Friday, August 30

The Leadville Saga: Epilogue



Come on Dad!  The Leadvillagers are counting on you!
~ Boone

My pedals turn in a steady cadence.  My headlight cuts through the morning darkness like a laser through a tumor.  I breathe in the full air, and breathe out from strong lungs.  I resettle in my drops, lick my lips, and bear down on the pedals for a little more speed.
This is no training ride.  I'm just out for a lark; cranking the pedals of my vintage Bianchi just because it feels good.  Leadville is behind me.  I have a smile on my face.
I don’t believe it.  It’s over. 
It began—really—four years ago when we went to Leadville camping with our church group and we missed seeing Lance Armstrong by only a few minutes.  We’d fallen for Leadville the town, and I fell for Leadville the heinous physical challenge.  Three years ago this October I made the decision I was going to, for sure…maybe…ride my bike in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.  I didn’t even have a suitable mountain bike at the time.
 
There have been highs.
The highest (until August 10) was as I crossed the finish line of the Alpine Odyssey and my lovely, amazing, incredible wife put my medal around my neck.
Then there was Corona Pass:  sub-10 hour century ride from my house at the time (almost) to the Continental Divide and back.
I’ve got to say that volunteering at the 2011 Leadville 100 was pretty incredible and inspiring.
It was so cool to get to chat with Grace Ragland riding up Columbine in 2012.
I was stunned, but pleasantly surprised to meet readers of this blog while racing and riding.  I really didn’t expect that anyone along the way would recognize the URL on the back of my race jersey.
Oddly, the hug I received from the volunteer when I turned in my chip in 2012 was a high point.  Hugs really do make you feel better.  Human contact is more important than I’m willing to admit to myself.
This is gonna sound very bromantic, but riding with Jeaph over the past year was a hugely positive experience.  I’ve never had a regular riding partner, and Jeff was positive but challenging to ride with (dude, take a shower every once in a while!).
Revisiting old haunts and discovering new ones in Kentucky this past year has been rewarding, if at times sobering and disheartening.  But translating my western experiences to my home geography has been good.  Its shown me what is possible, and that there is great potential here.

There was riding those last four miles back in July when I did my unexpected century out to McKee...
Learning to ride singletrack like I mean it…it has been a process and a passion for the past year or so.  I recognized that being a better overall mountain biker would be a huge benefit to me on the Leadville course and it was.  I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s race.  I relished every pedal stroke.  That came from putting in miles on the trails and trying to find the sweet spot in each area that I visited.  It came from pushing the bike to where it performed best and letting it carry me to mountain biking nirvana. Again and again I rode to biketopia and lost myself there in the eternal Moment.  FLOW never felt so good!
The ultimate high came when the finish line came into view a few Saturdays ago and I knew I was going to finish…as a crowd of complete strangers cheered me over the red carpet, and as my kids ran along beside me, escorting me back into Mandy’s arms again.  Being the finisher I wanted to be…sublime.
 
There have been lows as well.
Moving away from Colorado was incredibly difficult.  We left so much behind, and so many friends, and so many potential positive experiences.  Not to mention I lost all of my good cycling schemes in one fell swoop.  I struggle to come up with schemes as grand these days.
I’ve struggled with my weight and fitness levels for three years.  If not for this happy obsession I might have grown happily fat and oblivious.  Is that a low?  The way I've felt about my efforts has been demoralizing at times.  The struggle is one I don’t feel I should be having.  It should be easier for me.
One of the deepest lows was crashing on the railroad tracks outside of Golden.  Injury is something I don’t have a lot of experience with.  The uncertainty, the immobility, the pain and the discomfort, the limiting factors…all brought me way down.  I snapped back pretty quick, but the shoulder still nags me.  I still hate crossing tracks.
I was going to add the 13 miles I didn’t ride in 2012, but I went back and took care of those on August 6th.  I finished that race.  We can move it up to highs.
I finished the Alpine Odyssey, but when I realized I was not going to finish the Mohican 100 I felt like a huge failure.  My migraine excuse seemed like a huge cop-out, even though no one doubted my sincerity, even though I felt like I had acted with discretion and prudence.  It still felt like failure.
Somewhere out in the middle of the McKee century I realized the suffering I put myself through might not be worth it.  I was in a deep dark place of misery.  I knew on the other side was the answer I was looking for.  But I gave up so many times that day…
Training with Jeff.  It was hard not to see where I fit into the cycling world riding with another cyclist and one that is markedly better than me.  While I was inspired to ride better and harder I still fought with self-esteem issues.  Part of the reason I went down this path in the first place was to prove to myself that there is some strength and talent within me, that I’m capable of excelling at my chosen activity.  Being sorted to the back of every ride is humbling.  And as your riding partner(s) drop you for the umpteenth time you get to reflect on all of your shortcomings.  You get to sikowanelize yourself for free.  You get to beat yourself up and laugh at yourself.  You get to cry onto your own shoulder and figure it all out while the cramps lock your legs up and your belly gnaws on your rib bones and your head feels like its going to float away in the hot summer sun.  You really don't smell so bad.

