Tuesday, December 31

Road ID For You And Me

I got this hilarious email from Ed at Road ID on Friday:

Hello Chris,
 I have some fantastic news! No...you didn't win the lottery, but your Road ID order was shipped today (12/27/2013). Per your request, it was shipped via USPS First Class Mail.
So, you live in Kentucky...
We are not only super excited to have you as a customer, we are amped that you're in the great state of Kentucky. We had no idea that we had neighbors as cool as you! In case you are unaware, Road ID HQ is located just up the road, so if you ever need a hug or you just want to say hello, feel free to stop by! As a security feature, however, our doors will only open if you're carrying freshly baked cookies.
I’ve got to say, I was pretty amped to see they were HQed in my home state.  Kentucky isn’t known for its association to healthful activities.  No, we get the bad wrap along with West Virginia for our unholy affinity for coal mining, our extractive sport horse economy, and a lingering bitterness that tobacco farming was taken away from us as a viable industry.
Oh, and let’s not forget what the “K” in “KFC” stands for.
Anyway, for those that might not be familiar with Road ID they make a series of products designed to help identify us when we might happen to get out on the road—whether riding a bike, running, or walking—and get knocked unconscious.  They are inscribed with name, contact info, medical issues, and other pertinent personal information.  Road ID makes wristbands, necklaces, and shoe tags that carry this vital information.
Of course they really are just like a medical ID bracelet for those whose medical issues might be more acute and caused by a poorly driven motor vehicle.  Yeah, I said it.  Let’s not go down the road of victim blaming today.  I’m not in the mood.
Anyway, I don’t like jewelry, watches, rings, etc.  I’ve been given things like the LiveSTRONG bands before and I could never get used to the darn things.  It actually goes deeper than just not liking them.  I have a sensory aversion to them.  So when the Tomahawk asked me how I liked my new Road ID on Saturday night (we ordered our IDs on the 26thand got them on the 28th) I glanced down and remembered I had it on.  I was pleasantly surprised.  That meant it had not affected my sensory defenses and likely wouldn’t.
I wonder how it will be once the full heat of summer comes on.  For me that will be the true test.  Once I start sweating all accessories bug me.  I’ll try to remember to let you know in July.
For less than $20 I got the ID and a century badge to add to it. I got the slim band which is made of a soft rubber.  The metal ID goes around the band as does the badge.
I hope the Road ID is never necessary, but I am glad to finally have something to identify me by other than my dental records.
The pink band was an extra one for Mandy's classic ID, the blue is my slim Road ID.

 

Friday, December 27

The Brief Return of Ramming Speed Fridays

It was folly: 44-45 miles one way, uncertain routes, winter temperatures.  I mean, we're only a week out from the solstice for crying out loud!

Technically I didn't meet the criteria.  What was it?  17 mph for fat tired bikes and 20 mph for road bikes?  I don't know, it's been over a year since I put Ramming Speed Fridays to rest. 

For those that may not know, or those that don't remember, Ramming Speed Fridays came about as I blazed home from my job in Golden, Colorado trying to escape and forget the memories of a bad week.  Which one?  Well, almost all of them.

From Golden--sitting at 6,000' in elevation--it was downhill on my home commute each day.  It was much easier to go super fast on my 10 mile commute with about 600' of elevation loss.  It didn't take long before I was trying to break my own records.

Finally I had to establish some solid numbers to determine what constituted a bona-fide Ramming Speed Friday, or RSF as I was wont to abbreviate, and I chose 17 mph for my "slower" bikes and 20 mph for lighter and faster steeds.  These numbers weren't arbitrary.  I chose them because at the time those speeds were attainable but not easily so.  I intended to adjust them as I got faster.

It's hard to have a Ramming Speed Friday when you don't ride your bike to work on Fridays.  I've been itching to bike my (45 mile one way) commute all year.  I've come close a few times.  I've never screwed up the gumption.

I found myself at the confluence of desire, opportunity, and compulsion yesterday.  I would take my new Revelate bags, put them on the Dogrunner, and ride my freakin' bike to work.  And hopefully ride back.

What you don't know is that I set up a built-in fail-safe into my scheme.  I asked Mac if I could catch a ride back with him if I was not up to the full challenge or if work dictated that I not leave at 2pm to beat the sunset home.  I beat it to Clay City.

Thanks Mac!

