30 April 2012

Racing, but not

Is it racing if you don't know it?

Last night sitting at dinner with the fine folks from the Rockshox Experience, we saw a Lycra-clad guy, rolling through Pack Square in downtown Asheville ... with a number still pinned to his jersey. Seriously. We hadn't had a race in Asheville for 5 days. I mean, yeah, Pack Square is ripe with the stench of natural body oils and trustafarians, but he was in Lycra. Even if you're not going to wash the jersey, at least unpin the number!

That's sort of how this weekend rolled: A good friend from Chicago landed Friday night, initiating a stellar evening of peanuts, corn hole and Indian street food (Namaste, y'all!) that didn't devolve into too much shop talk with the crew from Suspension Experts. Just enough to remind us how we knew each other, but one of the things I love about Asheville is everyone's amazing backstory. Makes for some great dinner conversation.

It did make the grunt up 1206 a bit ... um ... not so fun, early Saturday morning, though. Even moreso because my giant Indian rice pancake was outdone by Greg's sushi-and-sake-and-Facebook debauchery. Nevertheless, Dicky was apparently feeling insecure about his lack of turning pedals in anger, and had challenged a couple of us Hill People to a ride in the mountains. It was a race, only he neglected to tell us. So we, the Hill People, did what Hill People do -- we parked at Fisherman's and rode up to Yellow Gap. Not being Hill People, Dicky and his squad drove to the top, thus starting their ride fresher and smelling less like the guy in Lycra I would see 36 hours hence. So when Ben missed the on-ramp to the sideways log pile halfway up Laurel and bounced 4 feet in the air, apparently Dicky was keeping score, and the fact that we had 1,000 feet of climbing more in our legs at that point counts for nothing.

Charlottetonians 1, Hill People Nil.

Which would have been OK, given that Jamie, Ben, Greg and I knew where to turn the screws, only I put the Charlotte folks over the top for good a few minutes later, before we even got a chance to make it even, when I let my front wheel wander a bit too close to the edge, which gave way just enough to put me on the ground.

Charlottetonians 2, Hill People Nil.

Which was pretty much like an own-goal. Damnit.

So, we lost the race. Which, truthfully, would have happened anyway -- Dicky brought a ringer, who absolutely slaughtered us, on our home trails. The Hill People call ex-Army helicopter rescue pilot Geoff Bergmark one of our own; Charlotte folks have Lee, a first-generation Vietnamese American who was Airborne or Rangers or Special Ops or Black Beret or something like that. Whatever he was, on a bike, he is fast. And whereas Geoff is still young enough to take risks and not know any better, Lee is already north of 40 -- and he is killing it. Mark my words, watch for this guy in the Eleven-One -- now that he knows the trails a bit better, he will punish anyone who dares to challenge him.

And now this message will self-destruct. It's an Operations thing.

With my palm bruising and swelling nicely (don't worry, it's my left hand), the descent of Pilot was a bit tough, but I made the most of it. And S Mills wasn't too bad, as I led out Lee on the descent of the wheelchair ramp to the river at Mach 10. And Squirrel was OK; Cantrell, on the other hand (ha, ha, get it?) kind of sucked. We rolled S Mills to Mullinax, and then bombed Laurel Creek -- Greg wouldn't let up, and Dicky was doing this awesome "tick bite dance" while trying to keep up on the lower portion. I'll have to take him to a strip club someday -- I think he'd give a better lap dance than the professionals.

Finally we crawled back up 5015, and I'll just point out that I held back with Greg for a while, and then slowly climbed my own pace after the halfway mark ... which before too long reeled in Dicky. (Not sure how that doesn't count, but whatever.) We bid our adieus at the Gap, and we Hill People rolled the gravel back to our cars -- where we do what Hill People do, and drank beer and sat in the river and bullsh!tted for a while. The Charlotte folks, meanwhile, loaded their car and drove on out of our Forest -- we were still sitting by the side of the road when they rolled past. And good riddance, for a few days at least -- because they'll be back, sooner rather than later.

