Friday, December 2, 2016

Coming Soon to a Red River Gorge Near You


There was this lone mountain biker that used to roam the Gorge.  He rode a red Cannondale and wore no lycra.  From time to time he could be seen riding through Nada Tunnel, or up Sky Bridge Hill, or over into Pot Hollow from White’s Branch.  He knew all the back roads and unofficial trails.  Sometimes he disappeared for what seemed like years before turning up at Miguel’s telling strange tales about overgrown logging roads or some rocky Moab-esque ridge with no name miles from anywhere recognizable.  We all listened to his bizarre stories and dismissed them.  There’s no mountain biking in the Red! we’d all agree and load up our bikes, submitting them to the indignity of being hauled on a car to some far flung mountain biking destination in another state.
Maybe the lone mountain biker finally rode off into that great, steep Strava segment in the sky.  Maybe he’s still out there riding the backroads, sussing out the forgotten game trails, or surfing decades old logging roads.  Maybe we’ll never know.
I think he’s there.  Every so often someone comes back with a report of some new bit of singletrack, or a great gravel loop, or they saw a flash of red shooting down some steep dirt road covered in babyheads.  He’s out there still riding.  It’s the telltale tire track, a whiff of Stan’s, or maybe a broken off branch with a tuft of flannel stuck to it.
One day not so long ago a map turned up drawn on a pizza-stained paper plate.  It was a loop around the Gorge. A BIG loop.  Someone thought maybe the lone mountain biker drew it.  Someone else thought maybe it would make a good one hundred mile race route.  That’s how the Red River Gorge MTB 100 was born.  So you owe all of the suffering you’re about to go through in the name of mountain biking glory to that forgotten cyclist and all like him who have gone before and who love adventure, and backwoods, and finding a way through where most people would fear to go.
When you ride the Red River Gorge MTB 100 remember him—the lone mountain biker of the apocalypse—and channel his energy as you slog up climb after climb after climb.  Give over to your spirit of adventure and chase the specter of mountain biking’s past in the hollers of the Cumberland Plateau.  This is the epic.  This is your challenge. 
For some true and accurate information on this upcoming race please visit www.rrgmtb100.com

Monday, August 22, 2016

12 (4.5) Hours of Capitol View

I raced my mountain bike on Sunday.  It was Troy Hearn’s 12 Hours of Capitol View race.  I did 4.5 Hours of Capitol View and racked up three laps totaling thirty one miles.  For me, at this juncture that was a pretty good day on the bike.  It had rained like a Mohican rain.  The trails were hog slop.  Racers looked like little piggies.  I crashed.  Twice.  And I’m a conservative enough mountain biker that this is pretty significant.  I have a lot of close calls but rarely crash.  This morning I’m sore.  I have a finger that may be broken.  I have a quad that feels torn except I can walk up and down stairs.

I rode out with the Proofer (who should get dinged for dereliction of duty).  We got to the course right at 7:00 a.m. while rain was still falling on the Bluegrass.  I don’t know why, but I figured the start was delayed so I was in no hurry to get going.  I felt no urgency to wallow in the mud. 
Around 7:20 I took off as the de facto (until much later) lanterne rouge.  I rode slowly.  The first ten mile lap took an hour and twenty-three minutes. It was muddy and slick and just a mess.

 
After the first lap I took a break.  I sprayed off my bike with the hose, cleaned myself up a little bit, and ate a Clif Bar.  Then I swapped for a clean and fresh water bottle and headed back out.
I could tell the trails were drying out and packing in under so much traffic.  Before I knew it I had let the bike roll and was inching up in my average speed.  That’s when I crashed.
It wasn’t much of a curve even.  Not even forty-five degrees.  One minute I was cranking; the next I was groaning in the mud.  I thought I broke a finger.  I thought I tore a quad.  I thought I was going to puke.  I’d forgotten it had been raining for eighteen hours straight before the race started and my muscles remembered every other ride I’ve had at CVP when I could hammer and hammer and hammer.  That crashed knocked the wind out of my sails and my lungs.  I tucked tail and bailed on the second lap.
I hung around the parking lot for a while.  My left thigh was a knot of pain and my right index finger was sore and stiff making it difficult to remove my helmet, fill up my water bottle, and really do much of anything.  I sprayed off my bike again and cleaned the chain.  I dropped down onto the course near the parking lot and took a few pics of racers coming through Ryan’s Gulch.
Ryan's Gulch where Harry broke himeself

A piece of Harry?
 