Dave L. texted me as I realized my first wrong turn on the outskirts of Winch City.  I hadn't intended to return there but a miscalculation...

Dave offered an opportunity to refuel.  I took him up on it and truncated my visit begging off so I could get on home before dark.  On Ecton Road I made my second wrong turn and ended up on Ironworks where I didn't want to be.

Not for the first time today I settled into a blistering pace.  My overall average speed was 16.3 mph for the 50 mile ride only because of the few hard climbs along the way.  My first half hour I averaged 18.6 but dropped off to 16.3 mph after I traversed Boonesborough and climbed out of the Kentucky River valley immediately after.  I managed to maintain that speed the rest of the ride.

On Ironworks I pedaled like I was racing Death herself.  I watched the sun sink and the rednecks gun past.  I felt like I was out in front of the RAAM.  Maybe I could be a contender for the Trans America Race.

And so I rammed...and so I sped.


Prelude to the Return of Ramming Speed Friday?

I tweetered this stream earlier with the hashtag #pavementsedgeblog :
 
I beat the rising sun to Winchester.
 
I beat the rising sun to Fayette County.
 
I almost beat the rising sun to Lexington.
 
To quote Wendell: “I’m passing near to the sleep of things. Those houses are full or warmth and life while I pass through a world cold, dark, and dead.
 
My goatee is freezing.
 
It occurred to me that I might be too wrecked to ride back home.  
 
Who can I bribe to take me to Chipotle for lunch?!
 
"Hope you warm up."  
"Me t-t-too."
 
My scicles have popped.
 
Why do I subject myself to the cold, the pain, and the exhaustion of this?
 
Oh yeah, that’s why.
 
 
 
My desk has turned into an all-you-can-try-to-eat buffet.  Oatmeal, cinnamon roll, Coke, cell phone (no, that’s not really edible), breath mints, gimme, gimme more!
 
I might have been on the verge of death.  Blocks of ice for hands and feet, eyes clouded over, uncontrollable shivering, slavering desire to post my ride to Strava.
 
Better change lanes to pass, crazy might rub off.
 
Water bottle and snack bars frozen.  Computer frozen.  Me frozen.  Half & half in coffee gone bad.
 
See, those bags have changed everything
 
 
I decided since there has been a lull in traffic due to the holiday week this morning was going to be my best chance to do the 44 mile commute from my house to work.  The office is quiet.  It’s Friday between Christmas and New Year’s.  What better time than this?  Well, maybe a morning when the temperature is above freezing.  
 
And that darn Scott at the bike shop talked me into joining the Rapha Festive 500.  If you ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve you complete the challenge and get a woven patch.  Also, 500 km was about the exact amount I needed yesterday when he told me about it to get me to 3,000 miles for the year.
 
I started out behind so I needed to do something drastic to catch up.  I figured 90 miles today and maybe 90 miles on Monday and then I only need 130 more miles besides those two commutes over the course of the next four days to win big.
 
I am so stupid.
 

Thursday, December 26

This Changes Everything

Santa was good to me.  He brought me three Revelate Designs bags.  Now I’m destined to be a bikepacking fool.
 
What I asked for—and what I got—was a Tangle half-frame bag, a Gas Tank, and a Viscacha seat bag.  Oh, Santa, you jolly tub-o-lard!  I was thinking I’d get gifts that would sit unused in the Bike Cave for all the livelong year.  No, not at all.  I’ll risk divorce to put these bad boys to use!
 
Unfortunately I’ve now developed a slight addiction to bikepacking gear.  I. Need. More.
 
 
 
Well, for now I can actually get by with the gear I already have.  I loaded up the One Christmas afternoon and lashed my tent over the handlebar bag I’ve had for a few years now.  I stuffed sleeping bag in the Viscacha, put stove, pot and bike tools in the handlebar bag, put fuel and water purifier in the Tangle, and left the Gas Tank and remainder of the Tangle empty.  I put on my old Nalgene hydration backpack with some random odd things in it to simulate a load.  And then I cavorted merrily up and down the ridges behind my house.
 
I gotta say, even with only a partial Revelate compliment and half a full bikepacking load (no food, water, or clothes) the bike handled pretty darn good.  I had to man-handle it over a few large and recent blowdowns over the old logging roads and it wasn’t a big deal.  Hopping over downed branches and bikewhacking through ground-bound crowns was like fruitcake.
 
