I’m getting out in the sun more.  Ah, good ol’ serotonin! 
Also…acupuncture.  Yeah, I’m new to it, but Mandy went to a few sessions when we lived in Colorado and loved it.  So we’ve been going to community acupuncture at Slade the past two weeks and are signed up tonight as well.  I went hoping for help with my back and have seen pretty much an improvement in every other aspect of my life except in my chronic back tension.  I’m not complaining.  I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between my improved mood and the acupuncture, but I’m not going to dismiss it.  The timing is right.  And so much of my other chronic pain and discomfort is now gone or diminished.  I have felt great for two weeks.  I have energy.  I feel like I might be able to go back to being the old Chainring that felt indomitable. 
If you’re a long time reader to the blog you know I suffer from debilitating loss of confidence.  While I should be on top of the world most days I don’t typically see myself as being very capable and important in the whole scheme of things.  I feel less than adequate as a functioning member of society.    Well, lately I’ve had a boost in that arena.  I have my suspicions on what led to that, but that’s my little secret.
However, in conjunction with the confidence spike a few things have been coming together that I have been working on for a long time.  We’re finally wrapping up a comprehensive plan for Clay City and it’s been a good effort and a good result.  The boat access at the city park is almost finished and people are using the river like crazy.  All of my longsuffering efforts there have been paying off.  The Bald Rock trails are progressing.  The CR-RRG Mountain Bike Alliance is working.  While work on the race has lulled, Mandy and I are still moving with it and I’m excited.  And at work we’re working on developing a training program which could be beneficial to the region.  I find myself excited about that because it feels like that was the work I hoped I’d be doing when I romanticized being a planner over a decade ago. 
Another mystery is that I suddenly find myself in a constant state of contentment.  Well, as content as I can be.  I’ll never be content.  It’s not in my nature.  Maybe…maybe, I’m satisfied with the direction my life has taken.  Sorry folks, that’s as good as it gets.  Life is a journey not a destination.  If you become too content you get complacent and complacency isn't living.
The contrast to contentment has been the feeling of teetering on the edge of depression—or from depression into despair—for ever so long.  For months now even on good days I lived with a shadow just over my shoulder.  I could feel the weight and mass of it waiting to settle on me.  And sometimes it’s cold, dark hand let its presence be felt for days.  I do dread the return of the shadow, but for whatever reason I don’t feel it close to me now.  I doubt it’s gone for good, but I’m going to dance like there’s no tomorrow until I hear otherwise.
So yeah, things are good.  Great?  Maybe at times.  And maybe I’m moving deeper into great territory. 
Mandy and I watched Captain Fantastic last night.  What an amazing movie!  You can easily be tempted to romanticize the lifestyle the family lives, and maybe even fantasize about going completely off grid and raising little Lords of the Flies.  But my takeaway was the movie as a great table around which to sit and discuss as a society what are reasonable expectations and when should we impose our own values on others and dictate their responsibilities.
That is the struggle I’ve had all my adult life.  It’s been an internal and external struggle.  I remember arguing with my parents about various things related to adult responsibilities and expectations.  I told someone once I wanted a cabin in the middle of nowhere without a phone.  They said: “You can’t live without a phone!” I asked what people did before the phone was invented.  I remember my dad imploring me to get life insurance and save money for retirement and wondering out loud what people did before such institutions came into being.  I have those things now, and I feel lost without my smarty smart phone, but I know I could walk away from it all and have a great life.
I also know that my life could have taken a very different path had I found my confidence earlier.  And while I say I’ve maybe found my confidence, the excavation of it is going to take some time.  But when I get it out of the ground where it’s been entombed these past few decades…watch out!  It’ll be a dragon coming out of sleep and aching to spread its wings.  We might all be burned up in its fury.
You realize these schemes I toss around are like balls to be juggled and dropped.  I feel in my bones there are bigger and better things that I am suited to tackle in the world.  Until now I haven’t felt the spiritual and emotional mass behind me to charge forward and take them on.  And maybe I’m not there just yet.  I need to keep digging around the edges and trying to free it from the bedrock of my psyche.

