29 February 2012

Just ... Horible: Stage 1, Part 2


Stage 1, Part 2: In Which I Almost Die
As we rolled into Sumney Cove, with Courthouse Creek roaring beside us, I reminded myself that I wasn’t racing Charlie. We were going toe-to-toe, for sure, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for his abilities, and I know that when I race someone other than myself, I get into trouble – fast. Conversely, if I focus on my own race, the results sort of end up taking care of themselves. And given that there had only been two finishers in history, and we were starting with the absolute worse stage I could imagine, I needed to calm down and focus on me, not Charlie.

So I let him lead it out.

The bottom part of Sumney Cove, which runs right next to Courhouse Creek and the attendant Courthouse Falls, is flat. In fact, it’s an easy lead-in to a hike-up, hike-down hump that I’d sworn I’d only ever do in one of Pisgah Production’s races, after doing it solo once in 90-degree heat. Charlie and I didn’t exactly ease into it, but we weren’t pushing too hard either – logover followed rock followed wet seep, Charlie in the lead and me following along.

And then it happened.

Charlie eased over a small log water bar that had a mud hole on the other side, and I watched him hump over the rocks on the other side and make his way up the trail. It was a move I’ve done a thousand times if I’ve done it once, all over Pisgah and around the country, but for some reason this time went pear-shaped: I planted my front wheel into the mud and instead of going where I wanted it to, it shot out to the left and I was headed straight for a small tree. I feathered my brakes but I wasn’t stopping, just sliding in the mud, so I grabbed a handful of front brake and pulled a slight nose wheelie. I re-aimed to miss the sapling, and unclipped my left foot to steady myself.

And there was nothing there.

I was too close to the giant log that was horizontal and formed the brace holding up the trail, and when I stepped off, I stepped off into mid-air. In the blink of an eye, I was falling, flipping upside-down still attached to my bike, which then wedged itself between two trees as I continued to tumble. I rolled backwards down the slope another 20 feet, before jamming into a rhododendron and slamming to a stop. In the half-second it took to register that I was not on the trail, I was not where I was supposed to be, I also realized that I was in a very precarious situation: All at once, sight and sound returned, and as I stared back up the near-vertical slope, my bike illuminated in my head lamp, I realized that the rushing water of Courthouse Falls was mere feet below me.

If not for that rhodo, I may not have survived.

I managed to extract myself, and wedged my feet against the trunk to gain purchase as I steadied myself on my knees. I looked around and saw that I had lost a water bottle, but everything else seemed intact. (Let’s hear it for Camelbak! Yeah!) I stared up at my bike, expecting the worst, but it seemed that the only damage was that the fork and front wheel were flipped back against itself. I had lost my rear blinkie light, but it had only come apart, and miraculously as I pulled myself from root to root back up the slope, I found the fallen piece in the leaves. I yelled for Charlie but he was already out of earshot: I was completely alone, with the next rider not due through for another hour. I had to make it out on my own.

I half-slid, half pushed my bike back to the edge of the trail, and managed to haul it up and over the trail-edge tree from about 9 feet below. I was slipping in the mud and leaves, trying to use roots and trees to stay somewhat upright but failing and slipping backwards as I tried to get myself up on top. I honestly don’t remember how I did it, but I managed to gain enough purchase to get one leg up and sort-of barrel roll myself onto to the trail – what I do know is that I sat there, not moving, for several long moments while I collected myself. I was more scared than I think I’ve ever been while out riding, and if we’d been any closer to the campground, my race would have been over.

It was 3 a.m. We’d only been racing for 3 hours.

Instead of being close, we were out there – way, way out there. In fact, the safest and “easiest” way back would be to forge ahead – I figured I was 10 minutes or more behind Charlie at this point, but there was a chance that a volunteer would be at Rt. 215 with whom I could check in and gather myself – and maybe bail out. So I started hiking up, and kept hiking down, not wanting to chance anything at this point. It was very dark and I was feeling very alone, and it was a welcome relief when I saw the trees open up and the edge of the pavement arrive.