Bike-pack-a-whacking…I like it.  Combo of bushwhacking and bikepacking.  Bushpacking?  Bikebwacking?  Nah, bike-pack-a-whacking works for me; just like Hook-ed on Puh-honics.
 
Here’s the thing, I had originally decided to ask for the full catalog of Oveja Negra Threadworks gear.  ONT is based out of Leadville.  How could I not support them?  But then I decided I didn’t need so much bikepacking gear.  I’m a cubicle monkey with a family.  I don’t have time to do so much bikepacking.  I scrapped that idea, but threw the three Revelate bags on my Amazon wishlist.  I would have put the ONT bags on, but they didn’t show up on Amazon.  I figured I’d find other stuff before Christmas and the bags would go away.
 
Truth is I never found anything else I really wanted and the bags stayed on.  When I opened them on Christmas morn I was almost disappointed.  Well, in myself for not coming up with anything better.
 
Then I got caught up in the kids and their excitement, we went to Mamaw Lacy’s for second breakfast, and then retreated home with fully bellies and a sleep deficiency that is achievable only to parents of young girls who get kitchen playsets that need three hours of assembly before going under the tree.  Mandy napped.  But those bags danced in my short term memory like taunting elves.  Finally I trundled down to the Bike Cave and started slinging nylon, ratcheting Velcro, and jamming in the gear.  It didn’t take long before it looked like some Tour Divide racer had blundered off course and had landed in our humble abode.  
 
As I progressed in my ministrations I sent Dave L. photo updates via text.  His responses were:
 
 
 
 
“I’m really interested in that seat mount pack, can’t wait to check it out” and
 
 
 
“Cool!” and
 
 
 
“We got to get together soon” (in other words: I’m lusting after your gear) and finally
 
 
 
“Ok STOP YOU’RE KILLING ME!!”
 
It might seem like I was taunting Dave.  Okay, I was taunting Dave.  It’s not like I just went out and bought all this cool new gear.  I had to wait for Santa to bring it to me.  And it’s actually taken me about three years to amass all the stuff I need to be able to do any kind of mountain bikepacking.  Darn that Mike Dion and his Ride the Divide!  Each Christmas I’ve asked for one or two more items that would eventually equate to a full complement of gear.  One year it was a one man tent, then it was a lighter sleeping bag, this year it was a bunch of frame bags.  
 
Next year I’m hoping I’ve gotten enough use out of the gear I have that I’ll want to round out my bikepacking kit with some Oveja Negra loot.  I won’t make the same mistake twice.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the Revelate bags are more than adequate.  After I get a few miles out of them I’ll give you a full review of them, but for now I am feeling the holiday cheer and wanting to spread the love a bit.  Got a birthday coming up too.
 
 
 
Of course now I live in a state where there is only one long trail and it’s hardly in an acceptable condition to travel far upon a bike.  That will change.  In the meantime I have my secret routes planned.  I know where I can go for my wild adventures.  I have my “five minute plan” should the opportunity arise for me to bolt out the door for a mini-adventure.
 
One unforeseen benefit to these new bags is that now I can use both of my non-touring road bikes for light touring.  I say light touring because the sporty-sport bikes probably can’t hold up to too much extra weight, especially since I’m maxing out their capacities with my winter fat stores.  But now I won’t have to jerry-rig a pannier rack to head off toward some transportation conference.  I can just Revelate there.
 
 

Monday, December 23

Dynamo Broken

I don't plan on writing anything else in 2013.  I'm going to step back for a couple of weeks.  There are stories that need to get written and I need to recharge a bit before I try to decide where I'm going with the blog in 2014.  Of course if you're a faithful reader of this blog you know I'm just as likely to break this promise to you, but don't expect any new posts until after the New Year.  If anything noteworthy should occur I promise I'll share with you as soon as I get back on a regular posting schedule.  In the meantime enjoy the holidays and get out and ride as much as you can.

What follows is something that was very difficult for me to write.  I wish I could have better articulated my feelings on this, but they're still raw and not resolved at all.  Maybe through this I can become better at writing about the difficult things.


When I was a young teenager in southwestern Ohio my best friend was Shane Lightle.  Due to a late in the year birthday he was a year behind me in school, but we were the basically the same age.  We met riding the school bus from the outlying rural region where we both lived into town to Clear Creek Township schools.  Then we were in the same Boy Scout Troop where we shared a lot of amazing experiences. Our families became close as well. 