And now, to completely flip the dragon analogy...
 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Rivers and Trails


I’ve reached a point in time where a few of my long-standing projects are starting to come together and morph from ideas into reality.  These are—for lack of a better phrase—dreams waking up.  The boat access at the Clay City Park is almost finished and then the contractors will move on to the take out.  It’s exciting to see this finally coming around.  Work is dragging on at a snail’s pace, but that’s the nature of the beast.
 
The Bald Rock mountain bike trails are slowly but surely coming along, too.  I led a trail day on Saturday and six of us managed to cut an important connection in the Bob Marely drainage of PMRP, and short of a short bridge we opened up another good chunk of trail.  After working for about five hours the whole group minus one (had to attend a wedding) rode the Bald Rock loop in its current and partially envisioned form.  We were all whooped, and it took an excessively long time to make the circuit.  But everyone seemed to enjoy it nonetheless.
The cool thing about the weekend and the trail work is that me and Bean and Ty along with Rob and his son Jack camped at Lago Linda on Friday night.  The kids had a blast and can’t wait to go back.  Rob and I did a little exploring on the existing trails.  They’re currently grown up with weeds and suffer a little deadfall and drainage problems here and there, but she advertises fifteen miles of old horse trails that patrons can hike (and now ride).  The trails just need some love.  Someone once told her that the old horse trails are too wide for mountain biking.  This is complete nonsense in an area with almost no existing mountain biking trails.  What Linda has is a strong beginning to what could turn into a mountain biking revolution on the Cumberland Plateau. 
Piney Woods

Tools supplied by Craig at Red River Outdoors


Bean enjoying camp
Too stoked

Riding what we built

Getting it done
photo by Bradley Derickson
The other exciting thing about Linda’s is that there is a connection from her campground into Beattyville that is 7/8ths dirt and 8 miles in distance.  It just needs to get it cleared enough to ride and give it a go.  Riding in the opposite direction it is 7 miles from her place to Bald Rock which is 6/7ths dirt. 

Green is the Lago Linda to White Ash via Contrary Creek connection.  The lower brown line is White Ash Road (8 miles)
The upper brown is the connection from Lago Linda to Big Sinking/Bald Rock (7 miles)
The purple line is the conceptual Crystal Creek Trail (5 miles)
The colorful spaghetti in the upper right is the Bald Rock trail system
One of my local partners in crime has suggested that it’s time for the gentrification of Beattyville to begin and that it’s rebirth as an outdoor town is imminent.  I agree.  Beattyville and Lee County have long gotten miserable press.  It’s time we changed that narrative (and by “we” I mean…who?)  Maybe “we” is Kentucky.  “We” being interested folks?  And hopefully “we” includes locals of the community and region.  I’m a firm believer that carpetbagging is never the answer.  And yet I set up myself as a carpetbagger from a neighboring county.  In my defense my mother grew up in Lee County and Papaw Lacy spent loads of years there extracting the oil that used to make the area around Beattyville a little more prosperous.  That dubious wealth no longer gets shared.
If I had the startup capital I think now would be the time to open up a comprehensive outdoor center there in downtown.  The Three Forks of the Kentucky River come together right in town.  The road cycling there is amazing.  Mountain biking is barreling down the hill toward the edge of town, and one of the best known and loved rock climbing areas in the WORLD is five miles up the road.  Someone needs to do something.  And you—hopefully by now—know how I feel about that sentence.  
There is no reason for that corner of Central Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky to be suffering financially.  The abundant natural and recreational resources centered around that little river town are a gold mine lying open to the naked sky waiting to be exploited…OR to be mined and refined in a way that is sustainable and beneficial to the community.
This is a compelling notion that begs to be explored and exposed.  I wish I had seen this fifteen years ago when we still had a viable outdoor business.  I try not to carry my regrets around in my shirt pocket.  And that takes me back to now is the time.  Or at any given point after now.
Today’s report barely scratches the surface of all the things I’d like to say and expound on regarding the potential in my neck of the woods.  There just never seems to be enough time to fully explore and capture in images and words the experience that is and could be living in Eastern Kentucky.  I’ll do my best to take the time as I go along, and daylight more of these dark hollers.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hump Day Harangue: Lost in Suburbia


