28 March 2011

March Madness

I got home yesterday afternoon from a hike, walked in the door, and found Kate running around our living room yelling "BASKET. BALL! BASKET. BALL!" She had a ball in her hands and was screaming with glee, sort-of attempting to dribble it, but more like just throwing it on the ground.

"Kate," I say to her, "you don't even know what basketball is."

She stopped cold. She looked at me with those big blue eyes. She gathered her ball, and turned on her heel. She ran to the kitchen and started pointing to the pantry. "Pease," she said to Kim. "Pease?"

Of course, she wanted a basket ...

... and she promptly cradled the ball and ran around the house for the next 30 minutes or so, screaming and laughing her head off. It was awesome.

Kim's mom sent a new dress -- I have a feeling we're going to be in for it in a few years ...

24 March 2011

Where does poop come from?

Wednesday night is daddy night, as Kim hits her workout class and I pick Kate up from daycare. She's not always happy to see me, but we've found that bribing her with a treat will get her settled down, and taking the "horsey way" home (where she can see, what else? horses) always leads to smiles and giggles.

So last night, after the apple-cinnamon bar, after the horses, we pull in the garage. We go upstairs. I tell Kate I'm going to go get the mail, do you want to come with me? No. So I head outside.

By the time I'm back in, she's ripped off her pull-up, changed her pants for a skirt, and meets me at the door. "Going. outside. for. minute." What? I say. "Going. outside. just. minute."

She closes the door in my face, leaving me standing in the living room.

I look through the window, and she's pulling down her skirt. I decide to intervene, and open the door. "C'mon back inside. Let's go cook dinner!"

She comes back inside. I go to the kitchen, she goes to her play kitchen. Within a minute: "Uh, oh. Ucky." There's a puddle on the floor.

We go to the potty, and I sit her down. Nothing. "Not poopin'" she tells me. OK ...

She runs down the hall, wearing nothing but a shirt, and I chase after. We go to her room. I ask her if she wants a diaper or a pull up. "Diap" she says. I change her.

All of a sudden, she's pointing. "Poop. Monkey. Poop. Monkey." What?! She's pointing at the small nugget of poop that's on her monkey rug next to her crib.

"Kate!" I say. "Where did that poop come from?"

She points a finger at her diaper. Then she looks up at me and says, "My butt."

21 March 2011

One by One

Breakin' The Law
A funky weather pattern this weekend caused a slight change in plans, so my retirement would have to wait one day. Instead of finishing off Pisgah on Saturday, I decided to ride a section of trail that I knew would be cold and wet -- but since the day was going to be warm, I figured that was preferable to being cold and wet on Sunday. Ha -- famous last words.

So Saturday was a fun one: NMR > 1206 > Laurel > Pilot > 1206 > Bradley Creek > Laurel Creek > Squirrel > Cantrell > SMR > Mullinax > Squirrel (almost to the gap, flip) > Laurel Creek > Bradley > 5015 > 1206 > NMR

But, I broke the law. As it turns out, Laurel and Pilot are closed for the next few weeks for a prescribed burn in the area -- not immediately in the area, but more in the general vicinity. I felt bad, but it was also the best ascent/descent I've done out there yet -- good thing, since I don't know when I'll be able to get back over there. And I wasn't the only one breaking the law -- I ran into Yuri at the top of Mullinax, who reported horses on Squirrel -- crap. Literally. And big holes in the brand-new tread. I chased after them for a bit, but was already way over on time, so I flipped and headed home.

(Remember this? I'll add No. 11: There are no short detours in Pisgah.)

On to the Next One
I remember when I bought my first Trails Illustrated 780 Map -- the Pisgah Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest -- the lady at REI smiled and told me I'd have a lot of fun highlighting each trail as I ticked it off, until I worked my way through everything. Yeah, right, I thought -- this place was huge, full of big, scary trails; it would be years before I rode everything.

But then I started riding. And dreaming. And scheming. And staring at my 780 before I went to bed at night.

And on Sunday, I finished Pisgah.

