Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Difference a Year...

Check one two...

Did I forget how to do this?  On a whim I peeked to see what the last thing I wrote on the blog was and discovered that it was a year ago today I last blogged.

Holy cow I can't even begin to wrap my brain around how to compose an update on my life.

In November last year I found out our house was going into foreclosure.  Prior to that in 2018 I almost lost my vision due to allergies and an issue with my contact lenses.  I ran for county sheriff and lost the primary.  I lost my job at Bluegrass ADD.  I got a job working as recycling coordinator for Powell County and supervising inmates. I had one of those inmates steal my 2018 Dodge Ram 2500 work truck with only 6,000 miles on it (that was October 2018 and they still haven't caught him).

Then the foreclosure...which I forestalled, and was able to turn around with a loan modification.  The holidays were rough.  Mandy and I really struggled for two months, and finally in January we split up.  We were divorced in March. There's a lot I could say about that, but I won't. 

I'm happy.  It's be an interesting journey.  It's not been without some rough patches.  And I'm still trying to figure out my direction in life I guess.  I decided I was going to be a rock climbing guide again.  So last spring I successfully completed the American Mountain Guides Association's Single Pitch Instructor Course and Exam and also completed my Wilderness First Aid Course.  So I am a certified Single Pitch Instructor now.  I haven't worked a single day as a guide yet, but I intend to.

I self published In the Red: Adventures in Kentucky's Red River Gorge It's still new, and I haven't gotten any print copies to sell yet, though I intend to.  I want to promote it and make it do well.  But I'm still a little hesitant.

I am also writing for the Clay City Times now.  I basically cover the local public meetings like school board, city councils, and fiscal court.  I covered my third meeting tonight.

Oh!  How could I have forgotten?!  The second boat access in Clay City was finally finished.  Hinkle ended up donating all the labor and materials and put in a really nice access point.  The City is putting up the money to pave the access road and turnaround.  The day we did the dedication was a really good day for me.  That was four years of effort realized.  Because of me there are now two public improved boat access points on the Red River in Clay City which provide much greater access to the river for a larger number of people. 

And so to punctuate this totally random update...here are some photos...

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Long Slow Heat Death of the Universe

Entropy has stolen my youth.  As I stand under a one move V3 boulder problem I found, cleaned, and sent nineteen years ago I realize it’s more of a memorial to my lost vigor than a challenge to be met in my middle age.  I touch the small, coarse holds and wince.
I once had the energy reserves and more to do the problem.  This day I feel a distinct lack of that wellspring I once enjoyed.  I feel the wrecked shoulder, the creaky knees, the gunshy forty-five year old body…and I can’t imagine reclaiming the energy I’ve expended into the cold void of the universe.
It’s autumn in the Red River Gorge.  Yellow accents color the scene amongst the roadside boulders below the towering Lower Small Wall crag.  Emerald green mosses cling to faces I once climbed.  There’s almost no sign this was a heavily travelled bouldering area.  Well, heavily travelled by me when I used to run a roadside circuit between Tower Rock, Lower Small Wall, and Sky Bridge Ridge.
I look at the other, easier problems to the right of the V3.  I know they were easier but they reveal a boldness I’d forgotten I once possessed.  Small rounded crimps on an overhanging prow over a back breaking low boulder.  Bold...or stupid?
But back to the first line: I called it The Weasel.  It’s a joke really—the name—a misunderstood line in a Dave Matthews song.  But the problem was wiley enough it deserved a name like The Weasel.  
Its one move but still damn hard.  It begins with a high four-finger-single-digit positive crimp sidepull for the right hand and a shitty half-pad-two-and-a-half-finger sharp crimp undercling you rock up into as you step onto a hip-high sloping shelf.  Once you’re established in this overhanging posture the single move is to lunge with the left hand for a flat but downsloping positive two-digit ledge.  It’s a three foot deadpoint.  Your feet cut loose and the lower handholds become useless.  The summit hold isn’t wide enough to match your hands.  You have to find a camouflaged baby dimple smear for one foot immediately and bring your free hand up and higher to the slopey boulder top in order to make the overhanging mantel.  It feels like you’re doing a one-arm pull-up.  

I have always claimed Dreams as my single best contribution to the bouldering tally in Red River Gorge.  And I contributed a lot.  Between 1999 and 2006 I put up hundreds of problems up to V5 almost single-handedly.  But The Weasel sits out there as another proud line I brought into being.  I have no idea if it’s ever been repeated.  No one I climbed with ever successfully sent it.  Dreams has had scores of repeats.  My other V3 testpiece—Who Remembers Briseis?—is also one of my favorites and has never been repeated as far as I know.  It’s even more obscure than The Weasel.  Hell, I can see my car from the Weasel Boulder as I type this.
So I clean the top out.  I clean the other lines on the boulder—there’s not much to clean on The Weasel—and cut the deadfall tree trunk that guarded the top out when I walked up.  Why?  I’m not going to be able to send V3 after not having climbed anything harder than 5.6 in almost ten years.
But it’s all clean.  My crashpad and shoes and chalkbag sit underneath.  I learned my lesson on the first ascent of Dreams fifteen years ago.  I sit down, do my Mister Rogers quick change, and turn to the start holds.  Damn, they’re small!