Gilfy acting as racer, pit crew, and entertainment all in one
Yes, those are 26+ tires
Then Tomahawk saw me. 
“Uh oh!” he said.
“Nah, I’m good.”
By then the shock had subsided, and other than a shallow puddle of nausea in my belly I was better.  I just didn’t know how my leg was going to hold up on the trail.  I figured the only way to know was to give it a shot. 
I picked up the course where I had bailed and basically had the trail to myself again.  The first hill felt fine.  The next hill felt good.  I decided I’d finish the loop.  I knew Mandy was on her way with lunch, and if I could muster through then maybe some real food would perk me up for a few more laps afterward.  The remaining eight miles of the second lap went down without incident. 
My SAG crew arrived and I ate.  Jeaph had rolled in just before I got off the trail so we sat and visited with him.  He had already ridden a few laps and looked beat.  He said he had crashed pretty hard five times.  In fact, he had broken a wooden bridge on one crash. But he said if I wanted to go back out he’d ride a lap with me.
I didn’t want to go home with only two mediocre laps under my bibs.  I needed to tick a few more miles.  At least another lap.  Thirty miles would be pretty respectable for me in my flab-ulous state.
After a good rest Jeaphre and I headed back out on the trail.
I crashed about a quarter of a mile before the spot where I crashed on the second lap.  Knocked the wind out of me despite being a fairly slow speed wreck.  Hit the same part of my left thigh.  Right index finger seemed no worse for wear, though it’s swollen up like a ripe sausage today.
I have stubby fingers, but this isn't normal
We continued on and I worked through the stiffness and lassitude I felt.  It was definitely a benefit having someone else to ride with and talk to.  That made the lap a lot more enjoyable.  Initially I had planned on two additional laps, but after the second crash, a slog up the Green Monster (archives climb), and waning energy I decided to call it at three laps.  Jeaph agreed.
This year was my first time doing the 12 Hours of Capitol View race.  I’ve wanted to do it for some time now, and am stoked to finally have gotten to do it.  But I’m sore and feel a bit beaten down today.  That’s okay, my knees and back feel really good which is more than I could have said after the last dozen or so such events I’ve done.  If I can just keep from crashing…
Something else that I want to share.  While I was out on my ill-fated second lap I began thinking that all the brain damage I spend on trying to find my niche and my community of like minded individuals is moot.  The local mountain biking community, no matter how dysfunctional, is where most of my friends are.  There were a lot of people I know and like a lot that were at the race on Sunday.  That's my community.  That's my niche.
A racer trying to escape the Mountain Biking Twilight Zone
 
~ Chris

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cat Fat

[This was my write up of the Kentucky Point Series race at held at Capitol View Park on July 24.]

I signed up in the Clydesdale division because it might be the only way my weight would ever be an advantage for me.  At two hundred pounds curb weight I was just heavy enough. 
Unfortunately for me at two hundred pounds I’m in about my worst shape.  That’s thirty pounds more than my “ideal” weight.  I’ve not been riding a lot or running much at all.  In short, I’m out of shape.
Eleven guys signed up as Clydesdales for the Kentucky Point Series/Bluegrass State Games mountain bike race at Capitol View in Frankfort on Sunday.  Troy Hearn warned me that there were sandbaggers in the mix.  And at the start someone pointed out that a Cat 1 racer could sign up as a Clydesdale.  Oh well, I hadn’t expected to win really.
It was freakin’ hot.  Face of the sun.  If it hadn’t been race day I would have found a better activity.  Like monitoring the outflow of my AC at home.  You see why I’m fat. 
I’ve become lazy this year.  I need to get off my butt more and sweat.  I need to race more.  Scrap it out with faster people.  I need to fall down and get back up.  I’ve started back into a lifestyle of being active.  My wife and I did the Wildcat Mountain Challenge recently.  I raced in the singlespeed category at the Cave Run Kentucky Point Series race.  I’ve now got my sights set on the 12 Hours of Capitol View and the final race in the KPS: the six hour race at Laurel Lake on August 28th. 
Even though I’m not a Cat 1 racer I still enjoy mountain bike racing.  I like riding my bike fast through the woods, but I’m only Cat 3 fast. Or Clydesdale fast.  Duking it out with strangers to see who can get out of the woods first adds to the experience.  Except if you do it enough they stop being strangers. And I’m not even Clydesdale fast.
Now when I show up at these things I see old friends and new and add to the list of people I can count as friends outside of social media.  It’s fun to linger and laugh and commiserate about experiences out on the course.  That’s what I truly loved about the dysfunctional climbing community I was part of for so many years—meeting up with friends and sharing adventures.
But the social aspects aside—because let’s face it, I could just go hang out at a bar if I wanted to make friends out of strangers—why do I put myself through the suffering of a mountain bike race at my age/weight? 
The short answer is that I love to ride my mountain bike, and the reasons I love to ride in general also compel me to race my mountain bike.  That’s sort of the reason, but then there is something about the added urgency and pressure of holding off that guy/girl behind you and desperately trying to hang on the wheel of the rider in front of you that enhances the experience of mountain biking beyond a simple fun ride on the trails.   
The race compels strategy and tactical thinking.  It’s more than having a good time.  It’s about focus and determination and endurance.  Racing changes you.  It fuels your passion and drive.  It can inspire you or shame you to greater things. 
Nothing feels as good as finding that pace that you can sustain for miles and spinning the pedals as you fly through the dappled forest floor surfing up and down with the undulations of the trail.  Those are the moments I strive for, when I have reached a state of flow and time ceases to exist, heat cease to exist, resistance ceases to exist.  That is life.  That is my motivation to ride my mountain bike.
When I started out trying to race my bike I aimed for hundred mile sufferfests.  But I’m finding I kinda like the shorter races almost as much.  I gotta admit the two KPS races I’ve done have been a blast.  After the CVP race this past Sunday I’ve even decided it might be fun to do the upcoming 12 hour race there as part of a team.
Gasp!  I know!  That, coming from the guy whose personal motto is: There is no 'team' in 'I.'

