Monday, April 24, 2017

I Don't Like Mondays...Or Do I?


I’ve updated my classic Earth Day photo with a quote I saw on a protest sign on social media over the weekend.

 
The photo was from Earth Day in 2011.  I was commuting home on my cargo bike and saw a traffic jam on I-70 in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.  I had to stop and take the photo.  For years when I’ve shared it I’ve captioned it simply: “Happy Earth Day!”
The Chainring family may have fallen slightly off the green living wagon over the past few years.  It’s hard to maintain focus when there are so many other things going on in life.  That’s no excuse.  However, I will say that the good strategies that we have continued practicing were ones we had incorporated early and practiced repeatedly.
I’m a chronic unplugger.  And I learned decades ago from my dad to yell at kids for leaving lights turned on in unoccupied rooms of the house.  My family produces as little as a single kitchen bag of garbage in a week and usually only on holidays or when we have a group of people over to the house do we generate more than two or three.
I’m not patting us on the back.  There are still many things we can change to reduce our impact on the environment.  However, I would say we are above average for the US and definitely in the highest percentages of success in our locality when it comes to reducing our energy usage and waste generation. 
This is not a commitment to a renewed or strengthened resolve to be more sustainable and less impactive, but I think it’s time we did start moving in that direction as a family.
The rain over the weekend may have affected the start of construction on the boat access in Clay City, but I’m hoping it wasn’t too much.  More as developments unfold…

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Patience Pays Off Edition


It’s spring so I shouldn’t be surprised.  It’s going to rain when I need to be riding.  I always seem to be moaning about something.  I know. 

But the real news isn’t about bikes this week.  Or the woods.  Or hiking, climbing, trail building, etc.  If everything goes according to plan the contractor will begin work on the Clay City Park padddlecraft access on Monday.  According to those more in the know than I about pouring concrete we could have the entire project finished by the middle of May.  That’s pretty exciting. 

I took the idea to the city in the summer of 2015.  I can only blame myself that it’s taken so long to get it done, but (and this is strange for me to say) I can take a lot of credit for this one.  It was my idea and I have been the champion for a long time keeping it going.  And now that it’s finally close to completion I feel a great deal of satisfaction. 
 
 

I look forward to the same sense of satisfaction regarding the mountain bike trails at Bald Rock, on Tarr Ridge, and hopefully some day on Marbleyard.  But I digress.

As a result of my efforts I have landed myself on the Clay City park and rec board.  But it makes sense as I have been working to improve the facilities at the park and to develop a new park around the proposed take out.  And while I can take a big measure of credit for this whole thing I have to point out that it has been a group effort and while I come up with some good ideas in this regard it’s the people around me who help refine and legitimize the concepts. 

Last summer Mandy and I invested in kayaks for the family.  It’s an activity that she sees more as her own that mountain biking.  We enjoy hiking and climbing and cycling, but I think water is really her space.  And I do love paddling, but I really love faster movement.  I have a dark history with whitewater paddling, so that’s really not something I’m interested in anymore.

Wednesday afternoon Mandy and I and Bean paddled the loop around Clay City.  It’s a great hour long jaunt; about three and a half miles or a little more.  The river is beautiful, and has been at a good level the last week or so.  It’s hard to beat a family friendly paddle that’s shuttle free.  When we wallowed out at the ol’ sewer plant (soon to be Lazarus Park) the mosquitoes were biting something fierce.  But quick as a whip Lily and I went over, got the Jeep and returned to load up the boats and we sped home.  Basement door to basement door was about two hours.
 
 

We’re planning a big shindig for Memorial Day weekend to kick off the new boat accesses and to show off improvements at the park.  There’s a new paved walking path by the river and around the park.  We’ll soon have great public paddlecraft access right in town.  I’ve also been working on the first comprehensive plan for the city in my capacity as planner for the ADD.  Clay City is becoming quite the renaissance town.  That kind of sounds crazy to say, but the reality is things are a-changin’.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Rebel, Rebel; Minions in Training


"Great things are afoot."

~ Slartibartfast

 
We ain't makin' planets, but it feels like we're creating new worlds. "We" is the Cave Run - Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance.  On Saturday Mandy and I and the Training Partner drove to Cincinnati to promote the (rebel) Alliance and the RRG 100 mountain bike race at the REI Outdoor Partners Expo.  They placed us next to the guys from the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance (CORA) and we had fun getting to know them and talking advocacy and riding.
 
 

While it wasn’t the raging membership drive we’d hoped it was a positive step for the (rebel) Alliance and things are looking great.  These are our first steps and so far we’re making steady progress.  In ten years we’ll look back on this time with wistful eyes I’m sure.

After the Expo—at the recommendation of the CORA guys—we drove over to Milford where Mandy rode the Little Miami Trail while Dave and I checked out the Jim Terrell Park trails and some other urban shoehorn trails.  I love stuff like that.  And the little network we rode reminded me vaguely of Capitol View in Frankfort, but even more of a mini-Knoxville Urban Wilderness or the trails I rode in Des Moines last year.  Heck, they were a lot like the trails I pieced together in Colorado in the greenbelts and neighborhoods in some ways even.  But the ecosystems were reminiscent of Tennessee and Des Moines more than the big cow town of Denver.
 


 

So that’s got me thinking more and more about what kind of opportunities I could drum up at home if I just put my mind to it.  Problem is my mind is pretty heavy with a million other unrealized schemes.  Priorities man.  So I need minions to go forth and do my work.
 
One minion--mwah, ha, HA
 
In related news: the Kentucky Point Series Cave Run race has been “postponed.”  It was supposed to be next Sunday and the plan was to go and promote the hundred mile race and the Alliance full throttle.  I mean, that’s home turf for the Alliance and pretty darn close for our RRG race.  I’m bummed.  I know the locals in Morehead will be bummed, and they had been trying to get more involved with the organizer to boot, so it’s a double disappointment.  With more time we could have easily taken it over and gotten it done. 

Anyway, lots of things are going on.  It’s looking like I may be posting more than once or twice a week in the coming months.  Stay tuned!