Muscle memory kicks in as I find the sending position.  My right is solid and I remember it has to take most of the weight to get myself off the ground.  I step up onto the shelf, bear down on the holds, and wonderfully, miraculously, insanely step up and feel my body return to the stance that sets me up for the throw to the summit edge.  And I grin with my whole body and drop off.
But hell, I didn’t even try the move; once again I tickle the edges, toe up, rock into the bear hug set up, and cut loose for the top!
I didn’t come close, but the ability is there still in my bones and sinew and muscle.  More importantly—it’s there still in my mind.  All I need is a little conditioning.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Dusting Off the Dogrunner

I have not ridden my road bike in a criminal length of time. I’ve hardly ridden mountain bike in 2018 at all. I had lingering health issues after The Fig, and then the silly run for Sheriff and then I basically went blind. Riding a bike was not my priority for awhile.

Last week I aired up the Continentals and propped my sporty-sport bike—the stalwart Dogrunner—by he basement door with helmet and bike shoes at the ready. The next morning after I got Bean off to school I came back home, kitted out, and rolled.

I knew better than to have ambitious plans so I only intended an eighteen mile ride. In retrospect...that’s hilarious. I had no idea how out of condition I am.

As I rolled off the creek I passed fencerows overgrown with blooming honeysuckle.  The sky overhead was a harsh blue.  My eyes were still sensitive and I was in eyeglasses and not contact lenses and sunglasses like normal.

Making the crossing to Clay City I was able to cruise along at half the normal speed of the slow-moving motorist that usually impede me as I go to and fro. If it were a felony to drive forty to forty-miles an hour between Stanton and Clay City the jails would be FULL.

I turned on Pompeii Road and took a long pull from my water bottle. The short but steep Pompeii climb felt harder than usual. The next shorter and steeper hill felt harder than usual. And then the longer and steep climb to gain Tharp Ridge sealed the deal: I would cut the tide short.

Tharp Ridge is a beautiful rolling ride through the woods before a descent down to Lower Paint Creek and a nice cruise along open fields in the broad river bottoms of the Red.

I could have continued up the valley along North Bend to Rosslyn like I’d intended when I left home, but my body felt the miles and told me to cut it short, so I turned south toward Stanton. I had agreed to proof for the Mohican this coming Saturday and was scrambling for some base miles. Again...hilarious. I will suffer on Saturday.

The ride was good. I needed that. I needed to make the first pedal stroke back to fitness. My brain needed the vestibular input. My lungs and legs needed to work.

I’m hoping to ride regularly now. I want to focus on twenty to thirty mile distances...nothing crazy. But then there’s The Fig in the fall. I still intend to do better this year than I did last. Hell, maybe win the thing.

So not only have I dusted off my road bike, but I dusted off that part of me that has laid dormant for far too long. That’s the part of me that any long time regular readers know good and well.

Yesterday Mike of Next Opportunity Events put out a call for volunteers to help mark his inaugural War Hammer 100 trail run.  Mandy saw the post and asked if I could help, so I got in touch with Mike and planned to meet up with him in McKee later in the morning.  Between he and I and Kipp we were able to mark a good portion of the trail south of McKee down to where the Sheltowee intersects KY 89 near Livingston.  I rode a tough and muddy 9+ mile section in a blistering three and a half hours.

I’m gearing up the rest of this week to go proof at the Mohican and promote the RRG MTB 100 and Leadville or Bust during packet pickup.  After I get back there are no excuses…I need to start working myself back into shape. I’ve been sedentary far too long and it’s hurting me to not be active.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Chainring Turning Again

Wow, so much to update!  My last post was in February.  I hid the blog because I was running for county sheriff and I didn’t want anyone mining my blog for things to use against me.  I’m 1000% committed to honesty, but things can be taken out of context or not have the appropriate context when posted in a blog.  So instead of hoping no one found this place and used my own words against me I hid it. 

I did not win the primary election for democratic candidate for Powel County Sheriff.  I lost by roughly 400 votes.  Considering there were approximately 3,100 democratic voters that came out I did pretty well for my first political campaign.  I did really well considering the things I had to work against during the campaign. 

At the end of March I lost my job.  Department of Local Government cut JFA funding (don’t ask, I don’t know) and Kentucky Infrastructure Authority funding was cut.  The ADD let 13 folks go including myself and one of the GIS guys. At that point I had not bought signs or really done any advertising.  I had to ask for money through my campaign Facebook page.  With the meager funds that were donated I was able to buy some yard signs and do a little promotion.

Then around the middle of April my eyes were inflamed with allergies which led to serious irritation.  The optometrist—when I finally went—said it looked like someone had sandpapered my corneas.  The last two weeks leading up to the election I spent mostly in bed with the covers over my head or in a dark room with the blackout curtains drawn, unable to even see my computer screen to write.  The upside is I finished the entire series of Game of Thrones that is currently available on DirecTV.

That meant I was unable to finish putting out my yard signs and unable to knock on doors when I desperately needed to do both.  I missed some great public events where I could have talked to people as well.  I just wasn’t able to go out in the daylight and even if I had I couldn’t see people to recognize them or make appropriate facial expressions.  I feel like if my eyes hadn’t rebelled against me I would have won the election.