Lonely, lonely Sumney Cove.
As it turns out, there was no volunteer – our passport had been reprinted from the 2008 edition of TMHTE, so I was 4 years too late to meet anyone. I had no choice: I snapped a quick photo and started rolling down 215 – the pavement was a welcome respite, and I knew the “roads” heading back wouldn’t be too bad, as long as I paced myself. Which I did once I hit 140A – there were a few pitches where I stopped to walk, since I tweaked my back and the adrenaline of the crash had worn off, so I wasn’t in a place to push it. We were a long way from home, but like I said, taking Greg out there on DD was a great decision for me in hindsight: I knew what to expect. I reached Gloucester and grabbed a bite to eat: Like the Oracle says, by then I was feeling right as rain (or nearly so), and by the time I cleaned Butter > Cat and was back on the road to the campground, I knew everything would be OK. In fact, I rolled in just 10 minutes behind Charlie, and we both transitioned very quickly – the race was on, and we were both going after it!

Race time at the end of Stage 1: 5:37

28 February 2012

Just ... Horrible: Stage 1


Stage 1, Part 1: In Which I Begin to Race


I know I’ve said it before, but I have to say it again: Kim is awesome. There is no way this would have happened without her – I was so personally unprepared for this that I didn’t even have time to research past editions of the race, let alone get stuff ready. Kim had it dialed, cooking food and gathering supplies while I was in Minneapolis, all the while dealing with two sick kids and a house full of laundry. I did manage to get out of work just a bit early on Friday with enough time to help unload firewood and set up my tent; I tried in vain to take a nap, and I did get to eat dinner and put the kids to bed. And then it was go time.

I got to the campground with enough time to get settled and lie down for about 45 minutes. Sleep again eluded me, but at least I was relaxed – that is, until Eric unveiled the Stage 1 passport at about 11 p.m. With an hour to go before the race start, I checked in by the raging camp fire, greeted my fellow competitors, and got dressed for a long, long night in Pisgah. It was a bit breezy and in the mid-30s, but thankfully the weather had blown through earlier in the day without much precipitation. In fact, by midnight the stars were shining and the crescent moon was absolutely glowing in the sky.

If you were to ask me to design a first stage for an event called The Most Horrible Thing Ever, there is only one route I would create. And wouldn’t you know it? That was Stage 1. Exact route, taking photos at each mandatory checkpoint along the way to prove we were there:

477 (CP at Bennett) > 276 > 475B > 225 (CP at Cove Creek) > Cove Creek > 475 > Pilot Mtn Rd (CP at Farlow Gap) > Kissee Creek Rd > Courthouse Falls Rd > Sumney Cove (CP at 215) > 215 > Courthouse Falls Rd > 5003 > 140A > 475 > Cathey’s Creek Rd (CP at Butter Gap) > Butter Gap (CP at Long Branch) > Cat Gap > 475 > 276 > 477.

This was big; this was old Pisgah. In fact, maps made today don’t even show some of the road names – in the past few years, they’ve all taken on official Forest Service numbered designations. Thankfully, I had dragged Greg way over there during Double Dare back in October; I wanted to reach Sumney with him, but was glad we didn’t have to “ride” Sumney Cove Trail. Of course, this wasn’t DD – this was TMHTE, and a trip over Sumney was a suitable way to kick start the race.

Eight of us were sitting by the fire, comparing our watches like some sort of perverted SNL Mission Impossible skit. “Mine says 11:52.” “Well, mine says 11:55.” “Mine says 11:54:30.” Finally, at 11:55 agreed-upon time, Eric headed out so he could snap photos of us on the road. And five minutes later, we were off.