They should give Daddy and the girls a head start.
~ Lily-Bean on race day
 
But you forget it all as you struggle to get your bike to the top of Columbine Mine.  You forget it all as you wrestle with Powerline.  You forget it all when you see that red carpet and feel the weight of the finisher’s medal settle onto your neck.   
After a time the positive memories float back to the surface and you brush the negative flotsam and jetsam out of your path.  It was all worth it, every bonk, every empty water bottle in the middle of nowhere, every lost wheel, every flat, every mechanical, every JUBAR derailer, every foot down, every busted knuckle, every sweat stung eye…it was all worth it.
The other day as I explored LAC for the first time I reveled in the lack of pressure to ride hard but the surprise at coming in 2nd on a Strava segment with eight other strong riders.  I’ve gained, but also let go.  My mountain biking paradigm has changed.
I was in a meeting the other day and had my scratched up 20th Anniversary Leadville waterbottle on the table in front of me.  One of the engineering consultants asked if I had done the race.  I couldn’t help but smile when I said I had.  When I found out he was a mountain biker who aspired someday to go to Leadville I had a deep sense of satisfaction at having made my pilgrimage into the mountains of Colorado where I found my mountain biking truth.  Finishing the Leadville 100 is not something I aspire to do anymore.  I’ve attained that goal.  I’ve ridden that path.  I know how that experience feels.
So I call this long-running Leadville Saga closed.  It’s been quite the journey.  Maybe I’m not done with the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race just yet, but I’m done with the obsessive focus, the worry, the desperate need to train and to hit the moving target of performance.  I have nothing left to say about my past races.  I’ve said all that I need to say, except…except I have plans to compile all of this into a more organized and concise piece of writing.  In fact, I’ve already started on a more focused writing effort. 
Our family may not yet be done with the saga; at least in dealing with the after-effects.  Before we left Colorado Mandy had started talking about volunteering next summer so she could enter the lottery in 2015.  I’m serious.  I’m not calling her out to gain commitment from her.  I’m just stating the fact that we had the conversation.
My youngest has seemingly begun her training as well…for the 2025 Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.  On the long drive back from Colorado she asked for “pedals you can clip into…and shoes” for Christmas.
“Clipless pedals?” I mused.
“No, the kind you clip into,” she said matter-of-factly.  Does Crank Brothers even make shoes and pedals Bean-sized?
She desperately wants me to lower the seat on her brother’s 6 speed Trek mountain bike so she can ride it.  I’m thinking I’ve conveyed my expensive hobby onto a dependent.  And that might not be such a good thing financially speaking.  
So there you have it: the anti-climactic resolution to three years of blathering, blabbering, whining, pontificating, speculating, agonizing, fist-pumping, yee-hawing, and over-glamorizing of a personal journey, contrived or no, that resonates through my universe at least.  Whatever escapist fantasy will I use to while away my time over the coming years and decades?
Maybe I’ll take up golf.


***

Epilogue to the Epilogue


This wasn't a hard post to write, but it's been hard to pull the trigger and post it.  I've had it sitting in the blog as a draft for over a week now.  I wasn't sure if I was going to write anything else concerning Leadville, but I knew what most of my thoughts going into the wrap up were going to be.

Now that I'm ending this saga it seems a bit anti-climactic.  I was hoping to include those guest posts.  I had one other "Why I'm Glad I'm Not a Pro" post that I just didn't have the gumption to crank out.  And now we're getting near a month out from Leadville.  It's time to close the book and call it done.

I've hinted around that there's more to come.  There will be more of the Leadville Chronicles/Saga in the future, just not in the form of a post "theme" here.  I use that word very lightly.  Sometimes I posted under that title and then went on wild tangents.  Remember the bear spray story?

Anyway, it's done.  Finished.  Finito.  Fin.  Defunct.  Decommissioned.  Deep-sixed.  Suf-fo-ca-ted.

Thursday, August 29

Dog Days Catcher

I used to be the king of the mountain bike commute (aka the prairie bike commute), but these days I’m mastering a new type of ride: lunch meeting mountain biking.
 
My personal recreational philosophy (refer to the Chainring Personal Manifesto Section 2 A.) is one of opportunism.  If I see even a small window of opportunity for getting in a little fun and games at unconventional times I dive right through.  So when work carries me within striking distance of one of the four Bluegrass area mountain bike trail networks I tuck The One away in the belly of my Armored Cyclo-personnel Transport (ACT) and head off all respectable-like for whatever meeting I’m responsible for attending.  But when said meeting has ended…well, let’s just say lunch time turns into recess.
 
As I pedaled into Skullbuster recently I pondered the possibility of actually having a mountain bike meeting.  Will I ever be able to suggest to some public official or consultant that we should meet at a local trailhead for an hour of rutting up the trails and talking business?  It’s remotely possible.  It was probably more possible in Colorado, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility even here in the Bluegrass state.
 
Pa said never trust a hog waller.
 