But maybe I lost for a good reason.  Currently I have banked quite a bit of social capital in the planning world of Kentucky and I have a wealth of professional contacts that could make my dream of a private event planning/ consultant business a reality in a big way.  I’ve got the skills to be an event planner.  It’s what I’m good at. It’s aligned with my values and my passions.

There’s huge potential to grow this business and make a decent living at it.  In the coming days I’ll be putting hard numbers on paper (computer screen) and seeing how this is going to work.

My true dream is to make a living as a writer.  That’s not so easy.  However, just before my eyes betrayed me I finished a rough draft of my collection of short writing pieces about the Red River Gorge.  I’m working toward that as a reality in the short term.  And I’ve revamped Leadville or Bust and intend to have it fit for publication by the Mohican 100 on June 2nd where I’ll promote it and the Red River Gorge MTB 100 on Friday during packet pickup and then proof the course on Saturday.

This past Saturday the 2nd Annual Clay City Riverfest went off.  Mandy and I and some friends organized and executed it.  We did much better on planning and promoting the event this year, but the weather forecast was deplorable and we had a low turnout.  At 2:00pm the rains really hit the park hard and all our vendors packed up and left.  We cancelled the last two musical acts and pulled the plug.  But up to that point it was a great event.

I realize this isn’t a great poetic blog post to inspire and soothe the soul.  I needed to update on why I had been radio silent for a while before I dive back into writing for enjoyment here. 

Will I run for office again?  Most likely yes.  Will I run for sheriff again?  Most likely no, but I have learned to never say never.

Anyway, it’s good to be back, and I can’t wait to get back to writing more substantial posts.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Never Say Never

This is something I didn’t know to say “never” against.  It wasn’t something that had even entered my mind as a remote possibility. 

I’m running for County Sheriff.

I was not the kid who wanted to be a policeman when I grew up.  I didn’t figure I was brave enough, or good enough with a gun, or physically imposing enough to be a cop.  And as an adult when I considered future political activity it always seemed to be more in line with County Judge-Exec or magistrate or something like that.  Not anything to do with law enforcement.  Not sheriff.

The deadline to file in Kentucky was Tuesday at 4:00pm.  Tuesday was my 44th birthday.  Monday evening we went to Cory Graham’s house to work on Tina Epperson and Jarrett Rose’s campaigns.  Mandy is Tina’s campaign treasurer and she is running for Circuit Clerk.  Jarrett is running for District Judge.  I was going to stay home but Mandy asked if I wanted to tag along and I decided to go.

When I walked through the door Tina Beth said: “Do you want to run for sheriff?”
I replied instantly: “No.”

But I sat down in Cory’s living room and they painted a picture.  Once they laid it out I said I would.
The incumbent sheriff is Danny Rogers.  He’s a neighbor on the creek, and reportedly hardly leaves his house and recently was the topic of a news story about how he has made a shambles of the books and had a bad audit.  Back when the pear picking story occurred I felt like there was no point in calling the sheriff’s office for help.  And for years as I’ve watched the drug traffic come and go up Chaneyville Road I’ve felt powerless to do anything to protect myself without breaking the law.  If I felt that way I know others have.

That alone wouldn’t have been reason enough for me to run for sheriff.  The cincher is that as of Monday night Danny had only one challenger: Arthur Lacy.  Arthur is my cousin and he has grown up in a family dedicated to law enforcement in Powell County.  His late father Randy was killed in the line of duty.  His uncles Ted and Garland have served as well.  And Teddy Ray was also a cop for a while.  Arthur is a good man, and has put in many years of service in the county.  He would make an excellent sheriff.  However, Danny and Arthur are both republicans and no democrats had filed as late as Monday.

Arthur should be able to beat Danny easily, but despite good sense there’s always the possibility that he won’t.  The democrat party desperately wanted someone to run as insurance.

Initially I agreed thinking there was no way it would matter.  Mandy and Tina printed out the papers, got the signatures, and handed them to me with fifty dollars in cash to pay the filing fee.  In the meantime I had proceeded to drink three shots of Cory’s expensive bourbon.  We joked about me being sheriff for a couple of hours before Mandy and I went home papers and money in hand, and I absolutely failed to fall asleep til late in the night.

By Tuesday morning I was about 75% sure I would file the papers.  I had considered long and hard what it would mean to be sheriff.  I’ve considered a lot of angles and possibilities.  Tuesday afternoon I took off an hour early from work (I’d cleared it with the Executive Director and it was determined I was okay to run for sheriff as long as I didn’t campaign during work hours or use my position for political gain) and headed for the courthouse.

I felt confident in taking the first steps on this path because I have good friends who have experience and knowledge that will help me do this right.  I have a good brain trust to help me out.  And the fact that no one has laughed when I told them has been both humbling and reassuring.  While it was absurd to me at first it has not put anyone off.  So it’s not such a strange possibility it seems.
Before I filed the papers I went to talk to James Anderson—the current county Judge-Exec.  I’ve worked with James as part of my job at the ADD for five years.  He’s a year or so younger than me, but he’s done a great job of running the county and I have a lot of respect for him.  He was giddy that I was running.  He also told me that my cousin Koda Muncie had filed as a democrat to run against him.  He also told me a couple of other democrats had filed to run for sheriff.  One is H.K. Goodwin who I know through reputation only and the other is Tony Vaske who works at the jail.  James sees me as an ally and immediately realized (as did I in that moment) that together we could work toward a merged county government (combine the cities with the county).

