27 May 2010

Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes

Wow. Kim and I were talking about this last photo last night -- Memorial Day 2009, Bike the Drive in Chicago. That's my dad with Kate atop a World Bicycle Relief bike, at the expo volunteering for WBR, after he rode the whole thing on the Africa bike. Somehow this one photo encapsulates everything that has changed in the past year. Crazy to think what can happen in just 365 days.

Our little girl is growing up. The top two photos above are from last June 2, her 6-month "birthday." Next week, she'll be 18 months. She's a walking, talking, running, bike-riding "big girl" now, and Kim and I are along for the ride. One of my favorite moments each day is when she picks out her shoes, and then backs into me and plops down so I can put them on. She giggles when she does it, and then snuggles in while I wrestle with her socks first, then her shoes. She'll likely pull them off by the time she gets to daycare, but I don't care -- she and I share those minutes each morning, and I always take the chance to sneak in a big hug, tickling my chin with the blonde curls at the back of her head. I'm so happy we're all finally back together.

Things are still slightly askew, but getting more settled. We've got a few daycare issues cropping up, we still can't maneuver through the garage very easily, and our front hallway looks like the storage warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I brought the sickness back from Chicago, so we've been fighting that, while Kim has been incredible letting me get my ride on while she gradually unpacks. Overall, it's going very well -- Kim has finally had a chance to get back to exercising, her job is going well, and Kate has fully embraced her nature side with bike rides and hikes through DuPont.

And what of the riding? Despite some travel so far this year, I've managed to work my way through darn near every "signature" trail in Pisgah and have found some pretty fantastic go-to road rides as well. I mean, what's not to love when you get to choose between places called Heartbreak Ridge or Squirrel Gap on any given weekend? Or you get to ride them both? And your 90-minute home road loop changes from a flat hammerfest to Highland Park and back, to including about 1700 ft. of climbing (at 6%+ grades) and spectacular views of the Blue Ridge?

So I'm the first to admit that I'm spoiled. I've not had a chance to race yet this year -- actually, my "go-fast" bikes are in pieces -- but the bug is still alive and well. In fact, I'm already committed to two big ones -- ORAMM and SM 100 -- and pretty much all my training is focused on THE big one of the year: The Pisgah Stage Race in September. I've got a tall order ahead of me: My fitness is better than it's ever been, but the difficulty factor of my A races has been ratcheted up exponentially -- I used to think SM 100 was pretty tough, until I spent Saturday slip-sliding my way down Kitsuma and Heartbreak after Friday night's rainstorm ...

We've got some much-needed family time scheduled for next week, and then except for a parental visit scheduled for late June, the summer stretches out before us. It's strange not gearing up for a 12-hour race followed by a marathon-length expo this weekend -- what do "normal" people do on Memorial Day weekend?!

24 May 2010

Healthy bunkum

Before moving to North Carolina, I checked out a guide book on the area that warned of a “bunkum factor” when it came to giving directions in the Southern Appalachians. Not that natives would lie about how to get someplace; more like they’d not necessarily be as accurate as, say, Rand McNally.

Not wanting to buy into stereotypes, I dismissed the warning … at my peril. Now, I’m pretty good with maps and directions, and have a sense for how to get places – in fact, I would say I’ve only ever really been lost once in my life. (It was Belgium, and it was cloudy and raining off-and-on. And it was Belgium.) But here, now, I see what the guidebook was getting at – three times now, I’ve had a written cue sheet for a ride, and three times I’ve gotten turned around and missed my destination. Which, when you’re on a timeline, isn’t very fun … it’s frustrating and makes you start to think nasty thoughts about the folks who write cue sheets.

The most notorious, at least to me, is the cue sheet for ORAMM – the Off-Road Assault on Mt. Mitchell. Now, I have a lot of respect for Todd and the folks at Blue Ridge Adventures; in fact, Cane Creek is a sponsor, and I’m looking forward to racing in all three of his races this year – basing my season around them, really. But twice now I’ve tried to ride the full ORAMM course, and twice now I’ve been foiled – the first time, I climbed Heartbreak Ridge backwards; the second, I missed some turns before finally making it around, but then had to cut out due to time constraints.

So in the interest of helping other Yankees and non-natives get some time on the ORAMM course prior to the race in late July, I’ve decided to supplement the ORAMM cue sheet with a bit more healthy bunkum …

2010 ORAMM Course Cue

OK, first off is the name. ORAMM is a bit of a misnomer – we don’t actually get to the top of Mt. Mitchell, though we do ride in its vicinity. We should change the name to the: “Off-Road Ride Near Mt. Mitchell on Forest Service Roads Connected by Two of the Knarliest Descents in Pisgah, One of Which You Do Twice, and Some Hike-A-Bike Sections.”