My second visit to Skullbuster (aka Knucklebuster) was faster.  It felt faster.  I felt stronger and more adept on the trails.  Strava told me I was faster too.  I only had trouble with one narrow passage.  I believe it was early on the Green Trail.  There’s a spot where there are two trees nary a handlebar-width apart and between them is a raised gnarl of roots and rocks.  I unclipped sketching a little and stalled on the roots.  On the way back I did the same thing.
 
The second such obstacle I intentionally stayed clipped in but still stalled and had to grab tree.  After that, except for the exit sketching, I rode everything smooth and solid.  It was a much, much cleaner ride than my first time there back in May.  Being able to ride the entire trailsystem except for one spot—and to do so with a good deal of FLOW—makes for a truly enjoyable experience.  I have to recognize that it’s taken me most of this past year to be as comfortable riding trails like Skullbuster as I am.  The first time it felt almost onerous to me. When I finished the back loop and started out I was done.  I wanted to be off the trail and off the bike long before I came out of the woods.  Today I could have stayed for hours.  If I’d had hours…
 
Oddly, reading back on my previous write-up, it seems I use a lot of the same language to describe the trails in Scott County.  I had a similar experience a few months ago.  I’ve got to say, of all the Kentucky singletrack I’d ridden, I think The Cracker of Crowns is filtering to the top of my list-o-faves.  
 
Welcome to Logville
 
For whatever reason, the rooty goodness and the rocky badness of the trails at Skullbuster appeal to me in a deeply personal way.  I truly do enter a state of FLOW and begin to experience a sort of trance-like mountain biking state.  It’s similar to how I felt when riding North Table Mountain in Golden.  Or the Dirty Bismarck.
 
It was warm today but not too warm.  Once I was under the canopy of the trees I noticed quite a bit of fallen leaves on the trail.  Despite the heat it seems summer is on its way out.  Fall is kicking in the door.  I can’t wait!  Fall in Kentucky is my absolute favorite geographic/seasonal combination.  Being outside in the fall is heaven for me.
 
Speaking of being outside…I’ve been running a lot lately.  A lot.  A.  Lot.
 
This week Mandy and I have both felt a bit worn down from our half marathon training.  That’s why I decided today I needed to abstain from the asphalt impacts of road running and enjoy a little low-impact mountain biking (of the lunch meeting variety).  Skullbuster was just the medicine I needed.  Of course my left knee still hurts when I walk down stairs.  Where is good cartilage when you need it?  Or do you need it?  I need to find out before Saturday when I will be running 8 miles.  I’m pretty sure (retch!) that will be the farthest I’ve ever ran in one push.
 
Anyway, focusing on running has allowed me to step back from cycling.  And I’m not sure I like it.  I want to run.  I especially want to run long distances on trails.  But then I want to ride my bike long distances on trails too.  I’m so torn.  Do they make an ellipti-mountain bike?  Someone should.
 
You could ride it here...
 

Wednesday, August 28

I Had a Dream...

I'll refrain from going on about the fifty year anniversary of MLK's speech.  I'm sure you'll hear enough about that today without having to read through a blathering post from me.  Let's just say it's significant on a much greater level than anything I slap up here on this forgotten bridge abutment of the internet.

I'm trying to put my thoughts in order to close out the Leadville Saga.  It's not easy.  A year ago tomorrow I ticked over the miles for my biggest mileage month ever at 610+.  This month I'll be lucky to hit 300.  A year ago today I was two weeks out from the Alpine Odyssey, my redemption ride after failing at Leadville, and a potential chance to get back into the race for 2013.  I was wrestling with my demons hourly.  On top of everything else I was in occupational misery, hating my job, hating the feelings of powerlessness I felt in life, and I was looking for an escape, an out, a post-apocalyptic utopia...

Here I am.  I've been working the new job for eight months.  I've found my own personal biketopia.  And I went back and finished the Leadville 100.

Nothing is perfect, but the view down onto my future is much improved.  There's a lot I want to write about.  We've been having some very good Transition Powell County meetings.  I think this effort is going to be very profitable.  Mandy and I have noticed there are quite a few runners and cyclists out there and maybe its time to try and get some kind of local organization to work toward bike/ped advocacy.  Last night I remembered some of those dreams I'd had projecting into an imagined future where I was able to move back home.  Now I'm there.

This might sound out of the blue and crazy but I had this idea about starting a consulting firm to work on sustainability initiatives.  I imagined a company that could retrofit existing buildings, work on building new LEED certified buildings, and that could design and build natural and repurposed material residential structures.  Centered in my hometown of course.  With a broad-brush philosophy and a strong commitment to local resilience...

A long time ago I realized that the most important thing about attaining your dreams is to keep them close and never let them fade.  Refine them, delve into them often, and incorporate them into your ever-changing world view.  And when opportunities--no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential--arise, whip out that dream and apply it liberally all over the place. 

A very long time ago I decided I wanted to be a climbing guide.  I wanted it more than anything else I'd ever wanted in my life.  It took me a few years of patiently moving my pieces around the board until I saw the opening I needed.  I dove through the window of opportunity, and within a year I was doing exactly what I had dreamed of doing.  Within two years I was self-employed as a guide and heading down a promising path into the future.