It was about 3:20 and the deadline was 4:00 so I walked down to the County Clerk’s office to file.  My cousin Debbie Ledford was open so I walked up to her computer.

“You here to renew your tags?” she asked.

“To file papers,” I replied.

Since it was filing deadline day she knew what that meant.  I could have been there to file any number of papers that had nothing to do with running for office, but on deadline day everyone assumes “file papers” means you’re running for something.

“What are you filing for?” she asked.

“Sheriff,” I said and took a quick glance around the room.  It was noted by a few of the employees for sure.  Ears had been perked all day whenever someone walked in.

Debbie took a double take.

As she took the papers from me she said: “I figured you’d file, but I thought you’d run for Judge.”
I had to chuckle at that.

We got it all taken care of and as I walked out of the courthouse I called Arthur Lacy.  I had gotten his number from Brinton with the intent of calling him as soon as I filed.

I asked if he had a few minutes to talk and he said he did so I walked over to City Hall.  He’s a Stanton City police officer.  He’s also family.  And he seems to be a decent person.  I hate that I can’t say for sure because he is family, but there’s so many in my family that it’s hard to know everyone well. 

I explained that I was the “insurance” in case he didn’t win the primary, but also that I had no intention of taking the office from him.  He offered me some good advice and I feel good about our relationship going forward.  He also encouraged me by saying H.K. and Tony Vaske don’t have law enforcement experience either, so I shouldn’t worry about that.

When I left the police station I felt a hundred times better about the whole thing.  And since then I’ve not looked back.  I’ve not felt anxious, or nauseous, or anything.  I’m all in.

The more I think about it the more I think I should try hard to win.  Arthur or no.  I don’t want to take it from him, but if I could get in office for a single term I could help rebuild relationships with the Fiscal Court (assuming James gets re-elected or even if he doesn’t) and support the effort to consolidate county government.  It would be a worthy endeavor for that alone.

Today is Thursday.  I’ve had a good bit of time to think on this.  I’ve talked to quite a few people about it since filing the papers and making the Facebook announcement yesterday.  So far no one has questioned whether or not should I run.  I’ve had a few say “but you don’t have any law enforcement experience” but then when I explain the constitutional duties of a sheriff in Kentucky they have all seemed to understand.  A lot of people who I respect have just said they support me and that I’d make a great sheriff.  I’ve thought long and hard about the law enforcement side of it.  That’s a real thing.  I could end up wearing and using a gun.  I could be killed in the line of duty.  It was not lost on me that January 30, 2018 when I filed to run for sheriff was twenty-six years to the day that Ralph Baze shot and killed Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe.  It was my eighteenth birthday. 

I’ve gone from being “insurance” to the position that I’ll run hard except against Arthur to the position that I need to make a solid effort to win.  I’m teetering on the cusp of that.  We’ll see.

Last year was an incredible year.  Not too long ago either Mandy or I said: “How are we going to top 2017?”  Well, we’ve pulled that off in January no matter what November bears out. 

I’d rather have been describing all the work I’ve been doing toward getting part time tourism director contracts with the split Powell County tourism commissions and Estill County.  That’s a long story in itself, but I felt I needed to describe all this sheriff business while it was still fresh in my mind.  I’ll try to write that up later.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Still Waters and Snowy Memories

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that ten years ago today I rolled west from the Chainring compound in Powell County, Kentucky heading for a new job in Golden, Colorado.  The family would follow four months later, but on January 29, 2008 I woke before dawn and slipped out to my already loaded down Subaru Legacy and started to drive away.  Only a few seconds down the road my phone rang.  It was Mandy.  Why hadn’t I woke her to say goodbye?

And therein lays some insight into the entire five-year Colorado Experiment.  I knew the move was going to be hard on her (all of us really), and I knew leaving four months early was going to be the hardest part of it, leaving her with the kids—Boone five and Lily had just turned one—and so I slipped away hoping to dull the sting.  Admittedly I wasn’t thinking clearly myself.  That was a stupid thing to do.  So I turned around and went back to say goodbye to my incredible wife who bore the brunt of the Experiment.

At the time, I didn’t expect her to end up loving Colorado as much as she did.  I was afraid I was dragging us all into a miserable situation even though it seemed to be full of promise.  We were taking the kids somewhere new and foreign.  We were giving them perspective.  And in a metro area of two and a half million people surely there would be ample opportunity for us to thrive. 

A little later in the Experiment

While I felt the anxiety of the unknown—how the move was going to affect all of us—I was also excited and looked forward the new adventure, new experiences, and most of all the new mountains to climb.  I assumed I would be the one to fare best out of the move, and selfishly I was okay with that.  The family would cope.  It would end up being good for them one way or the other.  They just needed to trust me.