And next time, we'll all be racing.

23 April 2012

My morning on the Swamp Rabbit

As much as I love living in the Southeast, and specifically in the mountains of North Carolina, there is one thing in particular that we are lacking compared to our brethren north of the Mason-Dixon line: Rail-trails. Greenways. Bike paths. Bike lanes.

In a word: Infrastructure. Bicycle infrastructure.

Now, don't misunderstand me. In the debate that rages within certain circles, I am not what I'd consider to be an infrastructurist. I do not believe in "separate-but-equal" when it comes to bicycle facilities, because all too often I've seen "equal" devolve into a rubble-strewn, potholed, impassable mess that forces riders out into the traffic they're trying so hard to avoid. Rather, I'm of the mind that you need to mix and match your opportunities: If I'm out for a training ride, I'm part of traffic on open roads; if I'm mountain biking I'm looking for singletrack; and if the day calls for an easy ride, or an afternoon with the family, I'd like to have easy access to a relatively flat, nicely paved, full-of-amenities bike path through bucolic neighborhoods and countryside.

Admittedly, I'm spoiled. My gateway drug to the world of shaved legs and lycra was an early rail-trail along the Fox River Valley in northern Illinois that was built just two blocks from my boyhood home. The Fox River Trail was my escape, as summer day after summer day I would enjoy rides from 30 minutes to more than 8 hours, exploring the world around me on solo journeys that always finished with a nice, big Dairy Queen Blizzard from the trailside stand in Dundee (Brownie Delight with extra chocolate sauce, thankyouverymuch).  I witnessed firsthand -- and at a young age -- the transformational nature of converted railbeds, how a thin ribbon of reclaimed right-of-way could be changed to a paved boulevard of recreational and economic opportunity. Our meager downtown -- like others along the path -- was pretty well left for dead when the railroad left town; as I grew up and as the Trail was built and expanded, I got to see a rebirth "along the path" that begot civic pride, business development and health and welfare in a way I'm not sure anyone fully expected. We redefined "quality of life" before we even knew what that meant.

I now find myself in a community that in some ways is reminiscent of my childhood home. Hendersonville is about the same size as Algonquin when I lived there; like Algonquin, it's surrounded by a fairly sizable and rural county, and like Algonquin, Hendo is an old-time railroad town that has a set of unused, near-abandoned railroad tracks running through it. Quite unlike Algonquin, at the time a sleepy bedroom community that defined the edge of the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area, Hendersonville has a lot of closer-in amenities and things to do -- when I lived in northern Illinois, we measured trips by at least the half-hour, as in, the nearest grocery store was 30 minutes from home; and for a long time the nearest department store (at the mall!) was nearly an hour (two half-hours) away.

By contrast, Hendersonville has a vibrant downtown that has already undergone a renaissance, and it's in close proximity to a host of really cool tourist and recreation destinations. We absolutely have that going for us. Though we're not far from Asheville, we are very much our own, self-contained city. But we're still rural at heart, and the acres of apple orchards that stretch as far as the eye can see to the east attest to our agrarian mindset. And like in Algonquin 30 years ago, that mindset does not lend itself to thinking favorably of nontraditional recreational infrastructure improvements -- particularly when it comes to bike paths.

We have one greenway, the Oklawaha, that is built on the banks of Mud Creek. I'm appreciative that it connects one city park to another, but I have to be blunt: It's pretty pathetic. It's barely 3 miles long. It floods if we get more than a drop of rain. It's shoved off to the side, feeling for all the world like a project that was conceived and executed simply to say "hey, look, we have a greenway."

Over the next 2 years, we'll also get a bike lane that will connect Fletcher (nearby to both Cane Creek and the hospital where Kim works) to the Wal-Mart in Hendersonville. This I can get exicted about -- the road it is on is fun to ride, and this lane will enable bikes-as-transportation opportunities for a lot of people who otherwise have no safe north-south alternative. It will also create some recreational opportunities. But getting to this point hasn't been easy: local advocates had to fight tooth-and-nail to get the lane, and even then it almost cost one transportation planner his job.