~Chris

Monday, July 25, 2016

To Tip the Scales


A year ago there wasn't enough purpose-built bike-optimized single track to entice even the most hardcore mountain bikers from their comfy suburban bike trails to the Red River Gorge area.  We're still a long way from making anyone's top ten riding destinations list.  But we will be there soon.

The Cumberland Plateau in Eastern Kentucky is a unique landscape.  Topped by the sandstone caprock of the Pottsville Escarpment the region is characterized by second growth forest on steep sideslopes with house-sized boulders and towering cliffs.  There's not much flat land, but there aren't long gradual climbs either.  Everything is severe; steep.

People that know say we could have the next Pisgah.  But the topography is different.  There are superficial similarities, but even the Appalachian culture is different in Kentucky than in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.  We'll never have Pisgah in Eastern Kentucky.  But that's s good thing.

Nor will we have a Brown County, or a Moab, or Crested Butte.  That's perfectly okay.  Because what we will have will be our own.  It will be unique.  It will be a different user experience.  And that's key to success in a competing outdoor adventure market.

I hate to speak in economic terms, but I've accepted that you have to make the economic case to get results sometimes.  But first I'm going to make the emotional appeal.

Mountain bikers have access to 1,200 acres of prime Plateau land in northern Lee County, Kentucky.  No environmental studies are necessary.  There are no bureaucratic hoops to jump through.  There is only one other user group to work with and they are not in the area for trails (though we will compete for parking).  And this other user group owns the land outright and has invited us to come play.

Twelve hundred acres to develop with no red tape in Red River Gorge terrain.  Open season?  Not really.  I have had great difficulty in getting mountain bikers in the region to help build the trails.  "It's too far," they whine, though they'll drive an hour or more to Laurel Lake when Central Kentucky trails are too muddy to ride.  Twenty five years ago it was common to make that same hour drive from all over this part of the state to go to Cave Run.  They'll go to Brown County, race in distant states.  But Red River Gorge is "too far."

I call shenanigans.

Most "local" RRG rock climbers live in Lexy. They make frequent commutes to climb.  And the vast majority of those who have developed the hundreds of sport climbs (the infrastructure which put RRG on the map) have driven in from Louisville, Lexington, and Cincinnati with some coming from as far away as Indy and Columbus.  Their efforts made the Gorge a world class climbing destination.

It would take far less time and energy to do the same and make it a world class mountain biking destination.  The problem is mountain bikers don't want to help build the trails they ride.  I'm not going to make excuses.  There are no free lunches.  If you want to ride you need to help build and/or maintain.  If you're content with what you have then don't whine when it's not rideable or there are too many other trail users.  Don't complain that your local trails aren't long enough.  Don't cry when the trails are closed down for an event.  Or when a new road is coming through and wipes out a significant chunk of them.  Don't complain about gas prices for your road trips to ride.  Don't talk about being bored or not challenged or burned out.  In cruder terms: piss or get off the pot.

The economics are more straightforward.  More trails mean more tourism dollars.  Those are outside dollars which matter more to a local economy.  And those dollars are proven when you add more trails.  Any rural area can boost revenue by thoughtfully developing infrastructure and the means to effectively capture those tourist dollars.  You need hotels and restaurants for a hotel and restaurant tax to work.  But when you get the whole equation in place you will start making money for your community, your region, and your state.

I have a personal stake.  I grew up in this area.  I want to see these small Central Appalachian communities thrive.  And I love mountain biking.

I propose to make the Cumberland Plateau to mountain bikers what the Red River Gorge is to rock climbing.  All it takes is the minimal relocation of a relatively small amount of dirt, wood, and rock.  All it takes are a few able bodies guided by passion and vision.  

If you're interested in helping out email me directly at ascentionist@yahoo.com



Monday, July 11, 2016

Kentucky State of Flow: Ben Hawes

Yet another past blog post rehashed for your reading pleasure.  This one was from 2015.


Who is Ben Hawes? Jeaph texted.

Had he heard a word I had said the day before? I'd told him I was going to Owensboro for a conference and had even asked him if he'd ever ridden at Ben Hawes. He'd said no.

His text was in response to my own text informing him that the trails there struck buttocks podiatrially.

We finally got it sorted out. I had wolfed down my conference fare and bolted for the trails during the lunch session. The Rudy Mines area at Ben Hawes was only about five minutes from the convention center. I made a quick superman change in the parking lot and tore off into the woods. The daily directional sign was easy enough to figure out and I was stoked there were only two cars in the parking lot. My mind and legs were somewhat loosened up from my ride at Jenny Wiley with Jeaph the day before. Right out of the gate I was carving and cranking!

I was somewhat sluggish for the first ten minutes, but I was still crushing the pedals like a madman. I eased into berms and kept a finger on my brake levers through each screaming descent. Finally all of my cylinders were firing, all of my synapses were blazing, and I stopped being so hesitant to let the bike roll through obstacles.



