31 October 2011

Snippets

I've gotten maybe 10 hours of sleep since Saturday morning while racing my bike for 24 hours through Pisgah this weekend. Thankfully the coffee is kicking in, and it means I'm having flashbacks as I sit here dazed on a Monday morning ...

I remember being cold and hungry at the start. So cold and hungry that I couldn't comprehend the passport and put it into action on the map. It took us almost 15 minutes to figure out a route.

I remember climbing out of Cove Creek in a bunch of traffic, with Dicky and his partner passing us just before the road. And then riding with them to 276 talking about Swedish thriller films with lesbian soft-core porn scenes.

Hating Greg for suggesting Black> Turkeypen Gap -- a week ago. By the end of the race, I will have crossed Clawhammer and Black summits four times in three weeks.

Being overcome with a weird moment of grieving high up on Turkeypen Gap. All of a sudden I started thinking about my Mom, and I seriously contemplated dropping out of the race right then.

Getting schooled by the Princess and his sidekick Hamburglar across TPG.

Thanking my lucky stars that Greg pays attention when he looks at a passport. I almost rode right by a checkpoint that would have cost us 15-20 minutes to go back to later.

Making our way up Laurel, racing darkness, and seeing Dicky coming down with a slashed sidewall and dashed hopes.

Just barely reaching the checkpoint without lights.

Freezing.

Choking down pickled eggs. And failing.

Freezing.

Losing all feeling in my hands. My face was already numb.

Freezing.

Losing all feeling in my toes.

Freezing.

The sound of 30mph+ sustained winds blowing through the TV tower atop Pisgah.

The view from up there.

Freezing.

The sound of the wind on the ridges, and the feel in the gap.

The smell of vinegar.

Taking off my gloves for less than a minute as we got ready to head over to Pilot Rock, and feeling the blood pull back from my right pinky and ring fingers. Feeling fear that I wouldn't be able to brake properly.

Heading down Pilot, walking most of the switchbacks. Coming across people we knew going up and praying Greg wouldn't stop to chat for too long. Feeling relative warmth the lower we got.

Cleaning the rock garden for only the second time ever. In the dark, with a light on my head! The rest of the race could be a wash, at least I did it!

The incredible tailwind on 1206.

The cowbells in Cove Creek.

Rolling to the finish and having Eric tell us we were in the lead. Unbelievable!

... and that's just Day 1! ...

Not for the faint of heart

Let's see if I can get this right ...

Saturday: Strategy and Survival, 6+2+0.5 checkpoints
Cove Creek (mandatory start) > 225 > 475B > 276 > 477 > Club Gap (CP) > Black > Turkeypen Gap Trail (Trailhead CP and Wagon Road Gap CP) > SMR > Mullinax (CP) > Squirrel (out & back to Laurel Gap CP) > Laurel Creek > Bradley Creek > 5015 > 1206 > Laurel Mtn > Turkey Spring Gap (mandatory CP, special test, lights on) > Laurel Mtn Gnome Trail - Mt. Pisgah summit (out & back hike [in bike shoes], optional special test +2CP) > Pilot > 1206 > 276 > 475B > 225 > Cove Creek (mandatory finish) > Special test participation (+0.5CP)

Sunday: The Power of Perseverance, all 10 checkpoints!
(Lights on, mandatory TT start) 809 > 475 > 471 (pick up passports) > 471D > Butter Gap (CP) > Long Branch (CP) > Halfway Road > 475 > 5003 > 140A > 140 > Sumney Cove (CP) > 140 > 5031 > 140A > Farlow Gap (mandatory CP, special test) > Daniel Ridge (CP) > 225A > 225 > 475B > 276 > Pink Beds (CP at Barnett Branch) > South Mills River (out & back to CP at Wolf Ford) > Buckhorn Gap > Black (out & back to CP at shelter) > Black (CP at Pressley Gap) > Maxwell > Clawhammer > 477 > Bennett > Coontree (CP) > 276 > 477 > Davidson > 809 > FINISH!

All this was good for a solid 2nd place, with huge props to Adam and Mark for pulling out the win with a last-minute 10k run to pull off 11 CPs yesterday. Greg and I did all we could ... and at least I can walk today! (ha ha)

Big thanks to Eric and Pisgah Productions for another fantastic Double Dare! Can't wait to do it all again at PMBAR 2012! (or maybe P36 anyone?)

