25 June 2012

Lucky man

I'm trying to find the words to describe this weekend -- or, for that matter, this whole past week. The closest I can come is to say this: I really hope that everyone can experience something like it, at least once in their lives.

"It," in this case, is awareness: The knowledge -- the certainty -- that you are fortunate beyond your wildest dreams. I had this moment yesterday when it hit me, and I realized just how lucky I am, to be where I am, doing what I'm doing.

Father's Day weekend was a blast, and getting back on the Spearfish was just what I needed for my soul. The Legend's Loop didn't disappoint, and though I wasn't quite where I wanted to be, it felt good to get my legs under me.

From Fisherman's: 1206 > Laurel > Pilot > 1206 > SMR > Squirrel > Laurel Creek > 5015 > 1206

As I noted, we also had some great family time, and darned if Daniel didn't come really, really close to crawling on Father's Day ... a task he finally pulled off on Wednesday! It's fun watching him get around, and holy cow is he QUICK!

Thursday evening rolled around, and Kim wanted me out of the house so she could pack. It was raining in Asheville, so I headed south instead, just making it to the Sycamore ride:

276 > 477 > Clawhammer > Black > Avery

Kim and the kids headed out on Friday afternoon to spend time with her family halfway between here and Chicago, so I had the weekend to myself. It started out with heavy trimming on Bracken Mountain with a small crew, before heading over to the Hatchery:

Davidson > Cove Creek > 225 > long Daniel > 475 > Pilot Mtn Rd > Farlow > short Daniel > Davidson

I ran into a guy from South Carolina throwing rocks off the trail on Farlow(!), I suppose making it easier for his 26" hardtail ... in order to edit his GoPro footage to make it look like he cleaned it. For real. He admitted as much.

Except for that episode, the rest of the ride was pretty good -- the air has gotten "chewy" around here, and the high levels of humidity and afternoon showers are making the forest nice and slick right now. I ditched on a root before the rock garden on Farlow, and it started raining as I hit Daniel Ridge the second time, making for a righteous Pisgah experience. Afterward, a massive plate of nachos and a healthy dose of mid-1980s California vampire culture made for a most excellent day.

Went to bed too late and got up too soon for more of the same. This time on lower Avery with the Pisgah Area SORBA trail crew:

That area on the right side of the trail would make for a tasty drain!

Further down the trail, the area on the left was completely clogged before I got to it!

With a crew of five plus two sawyers, we tackled the first 200 meters of trail or so, re-shaping the water run on the drop-in from the road, de-berming the edges, clearing the drains and adding a nice little kicker-cum-water berm at the first left bend. While Carlos and Chuck went ahead with their saws, all the way to the top to clean up the deadfall that was seriously killing the flow on the switchback section, the rest of us concentrated our efforts, and darned if it wasn't a ton more fun to ride later in the day. It may sound corny, but I'm looking forward to getting out there with the kids in a year or so, when I can point to the work we did and show them what I do when I go play in the woods with my boots on.

There is still a ton of work to do out there, but at least it's a start. Avery is gonna' be sweet ...

After a bit of time hanging by the road, eating lunch and talking long-term strategy -- while being passed by friends and strangers all out on their own adventures -- it was time for me to ride. I rolled down to the Ranger Station, changed out of my crusty clothes and loaded up the fluids -- it was another hot, wet afternoon, and I would need everything I could carry, and more. And I noticed an amazing thing after digging around all morning: Dirt in Pisgah actually glitters. It's unreal.

With no plan in mind, I headed out and up, trying to decide where I wanted to go ...

276 > 477 > Avery > Buckhorn > Claw > Black > Turkey Pen > SMR > Mullinax > Squirrel > Wheelchair ramp > Claw > 5057 > Avery > Buckhorn > 477 > 276

Somewhere out there is when it hit me, just how fortunate I am right now. It's not all wine and roses, but consider that the same week my son learns to crawl and we celebrate my first Father's Day with two little ones, I also get to enjoy time on some of the most amazing trails on the planet. Trails whose names inspire awe, with only one word: Laurel. Pilot. Black. Avery. Squirrel (twice!). Farlow. Turkeypen (or Turkey Pen?!). Yesterday was one of those incredible days where bike and body were one, and even deep into the ride, with threatening skies and fading light, the speeds were high and the aim was true ... it was sublime.

