Friday, January 31

Oh No You Don't

If you were a regional transportation planner and someone in the district highway office that covers the area where you live "forgot" to notify you of a public meeting for a big road project in your hometown. . .what would you do?

BUT. . .not only did they forget to notify you, prior to that they emphatically told you that there would be no bike lanes in town and tipped their hand that even before the public meeting they'd decided how the road was going to be built. . .without any public input. . .how would you feel about that?
And before THAT regarding a different project they'd told you that they couldn't justify the cost for bike infrastructure in your hometown even though surrounding communities were putting them in like they were made of chocolate and buy-one-get-two-free.  How would that make you feel?
Would you think it was dodgy that they were trying to exclude you from the process even though they were supposed to be including you?  Would you think they weren't really excited about working with the public on the project? 
Well, you sure wouldn't be giving them the benefit of the doubt would you?!
I’m not saying that any of this stuff has happened.  And I’m definitely not saying that I’ve fired up the troops and started my social media campaign to get as many locals to attend as possible.  And I’m not saying I called a well-connected friend and said: “We need to apply some political pressure to the situation” to make sure all user groups are represented.  I’m definitely not saying these things.
I haven’t pulled up the county’s tourism plan and printed numerous copies with the section on cycling highlighted which reads:
Goal 3: Make improvements, if necessary, to state roadways containing bicycle route areas.
Explanation:Improvements may need to be made to state highways containing current and proposed bicycle routes. These improvements may include but not be limited to: shoulder improvement, “pull off” locations, resurfacing, pavement marking, and widening.
Strategy: Work with the Kentucky Department of Highways and Area Development District Transportation Advisory Committee, as well as other applicable bodies, to coordinate any necessary improvements that may be identified.
I haven’t done that.  Nope.  Not me.
And I don't want bike lanes in town.  I most definitely don't want the DHO to break up the continuous rumble strips they are most certainly planning to put in with the new pavement.  And I wouldn't want them to consider any choke-points that would endanger cyclists or pedestrians on the road that already has vehicular traffic moving at 60+ mph speeds before widening and improving the corridor.
Why would I want any of that?


What I have done, however, is have one of those experiences that you imagine planners to have.  I met with three bike advocates in a coffee shop in one of the historic downtowns of the region and we talked about what we can do.

I know that the Chief District Engineer for the Bluegrass area has expressed a desire to create a regional bike plan.  I know that many cycling advocates have been working hard to bring about a signed and mapped network of routes throughout the region.  And I know that my position affords me the unique perspective to be able to bring all these players together.  I know most of the players and what they're doing even if they don't know each other or what else is going on just over their county lines.

Days like today, even though I'm critically behind on some important work elements, make me feel like I'm in the right place at the right time and that things are getting ready to explode with me at the epicenter.  I'm okay with that.

Thursday, January 30

Forty Years of Chainring

The Chainring Dynasty has so far endured for a generation.  In other words: I’m forty today. 

I've averaged getting one year older each year.  Each year I age twelve months averaging twelve months older per year.  In forty years I've totaled forty years of aging.  Ha!

Forty is a good number if spelled a bit counter-intuitively.  What’s wrong with fourty?  Well, what’s wrong with the English language that four isn’t spelled “for?”  They (I’m not saying who) say life begins at forty.  Forty is the code for direct dial international phone calls to Romania.  Thirty years ago I discovered The Boss and bought my first album—Born in the USA—after listening to the American Top 40.  There were forty thieves.  There are (stupidly enough) forty hours in the western work week.  All of these fun forty facts can be found by typing “40” into a Google search and clicking on the Wikipedia article that ensues.  Well, not the one about the Bruce Springsteen album.
Turning forty doesn’t bother me.  I feel better than I did at thirty.  In some ways I feel younger even.  At thirty I had a one year old son, I was working two jobs and going to school full time.  I’d basically given up rock climbing because I didn’t have time and was too much out of shape.  I had dived back into cycling after a few year hiatus.  Well, maybe I was trying to get back into cycling; running out on the Cannonball once every six months for a twenty mile ride and thinking I was an epic adventurer.  The summer of my thirty-second year I bought the Giant OCR2 and started trying to be a “serious” cyclist.  At thirty-five I became a full-time bike commuter.  So it’s really been in the last five years that I’ve started working hard at getting myself back into acceptable shape. 
I see my forties and fifties as the prime of my life.  I’m finally mature enough, smart enough, and getting to be in shape enough to enjoy life, and to live to the fullest.  And when I say “enough” I don’t necessarily mean “more than you.”  I’m just finally getting somewhere in my own personal development.  Now I’ll fall into the 40-49 age category at events instead of the 30-39 group.  I might really start to shine by the time I hit the 50-59 file folder. 
Forty seemed old to me until I turned thirty.  And since then I’ve looked at forty as kind of a magical age.  It’s the age that used to seem old but now seems normal for me.  And I don’t feel old.  Looking onward fifty doesn’t seem old to me anymore.  Sixty…well, sixty is up in the air.  I know some pretty healthy and active sixty year olds.  By sixty it shows how you’ve taken care of yourself.  By sixty there’s no hiding a rough life. 
I once heard that your forties is a good time to get into mountaineering or endurance activities.  It’s all relative I guess.  Endurance makes more sense when your recovery times are longer and you might not have the same fast twitch capabilities you had in your late twenties.  Djeph and I were talking the other night about seeing lots of guys crushing bike events and you hear that they’re forty-five. . .forty-two.  Something like that.  Maybe that’s just the two of us old men (at forty) trying to make ourselves feel older.  Er, better.  See, my mind isn’t really going.  If it were I wouldn’t have caught that slip at all.
I'm a child of the Seventies.  I was born at the end of the OPEC oil crisis.  The world has become more and increasingly car-centric my entire life.  In my short lifetime I've watched the world go from analog to digital, from corded to wireless, from rooms full of computer banks to enough technology in your hip pocket to pilot a spaceship to the moon.  I watched Star Trek: TNG and marveled at the PADD's the characters carried around, but these days I have a smaller version in my pocket that connects me to more information than Arthur Dent's battered copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I became a photographer in the film era and learned to shoot digital.  The year I was born the global population was 4 billion.  In forty years it increased by more than 75% and within the next ten years—by the time I'm fifty—the world population will have doubled in my lifetime.  My generation didn't go from no running water to seeing man walk on the moon like my grandparents', but my generation will see a much greater span of human development; and perhaps even a devolution of society if our consumption versus capacity reaches critical levels in our lifetime.   
My family keeps me young.  My interests keep me young.  My hard-wired compulsions and obsessions keep me young.  In my fortieth year on the planet (do the math) I ran my first half marathon; I rode what, five centuries and attempted a sixth?  I entered two mountain bike races.  I’ve gotten myself way over extended in bike advocacy and the like.  I climbed Cobhill.  If you don’t think that’s a big deal then go do it for yourself.  Despite not losing any weight this year I’ve gotten faster and gotten used to riding farther.  I fully intend to get back into rock climbing this year and exceed the abilities I had when I quit.
This is all about my recreational activity.  And maybe I’m just not in the state of mind to discuss my heart and soul.  There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.  I didn’t get my Kickstarter campaign funded for my book, but I’m okay with that.  I’m working on the second draft and my intent is to shop it around to traditional publishing sources once I get it a little more polished. 
It’s been a turbulent year for me in my chosen career.  It was a year at a new and demanding job.  I’ve been fighting four decade-old demons along the way.  The one pro is that my demons are as old as me.  They’re starting to get a little run down themselves.  But the dragon of Doubt is as strong as ever, and until I slay him too much of my energy is being diverted to that front.  You’d think at forty I’d have self-doubt under control. 
Anyway, my intent is not to give up and die at forty.  I feel good.  I’m not grieving my age like some I know (you know who you are J).  Being the eternal optimist that I am. . .okay, I forever insist that I’m a realist and I still maintain that. . .I feel that my best years are still ahead of me.  I don’t have to try and relive my glory days because I’m going to get to savor them as they come to me over the next couple of decades. 
As happy 39 years ago as...
...I am these days