The reason I bring all this up is that we have a major opportunity facing us. That near-abandoned rail line I mentioned connects Hendersonville 18 miles west to Brevard, passing through the towns of Laurel Park, Horse Shoe and Etowah and ending at the gates to the Pisgah National Forest. "The Ecusta Trail," as its known, would be a re-imagining of the Norfolk Southern rail line that served the Ecusta paper mill -- a mill that closed in 2002. In fact, the spur that served the mill itself has been formally abandoned and turned over to a developer, who plans to build a middle-density development on the property just inside the Brevard city limits.

What's more, that corridor connects to a greenway that already runs near the property. Brevard and Transylvania County realized fairly recently that their future is likely tied to their ability to market themselves as a great place to live and play and visit. That greenway, and new trails that connect the city to the National Forest, is part of a resurgent Brevard -- a Brevard in which "active tourism"-related activities have become a integral part of their vision of the future.

But still we struggle. Setting aside the obvious acrimony of dealing with the railroad (who still own the corridor and have no plans to formally abandon), what frustrates me most is, quite frankly, my neighbors. One of the main reasons we don't enjoy the same recreational amenities that I grew up with is, simply, fear. This was made clear to me in a public meeting a few weeks back, during which -- despite the organizers erstwhile attempts to keep things on track -- it was made clear that my fellow Henderson and Transylvania County residents are scared of the unknown that a rail-trail represents. They fear the physical manifestation of the trail, they fear a perceived increase in crime, they fear a financial burden. And what's more, they're obstinate: It does not do to present 30 years of positive data in an attempt to persuade them -- because that data is from "not here." That is, I can't describe the changes that happened in downtown Elgin, Illinois, due to the Fox River Trail because Elgin is "not here." What's worse, it's "up North." Or the rebirth of Damascus, Virginia, thanks to the Virginia Creeper Trail -- even Damascus, only a 2-1/2-hour drive from Hendersonville, is "not here." So, for some reason I cannot fathom, it doesn't count.

The organizers took that into account, however, and presented a case that might as well be "here:" That of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, connecting Travelers Rest to Greenville, South Carolina. Just a 35-minute drive down the watershed from Hendersonville, the Swamp Rabbit is a converted tram line that had been long abandoned, splitting Travelers Rest in half and forming a long scar that ran throughout Greenville County. But what was once an eyesore had been transformed, and the planner of the trail invited the hundred-plus folks assembled at West Henderson High School to visit Travelers Rest, to sit on a bench, and to pick out one of the trail users who looked most like us: because rest assured, you will find someone using that trail who is just like you, whether you're a lycra-clad wanna-be racer or a farmer who wasn't too keen on having "those bike folks" ride through your back yard.

So last Tuesday, that's what I did. I had a visit planned to a customer near Columbia, SC, and so on the way I stopped in Travelers Rest.

And I was transported back in time.

All of a sudden, I was a kid again. I was riding an easy pace, wondering at the beauty that surrounded me, riding as far as I could in the time allowed. I was back along the Fox River, only I was really next to the Reedy River, and I was seeing the world through the rose-colored glasses that only a casual bike ride on a pristine bike path can provide. It was incredible, and I can't wait to take Daniel and Kate there, and Kim, and tell them about all the awesome adventures I had on a similar bike path when I was younger. I also can't wait to tell this story, to anyone who will listen, because Travelers Rest is now a pretty little town, Greenville has attracted businesses who look at Asheville/Fletcher/Hendersonville and don't see the commitment to quality of life that they think should be there,* and by God someday I want to be able to ride a bicycle, with my kids, on a safe route from our home to the Pisgah National Forest. There's no reason on earth that shouldn't happen. So let's make it so.

* Thankfully, there has been some major movement with regards to this lately. Both Sierra Nevada and New Belgium Brewing have selected Henderson County and Asheville as their new East Coast homes, and both have cited the recreation opportunities and quality of life as major drivers in their decisions. What we've experienced here too long, though, is that we look like we've got it going on, only to fall short in execution -- it is my sincere hope that both these companies will help spur lasting change in the mountains.