Hatchery > 475B > 225 > 5045 > Seniard Ridge (hike) > Parkway > 816 > Ivestor Gap > Graveyard Fields > End of Pisgah > Graveyard Fields > Ivestor Gap > Flat Laurel Creek > 215 > Indian Creek > 475 > 471 > 471D > Butter Gap > Cat Gap > Hatchery

I wasn't out to break any records, but this route had plenty of climbing, topping out at about 5500 ft. from a start of about 2400 ft. and featuring some pretty unique things, even for Pisgah. It also had the last three trails I'd not ridden: Ivestor/Graveyard and Flat Laurel Creek, so of course I had to do it! I also managed the best descent I've done yet off of Butter, even after Saturday's big detour and several hours in the saddle on Sunday ...

One neat thing about this ride is that John Rock is a reference point throughout. Starting at the Hatchery, the Rock towers over you, and this time of year you can see it through the trees at various points. This is while ascending 475B.


This is on the way up Seniard Ridge, the mandatory hike ... and what a hike it was!


Finishing out on the Parkway, about 4600 ft.


Camera phones just don't do justice to the Blue Ridge Mountains!


Just in case you missed it, I hiked. Nearly 1000 ft. vertical. With a bike. In bike shoes. And it was fun.


Graveyard Fields as seen from the Parkway. The hike-only trails there in the bowl look pretty neat; but I'm headed higher -- to the mountain off to the left in this photo.


Across the Parkway, you can see -- what else? -- John Rock.


Climb a little bit, make the right turn toward Black Balsam parking lot, look back, and what do you see? Yup, you guessed it!


OK, now we're getting somewhere. Ivestor Gap and Graveyard Fields are two old roadbeds, full of granite, sand and water. It's like riding in Phoenix or Reno, except wet -- really wet. And you're 3000 ft. higher than the basin. Remember how I didn't want to be cold and wet? Yeah. Imagine clouds moving in, rolling across the mountaintops, and water everywhere. Anyway, Ivestor takes you over to the edge of the Shining Rock Wilderness, where bikes aren't allowed.


The End of Pisgah. I call it this because the bike-legal part of Graveyard Fields ends at an intersection with hiking-only trails, making Ivestor > Graveyard the only true out-and-back in the Pisgah Ranger District. Everything else can be looped in some way, either via singletrack or fire road or pavement. So this is The End.


The sign marking The End of Pisgah. I went with Ghetto Cannondale on this ride -- the Siren needs a bit of love after a nasty, wet Snake, and I've got bigger, non-racey tires on the hardtail, the better for the rocky trails.


That was it for photos, except for this waterfall on Flat Laurel Creek. Flat Laurel was way too much fun to slow down and take photos as I screamed my way from the parking lot to 215. And then it was up and over the Pisgah Ridge and flying back down -- my Kendas were humming. And I wasn't about to stop and take a photo of all the dogs on Indian Creek, and Butter is, well, Butter, so ...

So that's it. I have ridden everything in the Pisgah Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest. My 780 map is full of highlights. I've still got a few trails over in the Grandfather District to explore, and you know, now that I think about it, there are only a few PRD trails I've only ridden just once ...

16 March 2011

Signs

I've always been a big believer in signs -- I just don't believe the universe is as random as it may seem. I'm sure it's a fair bit of finding what I'm looking for, but at the same time I just don't believe in coincidence -- too many things in my life are interconnected.

I've been struggling some with how to frame my thoughts on death. I tend to approach religion as an academic exercise, so while the literature there is rich, it doesn't quite jibe with where I'm at in my head. I'm familiar with the medical definitions; years of exposure -- from the media, from life -- will do that to you. But where I'm disconnected, and not quite settled, and find myself staring at the ceiling before falling asleep each night, is in the perception of it. No, wait, perception isn't quite the word. It's the awareness or understanding of it, both by those who pass and those who remain.

I came a bit closer to my own understanding last night while reading a beautiful, painful, disturbing little book. But first, some backstory:

I almost flunked out of college.