And now, in just a few hours, Kim and the kids will be home. I can't wait to see them, and hear all of Kate's breathless stories that will somehow mash together time in the pool, what she ate for dinner, how much she misses her cousin and what she saw on the car ride home. And to see Daniel's big, slobbery smile. And Kim's shining blue eyes.

After all, some days I know how lucky I am.

19 June 2012

Lost in Transition

What a week! There are a lot of moving parts right now with regards to Pisgah Area SORBA, and though I'm not officially official or anything, it's been time to dive right in and get some stuff going. The current president, Karen, has been very gracious in including me right off the bat -- together we've made some pretty significant gains in clearing up some longstanding challenges, though there is still plenty of work to go.

Beginning the transition has been eating up a significant portion of my after-work hours, though there's still been time to squeeze in a few rides. Last Thursday's Sycamore ride was pretty nasty, what with a torrential downpour that hit us at the stables and continued all the way to Pressley Gap, and me with just a Small Block 8 on the rear. It was my first time back in Pisgah in a month, and though it was just  Maxwell > Black, I could tell I was rusty and desperately in need of some singletrack therapy.

That finally happened on Saturday, after I dusted off the Spearfish (literally -- it was still dusty and dirty from the BURN!) and finally got back out for a real Pisgah ride. All the giddiness of mid-May, when I cleaned Black, was gone, and instead I found myself slip-sliding the rocks and roots of 1206 > Laurel > Pilot > SMR > Squirrel > Laurel Creek > 5015 > 1206 in the most humid and slick conditions I've been out in, in a while. And it was good -- thanks to Suspension Experts' work on my fjork, I managed to save a bad line choice at the very end of the Humvee section, though I swear I saw my life flash before my eyes as my rear end hung out there in mid-air and lowers compressed, jamming the rubber o-ring against the crown ...

We had some quality family time in honor of Daniel's first Father's Day as well -- yard work and shopping on Saturday and root beer "floaties" on Sunday. Though Sunday's ride was pretty fantastic, I will admit more than a few pangs of guilt as I drove to Fisherman's -- with all the after-hours meetings, emails, etc., it's getting more difficult emotionally to also get out on the weekends and be away from the family. It's a balancing act -- the PAS stuff is pretty important, and will have long-lasting implications -- and Kim is super-supportive, but still, it can be tough sometimes. Especially when I know this is what's waiting for me when I get home!
Try explaining a "float" to a 3-year-old who has "floaties" for the pool!
This week is shaping up to be a hot one, capped with some bachelor time and more hours in Pisgah than I know what to do with -- first trail work, then riding, then more trail work, then more riding. But then again, summer starts in another couple of days, and I probably wouldn't have it any other way, would I?

12 June 2012

Beginnings

I must have been 4 years old. Or maybe 5; yeah, likely 5. It was probably the summer of 1978, when my dad was trekking back and forth to Chicago and my mom was stuck at home with two kids. To give her a break, and give them some time alone, every few weekends my brother and I would be dropped off at my grandparents' house, to spend the day eating lunchmeat sandwiches heavy with butter and the most amazing German chocolate cake in the world.

My grandfather was a water guy, who was either just retired or about to retire from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and somewhere in the back of my mind I think he helped hand-build the Colorado River Aqueduct. Which isn't entirely true, but it's what I remember.

He was also an outdoorsman, and a staunch supporter of the Federal government, and he and my grandmother spent much of their lives taking their kids -- my dad, my aunt and my uncle -- on long-distance trips to enjoy the National Forests and Parks far from the growing urban sprawl of Los Angeles. They didn't have much in the way of disposable income, and the lands managed by the Forest Service and the Park Service provided a way to enjoy the natural resources that abound in the western part of this country.