At 14 he could easily pass for 18.  He became a wrestler in high school and went on to compete in MMA as an adult.  At 15 I was 140 lbs soaking wet so hanging with Shane provided me a level of protection from those that would have singled me out for torment.

His family was like a second family to me.  He was like a surrogate brother to me; he and his brother Craig were my best friends.  In 1989 I moved back to my home state of Kentucky and only saw Shane a few times afterward.  But like so many we reconnected—if somewhat tenuously—as adults through social media.  

After more than a decade unconnected we discovered that both of us had an interest in writing.  He saw a note I posted on Facebook a couple years ago that told a story of our working together and my BMX bike getting killed.  We exchanged some Facebook messages revolving around our mutual interest in writing.  Then his son Michael was struck and killed by a car.  Michael was a six year old twin.  My heart broke for Shane, his wife, and his other two sons.  Time passed.  I didn't hear much from Shane.  I didn't know what to say in the shadow of his loss.  I couldn't fathom it.  

I saw the occasional Facebook status and it seemed his family was healing; moving on. Then there was the family portrait: five chairs in a field with Shane, his wife Terri and his two surviving sons each sitting in a chair with a photo of Michael in the fifth chair. It was the most heartbreaking missing-man formation I've ever seen.

A few days ago I saw this post (his last public one) on Facebook: 

"THE SECOND COMING
Yeats

'Turning and turning in the widening gyre 
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
Are full of passionate intensity.'

What do you think of 'Mere Anarchy' as the title of a novel?"

I replied: 

"Wished I'd thought of it first. Got a little anarchy brewing myself."

I was referring to a story I've been developing with the CTL.

After I responded to his post he sent me a message and asked if I still wrote.  He suggested we exchange writing.  So we did.  I sent my Leadville or Bust rough draft and he sent me a short story he'd written.

The last message I got from him read:

"BTW. I'm asking you [my opinion of his writing] because I read a short story you wrote once, about us and a hay bailing incident. The quality of writing was better than most the hack genre writers I know in Columbus who regularly get published and paid. My advice to you is, write as though you don't give a damn if anyone ever approves of your work or not." 

Early on the morning of December 21st, 2013 my mom texted me and told me he had died and to call her right away.  He'd been on dialysis and apparently there had been some complications with his medicine.  I hadn't known he was on dialysis.

The day before—the day he died—I was anxiously awaiting to hear back from him...his opinion of my book.  I was halfway through the story he'd sent me earlier in the week entitled Dynamo Broken.

That Saturday morning when I found out about his death I was getting ready to go out for a 50 mile bike ride out and back from my house to the Red River Gorge loop.  Numb, and in shock, I went on out for my ride at my wife's insistence.  And while a good long solo bike ride is cleansing to a troubled soul sometimes it's not best to be alone with your thoughts and memories for three hours.

A couple of purging climbs took my mind off the news, but when I got back home it caught back up with me.  I tried to write about it, but my heart wouldn't let me compose words that seemed true or authentic enough to capture the relationship I had with Shane.  Tears kept coming unbidden. I fought off the emotional release I didn't know how to control. 

Loss like this is something that scares me.  At 40 years old I've lost exactly one other person I was close to: my maternal grandfather when I was 15.  I'm afraid of losing my parents, my grandmother, my wife, my kids.  I don't have the practice and I don't know how I'll handle those inevitable experiences when they come.

Shane's death has hit me harder than I expected it to. One thing I am blessed and cursed with is a high definition broadband stream of memory. When my thoughts began to turn to my memories of Shane and that time in my life when I was friends with him the floodgates opened and I was overwhelmed. I remembered it all. I relived it all in the blink of an eye and then it began playing over and over in an endless loop in my mind.  But he's gone. I hadn't really been close to him in the nearly 20 years since we'd considered each other friends. Why did his death impact me so?

There's part of me that wants to tell every story. I could write about the time we climbed onto the Springboro High School roof and all of our harmless anarchy. I could recount all of the Boy Scout trips we went on. Shane once went backpacking with nothing more than some canned food and a change of underwear. One time after I'd moved back to Kentucky I went north to go on a backpacking trip with my old troop. Shane concocted this whole story about one of our friends having taken up hard drug use, and they acted it out for my unsuspecting benefit. The two of them had even gotten Shawn's mom in on the gag though she wasn't as good an actor as they were. There was the Memorial Day he came to Kentucky and camped with us. He and I ended up walking off of Furnace Mountain onto Cat Creek and we had to hitchhike back to Furnace and then walked three miles back to where my family was camping. No one knew we had been gone.  