Yesterday’s weather was so nice I had a hard time not playing hooky.  Not only should I have NOT been working, but I should never have had to work again so as not to spoil the day with the dread of it coming to an end.  One step outside and all I could think was it was a perfect day to get lost in the woods.  Except…I never get lost.  I always know where I am and where I am headed.  It would have been a great day to push my own boundaries on that though.
Tis summer break for many people, but those of us outside the education industry suffer with the unbroken thread of occupation…of our minds, our bodies, and our time.  Nice weather (which will soon give way to the hell-on-earth of summers in Kentucky) is simply a tormentor to make you resent and rail against capitalism all that much harder.  At least, it may if you still possess a will to live and your ever-loving sanity. 
Today I subjected my mountain bike to the indignity of being hauled on the back of my car (but a Jeep, so not soooo bad) for to ride at The Park of Veterans during the lunchtime hour.  Do you like my Eli Cash vernacular?  The weather today is even better than yesterday.  Makes me want to live out my anarchist fantasies and drop out of the rat race for good.  DNF.
Anywho, the rock climbing universe is reeling in astoundment from the Alex Honnold’s free solo of El Cap in Yosemite.  It’s a stretch for me to call myself a rock climber these days.  Which end is up on a carabiner?  Do you tie a figure eight or a bowman knot when you put your climbing shoes on?  I can fully appreciate Honnold’s accomplishment though.  And reading about it makes me miss climbing even more.  It’s not that I want to go out and free solo hard or long climbs.  I just miss the vertical world and feeling comfortable within it.
Getting ready to head up Edward's Crack in Vedauwoo, Wyoming
A few days ago, I was going through old photos of our time in Colorado.  And we’re planning a week-long trip there this summer.  Thinking about it all again has made me realize I miss it.  While I wasn’t much of a climber while we were there (though more than I’ve been since we moved back to Kentucky), it was a good five years.  We did a lot.  We experienced a lot.  And we lived a full life while we were there.  And missing it is easy.  Returning would be difficult now. 
Mandy and I agree that we don’t squander much when it comes to living life.  We don’t shy away from doing fun things.  We don’t choose not to do things just because they’re hard or complicated.  Moving to Colorado was an experiment.  It started out as trying to prove to ourselves that we could make it in life without the support networks we were used to.  While we didn’t accomplish that exactly, it did set us up to be more successful when we came back.  And now I feel like we’re finally in that state of mind we wanted when we left.  The real question is: could we have gotten to this place without leaving to begin with?
Recently, the Crash Test Librarian and I discussed this.  Or at least I was bemoaning to him that I miss living in the West while he replied by sending me photos of Montana.  In our conversation we agree that (to quote Mark):
“It would be pretty nice for wilderness to more or less be your ‘home’ and ‘normal’ and for civilization to just be where you go to take a break instead of the other way around.”
See, I don’t hate cities.  I truly don’t.  But being in urban areas daily for long stretches of time saps the life energy right out of me.  Some of us are just wired differently.  I’d rather go TO people when I want social interactions than have to escape FROM people when I get overwhelmed.  That would allow me to better manage my own needs.  Things I should have figured out about myself two decades ago…
Life being what it is I’m in a pretty good place.  While I hate the pants off Lexington I don’t have to spend too much time in the suburbs.  I get to sneak over to the edge of the Urban County Line to wallow in the woods at VP.  It’s not my favorite place to ride but it’s somewhere to ride. 
I keep saying I’m going to get back into climbing and keep breaking that promise to myself.  Maybe after the mountain bike race in September I can go back to keeping some of my promises to myself.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Climbing Mountains in My Mind


Sometimes the adventure you intended to have fails to materialize.  You set out for some distant peak with a pack full of all the right gear, plenty of daylight to reach the summit and return, and bluebird skies overlooking your path.  And that’s not the adventure you end up having.
 
Maybe you end up—through prudence or providence—taking a side trail along well-trodden and well known paths and end up revisiting a different adventure, renewed after a long hiatus, and find that just because you have enjoyed a climb once or a thousand thousand times before that it’s no less enjoyable, or classic, or memorable.  Being able to climb the same route time and time again should in no way diminish its inherent beauty and benefit.
That distant peak will always be there.  There will be other bluebird days.  Happiness exists everywhere, and the views from different peaks are all just as beautiful, just as vast, and worthy of taking if you can simply let yourself enjoy the moment.
 