Wednesday, January 29

Mwn Bikun Oppert'nitees

On my ride in to work this morning I tuned into a local pirate radio station, eighty-two point two WHUT on the F and the M, and I heard this startling commentary:

Lower the Confederate flag to half-mast and tune up the banjer Mabel!  We gotta sing a few sad songs to worsh away the mem’ry of that State uh the Union.  D’jou see John Boehner tryin’ ta burn a hole in the back-a Obamer’s head with just his icy stare last night? Lardy bee, we gotta impeach ‘im!
High speed banjo rolls exploded from my car speakers (Blaupunkt not included) and I nearly swerved off the Mountain Parkway.  Dern-it all, if it were just a little wider...
I did think it was pretty cool that the POTUS recognized the honorable representative from the Commonwealth.  I wonder if Mitch and Steve duked it out.  What with McConnell being Nemisis Numero Uno and Beshear waving the Obamercare flag so fast he’s cooled off global warming. 
I didn’t bother watching the POTUS’s SOTU.  I’m sure it’s the same old monotribe with the same sad rebuttals.  You could program a computer to favor Left-wing ideologies and another one to align more to the Right and set them on each other to debate and you’d get the same fare we’re used to.  Except, oddly, in Kentucky where even the democrats act republican. 
It’s not none of my business how they want to run the country, but if you ask me I think we need sweeping change.  Y’know, grasp the broom of reform.  Get us some of that reform.  Be a friend of the little man. 
This ain’t got nothin’ to do with cycling.  It especially don’t have anything to do with mountain biking.  But I’m glad you asked.  I did bring my bike with me to work today.  And at lunch I’m gonna go ride it at Vet’rans Park.  I know the trails’ll all be froze up.  Won’t be nary mud.  What’s “nary” mean?
“Any” is shorter than “Nary.”  Fewer consonants even.  It shouldn’t exist.
Oh well.
It’ll be cold.  That’s fer sher.  Hopefully thur’ll be a car tar on far over thar to warm me up pre- and post-ride.  But cold is good for the trails this time of year.  I realized I’d been losing out on some important mountain biking opportunities this winter by not riding while the trails are frozen solid.  In a few weeks or less the temps will climb above freezing and the whole world will turn to mud.
The Mohican is only 18 weeks out.  I can’t afford to be waylaid by mud.  And so the training has begun.  Soon Dgjoff and I will be out riding our local trails (e.g. Furnace-Pilot Road) and wishing for better county maintenance.  Yeah, did you know some mountain bike trails in Kentucky are actually county “maintained” roads?  Did you know that the most common form of traffic calming in the Commonwealth is a string of barbed-wire across the road to slow the four-wheelers down?
Although, to be fair, that traffic control device is most commonly used by private citizens who believe they own the road in question and that the decapitated four-wheelers were trespassing at the time.  But there’s no way they can report the grow operation now so it’s a moot point.
If I survive the Polar Vortex Mountain Biking Ride this afternoon I’ll give you a ride report as soon as we get more gas fer the generator.  Junyer’s been stayin’ up late watching NCIS agin and he’s run out all the juice.
 Running Update:

Yeah, instead of cranking out a whole new post I decided to do an addendum concerning my lunch time "ride" at Vet'rans.  Yeah, first I gave up, decided not to get out of the lukewarm office.  But then I remembered that I had singed up, singed myself, signed myself up for the Mohican in a little less than 18 weeks.  So I dragged my sorry behind sideways out to the restroom and changed into my stretched out kit.