  • From the town of Old Fort there is a mass start out Mill Creek Road.
  • The race actually begins after a controlled start up Old Highway 70 which is 4026 on the map. This is broken pavement.

In reality, we all know what “mass neutral start” means, and if you don’t, check out the Chequamegon 40 some time. Old Highway 70 is a really nicely paved greenway, except if you’re on the edge of the peloton, in which case it really is broken pavement – good luck.

  • You will continue on service road 1400 where you will take a left on the frontage road before Highway 40. This road is called Ridgecrest.
  • If you follow this road on the map it turns into Trail 205.

At Ridgecrest, be sure to salute the Stars and Bars of the Confederate States of America at the house just before the parking lot, this being near the site of the one battle of the War of Northern Aggression in these parts. And the road doesn’t so much “turn into” Trail 205 as it all funnels into two narrow tracks which then become singletrack switchbacks uphill – so be sure to attack hard through the parking lot.

  • Follow Trail 205 to 206 to the Old Fort Picnic Area.

Easier said than done! First you go up – solo, you’re getting friendly with Granny or hiking; in the race, it’s a complete cluster. Then you start to go downhill … but this is Pisgah, so keep it in the granny so you can go uphill in just a minute. Once you top out, you drop down at warp speed on ever-narrowing bench cut. Don’t forget to turn left about halfway down, and just generally “keep going straight” until you reach the bottom. This is Kitsuma, and you’ll be back.

  • You will then follow Service Road 1407 (Mill Creek Road) to Service Road 1408 where you will take a right on Trail 209.

Go straight out of the picnic area parking lot onto the paved road. Follow that a ways, past the giant fountain and through the train underpasses, and turn right to cross the river and go past the church. There will be a camp with an outdoor obstacle course; Trail 209 is your next right and is an unmarked widetrack heading uphill. Take the right-hand branch, and cross the railroad tracks to Trail 208.

  • Follow this to make a right on Trail 208 heading downhill. This will intersect a fire road where you will take a left. This is Jarrett Creek Road and doesn't appear to be labeled on the map.

Trail 208 is across the tracks and is marked. Stay on 208 until you drop down to the river, and then GO THROUGH THE RIVER. Really. Then turn right to go UP-hill. This is another switchbacked crazy section, until you top out – at the top, you will see a trail to the right heading uphill. Don’t turn there. Keep going another 50 meters or so until the *next* right, which does head downhill and is super fun. A the fire road, turn left.

  • Follow this down to Service Road 1227 (Curtis Creek Road).

When we say “down,” we mean it in the general Appalachian sense of the word. This is Pisgah, after all. So what we mean is, go uphill until you drop down to a gate. Then, instead of heading straight with more downhill, turn left to go uphill some more. If you go straight downhill here, you may just end up in a dead-end on the fire road … literally. If you see the hunter’s blind next to a trapped meadow, you’ve taken a wrong turn. And be sure to wear bright colors if you do.

Really, you turn left after the first gate, and go up. And you continue to go up. And up. This is Pisgah, after all. Then, eventually, you hit the end of the ridge and go down, very quickly, all at once. Watch out, here there be snakes. Then you pop out at a parking lot, and turn left on the pavement – sorry, there’s no street signs here, you just have to trust us.

  • Follow this road all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • Service Road 1227 actually turns into Forest Service 482.

Actually, 1227 turns into 482 pretty quickly once you enter Pisgah again and the pavement ends. You’ll be motoring along in your big ring, thinking how great it is to be out and riding through the very first National Forest land. Then, you’ll start to go uphill. You’ll shift into your middle ring. You’ll settle in. And you’ll climb. And climb. And your soul will be sucked out of you. When we say “all the way to the BRP,” we mean ALL. THE. WAY. Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!

  • After crossing the parkway, you will go straight across to FS 2074.

… and you will bomb down 2074, losing a ton of elevation all at once. And in the back of your mind, your will will be crushed, because you know you’ll just have to gain it all back in a few minutes. Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!

  • At the junction of FS 472, you will take a left and follow it around through Black Mountain Campground and up to the parkway again.

This won’t seem so bad at first, since the grade isn’t too bad – kind of like Old 70 at the start. Oh, but there’s no signs at the giant roundabout, so you just have to trust us that 472 is off to the left – but not the same left that takes you to the trailer dumping station.

  • At the parkway you will take a right and follow it 9/10s of a mile to take a left onto Trail 208.

Now, here’s where our math gets a little fuzzy. FS 472 comes out before Milepost 352, and the turn for Trail 208 is past Milepost 353. So 9/10ths of a mile is sort of approximate, and may be a bit short. Oh, and it’s all uphill. And then you turn left, across traffic, into a hike-a-bike. Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!

