Friday, March 29

The Long Commute Home

I was surprised to find that our office would be closed a half day for Good Friday. Since I didn’t see it as being any gooder than any other Friday it seemed a fine opportunity to rack up some miles toward my Mohican legs.

A quick mapping session and I’d described a 57 mile backroads route from the office back to Clay City. Who-hoo! That’s just the mileage I needed for my “training regime” this week.

The weather was promising with a forecasted high of 52F. My schedule was clear. I had food and water to propel me east. And I was willing. LordI was willing!

And there were Strava segments to create! Oh, glorious backwoods pavements! Glorious! Glorious! GLORIOUS!!! I could be king (of the mountain) for a few days at least!

Noon on the dot I stood in the parking lot outside my office all jammed into my lycra, foot jammed into toe clips, mind jammed into the 57 miles I had written a check for that morning when I abandoned my car at the Clay City park-n-ride. I’d have to earn it back or call in a fossil fuel loan from my matrimonized SAG vixen. Big money! Big money! No Whammies!!!

And so began the Long Commute Home.

I blasted out of town with my riding partners for the day: Lance and Eddie. I felt good as I rolled over I-75 and turned onto Grimes Mill road. I was looking forward to crossing the Boone Creek valley. My first real climb of the day went well, but I knew the bottom of my power reserves wasn't too far down there. Oh, and I had so many more climbs between me and the end of my ride...

Lance and Ed were good motivation, keeping up with me as I cranked eastward. I dropped down to the Kentucky River and followed a long section of road through Ford, Kentucky and beyond along the big muddy river. Then the road turned up Fourmile Creek, finally climbing up out of the valley on Bybee Road through picturesque farmland. I was still feeling good at 32 miles.

Along Fourmile Road

Checking out a stone fence along Bybee Road

Then I turned on Cole Road. The first short climb went slow. The rollers along the ridge after went slow. The pool of energy was draining fast. I bombed back down into the Fourmile Creek drainage further up and turned onto (oddly) Muddy Creek Road. It was nice and flat and I cruised until I hit a short hill. My speed dropped way off until I crested it. A short descent brought me to Red River Road and just a few moments later I was looking at a slog up out of the Fourmile Valley for good. I walked a few yards.

A well needed rest stop in the sun

Another bomb run carried me into the Howard Creek drainage where I rode last weekend. I was back on the familiar part of Red River Road. That meant I knew exactly what I was up against to get back to Clay City. I knew how many climbs were left and how burly they were. And I was sucking the pool dry.  

Red River Road

As I climbed the last (of three) grinds on Red River Road I decided I'd change my route from KY 89 over to Log Lick. I had originally planned to retrace Mina Station, but I knew if I swung north to New Log Lick Road I could avoid one deep valley crossing and also have the opportunity to stop at a little country store at Trapp.

Lance and Eddie collapsed by the bike as I went inside and bought an Ale-8. I choked down my last Clif Bar and sipped on the cold beverage as I figured in my head that I had about 12 miles left to go to get back to my car at the park-n-ride.

I know how you feel guys, but we still got miles to go

I coaxed the boys back on the bike and we took off with a little oomph. I could do this. There were only two significant climbs left. I didn't think the Lulbegrud Creek crossing would be too bad, but I knew the last climb on Snow Creek was going to hurt like a mother.

My oomph was short lived. I felt like I was crawling out New Log Lick Road. One the upside, despite my slow pace I reached Log Lick rather quickly, and before I knew it I was across Lulbegrud and running the Snow Creek dog gauntlet. Two or three “dog surges” later the pool was dry. No more agua. No energy left to burn.

Snow Creek still went fast. Too quickly I was staring up the wall of the last climb. I leaned over the handlebars and was determined to wring out as much juice as I could. Within a few yards of the start of the climb I was off the bike and walking. Shut up Lance. Shut up Eddie.

Once on top I got back on and cruised the mostly flat and scenic ridge and then down, over a little bump and out to KY 82. I could almost see the car. The worst was over. I had completed my Lexington to Powell County ride. I'd wanted to do that for more than 10 years. It felt good, even though my battery was at about 2%.

I feel okay now. I'm tired, and I think I could crawl in bed and sleep for about twelve hours. I didn't get good sleep the last few nights.

I rode Minus. I'm still hacking gunk out of my lungs. The legs are a bit weak from lack of use. I think three months ago I would have cranked out that ride and felt like going on at the end. I would have done a metric century just to say I did. So I have a lot of excuses why my pace wasn't faster, but really I think I'm just out of shape.   

Oh, it turns out that when I thought I had 12 miles left I only had 7.