I won't go into what happened (9/11 for one), the pitfalls (no clue how to run a business), the eventual ending of that era of my life, but I will say that for about six years I got to live that dream in a very fulfilling way.  It was fulfilling enough that while I miss that lifestyle and often wonder if I could ever do it again I don't pine for it; I don't constantly seek a way back into that dream.  It was enough to satisfy the dreamer for a long time. 

There is a similar satisfaction in me with my effort at Leadville a few weeks ago.  I want to go back--it was an amazing experience--but I don't have to go back. 

I think I'm struggling now to figure out where I want to go.  I'm trying to figure out what my dreams actually are.  What is my personal vision?  I'm temporarily in dream limbo.  I'm also okay with that.  I think my little brain needed a long rest. 

But threads from my dreaming past are beginning to weave back together in ways I couldn't have imagined.  Old dreams are resurfacing but with a different patina.  Efforts that had seemed to produce no fruit when they were executed months or even years ago are sprouting with new blooms.

Remember that Sustainability Management program I went to?  I blathered on about it here because it involved a 40 mile RT bike commute to Boulder.  I might actually end up being able to put that knowledge to good use.  All of the energy that went into that effort might begin seeing a positive return on investment. 

I've been planting seeds and dropping hints since before we moved back for some ambitious ideas for transforming my home county into a more bike/ped friendly and generally resilient place.  Some of those seeds are showing signs of growth.  More watering is needed, more fertilizing (subtle pun intended), and more cultivation.  And finally I think I'm at a point in my life where I am able to nurture the seeds into towering trees.

My point to you, and lesson for myself, is that worthwhile things take time, and it takes longsuffering patience to see your schemes through to fruition.  It's very much like an organized endurance mountain bike race.  You train and train and train, but you end up having to wait for that training to pay off as the year ticks by.  And if you fail outright then you have to train and train and train and wait and wait and wait for another year to go back and try it again.  Patience builds endurance.  Endurance pays for all.

Tuesday, August 27

Adventures in Ped Xing

In transportation circles Bike/Ped is the new black, except the "bike" part is the sexy little black dress to the "ped's" ripped up black concert tee.

So now that I'm officially a runner and have some experience with the quasi-moto-fascists while afoot I thought I'd give the peds a little more love.

Well, when I say that I guess I oughta just be honest and tell you that I want to spray about my latest non-ankle spraining trail running experience and to complain about the old coot that almost ran me over on my morning run on Monday.

You'll remember Cobhill?  That was Friday evening.  Saturday morning I hinted around to my loveliest of wives that I wanted to go up to the Gorge for a trail run to satisfy the "6" marked on the calendar for our ten week 5k to a half marathon training schedule.

I'm not going to say I was intimidated by the thought of running 6 miles because I wasn't.  But I also knew I needed something to take my mind off the reality of running that far, the farthest I've ran in years, and to inspire me to really get into the idea of running more than my usual 3 or 4 miles.

Finally I blurted out:  "Do you care...if I go up and run the Auxier loop?"

Because she's amazing, and tolerant of my schemes, Mandy said she didn't.  As fast as I could I threw everything together, "everything" being my hydration pack and my running kit.  Then I was gunning east for the trailhead.

The Auxier Ridge trail out to Courthouse Rock is a Gorge standard.  It's very popular for day hiking and camping, and for good reason.  I've ran it before, but it’s been years.  Actually, I'd run the loop I intended ages ago, but I'd never timed myself on it.  Those were the days before Strava was even a possibility.

I set out from the trailhead strong and managed a good solid pace almost all the way to the Haystack Rock overlook.  I slowed on one long-ish uphill to a walk, and then I picked up the pace as the grade eased.

I'd not forgotten my Pilot Knob mishap a few months ago.  I was laser focused on every foot placement.  Of course this time my shoes were broken in, and I am in better shape than when I rolled my ankle.  That ankle still sings to me on a daily basis.  So I was very cognizant of my steps.

It was easy enough to traverse Auxier Branch—I'd already decided I would walk out up the short steep climb—and once I regained the ridge elevation my brain turned off and I settled in to a nice pace.  My fourth to fifth miles felt really good.  I was going to stop at the trailhead, which would have been almost five miles, with the justification that five trail miles would equal six road miles, but I was feeling so good when I hit the TH at 4.8 miles I turned and ran out and back out old Tunnel Ridge Road for 0.6 miles.





For the distance and terrain that I ran I felt pretty good.  I realized that my recovery would be a different story though, and I was right.  I ran the Auxier loop Saturday morning and was sore all day Sunday despite my best efforts at allaying the aftereffects.

I agonized over what I would do Monday morning.  I actually wanted to ride…Lone Oak…but my schedule was for 3 miles of running.  With the late sunrise these days I am forced to use lights either way if I want to squeeze something in before work.  If I’m going to move in the darkness I’d just assume be on the bike, but when I get on the bike I want to go an hour or more.  Anything less seems like a wasted effort.  Anything more becomes showing-up-for-work-on-time threatening.

