Monday, March 31

The Misunderstood Wilderness: Give Me Zip Lines or Give Me Death!

And here is the long-awaited first part to a two part conclusion to my Misunderstood Wilderness series.  The final installment will come later this week and will be entitled "Understanding Wilderness."  I apologize, I got sidetracked by bike rides, wildebi, octopi, and lack of beddy-by.

The Red River Gorge is a focal point for the wilderness starved suburbanite zombies from the north who descend on the rural areas of the surrounding states each weekend. 

A generation or two ago families moved north for jobs from Appalachia but always seem bent on moving back because they want to live in the country where there are few rules. 

For those of us that grew up and have tried to make a life here it’s annoying as heck to have people move into the area with big expectations and then do nothing…nothing…but complain about all the things the area doesn’t have to offer.  They are as exploitative as the loggers who clear cut the area at the turn of the 20th century.  They want something from the land but offer nothing in return.  They’ll stay until they get tired of not having high speed internet or easy access to Starbucks and they’ll move on, leaving nothing but a bad taste in someone’s mouth.

And then there are the people who move to the area after buying a faltering local business with the intent of changing things to suit their business plan with no thought for the existing community or its needs.  They’re exploiters too.

Wendell Berry referred to these types of people as ideological heirs of John Swift.

Berry writes about John Swift in The Unforeseen Wilderness.  In the late 1700s John Swift supposedly came to Kentucky and discovered or was led to a silver mine in a region where no other silver ore has ever been found.  Being struck blind on his absence from the mine he could never return and find it, though many have searched in the years since.  Berry’s use of Swift is to compare his character and spirit to those that would come into Eastern Kentucky, particularly the Red River Gorge area, and see nothing but natural resources to be extracted or exploited.

I believe many of those now holding high the banner of Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development are economic and ideological descendants of John Swift.  They say: “we can be wealthy if we just follow the right path.”  But right in this case doesn’t mean morally right, but true to the target.  And the target is an end of riches with any means that is cheap, easy, and fast.  The cheap, easy and fast path bypasses the authentic experience that resonates with people.  

The end result of the aspirations of industry

How many zip line experiences can you have that enlighten you?  And why is zip-lining in the Red River Gorge better than somewhere else?  I’ve seen zip lines along I-70 in Colorado nestled amongst 13er and 14er giants.  I’ve seen signs for underground zip lines.  Is it the zip line that makes the attraction, or the place where some Swift-ite has strung up a cable?  So are zip lines merely entertainment for people who can’t be bothered to exercise their imagination and find something adventurous to do when they visit a new place? 

I would argue that we’re really looking for experiences, memories, and perspectives that are novel and which we believe are not to be found in our homes.  We want to learn something about the world beyond our property boundaries.  Even if all we care about is postcards to put on the mantel we still want it to be known that we’re well travelled and we know more than the road in front of our own house.  We want lives enriched by novel things.  It seemsinauthentic, but by using our experiences as a mirror to examine the mundane I think we do find value in “vacationing.”  Maybe zip-lining fulfills that need in some people.  I doubt a lifetime of zip line vacations would be satisfying to look back on.

The irony? It's not in the Red River watershed and most
definitely not in the Red River Gorge

Fifty years ago people like Wendell Berry (along with many others) were fighting to save the Red River Gorge because of its inherent value and so it could be enjoyed for generations to come.  It’s a resource that’s there for us to responsibly use as an economic tool.  The obstructionist policies and practices of the US Forest Service have played a big role in denying the locals the opportunities to profit from tourism or even to enjoy the jewel that’s in our own back yard. 

This might be a good thing.  While they are charged with preservation and not recreational management, I still think they could do a better job in enhancing the recreational opportunities in the Red River Gorge.  But maybe what the Red River Gorge truly needs is a fascist approach to preservation.  It would surely have been loved to death by now if commercial development had been allowed to overtake the region. 

I’ve heard more than one person suggest that the Red River Gorge National Geologic Area be turned into a National Monument.  I’m beginning to see the rationale, and I think in the end I’ll support that view wholeheartedly.

The Crash Test Librarian posted to a Kentucky wilderness themed BBS forum:

"…Rough annual permit sales [for the RRG a few years ago] from what I recall were something like this:

1 day passes: about 5,000

3 day passes: about 5,000

Annual passes: about 200

So, for the sake of easy math let's just say about 10,000 overnight parking permits are sold per year for camping in the Gorge. If you use the accepted average number of visitors per car (2.5) and apply that to the number of permits sold you're looking at 25,000 people camping for at least one night in the Red River Gorge each year.  Since half of those permits are three night permits (but we'll assume most of those are only used for two nights, Friday and Saturday) then you're talking approximately 35,000-40,000 ‘visitor nights’ each year in the Red River Gorge.   That's a whole lot of camping! And thus a ton of impact, particularly since dayhikers and climbers aren’t represented in that estimate. 

Even just 25,000 visitor nights in the Gorge is an incredible amount for such a relatively small area of national forest. Especially when you consider that the vast majority of that use is concentrated on just a handful of areas and some visitors don't even practice the most basic Leave No Trace skills.

For comparison in use, Mammoth Cave National Park stated that ‘Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, yearly recreational visits to the trails, including overnight stays in the backcountry, were reported in the 3,000-6,000 range. (These figures were obtained through voluntary registration at trailheads and by the issuance of official backcountry camping permits.)’  MCNP is roughly comparable in acreage to the Red River Gorge – 53,000 surface acres at MCNP and about 44,000 acres at the Red River Gorge if you include the Indian Creek area and other Forest Service land outside the Red River Gorge Geological Area and Clifty Wilderness -- but that’s about where the similarities end.”