I was already astride my Spearfish, so I was first across the bridge and up the road. A few seconds later I was joined by FlavC – Charlie Roberts, the only other person (besides Brad Key, who was not racing this year) who had ever finished P36. He was also the odds-on favorite for the win: Charlie is an experienced multisport adventure racer who has some serious skills in the rough stuff. He took second to Brad in 2010, and there was strong determination in his approach this year. I was about to find out how much, just 40 minutes into the race.

Charlie and I at the start. Thanks to Eric for the phto.
We made our way up 477 together, chatting a bit about food and longevity – I’ve done a few lap-race 24s, but never anything longer. I asked him about his sleep strategy, which was “None, unless something serious happens.” Hmmm … I was planning on resting at some point – this could be interesting!

That’s when things got interesting. As we neared the top, he made a comment about pacing: “You want to be going a speed that allows you to eat just about anything,” he said. Which, at that moment, seemed to be just a bit slower than my pace: we hit a pitch and I put a couple of seconds into him. But we came together at Bennett Gap, the first checkpoint: I dropped my bike and fumbled with my camera; he didn’t even dismount and snapped a photo before I could get mine to focus. I was a split-second from being done, but he was already gone – not a word, and he was blasting down toward 276. What the heck?!

This was not the “nice” Charlie I had done trail work with in the past. In fact, as we dropped the gravel road, he was pulling away from me! I had to remind myself repeatedly that not only were we 45 minutes and only one checkpoint into a 36-hour race in the heart of Pisgah National Forest, but I was not there to race Charlie – I was racing the event, racing my own race, and I’d deal with Charlie later. But, this was a race, and I wasn’t there just to chill out!

That said, Charlie was gone. By the time we were on the pavement, I couldn’t see him for the curves in the road, and it was very dark as I headed for 475B. I got a little demoralized, but not too much – you never know what’s going to happen when a race spans two days, after all. And soon enough, I could see him, and without a word I rode right past him, letting him know that I knew it was game on.

We crested the first gap and he again rolled away from me on the downhill. But he wasn’t that far ahead, and on the next uphill I caught him again. “Wow, man, you’re really rolling tonight. What tires are you running?” “I’ve got these Specialized 1.95s, with an S-Works [super-bling, thin and light] on the front.” “That’s interesting – I just have my normal Pisgah setup.” “Oh, yeah: I have my race setup.”

Yikes.

Charlie’s response told me a couple of things. First, he would beat me on the downhill gravel sections. Second, some of the rough stuff might be slower for him, but he does have skills, so that might be a wash. Third, some of the mud might be tough. And finally, he was in it to win it, no question. We wouldn’t be riding together much, and definitely wouldn’t be talking. At all.

I pulled away again on 225, but on the downhill we were again together. My camera didn’t focus again at Cove Creek, and he took off – I chased pretty hard, knowing his tires weren’t as good in the muck, and I could see his light ahead of me through the forest here and there. But I had to do a quick bike adjustment, and by the time we hit 475, he was again up the road and around a bend – and way out of sight. I figured I lost probably 2 minutes, but kept after it, steady climbing and grinding out the gravel.

Before I even could register it fully, there was a soft glow on the road ahead of me. I was pulling him in, slowly but steadily, and despite another quick stop to adjust my bike, I caught him just past Long Branch. He led the turn onto my least-favorite stretch of gravel in all of Pisgah – Pilot Mtn Road on the way to Farlow Gap – and despite my self-avowed desire to “just settle in,” before I knew it, I was pulling away on the climb. I did the math, and figured I grabbed back 2 minutes on the way to Gloucester Gap, which meant that if I could keep on it, I’d have 2 minutes or more by Farlow. Just in case I needed it.

I tried really, really hard not to focus on how much I dislike Pilot Mtn Road. I’m not sure what it is, but for some reason I just can’t seem to come to grips with it – I’d rather do just about anything else, other than ride up there. And yet, here I was, for probably the fourth or fifth time in the short span since Halloween. I mean, I rode up it maybe three times in the first 2 years I lived here – and now, in just four short months, I was back at it four more times, at least. And it just never gets any better.