I didn’t realize I would be the one to suffer the most.  I couldn’t foresee the debilitating depression and crippling self-doubt that were a result of my high-intensity, high-stress, entry level job.  How was I supposed to know I’d have a sociopath for a coworker?  How was I supposed to know that the economy would collapse and all that perceived opportunity would evaporate and leave me stuck in career hell?  How was I supposed to know that my love for home would take over from my apocalyptic escapist fantasies and somehow that route would open up and we’d end up moving back?

Hindsight, as they say, is a bitch.  Coulda, shoulda, woulda.  But as I frequently say: I have few regrets in life.  From where I stand now, as hard as the past decade has been, I wouldn’t be the person I am today—the day before my 44th birthday—if I hadn’t traveled that road in life. 

It was a cold and lonely drive across middle America.  Snow flew.  The sky was gray and dimmed my mood.  But I knew I’d see mountains in less than forty-eight hours so I pushed my laden car as fast as it would go into the North American Headwind.  I saw dawn in a different timezone than I woke in.  I made a quick side trip to Rock City, Kansas though it was far too cold to boulder.  That night I slept in a Motel 6 in Blue Springs, Missery. 

Somewhere in Missery

I woke up with a drift of snow that had blown in under the door.  But I was excited.  I had plans to swing by Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas, and I’d be landing in Denver.  Somehow I had to make it all work, find a place to stay, find my new place of employ, and establish a beachhead to later bring the rest of the family out. 

I pushed on west.  I reached the metro area during the afternoon rush, a blinding snowstorm, and as the sun set on my 34th birthday.  That Motel 6 sign glowed blue in the fading gray light along the interstate and I dove into the only refuge I could imagine at the time.  It was early, but I crashed, and slept the sleep of the dead having pushed for about twenty-two hours alone in the car over two days.  The next day dawned bright but still cold and I set to finding a more permanent place to sleep for the coming months.

I think about this whole adventure often.  I don’t dwell on the past like someone with loads of regret.  I analyze.  I try to understand.  I delve for insight into who I am and who I was so I can be ready for who I’m going to become. 

Standing where I am, on the high point of the present, overlooking the past it’s so surreal to be able to see it all laid out beneath my feet.  It’s even more surreal to be at this overlook while also being back in the place I left to get there, the place where I dreamed so hard about getting out and finding adventure and perspective and experience, back to the place I thought was so small, and confining, and devoid of those things.  One thing the journey taught me is the things I want in life exist pretty much wherever I am.  That’s because it’s not things I want.

Maybe I didn’t realize it when I was ten years younger, but what I was always looking for was contentment, and by looking for it everywhere except the place where I stood at the moment I was preventing myself from being able to find it. 

My whole life I have known this is possible, I was taught it from an early age:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

That's something I've struggled with my whole life.  How could I be content when there were things I needed and things I wanted that I didn’t possess?  How could I be content when I am driven by wanderlust but chained to a job, and obligations, and expectations?  I don’t know that I’m prepared to answer those questions.  I will say I think what has given me the clarity to finally see a way to contentment is that perspective I’ve collected with mad abandon.  Experience, knowledge, but more importantly the mirror of social interaction has brought me to some mighty fine green pastures to lie down in. 

I also realize contentment is not a solid thing like those mountains I love so much, but more like a sunny day.  You have to drop everything and enjoy it while it lasts.  And even then, you can learn to enjoy the cloudy and cold and snowy days.  You can wake up and see a drift of snow under your motel room door and smile, knowing that it’s all part of a grand adventure that’s worthy of pursuing.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Misunderstood Wilderness: Leave No Hashtags

Fifty years ago the threat was a dam which would have backed up the Red River into what is now known as the Gorge and the area would have been changed from a rugged and interesting landscape to a lake and its shoreline.  Many of the ridges and arches would have remained as they are, but the dominant recreational use would have become the motor boat, much like the prime recreational real estate in the rest of the state. 

I invoke Wendell Berry as I do frequently because Berry directly addressed the issue of floding in his book The Unforeseen Wilderness so long ago in an effort to prevent the destructive inundation that was proposed:

The notion that a process of ruin can be accompanied and offset by a process of beautification is only another illusion of ease, like John Swift’s sliver.  It is another Technicolor pipedream to keep us ignorant, endangered, and dangerous, shut up in our shell.

There is something suicidal, and more sinister than that, in this quest for easy wealth and easy answers, for it proposes goals that are dead ends, that imagination and desire do not go beyond.

The Gorge is threatened by a new kind of inundation…that of the feet of those who are lured into the “wilderness” by colorful but oft-filtered social media posts.  They come in posse, to revist those places they’ve seen hashtagged on their phones and to place themselves within the frame before sticking the same hashtag on the post and sending it out.  This is the new evolution of Berry’s Tourist-Photographer, the interloper who poses the members of his household on the brink of a canyon that the wind and water have been carving at for sixty million years as if there were an absolute equality between them, as if there were no precipice for the body and no abyss for the mind.  And before he leaves he adds to the view his empty film cartons and the ruins of his picnic.  These days it’s not the empty film canisters and picnic that are the problem but the thousands of more feet and the scores of hashtags which lead the way to destruction.   

We’re loving the Red River Gorge to death.  I’ve been party to this destruction.  I won’t deny that my presence in the area has had an impact on the land.  I also live within the watershed so I can say that my direct impact is probably more than most visitors.  I drive and pollute, I contribute waste and wastewater to the landscape.  My enthusiasm for the Gorge assuredly promotes it as much as anyone else’s accidentally does.