It’s obvious the Red River Gorge area disproportionately absorbs recreational impacts in the region. And to summarize other conversations I’ve had with the CTL: there are lots of empty trailheads to arches, waterfalls and overlooks on other parts of the Daniel Boone National Forest while the Gorge is bursting at the seams with bellowing yayhoos in their suburban uhssault vehicles.

The problem with this is that the RRG has been less thoroughly developed to absorb those impacts.  It’s not suited to the obvious visitor traffic it receives while other places are overdeveloped or undervisited.  And the recent rash of asinine road closures (I'm for closing them all to motorized use) points to a FS agency that might be struggling to meet day to day operational goals.

Ultimately it’s a misunderstood place.  It’s misunderstood—I believe—by those entrusted with managing it.  It’s misunderstood by its geographic neighbors.  It’s misunderstood by the masses that visit it as is evidenced by online comments like this: 

“I love the Gorge, been going there for four hundred years.  But pleze be careful, don’t get bite by a snake or fall off a clift.”

Looking at the world as a place of doom and destruction makes everything beyond your threshold a place to be feared and avoided.  Looking at the world as a collection of places on maps, with clear boundaries and nebulous regulations leads to an ideological apathy that does not serve anyone effectively.  And looking at the world simply as the crabgrass under your own grill and everything else out of focus makes for a pretty hollow life.

Calling something wilderness does not make it so.  But wilderness is not just the part of the map under that word on a map.  And wilderness is not simply land segregated from civilization. 


Friday, March 28

Double Dogwood Dare You

Turtle:  I dare you to bike to the Red River Gorge and do the 4 Good Trail Race with me on April 26.

Rabbit: Whazzat?!Whazzat?!

Turtle:  The 4 Good Trail Run.  It's one of those grassroots underground type races you go on about.

Rabbit [pats pockets, glances at naked wrist]:  Okeydokey.  Ifn' I'm free that day.

Turtle: Do I sense the onset of psychosomatic wussitude?

Rabbit [frantic sweeping glance, then leans casually against a fencepost]:  Nah, I just...can't...[pokes in a cluster of winter-brown weeds at the base of the fencepost]...find my smarty-smart phone.

Turtle: Well, let me know once you find it.

[Turtle ambles off down the lane]

You might often ask yourself: is this Chainring character a cyclist, a trail runner, a photographer, a male model, or hack horror writer or what?

Well, there is no simple answer.  I am—as is often portrayed in film and television—a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. None.  Master of none.  But that gives me the freedom to suck at them all, while still pursuing whatever strikes my fancy at any given time.  This is code for adult diagnosed ADHD combined with a strict right-brained interaction with the world that be.

On April 26, two thousand plus fourteen, I will be wearing many, many, many hats.  The CTL and I will be bikepacking into the wildebeest-infested Red River Gorge the night before.  We’ll wake, consume fine bikepacking fare (I will be bringing fresh free-range blue eggs), and then we will run on trails with our feet.  There is a good chance we will be joined by my lovely wife and SAG bunny for the underground grassroots run being called 4 Good Trail Race by its conceptor Willis Weatherford.  

It should be a fine spring day, and hopefully the dogwoods will be blooming.

Later that day I will most likely bike again, perhaps work on some trails for tender climbers’ feet, and then participate in some family fun at Gladie Creek Visitor Center, Flea Market and Tanning Center with the family.  I’ll be the one wearing a dad hat.  My fancy will be stinging by this point.  If all goes well I’ll ride home from the Red River Gorge region and rack up a lot of human powered miles.  Or alternately I will succumb to psychosomatic wussitude and ride home with the wife and kiddos.

I’ve got to be thinking not only of the screaming-right-at-us-Mohican, but also of the Kentucky Century Challenge, the Rugged Red half marathon, and the Sheltowee Challenge later in the fall.  So this 4.76 mile jog around Auxier Ridge and the Courthouse Rock Trail will be a nice reprieve from my schemings.  This one is not on me.  Mark dared me to bike up there and do it with him.  I should be skeptical since he’s not a proclaimed trailrunner.  Do you think he might be tricking me into bikepacking?  It doesn’t matter.

That day is also the first of the Sheltowee Endurance Challenge, a 72 mile, 36 hour “backpacking” challenge around the skinny midsection of the Trace.  I won’t be doing it this year, but if it happens next year I’m in!


Thursday, March 27

The Winter that Would Not Accept Defeat

It’s Spring.  It was Spring on March 25th, and somebody didn’t copy Old Man Winter on the memo.  I’m actually kinda okay with that despite my recent grumblings to the contrary.  Because we were up most of the night with a sick child (being a parent you discover there are some things you just can’t un-see) I took a sick day on Tuesday to catch up on rest (fail) and was able to watch the battle between Winter and Spring go on all day long.  I also was able to sneak off to the the Red River Gorge and snap a few photos of the snowy landscape.

We woke up to snow.  I ran out around 11am with the camera and made it up to the Sky Bridge area before noon.  The sun hadn’t come out in full force and the temps were staying low enough to preserve the surprise snowfall.  I capture the images I wanted in pixel form and then headed home.

I had to dive through a deluge to enter the Red River Regional Bikeport as all the melting snow came off the roof all at once as water.  A few minutes later I glanced toward the kitchen window and saw a whiteout.  Not too long afterward the ground was ugly brown again.  And then another whiteout blew through and covered the ground in white for a third time.  By evening another round of freeze-thaw had cycled through, and I woke up this morning to a coating of snow on the ground.  It was truly a Battle of the Seasons.

If this weather event had happened a few weeks ago when it was consistently colder I think it might have amounted to significant accumulation.  Two of the worst snows I’ve seen in my adult life were both in March.  The first was over spring break in 1993 (Headlines read: WORST SNOWSTORM IN TEN YEARS) and the second was the Blizzard of 2009 in Denver.