Photos and stories to come ...

27 October 2011

Skeered

(with a nod to creepyfriendly): A wise man once told me that you don't know scared until you're bombing Trace Ridge, in October, at night ... and your front brake gives out.

26 October 2011

Feeling weird

Weird feelings this week. Sort of ... I don't know. A lot of stuff running through my head, but a lot of stuff that needs to be done before I'm able to sort it all out via a blog entry or two.

Daniel is becoming more active each day, Kate is still adorable, and I'll be spending 30 hours in the woods this weekend. I shouldn't be this whacked. Not truly overwhelmed, but feeling close to it. Crazy part is, I've got the race stuff dialed without a second thought -- good thing, because everything else seems to be taking three times the effort.

One cool thing: Kim and I caught The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo the other night. The Swedish version, with subtitles. Disturbing, but utterly engrossing -- we were sucked in and couldn't get out. Fantastic score. I just hope Hollywood doesn't botch it up.

Oh, and last weekend was another fantastic couple of days in Pisgah. Greg suggested Turkeypen Gap Trail, which always equals at least 4 hours on the bike, especially when connected from Buckhorn Gap. They've done some work on the approach to the parking lot, installing 2x4s where some logs used to be -- for the first time, I was cleaning the drops, only to get hung up 30 feet from the end on an easy but square-edged, new piece of wood that sent me sprawling into the woods. Why is it always the simple move that gets you? Sunday was a fun trip around Bennett from Coontree arranged by Jamie of SM100 fame. Great views and good times showing a random Boilermaker around.

19 October 2011

Ten (Eleven) to go

Life has this funny way of moving ahead, doesn't it?

As I was clawing my way up Clawhammer on Sunday afternoon, it struck me: I've been racing for almost 9 months straight. Nine months -- in a year that opened with unexpected tragedy and is closing with unbridled joy. Calling my wife a saint doesn't even begin to describe it.

There are only 10 days to go; well, 11 if you want to be pedantic about it. I'm at that magical place where I can count the number of "hard" workouts on one hand before I'm done, where the lure of a bowl of ice cream or an extra helping of Becca's cheese grits overcomes the nose-to-the-grindstone focus of the winter and spring and summer months. It's a funny predicament though -- much like with skiing and mountain biking, you need to be extra vigilant of the "last run" -- you may have the fitness and skill to hit that downhill one more time, but you also may be more tired than you realize. Especially when your brand-new son is waking up every few hours to eat.

Double Dare looms large, and I'm excited to close out one of my most successful seasons ever with a fun romp through my favorite playground with a good friend. After that, it's a well-earned rest -- only one possible date in November depending on whether this guy decides to challenge everyone to a duel -- that should include some quality time on the home front and some fun-with-no-focus rides on the "brown ice" that is forming in the woods even as I write this. It'll be a great chance to try some new things, see some new-ish places, and revisit old standbys. This certainly hasn't been the easiest year, but isn't it only through adversity that we truly find our way forward?

17 October 2011

It's kinda like Christmas ...

You know how when you were a little kid, and Christmas was the highlight of your year? How you built it up in your mind, plotted your strategy, stayed up all night on Christmas Eve in anticipation of all the spoils?

This weekend was kind of like that.

Those of you following along at home know that riding in Pisgah means a year-round smorgasbord of world-class trails. An orgy of delight. An impressive plethora of awesomeness.

What you may not know, though, is that several trails have been classified as "Seasonal," meaning they're only open to mountain bikes from October 15 through April 15 -- the winter months when there aren't that many hikers about. This helps avoid user conflicts on a couple of the more heavily traveled routes ... and it also means we spend six warm months of the year pining for the chance to ride Bennett, Cat Gap, Coontree, North Slope and Pink Beds.

(Well, Bennett, Cat Gap and Coontree at least. North Slope is a fun intro and Pink Beds a solid Midwestern-style twisty, but they're not as exciting as Bennett, Cat Gap and Coontree ...)

Well, this year, "Seasonal Christmas" fell on a Saturday. In the middle of one of the most impressive leaf seasons for years. In picture-perfect, 70-degree weather. It doesn't get much better than that.