As a local I have tried my best to give back.  I’ve spurred a movement to clean up the Red River downstream of the Gorge.  I’ve worked at improving paddling access to the river for this purpose and to increase awareness but also recreational traffic to the river.  I’ve been diligent in my efforts to create new sustainable trails for hiking and mountain biking, but I also talk frequently about the need to maintain and improve the trails we have so they’ll maximize visitor experience while minimizing human impacts.  I don’t camp in the Gorge for the most part.  I sleep at home and recreate through the day.  I don’t cut wood or build fires.  I rarely have a need to bury my waste.  I pack garbage out and leave nothing behind.  These are habits and practices I’ve developed throughout my life and which I picked up from my parents, from Boy Scouts, from being a conscientious user, and now from being an activist and advocate.

I’ve always followed Leave No Trace principles by accident though it is just common sense if you’re aware.  What is not as intuitive for most people is that the impacts of sharing images and information online—particularly social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter—can be more profound than other forms of media.  Magazine articles, guidebooks, etc can have distinct impacts on visitor traffic. 

I’ve seen this and discussed it at length in a recent interview for an oral history project about rock climbing in the Red River Gorge.  John Bronaugh’s exhaustive guidebooks in 1994 and 1996 opened the floodgates and climbers from all over the world flocked to the Gorge for the steep, pocketed sandstone climbing to be had.  Development has followed an exponential curve especially after the second edition of John’s guide came out with the stunning cover photo of the Motherlode climbing area.  What many people don’t realize about the boom in popularity of sport climbing in the Gorge is that a couple of key articles in national magazines (Climbing and Rock & Ice) and the Masters of Stone videos had as much or even more to do with bringing more and more people to Eastern Kentucky from all over the globe.

As of last month I’ve been back in Kentucky for five years.  Before that I had been gone to Colorado for five years and had been quit of guiding and climbing regularly for about two years.  It’s been twelve years since I was relevant in the scene.  Some may argue longer, but I’ve kept up with news and trends in the intervening years.  And since we’ve been back I’ve haunted the PMRP regularly as I have worked to develop mountain biking trails.  So, I’ve watched—even in the last two or three years—as traffic has increased and as the general climbing population has been diluted from what was once a niche and specialized core of elites surrounded by neophytes to an even greater disparity in ability and experience. 

These days the number of novice groups has increased to insane levels.  Many days when I’d be out working on trails I would spend a lot of time giving directions to crags that are well described in guidebooks and online.  It was evidence to me that more and more folks venturing out into the woods to climb are less and less capable of being self-sufficient in the out-of-doors.

This was a phenomenon back in the late ‘90s and early aughts as droves of gym climbers came into the woods from urban areas and got themselves into trouble, or made irresponsible decisions, or just tromped all over the place leaving garbage in their wake.  That was a drastic change from the trends from the ‘70s and ‘80s where most climbers were rugged outdoor enthusiasts who also backpacked, paddled, spelunked, and adventured all over the place.  In the ‘90s the makeup of climbers shifted to a more urban and suburban crowd of competitive athletes and socialites and these days the shift has been deeper into the urban fabric including groups of university students, church groups, organized and unorganized social groups, and the endless hashtag hordes.

A few years ago Mandy and I were hiking back to the car after a few miles on the Sheltowee Trace when we came upon a group of millennials walking down the middle of KY 715 in the Gorge.  They were dressed all in nice clothes, hair fixed, shoes inappropriate for hiking and trying to scramble up a steep slope a measly few hundred feet from a more reasonable slope into the woods.  They stopped us and asked where Cloudsplitter was.  At the time I was just perplexed at their behavior, but in retrospect I’m certain they were dressed for photography and not for hiking. 

All this brings me back to Copperas Creek Falls.  An ice climbing ascent of the frozen fall is a novel experience and worthy of sharing.  Reportedly it’s been more than eight years since the falls has frozen to the top, and I can attest to the fact that people have talked about climbing it for at least double that.  And while the demon hordes have discovered and begun loving to death this picturesque spot, as an ice climb it’s not something people are going to return to do in droves ever.  It’s a tiny window when this would be even possible and it hardly matters that the approach is good or bad or whatever.  There were people posting pics on Instagram of frozen falls for days before and after I went up there, and photos of it running in summer for comparison. 

Concerning the passage of time, I’m old enough to have seen the changes and can remember a time before wireless phones even, but young enough and tech-savvy enough to understand the allure and personal benefits to sharing my experiences on social media.

There is a group called Hikers for an 8th Leave No Trace Principle.  The existing seven LNTprinciples are: 

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Examples of an eighth principle the group is proposing might be:

“Be mindful when posting on social media and consider the potential impacts that rapidly increased use can have on wild places”


“Use discretion when posting on social media and consider the potential impacts of creating a ‘buzz’ about specific destinations”

These ideas need to be fleshed out, and there needs to be a lot more ink and exposure brought to this issue.  Having sensitive natural areas “go viral” is not good.  While nature is resilient and I’m confident can recover from our folly, that doesn’t mean we won’t irreversibly mar our favorite places with hashtags and more. We must get ahead of this problem.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:  

I don’t know where the arch pictured is located.  Being a local arch bagger I want to visit it and photograph it for myself.  I keep resisting the urge to ask the poster where this is.  I’ll find it myself eventually.  I know roughly where it is and I can cover a lot of ground on my own.  I like exploring and finding things.  Copperas Creek Falls was one I found on my own with no idea it was there before I stumbled upon it.  Danger Arch was another.  In fact, there are quite a few arches I believed I had either discovered or rediscovered until I found later they had already been named and documented.