Tuesday’s battle was pretty tame in comparison, but there was still more snow on the ground than that day in February when I had to take a vacation day because Powell County closed school for no apparent reason.

Alas, I didn’t ride a bike, and hardly hiked chasing after my images, but I did get a request for the use of one of my photos for a tourism brochure in a western state.  Maybe more to come on that soon. 

I’ve been itching to share, but one of my short stories will be published soon.  I can’t divulge too much, but will share details as soon as I can.

In the meantime enjoy the fruits of my sick day labor:

Lower Small Wall from Parch Corn Creek Overlook

Sky Bridge Ridge climbing area from Swift Creek Overlook

The break between Lower Small Wall and Middle Small Wall

Top of Sky Bridge

Hen's Nest Rock from Sky Bridge

Under Sky Bridge

Backyard scene

Lot of ornithological activity on a snow day 

Wednesday, March 26

My Karma Got Bit By Your Dogma

Yes, you need to know where your dog's rabies records are.

No, one shot in five years isn't nearly enough.

Yes, there is a county-wide leash ordinance.

No, it's not just for town.

Yes, your dog bit the farout of my leg.

No, next time I won't forget my pistola.

Chivalry is letting the dog bite you and not your wife.

I was in a negative feedback loop.  I couldn't find my second pair of gloves and it was too cold to go without.  My bibs were dirty.  I wasn't sure if we had enough food to take.  Lunch was sparse after a sparse breakfast.  I’d not planned to ride.  It was cold.  Physically there was nothing wrong with me, but I was wussing anyway.

I have no bloggular dignitude.  I'm going to share my rampant wussitude from Sunday's ride with you, Dear Readers, because you asked for more wildebeests.

The forecast was bleak: high 30s or low 40s with little sun and too much wind.  Casey wanted to ride and Mandy can't say no.  Then Boone's friend's parents invited the kids over for the day.

"Do you want to ride with us?"  I didn't.  I'd ridden with Jeff the day before and was content not to get out in the frigidity.  But she wanted me to ride with her because we rarely get to ride together and because she wanted a substantial windblock.  I do have a reputation for that.  And I really did want to ride with my wife.  But not necessarily on a cold Sunday afternoon when I had already programmed myself to get so much done around the house.

“Sure,” was my response.  I lagged getting ready, but strangely enough we managed to make the 1:30 meeting with Casey in town and then struck out for the Gorge Loop, which is the girls’ go-to ride. 

Jeff, always the encourager, suggested that they take North Fork instead of sticking to KY 11/15 to Nada.  He’d ridden it the previous week and found the gravel section between Indian Creek and the “Arn” Bridge packed tight and smoother than a lot of the paved roads we ride.  And so the whole affair I’m about to describe becomes Jeff’s fault. 

And let’s not forget Mark’s role in the catastrophe that became our Sunday afternoon ride.  I’ll get to that.

It was nice to be on the quiet back road and off the busier state highway to the south.  It truly is one of my favorite rides around.  We cruised past the Living Water church and riled up the boxer dog there.  Normally I think nothing of the dog gauntlet of North Fork.  I’m usually going too fast or too aggressive in attitude toward them to be concerned.

I wasn’t thinking as we rounded one long curve and two dogs came busting down the hill after us.  Usually I’m doing 20 past that house.  Sunday we were all doing 12-15 mph and the dogs easily flanked Mandy.  I fell back and called for her to go on.  She did, slamming down on her pedals as I slipped between her and the bigger of the two mutts.  My plan worked: the dog bit me and not her.  I jammed on the brakes and stepped off the bike, gritting my teeth against the quick surprise of pain.

I’d watched the mongrel get close, but I just didn’t even think about him biting me.  I didn’t bother to unclip and try to fend off.  All I managed to do was spectate as he sank down on my ankle with firm determination.  Once I was off the bike “Killer” disappeared.

I limped back down the road toward the dog’s home.  I’m not sure what I had in mind, but I was definitely going to inform the owner that there’s a county wide leash ordinance and that he needed to keep his dogs out of the road.  Mandy cruised past me on her bike and reached a point where she could see the owner standing on his porch.  She called to him and asked if the dog’s shots were current.  It was determined that the dog had a ray-bees shot when he adopted it five years ago.  She also told him about the leash ordinance. 

He deflected.

“I thought that was just in town,” he said.  I didn’t realize until later, but based on his UK t-shirt he was probably preoccupied with the tourney game with Wichita.  I was bleeding red, not blue, and so I wasn’t happy with the flippant nature of his response to the ruckus in the road out front.  He never did apologize for his dog biting me.

I decided to go on.  It hurt pretty bad.  I really don’t suffer from psychosomatic wussitude on a regular basis, but I do feel pain.  I didn’t know how bad it was going to hurt later, but I decided I would see how far I could go.

As we rode along North Fork Mandy asked: “Are you afraid of the river?” as she indicated the surreal green waters below the road.

“What do ray-bees sound like?” I asked, knocking on my skull to quiet the buzzing.

Other than the ray-bees burrowing into my brain the Gorge ride went without much fuss and we all three crawled up Sky Bridge Hill.  Once out of the Gorge proper our thoughts turned to Ale-8s and snacks at Sky Bridge Station.  We were all chilled a bit by the time the shop came into view.  I propped the Dogrunner (so aptly named) next to a vintage Cannondale Super V. 

Like those blue walls

I stepped into the dim room and the ray-bees buzzed loudly in my head.  For a moment I lapsed into an altered state, and when I came to my senses my teeth were lockjawed onto a pale, skinny arm.