I remembered the scene from the movie Stand By Me where the adult Gordie character tells of hearing that his childhood friend Chris Chambers had been killed in a bar fight. We were that age when the movie came out. Shane was the Chris Chambers to my Gordie Lachance. I was the scrawny odd kid and he was the burly tough guy who seemed to cope so well. I remember us identifying with those characters. I'm pretty sure I'll never be able to sit through the end of that movie ever again.

Maybe I will try to write as much of what I remember of him as I can. This isn't the most appropriate venue for those tales so I'm not sure where they'll end up. But I had to share this here—my own obit for a friend I had hoped I could reconnect with. I lost that chance, but I feel blessed by his last imparted gift...that bit of advice which I plan on following with a vengeance:

"...write as though you don't give a damn if anyone ever approves of your work or not."

Godspeed my friend, if your path goes into the light; linger still a bit longer if there's darkness ahead. And if Providence wills it I hope we meet again someday. 

ADDENDUM 12/24:

My parents and I went up to Zanesville for the memorial service.  It was odd.  I saw his whole family again and it was truly good to see them.  I just kept thinking: The only person missing here is Shane.

We also discovered the cause of his death: accidental overdose of heroin.

I was stunned.  I'm still stunned.  And I'm pissed off at him.  And I miss him more now than ever.  My heart aches for his family; his wife of 17 years and his two boys.

The short story he'd sent me dealt with the hard life of a Naval recruit following in the footsteps of a crusty old officer and deciding after 48 hours of drug-induced insanity coupled with a suicide punctuated party that he needed to turn his life around.  It ends with the following passage:

"On a scorching August morning I flew out of San Diego. My sea bag held every possession: six harmonicas, a dozen CDs, three aloha shirts, two sets of Levi’s, a few manuscripts, and a gold wedding band for my dear Tara. As the wheels touched down in Port Columbus the Grateful Dead blared over my earphones. 'Mama, mama, many worlds I’ve come since I first left home.' You’re damn right."

I'm still wrestling with why he sent me the story.  I'm still wrestling with the unfinished conversation we were in the middle of when he died.  

Friday, December 20

The Baggage That Comes With Owning Cargo Bikes

I'm going to make this a shot straight to the heart of the matter.  Mandy and I each have cargo bikes—she a Kona Ute and me an Xtracycle built on a '94 Cannondale M300 MTB—and after almost three years we've hauled a lot of stuff on them.  Sometimes I also used a trailer and I've indicated those items which were hauled thusly.  What follows is a simple inventory which I hope to add to indefinitely.  This list is not chronological or detailed:

1) Charcoal grill

2) Wheelbarrow (on trailer)

3) Tomato cages

4) Tomato plants

5) Pepper plants

6) 40lb bag of potting soil

7) Bale of hay (trailer)

8) Kids (geocachers, hikers, swimmers, playground goers, cry-ers)

9) Booster seat

10) Cardboard boxes for moving

11) Other bikes

12) Groceries

13) Watermelon

14) Climbing gear

15) Crashpad

16) 40lb bag of chicken feed

17) Camping gear for four (trailer and panniers)

18) Chinese takeout

19) Oil change materials

20) Car parts

21) Moved out of office cubicle

22) Garden tools

23) Wood for campfire

24) Chicken wire

25) 2x4s and 1x12s (trailer)

26) Library books

27) Bike wheels

28) Baby in car seat

29) Recycling bin

30) Produce from farmers market

31) Packages to be mailed

32) Bike repair stand and tools

33) Toys

34) Peat moss

35) Baby dolls

36) Carton of root beer

37) Sleepover gear

38) Blueberry plants

39) Sleeping child

40) Christmas gifts















 





Updated 12/20/13



 

Thursday, December 19

A Dream of Big Turtles

I had abandoned to the dumpster my ill-conceived notion that the Sheltowee Trace could ever become a bikepacking or ITT destination like the Colorado or Arizona Trails or the Tour Divide route. 