It was freshman year, and it was English, of all things. I don't remember much about my freshman year, but I remember this: I had tested out of 001 English into 002, and our professor, Bronwyn Stein, was kicking my ass. It was my own fault: I was lost, half drunk and on a years-long slide that only really turned around when I met Kim two years later. I had foolishly signed up for an 8 a.m. English class, thinking how bad could it be? I'd been getting up at 6:30 for high school for four years. Ha, yeah: how bad could it be.

Anyway, we did plenty of required reading, and one of the tomes we tackled was a volume of contemporary literature. In this anthology was an excerpt -- I don't remember if it was the full text, but it could have been -- from a book called The Things They Carried. This beautiful, tragic story had been published the year before by Tim O'Brien, had almost won the Pulitzer Prize, and was feted as being one step closer to "the great American novel." And since I was sleepwalking through my academic career at that point, I didn't give it the attention it deserved.

In fact, it's the reason I almost flunked out of college. I had skimmed the text the night before the test, but when I sat in the lecture hall and opened my little blue essay book, I froze. Completely locked up. To this day, it stands out in my mind as the biggest blank I've ever faced, and for some reason I couldn't recall anything, even the title of the story. I still remember sitting in that hall, pencil in hand, staring at the lines on the page, and ... nothing. It just wasn't there.

So I faked it. I did remember one line from the story, and I used that. And I damn near failed out of English. I'm not sure why Ms. Stein gave me a D instead of an F, but she did -- and I narrowly escaped freshman year. My GPA was ruined, but again, it was my own fault -- my first couple of years of college were a muddled mess.

Fast-forward 20 years. 20. My high school reunion is getting organized on Facebook, I've moved out of the Midwest, I've got a wonderful wife and daughter. My mom has just passed away suddenly. My family is trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of a crazy-bad run of luck in the past couple of years. I walk into a Barnes & Noble in Washington, DC, just to kill time, under strict orders not to spend any money on books, since I always end up with something, and it's not always a good idea to be spending money. And there, on the table that says NOTABLE PAPERBACKS is a reissue:

The Things They Carried

The 20th Anniversary Edition

I think I stopped breathing for a moment. All the emotions from 20 years ago, my shame at who I was when I was 18, flooded back. In an instant, I was sitting in a auditorium chair, a crappy folding desk across my lap, my pencil poised and my mind empty. Ms. Stein's chopped blonde hair was there, her head bent over a book on the table in front of her. I picked up the book. I skimmed it. I remembered the pained, sad look on my parents' faces when I brought home my grades. I remember the yelling. I remember the fear. I remember the adolescent indifference, and the incomprehension that I was in charge of my own fate. I didn't remember the words I now read. I put the book down. I picked it up. I walked to the check-out counter.

I don't believe in coincidence.

There is a reason this book re-entered my life, and a reason it re-entered it now. It's a sad, troublesome tale of reality, memory and life of a platoon of Vietnam soldiers, and although called "A Work of Fiction," you know it's really not but you really hope it is. Because true war stories don't have morals. They just end. That's how you know whether they're true or not.

And the reason this book is so important to me now, building on the other reading I've done recently is this: Tim O'Brien perfectly captures the notion that when we die, we become an idea. This is what I've been struggling to identify for the past two months. It's easy to say that people live on in our memory, but that's imprecise. That implies that your thoughts about a person who has died are static, that they only consist of events you shared with them, stories you can tell. But that's not true, is it? How often do you find yourself saying "Oh, I wish Mom were here for this, she would have ..."? We take our understanding of that person, plus our memories, to form ideas of who that person was. It's unconscious, but it's so much more than memory, and in his essay about a troubled Vietnam vet lost in his own hometown, O'Brien has found an exacting way of expressing the essence of our relationship with death and the deceased. And though I again found myself staring at the ceiling last night, this new thought was somehow comforting, and the idea that my Mom has become has expanded in my mind.

And while comforting, it's also complex, because one of the major themes of O'Brien's work is the fallibility of ideas, of memory. And this is where it gets interesting: Memory is a work of fiction. Thoughts are a work of fiction. And while this could be disturbing in so many ways, for me it is not. As a journalist, I was trained to find the "truth." And while we all can agree on the "facts" that make up a story, the reality is that everything is made up. Everything is interpreted. Even our thoughts about other people.