If you thought Vet Park would be in fantastically fine shape on this 11 degree day you'd be keer-rect.  And if by "fine shape" you meant packed down into a 6 mile long ribbon of ice you wouldn't be too far off the mark.

I rode anyway.  I rode 2 miles and managed to stay upright only because, in the spirit of prudence, I rode unclipped.  Granted I had to make my own path through the woods parallel to the trail like many others had.  But those first few riders on the new fallen snow a few days ago got to ride right down the middle.  And then the monumentous snowruts they left behind turned to iceruts and the sections of trail that for a short while had resembled groomed ski tracks turned to solid ice sheets.

I bailed when I reached blue and drove over to Coffee Times to stock up on whole bean Ethiopian.  I gotta give myself props for trying.

Tuesday, January 28

I'm Thinkin' Mohican

Well, the thoughts have been tossed around sufficiently.  The decision has actually already been made.  I’ve signed up for the 2014 Mohican 100k.  K.  Let me emphasize that distinction.  I will only be racing my mountain-type bicycle 61 or so miles. 

We're going to Loudonville!

There are many reasons to do this.  I have already successfully attained the goal of racing my mountain bike 100 miles.  It will be easier to train for the shorter distance.  I’ll get finished earlier on race day.  At 33 miles (where I DNFed last year) I will be more than halfway to the finish as opposed to only a third of the way.  All of the fun singletrack is within the first part of the race anyway.  It was $50 cheaper.  It’ll be just as much fun. 

And so I’ve been planning some training rides.  I’ve been thinking about routine bike maintenance (it’s time for new cables and housings and perhaps a new chainring/crank/BB setup).  Am I confident enough to go to 1x9?  Most of what I rode last year it was unnecessary to have a big chainring.  But would I be willing to lose my granny gear?  That would be a stretch, but I don’t see the reason to go from 3x9 to 2x9.  Might as well just stay with what I got at that point.  3 to 2 saves nothing on the bar.  But I need a new set of rings regardless.  They’re pretty wallered out.

Other than that upgrade I am not going to entertain thoughts of shaving weight off the bike.  The only weight savings that make sense is off my fat self.  I can stand to lose 20 pounds easy and perhaps 30 pounds if I work hard.  It’s win-win-win, cause if I can drop the poundage then my return to rock climbing will be more enjoyable and my long-distance running goals for the year should benefit as well.  So it shall be written; so it shall be done.

Training rides.  Yeah, that’s where I dove into this rabbit hole.  It’s going to take a lot of road miles to get me where I need to be.  But I am going to have to maximize the trail riding I do this year to prepare.  Jefe has a couple miles.  I’ve almost got a completed mile loop.  There are some low-hanging fruit to be pruned, raked, and ridden.  It’s going to be a good year if we can either get a lot of freezing or not much rain.  Otherwise the pavement is where it’s going to be at.
Team Pavement's Edge pre-season conditioning ride
In other house cleaning news: the Kickstarter project to fund my book didn’t even get close.  But that’s okay.  I’ll shoot off a PDF copy to those who did pledge once I get a final draft as promised.  Until then I’m going to work on getting a revised draft together to start shopping around.  We’ll go at this conventionally during Phase II of the Pavement’s Edge/Chainring Leadville or Bust Novelization Project.

I’ve also indefinitely pushed back my scheme to do a trail half marathon linking Rough Trail and Swift Camp Creek Trail in the Red River Gorge due to the weather and my inherent laziness to train.  I say “indefinitely pushed back” only to mean that I don’t know when right now, but that I do still fully intend to run the trails as soon as my training and the weather can get together in collaboration.  I’ve been running sporadically and with the PoLaR VoRtEx swirling about the land it’s been derned hard to get out and run.  Of course you can see I have been squeezing in not nearly enough cross training in the form of cross country skiing.  I’ve also got to start thinking about training to go toe to toe with the Mohican, and I’m not talking about the trash-talker mountain/road biker that lives in a hole under High Rock.  

What I fear is that the remainder of the winter won’t be cold enough to freeze the seasonal Kentucky mud and I won’t be able to get back on the MTB until far too late in the training season.  Ack!  Road riding it will have to be!
Last year on the Sheltowee

Monday, January 27

Light Pollution: A Kentucky Skiing Adventure

Composed yesterday, but not posted due to technical difficulties.

The story goes that the hunter chases the wolf across the sky.  Orion is the constellation I most often identify, and almost always start out looking for on starry nights.

Early in the day yesterday I took off on my cross country skis.  We had about six inches this morning as snow kept falling from the sky.  I took a whirl around the partially complete mountain bike trail.  It was a fun time out.  Mandy came later after she finally couldn't take it anymore.  She caught up with me as I sat trying to clip back into my bindings after walking a while through the snow with my skis over my shoulder.  The trail isn't finished.

Last evening we got back in near sunset after Bean's birthday party (she's just turned 7) and the kids wanted to go out sledding.  I dragged the skis out once again.  They're relics from our life in Colorado.  I'd never have bought them while living here.  There's just never enough snow.

I wanted to bring them when we moved because I knew the few opportunities we'd have would be worth it.  We'd turn a few heads for sure.

"Why they got them boards strapped to their feet?"

Anyway, the kids and I made a circuit around the pond behind the house.  I ventured out on the ice.  At one point I was twenty feet from shore and there was absolutely no cracking.  It was seriously frozen.  In my defense I gradually progressed onto the ice where I knew the water is no more than waist deep.  At the first son of cracking I would have retreated to land.  There was never any cracking.

We stopped in to see my grandparents at their cabin as dusk settled over the woods.  Mamaw made us some hot chocolate.  Once we'd warmed up we took off back toward home by starlight.