After the decision came from the USFS at Cave Run that the Sheltowee would be closed to bikes south of the dam the bastard reality of a 50+ mile paved detour around the southern Cave Run area, the Red River Gorge, and Natural Bridge State Park seemed to make the dream of a long mountain bike trail in Kentucky moot.  A whopping 1/6 of the 300 mile trail was torn out in a huge chunk.  And that doesn't even factor in the existing paved detours south of Natural Bridge, or of the push to have the trail go through downtown Morehead eliminating even more of the dirt surface trail (I think a spur into town would serve the same purpose while preserving the integrity of the TRAIL).

I had been lobbying KYMBA, KY Adventure Tourism, the Sheltowee Trace Association and anyone else who would listen on the benefits of having the Sheltowee come alive as a mountain biking destination.  The idea had almost caught on in a few places.  Some people gave me a sympathetic ear.  No one was outright hostile to the notion.  But after the Cave Run decision I just threw up my hands.

Tourism, and specifically adventure tourism, was a big theme at the SOAR Summit.  We have this National Recreational Trail as a HUGE asset to the region.  The Sheltowee Trace is underutilized.  It's underutilized in general, but it's insanely underutilized as a connector between the communities that dot the Daniel Boone National Forest along its length.

On November 16 the Sheltowee Trace Association  tweeted:
      
"Can someone mtn bike the entire 307 miles in two days? We shall see. Pro biker called and is planning an attempt in the spring."

In the last few days someone posted on KYMBA - Bluegrass's Facebook page:

"Has anyone ridden the entire Sheltowee, excluding of course the sections that aren't legal. From what I understand the only sections off limits are 12 to 15. I am very curious how much of the trail is actually ridable or rather how much portaging one would have to do. Any info appreciated. Thanks"

There were 19 comments that followed that post to date (admittedly six were mine).  Maybe it isn't time to give up on the vision just yet...

I know of at least four different parties that have attempted the Trace since 2000.  To date I don't think there has been a successful end to end totally self-supported single-effort attempt to ride the legal portions of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreational Trail.  I've not been able to come across any claims to that effect.

I came across the following video yesterday and immediately I thought of how this applies to long trails.  The car factor doesn't apply, but if you think of the amount of bicycle traffic that could be generated considering the increase in interest in bikepacking and the boom of bikepacking specific gear and bikes in the past few years it just stands to reason that if there was a push from the highest levels to open up the Trace along its entire length to bicycles that Kentucky could suddenly have an asset that few Eastern states can boast, and only a handful of Western states possess: a long bikeable mountain bike trail.

My dream is to see a Colorado Trail Race type event on the Sheltowee.  I don't think I'm alone in this anymore.



How Bicycles Can Save Small Town America - PathLessPedaled.com from Russ Roca on Vimeo.


We should see more of this:

Laurel Lake area
 
 
And less of this:
 
Red River Gorge


Wednesday, December 18

Paradigm Recalibration

When we lived in Colorado I almost always thought of how I could ride to a place before I considered if I (or we) needed to drive.  I wanted to climb in Boulder.  I knew how far it was to Eldorado Canyon or to the Flatirons trailheads from my house.  I also knew how far it was to the more remote South Platte climbing areas in south Jeffco and which routes were the best to travel there by bike.  There were times I needed to meet my family at school and I did the 18 mile ride from work past home and on up to school.  The bike was the go-to vehicle for me.
 

 
Recreation or utility we tried to choose the bike as often as possible and it was more often than most people would have thought.  When we left Kentucky in 2008 I don’t think I had ever gone to the grocery store on my bike.  I know I had never ridden east to the Red River Gorge to hike or climb.  However, when I lived in Slade as a bachelor I often rode back west to Stanton, and I rode around the Gorge then to trailheads and climbing areas a handful of times.
 
Now that we’re back I find it easy to think of applying my Colorado experiences to my old Kentucky stomping grounds.  We want to get back into rock climbing and I can’t help but consider the cycling approach to any crag we might visit.  I look at it differently than I did before.  Now I have the cargo bike.  It’s possible to load up my climbing gear and ride to a crag.  Time is the only consideration.
 
Last night there was a local writers’ group meeting scheduled at the library.  Mandy and Lily headed off to town beforehand for a school function.  I was tasked with bringing the boy and dropping him off at the event before going to my meeting at the library.  He indicated that he didn’t want to go to the thing at school so I allowed the change of plan and set about Xmasing up the Xtracycle for a solo ride to town.
 