Finally I decided I’d do a 3 mile run from home in the foggy darkness and try for a nice fast pace.  Monday morning I kitted up and headed out into the void.  I felt fast on the first mile.  It’s hard to push yourself when running or cycling in darkness.  On the bike you can go fast enough that the darkness is a real danger.  On foot it’s just hard to plod on without being able to see much of anything.  It doesn’t help that I have an active imagination and bears have become a reality in my home watershed.

I hit my first turnaround point at the bottom of a hill and back up I went.  At the top of the hill on the left is the entrance to a subdivision.  As I neared the side road I heard a car overtaking me.  Within a few steps of the road a huge boat of a vehicle started to pass me, and as it came even it started to slow.

No way is this guy going to try and turn in front of me… I thought.  I was wrong.

I caught a glimpse of the driver, an older man, as his rolling death machine cut directly into my path.  I had to almost stop to keep from being clipped and in a white phosphorous flare up of rage I swung a foot out to kick his bumper.   I would have smacked down hard on his trunk if I’d not had my phone in my left hand.

If I’d been on my bike I would have chased him down into his dead end neighborhood.  As it was, it would have been easy enough for me to chase him on foot too.  What he did was uncalled for, unnecessary, and he could have hit me.

I see two possibilities:

1) He saw me and didn’t care.

2) He didn’t see me.

Either possibility is frightening.  It was dark, but I had a bright LED headlamp, and I know his headlights were on me because I cast a pretty distinct shadow as he overtook me.  We were both going slow, so I know he had time to react.

I guess there is the third possibility that he was incapacitated in some way.  At 6:00 am that might be the most frightening possibility of all. 

All three possibilities point to one source: poor judgment.

I know there are people out there that would say me choosing to be on the road running (or cycling) before sunrise is poor judgment.  Without understanding the situation I could see someone making that claim.  But I know what I’m doing.  I’m well lit.  I never take it for granted that someone like that old man is going to give me space.  And if I want to run for my health I really don’t have much other choice.

I could drive over to the park in town, but that’s not the most efficient use of my resources.  There is so little traffic on my road in the mornings (or all day for that matter) that there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to run or ride on it without being threatened by a motorist’s poor judgment.

I’ve lived on that road for most of my life.  I know people drive far too fast on it around the sharp and blind curves*.  More often than not I drive far too fast on that road.  I realized something on my run the other morning though: it’s on the best loop for walking, running, or cycling from Stanton.  And there are a lot of people that live along the loop that take advantage of its benefits.

The loop is four miles.  Once out of town there are no major intersections.  There are two distinct hills (one ridge really) that must be crossed, but they offer a nice challenge.  While the traffic is low the loop is not remote.  There are no vicious dogs (at the current time).  And finally—the big pro—it’s almost entirely on minor roads, and where it follows a busier road there are sidewalks.

A lot of people utilize this loop.  Some use it well; some not so much.  There is a group of ladies, I like to call them the Wrong Side Club, that walk four abreast on the narrow road on the right side with traffic.  They tend not to get over when cars approach and then scowl when you try to squeeze past them.  I believe they have every right to be on the road, but I also believe they have every right to be considerate.  Plus, because of the *aforementioned reasons it’s just not smart to take up so much of the road all at once.

Most users tend to be going solo, like myself, and I’ve never heard of anyone being hit or of an accident involving non-motorized users.  That said I try to motion for speeding people to slow down, and when I’m out in my yard I often yell at the speeders in front of my house.  I’m a speedo-fascist that way.  I’ve been making a conscious effort to slow down myself behind the wheel.  I do go as fast as possible on the bike though…





 
 

Monday, August 26

Allez! Allez! Or, How Mark Got Suckered Into Riding Cobhill

BREAKING NEWS: Cobhill Sees a Record Four (and a Half) Ascents in a Single Day!!!

First off, I'm super proud of my wife for giving Cobhill a solid attempt.  She and Casey had planned to ride on Friday.  Earlier in the week Casey told her Friday was Mandy's day to do the Furnace Mountain climb.  Then our lovely KYTC started repaving the road late in the week and the ladies were thwarted in their plans.

Thursday Mandy texted Casey:

So they are paving furnace. Think they'll be done by tomorrow?

Casey replied:

That's ok. Lets just go knock out Cobhill instead.

Mandy's hilarious retort:

Yeah, wouldn't that drive Chris insane?

Late Friday morning I texted Mandy unaware of the Cobhill development:

How's your morning going? Still riding?

At 12:13 she replied:

You were supposed to get this text at 9:26: "Off to do Cobb hill. Seriously."  Just got back. We are beasts.

Jeff texted me at 12:15:

You just got pipped on cobhill.

I wasn't sure what "pipped" meant, but it didn't sound good.  I talked to Mandy on the phone and she said Casey finally got Cobhill clean (reportedly after two previous attempts) and Mandy rode about half of it.  That's pretty good considering how Jeff and I have been talking it up.  Like I said earlier, I'm proud of her for giving the steepest road climb in the area a serious go.