Thankfully, in the dark, I was able to lose all the reference points I was used to. Between that, and trying hard not to look behind me, I managed to make the parking lot without falling apart mentally, and I was excited to plunge into the extension that is more singletrack than road. Within the narrow confines of my light, and because things up top have been fairly dry, the old roadbed was rideable, and there thankfully wasn’t a lot of ice around. In fact, I cleaned the erosion rut for the first time in a while, thanks in part to only being able to see one line!

Farlow Gap, 2:30 a.m. Dan's tent is in the background
Before I knew it, I was through Deep Gap and on my way over to Farlow. I pulled up, and there was a lone tent pitched right in the middle of the Gap, blowing in the breeze, a fully packed bikepacking bike parked outside. “Hey man, what the heck?” came this disembodied voice from the darkness. “Oh, geez, I’m sorry I woke you up, I guess my light is kind of bright,” I replied. “That’s OK man, you’re racing that Horrible thing, aren’t you?” “Ha, yeah – I’m the first one in, I guess.” “Yeah, cool man. I’m Dan. They dropped me off at Sumney Cove and I came over here.” “That’s cool – we’re headed there now ourselves. There may be a couple more guys through here in a while.” “Nice. Hey, what time is it?” “It’s 2:30, almost on the dot.”

By that time, I had grabbed my camera and taken a shot, and Charlie had pulled in and snapped a pic as well. As we rolled out together, I shouted over my shoulder, “Thanks Dan, catch you later!” and Dan’s voice from out of nowhere put a startled look on Charlie’s face. It was just enough that it threw him off-guard – and we rolled out going the wrong direction! I quickly got us turned around, and absolutely bombed down Kissee Creek (aka FS5031), especially when I realized that Charlie had stopped to put on more clothes and I had a gap.

Sure enough, though, he caught me toward the bottom, and we rolled into Sumney Cove together. And then I almost died.

27 February 2012

Just … Horrible: The Prologue

I’m going to have to break this up a bit, since it’ll likely be long. I’m also not going to try to turn this into a step-by-step race report, but forgive me if it happens a bit – my editing skills aren’t back to speed just yet!

Prologue, In Which I Accept the Challenge
I’ll never forget the first time I heard of it. “Are you doing ‘The Most Horrible Thing Ever?’” my coworker, Eric, asked me when I moved here in late 2009.

“The what?” I asked.

“’The Most Horrible Thing Ever’,” he replied. “Six stages in 36 hours in Pisgah, in February. Starts at midnight on Friday, and you race until noon on Sunday. No one has ever finished it.”

I hadn’t yet experienced Pisgah. “Uh, I’m not so sure. I don’t know Pisgah that well. Probably not this year,” I replied.

But the seed was planted.

TMHTE wasn’t held in 2011. So when I missed my chance in 2010 – renamed that year to the slightly kinder ‘Pisgah36’ – and the future of the event was unclear, I wasn’t certain I’d ever get to do it. And I wanted to, really badly – if I could finish (a very big “if” – only two people ever had), I’d be the first person ever to complete PMBAR, Double Dare, ORAMM, SWANK, the Pisgah Stage Race, and P36. I was looking to do them all in a row in 2011, but barring that I just wanted to do them – it may seem silly, but I always thought it would be kind of cool to say I’m the first, or the only, person to do something. As well, I wasn’t just finishing to finish: I wanted to win. Greg and I took 4th at PMBAR; 2nd and 4th at DD; and I was top 20 at ORAMM … admittedly, SWANK was just a finish a couple years back, and PSR was a bit of a stretch, but I did them both.

P36 eluded me, and it didn’t look like it was going to happen. And then I saw the forum post:

“Pisgah Productions is not doing a Pisgah36 this year. So, Upper White Pines is booked from midnight on 2/24 until noon on 2/26 for a good old fashioned unofficial Pisgah throw down. This is not any sort of official race or event, but it really will be the most horrible thing ever. Really.”