Nothing was technical like Jenny Wiley. It was pure flow trail. And find a state of flow I did. I knew I was deep in it when I almost started getting bored. I was so in the moment that I stopped looking around and seeing where I was. The terrain out there in Western Kentucky is a little different. The soil is different. But a trail is a trail is a trail. And I kept right on riding for all I was worth.

Where Jenny Wiley changed character constantly and was a technical challenge, Ben Hawes was fairly homogenous and the true challenge there was learning the nuances of the landscape well enough to anticipate what was around the next berm. I tried to open it up as much as possible. By mile four I was no longer thinking about the possibility of coming up on a hiker or trailrunner and trusting in providence to keep the path ahead clear.

Then the true state of flow enveloped me and I was one with the bike and the trail.



I rejoined the shorter easy green loop and was back at the trailhead in no time after that. I had ridden at least seven and a half miles in about an hour on a completely unfamiliar trail. I changed back into conference clothes and raced into town for the next session.

At the end of the day (after a great panel discussion on sustainable practices in Kentucky!) I decided to head back out to the trail for another go-round. I needed more food, but I hoped a gel and a sleeve of Clif Blocks would hold me over.

The second pass was much faster. And while the parking lot was jammed with people I didn't see another mountain biker once I got out of sight of the parking lot. I did see the same trailrunner three times.

That second ride around Ben Hawes was perfect. I went all out, pedaling like my life depended on it where I needed to build momentum, and standing on the pedals and gliding over the ground when I could maximize the well designed trail. Much like the day at Jenny Wiley the weather was perfect. It wasn't too hot, and being under the heavy canopy I was able to forego my sunglasses.

The one downfall of such a great flow trail is that for a solid hour I could hardly take a hand free of the handlebars to grab a drink from my bottle. But I rode without stopping for that hour with a big stupid grin on my face.

A second lap wasn't enough for me to learn the trail well enough to ride from memory, but I felt well-schooled on Daviess County topogragy and what I couldn't remember I was much better able to read on the fly as I absolutely tore it up on my second trip.

According to Strava I tore nothing up. But I was consistently in the top half—or close to it—of most segments.

Ben Hawes/Rudy Mines was my first foray into Western Kentucky mountain biking. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it—not that I didn't expect to—but I was thinking I'd find something along the lines of Veteran's Park. Ben Hawes was a level of quality better than VP.

Hawes just flowed better than VP. Where VP is a lollipop Hawes was a double loop, so...no backtracking. The terrain is less homogeneous than at VP. It's all wooded where VP has the feel of a utility corridor (because it basically is).

I didn't ride any of the double track. And I'm not above riding non-singletrack. I was just jazzed to be on such fantastically built flow trail. But the singletrack alone was about 7.75 miles.

After a second go 'round at BH I retreated back to my hotel. I ate quite a bit. And I set my alarm for 7:15 so I could make the first conference session at 8:30am. I slept fairly well, but woke up around 3am before falling back to sleep. I woke finally to full sunlight. I sat bolt upright and grabbed my cellphone. 6:20. Being on the edge of an alien time zone had skewed my perception.

Since I was wide awake and had almost two hours before I had to be across town I decided to go out on my mountain bike and explore Owensboro's greenbelt trail. I couldn't get there straight from the hotel, but I managed to find my way to it easy enough. It's a nice trail along Horse Fork. I took photos to take back to good old pee oh cee oh.




I managed thirteen miles out and back on the greenbelt trail. I kept thinking it is facilities like that multiuse trail that we need to see in my small hometown. Planning for that type of transportation is what I truly want to do. I've educated myself over the past few years about the issues and why planning and building for active transportation is important. I think its time I focus on the second phase of my education: how to plan and build bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Bluffing Wiley


This is another recycled post.  This time I was writing up my first visit to Jenny Wiley State Park and the newest trails there. 

No matter how furiously I pedaled I was not going to outpace Jeaphre. It was not wise to take point into the Floyd County jungle in the deplorable state of fitness such as I have persisted lo these past few months.

Wait, how had I gotten in front? I let him go in first, and somehow I got ahead of him descending bermed switchbacks with painfully tight radii. My riding partner wouldn't be reigning in on the brakes like I am habituated to do. When we hit the nadir of the holler we were traversing I yanked myself to the side of the trail.

Jeaph started climbing like the beast he is. I trailed behind mumbling puns to myself for a climbing turn or two and then resigned myself to pedestrian progress. It wasn't that I outright surrendered to my inner wussitude. I rode when I could, but relentless upward progress was not within my 1x9 capabilities on that particular trail. Halfway up I climbed back in the saddle and rode consistently until I had gained the aesthetic ridge. That whole section from the parking lot seemed like a fresh cut. We'd find out later when we ran into local Don Fields that it was two months old.

Aptly named

A breeze wove through the dappled green canopy around us. The weather was perfect like you might dream of from your cubicle or a sick bed. Turning the pedals felt natural. True, I was shut down on the steep climb, but as we charged on through the forest above I felt strong. Mentally I was a bit stiff.  Synapses blew out the winter crud and fired in tight sequence as the miles passed through me.

“Huh?” Jeaph pulled up short at a hand painted sign indicating “The Bluff.” Each section's length and difficulty was indicated in rough lettering. Sections were categorized as “Fast/Steep” and “Tight/Technical.”