The kids detoured to the house and I dropped into the front yard for a good solid glide through the dark.  Over the icy road and then I took off across the fields toward Buzzard's Roost.  Orion stood on top of the summit looking down and bathing the blanketed fields in pale silver light.  

I skied around the original Chainring homestead under the stars.  It was sublime, being out in the middle of a snow covered field (actually the one depicted in my header foto, but in reverse) under the night sky.  And so I had to mentally edit out the suburbs that have infiltrated the fields I once had to myself?  There's still enough space to get out and see the stars.

I took full advantage of the conditions.  I was hoping to get out onto a ridgetop and ski this afternoon but the temps are into the low 40s and the snow has turned to slush.  And so I have to keep my eyes peeled for the next cold snowy spell and maybe we can go ski Hatton Ridge or the Short Creek Rim, or Tunnel Ridge Road of Chimney Top Road.

And I'm sure Jefe has groomed his mountain bike trails for skiing.  There's always that.

We actually know another guy in the county with XC skis.  There may even be more that we just don't know about.  The high country of southeastern Kentucky or Virginia or North Carolina is close enough for some skiing fun.

I'm thinking as I work on building new trails to keep in mind the rare skiing opportunities we have.  Why not?

Friday, January 24

Triumphant Return

The story begins twenty years ago.  January 1994 my best friend from high school and I took off for the See Rocks to try our hand at rock climbing.  We could see the rocks from his driveway and he claimed to have climbed (or in the local parlance “clumb” rhymes with “dumb”) all three rocks in a day once.

North and Middle Rocks from the South See Rock

I followed Andy across South Fork, up a steep hill, and around to the base of the northernmost of the three humungous rocks.  We scrambled up to a ledge, traversed around to the cold, dark north face and he pointed up. 

“Up there?!”  I cried.  It was a vertical face about 40 feet tall.  There was a frayed metal cable dangling from the sky.

He nodded and began climbing.  The route was easy, except for the blank section about 20 feet above the ledge just before the exposure got real.  At that point Andy yarded on the cable and aided past the blank section Batman style.  I followed Robin-like to the summit of a holy-summits-batman real high point.  I felt like a rock climber.  That’s all it takes, right?

Getting down was treacherous.  Frictioning over icy slabs is one thing.  Reversing ice friction on a downclimb is another story altogether.  I’ve ever since had a nostalgic affinity for climbing in winter.  I also learned right out of the gate never to climb into a situation you can’t get yourself out of.
I returned years later and attempted to rope-solo the route free.  It felt like about 5.7 X without the cable.  And that was after I placed a low protection bolt.  The day I returned to free the North Face of the North See Rock I summited all three rocks in a day like my friend claimed to have done when we were little more than kids.

Summit of Minas Tirith, 1994
I was a stylish climber if nothing else

In twenty years I’ve clumb a lot of rock.  I was never a hard climber, though I’ve climbed 5.12 and V5.  Took some whips and ripped some gear.  I’ve onsight rope soloed obscure trad in the Gorge area.  I’ve bouldered hundreds of problems all over the area.  I finally got to climb in the Flatirons and the South Platte of Colorado, but I had to move to a different time zone to do it.  Spent some time in Vedauwoo.  I’ve flung a little chalk about in North Carolina.  Gunked it up once for a couple of days.  Heck, I’ve even bouldered in Central Park.  Got to bag some real peaks.  And I’ve got lists longer than Hugh Loeffler’s arm of routes I still want to do all over the world.

And now, twenty years after it all began I’m back in Kentucky and back in the Red where it all began.  I’m sorry to say I’ve been an unfaithful climber for more than a few years.  I should ask the congregation to forgive me, overlook my long forsaking, and forgive me in advance for all the goofy things I’m going to say that inadvertently start flame wars on Red River Climbing (dot com!).

The biggest difference now, twenty years after I started climbing, is that I now have two little minions in tow.  One just turned seven, and one is going to be eleven soon.  I might be starting them a little late, but during all those early years I dreamed about having kids to share the experiences with.  I dreamed of watching my progeny tear down the walls of the Red River Gorge.  I dreamed that someday my little ropeguns would string up top ropes for their dad while listening to the old war stories with knowing grins. 

So if you see a socially awkward blabber-mouth tooling around the crags backing off the third bolts of easy climbs while reiterating to his children the importance of practicing their clove hitches stop by and say “hi.”  For the record I just want to say…

I’m back!

Wednesday, January 22

Sore Heels: Rake-N-Ride

I walked on MLK Day so someday we can all mountain bike.  I didn't work on MLK Day though I did give back.  Well, I hiked around the PMRP and took an inventory of the existing trail infrastructure and identified new infrastructure to be built.  I focused on Sore Heel Holler because I think it's the low hanging fruit.

I've taken over development of mountain biking trail development in the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) in Lee Countywhich is owned by the Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition (RRGCC).  Sore Heel is the largest drainage on Bald Rock Fork where climbing has been developed.  A few years ago climbers built a mountain bike trail up the main drainage during an annual trail day, and immediately afterward an oil company came in and bulldozed a portion of the trail to construct an access road.

Does not meet IMBA standards...yet

In the ensuing years better relationships between the surface owners and the holders of the mineral rights have been nurtured.  And while the climber/MTBers threw up their hands and abandoned the trail what remains is, in fact, a nearly rideable 1+ mile loop.  It's not quite a rake-n-ride situation, but it's not far from that either.

Realistically 10 bridges or wooden features need to be constructed.  There are three areas that need to be rerouted.  And some of the bench cut sections were constructed prior to any of the volunteers attending IMBA classes and need to be brought up to a slightly better standard.  That said, there are long stretches of trail that are rideable right now.

General area showing the PMRP.
Sore Heel Holler is the phallic drainage in the top half.