“Oh, hi Mark,” I said as I wiped my mouth.  The Crash Test Librarian was at Sky Bridge Station test riding a used cross bike.  And I’d bitten him.

“Might want to get a shot,” I added as he rubbed the weal on his forearm.

“Did you drive?”  I asked, once I realized he was dressed as a civilian.  And I don’t mean non-Fredly civilian, because Mark never wears a kit, but more of a non-secret bike shoe civilian.

He’d mentioned the night before (at the reading celebration) that he didn’t know if he was going to ride because it might be windy.  I kept my thoughts to myself, but sensed an impending wuss-out by the staunch cyclo-centric CTL.  Then when I texted to let him know I was riding with Mandy and Casey he responded:

Have a good ride.  I’m going to head up to Sky BridgeStation to test ride a bike.

In code “head up” means “not ride my bike.”

And you’re driving?!  I replied.

His lame excuse was:

Limited time, man.  And the bike doesn’t have clipless pedals.  And more excuses.

And more excuses.  That’s code for psychosomatic wussitude.  Nothing physically wrong with you, but you’re a wuss anyway.

After the ride, when I got home and my fingers had thawed out enough to type, and the ray-bees had subsided in my brainpan, I texted:

How was your drive home?

He shot back (well, let's go straight to the source):

The trucker shall now be bestowed upon you.

He claimed it was an autocorrect fail, but it was too late.  I am now in possession of a fine green Surly Disc Trucker.


We discussed climbing, kayaking, cycling and the like with one of the guys from the Station and snarked it up with the CTL until we could delay no longer.  The Ale-8s didn’t stave off the chill and it definitely felt colder when we got back out on our bikes.

In short, it was a long, cold ride back home.  We struggled with a headwind and sporadic sunshine that never seemed to add any heat to the air or our skin.  Casey turned off at South Fork and Mandy and I continued on home.  It was good to ride with my best friend, my favorite person, and the love of my life.  I wish we’d and better weather, but I don’t regret taking a dog bite for my wife.  I didn’t do it for blog fodder, or so she’d make me brownies (she did) or for any other reason than I didn’t want her to be the one to get bitten by a dog. 

In the future I’ll carry Halt! and I’ll not so easily drop my guard.

Tuesday, March 25

Global Thermosnarkular War

I was recently informed by a Concerned Reader that he "scathingly critiques each sentence (of my blog posts) in (his) head with enough snark to make Bike Snob gasp."

This is alarming to me; first, that the snarkiness of a thought is measured by Bike Snob's reaction and not my own, and secondly that there is room for critique in my posts.  This will not stand, Dude.

The unstated mission of my blog is to be the gold standard of cyclo-blogging snarkiness.  I've been secretly developing my snarksenal in preparation for an overthrow of the Fatty/Snobby dictatorial stranglehold on humorous and semi-humorous cyclo-centric weblogs.

I'm serious.  Stop laughing.  I'm taking about the complete annihilation of all other snark and the global domination of the bicycle humor industry.

This ain't small potatoes.

In my defense (at not having already achieved total domination) I've been über-busy lately.  But...I've learned a few new universal truths over the past couple of weeks.  One of those is:

An increase in caffeine intake does not mitigate chronic dark circles under the eyes. 

Now that's it's spring I might start cutting back on the coffee anyway.  I don't drink a lot of hot drinks when the weather is warm.  The week before this past my synapses were redlining most of the time.  I was so preoccupied with work drama and workload that one evening I left The One out by the basement door overnight.  I saw it when I returned home the next afternoon.  That's just not like me.  Though semi-chronic racing-mind insomnia is very much like me.  I definitely felt a Fight Club-like fugue state coming on.

Speaking of spring…Jeff and I headed out for Clark County on our bikes Saturday morning.  Jeff needed to end up between Winchester and Lexington to meet his family, and I just needed to ride.

"Wanna go over Beechfork?" The Mozhican asked.

We turned down Washington Street heading for Maple Street.  We'd be only a block from the CTL's lair: the public library.

"Wanna go taunt Mark?"  I asked as we neared Railroad Street.  A familiar looking car eased up to the stop sign as we passed through.  It was Mark in his car which is a make known for its safety.  Ironic for the Crash Test Librarian…  I gestured for him to get his bike and ride with us but saw him shake his head no.  So we pedaled on without him.

A little while later I got a defensive text from him explaining why he wasn't riding and some threat about a miscalculation in my library fines (yeah, I have some), blah, blah, blah.  Then I saw him later at the community reading celebration and he gave me a litany of excuses for being seen in his car.  Whatever.  We’ll talk more about Mark’s increasing moto-fascism in tomorrow’s post.

Fox on the Run, Trapp, KY

A rare full frontal view of Jeff leaving the mouth of the Red River

County store to country store tour of Clark and Montgomery Counties

A rare Central Kentucky multi-use path
Mount Sterling

Jeff had not been feeling well, but decided to go ahead and ride, and he ended up feeling okay while riding.  It was good because it broke my psychosomatic wussitude.  While our ride wasn't fast it was hilly.  We rolled and we dive-bombed and we crawled up short steep hills.

A consult of Strava afterward showed 4,000-ish feet of gain.  I'm skeptical, but it was still a lot of up and down.  Our ride stayed near the Red and Kentucky Rivers so we were traversing a lot of drainages within a mile or so of their mouths.  And on rural roads that had not been constructed with the benefit state or federal funds.

The Mohican is coming at us fast like a texting driver on the wrong side of the road.  Miles are golden.  Hills doubly so.

It was a good ride, though fraught with loose dogs and abandoned houses.  Loose dogs enter into tomorrow's post (along with Mark’s deepening betrayal of the local cycling culture), but it plays out in my home county and not south Clark.