At first I didn't see how the sections that had been signified as fast and steep or tight and technical were exactly that. But the intensity built as we barreled along. I finally started to feel in the groove but that feeling was short lived as we tore through the last technical section and hit some truly steep and wickedly tight bermed switchbacks. They were too fast for my comfort so I walked them. Apparently I am not an “advanced” rider.

After the last challenging section the trail passed through what is typically known as a Cherokee Marker Tree. I am kicking myself for not getting a photo, but it was pretty cool to have to duck under the trunk which long ago had been bent to almost touch the ground making an archway.

Jeaph then got his sights set on this long steep climb that must have been part of the old “Mountain Bike Trails” that show up on the state park trail map. I tried to talk him out of it, but he kept going and going and going. I walked my bike up the long slog visiting dire deeds upon Jeaph in my mind.

Finally we turned back downhill. In short order we passed a campground. I begged off to visit the facilities. Unfortunately Jeaph saw a space shuttle jouncy toy at the campground playground. While his idea was funny, he actually wanted to go through with it, and that was a problem.

I fiddled around until a found the ten second timer in my cellphone's camera app. Then I absolutely failed to prop my phone up to take the photo. Jeaph was able to figure his camera out and the timer started to beep. We ran to the child's toy and both climbed on as fast as we could. What were we thinking?!

That it was better to use the timer than to ask the random stranger jogging through the campground to take the photo of us instead.

I know how this looks, but its not what you think

We finished our ride—sort of—and Jeaph wanted to explore one other fork in the trail near the parking area. I kept saying I needed to get home. I had promised to (try to) be home by 5pm. It was twenty to four when we reached the trailhead the first time. Jenny Wiley is a solid ninety miles from home.

“Do you think we can be rolling out of here by four?” I asked. There was really no arguing with Jeaph. So we took off up the ridge once again. But the second time we ended up looping back on that initial section and that's where we ran into local fitness and bike shop owner Don Fields. He was slogging up the new climbing switchbacks and we were bombing down them.

We chatted for a few minutes and Jeaph found out Don owned the shop in P-burg.  As we parted ways Jeaph offered: “We'll check out your shop on the way out.”

I cringed. Jeaph is a shopping fool. Be it first take retail or second hand glop he will pilfer through bins, comparative shop, harass employees for deals, and generally camp out in a retail establishment until I start getting angry texts asking where the @#$! I am and when the @#$% I'm coming home. My wife is not an angry person, but Jeaph can keep me out so long that she becomes an angry person.

When I gave him directions out of the state park he asked if the road we were turning on would take us to the bike shop.

“If you don't mind can we head on home? I told Mandy I would be home by five.” It was far too late to keep that promise.

“Really? What, do you have to get home and do dishes or change the oil in your car?”

I explained that I had agreed I would be home by five and therefore I needed to try and be home by five. Goodnaturedly Jeaph headed west. But as we were on the outskirts of Prestonsburg and I mentioned that we could stop and get a milkshake he was curt: “Nope, got to get you home.”

I took out my phone a little ways down the road to take a pic of the construction on the Mountain Parkway. Jeaph made as if to block my photo. “No! No time for pictures! We have to get you home!”

The new mountain bike trails at Jenny Wiley are pretty amazing. I want to go back. That Bluff Trail is more challenging and technical than anything else I've ridden in Kentucky.  And while I like Bluegrass flow trails I miss the amazingly good proprioceptie stimulation that is a good rocky, technical mountain bike trail. I think it's time I got started making it a reality in my neck of the woods.

Closeup of my Strava track for the day

Trails in relation to lodge: lodge is below "Dewey Lake" on this map
 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Mountain Bikers Anonymous

This was posted three years ago as my first impressions of Veterans Park in Lexington.  Since then I've ridden VP hundreds of times.  I tend to go there on my lunch break when conditions are good or great.  I never ride there if the conditions aren't perfect.  There's no point these days.  When I wrote this I had recently returned to Kentucky after living in Colorado for fives years.  While I was out west I took up mountain biking as a serious pursuit.  Before that I had always been an accidental mountain biker.  I also developed an obsession with completing the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race which I did in 2013 after a DNF in 2012 just before we moved back to KY.


Hi, my name is Chris, and I’m a mountain biker.

Hi Chris.

I haven’t ridden my mountain bike in three months.

[half-hearted clapping]
  