Officially unofficial, it was game on. Though slightly under the radar, the structure was established, the passports were sure to be heinous, and the players were ready to play. The timing couldn’t have been worse – my biggest show of the year was the week before, I was away from home for 7 days, I got home at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and the race started at midnight on Friday. Plus, Eric “PMBAR Honcho” Wever had let slip that this was no kinder, gentler ‘P36’ – we were back to The Most Horrible Thing Ever, and his sole objective was 100% DNF. Or, as he put it later, “I designed something that would break Brad Key” – an endurance racing legend in the area and one of the two finishers in 2010.

What could be more Horrible than that?

15 February 2012

Confirmation

We were about 2/3 the way up Wash Creek Road last night -- for the second time -- and Than confirmed what I've always known.

"Your wife must be awesome."

Like I said, I've been privy to this knowledge for a while -- like, nearly 19 years (or 16 if you count the "wife" part) -- but it's always nice to get external validation.

To wit:
  • Daniel is 19 weeks old today. Nineteen weeks, and she has him trained: Sleeping through the night on a mostly regular basis, smiling all the time, totally chilled unless he's hungry. As Than pointed out: "When ours was 18 weeks, there was no way I was leaving the house."
  • Yesterday was Valentine's Day. With upcoming travel and a full week off the bike, just ahead of some serious Horribleness, Kim knew I'd be jittery for a ride. Not only did she give her blessing for me to visit my mistress, Pisgah, instead of spending a quiet night at home with her, she was also understanding and forgiving when my "might be 90 minutes" ride turned into nearly 3 hours. This, after she had to spend all day at home with two sick kids!
  • And ... and ... AND! She did my laundry while I was out playing in the woods with my friends.
How awesome is that?

In all seriousness, I really appreciate the love and support that Kim gives me. I couldn't have achieved my dreams without her. Someday -- someday! -- we will "settle down" and things will get quiet, and we'll spend a bit more time together. For now, though, I don't think I'm going to see her for the next 2 weeks or so, and when I called to tell her that in a panic she just said, "well, we'll be OK. Just take it one day at a time."

How did I get so lucky?

Thank you sweetheart! Love you and see you soon!

10 February 2012

Weather or not, here I come

After weeks of unbelievable weather -- it was warmer in January than it was during Double Dare way back in October -- we're expecting flurries and wind tonight in the mountains. Just in time, too, as I have just one free weekend (this one) in which to explore as much of Pisgah as possible in preparation for some horrible happenings in my future.

"Training" such as it is, has heretofore been going very well. It's easy when it's at least 40 degrees outside, every day. I haven't gotten much volume, but the rides I've managed have been consistent, and the workouts have been solid. But, it's too early to really be thinking about "the season," at least for me. In years past, I'd be shooting for 20+-hour weeks right about now, plowing my way through the Chicago winter ... but now, racing doesn't really start until later, and it goes later in the year, so what's the point of braving cold rain and wind?

Until tomorrow, that is. And not a moment too soon.


06 February 2012

W-recked

Well, at least it'll make me stronger.

But in the meantime, I'm wrecked.

Facing an off-and-on rain event that became more off than on through the afternoon, Greg and I made the sensible choice to hike instead of ride on Saturday. And, since we're both bikers looking to build some fitness/strength heading into the season, we naturally decided to gain as much vert as we could, as quickly as we could: Think Stairmaster workout, only on dirt and in the middle of the forest. There's a nice little trail on the edge of the Cradle of Forestry that basically goes straight: Straight north, straight up into the sky, from the north edge of the Pink Beds up the side of the Dividing Ridge, across the drainage from the Pisgah Inn. It's 1700 ft. or so in just a few miles, with a nice little lollipop option at the top around the familiar territory of Pilot Rock and the Gnome Trail. Plus, it's hiking only, and being bikers we don't give ourselves that many chances to do hiking-only trails.