When Jeff and I parted ways I changed plans.  I’d just gotten a text from Mandy that she and her sister were taking the Day Felipé spawn to see a kiddie movie at Studio Stage in Mount Sterling.  Well, it’s called something else now, but 35 years ago it was called Studio Stage.  I decided I would cut cross country (on roads of course) to Mount Sterling to meet up with them and then catch a ride back to Powell County in the car.

My biggest fear was that I’d not make it by the end of the flick and they’d head back without me.  I made it though, only 20 minutes into the film, and managed to tick 53 miles to boot.  I thought my cycling was done for the weekend and got into home improvement mode for Sunday afternoon. 

We’ll get into how my plans were thwarted, and how I showed the world that chivalry is not dead in tomorrow’s post.


Monday, March 24

Innovate or DIE

It was a big cycling weekend at the Chainring/Pavement's Edge compound.  I've got fodder for two or three days this week at least, just from rides.  I'm going to go ahead with my previously composed and scheduled post with the intent of teasing the week out with ride updates, dog bite recovery updates, and more snark for Mark.  Enjoy!

Certain themes dominate most transportation planning discussions.  There's always talk about forecasted volumes.  There's always talk of reaching capacity or being over capacity.  Peak times.  Widening.  Restriping.

In more enlightened circles you might hear mode share, transit-oriented development, walkability, active transportation, vulnerable users, and traffic calming.  Kentucky doesn't have a reputation for being the most progressive cycling state.  That's changing.  I'm seeing it from the trenches.  I'm hearing it in conference rooms.  I'm watching the transportation landscape change before my very eyes.  I’m hearing the springtime birdsong of engineers talking about including bike facilities in major road projects and of old school land use planners who finally “get it.”

It needs to go beyond shaping concrete and paint in different ways.  If nothing else, I think the bursting of the housing bubble has showed us that we need to rethink how we arrange our lives. And while I think the dialogue has been slow to form in the less urbanized areas of the country I think the collective instinct has been to rearrange lives to a more sensible scale.  Instinctively we move toward more sustainable lifestyles and into resiliency when turmoil strikes at the heart of our lives.

I believe it’s really only a few people who ignore common sense and continue trying to kickstart the stalled status quo.  What’s unfortunate is that we’ve already dedicated so many of our resources to a suburban model of development which has scattered our bodies all over the landscape and segregated us by land use from the components of our lives.

As a society we’ve committed ourselves to too long commutes and too long food delivery chains. 
We’ve bought into the lie of overconsumption and planned obsolescence.  And so because we don’t think about it, or because we don’t understand the implications, we have also bought into the notion that going faster and farther for the accoutrements of life is a necessity.  To cover the distances we’ve committed ourselves to we have to keep the highways flowing freely.
But in conference rooms the conversations seem to center around how to deal with what is most assuredly an impending transportation bubble.  No one articulates it that way, but it is recognized in many instances that there is no real estate left for the right-of-way (ROW) needed to accept the capacity that will come in future years.  And at some point we can’t keep widening roads to try and fix the problems that widening just never seem to fix.

So what do we do?

Here is my quick and dirty list:

1) A shift to localism.  It flies in the face of most federal and state mandates.  But in principle the Transition Movement seems to have the answer here.  Stop using so much energy to do things.  Find local options and build local wealth.  Stop driving into the next county or city to buy groceries.  Look for those kinds of opportunities first.

2) We need to rethink the modern industrial ideal of the 40 hour work week.  Culturally we need to accept the reality that widespread telecommuting is needed.  This is a crucial transportation solution that is never discussed.  But it needs to be promoted. 

3) Tying into that idea…we need to allow more flexibility to workers of all kinds and for schools and other institutions to allow people to come and go at different times, instead of constricting our populations to a narrow window of movement.  Peak times need to be dispersed.   Why not have a core time that is mandatory and allow sliding start and finish times.  What I mean is, everyone has to be at work between 10am and 2pm, but everyone is free to start anytime between 6am and 10am and to leave between 2pm and 6pm.  This is also a major transportation planning tool that gets left at the bottom of the toolbox.

Also, why not promote more flexibility in days of the week?  And allow more people the option of working flex days?  This should be a cultural shift.  Corporations should not get to decide what’s best for the citizenry and society.

4) We need to shift the paradigm of speed in our society to one of the beautiful limitation.  If Walmart doesn’t get its shipment of Made in China junk on time what’s the harm?  I know time is money, but money isn’t the most important thing in life contrary to popular belief.

5) We need to kill the liability monster and foster a cultural attitude of personal responsibility.  This will solve many problems, but what I have seen lately is the fear of civil retribution by institutions has created too many asinine policies that prohibit people from making sensible transportation decisions.  Schools that don’t allow children to walk or ride to and from school because of liability issues?  That’s fascist and asinine.

People are beginning to think differently.  Bike culture is helping this a lot.  The Xtracycle, the concept bikes that have been popping up like the Moots IMBA trail building bike, the Cogburn hunting bike, the Boo mountaineering bike and more.  Bikes are being used less for cycling and more for exploring, transporting, and transcending.

There is a tickling in the back of my mind that I’m on the cusp of making something click in my hometown.  Not necessarily with my fellow citizens, but in somehow changing the atmosphere and climate of human movement.  It’s nebulous though, and I can’t say with any certainty what this feeling is.  It’s tied to my job but with spiderwebs and moonbeams.  All of this other momentum swirling around me in a maelstrom of idea and talk seems to be affecting my waking dreams.

And then the thread of thought it gone.  But there’s a whisper there.  Something was fluttering just out of view.  Things are ready to explode.