I held off posting today until after lunch so I could share my happy news: I fell off the wagon.  Today, I rode my mountain bike ON A MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL!  It felt good to have given over to my impulses and just go crank. 
Last night as I walked across the yard into the house I noticed that the mud that has blanketed the earth in its wintery glory was no longer mud.  The twitch began.  “I think I might take the mountain bike and ride it at lunch tomorrow,” I mused to my wife over dinner.  Her body language said she was noncommittal, but I knew deep down she was excited for me.
I dragged repair stand and tools out into the friscalating dusk-light and strung up a new rear derailer cable.  A quick tune up later and I was jamming The One [my main ride] into the backseat of my car for a trip to the big city in the morning. 
As I whiled away the morning, dreaming of my lunchtime frolic to come I got a text from my mom asking what my plans were for lunch today.  Seems my parents and my sister were going to be in town and wanted to get together for lunch.  Drats!  No!  Mountain biking plans were in dire jeopardy! 
Did I snub my family to ride?  That would be a sure sign I have an uncontrollable problem.  But I might be okay with that…
Maybe I could do both.  If we could expedite lunch I could still go ride for a little while.  I made it in to the office early this morning, so I could justify a long lunch.  But would I have time to do both?  GAH!
I’m addicted to both food and mountain biking, and I know I should WANT to hang with my family.  I DO want to hang with my family.  Brain.  Shut.  Down. 
Just as I was heading out to go grab lunch my wife called and said she was driving by my office.  She knew I was riding at lunch, so she didn’t suggest we meet up, but I felt somewhat guilty;  guilty and overwhelmed by the sudden plethora of lunchtime options on a random Tuesday.
And then my head exploded.  I write to you (as a disemheaded body) this diatribe about a miniscule scheduling faux pax.  So problem solved: I took an extra-long lunch.  I’m a bad, bad boy.  
My first taste is that the “expert” loop is not.  There’s nary a single rock garden to wreck in.  There are some banked turns and lots of small tabletop jumps.  The only thing about Veterans that keeps you on your toes is that it is truly a singletrack that weaves tightly through the trees.  You gotta watch your lines through the turns so as not to yank a small tree out of the ground with your brake cables.
And I’m going back tomorrow for a more normal lunch timeframe. Maybe I can do the “expert” loop the right way.

 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Powell County High Country Epic

Originally written two years ago on another blog.  This was another foray into ancient history as I explored some old roads I used to drive around on back in my teenage years.

Jefe wanted to do a big road ride, but considering the dry April weather and an impending May Mohican I just couldn’t relegate myself back to another paved ride.  I had to get out on dirt.



I dallied Saturday morning.  I didn’t get out until after 9am.  I climbed Furnace Mountain easily in my experimental 1x9 gearing.  It went fine.  I rolled out to Furnace feeling pretty good and marveling at the banners and bunting of redbud blooms skirting the roadway.  At Furnace I turned on Mountain Springs Road, and for a little while I felt pretty good.  But when I stopped to eat a little before descending fast past Crazy Kinley’s cabin (“Don’t shoot, your son is a good friend of mine!”) my spirits were definitely muted.

I’ve applied the moniker “The Hog Troughs” to the section between the last cabin heading east and Pilot Road.  ATVs and ORVs have rutted the road into near uselessness.  Even to themselves.  There were four-wheeler tracks around many of the big mudholes.  I botched the first Hog Trough, but only because I chose the wrong line.  Hog Trough #2 is the real beast and I made it maybe a third of the way up and then walked.  But I did clean the third Trough before bombing down to the last long section from Pilot up to the road.  The more mudholes I had to detour around the fouler my mood became.

Hog Trough #2

Mountain Chapel

A good place to rest in the midst of a mountain bike epic?

Proof that I wasn't cheating on an ATV

The "Nar's" (Narrows)

Popular historic dumping site

I rested at Mountain Chapel next to the cemetery.  I ate more.  I texted Dave L. that he should be out with me.  He’s a connoisseur of a good sufferfest too.  After I could rest no longer I dropped down on Red’s Hollow quickly to a long, steep gravel climb.  At the bottom I was certain I was going to walk it.  But after making it halfway and still being on the bike I decided I’d clean it or pass out trying.  In the loose gravel it becomes a real test of finesse to maintain traction and to not scratch out.  It was an even finer line with the 1x9 that I was used to.  I couldn’t gear down.  I just had to ply force and maximize traction.

Then I was up and over and within a couple of minutes bombing again down Barker Branch Road.  Blah, blah, blah, I rode a while and stopped to contemplate my route home.  Repeat.  Repeat.

I finally found myself on the Sheltowee Trace nearing White’s Branch Arch (somewhere along the way I climbed up to the "Nar's").  That’s when I came upon the two gentlemen hiking.

“How far to the bottom?” the older gentleman asked as I rolled to stop near them.

“Where are you trying to get to?” I asked to make sure I understood what he was asking.

“There’s a way down to highway 11,” he replied.  Ugh, they were in for a sufferfest if they wanted to head down Sterling Road.  Jeffro and I slogged up that on a scouting mission last year.  I have nothing good to say about the Forest Service since making that trip up Sterling Road.

I explained how to get there, and that once they started down and hit the massive section of blowdowns that they should keep going because the road opened up not much further down.

They cautioned me that beyond the arch heading toward the state park there were a lot of blowdowns.  Inwardly I groaned.  But quickly I determined that it would still be quicker to push on than to go back.  Plus, I was out of food and low on water.  Adding ten miles to the trip to avoid some deadfall seemed unnecessary.

Easily cleared section

Not so easily cleared or bypassed

Of course I acknowledged to myself that it could get really bad really fast.  I’ve done my share (and probably yours as well) of bushwhacking with a bicycle.  I know how bad it can be, and yet I soldiered on after wishing my fellow travelers good luck.

Despite the onerousness of the journey beyond the Narrows section of the Sheltowee this was the only section where I was able to focus on the moment and for a while forget my heavy mood.  As I’d traveled the easy section of Big Bend to where the United States Fascist Service obliterated the trail I hit the low point of the day.  I wanted to stop the bike, sit down, and just not move until someone came looking for me.  I was brain-tired and spiritually diluted.  Nothing seemed worthwhile to me at that point.  I was done.