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but with only a little work there will be a really good start on a much bigger trail system really soon.  This isn’t exactly my back yard, but it’s only a block or two over in the broadest sense.  The PMRP is located primarily on Bald Rock Fork of Big Sinking Creek, but a satellite area is located in Big Sinking proper in Coalbank Hollow near Fixer.  My mom grew up near Fixer.  She actually grew up one holler over from Coalbank.  Her family lived there when she was young and my Papaw Lacy worked for Ashland Oil.  
Once the old trail is brought up to rideable conditions there will be about 2.5 miles of mostly singletrack in the Bald Rock parcel of PMRP.  That doesn't include the existing or abandoned access roads and any of the access trails to the climbing walls or the under-construction extension to the Flat Holler Trail.  Big things are afoot.
There WAS a trail under there!

Tuesday, January 21

Short Week

Iron oxide formations in Corbin Sandstone, Short Creek of the Red River, Kentucky

I as going to mention that there wouldn't be a post yesterday, but I forgot.  Hopefully you were out having fun and later feeling guilty because you didn't honor Martin Luther Kay Jay by performing acts of unspeakable community service.  Just to make you feel bad if that's what you did, I, in fact, did some solo trail work.  Now, I know that's not exactly what the King of Civil Rights had in mind when he gave his Dream Speech, but let it be known that I'm working to add trails in a Distressed Appalachian County.  It goes beyond that even, and if things go according to my master plan there will be greater benefits from these efforts.  But stay tuned tomorrow for more on that.

I  the meantime please enjoy this brief write-up:

My vision was to ride to this hike, but I didn't. On Sunday Mandy and I did the off-trail hike to Short Creek Arch.  From our house it's a measly 15 miles to where you park to access this obscure natural sandstone arch.  It would be an easy bike ride.  When I go back to explore a little more and for my early morning sunlight photos I'll ride.

Short Creek Arch is obscure because it's on the edge of the National Forest with no obviously easy approach.  The best public access is on the east side of the clifty divide between Spaas Creek and Short Creek while the arch is off a ridge finger on the west side of the main ridge.

It's probably been twenty years since my first and only other visit to the arch.  It had to have been around the time I started rock climbing, and for some reason I didn't get photos on my initial find of the arch.  Maybe I was out of film.  Maybe I forgot to take photos.

Anyway, I remembered the arch fairly well, but I had no photographic evidence I had ever been there.  For years I held onto the deer antler I found stuck in a crack on the underside of the arch though.  Sunday Mandy agreed to head up to Spaas Creek with me for a jaunt over the ridge to see the arch.  She wouldn't make it to see the formation.

Leaving the car I chose a different route than I did two decades ago.  We labored up a short, steep, unnamed holler to gain the ridge.  It was easy enough to follow a game trail out the ridge until we picked up a more distinctive user defined trail out the finger to the arch from the main ridge.  

I went to Short Creek Arch so long ago because of a label on the USGS quadrangle.  I followed my nose, bushwhacking the same general route Mandy and I took the other day, and found the arch.  As we retraced my steps I noticed a much more distinct trail as we neared the narrowing section of ridge.  I know part of the increase in traffic has to have come from Bill Patrick's Arches DVDs.  That and just more people running around in the woods with USGS info on mobile devices.

Despite that Short Creek Arch seems unspoiled.  The views of the Short Creek drainage are unparalleled.  The experience was as sublime and novel as it was long ago when I travelled there solo.

I knew in the back of my mind that the ridgetop approach to the arch meant a mandatory downclimb, but I couldn't remember the exact nature of the beast.  We got close and I started thinking it might be a tricky descent.  I kept mumbling that it couldn't have been too hard because I did it so long ago before I got big into rock climbing.  Then I stood looking down a twenty-five foot low angle cliff broken by a couple of leaf covered ledges.  It was sketchy.

Mandy stayed on top and I scrambled down, feeling the years, and once again stood under one of the coolest natural arches I've ever seen.  I took photos this time.  I looked around a little more.  But I felt bad I left Mandy up on the ridge.  It was cold and getting late.  

The Broncos were playing and even though she had 4G it just wasn't the same as being at home to watch them win their way to the Super Bowl for her.  So I hurried back up to the ridgetop and we took off for the car.  

In 20 years between visits to Short Creek Arch things have changed.  The first time I went there were no cell phones.  I tromped through trackless woods with nothing but a blurred name on a paper map to guide me.  Sunday I referred to an app called "Topo Maps Online" to correct our course.  Mandy got game updates as I looked over hundreds of acres of uninhabited forest and marveled at the miles of cliffline.  

We walked out against alpenglow coloring the cliffs over Spaas Creek brilliant golden yellow.  The skies were blue. The hollers a blue-black with snow punctuating the deepest shadows.  I wonder if it'll be twenty more years before I go back?

Friday, January 17

Froback Friday: Winter Dreams Edition

There’s no real post today; just this ramble. 

It’s been an odd week.  Monday I had a near mental breakdown.  It’s something that happens I guess.  I think my brain was left a bit bruised.  It took until yesterday for me to finally feel like using my head again for something other than a hat stretcher.  I don’t know how today is going to go.  Mentally I’m feeling a bit numb. 
Yesterday, the one bright ray of sunshine in a week of stormy skies, I felt like I had it all together and like I was in the place I need to be.  And even today in my subdued state I think I’m still coasting along on the momentum I picked up yesterday.  But where I want to let the momentum take me and where life is insisting I must go are two entirely different places.  My desires and outside pressures are both equally and disproportionately strong.
I’m trying to figure out which side I want to dive into for a spiritual and psychological tug-o-war.  Right now I can’t.  I have my sense of duty and obligation to my family and I have my innate urges and instincts.  They are not 100% in conflict, but my instincts definitely jeopardize any kind of financial or social stability in my life.
Sitting, staring at my computer screen, trying to crank this post out quick so I can get to work…I feel physically tired.  I’m wondering if my mental fog this morning isn’t simply tiredness.  And its odd.  I fell asleep and don’t remember waking up all night.  But I remember vivid dreams just before my eyes opened in darkness this morning.  They were the kind of dream you want to hang onto and explore.  Some dreams just seem like there’s more there than random synapses firing in a brain unconstrained by sensory organs.  Maybe I expended more energy in my sleep than I should have.
Days like today all I want to do is write.  Days like yesterday get my mind fired up and hitting on all cylinders and days like today I need to open up the throttle.  I need to remember this for the future. 
I turned on my computer at work and saw this image (I've made it my background):