So the blatant contradiction of the caption is a forehead smacker for sure.  This poster needs to consider why they posted and if there is anything they could do differently to share the experience without increasing undo traffic to the arch in question.  I guarantee that whenever William Patrick’s next arch DVD comes out there will be a map and GPS coordinates leading the masses directly to this arch.  And the DVDs are another issue.  I’ve enjoyed visiting many of the arches Mr. Patrick has shared in his 6 or 7 DVDs, but in some ways it takes the fun out of it.  I would have preferred a guidebook over GPS coordinates.  I would prefer that some of the arches remain unpublished.  I found most of the ones I have visited from the USGS topos or simply stumbling across them or by word of mouth.

We’re luring people to wild places who would not otherwise have the courage or mettle to reach them.  I’m not saying they don’t deserve to be there, but in some respects they have no business being in those places and their presence is destroying what is special about them.

Under Sky Bridge
In closing, my point is one about perception.  Perception of what is necessary to survive first of all, and then what is necessary to thrive.  I came across this article in pondering this post entitled The Red River Gorge and No Wi-Fi.  It piqued my interest because I live in the rural Eastern Kentucky region surrounding the Gorge and adequate access to the internet is a frequent topic of conversation.  I won’t go into all of the nuances of my ire at the article, but it did cause me to make some interesting connections. 

Oddly enough, I frequently get good cell service and even LTE in Clifty Wilderness where sometimes its slow and bogged down at my house “in town.”  But if you’re choosing to go spend time in the out of doors why would lack of connection be a problem?  Well, if you can’t tear yourself away from being connected it becomes a major touchstone in your planning and travels.  And here is the realization I made: there was a time not so long ago when people who could not stand to be disconnected from their social networks simply did not abandon them for long and mainly stayed out of the wilds.

These days everyone can venture into the woods and still stay connected, with digital resources for navigation and for those endorphin feeds from all the likes their Instagram posts get, and the safety net of being able to call Search and Rescue if the trail signs don’t make sense or if they don’t have good enough data service to navigate by.    

I hear all of the time about “lost hikers” who simply sat down in the dark and called for help.  That didn’t used to happen, because if it did there would have been a lot more “dead hikers” back in my heyday when no one could call SAR to lead them by the hand out of the woods.  Those who chose to go into the wilderness took with them the tools and skills to be self-sufficient and resilient instead of just the damn cell phone as a crutch to their laziness. 

I know I sound like a curmudgeon.  I am when it comes to this.  But I see it all connected by invisible internet tubes.

Not the cabin...

When I was in my earliest twenties there was a small cabin located near the base of Raven Rock for sale.  It was mostly primitive with electricity, an outhouse, and maybe a spring for water.  It was listed for $10,000.  I had a steady job.  I almost bough it.  I wanted to buy it.  The deal killer for me was the outhouse.  And not for cold weather but for hot.  When I was pondering should I or not my mother was opposed to it.  She insisted I couldn’t live in a place without a phone.  My response was: “How did humanity get to the point of being able to invent a phone?”  Obviously, we survived for thousands of years without phones.  I could live my own damn life that way if I wanted to. 

I have few regrets in this life.  I don’t ever wish away the life I have now.  But I wish I hadn’t given in to the lack of confidence in my ability to provide for a family as an outdoor guide and I regret not buying that cabin.  I could have hung onto it regardless of where I went in life and always had it to go back to.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Ramming Speed Friday: Hog Waller A-Comin' Edition

There was a solid week of sub-freezing cold, then a brief warmup, and this past week has been snowy and fun.  While growing up Kentucky means you have to take winter when you get it and never expect much, it’s always fun when we do have an extended stretch of cold and/or snowy weather.  I know a lot of people grumble and fuss, but I don’t care.  I like the cold.  I like snow.  And this year I finally embraced the reality of having to take vacation when the weather is too bad.  So, I make a vacation out of it.

I had hoped to get into the Gorge with snow on the ground for photos.  In the future, I am resolving to do that.  Make it a priority.  With care of course.  Let us not forget the Valentine’s Day massacre of 2015 when—during a brief window of slickeriness—I slid into a guardrail whilst creeping down Slade Hill and totalled my car.  That was all timing.  By the time the tow truck driver arrived—rest his soul—the roads were already thawed and things were fine.  If I had merely waited fifteen minutes no harm, no foul.

And now we enter the season of mud.  “Season of Mud”, I should say.  Temps are going to climb and there’s a chance of rain looming.  It’s enough to make you wanna cuss. 