There are many peaks I have listed in my life; geographic points to be visited and ticked off.  Some are more terrible than others.  And I mean “terrible” in the sense of completely overwhelming to the mind and senses.  Mountaineers know what I mean.  A peak can be wondrously beautiful but terrifying to behold.  That’s the curse of being an alpinist.  To gain certain summits requires a quest through the most tenuous and dangerous terrain.  And maybe those peaks are the most coveted yet they sometimes exist as the eternal goal.  Some people strive for that one summit their entire lives.  It becomes their Everest. 
The knight goes on the quest to slay the dragon, or hunt the unicorn, or rescue the damsel and he can put himself in peril of life and spirit.  I’m not suggesting that it’s as noble to abandon or delay the quest as to continue on through storms and darkness.  But to set out on the quest you immediately set yourself up for failure, not because you are weak but because the goal is difficult to attain.  The mountaineer has the luxury over the knight in that he or she can exercise discretion and leave valor for another day.  Some of us have the luxury of choosing.  And maybe in that sense winning the goal is that much sweeter.  It doesn’t have to come at the same cost.
Where am I going with this?  Well, like writers of old this is an enigma wrapped up in a mystery J
A long time ago I wrote about roaming about in the mountains of my mind and this post seems like an extension of that imagery.  There are peaks to be sought and peaks to be admired from afar maybe to be attempted later in life with more experience and grit.  Between the peaks are endless valleys, canyons, and meadows to explore and enjoy.  Not all good things are above treeline.  Not every great experience has a sweeping vista. 
 
The one thing common about mountain summits is that when you reach them there is nowhere else to go but down, and so to strive only for a lone peak will result in an empty life beyond.  The experience must be of the landscape and not of the singular experience.  There are so many varied and wonderful things to see in life. 
The past two weeks have been interesting.  It’s been a long high for me, and I feared the crash at the end.  Truthfully I think it happened, and it was simply I needed to take an easy afternoon yesterday instead of pushing through and mowing the yard or doing laundry.  My mind feels cleaner than it has in a long time.
Something else about high peaks: life does not thrive at altitude.  It can exist, but it does not persist.  A mountaineer needs to descend back below treeline to recupe, refuel, and regroup before climbing again to the heights.  Shade in the valley is not a bad thing.  It’s what restores us. 
In closing I want to quote the late Ed Abbey from The Monkey Wrench Gang:
“When the situation is hopeless, there’s nothing to worry about.”
I have a lot more hope for the future today than I did a few weeks ago.  I feel stronger; I feel better.  And I’m writing again.
 

 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Here's to Great Adventures Edition

         
I have a professional certificate in Sustainability Management from the Sustainable Practices Programs at the University of Colorado Boulder.  I have one hundred hours of training in sustainability management.  I used to keep a cycling oriented blog (more so than this one!) and developed my political and environmental views through that lens as I wrote about transportation and climate issues and the concept of Peak Oil.
Eastern Kentucky is not exactly a hotbed for environmental activism.  “Sustainability” isn’t even a hotly contested concept because most people are not culturally aware of its significance.  I firmly maintain that the opportunity presented by the lack of environmental education and sustainable practices in the region is an accident waiting to happen.  That “accident” could be me.  On my long drive in to work this morning (I miss my ten-mile bike commute!)—listening to the news coverage on NPR as I sipped my free trade coffee from a Klean Kanteen—I ruminated on my qualifications.  I pondered the possibilities of moving more into the realm of environmental education and consulting.  I have the ink and paper to make it happen. 
I’ve ignored my values for too long.  Mandy and I had committed to a fairly progressive lifestyle when we still lived in Colorado.  We threw around terms like “car free,” “car lite,” “voluntary simplicity,” and “who left the bathroom light on!”  We rode our cargo bikes to the grocery store and bought local produce and other local items.  We tried to reduce our ecological footprints as a family and as individuals.  This meant a lot to us then, but when we returned to Kentucky we found it difficult in most cases and impossible in others to maintain that lifestyle. 
Well, we’ve been back for almost five years.  We’re as settled as we’re going to be.  I think it might be time to start making small changes again.  We can plan a little better (I’m a Planner for crying out loud!), and we can scrutinize our habits and our output. 
While the Cheeto Benito (stole that one) can say the US has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord he can’t force all of us to stop adhering to the principles of sustainability.  He can’t make us willingly support extractive industries.  He can’t take away our core values.  He can’t rob us of our potency as a citizenry.  He thinks he can and he has, but I am convinced that if the Orange Shirts come for us the well-armed Americans (because not just Right Wingnuts have guns) will make a stand.  I am convinced if the American fascists push too far they will have a revolt and it will be ugly.  I do not wish this upon myself, my family, or the world. 
What I can do today is make the changes that are within my ability to make.  I can reduce my impact on the environment.  I can speak up in defense of my environment—OUR environment—and I can negate the negativity that has arisen in the world with my positive life energy.
Greed is not good.  But greed is the underlying policy in our society today.  We’re all guilty of it.  It’s time we recognized that, owned it, and made a conscious change.