Father and son in the San Bernardino. Courtesy USFS.
Those travels instilled in their kids a love of the outdoors, and my dad still talks about his days spent hiking San Jacinto and that trip to Baja that resulted in a moto crash and broken collarbone that wasn't discovered until 20 years later. That love was also passed to their grandchildren, and on those weekends my brother and I spent with them, we often headed up into the San Bernardino National Forest to escape the blistering heat and cloying air of the Inland Empire. One of my earliest memories is standing in a cold mountain stream behind the rock dam we just built, cake pan in hand, while Grandpa taught me to gently shake the sediment out of the water while looking intently for small flecks of shiny gold hidden in the sand. Or the time we hiked up to an overlook, and the immense sadness I felt trying to look out at the ocean and seeing only a never-ending deck of smog that enveloped the land below me.

Maybe it's no wonder, then, that last night I announced my candidacy for president of Pisgah Area SORBA. Though I swore back in the day that I'd "never" ride a mountain bike, with each passing season I find myself becoming more involved with the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), and since moving to North Carolina, with its regional body, the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA). One of IMBA's key missions is to provide a platform for mountain bikers to work with land managers like the Forest Service to preserve our open spaces, and I am drawn to that work more and more each year. A couple of months ago, it became apparent that our area chapter was going through some major transition, and several long-serving members of the board of directors announced that they were stepping down when their terms expire in August. About the same time, I spent a day at the SORBA leadership conference in Knoxville, and though I can't be sure that it was entirely the fault of Dave Wiens, I left there inspired, with a page full of notes and a vision for what Pisgah Area SORBA can become.

Since then, I've become much more active in PAS. Though I'm not in an official leadership role, it's not in my nature to stand by and just let things happen (or not happen), and I hope that with the hard work of many folks, we are beginning to emerge from a very challenging time. There is still an incredible amount to do, and some open questions and ambiguity that make this very difficult, but there are also some very clear milestones and goals that we need to achieve to lay a stronger foundation for the future, and I believe I can help get us there. Just in the last few weeks, we've already seen some positive things start to happen, and I want to build on what we've accomplished.

So that's what's going on. Nominations were last evening, with elections in August and the term beginning Sept. 1. In the meantime, I'm going to be working my butt off to get some things going, even if I don't have a title to my name. I am doing this with full blessing from my wonderful wife, who continues to amaze me with all that she supports -- I trust that she, too, believes in what PAS can become. Because in my mind's eye, I have this vision of my Dad, pants rolled up to his knees, standing in a Wash Creek or Mills River with Kate and Daniel, cake pans in hand, swishing away the sediment and looking for shiny flecks of gold. And it's the work we do now, starting in 2012, that will make that a reality.

In announcing my candidacy, I prepared a short document that utilizes the current chapter by-laws as a way to illustrate my vision, as well as including some goals and activities and a brief bio. It's far from final -- we have a lot of outreach to do with our membership -- but it provides a starting point and an introduction. These are some of the ideas I have for Pisgah Area SORBA:

07 June 2012

Can we please make it stop?

I remember it was sunny, but late April in Madison is always a bit brisk, and as usual it was windy. Nasty windy.

We were racing counter-clockwise that day, which meant left-hand turns, with the climb on the backside of the course and an uphill finish. I wasn't at my best; my legs just felt heavy, but I was there for a double race day, just getting the intensity that only Midwest industrial park crit racing can get you. I hid out early on, holding my place as best I could over the hill and through the tight turns that took us back to the start/finish.

Lap after lap we trudged, and by mid-race, I was cooked. Overcooked, actually -- my legs had nothing. But as my teammates launched attacks and I marked the chasers, something magical happened: I drove through the pain. I latched onto a move, and three of us got away. My teammates started blocking, and I started to focus: I was outgunned, but my legs had come around. I had a chance. I just needed to make it happen.

I hid in the wind, I let the others do the work. The laps counted down. Six to go. Five. Four. We started testing each other up the small hill. I struggled to keep on. But it happened: Four seconds became ten became 30, enough to hold off the pack. And as we came off the hill for the final time, into the long straight, I lined it up and I launched, a 400 meter suicide mission, into a turn and up a hill, sprinting myself blind in a bid to be first across the line.