I rode 55 miles in 3 hours and 43 minutes. I ain't breakin' no records, but I'm fighting for the cause all the same.

Ed and Lance gorged themselves on leftover pizza and then crashed. I had my own share of the pizza and am still hunting for the crash.

Grean Kanteens

My lovely wife came across a good closeout deal on some Klean Kanteens and snatched them up. We do so love out pretentiously-stylish-yet-highly-practical steel water bottles. My original Klean Kanteen is banged up and scuffed bare from being carried on my bike. So Mandy got me a shiny new forest green one. I’m digging it.


Since a significant amount of time has passed I can give you a much better review on both my original 27 oz bottle and my insulated bottle. Both rock.
The only real downfall I see in the water bottle is that when you’re trying to get the last few drops out of it you can’t squeeze it for extra oomph like you can with a plastic bottle. But I welcome the tradeoff of using a more sustainably constructed bottle.
Yes, my original bottle is scuffed and worn, but it’s still 100% functional. The sport cap is still in great shape, and the bottle is bombproof. I’ll be drinking from it for years to come.
Today’s post is short. Our office closes for half day for Good Friday. Hey, I’m not complaining! And I’m off on a two-wheeled human-powered contraption for an afternoon adventure. See you Monday with a trip report!

Thursday, March 28

The Leadville Saga: Fat No More

I’m fat.

If EldenNelson had not already taken it I think I would have to register the domain for My legs hit my belly when…well, a lot of the time…but especially when I’m riding.
I’m not squishy and pudgy all over. No, I actually have muscle tone in my arms and legs. There is no double chin, no back fat. I have semi-discernible pectorals (not man-boobs!). Basically I have abdominal fat and the beginnings of love handles. There, I said it.
I’m 5’9” and on my last visit to the scales I weighed 197 lbs. Unacceptable.
When I was 18 months old I had a hernia operation. My belief is that because of that, despite a very active childhood, I never developed my core as a normal person would. And when I got older I avoided working on conditioning my core because it has never been comfortable for me.
Into adulthood I stayed relatively thin because I do have a high metabolism. But as I got older, and more settled into a domestic lifestyle I slowly began putting on the pounds. I went from a steady 155-165 early twenties to a solid 190+ thirtysomething. I know I’m defying traditional biology, but I want to get back to that 165 neighborhood into my forties. And I know that hernia excuse is a cop-out.
There are two factors that influence all of us: diet and activity levels.
Activity has decreased because we use more and more tools of convenience instead of good old human power to do things. We’re going to continue to have an obesity epidemic as long as we continue to use energy slaves to do our work. Regardless of our diets, if we don’t stop being intentionally lazy then we is not going to lose the weight and keep it off as a culture (hey Jack, Spellcheck told me to do it that way!)
Diet is a whole different issue. Our food is designed in such a way that we want more of it and more frequently. Our obesity epidemic is at least partly the cause of a food-oriented planned-obsolescence. We’ve ("we" being the corporations that run the world these days) eradicated nutrition from our diets and replaced it with substances that provide the most instant gratification to the pleasure centers of our brains.
So this is my reality:  food, for whatever reason, is such a short term satisfaction that it overwhelms all dreams of mountain biking glory. But then on a full belly (when blood has returned to my brain from its trip down to my digestive system to furiously try and keep up with my gluttony) I remember I want that buckle. And I look down to where I'd be wearing that buckle, and I weep.
I have a willpower problem. I know what I need to do, and yet I just can’t do it consistently. Of course, our currently living arrangement is a ballet of turmoil and chaos. We don’t have our own space and it’s hard to get into a solid routine where I can control all of my inputs. So hard… But, even when we did have our own space and I could control all of my inputs I rarely did it successfully. Last summer I had a lot better success with controlling my diet than I ever have in my life, and I still didn’t manage to get below 180 lbs. I still didn’t get control of my diet. And I have only myself to blame.
I’m behind schedule to be able to lose 30 pounds at a pound a week (healthy rate) before Leadville, but I will do what I can. I vow, as of today, that I will lose 10 pounds by the Mohican on June 1 and then another 10 pounds by Leadville on August 10. If I can maintain that rate then I should have no trouble dropping the last 10 pounds in the 10 weeks between Leadville and the Iron Horse Half Marathon.
Of course the other difficulty has been that I’ve almost ceased activity (I’m approaching Absolute Zero Dark Thirty) while not really cutting back on my calorie intake. It’s nearly a miracle that I’ve not put on 20 pounds since the beginning of the year.

By June 1 (Mohican 100) I’ll lose 10 pounds.

By August 10 (Leadville 100) I’ll lose 20 pounds.