 
 
I strung up the lights, put on the Laser and two rear twinkly lights, loaded up my writing, a warmer jacket for the return trip home and was ready to push off when a ten year old blonde head poked out the kitchen door.
 
“I changed my mind; I think I want to go.
 
He wanted to ride his bike, but I nixed that.  In the five o’clock dark world I’m not comfortable with him riding separate on the road.  I told him so, and he said he could just ride on my bike then.  
 
I sized him up.  As he nears 11 (he goes to 11 after all) my little frontiersman has reached the full adult size of many diminutive people.  He’s almost as tall as his momma, and he’s been growing out in preparation for his next upward spurt.
 
“It’s been a while since I hauled ya, but I think I can do it.  Go get your stuff.”
 
He bolted back in the house for jacket and helmet as I adjusted my meager load.  Our creek (everyone here lives on a creek or in a holler) is guarded by three hills coming in and two going out.  I calculated the energy I’d need to expend to get Boone over Steamshovel Hill (Granny Moppet was just OUT) versus the non-climbing option of Hwy 15 into town.  Up and over a ridge or surf the rush hour traffic?  I couldn’t decide.
 
Xmascycle cleared for takeoff from Red River Regional Bikeport
 
 
Before I put foot to pedal I was skeptical I’d even be able to ride with the lug on the back.  It’s been so long since I have portaged him on the bike I had no concept of how much he weighs.  Before we reached the end of the driveway old synapses were firing smoothly and it was like we'd been doing this all along.  It felt good to be piloting my longtail cargo bike with another living soul aboard.  It felt right.
 
When we reached the deciding point I opted for the hill.  If I’d been alone and able to ride faster I might have taken the easy way in, but with my progeny on the back I opted for the road with the trickle of traffic versus the one at nearly floodstage.
 
It’s okay, spoiler alert: the Cannonball X is geared like a ‘90s era mountain bike and climbs hills like a mule under load.  While I did work up a sweat—and I know we didn’t break any Strava records last night—the ride over Steamshovel wasn’t too bad.  I zig-zagged more than I remember in the past, but we made it up and over and on into town.
 
Zipping along the flat streets across town brought back memories of cruising to Olde Town Arvada.  The nippy (nip, nipply, nippy) air evoked a past filled with lots of dark commutes.  It felt good to be riding at an unconventional time.  It felt like I was stealing time back from the world for myself.
 
I rang my bike bell for the sheer unadulterated heck of it.
 
I dropped the Boonester off at school, had to backtrack because I’d forgotten some items to be delivered, and then cruised in to the library parking lot.  The CTL (Crash Test Librarian) and his minion admired my lighting setup.  We chatted until it was obvious the writers’ group had cancelled despite me, and then headed to our respective homes after the library closed.
 
 
 
I once again opted for Steamshovel in lieu of the busier road and had to regain the crest of the ridge known as Steamshovel Hill.  From the town side it’s different—shorter and steeper—but not a bad haul empty.  The long descent on my side was cold, but it was hard to care under the full moon that had climbed high into the eastern sky as I dawdled in town.  Rolling back up my road in the moonlight with my festive to-be-seen lights and the sense of satisfaction of having traveled under my own power made for a pleasant return to the Red River Regional Bikeport.

Tuesday, December 17

One Inch Journey

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.” ~W. Berry
 
From Chimney Top Rock
 
I think—without much fanfare, without any kind of public announcement—I’ve finally returned home.  Back in the spring Mandy and I were going to have a “Triumphant Return” party on the five year anniversary of our departure from Kentucky to Colorado.  We expected that departure was to be our last.  We never intended to come back.  Never say never.  The party didn’t happen—mainly due to a busy schedule, but I think in a way we still celebrated that day with a bittersweet silence, and we recognized its significance fully.  
 
It’s been a struggle.  This past year has been difficult beyond my comprehension.  I wouldn’t have anticipated all of the emotional ups and downs we’d all go through.  I was most surprised by my own confused feelings.  I’m not surprised that I’ve not completely resolved themI foresee that in this next chapter of my life one of the major themes is going to be trying to sort out my own Appalachian Fatalism and the reason I continually run away from only to run back to my home in Powell County.
 