Like this guy, I heavily weighed my options, eventually going for the short-and-fast to kick off the weekend followed by the long-ish and fast-ish followed by the just-plain long. And at every step along the way, Pisgah did not disappoint ...

Friday: Sycamore Cycles Midnight Cat Gap Extravaganza, featuring none other than the King of Pisgah himself and his trusty sidekick Robin, er, Bergmark. I got out a few minutes early for a bit of a warmup to the top of the first Cove Creek Connector hill, and it's a good thing I did -- my cassette lockring was coming loose, and Dan had to rescue me. After that it was all wine and roses as we traded no-light ninja blows to the top of Gloucester Gap, bombed down to the base of Butter, climbed up and then absolutely flew down -- I hit a zone and was making moves I've never even considered before. There's just something about being surrounded by really good, ambitious, lycra-clad racer types with lights on their heads and insane reaction abilities ... I dabbed on two of the creek crossings on Butter, and 'cross-jumped the log -- but otherwise cleaned everything all the way to the parking lot for the first time ever. I even saved an absolutely incredible nose-wheelie on the muddy rock face. Viva night riding, viva Seaonals!

Hatchery > Davidson > Cove Creek Connector > Davidson > Hatchery > Davidson > 475 > 471 > 471D > Butter Gap > Long Branch > Cat Gap


Saturday: We slept in a bit, and then headed to the library, where Kate proceeded to pick out a slew of bilingual books for us to read at bed time. I'm thinking I need to learn Spanish very, very quickly here pretty soon ...

We then went to Brevard, where we visited The Hub's Fall Fiesta celebration. And then it was pumpkin-picking time -- though Kate wanted "itty bitty" pumpkins for "her baby," we did end up with a big one too. After that, I suited up -- there were more Seasonals to be had!

Or rather, one in particular: Bennett Gap!

The reward for climbing in Pisgah? More climbing!


The gate to awesome ...


Breathtaking beauty


The reds were overwhelming


As were the views!

I took my time on Bennett, making sure I had the lines dialed -- I forget how challenging some of those features can be. That said, I'm not quite ready for Q-Bert or Huck rocks ... yet.

Then I headed up Clawhammer, intent on finishing down Black. I clipped the inside of a switchback with my foot in a bizarre moment, but then in the cold light of the LED finally saw the line on the first staircase -- and after a couple of hesitations, I cleaned it! Woot!

Nightfall at Pressley

I know it's not a big deal to a lot of folks, but getting to a point where I can clean the descent from Hickory Knob is kind of a big deal to me. After Saturday's ride, I knew I could do it ... and so the plotting began.

Ranger Station > 276 > 477 > Bennett Gap > 477 > Clawhammer > Maxwell > Black


Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY! No workout, no schedule, no expectations except awesomeness. And Pisgah delivered in spades.

It started on Buckhorn


Bridges or wet feet? Always a consideration.


Up to the Shelter on a beautiful day.


Looks like some racer types have been here ...

High atop Black, I experienced a moment like no other. See, my parents were planning a leaf-peeping trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway this year, and should have been here right now, baby notwithstanding. As I see this incredible color all around me, I can't help but remember my Mom and how much she was looking forward to visiting.

As I crested Black and started along the ridgeline, I was surrounded by gold. It was right about noon, and the beautiful yellow leaves were enveloped in a sea of mid-day light. I'm pretty sure it was as close to Heaven as I've ever been.

Pictures just don't do it justice


The clearing

I made my way across Buckwheat, stopping to help a wayward soul, and found myself on Bennett once again. Only this time, I was prepared, and was a bit short on time -- so it was game on. And I nailed it.

I didn't try Q-Bert, and ran into two fellows instead who led the way to Huck. I went to stop and slipped on the rocky surface, my one fall for the day and a nasty little charlie horse. But it gave me a breather, as the two gentlemen scrambled about below the face of the rock.

"What do you seek?" I asked.

"The Pisgah Gnome, Samford," was their reply.

"Why, that can't be!" I said. "I was just here yesterday, and so many people have passed -- surely he cannot still be here!"

But there he was!

Hello my little friend!


Does this gnome make me look fat?