I took this.  Boone and I went hiking one day in Boulder County.  We first went to Sugarloaf Peak which was an easy hike to a low summit.  But from the snow scoured summit I could see deep curtains of snow obscuring the Continental Divide only a few miles away.
“You want to go check out the place where the winds are born?” I asked Boone.  He grinned and said yes.  We hiked back down to the car and drove down the Peak-to-Peak Highway to Nederland (home of the frozen dead guy) and then turned up North Beaver Creek valley out of town and took it to Coon Track Creek.  By the time we reached the ghost town of Caribou (the meteorological neonatal unit) the snow was hammering our car pretty hard.  I was looking for an image.  I saw it clearly in my head.  I envisioned it over the course of a few months.  Here is the evolution of that image:

This was a surprising shot as we drove along the Peak-to-Peak Highway from Estes Park.
October 2009
I actually took this on a bike ride in Bear Creek Canyon beyond Morrison, CO.
The pines, the snow, the ambiance all spoke to me. November 2009

This was on the slopes of Mount Lindo in Turkey Creek Canyon. 
I really loved the movement of the snow, but didn't feel I captured it well. December 2009
Looking over Echo Lake toward the Mount Evans Massif. 
I loved the gradient change from front to back. January 2010

This was the image I wanted.  I'd been trying for weeks to get it. 
It still lacked something. January 2010

In the last image I thought I had nailed it.  I was happy with it.  But on that day, nearly a year after I took the first photo, as Boone and I drove up toward Caribou in a whiteout I realized I could get a better image.  Then I saw it.
I stopped the car, changed a few settings on the camera, stepped out into the howling and bitterly cold wind and snapped this image.  Sometimes it seems as if my whole life is frozen in those pixels.  I have never in my life captured anything as strikingly beautiful (to myself) with so much certainty and control.
A little further down the road as the snow eased off I captured one last image.  It seemed to be a perfect bookend to the first image in the post.  It wasn't technically as perfect, but I think it evoked a contrasting feeling and I love them both equally.  Please ignore the horrible vignette filter effect in the lower left.
November 2010
I look outside and see snow falling on an ugly street scene and I cringe.  I want to be out in the woods capturing the Kentucky equivalent of this series of photos.  But I look back on that culminating image and sometimes I think I should have just put the camera down for good afterward.  And then I look at this last one and think there are so many more good visual sculptures out there to find and reveal to the world.

Thursday, January 16

Never. Say. Never.

Leadville.  A long time ago I had trouble imagining myself riding 100 miles off-road on my mountain bike.  In the process to change that perspective I was exposed to the startling reality that some people will actually run 100 miles in a single insane push.

Until this week I had never truly considered the possibility that I might want to do such a thing.  I've moved incrementally toward that point, but have resisted the notion that I'd ever reach a place where that might be a possibility.

I'm one step closer now.  Recently I saw a link suggested on Twitter or Facebook for the Cloudsplitter 100.  I was intrigued because Cloudsplitter is a rock formation in my beloved Red River Gorge.  In this case it is not a reference to that ridgetop dome that I'm familiar with.  It turns out the Cloudsplitter 100 is an upcoming run on the Pine Mountain Trail (PMT) in Southeastern Kentucky.

I'm not going to presume there are no other ultra-marathons in the Commonwealth, but I've not heard of one as compelling to me as this one.  Of course someone could develop one on the Sheltowee...

Even as I'm writing this I'm making the leap.  How amazing would it be to have completed a 100 mile trail run?  Maybe I couldn't do it.  Maybe I'm too fat.  But I think I've got what it takes.  I think I could do it.

I’ve already convinced myself that I can do a 50k (31 miles) trail run.  I’ve already normalized 100 mile bike rides into my every day thinking.  Why not kick through the envelop and go for 100 big ones?  Run.  100 miles.  Run.  100 miles.
On the webpage they state that the cutoff is 40 hours.  I know how I feel after twelve hard hours on the bike.  I know that it doesn’t even come close to the suffering that you would have to delve into to run for 30-40 hours. 
Here’s what 100 miles looks like:
My normal evening run looks like this:
The longest run I’ve ever done looks like this:
The big question is this: do I try to do the run this year, or do I train like mad, do the Sheltowee Challenge 50k, and shoot for next year for the 100 mile run on Pine Mountain?
Wait!  What did I just say?!

Wednesday, January 15

Bike. Camp. Climb. Repeat.

Of course the strongest urge to strike out on an adventurous path tends to come in the season of shortest days and less certain weather.  I don’t care so much for darkness or inclement weather, and by “don’t care so much” I mean I don’t let it affect my decisions too much.  But it does complicate things somewhat.