And I won.

And it felt awesome.

I still have the pair of Trek socks that were my prize that day, my second time winning a race on that course. The trip to Madison for the Great Dane Velo Club crits was a spring rite of passage for us when I was full-time road racing -- the course was fairly tame, and they were a good chance to test the legs following a long Midwest winter. That day in 2006 was my last hurrah -- by summer I had been bitten by mountain biking, and by the following year I hung up my road bike after a series of deaths in the Chicago cycling scene. Maybe that's why this sticks out so much in my mind -- everything came together, and I was able to pull it off. I'll never forget that feeling, that day.

Just behind me, the two other breakaways came across, and then the peloton. My teammates were in there, as were members of the host club, GDVC. As I came up through the ranks, these guys had become my friends -- they were rivals on the bike, sure, but they were also stand-up guys whom you could trust to share the work when the going got tough. They wouldn't give you an inch, but darned if they didn't help make great bike race.

Finishing 14th that day was a guy from Wausau racing for GDVC, Gregg Bednorski. When I look at the results, I see he finished side-by-side with his teammate Paul, who was the guy I knew best on their team. In fact, and I can't remember if it was that day or at the race earlier in the month, I spent a few minutes warming up with Paul and another GDVC racer -- I can only guess that it was Gregg -- as we rode around that part of Madison, testing our legs before the races.

The Midwest racing community is pretty tight, and as it turned out, Gregg raced mountain bikes too. In fact, when I look at his USA Cycling results, I see that he and I raced side-by-side at a handful of WORS events in the following years.

Until he was killed, while riding his bike on a rural Marathon County road, on the edge of my beloved Nine Mile Forest, on September 18, 2008.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I was too preoccupied with my own life at the time to acknowledge Gregg's death. I'm certain I heard about it, but I never made the connection between the story on the interwebs and the guy I'd ridden with. Now, as I look at his photo, it haunts me: I raced him. I rode with him. I knew him.

The reason I bring this up is this: What Can We Do When a Cyclist is Killed? Two weeks ago, Gregg's widow, Tammy, died. She was killed, while riding her bike in rural Marathon County, on the edge of Nine Mile Forest.

On the same stretch of road.

I'm sitting here, sick to my stomach. I am very happy that Tammy was able to find love again. It would seem to me that her remarriage to Tim Gass probably helped them both heal some very deep wounds -- but man, they only just got married in January. And five months later, she's gone.

I searched Tammy's name when I first read the BikeFed blog entry, and another name jumped out: Jeff Littman, another Wisconsin rider who was also killed by a car, in October 2010. I knew Jeff -- we all did -- and to be honest, I would have bet his name would be in the results from that long-ago crit. He always seemed to be around, and like the GDVC guys, he wouldn't give an inch -- but dang it was always good to go head-to-head with him. When I found out about his crash, I spent a long morning alone in my office, remembering good times and tough races.

I was surprised when I saw Jeff's name come up in the Google results, so I clicked on the link: Jeff Littman changed my life. I remember reading Jason's blog entry back then; it so perfectly captures the guy Jeff was. Still puzzled, I read through it again, and scrolled down to the comments:

Tammy BednorskiOctober 6, 2010 at 10:57 am #

Jeff,
Please say hello to Gregg for me. Give him my love,
Tammy

Damn.

It's not supposed to be like this.

Some day, a long time from now, Kate and Daniel will come to understand all the nights I'm not home for dinner, all the volunteer meetings I go to and the advocacy efforts I support. For all the work that has come before, there is still so much to do -- if senselessness like this can happen in Wisconsin, where it's not perfect but bicycling is a part of life, it will continue to happen everywhere. It's in my nature to do something about it -- for Gregg, for Jeff, for Tammy. For Kate. For Daniel. My memory of that late April day in Madison will forever serve as a reminder of how important it is, because at any moment, the person on the bike next to me in the pack could be gone.

Godspeed, Tammy. Say hi to Gregg and Jeff for us. We promise not to give up the fight.