I need to sort it out so I can prevent the cycle from continuing.  I want to be settled.  I’m tired of looking for utopia.  The apostle Paul writes: “. . . for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”  I don’t know that I’ve learned that just yet.  I’m trying.  I’m studying on it.  It’s what I’m searching for always.  The stormy mind is no refuge for the weary.
 
In The Unforeseen Wilderness Berry also writes: “…my mind is still keyed to seventy miles an hour.  And having come here so fast, it is still busy with the work I am usually doing.”  He’s talking about leaving his work in Lexington and driving to the Red River Gorge to camp.  He describes his journey from the drive, to unloading his pack, hiking into the woods, to erecting his camp, and finally settling in for the night.  And at that point he is in the between world where he has not fully arrived in the wilderness but he has not fully left the built world.
 
Because he travelled between the two worlds in excess of a human speed his mind wasn’t capable of keeping up and processing the experience in real time.   He didn’t have the bandwidth.
 
Pinch Em Tight Gap
 
 
Concerning our emigration back to Kentucky I am certain I have at long last fully arrived.  The tipping point must have come recently, but all the accoutrements of my life seem to fit now in this place and are no longer relics from our time over the High Plains at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.  Oddly, I think this is a direct result of me getting out on the Cannonball and riding into the Gorge last Friday.  
 
My intended trip was a bust: to bikepack into the Gorge with the Cannonball.  However, the simple non-camping ride I ended up taking was the sort of trip through the lands of memory and presence that helped me to stitch up the wounds of the past year.  I brought together the two ragged edges so the healing could finally begin.  
 
Something was nagging at me as I wrote that last paragraph so I looked into it and confirmed…we left Colorado a year ago today.  I’ve got to be honest—when I realized it my eyes blurred with tears.  The memory is the bitterest and the sweetest; it’s agony and ecstasy.  I didn’t want to leave, but I’m happy to be back.  I’m back.
 
I take comfort in Wendell’s words nearer the end of the book: “I realize that, as much crossed as that country is by roads and trails, it is very likely impossible to get lost in it, at least not for a long time.”  He’s talking about the Gorge.  I don’t see a reason to turn the sentiment into some allegory.  
 
Talking recently with Mark I remembered the time in my life when I systematically redrew the section of my mental map inscribed “Here Be Dragons.”  Exploring the Red River Gorge as a young man prepared me for going into the wider world with confidence and determination.  In trying to get lost there—knowing I couldn’t—I had much good practice to draw on when I entered places that were truly wild.
 
These days I find myself caught in a feedback loop of chasing ghosts and time travelers from the future while trying to maintain a foothold in the present.  As I bike and hike along roads and trails to places I once visited years ago I’m also experiencing them with a new perspective and with new ambitions.  
 
Berry writes about the transcendence of the landscape in our individual lives and in regards to civilization.  The land is.  Our experience of it has no bearing on its permanence or its destruction.  We simply cannot fathom in a human mind the persistence of geologic time.  Even a thousand years of change is beyond reckoning in our finiteness.
 
The Red River Gorge near the mouth of Chimney Top Creek
 
I’ve kept myself from the Gorge for the most part during this past year.  I’ve avoided it like a bad love affair.  My heart was full of fear that I would dive back in, get wrapped up in old habits, that I’d use the place as a refuge from my problems and my demons.  I don’t know if the danger of that has passed, but I feel like I’m ready to begin revisiting those neural pathways that for so long have been dark and cold; to fire up the synapses of memory and vision and philosophy.  
 
It’s a rugged place.  In scale it’s not big: it does not compare to the Smokies or the Rockies.  It’s a different kind of place.  It’s like the mazes of your mind: folded in close, but separated by walls of gray matter and time.  You can be in one valley without knowledge of the next one over the ridge but arrive at a confluence and see them both.  
 
By returning to that place I’ve managed to fold myself and meld the layers of who I am and have been and will be into one.  The intervening times of my absences are no longer relevant and I find the joining to be a healing and a new beginning.  I can go away and return again, but the place where I hide my deepest hopes and dreams and fears is solid and rugged and an impenetrable vault.
 
I am alive in the world, this moment, without the help of the interference of any machine.  I can move without reference to anything except the lay of the land and the capabilities of my own body.  The necessities of foot travel in this steep country have stripped away all superfluities.  I simply could not enter into this place and assume its quiet with all the belongings of a family man and property holder.  For the time, I am reduced to my irreducible self.
 
Wendell Berry, The Unforeseen Wilderness