My experiences on the job lately have been slightly surreal.  I introduce myself and people have already heard of me.  In a room of experts I’m being asked my opinion.  I’m getting gold stars for thoughts and ideas that seem obvious to me.  And I’m starting to weave together with a regional web of players and activism that could reach critical mass in an instant.  I’ve got to be ready to ride the wave when it strikes.

Friday, March 21

Yer Ded Ta Meh

I love winter.  I always have.  There’s something deliciously apocalyptic about those insane snow days when everything’s shut down and the only thing to do is go out, play in the snow…in the woods or mountains, then come in and eat good hearty food, and hope it goes on forever.

The Winter of 2014 can die a miserable, lonely, horrific death for all I care.  I’ll slip the cold blade into its heart myself.  I’ll carve it up to make a garment out of its skin.  Die winter, DIE!  I can’t take anymore.  I want to bike up mountains.  I want to ply the trails, but I want to ply dry trails.  It’s never going to happen if we don’t get out of this freeze-thaw cycle and through our typically wet spring season.

I’m not one for wishing away our lives.  I believe in enjoying life and living every day, but for crying out loud!  Let’s get on with 2014 in a way that involves a lot of playing in the sun!

I’ve been itching to work on trails in my area.  I’ve got a lifetime’s worth of projects laying fallow as winter lingers.  I need to be cutting trail.  I need to be sculpting the future of mountain biking at home.

I also need to be tackling a growing TO DO list around my house.  Some might say I've neglected those schemes too long.  Meh.

I've been talking a lot of cycling, trail running, rock climbing, etc, but all I've really been doing is growing fat cells.  It's depressing. 

There is a growing bicycle-pedestrian awareness growing in my home state.  The Commonwealth is moving toward a more enlightened transportation system.  We’re gaining traction, and it’s heartening.

A major highway district is actively working on a regional bike-ped plan.  Most of our counties or cities are looking at creating bike-ped plans and building projects to improve the quality of life for their citizens.  My confederates/contemporaries in regional planning are moving toward some minor policy changes that would allow us to have a more active role in regional bike-ped planning and even (maybe) in local planning. 

On top of all of that…spring has sprung.  I’ve dusted off The One, and hopefully will be carving up some dirt (and not mud) on my lunch hour today.

And so, as a memorable winter dies…the sun is shining bright on my old Kentucky home.

Wednesday, March 19

Lardy Be!

Oh, lard!

Typically when I drag myself into the food court of the Red River Regional Bikeport after a long ride I grab at the first thing that looks edible and shove it in my face.  If it doesn't bite back I eat it all.

My wife is an amazing cook. A. Maze. Ing.  In fact, the other day she was making a pie and trying to carry on a conversation with me.

“Less talking!  More baking!” I cried as she slowed her ministrations to the glorious ingredients bounded by her mixing bowl.  There was no time for the free exchange of ideas.  I was weak from pie deficiency.

Sadly, this pie no longer exists

She increased her churning, but I’m fairly certain it was not because I yelped at her but because she was jonesing for pie too.

This last pie she made (in honor of Pi Day - 3/14) did not include lard.  But recently we discovered that things made with lard are an order of magnitude better than those things without. 

I took the kids to a bluegrass concert at Meadowgreen Music Parkin Clay City a while back, and the band playing—The Farm Hands Quartet—had a great story about lard.  And they sold us some delectable lard pies.  And so our descent into the dark side of pig fat began. 

What lard does not do is take you down to a roadio weight.  Yeah, to train for mountain bike races and Strava domination pig fat just doesn’t facilitate the appropriate direction of weight change.  You might think you understand all this, but unless you’ve tasted the forbidden fruit you really have no freakin’ idea. 

In conclusions I have two words: Churro. Waffles. 

“Good, right?” She asked as she handed me a waffle with cinnamon and sugar all over it the other night.

“Less talking!  More baking!” I cried.  She stopped my barking with a churro waffle. 

Another fine delectable tainted by its lack of lard.  It worked because it was covered with cinnamon and sugar.  I almost wept.  Tears welled…maybe because I missed lard pies...maybe because I was trying to swallow a whole waffle in one bite.  We only ate bakery items with lard in them until the initial supply of lard was depleted.  Then my wife went back to healthier ingredients.

Unfortunately I got a taste for lard-filled pie crusts.  Much like the grizzly that has acquired a taste for human meat I am now a danger, not only to myself, but to any lard pie that happens to get within arm’s reach of my maw.
Dear lard that was some good stuff!

Tuesday, March 18

You Have the Right to Remain Mobile

Recently I was sitting in a meeting with colleagues and peers for the transportation region where I work and one high ranking member of the group lauded me with kudos for speaking a particular thought.  I've got to confess, I wasn't looking for praise, and I am not now telling you this to bang my own drum unnecessarily, but to point out a couple of things:

1) even in transportation circles this idea is not the norm and,

2) despite not being part of the collective consciousness of professionals in the field--once articulated--it's welcomed as a sound principle.

Yes! Yes! You exclaim, What is this wonderful idea you want to take credit for?!

I hate to burst your bubble, but I can't take credit for it.  I read it somewhere and filed it away for just that moment when I would get a gold star from the chief district engineer for sharing it.

The idea is this: We don't distinguish between recreational and utilitarian uses when we plan for the automobile, and therefore we should stop doing so when we plan for other modes (i.e., bike-ped infrastructure in particular). 

I really did get a gold star for my idea.
Is this kindergarten, or is it transportation planning?
Despite the best efforts of those on both sides of the car-versus-bike debate* to do so there is no reasonable way to draw that kind of line.  To suggest that we should restrict access to anyone based on their purpose…well, that just smacks of totalitarianism.  To bestow a greater right to the road based on nobility of need goes against the American principle of “freedom.” 