Watch out!  Subversive activity!
 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

In the Books: Clay City Riverfest


We did it.
The inaugural Clay City Riverfest went off mostly without a hitch.  Search and Rescue might disagree, but overall it was a raging success. 
There was a team involved in planning and putting the event on.  I didn’t do it all by myself as has been widely reported.  All efforts to rename Highway 15 to Chris Chaney Boulevard should cease immediately.  I’ll abide the statute in the middle of town, but let’s not get crazy.
We estimate 200-300 people came and went during the day.  Mike’s Hike and Bike had 19 boat rentals.  We think at least that many brought their own boats.  There were fifteen vendors/organizations signed up and most came.
The live music was phenomenal.  All-in-all it was a great time.

Josh Nolan performing at Riverfest

The only major flaw in the plan was the boat accesses—which were the central focus of the whole party—were not complete.  We knew that was a possibility.  The river and weather in May in Kentucky is fickle.  The community’s relationship with the river is characterized by the dual reality of life giving water source and flood damaging force of nature.
Thankfully the river was not flooded; just high, muddy, fast, and cold.
 
We tried to warn folks that taking small kids or going out with no experience wasn’t a good idea.  For the most part people heeded that advice.  And no one got hurt!  Let me lay that out.  Well, a friend of ours busted her nose and had a panicky moment underwater, but otherwise of the Riverfest Nine who flipped at the 1 mile mark no one was injured.
There will be a next year.  I’ve already been approached by the new tourism board in Clay City and been assured that there will be a budget for next year.  Many, many people asked if it would be held again next year.  So many people expressed their pleasure and enjoyment of the day.  It was a great time, even for those of us who worked hard to put it on.
As big as that event was we had a pretty full weekend that was more than just Riverfest.  Mandy and I did some trail work in Bald Rock on Sunday and then paddled the Clay City Loop to put up the signs for Riverfest.  I’m blanking on what we did on Saturday but it seems like there was quite a bit going on.
Along Rock Rock Trail

Shackle Rod Trail

Shackle Rod Trail
 
I took yesterday off from work to mentally recuperate from the weekend.  Otherwise I don’t think I would have been much use in the office.  Today I’m still lagging (hence the quick post), but I definitely feel clearer of head now.  I rode the Bald Rock loop and headed out to also do the Big Sinking loop only to discover that the Big ain't sunk right now.  That loop involves a lot of dry creekbed riding and with all the recent rains even the section above the creek banks were probably sloppy.  Discretion being the better part of valor I turned and rode back to the car.  Soon.
Bald Rock Fork

Bald Rock Fork
 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Fourteenth Reason