I bid the now-trio farewell and wished them happy Gnoming. As for me, I set out with determination ... cleaning Bennett (except that nasty up) from that point on and finding myself at the Stables before too long. It was decision time, and I decided to go for it: All Black -- the only way to go.

A Spearfish in its natural habitat.


Sometimes I know where I've been.


Othertimes, I dream of where I'm going ...


... another day ...

It was almost perfect, with only one walk-off bar twist above Pressley as I came off the summit, and for the first time ever, a clean run from Hickory Knob. I did it! If you had told me I would one day be cleaning that sucker ... well, I wouldn't have believed you. Now, though, well ... watch out!

Truly a perfect end to a most incredible weekend. Sometimes you do get what you want for Christmas!

Ranger Station > 276 > 477 > Buckhorn Gap > Clawhammer > Black > Buckwheat > Bennett > 477 > Clawhammer > Black -- all the way!

And then -- and then! as I was pulling into the parking lot, who do I see? None other than Pisgah Productions himself, Eric Wever! And get this: Saturday and Sunday were Double Dare equipment test runs. Guess who passed the surprise gear check! I did! I did!

14 October 2011

It's Christmas Eve!

... and this man is Santa Claus.
10:30 tonight, Sycamore Cycles, Cat Gap Midnight Ride. Seasonals open in T-minus 15-1/2 hours, and the plan is to be on Cat Gap at midnight. Not sure how we'll get there -- Long Branch? Butter? Maybe a spooky run by the McCall Cemetery on the way? -- but rest assured it's gonna' be awesome. We're just off a full moon, and conditions are set to be perfect ...

"It's the most wonderful time ... of the year ..."

* Photo shamelessly stolen from Dicky, who might or might not have shamelessly stolen it from someone else.

13 October 2011

Week One

Woah. Where did the first week go?

First, some major changes for this little lady. She's doing well -- and she loves "her" baby to pieces.

She's going to be an amazing big sister!

Meantime, the guys from BIKE Magazine were in town working on their "Bible of Bike Tests" -- Daniel made sure to fly the colors!

... and make time to check out the mag ...

... but like his daddy, he goes to all the sources ...

And finally, we're going to document Daniel's first year each Wednesday with a block photo. It's so much fun to look back on Kate -- now it's his turn!

10 October 2011

Un-Expected

Psssst -- there are cute baby photos at the bottom of this post. Go ahead, skip this part and scroll down. I'll wait.

There. OK. Now, here's a funny story -- The Day Our Baby Was Born. The photos will still be at the bottom when you're done ...

I woke up last Wednesday, October 5, 2011, and I just knew. I don't know how I knew, I just did -- Kim was letting me sleep while she got Kate ready for day care, and I woke up a little when I heard her getting dressed and I saw the light on, and I just knew.

But it was still unexpected.

See, Kim wasn't due until October 22. Even though all the indications were that she was going to go early -- from the way she carried, to the visual drop she experienced over the weekend, to the fact that all our friends had gone 3-4 weeks early recently -- we still thought we'd make it to about the 15th or so. I even predicted the 18th, as that was the day that Grandma would be flying to Arizona, and both of the granddaughters were born while a grandmother was traveling!

Anyway, Kim took Kate to day care, and I headed off to work. Despite my morning premonition, everything was just trucking along -- I'm entering my busiest time of year, and was focused on keeping things pretty steady as customer catalogs ramped up. Nothing too crazy, nothing weird, just working and trying to figure out when I was going to squeeze in a ride, maybe at lunch.

And then the phone rang.

"Hey," Kim said, slightly out of breath. Caller ID showed she was on her cell phone.

"Hey! What's up?" I asked.

"I just had my doctors appointment," she said. I had forgotten -- her once-a-week checkups were on Wednesday mornings, "and they said I'm 5 cm dilated and might be 95% effaced."

"What? What do you mean, 'might be'?"

"Well, I'm not sure if she said that, or something like it. Anyway, they want to do an ultrasound to make sure there's enough room in there. I scheduled it for 1:45 so I can go to lunch with my coworkers. Oh, and she said make sure we have our bags packed -- she doesn't usually see 5 cm in the office, and if I get to 7 I won't be walking around."

This is my wife. Her baby is halfway out, and she's planning lunch for her office. I mean, yeah, it was Papa's & Beer, but still!