 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Logos en Chaine Edition

This is a big weekend for the RRG MTB 100 and for the Cave Run – Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance.  Myself and Mandy and Dave are going to the REI Cincinnati Outdoor Partners Expo in the morning to promote both.  While we’re having some technical snafus with an online membership interface for the (Rebel) Alliance we are pretty much live and ready to go otherwise. 


 

There's a lotta chainring in there... 
 
Next weekend is the Redbud Ride and the Kentucky Point Series Race at Cave Run Lake.  We’ll (the race and the Alliance) be out again for sure for the KPS race.  After that we have no exact plans, but I think this summer will be heavy on mountain biking advocacy.
This is a short post today.  I had a little extra fluff through the week so I hope you’ll forgive the paucity of ramming velocity on this Good Friday.  Enjoy your Easter weekend and reconvene here, Monday A.M. for another Chainring Report.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hump Day Hills

I know, it's the rare (increasingly less so) mid-week trip report.  This one goes out to Mark--the Crash Test Librarian--as he and I were just exchanging text messages yesterday and the subject of Tharp Ridge came up.  Mark is doing well in his new home in Montana and we still miss him though we are glad he is doing well.  He's bought a house so he's moving toward that eventual day when there are a slew of little Marklets running around stamping dates in books and correcting grammar on various outdoor message boards.  Or not.  Hey Mark!
 
Before there's too much more ado:
 
Bean's softball practices have started back up.  This week the weather looked promising for her Wednesday practice in Clay City so I planned a short but severe ride during.  The plan turned out a great crank over some steep little rollers in the river hills between Clay City and Stanton.  
 
As she shouldered her bat bag I eased the Dogrunner--my faithful sporty sport bike--into the grass next to the new paved walking path at the city park.  Bean hit the field and I hit the road.
 
Spokes in the sky
 
The short jaunt over to Pompeii Road (pronounced Pom-pee, aka KY 2026) through town was mellow and then I raced across the floodplain, made a right, and with three minutes of warmup under me started climbing the first short, steep climb.
 
There was little reprieve before the first fast descent and another steeper but shorter climb.  Rinse and repeat.  The third climb gained Tharp Ridge which rolls relentlessly and gains a little to boot while passing through undeveloped forest.  Then another free fall descent onto Paint Creek.  I turned left toward Upper Paint Creek.  
 
Ages ago when I first got a sporty sport bike (RIP Giant OCR2) I rode Upper Paint.  There was a chasing dog at the bottom of every wave trough. There's three or four such dips.  Or five.  Or six.  So I had avoided that leg of the loop for years favoring Lower Paint Creek which is flat and stunningly gorgeous without the canine delinquents.  Yesterday I turned my wheel toward uncertainty.  Upper Paint was dogless.  I think there were five short speed bumps.  As I grannied up the last one a car came up beside me.  Inside the SUV were two teenage boys.  The passenger--with a huge grin on his face--extended his knuckled fist out toward me and said: "Fist bump!"  I obliged, they howled with laughter and drove on.  It was hard not to smile after that.  And then I had maybe three miles of big chainring fun dropping out of Upper Paint onto Morris Creek Road (KY 213) racing toward Stanton before angling into Lower Paint at ramming speed.  
 
I felt fine as I turned the cranks.  There was no dread of the return crossing of Tharp Ridge and Pompeii.  Gaining Tharp Ridge from the Paint Creek side might be the longest, steepest climb on the ride.  As I crawled up I enjoyed the spackled white dogwood blooms mixed in with the still winterbrown woods.  Once the climb was behind me the ridge fell away fast despite the rollers, then then the Beech Fork climb, then the last Pompeii hill, then a speedy descent and I was putting pavement behind me fast as I crossed the river bottoms.  
 
I turned onto Main Street, took the lane, and turned out the last two blocks of a quick, fun ride.  Clocked in just shy of twelve miles with 930' of gain in about 51 minutes.  Not bad for an old fatty.
 
Back at the park there were kids riding their bikes on the new path.  There was a group putting kayaks in the river.  It just felt darn good to be finishing up a bike ride in Clay City in a fine spring evening.
 
 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hump Day Harangue: Appalachian Zen Cycling


How we get things done in Eastern Kentucky
I’m absolutely itching to ride.  I’m pining for ye olden days when Jeaph Mowsur and I used to ride like fiends all over the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, surfing the crashing wave of the Pottsville Escarpment, and mightily (well, at least Jeff was) subduing hills like Cobhill, Patsey, Sky Bridge, etc, ad nauseum on our sporty sport bikes.  I love mountain biking and it is still my primary obsession, but road cycling on the crenellated terrain between the Red and Kentucky River watersheds is a discipline unto itself.  It’s like zen cycling; putting your nose down on the handlebars and granny gearing your way home after a deep bonk in the middle of rural Appalachia on a humid summer day where you daren’t knock on a door to ask for water, and even if you did the bleeding from the dog attack might be too much fluid loss to survive the ride.
It takes a special kind of focus and inner contemplation to complete those kinds of rides we routinely used to go on.  It only took stupid bravado to say: “Hey, let’s go ride all the steepest hills within fifty miles of home!” Sobriety and maturity came later.  At a great cost.
But still…I want to be back on the road more.  I miss those rides.  But they take so much time and in all likelihood a level of fitness that I don’t currently possess…at least enough to enjoy the rides.
Did I ever enjoy them?  I think I did.  In most cases my brain may have been bone dry of lubricating materials by the time the ride was over.  I know the focus was usually on my legs and knees.  And the next ride.   
What has kept me away?  Time.  Never enough time.  But other things interfered as well.  Jeff and I don’t really ride together anymore.  No particular reason I guess.  Just people drift together and apart throughout life.  Time again diverts our attentions to other things.  And then after a moderate hiatus it’s just hard to get back into that kind of rhythm.  Once the bike is hanging on a hook in the basement it’s much harder to put rubber on the road.  I’d have to move the mountain bike out of the way.  So part of the problem has been an organizational one.  Spatial clutter. 
My mental game fell off too.  And this is something that’s been dogging me of late.  Fear has crept back into my mind.  While we were in Colorado when I was a full time bike commuter I had pushed the fear of traffic mostly out of my mind.  Or at least I mitigated it with the right kind of internal dialogue.  That carried over for a couple or three years when we returned to Kentucky.  But that edge is dull now.  I need to get it back.
The funny thing is that I was defensive of riding on rural roads in Eastern Kentucky when we moved back.  After plying the mean streets of one of the larger metropolitan areas in the country it was somewhat refreshing to share the roads with more friendly Appalachian folk.  People seemed less frantic.  Less impatient.  Less hostile.  People actually waved in a friendly manner at me on my flashy road bike with my skin tight clothing despite their evangelical values.
I ask myself what has changed.  I’ve become insulated from the exposure of road cycling; driving around in my own steel and glass enclosure.  I’ve gone out of practice and so my mind fills in the empty spaces with fears.  That’s maybe human nature.  Don’t change; it’s not safe.
Weekend before last I did the Gorge loop from home.  The ride was pretty good.  I sparred with some traffic on the edge of town on my return, but otherwise it was an enjoyable and uneventful ride.  I even got Sky Bridge Hill clean which was not a given setting out from the Red River Regional Bikeport at the beginning of the ride.
On this day in 2013 I rode Cobhill and Patsey (hence the earlier reference).  Facebook has reminded me of this horrific solo ride I made.  It was one of those rides that shouldn’t be forgettable, but maybe it was because my mind tried to suppress it to prevent future such excursions.  A year later was my first (and only complete) Redbud Ride century.  I did that on the Cannonball (Xtracycle).  It was a lot of fun and I miss doing the occasional organized ride.  Though I don’t pine for them like I do the light and fast Mowsur-induced death rides.
I need a good, long soul crushing ride to clear my head.  I need to see if I still got it.  At least I tell myself that.  In reality I guess all I need to do is live, die, and pay taxes. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Chasin' Waterfalls