My wife and I recently watched the first season of the Netflix series based on Jay Asher’s book Thirteen Reasons Why.  My first reaction as a parent is that I don’t want either of my children to go to high school…or interact with other children, period.  I know that’s unrealistic, but the show echoes my own high school experiences—at least the general tone and atmosphere that I remember—and we all know that being a teenager in America just sucks.  This piece is not about raising teenagers.  Good lord, that piece is going to be so much harder to write…
I was hesitant to watch the show at first in part because of my own history with depression and suicidal thoughts.  I was hesitant because in my life I have known in passing more than a few people who have ended up committing suicide.  The most recent was probably the one I knew best other than my childhood friend who died of an overdose a few years ago.  Jon was not a close friend like Shane, but he and I had a lot in common and he and I had been on track to getting to know each other much better as we worked on developing trails in the Gorge area.  We agreed on a lot of things.  We had the same kinds of passion and energy to make a difference in our shared world.  And then Jon attempted to end it all.  And then Jon was successful.
I could distance myself from what the main character was going through in the series.  That was easy.  I’ve never been a teenage girl, so the situations portrayed were not my experience of being a teenager.  They were heartbreaking situations mind you, but they didn’t resonate with me like the experience of the other main character did.  I truly related to Clay.  He seemed to occupy the same niche I did in the high school ecosystem.
I’m not going to give away the show, but I am also not going to strongly recommend that you watch it.  It’s well written.  It’s compelling.  And I think it’s an important work that deserves attention.  I think if it were possible that showing this to high school kids could be useful.  I’m just not sure it is possible to do so in an effective and non-detrimental way.  Where 13 Reasons Why (the series) is most useful I think is for parents and adults who work with teenagers and children to recognize situations that they didn’t live through themselves.
But the last episode…it’s intense.  I was good until the last episode.  I’m good now; I need to clarify that.  The day after we finished it I struggled to put it out of my mind.  It didn’t bring suicidal thoughts to the forefront of my mind, it was just dark, and sad, and I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have affected any neurotypical person in an adverse way, much less someone like myself who struggles with the same kind of negative thoughts that the main character Hannah let drag her into the abyss.
Be assured, I know this show is fiction.  I realize the actions were portrayed by actors and the story was made up.  However, I believe it accurately portrayed the situations as they could happen and likely do daily for someone somewhere.  There were a few plot lines I think may have been unrealistic, but overall I think the series shows how a teenager can devolve from happy-go-lucky, bright, and functioning to depressed and oppressed to the point of harming themselves.
The show starts out with Clay Jensen, a high school student who had been close to the main character Hannah Baker, receiving a collection of cassette tapes from Hannah which he soon discovers contain recordings by Hannah explaining the thirteen reasons why she killed herself.  Those thirteen reasons end up being thirteen people in her life who—in her estimation—led her into the darkness and heaped more and more on her until she could bear no more and ended her own life.
Based on my own experiences with profound depression and a scary brush with destructive thoughts and the eventual realization that those thoughts were more than just escapism or run-of-the-mill moody “depression” I believe that Hannah left out a crucial fourteenth reason: herself.
Now, before you think I’m being harsh or get judgey of a perceived insensitivity take a breath and just read.
My own worst day occurred after a long stretch of self-reflection.  There were a few factors that fed into the torrent of bad thoughts that raged through my mind, and at each confluence I picked up more volume and velocity until the dark thoughts scoured everything else from my mind.  I was dealing with a toxic relationship at work.  An individual had taken it upon themselves to “supervise” me when they had no authority to do so, but since he was in a position of authority I believed he had the mandate to do so.  And he pushed me around, made me feel incompetent, and used me to do his own work while threatening my job security if I didn’t keep him happy.
Personally, I was dealing with a couple of years of unresolved issues.  I had unceremoniously moved my family from a happy life we had made for ourselves back to a place we had tried to escape all because of my own unhappiness.  I felt guilty, useless, and trapped.  My relationship with my extended family and a lot of old friends were souring over a personal crisis of faith.  In every facet of my life I felt a profound lack of confidence in myself and powerless to change anything.  Then I added two critical factors which pushed me over the edge.
I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was fifteen years old.  By 2000 I had written over 3,000 pages in spiral bound notebooks.  Sometime around 2005 I started keeping a digital journal and have written a couple thousand more pages in the decade or more after, though I never wrote with the frequency or intensity that I did in my late teenage years.  But in early 2014, just a couple of months after my childhood friend had died of a heroin overdose, I began keeping an audio journal using the voice memo app on my iPhone.  I went to this method because I just didn’t seem to have the motivation or time to write things out.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around the keyboard and type into a word doc my thoughts and feelings, but I knew so much of important thinking was not being captured.  I was wrestling a lot of demons but always seemed like I was going it in the dark.
Maybe the voice memos alone weren’t my tipping point.  This may sound silly, but at the same time, on a whim and without much forethought, I decided I wanted to revisit music from my heyday.  I graduated high school in 1992 when grunge was taking off.  Nirvana’s Nevermind album and Ten by Pearl Jam were those pivotal musical works in my life that changed everything.  Prior to those two albums I had been interested in hard rock and heavy metal because I liked the guitars.  But with the songwriting of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder I found a love for lyrical words.  I tried to write songs and recognized that lyrics could be poems.  I tried to write stories.  My journaling hit a stride during that time as well.
And so, while wallowing in the mire of my own mind and dark thoughts I made myself a CD with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Anthrax, and probably Metallica.  There were songs like Nothing Else Matters, and Down in a Hole, and State of Love and Trust.  In retrospect, I set myself up.  Maybe the songs reflected my mood.  Maybe it was simply nostalgia for bygone days that led me back to those songs.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the abject desolation of spirit that would result in my listening to that CD coming and going between a cubicle hell that I felt trapped in and a home where I felt like I had screwed up everyone else’s life.