After thinking about it for 0.003 seconds I decided I needed to go ride Cobhill when I got home.  I sent three texts at 1:30:

To Mandy: I might go do Cobhill tonight...depends on when I get home

To Mark (we'd already made plans to ride): Think I'm going to go do Cobhill tonight.  Been putting it off too long.

To Jeff: I think I gotta go do Cobhill tonight. I gotta.

Mark responded:

Yeah? What are the details on the ride?

Me:

30 mi RT from Stanton...

Mark:

Sounds intimidating.

Me:

With a name like Cobhill?

To Jeff later:

Okay, taking mark to do the cobhorn at 5:30. Parking at sister-in-law's and leaving from there.  Feeding him applesauce now.

Mark and I drove up to my sister-in-law's house where we began our ride to avoid the ongoing paving work.  Jeff met us at Furnace proper and we struck out for the hardest road climb in the area.

The Free Range Librarian was somewhat hesitant before the ride, and as we rode out to the base of the climb he chatted semi-nervously asking lots of questions about tactics for the  climb and specifics about Cobhill.
Here's all you need to know about Cobhill...
 
I was pretty cool about the whole thing.  The big difference over my last two attempts was having witnesses.  Knowing Casey got it that morning and that Jeff would get it, and that Mark had a 32 or 34 tooth rear cog on his touring bike to my 25 tooth sporty sport cog put a whole lot of pressure on me to succeed in my fourth attempt on the Cobhorn.

We three paused at the nadir of the hill.  Jeff and I gave Mark his final encouragement.  I stowed my sunglasses and clipped my helmet to my handlebars.  It was hot enough I wanted my head free.

Mark fretted over which gear to start out in, but, spoiler alert, he rode it like a pro.  There was some loud breathing and gasping, but by then he'd thirtysome toothed his way out of my field of view and out of earshot.

Below the crux Jeff and Mark pulled away from me.  I intentionally kept my cadence low.  I let the bike move one pedal stroke at a time.  I kept the fire in my lower back at a smokey smolder.  Around the first crux curve I felt really good; much better than in the past.  I was all alone when I reached my previous high point.  It was there that the pain flared brightly.  But even still, the pain was much less than it has been in the past.  I eased off the pedals as much as I dared.  There's a fine balance between enough force to keep climbing and not enough to stay upright.

I resisted standing up for as long as I could, but at the steepest point I stood for some relief for the fire in my lower back.  Then I went back to the saddle.  Then I stood.  I powered through another insanely steep section.  The angle eased.  Then it kicked up again.  I stood, stomping down each pedal in turn, my shadow on the road in front of me slithering side to side in a sinuous serpentine dance.  Sweat fell hard from my face.  My hands were slippery with sweat on the tops of the brake levers.  When I looked down at my legs I saw rivers of sweat disappearing into the tops of my shoes.  The pain faded to the background after the last right turn.  I was going to make it.

As the pain faded my breathing started to ramp up.  My legs still felt full of power, but as my lungs began fighting to fill I wondered if I'd make it after all.  I crept around the last left bend and faced the finale: a straight on, super steep climb to a horizon line far above.

"C'mon Chainring!" Jeff growled over the top, looking down like a rescuer at the top of a well.

"I'm gonna do it," I mumbled wryly.

Mark called out encouragement as well.  He'd made it with Jeff.  I took my sweet time, enjoying a dose of good pain as I claimed my new local cycling feather.  Then I was over the top.

It was ten rolling miles back to the car.  We parted ways with Jeff back at Furnace.  As usual, the closer I got to the end of the ride the more I wanted it to be longer.  But the sun was falling fast.  Mandy had a dinner of homemade pizza waiting for Mark and I back at the Red River Regional Bikeport. 

I had worried earlier in the day that if I couldn't climb Cobhill on my fourth try I might have to begin writing The Cobhorn Saga.  I didn't want to go there.

Remember, Cobhill Road (KY 1182) gains 560' in 0.8 mile*. That's an average 14% (per Strava) with a max grade of 39%!?

If you don't believe me, if you don't think it can be so bad, if you think I'm making a mountain out of a Cobhill...then just go ride the thing.


The Cobhill Chronicles:



And of course, the infamous "I Love Bikes (But Not That Way)" post.
 

Here's what we're talking about:
 


In case it's not obvious by the elevation profile:

 
* You might be wondering why every time I give stats for Cobhill (or any other climb for that matter) that they don't seem to be consistent.  I have two sources for the elevation, distance, and grade: Strava and Map My Ride.  I've also checked them against the USGS for Cobhill because I just couldn't wrap my mind around the reality of it's wicked steepness.  I think Strava's numbers fluctuate depending on how much space junk is bombarding the satellites, and Map My Ride can be wonky sometimes too.
 
The short of it is that Cobhill gains approximately 600' in 0.8 miles.  I measure the distance from the bridge over the creek at the bottom to the driveway shown on the map on the right side at the top.  Those are two distinct landmarks and also reflect the lowest and highest points.

Saturday, August 24

Centering Your Adventures in Life

Haha!  I’m a ding-a-ling.  I should have known better than to assume that if I were to turn in the drive with the big “Life Adventure Center” sign off Milner Road in Woodford County that I would not, in fact, be headed for the trailhead for the mountain bike trails at the Life Adventure Center (LAC) off Milner Road in Woodford County.