By October 13 (Iron Horse Half Marathon) I’ll lose 30 pounds.

No. More. Excuses.

Wednesday, March 27

Harden Up

I’m sorry.

I’ve been whining, and you, Dear Readers, do not deserve to be whined at. Unless you’re a whiner yourself. If so, then go back and re-read all of my 900+ posts. Right now.
Sometimes I forget that I have a mind like a steel trap, grit all through my veins, that I’m battle-hardened, and have a heart that just won’t stop.
Okay, not only do you not deserve to be whined at, but you also don’t deserve the crap that’s piling up now. I’ll get to my point.
SNAP! My ankle was sprung. I growled, not in pain, but in anger at my own stupidity. I then stomped out of the woods on my wrecked appendage in defiance of my obstacular injury. Remember what I said about the circumstances that led up to the sprain?

“A sedentary lifestyle will kill you.”

Actually life will kill you, and so regardless of the lifestyle you live you’re heading down the road to the grave anyway. Living the life that’s been given to you is important. I abhor the attitude that you should avoid anything “dangerous” or uncertain in order to prolong your life. Everything worth doing in life bears some amount of risk. And the people that live in fear are really just afraid of being uncomfortable.
The most mundane things in life can injure or kill you. Yet most people don’t avoid taking showers, eating fatty foods, or yammering on their cell phones while screaming along I-64 at rush hour doing a solid fifteen over the speed limit.
When my ankle has healed and I have sufficiently conditioned myself I will once again go back and run the trails at Pilot Knob. Mayhap I’ll even do so just before sunset with insufficient cell phone juice. Mayhap.
I’ve learned from the experience. What I’ve learned is this: you can’t run from being old and fat. You have to face them head on, beat those @#$!ers down, and dance on their carcasses.
Yeah, so, I narfled the garthok and lost. So I’m a whiney, namby-pamby from time to time. I’ve had a long history of walking the thin line of calculated risk so I could satisfy my obsessive desire to see as much of the world around me as I could manage.
I’ve hiked hundreds (if not thousands) of miles alone. I’ve rock climbed, paddled, cycled, mountain climbed…all alone more than with others. I’m a self-reliant individual. I don’t back down from a monumental physical challenge. I strategize, minimize the risk, and go with intention.
On Saturday I had a fantastic ride. On Sunday I let a little pain and stiffness hobble me into submission. I got it in my head that the pain after my first ride back after injury was a setback in itself. Not so. In my weakened mental state I let the weather further subdue my resolve. I basically gave up on this week altogether. 
Well, the week ain’t over yet. I’m not hardened up for running back up to Pilot Knob yet, but I can get on a bike and slam down on the pedals.

Tuesday, March 26

C'mon Already!

Everyone around here is complaining about the recent revival of full-on winter. I mean, it’s SNOWING IN KENTUCKY! That never really happens. And the truth is it’s not really much of a snow. It’s more like white rain. There’s still mud everywhere, the ground isn’t freezing solidly enough to mountain bike, and the Cannonball remains in storage with its beneficial fenders unused and it’s extra-long chain rusting solid.

It’s just a little over two months until the Mohican and I haven’t ridden more than a dozen miles off pavement since we left Colorado. I’m not completely discrediting my roadie-o riding, but I need some dirt. Not mud. Dirt.

People keep asking me if I’ve ridden at Skullbuster or Veterans Park or Capitol View. No, I haven’t! Capitol View was the only bike park in existence in my pre-Colorado world. I never made it over there before we moved out West, and it’s been too gunked up since my triumphant return. Well, there have reportedly been days when it was in good shape, but I’ve been frolicking in my new job so I’ve not been able to take advantage of those good riding days.


I’ve discovered some old schoolmates and other local frien-quaintences have been into mountain biking for awhile too. Not sure how I never ran across the local cycling scene in years previous, as there are only 12,000 people in Powell County. One guy in particular has a mid-90s era Cannondale he bought in Barbourville when he was in college. He helped a few other locals do the same. So apparently there is a fleet of high quality USA made Cannondale aluminum frames floating around within a day’s ride of me. That’s a happy thought.

I contacted Dave, the original owner of the Cannonball, and he said he bought it at Pedal Power in Lexington. It would have been too ironic if it had also come from the Barbourville shop.

But in talking to these other local mountain bikers I’ve discovered that my own random explorations mirrored theirs. We rode all the same places looking for good riding.