I was tangled up in one of those moments when you find yourself somewhere you're not sure you should even be.  Every limb was moored to the earth by cable-tough rhododendron.  My eyes stung from sweat.  Abrasions on my face stung from sweat.  My legs were drained hollow from hours of bushwhacking through the thickest backcountry the Red River Gorge could muster.  And I knew...deep in my bones I knew, in the forefront of my brain I knew, and in the sweat-stinging weak-legs exhausted- mind reality I inhabited at that moment...knew I had to keep moving.  The only other option was to sit down and die. 
That sounds like melodrama--and for the purposes of this post it is--but it was the truth.  Only under my own power was I going to get out of the predicament I had bushwhacked myself into.  If I stopped where I was the likelihood that anyone would find me before I expired was pretty slim.  Nigh as can be to impossible.
There was only one direction to go as well--forward. I'd had the help of gravity to get me into the snarled and chaotic pit of deadfall hell I'd found myself in.  To turn back would be to climb up through maybe a quarter of a mile of the worst of it.  The blind determination of youth had driven me down off of Osborne Bend looking for a shortcut back to the car.  I'd chosen a likely drainage and committed.  I'd failed once again to reach the magnificent promontory I'd seen overtowering Gladie Creek and was in retreat.  In the end I would not be able to reach the place I had come to refer to in my head as "Valhalla" by hiking out the featureless ridges from the Douglas Trail.  In the end I had to tackle it head on in a vertical two hundred foot bushwhack.  But that victory was still months hence.
As I sagged into the rhodo, chest heaving, eyes burning, limbs limp, I felt doubly defeated.  I laughed at my predicament; never for a second considering I wouldn't make it out of the woods whole and happy.  And as my breathing returned to normal I heard a sound: waterfall.
I gathered the shattered remnants of my ego and body out of the undergrowth and crawled forward, downstream, toward the growing sound.  Ahead of me I saw the stream disappear into space, and I stood erect, moved out to the edge of a small cliff and looked down.  It was a fifteen foot cascade down a mini-amphitheater.  I looked for a good way down and past this new obstacle but there was just more rhodo and deadfall all around.  My only choice was to continue surfing the undergrowth around and down past the fall.  And so I set about making my slow and incremental progress toward civilization. 
Looking back at the waterfall from below I was impressed but exhausted.  I stood in the ankle deep water, chest still heaving, body growing ever more weary, and my mind not even able to motivate the arms to drag out the cheap point-and-shoot camera to capture the scene.  With slumped shoulders I turned and began walking downstream.  As the sound of the waterfall behind me faded another sound began to grow.  It was deeper.  It was heavier.  And after a few more steps I realized I was coming upon the top of another waterfall.  It was definitely bigger.
As the lip came into view I same nothing but an empty space in the forest beyond.  Water rushed over bare sandstone toward the precipice before disappearing into the void below.  I inched forward; mindful of my footing on the wet rock as I neared the edge.
A long way below my feet I saw an emerald green pool of water, a sand beach, and I felt the empty air under me.  I was standing on the lip of a deep rockhouse and the waterfall tumbled forty? fifty? a hundred feet? to the pool below.  I didn’t think it was a hundred.  Later I would look at the topo map and the contours indicated a forty foot vertical change in that location.  I figure its somewhere between fifty and sixty in reality.  But as I stood on the lip of the falls looking down I was both eager to find a way past the obstacle to see it in its full glory and also despondent that perhaps I had found my dead end for the day and the reality of backtracking through rhododendron hell was settling into my bones where it burned like poison. 
I decided all there was to it was to pick a side and walk the cliff until I found a weakness.  Somehow I did and then backtracked through more rhodo to the stunning cove where the waterfall plunged into its picturesque pool.  It was worth expending a little energy to drag out the camera and try to capture the dim late day scene. 
I lingered as long as my bedazzled mind would allow before the needs of my depleted body drove me toward the road, my car, and a waiting cheeseburger or three at Dairy Queen in Stanton.  The two mile hike down the creek was still an obstacle course of deadfall, rhododendron, numerous creek crossings, and boulder hopping.  Finally, after a long and grueling journey I returned to the car and drove out of the Red River Gorge toward the comforts of civilization.  I could not wait to go back and revisit that waterfall.  From below the next time though!  Over the next few years I would revisit Copperas Creek Falls a handful of times and bemoan each new bit of evidence proving that people were finding the waterfall. 