So instead of being disturbing, it's beautiful. Our ideas of who Mom was will live on. My niece, my nephew, my daughter will have their own ideas of her, formed by our interpretations. Even the adults' ideas have changed in the past two months. Because although lives just end, and you know the stories are true because they don't always have a moral, ideas live on, and in ideas we find the truth.

14 March 2011

Back on the grid

Who knew Washington, DC, would have better data and voice connections in the sub-basements of the Federal buildings than it does at street level? Crazy!

Awesome week at the National Bike Summit -- I never would have imagined DC as being a model bike city ... dare I even say "European-esque?" Or is that a nasty sentiment? At any rate, the District has come a long way in a very, very short amount of time, and all of a sudden, I find myself contemplating a family vacation there, complete with bike rentals and/or Capitol BikeShare by which we can explore our nation's Capitol ...

The photo above is the center of Pennsylvania Avenue. Let me say that again: The photo above is the center of Pennsylvania Avenue. From the Capitol to the White House, you can ride down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. Safely. And connect from there to miles of bike lanes and greenways elsewhere in the city. And as we're seeing replicated across the country, what's good for cyclists is good for pedestrians, and indeed good for all citizens -- quite simply, bike lanes make getting around safer. DC certainly still has its blight, and some pretty severe problems, but in 20+ years of visiting there, I can honestly say I've never felt more impressed by it. And I can't wait to go back, and show my little girl just what a city can be like.

Closer to home, the Summit was an opportunity for the North Carolina delegation to find some legs -- we've got a lot of folks focused on a lot of different ideas, and now we've got some leadership emerging at the state level that will help us all focus our energies. While we were in DC, the State DOT added a bike lane to an upcoming road project that will open up a much-needed north-south corridor between Fletcher and Hendersonville (yes, a new, safe commute for Chris and Kim!), and we as a group are planning a session to figure out just how we can descend on Raleigh at some point in the future and hold our own Summit. North Carolina has dropped to 25th on the League of American Bicyclists state list -- by virtue of so many other states improving their bike friendliness while NC just sits back on what it did 10 or 15 years ago. C'mon people, there's work to be done!

Consider that Wisconsin realizes $1 billion-plus each year in bicycle tourism. That's Billion with a B. Each year. And, let's be real here, you can pretty much count the number of viable bicycle tourism months in Wisconsin on one hand. Think about what can be done in North Carolina, where you can ride almost year-round! Or how about that we are losing industry to neighboring South Carolina, where Greenville-Spartanburg have put up serious dollars to become Bike Friendly/"Livable" cities ... what about those of us in Asheville? We're somewhat a victim of our resources -- we get a lot of enthusiasts, but not a lot of support. Thankfully, though, things are changing ...

I'll get more into it here later, but for now I need to get caught up. It was weird to have a stack of voicemails waiting for me when I landed in Charlotte -- AT&T seriously needs to step up their game. Of course, I didn't mind one bit not having any service at all this weekend, when I snuck out to Laurel > Pilot > Connector > lower Slate on Saturday and 475B > 225 > Daniel Ridge > Butter Gap > Halfway Road > 475 > Long Branch on Sunday ...

01 March 2011

Taking it for granted

Kim said something the other night that sort of sums up the jumble in my head pretty well:

"I used to take growing old for granted."

Though I'm sure Kim's family had its share of sadness before she met me, she was 18 before she lost her first grandparent, and it was years before we laid the others to rest. Her aunt passed very suddenly and way too young a few years ago, and we've had some health scares, but we've also enjoyed spending long, wonderful years with the folks who would tell us old stories about factory work, barnstorming and baseball back in the day.

My family was doing OK there for a while -- though we lost my Mom's dad when I was 9, we too enjoyed Christmastimes, Thanksgivings, Easters and the occasional trip back to California or down to Texas with grandparents, aunts and uncles. That all really started to change about 7 years ago, and really accelerated over the past 20 months or so. Throw in a life-threatening injury to my dad last year, and its enough to make you really begin to understand what it means to live life to the fullest, every chance you get.