I, on the other hand, went into overdrive. I fired off a quick text to "Team Baby," our friends here who were set to take care of Kate, and sent an email to my office:
Hi everyone --

I just got a call from Kim from her doctor's appointment, and it sounds like things are a lot further along than we expected. We won't be making the due date!

I need to head over to the hospital this afternoon and may or may not be back. And, I may or may not be here any time in the next few days. As the doctor said, make sure you have your bags packed!!!!!

I will have my phone with me, and we have full access to e-mail in the birthing and postpartum suites.
Still, I kind of half expected to head back to the office, even though I really needed to go home and pack. I also sent a quick email to my dad, letting him know.

The next couple of hours were a blur, and I picked Kim up just before her appointment. We checked in, didn't have to wait long, and got a really nice foot picture of the kid. More importantly, everything was OK -- there was just enough room, though the baby was "ahead of schedule" by about a week or so. Estimated size was 7 lbs., 12 oz., a good size given a 37-1/2 week timeframe.

And then ... nothing.

I don't know what I expected, but I didn't expect to be doing nothing. No labor, no contractions, no ... nothing. I dropped Kim off at her office and decided to fit in a quick ride -- I could pack when we got home in the evening. Easy, low-key out-and-back on Laurel to about where the climbing really begins, and a really solid run at the tech features on the way down. I got home just as Kim and Kate did, and we had dinner with Kate.

Kate, by the way, was being stubborn. Dinner took way too long, as she was sick and didn't want to eat. Or focus. So by the time Kim took her to the bathroom, I was getting impatient, and I excused myself to go pack. I started to gather some clothes and just kind of got some stuff together. Then I heard Kate.

"Mommy, what's wrong?"

"Nothing honey. Mommy just needs to stand for a minute."

OK, no big deal, Kate was on the potty refusing to go and Kim was sitting on the edge of the tub. I can imagine how uncomfortable that might get after a bit, arguing with a toddler. I kept gathering, grabbing some stuff out of the kitchen.

Five minutes passed. Exactly five minutes. It was 6:58 p.m.

"Mommy, what's wrong?"

"Nothing honey. Mommy just needs to stand. Now go potty please."

I went into overdrive.

I don't know if it was her voice, or the timing, or what, but somehow in the back of my mind, something got triggered. My laid-back packing became focused, as I ran up and down the hallway and threw the pile of clothes from the bed into the bag. Could this be it?

We finally got Kate into her room, and as I read her a story Kim got an uncomfortable look on her face. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"We'll deal with it in a minute."

And I knew. Game on.

We got Kate into bed, and by 7:20 Kim was already having contractions 3 minutes apart. We were a little concerned that the day's office visit might trigger false labor, so we laid her down in bed and she drank some water. I grabbed my phone and started timing; although irregular for a couple of contractions, by 7:30 she was down to 2-1/2 minutes. This was real, and it was happening NOW.

We called her babysitter, who was a half hour away. She was making soup, and I asked her to come as quick as she could -- I even told her we had soup for her. I started putting things in the car -- and my Dad called, to check up on the email I sent. I'm not sure what I said to him, but he could hear in my voice that I didn't have time to talk!

By 7:50, Kim was down to 1 minute apart, and I knew we had to move. We called her coworker, who was at the house 10 minutes later to cover until Kate's babysitter got there, and we were gone. Count the contractions -- one in the living room, one at the car, one at the bottom of the hill. These were real, and these were fast -- that baby was on its way! I forgot my phone earpiece, asked Kim if I should go back for it, got a solid NO!, and so called her family as I drove stick-shift one-handed on the mountain roads to the hospital. Eight minutes later, I was Keystone Cop-ing my way to getting her into a wheelchair and through the front doors -- I kept wanting to go park the car and get our bags, thankfully all she wanted to do was get to the maternity ward!

Ding-dong, ding-dong and the doors opened. The nurse was on the phone.

"Can I help yo ... Oh, I gotta go. I have a patient."

And it was go-time.

The nurses were great, and the doctor on call was fantastic. She kept wanting to excuse herself to go look at Kim's chart, but never had a free moment! Time slowed to a crawl -- it's impossible to think that we were only there for 90 minutes before the baby was born, and that Kim was "only" in labor for 3 hours. Like with Kate, Kim was completely unassisted, an absolute rock star. Perhaps the freakiest moment was when the baby was crowning and decided to kick back -- seeing his foot poke out her belly was like something straight out of a horror movie!