Here's a small taste of what The Swamp Rabbit is all about:

It was pretty cool -- 9:30 on a Tuesday morning, I expected to have the place to myself. And while it wasn't crowded, every time I looked up, there were more people on the trail -- and to my great surprise, it was a pretty diverse audience. That's the impact a project like this can have on a community! 

Small enterprises like "Alleykat's" lemonade stand add an ambiance and an economic driver to a path like this. 

Obviously, not all the neighbors are scared of trail users! 

It was so cool to see this -- I'm used to the old-school metal gates blocking vehicular traffic; a tree is a much more elegant solution! 

In a nod to its rail heritage, The Swamp Rabbit has a couple of old rail cars for the kids to climb on! 

The trail is well marked, with signage and half-mile posts along its length, and has quiet spots to sit and rest every few hundred feet. 

In remembrance of Greenville County cyclists who have been killed or injured. 

Bad photo, but the whole time near TR, you're in the shadow of Paris Mountain. Pretty cool -- make a day of it and go mountain biking too! 

Near downtown, showing how the trail has been integrated into the retail landscape. Imagine when this was a set of unused tracks, how divisive it must have been! 

There are amazing amenities all along the trail, even a pump track at the northern end in the county park where I parked my car! 


... And my favorite photo, a driving range owner who got creative, dug up a bunch of garage-sale bikes, and now rents them out for $10 a pop. That's the American spirit at work, folks!

19 April 2012

Everything old is new again


Ever since my trip to Washington, I’ve been mulling over where we’re at as a society. Obviously, I have specific ideas with regards to bicycling, and more specifically its place in modern transportation and recreation policy, but it’s broader than that, too. I may have mentioned it before, but if you weren’t aware, this country is being run by 25-year-olds. For every elected official who sits on the floor of the Senate or the House, there is a gaggle of just-out-of-grad-school, well-trained PoliSci majors who serve as “Legislative Assistants” in charge of certain areas of policy. These kids are smart, they know their stuff, and they’re passionate about what they do.

In order to help us better relate to them in our meetings on the Hill, the League of American Bicyclists brought in one of them as a keynote speaker. You may have heard of Jason Dorsey, the “Gen Y Guy” – after all, he’s been on such old-line media outlets as The Today Show and 60 Minutes. Or you may not have, as generational dynamics isn’t top-of-mind for most folks – though it’s pretty important, as we live in a society in which – for the first time – no less than four generations are working side-by-side in every industry and every factory in this country. Regardless, Jason’s Washington, DC, think tank is doing the research for you; or rather, for the companies that want to influence you, your parents, your children, your neighbors and your grandparents.

What’s tying this all together for me personally is Rent. For those of you who know me, you know that seeing Rent for the first time literally changed my life. I’ve touched on that here before: The adaptation of La Boehme set in modern-day New York City struck a nerve that set into motion a series of life changes without which I would be a wasted mess destined for an early grave.

But here’s the funny thing: I first saw Rent in 1997. It was the “Angel” tour, at the Shubert Theater, and the Broadway originator of the Mark character, Anthony Rapp, joined the cast for a short run. Kim dragged me there, darned near kicking and screaming, a 285-pound middle-aged guy trapped in a 24-year-old’s body, cramming myself into the old theater’s seats. I was so taken with this amazing story unfolding on the stage that I immediately began to change who I was and the way I viewed the world; I bought the soundtrack, and went on to see the show at least five (six? seven?) more times, including once at the Nederlander before it closed its historic run. It became an important part of the fabric of my life.

Fast-forward 15 years. That soundtrack is never far from my playlist, though now in a digital rather than tactile (CD) form. Snippets of songs from the show run through my head from time to time, particularly after Mom passed away. And then the other day it hit me:

The cultural themes – and even some of the specifics – are as germane today as they were 23 years ago when Jonathan Larson began working on it.