It was a beautiful walk, with stunning views once we passed through the clouds and the ceiling lifted. The sun came out as we made our way over the top of the ridge in the shadow of Mt. Pisgah, and more than once we remarked that it may have been a good day for a ride after all. Well, I made that remark -- any other year, I wouldn't care, and a 4-hour hike on the first Saturday in February would be just what the doctor ordered. Except this year, I'm supposed to be "racing" in a few weeks, and I'm sort-of low on saddle time. But on the way down we saw one of my competitors, who was trail running with his dog -- running! -- so I didn't feel quite as bad. Except that he was running. And we weren't. Hmmm ...

Before heading home, we nipped over to the base of Pilot Rock, another hike-only trail that we usually fly by at 20 miles an hour on our way down. It was a pretty cool jumble of massive rocks, and served as yet another Pisgah reminder of how insignificant is our time on this planet. It's unreal to ponder the forces that formed these mountains, that they once were as high as the Rockies and are now 1/3 as tall, and that all those boulders were connected together at some point. Incredible.

I had plans on Sunday afternoon, so I took advantage of a near-60-degree morning drenched in sunshine to gravel grind my way through the area nearby. From the Hatchery I headed up 475B to 276, then out-and-back to Grassy Lot Gap on 1206. It felt great to be out on a bike, and despite a bit of protest from my hiking muscles, the climbs went well and I felt strong-ish. Like a bike rider, at least.

After that, it was time to get dirty. I had to drive from one side of the mountain to the other, to the trail work being done on Bracken Mountain above Brevard. This trail will eventually connect the City with the Forest, and it was my second time helping to clear corridor in a volunteer effort that has made incredible progress since the New Year thanks to favorable weather and a massive outpouring of support. Stephen and Carlos and Josh had been out there sawyering since mid-morning, and our job was to come behind with loppers to get the small stuff, and also to move the spoils off to the side. With 30 or so people out there, we caught up to the sawyers in no time, and dang if that corridor is clean! It's pretty great to be part of such an enthusiastic group of folks.

Only, I'm wrecked. I think folks are going to be in for a surprise when they first experience the trail on Bracken. If City residents are expecting another Estatoe Trail, they're in for a bit of an awakening. See, Estatoe runs right along the Davidson River, and is on flat, fairly gentle ground -- it's graded, has great bridges, and is fun and safe for families.

Bracken, however, is going to be awesome. Even if the plan calls for crushed fine on the tread and structures over the drainages, the terrain back there is rugged enough that no hike or bike experience will be mistaken for easy. The corridor goes up and down, and up some more, around and back, past waterfalls and shoulders that offer incredible views of downtown. There's a big loop at the top that is almost cleared (in anticipation of the machining that will take place to build the trail), which will have strings on either end that connect to the City on one side and 475C on the other -- a beautiful ride down to the Hatchery. We've been working on that loop, and let me tell you -- it's tough.

Folks here talk about "Pisgah Miles" when we describe our adventures in the forest. A mile in Pisgah is unlike a mile anywhere else, we say. For instance, once upon a time I could knock out 26 miles of Kettle singletrack in under 3 hours ... a 3-hour ride in Pisgah, on the other hand, might net me half that on a good day, depending on what we're riding.

And Bracken, though it's not on National Forest land, is definitely in Pisgah.

We spent 4 hours out there yesterday, and cleared a bit more than a mile. But it was a Pisgah Mile. It was unreal, trying to snip our way through rhododendron thickets on sideslopes that approached 60 or 70 degrees. The ground was slick, the embedded (and hidden) logs were slicker, and the under- and overstory were darn near overwhelming. As much as I love trail work, yesterday was tough -- I was more than happy to not have a sawyer's certification, and to only be "lugging" loppers around. We were in the most difficult part of the loop, and despite a long, long line of volunteers strung out along the trail corridor, progress was slow and difficult. And yes, it was fun -- but man, oh, man, today I'm hurting.