And then, there he was -- our little boy! We welcomed Caleb Daniel Strout to the world at 9:51 p.m., weighing in at 7 lbs., 8 oz., at 21 inches long. In keeping with family tradition, we're calling him C. Daniel -- and the "Daniel" comes from my Mom's name Deborah Ann. He's a snuggler, but he's also curious -- he already had his eyes open while he laid in the warmer getting measured! We're also fully expecting some fireworks with Daniel ... his most active time in Kim's belly was from 8 to 10 each evening!

We brought him home on Friday, and Big Sister couldn't be more excited. We had a very nice weekend at home, and Kim even let me sneak out to ride -- in honor of the new kid, I hit Big M on Saturday (get it?) and Daniel Ridge on Sunday. We've got some beautiful weather going here right now, and we can't wait to take the kids on their first hike together ... and our first as a four-person family!

And without further ado, here are the promised photos ...








Welcome Daniel, and we promise to keep you all updated as he starts to grow!

05 October 2011

Earning it - Part I

It's a bit of foreshadowing, but I want to start out with this: Nolan LaVoie rocks. He's been there as my crew at the lowest of lows, running 3 miles through the woods to help me try to salvage a race only to have it go south just hours later, and he was there as my crew at the highest of highs, helping me pull off a hard-fought victory and a series championship at the end of a long, difficult year of uncertainty and challenges. Without hesitation, I dedicate this one to him. Thanks man!

In fact, it's Nolan's fault I was out there at all. He's got folks near Knoxville, TN, and when he told me about the three-race Tennessee Cup Endurance Moutain Bike Series near there, it sounded like fun. Eight-hour lap races are just about my sweet spot -- long enough that XC folks aren't as quick, and short enough that I can have half a weekend at home to recover after duking it out. That 7- to 12-hour length suits me just fine, and when you throw in some fun trails, relatively short laps, incredible schwag and phenominal prizes, what's not to love?

We started in April with the Ocho, at which my voodoo with Nolan unfortunately continued. With parts of the course literally *under* water, I gummed up my drivetrain and had to run the last half of my third lap -- taking me out of contention for the win behind a hard-charging Andy Applegate. Even had I not caught him, second place wasn't that far out of reach ... I finished eight laps in just on 8 hours for pride anyway, and Nolan had a fun race out there enjoying himself.

Next up was the H8R in June, and while Nolan started the day on his bike, he finished it helping me in the pit. No major mechanicals had me in second place just about 5 hours in, only just breaking the elastic on Broussard and chasing down Scott in the lead. After closing the gap over the course of 2 laps, all of a sudden Scott was done, walking backward on the course and handing me the victory -- as long as I could keep after it for 3 more hours. Which I did, even managing to stop a lap early in order to take a load off an aching knee. Dang it felt good to win!

At the time, it felt like the Ocho Reverse -- run on the same trails as April, but in the opposite direction -- was a long, long way off. And I suppose, at the time, that it was -- that was nearly four months ago! I didn't see Nolan that often over the summer, but as September began to creep closer to October, we confirmed that it was game on in Morristown! Nolan elected not to ride, and instead focused his energy on pitting for his buddy Chris from Virginia, and for Greg in the SS class and me running gears.

I picked up Greg at the butt-crack of dawn and we had a leisurely drive through Pigeon Gorge over to the Tennessee side of the hills. It's pretty country up there, and we occupied our thoughts with speculation on the upcoming Double Dare -- based on Eric's Ride Log, this year's event could be pretty interesting ...

Roll in, perfect pit spot saved by Nolan and Chris, who had braved the freak cold snap to camp out the night before. At 6'4", Chris gets the hardman award -- Because their tent didn't have a floor, he elected to sleep the night in his CR-V and then go out and make the podium! Yikes! We got dressed, got set up, and had a few minutes to chill. At this point, "Giant Guy" Sean came over and introduced himself -- I had seen him at the H8R, but derailleur problems had prevented him from challenging for the front. At a certain point in your career, though, you know what to look for in your competition, and after he rolled away I told Nolan to keep tabs on him ...

And then it was go time!