No one is willing to abdicate their own right to the road under any circumstances and rightly so.  To do so would be to endorse the notion that we do not share in the human right “freedom of movement.”   Freedom of movement specifically addresses the basic human right of citizens (with respect to the rights of others) to move and reside within the borders of the state that they are a citizen of, to travel from that state, and to return without arbitrary restriction. 

Typically laws concerning this concept don’t delve into the mode of transportation used either to convey a specific right to a preferred mode of transportation or to restrict any mode of transportation from being used.  Laws that address this sort of issue are typically related to specific circumstances, such as the case of limited access highways not allowing slow-moving traffic or cars being prohibited from travelling upon sidewalks.

I’m a firm believer in allemansrätten, but what I’m talking about is a different concept.  

To paraphrase Gavin de Becker: Motorists are afraid that bicyclists will inconvenience them. Bicyclists are afraid that motorists will kill them.

"But I AM a responsible motorist!" the unenlightened motorists counter, before showing their big "but cyclists..."

...are unpredictable.

...break laws.

...ride in dangerous places.

...shouldn't be on my road.

...bless their hearts, could do a lot more to keep me from hitting them with my car.

Isn't that what they're really trying to say? "I'm too busy/lazy to be troubled with thinking about how to deal with the unexpected factor in the roadway."

And while some may argue that only cars have a right to be in the road there is nothing implied in all of the drivers' manuals in this country that absolve motorists of their responsibility to take their foot off the gas when a living human being appears in front of their gas powered wheel-chairs.  In fact, it may be necessary to come to a complete stop and suffer a mild inconvenience to do the right thing and not hit that cyclist/pedestrian/child-chasing-a-ball-into-the-street.

Let's forget about bikes momentarily. Some people in my community (and yours) don't own a car. They have needs beyond their own property. They have two options (since there are no shoulders or sidewalks): 1) walk in the road, or 2) trespass across private property.

Many people don't have the option of driving everywhere. Some choose to walk. Some choose to ride bikes. Should they not be able to use the roads and be forced to trespass in order to go about their normal lives?

What's the solution?

Don't Slow Cars Down
Don't Slow Cars Down
Don't Slow Cars Down
It's practical for me to ride my bike, a legal vehicle (and this is an important point in this matter), anywhere I want to go. It costs almost nothing to operate, has almost no pollution, is easily and cheaply maintained, is pretty fast for local trips and improves my health.

Walking would be even better for me and my community. But I'm held hostage to the false notion that I should drive everywhere.

In a recent Book of Face discussion, an out-of-state relative suggested that bikes shouldn't be allowed on roads with more than a 25 mph speed limit.  This is a ludicrous assertion.  25 mph roads don’t connect all of the important places in our lives.  At least they don’t unless we’re very fortunate.  To restrict bikes (and in his estimation pedestrians as well) to roads that are 25 mph or less is to take away the usefulness of the bike or feet. 

Using the logic that we should  restrict slow-moving bikes from public roads would mean that that we should also prohibit pesky farm machinery, oversized loads, mail trucks, and schoolbuses from our roads; all of which can unnecessarily slow down traffic for miles (I'm all for eliminating buses altogether and making everyone line up in their cars for hours before and after school to clog the pipes).

I won’t argue that freedom of movement bestows the right to travel upon a bike anywhere you want, but I would argue that you can’t steal the right to travel on foot from ambulatory people.  At it’s very essence freedom of movement implies this basic mode of transportation while not expanding further.  It most definitely does not imply the right to travel anywhere by car.  It’s really not about how you get there.  So the car necessarily is left out of the argument.  As is the bicycle.

Since allemansrätten (the right to roam) is not the law of the land, and typically the only public place for people to travel is the roadway, it stands to reason that people have a right to be in the roadway.  The argument that roads are designed for cars is simply dodging the real underlying issue that roads have been mistakenly designed for cars and not people for far too long. 

In modern Americaour freedom of movement has been fundamentally threatened.  We’re nearly forced—by circumstances beyond our control, by pressure to succeed in society, by threat of being typecast as bizarre—to own automobiles.  Our small towns and rural areas cannot support a modest citizenry with employment, and our urban areas can’t allow affordable densities, and because of this suburban areas, autocentric wastlands, have overtaken the landscape and by design mandated our extreme dependence on the car. 

Clogging up our roadways with socialist ideology

The idea that individuals should be allowed to travel without being impeded by their government is a fundamental right.  Our right to travel freely has been restricted because for decades automakers have sold us the lie of success through car ownership.  We’re being controlled because our conformance ensures the wealth of the few.  As long as we buy into the lies of planned obsolesces, annual fad upgrades, the need to own a car with a five year, fifty-thousand mile warrantee, and the peer pressure to keep up with those darned Joneses…well, as long as we let ourselves be led down this path we are most definitely being controlled whether we want to admit it or not.

My MoDOT subject cousin argues that pedestrians and cyclists should stay off of roads that have speed limits higher than 25 mph but then complains about money spent on segregated facilities.  And then argues that no one is demanding that we all have to drive cars, or that if I don’t like it I can move to someplace where I don’t need a car.  If only it were that easy.

I laugh at the notion that I’m tilting at windmills (as he charges).  Tilting at windmills or arguing for social justice, freedom of choice, local resilience, and against outdated “conventional” wisdom?

As overwhelming as it seems to face the task of untangling the mess that we find ourselves in now I’m glad to be in a place where I can affect change.  I’m glad to be included in meetings where people are talking about making the right kinds of change and open to reason and new ideas.  I’m glad to hear others saying that we need to face down the dragons, so I can be certain I’m not tilting at windmills.

Does this look like a windmill to you?