Ah, who am I kidding?  There’s no complication.  Biking is biking.  Camping is camping. Climbing is climbing.  I’ve done them all in the worst kinds of conditions and at the end of the day I’ve burst through my front door with a big happy, dripping, frozen grin on my face.
Summit of Foxfire, 1994
Mark has been pestering me for weeks—nay, MONTHS—to bike or camp or climb.  Sometimes I wake up at night hearing his voice ringing in my ears: “we oughta, we oughta, we oughta.”  Okay Mark, I get it.  Stop haunting my dreams.  And stop staring in my window gesturing for me to come out with my bike.  It’s creepy.  Then Old Dave texts and tries to call me: “we oughta, we oughta, we oughta.”  Yeah, Dave…you’re old.  I’m old.  We’re old.  But we’re in better shape than our contemporaries.  So I think it’s okay for me to call you old.  Especially since you’re older than me J
Anyway, drag me outta the rabbit hole! 
There has been a lot of text messages whizzing to and from my iGadget with phrases like “bikepacking, “climbing areas,” “I’m so fat,” (whoops, slipped one in from Jeff) “want to get into trad,” and the like.  See, I have this amazing machine.  It’s called an Xtracycle.  I can load it down with camping and climbing gear and take off for destinations not so far thence from the Chainring family holdings where people have injected stainless steel anchoring mechanisms into the rock cliff faces to catch weakling climbers who fall.  I want to be one of those weakling climbers!  I want to fall!  I want to frolic on the rocks and take whippers.  I want to hangdog!  I want to chalk up!  I wanna spray, Ray!
On. Belay.
The atmosphere in my cubicle is electrified.  My brain is positively buzzing from synaptic activity.  I could shoot lightning from my fingertips and start a fire to brew coffee.  Well, maybe not.  But I’m itching to climb.  I’m itching to do an overnight cycling trip.  Why not just combine the two obsessions and get it over with?

For those who don’t know anything about rock climbing this next section may not make much sense to you (if you’re still following this post you’ll do fine).  Hang in there.  I’ll try to reel it back in as quickly as possible.
A week or so ago I dragged out the tote with all of my climbing paraphernalia to take an inventory.  Out on the table I piled carabiners (‘biners: pronounced beeners), cams (camming devices), chocks (chocks), slings (nylon webbing), ropes (duh), and other assorted accessories wherewith you can protect your biological investments against gravity should you choose to propel yourself above the hard surface of the earth.
I have fifteen cams which are still suitable for use at traditional climbing crags (trad climbing).  For around $100 I can replace the nylon slings on all of them.  This is necessary because the only way you can clip the rope into the cams is through one of the slings.  My slings have far exceeded their shelf lives.  I amassed my cams over a few years.  Some are quite old.  But the oldest nylon in my rack (assortment of climbing gear) is on my four remaining tri-cams.  Tri-cams are curious pieces of protection.  I’m not going to bother describing them, but they’re nicknamed “chickenheads.”  My tri-cams are twenty years old.  Nylon has a recommended shelf life of seven years.  Hoo.  Ha.  That’s scary.
Anyway, speaking of shelf lives…I’m out of shelf…er, shape.  In some ways I’m probably in better shape than when I was a hard core climber.  But these days—while I have the cardio of a raging cheetah—I can’t do three consecutive pull-ups on the playground at the city park when no one’s looking.  I won’t even try when there’s an audience.  My gut hangs out in funny shapes.  All the cool kids point and laugh.

Back in the day before the cool kids made fun of me...well, as not much
There was a time when I had the contact strength to flatten a Volkswagen Beetle in one smoosh.  I had grip strength to make the American Ninja Warrior team jealous.  I could almost do a one arm pull-up for a brief time in my life.
Now I’m lucky if I can curl a cheeseburger up to my mouth with one arm.  Pass the fries please.
That must change!  I’ll still eat cheeseburgers of course.  I keep telling my wife I am just designed to metabolize cheeseburgers and pizza.  I feel best when I’m eating nothing but a steady diet of both.  I’m not saying I’m immune to the calories, no!  That’s where ridiculous amounts of biking, hiking, and climbing come in.  The fat just falls off of you.  It once fell off of me.  It will once again fall off of me, or get knocked loose when I go careening into rock cliff faces at a high rate of descent.
This post is a result guessed it!...a text I sent to Mark:
"Dave L keeps nagging me to do an overnight bike trip, too.  It might have to happen sooner than later.  He's a climber too."
To which the CTL replied:
"Good deal. Let's make it happen!"
And then:
"Bike. Camp. Climb. Repeat."
I replied that we need to put that on a t-shirt. And so our novelty tee empire was born.
You would think that this kind of thing wouldn’t fester so long in my life.  I’m trying to be a good husband and father and not running off at the drop of a hat to go on these little life adventures.  But there’s enough time to make this kind of thing happen every once in a while for sure.  And it won’t be much longer I’ll be draggin’ them kids along too!

Tuesday, January 14

The Possibility of Movement

Not too long ago someone I know was going on a rant about people who sit in coffee shops all day using the free  wi-fi and taking up space.  My take is that if there are other empty seats then what's the difference?  I tried to play devils advocate and pointed out that some people who are self employed might feel they're more productive if they don't just sit at home alone in their pajamas.

This post isn't about free-riders who take up bandwidth in public spaces.  Mandy and I were talking about this phenomenon the other day before I went out hiking.  While I was on the trail my thoughts wandered back to the idea.  And after awhile I texted her:

"If I were a full time writer I wouldn't sit in a coffee shop, I'd sit in the woods."

The idea took hold of me.  I realized that I would do just that if I were fortunate enough to be self-employed as a writer.  And as I pondered the possibilities I also realized that I could focus the power of my mind through a writing process that incorporates movement.  

A long time ago I discovered that my clearest thinking comes when I'm moving forward.  Riding the bike, hiking, running...when I'm moving I'm thinking.  The problem is, historically, when I stop moving to write something down I've lost the thread of thought.  But something interesting happened recently.  

When I experimented with writing while moving before I think I used either a notepad or a laptop.  But the other day while I was hiking out Auxier Ridge I had my cell phone.  I texted Mandy.  Then I texted Dave L:

"Has anybody ever asked the FS why mtbing isn't allowed in the RRG?"