But the challenge of getting through to Boyd Holler awakened the part of me that thrives through adversity.  The hikers were right: the ridge beyond the arch was insanely thick with trees hanging drunkenly toward the ground, and sometimes passed out in a throng across the trail.  One 200 yard section of trail was impassable, and the detour around was nearly as thick with small pines, greenbriars, and deadfall. 

I rode when I could, vowing to return with a bow saw in the near future.  The old road out there is amazing with lots of exposed sandstone to ride on, sweeping vistas visible for split seconds through the trees, and the challenge of some technical terrain courtesy of our very own USFS.

I paused at the top of Pot Hollow to text Mandy:

I’m not sure if the epic is almost over or just begun.  Got a mile or so of potential bikewhacking to get back to the main road.

The descent ended up being about like I remembered it from last year.  Again, it has potential, and just needs a little pruning and a few whacks from a mattocks.  At least it doesn’t suffer from mudholes anymore.

Finally I made it out to the pavement on South Fork and was beat down, but oddly, my spirits were somewhat raised.  I had no cell service, and after a few miles when my connection to civilization returned I saw I had a text from Mandy offering to pick me up in Bowen. 

Please! was my response.  I continued on toward our rendezvous point and, for a few moments I was coasting on the improved mood of my latter sufferfest.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

Even if the Horse is Sober


I'd had a scheme to bikepack the 120 miles from home to Greenbo riding through Cave Run, Carter Caves State Park and Greenbo along the way in order to get to the 2014 KBBC (KY Bicycle and Bikways Commission) annual conference.  I'm was very glad, at that juncture in my fitness, that I chose not to make the big ride.  But what an incredible adventure it would have been!


Instead I rode over with local cycling legend—in his own mind at least—Joe Bowen.  We had a good drive over.  It was a couple of hours, and we only saw one distracted driver plow into a guardrail.  But once we got into the park I was chomping at the bit to hit the trails at the state park.  Joe brought his road bike, but I think the allure of sitting in front of the roaring fire in the lodge with his book was too much.  I'm cursed with an ingrained override for that kind of allure.  It appeals to me, but it's not movement.

Close enough, I guess?

I tore away from the lodge at a breakwind pace on The One.  I was dressed to the nines with my cycling tights, a thick long sleeved poly shirt under my new slick Kentucky Century Jersey, and shoe covers over my MTB shoes.

I found the Michael Tygart Trail easily but opted to continue on down to the boat dock and pick it up at the other end.  The lower terminus of the loop is on the lake and traces the shoreline.  Had to see that first.  It was well worth hauling the bike halfway across the state.

That initial section of the trail was more Skullbuster than Laurel Lake though, and it promised fine things to come.  Only a few moments into my ride and I was sporting a huge bug-eating (if it had been warmer) grin.

More Laurel Lake and less Skullbuster here though


I did NOT crash.  And the leaves were DEEP!

The most incredible thing was that someone had carved out a sliver of trail through the deep carpet of newly fallen leaves with either a leaf blower or—if they were insanely hard core—a rake for many miles of the trail I rode.  I assumed a leaf blower was used but there were places where it looked more like the leaves had been raked.  Anyway, as I rode I continually thanked my leaf removing trail angel.

Michael Tygart turned from the lake up a sometimes swampy drainage, but despite also sharing with horses through that long section the trail was in fine mountain biking condition.  While the creek/swamp section was my least favorite it was still a good trail and lots of fun.

There was a hike-a-bike slog up a long steep hill to connect up with the Clay Lick Loop.  I'd started looking forward to seeing what the ridgetop trail was going to be like, but first I had to manhandle my bike up the surprise climb.  Maybe with a 3x9 setup could I have climbed it, but probably not in my wretched state of mountain biking fitness.  But I slogged up it regardless and found myself toed up to Clay Lick Loop.  I had no idea what I was in for.

The first part is the stem of the lollipop.  It hadn't been cleared of leaves, but it was the most fun rollercoaster flow trail I've ever been on.  If it had been cleared I probably wouldn't have ridden the rest of the loop; I would have just pedaled it back and forth frantically until I died from bonking.

At the loop split the trail did happen to be cleared again and for the first time on the ride I got me ole trusty mountain bike up to ramming speed.  The speeder bike chase was on.  Flow was achieved.  According to local trail maven (and as I found out at the conference: leaf blower captain) Josh Qualls that part of the trail is completely natural despite appearing to be finely crafted by mountain biking gnomes.

Clay Lick Loop (with leaf blower treatment) is a great trail. It's a bit easier than the lower part of Michael Tygart and much faster winding in and out of numerous ridge fingers.  My bug-gathering grin grew and grew until the top of my head dang near fell off.



All of the trails are well-marked with signs and blazes.  One thing that really tangles my chain is a trail system with poor wayfinding infrastructure.  That is not a problem at Greenbo.

The KBBC Conference is always excellent.  There are always many great presentations.  I strongly encourage Kentucky cyclists of all persuasions to attend the conference this year at Natural Bridge State Park in November.  The conference itself is free.  It's worth staying overnight, riding in the area where the conference is held, and meeting and networking with other enthusiasts from around the state.