*Which really needs to cease

Monday, March 17

Outrunning Wildebeests

Most of my schemes begin with a question.  Some begin with a negative statement like "I could never do the Leadville 100."  But the vast majority of them are phrased more like "Wonder if I could do the Gorge Loop from home in less than three hours?"

I've never really tried to do it in a respectable time.  In the past I've mostly been concerned with getting up Sky Bridge Hill.  I've gotten to the point where I just ride the big hills.  It's not a matter of ifI can ride them anymore, but how I ride them.

From my front door, out to the loop, around, and back to my kitchen door is 53.9 miles.  I'd have to do better than a 17.96 mph average to pull it off in less than three hours. I felt good.  I thought I had a chance to at least come close to pulling it off.

There was no Moze.  My hilarious texts went unanswered.  I'd not planned to ride the night before and since I didn't have an established start time I languished at home, basking in the warmth of my kin.  And blasting Imagine Dragons to eleven.

Finally, after a lengthy breakfast process and continual speed bumps I got out the door gussied up in my kit with a minimalist's load of rations aboard the sporty-sport bike; the faithful Dogrunner.  I pointed my wheels east and slammed down on the pedals.  Ugh.  It hurt.  

I pushed hard out to Nada, turned up toward the tunnel and soon enough I was into the Gorge proper.  An hour out from home I turned onto KY 715.  I felt good then.  My knees sang quietly as I kept a steady cadence, but not enough to hold me back.

I finally felt warmed up, and as I rolled through the Middle Gorge heading for the Concrete BridgeI maintained an 18 mph average.  There was little traffic despite most of the trailheads seeming to be packed with spring breakers, and on one level it felt as if I had the Gorge to myself. 

I had no reservations about tackling Sky Bridge Hill.  I knew it would fall easily. The only concern I had was the condition of pavement desecrated by the 2014 Winterpocalypse.  Mandy rode up Sky Bridgenot so long ago and reported snow and ice lingering the shadows.  She didn’t have a clean ascent of Sky Bridge Hill only because the road threw unreasonable friction—or rather the lack thereof—at her.  Saturday there was no more snow or ice and I pedaled my way up Sky Bridge Hill, reaching the apex of my ride, 26 miles from home, one hour and thirty-five minutes after departing the RRRBP.  And to that point I had not put a foot down since leaving home.

Somewhere along the way I decided if I couldn’t break the three hour mark maybe I could do the entire loop without stopping.  One problem I’ve had in all my competitive endurance events has been that I spend too much time off the bike: Alpine Odyssey, Mohican, Leadville…Leadville.  I missed the twelve hour cutoff by twenty-four minutes, and I spent at least that much time off the bike that day. 

I figured a “no foot-down” 52 mile ride would be good training for the Mohican.  It was a mental and physical exercise I needed to try.  And then there’s another problem: I’ve been having trouble getting fired up about the Mohican.  Partly because of the lingering winter weather, partly because life has been diverting too much time from my racing fantasies of late, and partly because I think I was a bit burned out even before I crossed the finish line at Leadville this past year…I just wasn’t terribly excited about going back to Loudonville.

Pondering these things as I rode, shooting for a sub-three hour ride, and thinking that pulling off a no foot-down ride would be a good training feather…all led to revelation.  I had a moment when I knew what my goal for the Mohican must be: beat my Alpine Odyssey time.

I finished the 100k Alpine Odyssey in six hours and forty-five minutes.  Since I chose the 100k version of the Mohican this year it just seemed to be a sensible comparison.  And the inner competitor in me wanted to best even my fastest (and only) 100k mountain bike race by forty-five minutes.  My primary goal will be to finish the Mohican 100k in six hours or less.  And shy of that my secondary goal will be to beat 6:45. 

It’s still going to take a lot of work.  I’m still itching to start getting out on the trails.  I still feel like I’ve got a long way to go.  But these past four weekends I have been making progress.  Now I’ve got to step it up.  I’ve got to really start putting in quality miles.

I slowed down after Sky Bridge Hill, but I was on track to finish close to three hours.  I was halfway there in miles and only a few minutes behind schedule with no significant obstacles between me and success.  If I could just nudge my average mph back up to around 17-18 mph I might just pull it off.  And being on top of Sky Bridgewithout having stopped put me insanely close to being able to meet my secondary goal for the day.

I slowed on the rollers out to Pine Ridge.  It wasn’t much of a reduction, but I noticed my legs felt heavier.  I’d eaten the last of my food after cresting the hill, and my fuel gauge was only going to fall with each mile pedaled.  At Pine Ridge another factor hit me full in the face: relentless headwind.  I started to feel my effort as I pushed on into wind.  I slowed as I neared the top of Slade Hill.  I hoped that I could drop back down of the Plateau and get out of the wind. 

The descent into Slade is enjoyable.  I started watching my time close.  I had just over an hour to get home from Pine Ridge to break three hours.  If the wind subsided down in the valley I would have a good chance.  But to keep fighting against the wind after two solid hours on the bike was going to be tough.

By the time I raced through Slade I had only fifty-three minutes to cover fourteen miles and I was losing steam.  Ultimately it was a losing battle.  When my cyclo-computer rolled over 3:00 I had just hit 49 miles.  I was almost five miles shy of my goal.  I returned home twelve minutes after the mark.  So close. 

On the other hand I managed my no foot-down Gorge loop ride and was stoked about that.  And 3:12 is close enough that I know my goal is attainable.  Next time for sure!

Time is running out for the Mohican.  I’ve got to shed pounds like rocket stages.  I’ve got to ride miles like I’m being chased.  I’ve got to keep scheming and making hard to attain goals for myself.  I’ve got to outrun the wildebeests.