There were no mountain bikers’ cars in the visitor’s lot and I didn’t see anything resembling a trail within view of the parking lot.  Time was a-wastin’ as I had only an hour for my lunch.  I changed into my MTBer garb behind supra-dark tint and then rolled down my windows to get some air.  With fresh oxygen I decided it might be prudent to do a quick internet search on the ole Hitchhiker’s Guide.

I found a crude map:

 


As you can see, a great deal of cartographic skill went into producing the map.  I found myself in a frenzied critique of the map in question.  I discovered it lacked a few critical map elements:

1) A scale.  There is no scale, nor is the map annotated with even a hint of a “NTS.”  This wasn’t really a problem for me, but the cartographer in me wanted to complain.

2) Absolutely nothing regarding mountain biking.  Well, that’s not exactly true, now is it? In the lower left there is some red lettering, almost decipherable, that reads: “Mt. Bike Trail Interdiction.”  Or maybe that’s “intersection.”  Anyway, there is the general location, but there is no specific direction on how to get to the Mt. Bike Trail without wandering all over the property first.

3) Accuracy.  The map lacks accuracy.  Simply put.

Being the geographical genius that I am I deduced that I needed to drive back out to the main road and turn in the next road on the north side of Milner to get to the area on the map labeled:

Pavilion

Challenge Course

Horse Trails blah blah blah

I reached said pavilion and was rewarded with a printed copy of the map shown above that was no more legible.  Upon closer inspection I could ascertain nothing regarding the put-in point for a time crunched and slaveringly ravenous mountain biker.  I hadn’t plied the dirt for over a week.  The rain in this neck-o-the-woods has been getting to be somewhat bothersome.  My better judgment was addled due to my dirt withdrawals.

Finally, after fretting myself into a fit of nervous eating (Sport Beans though!) I hatcheted upon a truly revolutionary idea.  If this was a hot new mountain biking destination, semi-secret, but not expressly secret, then I should be able to find a segment on Strava.   

I consulted my increasingly useful Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Mountain Biking Galaxy (aka my smarty-smart phone) and found said Strava segment.  AH. HA.  I drove back out to Milner Road and hung yet another right and followed the narrow roadway to a 90° turn.  There was a fresh new gravel parking area on the right at the right angle bend and there I parked.

The whole scenario would have played out much differently had not the entire population of planet Earth been vaporized just as I decided I needed to ask someone at the LAC where the mountain biking was.  I was all alone, apocalyptically yours, though thankfully with internet services.

I jumped out at the trailhead, positively chomping at the bit to get on the trails while I still had time, and was completely uncertain where the trail began.  In a later conversation with a local MTBing guru (it seems my timing of the apocalypse was somewhat off) I learned that there is a telling KyMBA sticker somewhere in the vicinity of the actual trail terminus.  I saw nothing.

Well, I actually saw enough “No Trespassing” signs at the gap/gate in the fence to choke a mule, but I rode on through anyway.  Let’s just say my philosophy on land ownership is somewhat allemansr├Ąttenian.  Having grown up exploring in Kentucky I tend to look upon NT signs and interpret them very loosely.

The rewards of such blatant encroachment were immediately evident as I saw a no horses and no ATVs sign on the trail within a few pedal strokes.  I deduced this to mean that pedestrian and cyclotorial travel was welcome.
The upper approach trail is somewhat rough and needs traffic
 
My initial impression of the trail was of disappointment, but somewhere near the first creek crossing I started to get warmed up and into the spirit of things.  LAC has a character all its own.  Deep into the loop there are quite a few technical challenges.  I wouldn’t recommend taking kids or raw beginners there.  They won’t appreciate the elevation loss that must be regained to get back to the real world, and they won’t be wiled by the charms of a tucked in Kentucky River hollow (Lock Hollow to be exact).

The trails don’t have the park and rec feel that Veterans has.  They don’t have the feel of a place that’s had hours and hours of volunteer teams hacking away on wooded slopes to provide tasty bench cuts.  The whole place has an off-camber feel, and narrow, oddly undulating, and twisty singletrack that’s hard to predict.  Of the four Bluegrass MTB trail systems LAC is the ragged smelly cousin that no one is sure about.  But once you get to know him, that disreputable cousin is actually a pretty interesting guy.

I wish it had a better name than LAC.  Lock Hollow is unique.  Local.

Anyway, when the trail reaches the dry streambed of Lock Hollow it gets interesting, with rocky crossings, short steep bank climbs, twisty goodness, and a nice fast downhill stretch along one of those picturesque Bluegrass region stone fences.  The trail is technical enough to keep you laser focused on where you’re putting your wheels, but solid enough that you can keep right on pedaling over all the obstacles.  Well, there was that one log…
One creek crossing
 

Stone fence
 

You climb an old road grade out of the drainage to a wide swath of a powerline cut, and then you go right for a bit until the trail begins to dip into an obvious low spot.  Look right for the MTB trail and you’ll be confirmed with yet another no horses and no ATVs sign before plunging back into the green darkness of the forest cave.