The playlist I was listening to on repeat at work at the time
All of that led to a moment where I was sitting in a lonely trailhead in the Red River Gorge on a cold, sunny day talking into my voice memo app about how bad my life had become.  My thoughts became anchored to an image of myself walking off a high promontory at the end of the trail just beyond the bumper of my car.  I couldn’t get the thought out of my head.  I couldn’t erase the notions that I needed to escape everything that my life had become.  I couldn’t turn off the music, the words, the memories, or the emptiness that threatened to consume me.
My conclusions were not that all those other—thirteen or however many—reasons were to blame.  When I was thankfully back in my right mind and able to analyze my thought processes leading up to that moment I realized I had to stop recording my negative thoughts and I had to stop listening to songs that reinforced the despair in my heart (I absolutely cannot listen to the song More Than Life by Whitley anymore).   
In pondering the chain of events that led to fictional Hannah’s eventual suicide I can’t help but think that her and her real-life counterparts may have contributed more to their own demises through wallowing in darkness and heaping on layer after layer of negativity.  In recording the tapes where she told the story of how bad things had become for her Hannah may have pushed herself past the tipping point.  And in a documentary we watched after the series one writer of the show suggests that Hannah set up the last “reason” to fail and so perhaps in a twofold fashion Hannah was reason number fourteen for herself.  I did that to myself.  By the grace of God or whatever I am here to tell you the tale.
The fourteenth reason is whatever you carry around in your mind and refuse to let go of.  Human beings are resilient.  The story depicted that led to suicide in Thirteen Reasons Why is a story that more people survive than succumb to.  I firmly believe the difference in survivors and those who give in is the recognition within of negative self-talk and the casting off those internally induced shadows.  The house might be haunted, but if we can just open the shades things will start to look a lot better in an instant.  It’s hard to refute the sun that shines on everyone.  All we have to do is let our inherent strength prevail.  We all have it.
I’m much more careful these days.  If I’m having a good day but start feeling bad after listening to a certain CD or even just the news on NPR I will turn it off or change what I’m listening to.  I don’t record my own voice talking about how bad things are.  For whatever reason that medium has a power over the mind that is shocking and firm.  I don’t write as much privately either.  While I want to express myself, I fear the words written in the dark with only myself as the intended audience.  I’m an introvert and tend toward being anti-social.  I’m more apt to venture into the world alone.  Therefore, the healthier trend for me is to move toward others instead of away. 
I don’t execute these strategies perfectly, but I also don’t beat myself up for imperfection.  I don’t fear the void that once attracted me with a persistent voice.  Likely it will always be there.  But if I don’t walk toward it or think much about it I’m sure its power will diminish.  Negative self-talk is the roadmap to hell.  While it’s not always easy to self-affirm, it is better, and its helps to talk to people who aren’t trapped within the same current and who can steer you toward the eddies in life and help you get your breath before moving on down the river.
While we can't always change the behaviors or torments of others we absolutely CAN change how we talk to ourselves and the background music we play on the soundtracks of our own lives.