06 June 2012

Mahna mahna

So I realized yesterday that I totally dropped the lead on my last post.

The reason I called it "Rhapsody" was because, on my way to the Flyer, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" came unbidden to my head. And stayed there. The whole ride. Only, I couldn't remember the opening lines, so instead it was on a more or less constant loop from about "He's just a poor boy/from a poor family." Wes Dickson or Jay Middleton would say something, and all I would hear was "mahna mahna ... Spare him his life from this monstrosity!" It was kind of weird.

So in that vein, and because Kim and I finally saw The Muppets last weekend, I am left with no choice. Enjoy!

04 June 2012

Rhapsody in green (and blue)

Yes, this is my back yard. Old photo, but you get the idea!
So I kind of thought I was tired when I got done with BURN last weekend. Little did I know, the nuttiness was only just beginning.

I celebrated with my now-traditional, post-24 Starbucks extravaganza -- it's awesome how they just keep sending me free drink coupons exactly when I need them. It's the only time I get anything other than bold, drip coffee -- I mean really, $5 for a drink that will last me less than 30 minutes? Oh, wait, you get that drink? Nevermind.

The weather wasn't too cooperative, so I took most of the week off the bike. I finally got in a short spin at lunch on Friday, desperately needing to clear my head, and surprisingly the legs felt pretty OK. Everything was shaping up for a pretty good weekend ... until ...

TEETH! WE'VE GOT TEETH!

Daniel was out of sorts at dinner on Friday night, and we couldn't quite figure out why. After the full-on Exorcist projectile vomiting episode of Wednesday or Thursday, we were fearing the worst -- until Kim took a good look in his mouth and realized he has two teeth poking through his lower gum-line. Well hello there!

We managed to get him down without too much of a fight, and passed out ourselves at 9:30. We put off going to the drug store for teething tablets until Saturday ... well, Saturday turned with me standing in line at Wal-Mart, a 20-minute trip that had stretched to more than an hour as I wandered the store and waited in line, only to have the register close down at midnight and force everyone to a new line. Midnight. At Wal-Mart. In the mountains of North Carolina. With a screaming baby at home.

I was not at my best.

Thankfully, though, nothing cures the blues like some time in the forest. Saturday was national "Don't call it National Trails Day around here," day, and there were no fewer than four trail work opportunities within a few hours' drive of home. I chose the one I've been to least, and spent an awesome few hours under Woody Keen's guidance, first finishing new trail and then obliterating an old roadbed over at DuPont State Recreational Forest. Then it was time to saddle up, and Kevin Dobo-Hoffman and I did a big loop to check out all the new work on Reasonover, Mine Mountain, Corn Mill Shoals and yes, even our own handiwork. It was a perfect day in the woods.

Thankfully Daniel slept through the night, because I needed all the energy I could muster: Sunday was the annual Fletcher Flyer, the "flattest" hundred-mile challenge/cookie ride we've got. Starting with a loop that is super familiar to me in that it's basically my lunch ride route, the ride takes us south to Brevard, and then back north via Etowah and Mills River, totaling 100 miles and 4400ft. or so of climbing. Since it starts so close to home, I chose to ride to/from the event, and in between spent countless miles battling back and forth as the group went from 50 to 30 to 20 to 15 to 12, only to have it shatter as we exited Etowah and made our way to Mills River. I finally sat up when things got sketchy, just as the food I was eating decided to do a 180 in my stomach -- I rolled the last 9 miles solo, grabbed some lunch and headed home. Hard to believe we put in 100 miles, that fast, in these mountains -- but dang if the weather wasn't absolutely perfect, and the group was just hammering.

After getting home and passing out on the bed for a few minutes, I headed out back to work on Kate and Daniel's long-neglected backyard trail. I haven't made much progress in a while, ever since the utility company obliterated my switchback, but I've learned a lot over the past year or so that makes cutting new trail go that much faster. I still need to re-do that turn, but I've also extended the run almost back to the house now, and have marked off and raked the rest in way that at least it's usable. You know, for the kids. Kate is starting to use it more and more, and it's really neat to take Daniel back there and watch his eyes get really big ...