The trail makes a few more twisty loops until it junctions back with the original trail and you begin backtracking along the creek for the climb out to the trailhead.  It wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.

I rode 5 miles, though I’ve heard there is close to 7 or 8.  According to the aforementioned Bluegrass MTB guru there are scads of dozens of more acres that can be converted to mountain biking purposes and the intent is to do just that.  On a weekday lunch scramble I had the place to myself and got to clear the whole trail system of spiderwebs all by myself.

To find the Woodford County trails either Google “Life Adventure Center of the Bluegrass” or take US 62 from either Versailles or Larryburg to just east of the Woodford/Anderson County line.  Locate Milner Road and identify the right angle curve west of the two main entrances of the LAC.  It’s a new gravel lot.  The trail begins catty-cornered to the TH behind the gate festooned with “No Trespassing Under Penalty of Death” signs.  The trail system is a lollipop layout and you’ll return to the exact point where you enter the system.  

If I were to rank the four Bluegrass trail systems by difficulty I would say (easiest to hardest):

1) Veterans Park

2) Capitol View Park

3) LAC

4) Skullbuster

 

From a quality standpoint, and only because of the relative ages of each area I would say (best to worst):

1) Skullbuster

2) Capitol View Park

3) Veterans Park

4) LAC (with potential to exceed VP for sure)

And there you have it, my completely random and spontaneous take on the new mountain bike trails in Woodford County.

 

Friday, August 23

Machining Time

I do this too much, and it often backfires on me, but I'm going to give you a glimpse of where I see myself—and as a result this blog—going in the near future.
Since this is a cyclo-centric blog obviously I'll blather on about bikes.  Okay, post over.
But how will I talk about bikes?  Will I switch focus to cyclists over cycles?  There would have to be even a hint of focus to begin with.  Will I offer up some asinine onerous rules for me to follow?  Remember the Winter Commuter Challenge?  If so, I deeply apologize.  No, no rules.  I've considered laying down a set posting schedule time and time again, but ultimately I don't want to limit or obligate myself.
The writing portion of the three year long Leadville Saga is nearly over.  I figure within the next couple of weeks it will all be purged and you'll have my final thoughts on the matter.  I'm winding down even now.
 Having said that, you've not seen the last of the Leadville Saga.  More on that to come...
So what then?  Well, there's a new KyMBA chapter to get off the ground.  There are trails to be maintained and built.  There's a lot of utilitarian and recreational cycling advocacy opportunities in this state.  I've seen that the Sheltowee Trace Association, while not cycling specific in its efforts, is a group doing good work and would like to support that.
Mandy and I have committed ourselves to running, and I think I'm going to have some big schemes in that department.  I was somewhat inspired by Mr. Hoyes and hisSheltowee running attempt.  I've got a long way to go before I'm ready for my own such attempt, but Lord willing I will give it a go soon.
I've decided I need to lay off the for-a-fee organized events.  That's why I'm going to focus on things like setting/breaking records on certain local trails.  Maybe no one cares right now, but interest comes with activity.  Sorry Jeaph, that means some Strava time!
In the background I'll be training for the next big mountain bike race.  At least until I have a specific goal I'll work on general conditioning: better bike handling skillz, better climbing, better endurance, overall fitness, etc.
Mandy was pretty insistent that I'd want to go back and do Leadville every year.  That may not be practical simply because there's no guarantee I'll get in every year.  But since we have an adopted family in Colorado that we want to see every year we've decided we can justify going back either to ride, to volunteer, or just to make the scene for the MTB race annually.
I made the statement that I would approach it this way:  if I get in the lottery in 2014 then Leadville will be my one cycling indulgence.  If not then I'll look to more regionally local rides/races for a big event.  I still need a redemptive effort at the Mohican.  Then there are other races that have piqued my interest: 12 Hours of Capitol View, Off Road Assault on Mt Mitchell, and next year's Bluegrass State Games.  And let's not forget the suite of Leadville Race Series events.  I see the Wilmington Whiteface in my future, the Silver Rush, and maybe even one of those southwestern races.  Who knows?  I can always daydream about the Kokopelli's, the CTR and the Tour Divide.  Well, I can!
So the LT100 will be an "only if" kind of thing.  I'll ride if I get in, and find something else to obsess over if I don't.  I've got plenty of schemes cooking to keep my hands occupied.  Regardless, it's a part of who I am now, and I'll not drift away from it so easily.
Let’s not forget my roadie schemes either.  I'm going to do a tour to the summit of Black Mountain.  I'm going to get the inaugural Kentucky Century Challenge jersey.  I've got a few other schemes I want to play close to the jersey until I'm ready to roll them out, but let’s just say they're a little more significant than segment maintenance in the Strava realm.
I would also like to work toward being less reliant on my SOV.  I have a long commute—45 miles one way—but I see the possibility of eliminating some of those 450 weekly miles by using my bike.  I have the experience to make it happen.
Rambling is my forte.  Maybe in the immediate future I'll take some cyber-journalism classes.  If there is such a thing...