While there is much networking and relationship building that can occur, you'll also learn a lot and have plenty to take back home.  For example: did you know that the bicycle is recognized as a vehicle subject to KRS and much like equestrians bicyclists can be charged with DUI if stopped while inebriated?


Monday, June 6, 2016

The Ride I Should Have Taken Twenty Years Ago


"When did you start mountain biking?"  Mitchum asked.
"Late '90s.  Buckskin was the first real trail I rode," I nodded out the window in the general direction of the lake.
Mitchum, Jeff and I sat around a table stuffing our faces at Pops BBQ below Cave Run Lake after a grueling seventeen or so mile mountain bike ride.  It was grueling for me and Mitchum because we're not Jeff.
*headsmack*
 
"He's a beast," Mitchum said as we trailed behind Jeff on Big Limestone.  Jeff and Mitchum had been friends since they were nine, so they had a lot of stories of adventures and misadventures to share as we rode.  And Jeff and I have packed in a lot of epic miles in the past two years.  Our three hour outing was quite the jaw session.  Mitchum and I were meeting for the first time, but Jeff had been slanderizing us to each other for a while it seemed.
By the time I was stuffing the massive pulled pork sandwich from Pops BBQ into my craw I had decided that I was pretty doggone satisfied with life despite bemoaning my lack of mountain bike fitness all day.  I didn't feel inadequate in my blatant weakness on the bike, and I was finally coming out of my headcold funk.
The fall colors seemed to be at their peak.  Jeff and I hadn't ridden together much except for the Preservation Pedal and the Hub City Tour.  And we were all out at Cave Run for the day because my wife—I love her so—had suggested the trip earlier in the week.  I was apprehensive of riding with someone new after my deplorable couple of laps at Veterans on Friday, but it didn't matter.  I had been frothing to ride for a few weeks. The stars had finally aligned.
I grumbled about by my 1x9 gearing as we climbed up from the visitors' center.  I shook my head in frustration as I walked the crux.  Mitchum accompanied me on more than one walk of shame, so we comforted each other in our non-Jeffness.  Our trio stopped too often, but that only meant more time out in the beautiful weather under the golden light streaming through the autumn canopy.  I know I only need to ride more and the 1x9 will seem fine.  I should resist the urge to go back to 3x9 wussitude.

 
The conversation ran the gauntlet.  Jeff and Mitchum talked about riding around Lexington as kids and at Cave Run twenty years ago.  We ended up comparing our respective experiences at Cave Run as we rode together.  Mitchum and I also talked about the possibilities of bikepacking along the Sheltowee.  As we parted ways at the end of the day he admonished me to get ahold of him if I wanted to give it a go sometime.
It was a relaxing day because we had no real agenda and weren't training for some race.  We ran some new trails and considered taking the Sheltowee into Morehead.
"We could ride into town and get Jimmy John's," Jeff repeated each time we had to decide whether to turn toward Morehead or away. Jeff was all about getting food at the new restaurant; I wanted to check out a couple of the trails that climb up out of town, but was fairly certain I didn't have those kinds of miles in me.

 
Mitchum didn't vocally resist, but I think he leaned more to my camp of wussitude.  In the end we turned back toward the dam and away from town.  The long fast descent down Clack Mountain West was more enjoyable than I'd expected.  We turned on the pavement and I couldn’t help but think the ride could be over if we just pedaled straight back to the cars.  But we had one more trail to ply before the day was out.
It took a little effort to find the Lakeview Trail terminus at the paved road near Twin Knobs, but soon enough we were headed back into the woods.  Just before the long brutal climb back to the ridge crest we crossed a wooden bridge.  The bridge made me think that Cave Run has a mountain biking renaissance coming.  We all agreed that things were better than they had been around the turn of the millennium and into the twenty-teens.  Recent efforts to sort out the different user groups in the area have awakened interest in the trails around the lake.  A new day has dawned for certain.

Mitchum on Lakeview Trail
The climb up Lakeview was taxing.  We paid for the long miles and sorry preparation.  I vowed silently to get back on the bike more.  I mean to keep the promise to myself.  But I mean to keep the promise while staying in running shape too.
As I listened to Jeff and Mitchum talk about riding Caney Loop before the horse people destroyed it I couldn't help but wish I'd been more of a mountain biker earlier in my life.  I try not to regret things like that too strongly because my life could have been far different if I'd been a hardcore mountain biker instead of on the path to becoming a climbing guide.  I might not have met my future wife.  And I don't want to imagine what that life would have been like.
Maybe I should have been more open to riding my bike at Cave Run twenty years ago.  Or maybe the other day was as perfect as it gets: eating damn good BBQ after riding til it hurt with good friends, and then eagerly anticipating my return home to a loving wife and kids. 
Cave Run is less than an hour from home, and I can justify making the trip and spending most of the day riding there because there are enough miles of trails and gravel roads to make it worthwhile.  The Sheltowee Trace between the visitors' center to Big Limestone is worth the trip alone.  The area's not close enough to home to get old quickly, and there's this great little BBQ joint below the dam.