Soon after my first visit I returned with one of my cousins who was into hiking and shared it with him.  I finally got some decent photos that day, and as I turned from my camera and tripod I looked up to see him carving his name in the stone at the back of the deep rockhouse.  Throwing off my normal aversion to confrontation I called him out, angrily asking what the hell he was doing.  He just grinned sheepishly but had no real explanation for what he'd done.

I made a pact with myself to never again take someone unworthy to visit the site.  And to my word as far as I can remember I only took one other friend and then later my girlfriend Mandy who later became my wife. 
This past Sunday afternoon Mandy and I took the kids to Copperas Creek Falls.  The trail is well worn now.  The first half looks like a trail from a national park to some iconic overlook or vista.  We passed numerous hiking parties.  Most were large groups with dogs, kids, and smoking cigarettes or talking loudly.  When we finally reached the waterfall the couple hiking in front of us parked themselves on a boulder right next to the base of the waterfall and stayed there for a long time.  I just wanted one unspoiled photo…sigh.  Being patient paid off and I got my shot, but within a few minutes after the place was crowded with people frolicking in the icy cold water and their raised voices echoing off of the surrounding stalwart sandstone walls.
Writing about these experiences is bittersweet.  On one hand I love to share these kinds of places with the world.  This is my reality.  This is where I grew up and the insides of my soul are shaped like the canyons and ridges of the Red River Gorge.  It’s left a deep impression upon on my spirit.  But then I see that this place has become a token experience for so many.  The hike is not trivial, but the tramp of so many feet has made it accessible.  The lure was cast on the internet with so many photos of the place and exact descriptions of the route to get there.  Too many now know about this special place for it to be special like it once was.  I’ve seen this happen with so many places in the Gorge: Indian Staircase, Cloudsplitter, Hanson’s Point, and so many arches and overlooks throughout. 
The Gorge was never my personal playground.  But it felt much more personal before the internet-spawned hordes, before detailed maps, and online forums where people could feed their uncertainty until they just absolutely knew where to go before setting out. 
I have to admit as we rode home I felt despair.  It feels like the Gorge has changed and continues to change and won’t go back to the way it was.  I tried to gently correct someone on social media a while back who was applying a known climbing crag name to a place in a different part of the Gorge.  I finally got to the point where I was being somewhat of a dick and implying: I know what I’m talking about, stop arguing with me!  
And so as we hiked up and down Copperas Creek passing the groups: with and without with dogs on leashes, hipsters, rednecks, Trump supporters, treehuggers, college kids, and SAR wanna-bes along the way.  I question why I would want to bring more people to the area.  I question if building mountain bike trails in the Gorge is a good idea.  Should I be putting on an event to draw more people to this place I love?  Should I be writing about it?  Or should I accept change as a normal part of life and accept it?
I did note that despite an increase in traffic I saw little garbage on the way to the waterfall.  While there are two big campsites that have been worn down that weren’t there the last time Mandy and I bushwhacked up Copperas Creek they don’t look like the denuded sites along Pinch Em Tight or Auxier Ridge.  But how long will it take before they do?
What I take away from this post myself (and rarely do I feel so differently at the end than when I sit down to write) is that maybe it’s time for solutions, and maybe I am in a unique position to be a part of that solution.  I don’t know just how yet.  I have some ideas.  I know some things are coming down the pipeline, but I think it is time to work harder to educate the masses and try to get ahead of future impacts.  I’m not in any way discrediting ongoing or past efforts.  I’m simply saying I want to be part of the solution and not just pine for yon lost days and become a curmudgeon.  There should be a viable future for this area, and as more and more feet tramp around the Gorge it’s going to take a more proactive approach from those who care most about it.
 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Ramming Speed Fridays: Snarko Edition

The first line of the description on Amazon for my book Leadville or Bust is:

“This is a book about one average guy's attempt to finish the Leadville 100 mountain bike race in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.”

Nowhere in the description or the introduction do I present the book as a how-to guide to finishing the race.  In fact, I don’t even claim to be a finisher in the descriptions because I kind of wanted it to remain somewhat of a mystery.  And my eventual crossing of the finish line was twenty four minutes shy of the cutoff.  So there’s that.  Oh, PRECEDING SPOILER ALERT.

I got a good chuckle at the fourth review of the book on Amazon by a guy named “Smarko.”
Smarko writes: “It's more about the author than about the race.”  And he gives the book a one star rating.

On the very same day that Smarky posted his review of my adventure memoir he also penned what appears to be his own magnum opus regarding another book in the Leadville 100 genre called The First Timer’s Guide to the Leadville 100.  I’m really happy to be associated with this book.  It seems like maybe a good companion to my book which is all about all the wrong things to do to prepare for and execute a one hundred mile mountain bike race in the mountains of Colorado.

S-Marko so eloquently opined about The First Timer's Guide: “Very good read. Lots of useful info for a regular Joe prepping for his top bucket list race.”

I like his riff on the “average guy” theme in my book with his “regular Joe” reference.  In other places I’ve referred to myself as an “average Joe.” So it seems as if Smarko has been perhaps doing his research and my subtle influence is showing through like a sagging slip.  But his review is also telling in other ways.  

Smark is apparently prepping for a big event in his life.  He was lured into reading my book…perhaps someone had recommended The First Timer’s Guide to him and when he went later to look it up came across Leadville or Bust and clicked “Buy With One Click” before he had time to reconsider.  Instantly realizing his mistake he searched again and came across the more helpful book for those who need reassurance and validation from others.  