Of course, my plan is to focus on conditioning right now and leave the bikes and other accoutrements to gather dust during this inhospitable time.  I was finally able to retrieve Fatter Than Average after the frigid flat.  Skis are still in the back of my Jeep after the sledding day.  But I need to be in the gym, toning up, building core strength, and slimming down.  I’m ready to be back on pavement running.  I need this snow to go away.

I’ve been pondering fitness goals for the year.  Initially I had said I would train for Rough Trail 50k and use it as a platform to gain fitness for The Fig.  So in the winter I’d train general fitness, then ride road and mountain bikes through the late Spring and early Summer, and then switch to running late Summer into Fall, but I’m second guessing that plan. 

Weaky Ankles here, reporting from Rocky Land…probably not a good idea to go tromping through the woods at a good clip until I’ve had a good long stretch to build up lateral strength.  Might look to 2019 as my grand return to trail running and focus on building up fitness this year.  The Fig might be my one and only event goal.  I do also want to ride the entire RRG MTB 100 route before race day and have no reason not to.

Speaking of…registration opened Monday at 12:01 am and we currently have 26 racers signed up.  I have a feeling we’re going to get much closer to capping out this year.  And we have also begun planning Red Riverfest for this spring.  Lots going on the first half of the year and I’m certain 2018 will top 2017 unless Trump burns it all down.   

I have this nebulous scheme too...twenty years ago this summer a friend and I took a road trip west to try and climb some big mountains.  We went to Wyoming and failed big.  I'd love to recreate that trip and find success.  I'm older and wiser and I actually know something about the effects of altitude now.  We'll see...

Barry, high on Teewinot near our highpoint.
We were both suffering form lack of oxygen in our blood.
Consolation prize was some sport climbing in the Black Hills of SD

We saw a lot of cool stuff though...

In an effort at timely reporting of current events and since I wrote recently about The Cranberries its germane to note that lead singer Dolores O'Riordan died unexpectedly a few days ago.  The cause is still not know, but she was found unresponsive in a hotel room.  This is sad, as she had a distinct and incredible voice and produced truly great music.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Two weeks ago we had that cold snap and I was able to go out and get lots of pics of frozen waterfalls.  I wrote a bit about the Red River Gorge ice buzz on social media and how that relates to adverse recreation impacts.  At the time there was no snow, and I was bummed because of it.  This week we’ve had a not-quite-so-cold snap along with a good dump of snow (for Kentucky), making it necessary for me to take a couple of days off of work. 

Sunday I did a quick hike up to Pilot Knob.  There was snow on the ground, but I wouldn't have called it a snowy hike.  And then Mandy and I did our standard seven mile lollipop hike from Martin's Fork TH 'roung Gray's Arch on Monday.  The forecast was for a decent snow, but I figured I'd just end up working.  That is, until I got out on the roads on Tuesday morning and decided to head it back home and retreat under the warm blankets on our bed where we stayed for most of the morning.

Looking east from Pilot Knob

Later in the day I took the plus-tired bike for a ride up the creek.  Since I got the Pine Mountain I haven’t had the chance to ride it in a decent snow.  While not full fat, the big ol’ 27.5+ knobbies sure do go well in the powder!

I rode away from town and deeper into the holler looking for the semblance of solitude.  For the most part I got it.  There was some dingbat in a full-sized pickup going too fast for dry conditions and then another person in a sedan almost took me out by driving from his side of the road onto my side of the road as he approached me while looking right at me.  But I digress!  These aren’t the old days when I was a full time bike commuter and fighting traffic every day.

Past the last house the road turns to gravel and is relatively flat for another tenth of a mile or so before it kicks up into the gut-wrenchingly steep Hart’s Orchard hill.  I had no intention of venturing into the wild white yonder and stopped at the bottom.  I took out my phone to get a selfie at my farpoint and it died instantly of hypothermia (the temperature was a measly 17°F).

With my front wheel pointed toward home I started pedaling.  I’d not been gone from home too long, so I figured I’d head straight back and check in.  When I reached that last house again two dogs came out barking and running into the road.  I got off the bike to keep from going down while trying to avoid being bitten.  I was able to shoo them off no problem.  When I was sure they were going to leave me alone I got back on the bike and started pedaling away.  Before I was out of sight of the dog house my rear end turned to mush.  I had a flat.

Apparently Stan’s NoTubes freezes.  There was no way I was going to try to put another tube in on the side of the snowy road in those temps.  So I started walking.  As I trudged along enjoying the wintry scene I decided I would stop at a friend’s house, ask her to call Mandy and let her know I was okay, and leave the bike to retrieve later. 

She let me call, I left the bike, and then started jogging home.  I was wearing my trail runners so I had pretty good traction, and I was warmed up from my ride / hike.  It was a good mile run back home.  As I came within site of the Chainring compound I saw two puffy figures running behind three dogs toward me.  It was Mandy and Bean with Radar, Roo, and Pepper.  They’d come to rescue me from certain death.  The dogs even had those little wooden casks hanging under their chins.

We stayed in the rest of the day sipping on white chicken chili and tea and binge watching Shameless on Netflix.  

Today sledding and retrieving Fatter Than Average is on the agenda.  First we have to run to town for kerosene and dog food.  I’ll break out the XC skis too.  I hope this isn’t the only good snow of 2018, but if it is I’m going to make the most of it.

Addendum (photos from sledding):