Was Larson a prophet? I doubt it. I love his work (seeing the raw tick, tick … BOOM! at age 33 provided an interesting context to Rent), but I’m not one to deify folks. We all have something to offer; we’re all special. But what I keep coming back to, what keeps stopping me in my tracks, is that our society is so cyclical that even from a dated musical like Rent we can draw day-to-day references.

Dated? Yes. Certainly, La Boehme and Rent are timeless in their themes. But the specific way they deal with those themes, the context in which they exist, give an exactness to the tales that ensures them to forever serve as snapshots of the period in which they were created. And for a while there, Rent seemed pretty dated in the strongest sense of the word: The Alphabet City was gentrified, AIDS was on the decline (or at least perceived to be under control), the global economy was humming and technology seemed to be realizing its potential.

So what happened? How did we get here? How the hell?

Newt Gingrich is in the spotlight. The economy is struggling. People are still contracting HIV and dying of AIDS, and ignoring the warnings. The gay community is under attack. The "mainstream" is being fenced in by authoritarian, small-minded people. Technology has taken over our lives to the point where reality is only defined by what’s on our computer screens or on television. (And what of that? Hell, Larson even included a reference to non-Manhattanites that was quickly adapted to Jersey years before Jersey Shore hit the airwaves.)

Sounds a lot like the early 1990s, doesn’t it?

So here’s what’s been on my mind these last couple of weeks: We may be missing an opportunity. As has been demonstrated recently, it is becoming clear that a certain portion of the next generation is lacking a sense of history. Now, I know this is an complaint put up by every generation before me, but I also think that today it’s worse: At the pace we’re living now, with the overwhelming fire hose of information that is available and a lack of good practices to parse it, things get lost in the shuffle. Important things. Things like the fact that Titanic was a real event, not just a disconnected fantasy.

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. I believe that fully. I can’t help it – ask anyone who knows me, and you’ll hear an earful about the boring historical references I make no matter where I’m standing. I study what’s come before, as I think it’s important that we discover the past, understand the drivers, recognize the context, in order to move beyond it. And as the next generation joins the workforce, as my generation (finally!) takes over, as the Greatest Generation passes on and the Boomers retire, we would do well to learn from what has happened. Or at the very least, spend some time researching how we got here.

I don’t want to be the crotchety old guy wagging his finger on this. But it’s tough – every time I have a conversation with someone younger than about 31 or 32, I find myself reminding them that there was a recession before there was dot-bomb. Sting was part of a band once upon a time. And by God, George Lucas once rocked our world.

I love Rent. It will always hold a place in my heart. But like Hair for my parents (the only 8-track tape they had on their cross-country drive of a “honeymoon”! “The Age of Aquarius” indeed!), I would like to put Rent in its place, and draw from it when I need to. I’d like for us, as a society, to move past where we were 20 years ago. I don’t like that we’re caught in what seems to be a never-ending, vicious spiral, and I believe the best way out is to learn from the mistakes we’ve already made. So let’s do that: Let’s move forward with a sense of where we come from, while simultaneously challenging the assumptions that got us here. Let’s take this time to learn from each other, to capitalize on our strengths, and to push onward in a constructive manner. We need to seize this opportunity and collectively grab hold of where we're going.

Or, as Jonathan Larson wrote so many years ago:

Will I wake from this nightmare? There’s only now. There’s only here. Give in to love or live in fear. No other path, no other way … [there’s] no day but today.

13 April 2012

Funk

After last week's stellar finish, you'd think I'd be riding a wave this week.

I'm not.

Instead, I'm in a serious funk. A whole lotta' personal crap all kind of happened at once on Monday, and I've spent the rest of the week floating instead of carving. Head down, trying not to make waves.

I'm pissed off, upset, sad, tired and ... did I mention pissed off already? I know it's not constructive, I know I can choose to let it go, I know I should -- but I won't. Particularly because there's a recurring theme I'm railing against, if only in my own mind, and I'd like to find a way to break the cycle. But I can't do it alone, and I don't have much support.