It’s apparent the esteemed Amazon reviewer (ranked #699,437) knows his mountain biking lore.  He has reviewed the two aforementioned books as well as a host of other products.  He seems to like his Nazi themed flicks.  He has reviewed Operation: Nazi Zombies and also gave it one star as well stating: “I'd give it zero stars if I could. Soooo stupid.”  He doesn’t mention whether or not he watched the whole thing before deciding it was bad or if he simply turned it off three minutes in and since he could decide on anything better opted to write that scathing review before ambling back from his man cave to seek solace in a Hungry Man frozen dinner.  Similarly, he gave UFO: The Secret Force of Hitler one star and bestowed this amazing insight to all of us mindless Amazon drones: “Don't bother. Hard to follow. Need to drop the volume on the Russians so the interpreter can be heard better.”  I definitely won’t be watching it now that I know it is plagued with post-production issues.

Smarko and I do agree on the five star rating for the Amazon series Man in the High Castle.  I read the Philip K. Dick novel years ago and eager awaited the release of the series before binge watching it through to the end. The only thing that troubles me about Smarkum’s interest in the show is that it seems to continue a trajectory of fascination with the Nazis in our bold reviewer.  I rooted for the resistance.

Finally, to close the thread of this scatter-brained response to a review of my poorly written and self-edited adventure memoir about a mountain bike race that the majority of the world is totally and completely unaware exists I must share this review which redeems Smarko of all ill-intent.  His impression of the Chamois Butt’r Original 8 oz. Tube he gave it a five star: "It worls!" review, adding “It puts it on the skin.”  I’ve never seen whorling patterns in my chamois cream.  In fact, it’s hard to verify I’ve applied it evenly and completely without the help of a partner, but knowing that Smarko goes the extra mile and has seen the whorls in the butt cream makes me confident in his reviewing abilities and I must admit my bound toilet paper of a book, along with Operation Nazi Zombies and UFO: The Secret Force of Hitler deserve our lowly one star reviews. 

I guess he probably got a few pages into my book and realized he’d screwed up. It wasn’t the how-to guide he wanted.  It was only about some punter like me who was trying to inspire people and not actually offer any helpful information.  He simply closed the book, logged back in to Amazon, and offered his unbiased and professional opinion about my poorly written and hastily produced vanity memoir.

I felt like saying I was average and calling my efforts an attempt at the Leadville 100 would be some kind of clue to ward off those looking for literary gold or profound coaching strategies.  I have failed in that regard.

And so I must offer to Smarko and anyone else who came looking for boundless truth in my book a refund on your hope.  I will give it back as best I can.  When I return to Leadville in years hence I’ll add a chapter or two about what a successful finishing strategy might be for the Leadville 100.  If I go back.  If I feel like it.


But as of today I have four reviews and 75% of them were five stars.  So I got that going for me.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Couch Jockey Rockets Home

Friday night we had our second Oddball Friday group ride.  There were three of us.  So all total there are now four in the Oddball club.  Hopefully that number will grow as time goes on. The ride was good. I’m not going to go into great detail—not because it wasn’t a good ride, but because I want to talk more in detail about my road ride over the weekend—but suffice it to say it nearly turned into a night ride and young master Jack (Rob’s son) was in full stoke mode the whole time.  Even when it started raining on us.  We started the ride at the intersection of FR 227 (Marble Yard Rd) and FR 2056 (Branham Ridge Rd?) on the Powell – Estill County line.  We rode over to FR 230 (Horse Ridge Rd) first, and toiled through the deep leaves along the stunning ridge to its end where we played in the rocks for a bit before returning to Marble Yard and then making a token run out FR 2056.  It got dark fast and then we split and headed to our respective homes.

Rob and Jack on Horse Ridge, Estill County

I’ve put off returning to the road for far too long.  For whatever reason I’ve been a bit gunshy.  It might be recent encounters with dogs or a general aversion to dealing with motor vehicle traffic as a motorist myself.  But I haven’t really been much of a road cyclist since Trump took office and it worried me.  I know that sounds silly, and some of you might be thinking I’m a milquetoast snowflake, but I gotta tell you that there was some incredible off the couch kickassery this weekend in the Red River Gorge. 

I took an early morning ride east.  My intent was to ride the Gorge loop from home.  Two years ago I was riding that route regularly and had whittled it down to a 53 mile sub-three hour jaunt and the norm was a no-foot-down ride with two water bottles and a couple Clif Bars in my jersey pockets.  I didn’t know if I was up for it, but I was game to try. 

The ride started off slow with a headwind from the east.  I fought it all the way to Nada where I turned onto 77 headed toward Nada Tunnel.  As soon as I passed under the parkway overpass I saw another cyclist ahead of me.  It looked like he was on a mountain bike.  In about a half mile I overtook him and asked if he was riding gravel.  He answered that he was sticking to the pavement and bade me a good ride.  I took that as a sign that he didn’t want to chat.  I returned the sentiment and pulled away.

When I reached the tunnel he was just a little ways behind me.  I circled around, called out to ask if he had a light (I did) and he replied no and asked if he could ride through with me.  I slowed, let him catch up, and we rode through together without much ado.  On the far side I slowed to switch my light back to strobe (rode the entire ride with it and a rear blinky) and to put my sunglasses back on.  It took me til past Martins Fork to overtake him, but once I did I left him far behind.

Once I was cruising along the river I finally felt my legs under me.  I was standing up for the short punchy hills and holding a fifteen mph average pace.  That seemed low to me, but I wasn’t shooting for a particular time or pace for the ride.  I just wanted to set a baseline to measure progress as I start ramping up for the Mohican. 

There had been little thought for how I would approach Sky Bridge Hill or if I would even be able to ride it in my flabulous state.  I’d not climbed anything that hard in a very long time.  Most recently I’ve plied Furnace Hill a couple times on Ol’ Fatter Than Average, but it has a nice 42t climbing gear (even though it’s only a 1x11) but I was untested on a true Cumberland Plateau testpiece with roadio gearing. 

I didn’t hesitate.  I didn’t stop to empty my water bottles.  I just climbed Sky Bridge Hill.  In fact, I got a PR on the Skybridge final Pitch  segment and a second fastest time on THE Sky Bridge Hill which is the full monty from the old campground to the top.  As I climbed I felt like I was going slow.  There was no drive to go fast or push hard.  I just wanted to get to the top of the hill without blowing out a knee.  I can’t say I’m unhappy with the result.