We got into a conversation about the Gorge and I ended up texting while I walked along the trail.  I realized--not that I was writing anything special at the time, but that--I had the tool in my hands to take maximize the power of creative momentum.  My iCellular Telephone, while not the perfect compositional platform, is an acceptable mobile digital interface for the type of writing I'm talking about.

I texted Mandy again:

"Too bad I don't have a working laptop and a rain fly with me (rain was blowing in).  Pardon me if I hike off a cliff while texting and walking."

She replied:

"I would be sad and have to start a no texting in the woods campaign and I don't have time for that so don't do it ok?"

To which I retorted:



I didn't really fall.  

I want to do some experimenting.  As I mentioned in one of my earlier texts my laptop is black screened right now. It's really time to get a new one, but in the meantime I'm typing with my fat thumbs.  If I can really knock out the word count with my theoretical method maybe I'll then try with a laptop for optimal efficiency.

The fantasy is that as a full time writer my bike commute would come back.  I'd get up before dawn; load up coffee, laptop, and lunch; and ride to my office in the woods.

Ah, it's a pipe dream, but everybody's got to have something to aim for, eh?



Monday, January 13

Designing Trails For Cyclo-Ascentionists

Today's post is simply a sequel to THIS post from 2011.  I'm not going to talk about working with bikes in today's post, but in using bikes as a prelude to climbing and also designing climbing approach trails to incorporate those that would come by bike.

Reasonably priced and powerful LED to-see lights.  The bikepacking movement.  Fat bikes.  Winter cycling for fun.  Night riding.  Cargo bikes.

In the past five years cycling culture in North America has been rapidly evolving.  Companies like Surly and Salsa are building bikes designed to maximize adventure.  And their customers are driving and being driven by the possibilities.  Mike Dion and Hunter Weeks' Ride the Divide and Reveal the Path are only the two most well-knownmoving pictures that have been an expose on this new type of cycling approach.  In ten years when we look back I imagine Ride the Divide will get the most credit for inspiring a movement though I'm certain the movement was already in motion when we all saw the movie.

I've written about choosing the bike.  What I envision is not simply substituting a bicycle for your car, but in committing to using the bike any time you can, and even in contriving circumstances through which you can ride your bike.  And there are many others out there like me.  I am but one of thousands.

A new (for me) opportunity has arisen.  The Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition (RRGCC) owns 1,000+ acres over three non-contiguous parcels in the Kentucky River drainage in Lee County.  The original purchase was 750 acres in the Big Sinking area called the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP).  Recently the Coalition has purchased another nearby parcel called the Miller Fork Recreational Preserve.

A friend of mine was responsible for developing mountain bike trails in the PMRP.  He'd had some injuries that prevented him from fully actualizing the potential there, but he got things off to a good start.  There's about 2 miles of singletrack right now.

My friend is moving away.  A few weeks ago he sent me a message on the Book of Face asking if I wanted to take over mountain bike development there.  How could I say no?  Recently he and I walked the land and he showed me some forgotten projects and pointed out his vision for the property.

I'm not writing to go into my plans and dreams for a potential MTB park.  That will come soon enough.  But what I wanted to write about is this resolving thought I've had:  What if the trail system was designed so climbers could bike all the way to the crags?  What if cycling became a more integral part of the Red River Gorge rock climbing experience?  I know most climbers are going to rely on their rolling dinosaurs to get to the trailhead parking lots.  But I know of four locals that would ride to the crags.  I know there are plenty of outdoor adventurers out there that would take full advantage of cycling amenities in a climbing dominated environment.

You could say this is another windmill for me to tilt at.  You'd probably be right.  My focus in this new realm of opportunity is going to be to develop a world class mountain biking destination in the wilds of Lee County.  As collateral damage I fully intend to affect the climbing community in subtle ways.

It's funny, in pondering the shelves of my memory for this post I initially believed I'd used a bike to get to climbs only a couple of times in the past.  But once I'd taken a full inventory I realized I had accessed seven different climbing areas multiple times on my bike.  

There were the two instances referenced in the link in the first paragraph.  Then there was the time I had my folks drop me off with my bike and climbing gear at Long Wall for a full moon ascent of Big Country.  I rode back to Slade under the light of the full moon that illuminated my climb and my hike back to the road.  One time I rode up to Emerald City to boulder with crashpad strapped to my back.  We frequently rode out to remote Wild Country Wall because the hike was so long.  One time Dave L. and I biked through the old campground on Swift Camp Creek (before the USFS bought it and it became part of the designated wilderness) to climb at Funk Rock City.  And when I lived at the top of Slade hill I often rode out Tunnel Ridge Road to trail run and scramble up Haystack and Courthouse Rocks. And it’s possible I biked out to Pocket Wall before it was closed and destroyed.  That's been long enough I just can't read the label on that memory anymore.
Mark and I discuss this reality often.  There are a few climbing areas that are between 15 and 20 miles from my front door.  Expand that out to 25 miles and the vast majority of crags within the Red River Watershed fall within that radius from the Red River Regional Bikeport. The Coalition land—the PMRP—is a 30 minute drive from my house.  28 miles.  While that would be a haul for a day of mountain biking or rock climbing it is not unrealistic.  The PMRP is a mere 15 miles from the popular Miguel’s Pizza Protest Camp and Tanning Center.  It’s a measly 6.5 miles from the climber friendly Lago Linda.  
The CTL and I both agree that it’s hard to justify driving to the Gorge area to climb when we live so close.  And we both have the experience to drive the point home.  What we need to do now is begin influencing the community and climate.  What if you could ride 15 miles with a sport rack right up to the base of the wall or very near it?  I would do it.
By choosing to use the bike to get to a day of climbing you are only enhancing and increasing the level of adventure.  Some would say you’re wasting your energy by pedaling when you might need it for sending that heinous project.  I disagree.  I think by doing this you only make yourself stronger in the long run.