I'm hoping my triangle theory kicks in tomorrow: With all the personal junk, I should be flying: When all else fails, at least I (usually) have my riding. But even that's not a given right now, which should worry me more than it does, but I'm having trouble mustering the passion.

I'll tell you what, though, there have been a few bright spots. One in particular that I think caught everyone by surprise: When New Belgium Brewery announced they were opening an East Coast facility in Asheville, they specifically mentioned the outdoor recreation opportunities here, including bicycling, as a part of the attraction. Like many folks, they see the greenways over by the river and get excited ... and it's not until they spend more time here that they realize that the infrastructure doesn't really extend beyond a few short blocks. (Note the word "image" in the headline.) But their vision and passion, together with Sierra Nevada in Henderson County, may help the bicycle master plan to move closer to reality: Is it any coincidence that Asheville announced they were accepting bids to improve the River Arts District the very next day, after New Belgium's announcement?

My hope is that we as a three-county, maybe four, region finally get over our petty differences and infighting to really capitalize on everything Western North Carolina has to offer for outdoor recreation, and bicycling in particular. A certain few folks have been fighting for that for the past three decades, and there was a palpable excitement in the air at Liberty Bicycles' 32nd Anniversary party last night -- we may have finally hit a tipping point. Only time will tell, but will Daniel and Kate enjoy safe alternatives to riding their bicycles on Haywood Road and NC-280? I'd like to think we'll be here to see that come to pass, and I know I'll be doing my part to help make it happen.

Hey, I know. I'll go for a ride. Maybe that'll help me get out of this funk. "Singletrack therapy" usually does!

09 April 2012

Super-hero dirt

The hits just keep on coming.

After the hero dirt a few weeks back, I didn't think things could get any better.

They could, and they did.

It was stormy last week, so Tuesday night's ride-cum-birthday celebration was kind of washed out. And the Thursday evening rides didn't happen. But with a few folks from Wisconsin in town, it didn't take much to motivate me for some amazing riding, celebrating 31 years on the bike! (I learned to ride a bike on Easter Sunday, 1981!)

Friday, with feeling:
From Fairview > No. 9 Road > Merrill's > Concord > 74A > 64 > St. Paul's > Clear Creek > Bearwallow (to the top) > Mills Gap > Cane Creek > Upper Brush Creek

Phenomenal road ride with a good bunch -- they were flying after having ridden all week already!

Saturday solo, best conditions I've ever experienced:
Thrift > Black > TPG > singletrack > S Mills > Mullinax > Squirrel > S Mills > Buckhorn > Black > Avery Creek > 477 > 276

Things were going great until I missed an up-and-over on Squirrel. And then another, a few minutes later. I don't know what it is about Squirrel in that direction, but I can never seem to get the rocks. I much prefer climbing them.

Sunday road, fit in between Easter entertaining:
Hendo > Tuxedo via Mine Gap > Watershed > Mine Mtn > 176 > Saluda > Watershed > Tuxedo > Hendo out to Jackson Park

Can't pass up an Easter ride, and it was gorgeous out there! I'm really getting back into road riding here; not that I wasn't before, but with Pisgah so close, it's hard not to hit the dirt. Leaving from home means more time on the bike, though, so that's what I did!

Good stuff coming up, bikes need some love quickly as racing is about to start again. Anyone have a spare couple of hours they're hiding?

02 April 2012

Ad-vocation

You know your weekend is going to be pretty incredible when you see this waiting for your group ride:

Thing is, we weren't spending time with Dave "I'm the guy who beat Lance" Wiens. Or even Dave "Mountain Bike Hall of Famer" Wiens. Because, as you know if you've ever met him, those guys don't exist.

Instead, we were hanging out with Dave "Gunnison Trails" Wiens. And you'd be forgiven if you weren't aware that this Dave Wiens existed: A visit to the Gunnison Trails organization web site reveals absolutely no information (unless you know he's married to Olympic Bronze medalist Susan DeMattei) that a world-famous, world-class, pioneer mountain bike racer is the man behind the mission.