Sky Bridge Ridge never disappoints and I was flying along in the moment surfing the ridge and enjoying the fine weather and bright sunlight as I drove the bike on toward Pine Ridge.  Then I noticed that I was painfully close to the right pace to reach Pine Ridge for a sub-three hour finish.  Painfully close; but not close enough.

When I turn right onto KY 15 from KY 715 at Sky Bridge Station it’s twenty two miles home.  With the Slade Hill descent and a favorable wind I can make it home in an hour from that point.  I was just over two hours when I got there.  I knew there was no hope for a fast return, but I knew there was no reason not to throw down a respectable effort.  So I lay over the handlebars and raced for home.
I was down Slade Hill and through Slade proper like a freight train.  Usually the last dozen miles or so feel rough, but for whatever reason my legs felt better and better.  Don’t get me wrong, this ride wasn’t a cakewalk.  My saddlesore area was raw and my feet were numb.  My back ached and my left knee sang its off-key anthem.  But in the end I felt pretty darn good.

When I got home I went crazy stretching my legs.  I made sure to do it really well, and then Mandy and I took about an hour and a half long nap which I am hoping will promote better recovery.  The ride took me three hours and twenty four minutes.  The first time I tried to do that ride for time I managed three hours and fourteen minutes and I was in much better shape.  Maybe I ain’t lost it all yet…

So, Mohican here I come!



Friday, March 31, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Spring Showers Edition


There's that scene in the Flying Scotsman where Johnny Lee Miller portraying Graeme Obree is sitting off by himself looking miserable while the rest of the room is throwing a huge party on his behalf for breaking the hour record (as best I can remember).  I identify with that scene.  I remember the first time I saw that movie...I watched it because it was about cycling but it struck me with its message about mental illness.  And so I read the book.  But that scene causes me to tear up. 
Over the past three weeks—which have been pretty good—Mandy and I have discussed mental health and other personal issues in depth.  I've had my third visit to the therapist, and each time I feel a bit better about where I’m headed.  Nothing earth-shattering, but definitely on a positive track…
But then the rock star streak kicks in.  Our planning for the hundred mile mountain bike race is kicking along really well.  I am continually reaffirmed in my schemes and pursuits.  When I read the room I feel that people are feeling the vibe and in full support of the things I want to see happen in the world.  So for now the depression is at bay.  Life is good (it’s always good even when things are not going well).  And I’m clearing a few things from my desk slowly but surely. 
I just wonder when I’m going to go off in sit in a corner by myself again.  I don’t want to.  And I hope next time I can see it coming and head off those urges at the pass. 
The strangest thing about depression is that it—at least for me—has almost nothing to do with what’s going on around me.  I used to think when bad things happen you get depressed.  My experience over the past few years has been contrary to that.  Good things can be coming at you in droves and the depression can keep you from benefitting from the positive energy that’s bombarding you.  It’s like a cloak that sheds water away from you when you desperately need to be cooled off.  Inside is stifling and dark.  Outside people are cavorting in the nice spring rain. 
Good things are happening in my life; I’m enjoying them greatly. 
 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Maybe It's the Rain

The brown and gray hills blurred by, obscured by rain, and speed, and construction barrels.  I was soaring high on the ride I had just completed on the Dawkins Line Trail in Eastern Kentucky.  I was out of the “restaurant row” construction along the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway where they had carved out a great canyon through the hills to widen the road. I have to be honest, I think the Parkway widening project is a lot of wasted money.  The road was originally built as an economic development road.  While I do concede conditions in Eastern Kentucky are better than they would have been without Bert Combs vision for the road, I don’t think the promises made were fulfilled, and I don’t think adding a couple of lanes and decreasing the drive time west by a few minutes is going to be a billion dollar game changer.  Maybe I’ll be proved wrong, but I just don’t see this being a worthy investment.

Much like the Mountain Parkway the Dawkins Line was built with the promise of bringing in big dollars.  While the Parkway was intended to be a conduit for industry and as a way to get the coal out of the hills the rail trail is intended to extract tourist dollars from the pockets of visitors to the region from elsewhere.  I’ve ridden the Dawkins about four times now.  I’ve finally seen all of it that is currently constructed.  And on this last ride I felt the least welcomed.  I can’t put my finger on it, but something was different.

I landed in Royalton at about twelve hundred hours.  Ol’ Fatter than Average deployed behind the church there.  It was still dry as I’d outpaced the rain heading east from home.  The skies were gunmetal gray but it seemed like the weather might hold off for a while.  I was on the bike and pedaling west within minutes of arriving in Royalton.

My plan was to ride thirty miles.  I needed the distance in preparation for the upcoming Mohican 100 (kilometer) in Ohio the first Saturday in June.  First I wanted to see Carver Tunnel.  Tomahawk told me about it after his ride exploring around that end of the trail.  It was a long easy grade for 7.4 miles from the trailhead to the tunnel.  As advertised it’s still closed.  I lingered a few minutes before turning the ol’ Pine Mountain east. 

Right away I picked up considerable speed.  I was back at Royalton in no time flat.  I’d been riding a little over an hour when I reached the equestrian trailhead a half mile west of Royalton proper.  I checked the restrooms, but they’re still closed.  It was a good opportunity to stretch unconditioned legs a bit.  I ate half of the incredible breakfast burrito my lovely wife had sent with me.  After a short rest I was back on my way heading for the eastern terminus of the trail at Hagerhill.  I didn’t know if I would ride the whole thing, but I wanted to.

Through Royalton I cranked away.  A couple of spokebait lapdogs came running after me, but I was moving too fast for them to be much of a threat.  I climbed toward Gun Creek Tunnel.  A few heavy drops fell as I approached the first road crossing east of the trailhead.  I stopped at the bench and stowed my phone in a Ziploc.  It wasn’t too much further down the trail—just after crossing a trestle—when the attack dogs came out.  I say “attack” dogs, but they were really just a couple of herd dogs who thought they’d nip me along.  But the first one came all stealth like and was right on my back wheel before barking.  I called out in threat reaching for my empty water bottle.  I’d carried the hydration pack for drinking and figured to use the water bottle in case of dog attack.  I didn’t check to see if there was water in the bottle.