  • Follow this all the way down to Trail 209 where you will take a right and follow it down. (This is what you came up earlier).

Here’s the good news: There’s no way to get lost here – well, once you turn left onto the trail at the top. Just keep going straight, and keep going downhill. If you turn, you will fall off the side of the mountain. Good luck with that. (Ed. note: Todd and his crew have done an AMAZING job with this trail – truly one of the best descents I’ve ever been on. So much fun!) When you get to the switchback toward the bottom where it starts to head uphill again, turn right and drop down to the river. GO THROUGH THE RIVER. Really. Then go up and out to the road, over the train tracks again.

  • Follow it to SR 1408 and take a left. Continue until you intersect Mill Creek again, this time take a right.
  • It is signed and is a dirt road and climbs three miles before intersecting SR 1400. You have ridden this earlier in the day too.

OK, what we mean here is, go left on the pavement, then turn right onto the first dirt road past the bridge. You actually haven’t ridden this part before, but once you get to the top, you will be back on SR1400, which you did ride earlier and is where the Old 70 greenway comes out. Got that?

  • As before you will follow SR 1400 to take a left on Ridgecrest (frontage road) to Trail 205.
  • Then to Trail 206, this time when you reach the campground you will take a right on Mill Creek road and follow it into Old Fort to the finish.

As before, salute the flag or perish on the switchbacks. Your choice.

Bomb Kitsuma, this time using your brakes less because you’re so tired. Drop through the picnic area and turn right on the road. Don’t worry, it’s only uphill for a few hundred meters, then it’s a fun road downhill to the finish! Yeah!

... OK, better yet: Grab a local and head out on the trails. It's more fun with friends!

18 May 2010

Long-Distance Dedication

Dear Casey:

I'm writing today to request a not-so Long Distance Dedication for my wife Kim.

You see, 17 years ago when we met, Kim and I were both headed to different colleges in different cities, and no one believed we would ever stay together -- not even us. But after nearly 3 years of letter writing, phone calls, and 5-plus hour drives to visit each other, we did stay together, and 14 years ago today -- on May 18, 1996 -- we were married in a wonderful ceremony in her hometown, surrounded by family and friends.

Though we were pretty certain we'd start our own family right away, that's not what happened, and while Kim and I followed other pursuits, we always stayed within about 50 miles of our families. Then, 17 months ago, Kim and I welcomed our daughter Kathryn into the world, and Kate quickly became a special part of the lives of her aunts and uncles, and especially her grandparents.

But as life often does, things began to change in the past year. We thought our long-distance days were behind us, but we were mistaken: I took a job halfway across the country, while Kim and Kate stayed behind. We spent the past 5 months apart, this time bridging the gap with daily text photos, e-mail, and -- just like 17 years ago -- long phone calls that lasted well into the night.

Then last week, Kim, Kate and I were reunited, this time for good in our new home town. It was just in time for Kim and I to celebrate our Anniversary, and reflect on 14 incredible years together. At the same time, I know how difficult this move is for our families, especially Kate's grandparents, and for Kim, who has always been very close to her family and is now further away than ever.

So Casey, can you please play a Long Distance Dedication for Kim and I as we celebrate 14 amazing years -- together again, at last -- while at the same time we start all over, on our own for the first time away from our families?


Hendersonville, North Carolina

17 May 2010

All together now (all together now)!

Lying on the living room floor yesterday, listening to the rain softly beat on the skylight, watching my daughter wander around aimlessly while dressed up in four layers topped off with a swim cover and a plastic stethoscope, had to be one of the best afternoons of my life so far. I was dealing with a bit of a sinus headache brought on by a rapid descent from the top of Caesar's Head, was worn out from 5 hours of riding through the Carolina countryside, and was perfectly content: our family is finally back together again, and Kate and I got to spend some quality daddy time while doing absolutely nothing.

We spent Mother's Day in Chicago, and then spent last Monday packing up a truck and getting ready for our big move south. Kim's sister joined us for the trip, which worked out great as I piloted the U-Haul and the K car followed not far behind. Overnight in Indy, then into the hills via Cincinnati; before I knew it we were getting unpacked with the help of some fabulous friends and coworkers. I had picked up a bit of a bug, so the rest of the week is kind of a fog, but I remember Papa's & Beer, 12 Bones, a new "bike" for Kate (www.striderbikes.com - pink of course!), Waffle House without the waffle (for shame!), lots of boxes, lots of plants, and a great feeling that it was nice to be together again. We had a fun 2-yo birthday with friends on Saturday, and then Sunday was spent doing ... nothing much. Dang it was good to be home.

Thanks again to everyone for their help through this transition. It is truly bittersweet, knowing what and who we leave behind, but we're excited to get started on this new adventure, and see what the future has in store!