I only went down once, bashed my elbow pretty good another time, and only had one tree dropped on my head by a less-than-aware fellow volunteer, but today I feel like I went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. Nearly the entire work day was spent with the slope to our left, so my ankles and feet are goofed up -- blisters and soreness in places I didn't think could get blisters or sore. Thanks to the wonderful weather, I was in short sleeves, so I'm also sporting this year's first vegetation scratches -- a sure sign of a good day in the woods. My 6'2" height and telescoping loppers came in handy out there, but today I can't lift my arms above my chest. And I slept so deeply that I didn't even hear my alarm this morning, reminding me that I needed to go to work.

That said, I feel great. It is super fun to be out there playing in the woods in a way that will make it possible for other people to play too. I'm going to be able to take Kate and Daniel up there and point to the trees I cut -- personally -- to help make the trail. I'll get to ride from the Hatchery, do a loop, drop into Brevard for coffee, and ride back. 

The soreness will fade -- today I'm wrecked; tomorrow I'll be smiling.

And it'll make me stronger.

03 February 2012

Turning dirt

I've been spending a lot of time lately with people who wear green and brown for a living.

Most of them have this badge on their uniform; but others, mostly state and municipal-type folk, have other insignia from other agencies. So far, most of the time has been spent in meeting rooms, but soon enough, we'll have dirt under our feet.

As of last night, I've signed on for the Greater Pisgah Trail Crew, one of a handful of volunteers who will be approved to work on trails in the Pisgah Ranger District. It's a bit of a restrictive process -- no more open-volunteer "Dirty Thursdays" around here -- but it's also understandable, given the sensitive nature of our somewhat fragile ecosystem and the historical sites scattered throughout the Forest, not to mention litigious risk managers. I won't actually get out for a few more weeks -- probably in early March -- but in the meantime there are more meetings and trails on other lands that need work.

I'm pretty stoked, to say the least. Literally starting before I was born, I've been recreating on our National lands. (For those of you who knew my Mom, can you imagine a very pregnant Deb Strout -- like, within a week or three of my due date -- camping in a tent and sleeping on a foam mattress pad, out in the desert? Ha! Me neither, but I'm assured that it happened!) Tim and I grew up playing G.I. Joe in every little patch of forest we could find, taking camping trips as a family around the country (and into Canada!) and stealing out to local camp sites every chance we got. And in addition, if there's one thing I learned from my parents, and their parents before them, it's that we have a duty to give back.

Besides, it's fun.

I don't get a chance to talk about it much here, but in addition to my work, racing, parenting and husbanding duties, I've taken on a pretty active role in helping to shape the future of bicycling here in the mountains, in North Carolina, regionally, and even on a national level. I'm in a unique position to do so, with the backing of a growing business and a passion for just about every form of cycling there is. Plus, thanks to my work with WBR, an understanding of just what the bike can do to change people's lives.

That usually means I get to sit in self-described "butt numbing" meetings, and I've been to my fair share. Some of the best, of course, are when we're talking trail work, and I've had a chance to get schooled in trail building technique by some of the best builders out there. Or like the meetings lately, in which the Forest Service is undertaking a facilitated public comments process to help them shape recreation planning for the future. Some of the more difficult are when we're meeting with staff of an acrimonious Congressman who fails to see bicycling as a viable transportation choice, here in this century.

Balancing chair time with time in the woods is important to me. The obvious choice is to go for a ride, and I do that plenty. But I gotta' tell you ... deep down, I really think building trail is more fun. More satisfying. More rewarding. That's not to say I didn't mount up my NiteRider last night and hit Big M for a while after the meeting, but it is to say that Sunday's planned ride won't be that long, and will only be in the morning, since we'll be out with loppers on Bracken Mountain that afternoon. 

And I can't wait.