I was flipping through old blog entries tonight after Kim ran out to get some more children's Motrin for Kate, who is suffering through her worst sickness yet. And sadly I realized that I've been so caught up in my own world, that I had forgotten the losses this past year of my friend Jim from ZIPP, and Dave on the Tour Divide. Both of them left little girls behind -- little girls who may never fully understand just how amazing their daddys were. Just how much they were loved.

It's kind of weird -- one of my first thoughts when my Mom died, the one that catches me off guard and puts a big lump in my throat, is that my Mom won't be around for Kate's Sweet 16. I mean, it seems so petty, right? It's 14 years away, there are so many important things that I'd love for my Mom to have experienced with Kate, but for some reason, her birthday on December 2, 2024, is already an emotional thing for me. And I think it's for that very reason: I just know, in my heart of hearts, that my Mom was already scheming something for it. I know that as soon as she learned she had a second granddaughter on the way, she was already making plans first for my niece, and then for Kate a year later. And knowing my Mom, those plans would have been her way of expressing just how much each of them was loved.

The other day, Kate asked to "See Nana." When I showed her a photo, she asked again, "See Nana?" I said she couldn't, but that Nana was always in her heart and mind. "Nana sick?" she asked, referring to Mom's time in the hospital when Kate couldn't visit. "No, sweetie. Nana's all better. She'll never be sick again. She's all better now. And she loves you so much." Kate crawled into my lap and gave me a kiss when she saw the tears falling down my face.

There's no taking any of this for granted anymore. Every little thing -- from the first time Kate used the potty at daycare, to this nasty illness that I wish I could just call and ask my Mom about, to the funny way Kate walks sometimes or her insistence at wearing certain clothes -- are things to be enjoyed, celebrated, savored. We're doing our best to help Kate understand how much Nana loved her, and it's neat how she asks to "See" her cousins on both sides of the family, confirming that we're bridging the distance between us. But there's so much life to lead ahead of all of us, so many special occasions to celebrate -- and Kim's right, you just can't take them for granted. But through it all, you can love one another, and hope, and know that by understanding just how precious each moment is, you build a foundation that can carry you through anything.

What next?

Wow. As of next Friday, I'll have been a resident of North Carolina for 15 months. Given the storms we had in late 2009/early 2010, I'll subtract two months, meaning that as of about right now, I'm just over one year of riding Pisgah.

And I'm almost done.

What I mean by that, is that as of this past Sunday, I'm down to just two legal trails in the Pisgah Ranger District that I've not ridden: Flat Laurel Creek and Ivestor Gap. Thanks to another big boy loop with Greg, hitting North Slope before heading up Black, over Buckhorn to Pink Beds and back via Bennett, I've managed to check off everything in Bent Creek, North Mills River, Turkeypen, Davidson and the Fish Hatchery areas one after another, mixing and matching and matching and mixing in what seems like a never-ending quest to see all of this beautiful Forest from atop a bicycle. As of now, I've ridden everything this side of the Parkway, but if I remember correctly, Ivestor is seasonal and seasonal ends April 15 ...

What I'm most happy about, though, is not the quantity of riding. In fact, truth be told, it's just a symptom of my obsession -- and in some ways, that's not very healthy at all. Rather, what I'm really excited about is the quality, as proven as Greg and I bombed down Bennett on Sunday afternoon, me on my ghetto 69er hardtail with just 80mm of front travel, hitting drops and gliding over rocks with a confidence I've never experienced before. I've got a long way to go before I even try to tackle Farlow without walking, and there are still some sections of "easier" trails that I balk at, but something has changed in me over the past year, and my definition of what's possible has shifted. I keep telling Wes I'll be dangerous if I ever learn how to ride downhill ... and though my legs weren't there last Thursday night on the way up, I was right there with him until the rock as we screamed down Long Branch ...

Greg and I joked that I can retire once I finish with Ivestor. With the year I've had, and the confidence to build off of it, I just don't see that happening. And thank goodness! After all, there's still the Grandfather District not far away ...