My shout fended off the first attack, but as I turned my eyes over the handlebars a second sally came.  I couldn’t tell if it was the same dog, but by then there were two medium sized black dogs.  Again, I called out menacingly and kept pedaling.  They backed off, but I knew I’d likely have to face them again on the return trip.

Gun Creek Tunnel

At the tunnel I got off the bike again for a minute or so.  On the other side I was on all new ground. And I was picking up solid speed again as I cruised toward Ivyton and the Mountain Parkway crossing.  I’d been riding for a couple of hours and my hands weren’t used to that kind of riding.  As I continued downward from the tunnel I sat up and let my arms dangle at my sides as I kept pedaling.  Homes flashed past.  The trail was a blur under me.  I couldn’t help but smile and push a little harder on the pedals.

I crossed the Parkway at a pretty good clip and kept right on moving.  Then I was in new territory again (I’d ridden a short section of the Ivyton and Parkway segment on my way to the 2013 KBBC conference at Jenny Wiley State Park) and climbed to a low gap and began descending into a narrow hollow.  The road then turned off and I found myself on a section of trail unlike the rest of the Dawkins.  There was no road paralleling, no homes, no development.  The trail was cut into a steep hillside overlooking a rock-filled and mossy stream in between forested slopes. 

That section was truly amazing.  I wished more of the trail was like that.  There was no litter, no ramshackle Appalachian backdrop, and it offered a more natural passage through the hills.
Past that section I knew I was getting close to Swamp Branch.  The day was getting long.  I was feeling the miles and my stomach was beginning to nag at me with its growing emptiness. 

I stopped at the first kiosk when I reached the large but empty trailhead. I looked at the map and quickly realized that if I continued on to Hagerhill and then returned to my car under my own power it would be a fifty mile ride. I had not signed up for that. My goal was thirty miles.  I did my best head math and figured if I turned back around I’d get at least thirty miles.  And I had ridden everything east of Swamp Branch Trailhead in 2013 with Mandy after the KBBC. 

I looked west and saw a sky that was bruised blue and black.  It’s about eight miles or so from Swamp Branch back to Royalton.  It didn’t scare me to think of heading back that way.  I went prepared.  I had a rain jacket.  I’ve ridden through worse than whatever would thrash me on the way.  I wasn’t worried. 

The car is that way...

It wasn’t the rain that felt heavy, it was what I imagined would be a slow slog all the way back to Gun Creek Tunnel.  I knew all there was for it was for me to get on the bike and move.  There is no steep parts of Dawkins.  It was a railroad for cryin’ out loud!  Quickly, before heading out, I filled my water bottle for defense against the dogs.

I stopped once to rest again as I entered the undeveloped stretch.  There was a trestle there and I checked it out, drank a little more water, and as I was getting ready to start moving again the rain came.  It was sparse but heavy drops.  With it came a sense of urgency to keep moving. 



Finally I reached Gun Creek Tunnel and I only stopped at the bench on the west side to stretch a bit.  My knees were singing. And then I was on the home stretch, gaining momentum, rolling along faster and faster until I was in my highest gear, elbows resting on my handlebar, and pushing, pushing, pushing on the pedals.

As I approached the spot where the dogs came after me I grabbed my water bottle, but they didn’t come back out.  Maybe it was the rain.  Maybe it was the ghost of the coal train I was channeling as I cranked along at likely fifteen miles an hour on my way home.

I didn’t stop until there was nowhere else to go.  It felt good to lift the bike up onto the tray rack and settle into the driver’s seat.  The rain had subsided as I approached Royalton, but as I climbed into the Jeep it began in earnest.  By the time I reached the Mountain Parkway my wipers were outpacing the beat of Whitehouse Road blaring on the stereo. 

The construction slowed traffic but not as much as the heavy rain.  The great, garish road cuts looked like a linear strip mine.  Apparently that’s what we do in Eastern Kentucky: strip mines and road cuts.  And ATVs on the trail.  And illegal garbage dumps.  And avoiding eye contact with the crazy mountain biker on the trail in the rain.  And completely and totally failing to capitalize on a huge asset to the community because it’s a cultural oddity.

There are two trailheads at Royalton.  There’s really still not much in the way of services in the area.  Other than the trail itself there’s little that makes the area seem bicycle friendly.  It’s not overtly hostile, but it’s also disappointingly not welcoming.  Yet.  I hold out hope.  And maybe my timing was off visiting on a rainy Sunday in March.  

We were supposed to ride at Brown County, Indiana on Sunday.  We’d gone up to that area to help our friends with Next Opportunity Events volunteer at an ultra.  But the forecast was so wretched, and it was raining hard as we drove out of the state park where the race took place.  We decided to return home instead of blowing money on a hotel room.  And that’s how I ended up riding thirty-four miles on the Dawkins Line over the weekend. 


Riding through the Nashville, Indiana area in the rain we were excited about the prospects of returning to ride.  Everything we saw in Brown County and the Bloomington area said: “Come back!  We want you!” but as I drove home on the Mountain Parkway in a similar downpour I couldn’t help but think that the residents of the corridor along Bert Combs’s visionary road don’t yet get it, and right now could care less if I come and ride my bike in their neighborhood.  I’m sure we’ll keep going there to ride because it’s close to home and great fun.  And again, and again, and again I have hope that the Eastern Kentucky bike culture will grow.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Unscheduled Thursday Posts Can Be Fun Too


Facebook has this thing: On This Day.  I kinda like it.  It lets you see the odd rhythms of the years.  It shows patterns in life you wouldn’t otherwise see.  For example…
Four years ago in Clark County

Three years ago in the Gorge.  I miss this.
Time to dust off the ol' Dogrunner!
On March 23, 2013 I did a 46 mile bike ride from my sister’s house where we were staying around through Clark County and Montgomery County and back.  Then on 3/23/14 was the infamous “true love is letting the dog bite you instead of your wife” ride through the Gorge with Mandy and Casey Mozer. 
Fresh dog bite
I probably won’t manage a 45+ mile ride this evening, though I’m chomping at the bit to get out and pull down some big numbers again.  Was a time in my life 60 or 70 miles was off the couch easy and standard.  There was a time that I wouldn’t bother with a mere 20 mile ride because it just wasn’t long enough to engage my interest.
 