We spent time with Dave "Gunnison Sage-grouse" Wiens, the guy who has spent countless hours in butt-numbing meetings learning everything he can about a rare, endangered species he never knew existed. Don't let the web site fool you: When it says "Gunnison Trails" and "we" have worked to protect the Sage-grouse, a lot of that is really him. Because this Dave Wiens realizes that the best way to be a steward of the land and an advocate for more and better trails is to understand the full scope of what his local land owners and managers deal with; in this case, a large area that is home to a habitat in what could be a prime location for some sweet singletrack. So this Dave Wiens made sure he got a seat on the commission charged with protecting the Sage-grouse.

And finally, we got to spend time with Dave "Trail Maintainer" Wiens. Because this Dave Wiens started a trail advocacy group 6 years ago thinking he would dive in and start digging, and to date has built exactly zero miles of new trail. None. Nada. This Dave Wiens learned very quickly that local land managers aren't averse to new trail, but they have other priorities -- and if he helps them with those priorities, they'll be much more willing to work with him when he makes proposals about exploring locations for new singletrack. This Dave Wiens understands that maintenance of existing trails often comes first, and that you've got to be in it for the long haul; trail advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint.

This Dave Wiens -- Dave Wiens the trail advocate -- flew on pretty much his own dime to the spring meeting of IMBA-SORBA, the Southeast regional branch of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. This Dave Wiens joined us in Knoxville, Tennessee, to attend a full day of advocacy and leadership training and networking, hosted by the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, in a beautiful new recreation-oriented interpretive facility in the midst of a city experiencing an active outdoor renaissance. We were the first-ever group to host an event in the building, which will serve as a gateway point to a 1,000-acre "urban wilderness" -- complete with singletrack and connected by greenways -- that has been developed just across the river. In fact, we were greeted by the Mayor, who -- surely busy on the same weekend as a citywide marathon -- took time to open our session and talk to us about the importance to her city of trails that link open green spaces with neighborhoods and vice-versa, and the role AMBC has had in that effort.

I got to talk with Dave during lunch, and our conversation revolved around some of the challenges we face in our respective areas. I was kind of shocked to learn he's never ridden Pisgah (and I was quick to extend an invitation!), and it was enlightening to find out that some of the same issues we face at home in Western North Carolina manifest themselves in Colorado -- it's always helpful to hear from club presidents and others who have "been there and done that" with regards to a particular issue. In fact, he affirmed that thanks to our history, in some ways we're better off than they are in Gunnison: While many of our logging roads, narrow-gauge railroad rights-of-way and skid trails are already changed over to recreational use, Dave described entire hillsides that are scarred from now-disused and completely un-maintained mining roads just begging for a good road-to-trail conversion.

Dave did give an after-lunch speech and touched on his history of exploration, including his long association -- starting well before Lance! -- with the Leadville 100. With his trademark blonde hair and boyish, almost impish, looks, he also told stories from his past that could have been yesterday (I mean really, would you believe this guy is going to be 48 years old in a couple of months?), and shared some funny tales of the old NORBA circuit and racing internationally. And, maybe, it might have been a little of that Dave Wiens who saddled up on his Topeak-Ergon Team-issue Canyon bike to lead a group into the Quarry trails.

But ultimately, the Dave Wiens who understands how important this is, implored us to keep up the good work, telling us that our successes in the Southeast inspired him to go back to Gunnison and keep the fire burning when the promise of trails sometimes seems so far away. Topeak-Ergon has made Dave their "Advocacy Ambassador," and it's heartening to see that he's part of a vanguard of current-generation racers who are turning their energies toward building a better future for bicycling. We're all stoked to have him fighting the good fight, and I think we all look forward to making our way West someday to check out his home trails. Just a guess, but I'd say with an approach to advocacy as legendary as some of his on-the-bike workouts, Dave is poised to help make Gunnison an even more off-the-charts, amazing trail experience.

And I think every part of Dave Wiens wants that to happen.