With mountain biking that’s different.  Obviously.  Mandy and Lily and I rode just shy of three mile the other night on Tarr Ridge; the Dark Hollow side.  While I would have cranked out at least the six of the 77 trails had I been by myself it was enjoyable to spend time with my ladies in the woods.  Lily just can’t keep up on trails at this point.  I think she has the fitness but the wrong bike.  Though…she does seem to have grown into her six speed Specialized.  I think maybe I should do some one on one work with her and see if we can’t coach her to better enjoyment.  A good kids clinic would do wonders for her J
 Maybe Mandy and I or I alone will get out tonight and skim some pavement.  I have also realized I can do my afternoon rides and grab some miles without getting on the main roads around town during the evening rush.  I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before, but the next time I go out alone I’m going to do this ride, and I’ll be sure to share here on the back alley wall of the internet.
The weekend looks promising as well.  I’ll not give away the surprise, but Monday’s report might be worth waiting for.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Bike Culture Club

I may have become inspired to start riding again.  I mean, on the road and over longer distances.  Maybe it’s time to dance with traffic again.  Climb these many hills.  Shake off the shadows of gravity and climb into the sky…

I had a great weekend.

Friday I had invited anyone who wanted to come for the first ever Oddball Friday Red River Gorge mountain bike ride.  So far there are only two in the Oddball club, but I expect that number to climb.  

Kenny from Hazard showed up and he and I rode the west side of the Tarr Ridge 77 trails.  We didn’t get far and I showed him the hidden abandoned logging road I had found when I rode with Bean.  We wandered down and down and down that ol road throwing deadfall out of the way, riding our bikes a little ways, walking and chucking deadwood, and finally we left the bikes and hiked the last bit to the end of the ridge.  It was a full half a mile long from where it left the main doubletrack. 

When rode back up and continued on out the main ridge toward the “Dark Hollow” trail.  But shortly after getting back on track Kenny rode over a small stump and punctured his tire.  We spent a good bit of time trying to patch his tube and then changing to a fresh one, and as we finished up we heard thunder and noticed it was getting dark.  So the first Oddball Friday ride was cut short and we ended up just shy of two miles of riding and were chased out of the parking lot by a sudden heavy rain just after we were both loaded up. Kenny invited me to come down and ride around Hazard sometime, and I think I need to.  It sounds like he has a lot of potential in his area too.

Saturday dawned overcast and dreary.  There wasn’t much hope for warmth or sun on my Tarr Ridge tour ride.  I’d invited folks to come see what was there to ride and to talk about the potential and possibilities for future trails there.  But my little mountain bikers heart swelled when I reached the 77 parking lot right at 9:00am and saw it was full of cars with bikes hanging off of them at all kinds of odd angles.  Counting myself there were ten.



Kris was lagging—he’d forgotten his bike shoes and had to backtrack to Irvine—so we went out the east side of the 77 trails first because it was a simple out and back and I could text him the directions: “Ride the trail behind the RRG sign.”  The group moved pretty quick out the ridge. Dave and I stopped to clear one log as the rest of the mountain bikers continued on following Josh. He’s another Clark Countian and he’s been riding Tarr Ridge a lot lately too.

We all collected out on the cool overlook about a mile and a half out the ridge.  The group lingered there marveling at how good the trail was, how amazing the views were (the fog was clearing and the sun was peeking out), and exchanging stories and talking about bikes and gear and just generally having a good time.  Kris finally caught us just as we were heading back to the parking lot. Rinse, ride and repeat.  We did it all again, but finally we headed south toward the 77 parking lot and the final leg onto the “Dark Hollow” trail.

The view at the end of FR 173

We lost one at the trailhead as he was still having trouble with a leaking tube, but the rest of the group continued south along the doubletrack, left at the wildlife opening, and then onto the really cool user created singletrack through a dark stand of pines, tightly twisting amongst the trees, over small logs, and finally out a really nice narrow ridge to the final stout crank to the knob at the end of the ridge. Dave took a plunge into the rhodo but came up laughing as I snapped his photo before giving him a hand out.



We scrambled along the edge of the cliff at the end down to the top of Bedtime for Bonzo, and finally turned toward the parking lot for one last time.  We made the side detour that Kenny and I had cleared of deadfall the night before and eventually returned to our cars with about fifteen miles under our lycra waistbands and big smiles all around.  Along the way we all talked about other rides we've done and would like to do.  I think the demand for a Red River Gorge of-road cycling community is apparent.  The seeds have not only been planted, but are sprouting and thriving.






The race planning is going well.  Mandy and I went out Sunday afternoon to look at tow aid station locations.  I know them well, but I’ve never been at either location thinking: this would be a good spot for an aid station, I think it should be set up thusly. So we visited them both and stood there thinking this would be a good spot for an aid station, I think it should be set up thusly.  And we discussed some issues and had a couple of epiphanies and we’re certain we’ve got those two spots pinned down.

Afterward we drove over into Estill County and hiked the 0.7 miles down to Cottage Furnace from Marble Yard Road.  The access road is closed.  We poked around the furnace for a little bit and then hiked out.  It was a decent little outing and we had a good time hanging out.  That area is nice and has a lot of potential, but it seems like there’s a good possibility that maybe in the past it’s been ill-treated and that’s why the Forest Service has closed the facility.



On the drive out we discussed a hypothetical gravel bike ride that would incorporate all of the best / worst climbs in the area.  When we got home I mapped it out, discussed a few tweaks, and came up with a route that starts and ends in Stanton, covers 67 miles, and gains and loses 6,700’ of elevation.  There are eight pretty tough climbs on the route.  Most everything else is rolling terrain. The only downfall is that there are five miles of mandatory gravel and the rest is paved.  But it’s all adventure riding!


This might be more epic than the hundred mile race…