And then there’s Tom, Jeff and Casey, Mandy, and myself. Oh, and the pedaling proprietors of Red River Outdoors. Lately I’ve also seen evidence of other cyclists from the Red River Valley. In the last week I’ve seen two cars with Powell plates and cycling decals. One had a nice Rocky Mounts roof tray too! And can’t forget Joe Bowen…

So right off the top of my head I can count a dozen cyclists. I know there are at least twice that many I’m not thinking of right now. Lookout! Some Pavement’s Edge math is coming your way in just a few (dozen) seconds:

Is that 0.001% of the population? 1/1000th? And maybe twice that I’m not aware of?

Back in 2007 when I was first dabbling in “serious” cycling I rode all over the area and nary saw another “serious” cyclist. Until one day when I saw a couple riding the opposite direction on a main road. I didn’t recognize them and never found out who they were.

Since then cycling has grown, at least in my perception, until now it seems as if there is a small community. With a little effort that community could grow a lot. And all this snow? It’s just watering the seeds.

Monday, March 25

You Can't Outrun Old and Fat

Awhile back, as I was still fighting the flu, Jeff and I “accidentally” rode 70 miles. I felt pretty good the next day and in the days following.

This last stretch of being sick and then jacking up my ankle had me quasi-ambulatory for nine days. Nine days. Now, I hadn’t ridden a lot in the days leading up to my trailrunning injury, but I had been running and riding when I could. So when I proposed a measly 45 mile ride to myself this past Saturday I believed I was wise in the estimation of my abilities.

And in a sense I was. If you read my last post you would not get the impression I had a bad experience on Saturday. And I didn’t. I felt really good and managed to keep up a 17+ mph average until about mile 35 when I skirted the borderlands of bonking. Sunday, on the other hand, was a day of grunting through the pain and incessant rambling self-diagnoses. I hobbled around all day with a knotted up back and aching legs. The ankle had done fine on Saturday, but sang occasionally on Sunday just to join in the choir of my other aches and pangs.

Here is the problem:

Well, let me back up. For my regular readers you’ll know that I used to ride 20 miles daily in the course of getting to and from work. I average over 400 miles a month in 2012. My body was used to riding a lot. And the occasional longer (40+ miles) ride didn’t adversely affect me much. In just three short months I’ve started to lose some of that conditioning. I’m struggling to get 100 miles a month now due to a combination of weather, geography, scheduling, and sickness. I’m hoping the trend will turn around in the next few weeks as the weather improves, but the reality is that on March 25—as I sit writing this—snow is whipping past my window.

Here, then, is the problem: I’m getting old and fat.

I’m losing my overall conditioning and will therefore continue to do things like sprain my ankle when I go out and try to make up for the lack of activity in my life all in one fell swoop.

I’m older and don’t recover as fast or get back into condition as easily. I just can’t outrun the realities that are settling onto my shoulders.

I know the key is that I will have to do everything within my power to get back into a respectable condition (SOON!) and maintain a certain level of fitness so my impulse trail runs won’t shut me down completely. That’s more important now, in my fortieth year, than it ever has been.

Maybe I’m just whining (what is the third “up?”), but I recognize the reality that if I don’t maintain control of my physical condition I could go downhill really fast and not be able to enjoy the things I like doing, much less (but so much more importantly) stay healthy.

Life is more enjoyable when you maintain your health so you can recreate on demand.

Saturday, March 23

Glorious Return to Roadie-O-Ness

Snapped on the lycra, zipped up the ole jersey, walked the skinny tires out the long gravel driveway to the pavement...and then I rode. Oh, I rode!

March 14th I sprained my ankle. Today--the 23rd--was my first day doing anything other than walk since. It felt good. I'd been going stir crazy. I needed a good long purging ride.

I'd planned on riding with Jeff, more Mohican training, but he couldn't make it. So I struck out from Clay City over Snow Creek. There's a stout little climb at the Clark County line going into Log Lick (not an alias). I rode out to it back in '07 but walked it. Cruised it today.

Then I traversed Mina Station Road to highway 89. That was a good section with a nice little climb. Got a good view of the CSX railroad bridge over the Red River Valley and raced a speedy black dog (20+ mph!).

Picked up Red River Road on the other side of 89. It was a nice long ride with few houses though the pavement was a little rough. Saw a deer sail over a wire fence and almost clear the entire paved road as well.

Cut off Red River Rd onto Dry Branch Fork Road. That was a nice one too, but wouldn't be feasible if the creeks were running high as there were no less than eight low water crossings. One of them I had to walk because there was no concrete ford in place.

Then I picked up Pilot View Road. The crux climb of the whole loop came quick. At the halfway point of my intended 45 mile loop I wasn't sure how I'd do. I had only driven the hill; never ridden it on a bike. It's 0.2 miles, 163' of gain, an average 12% grade with a maximum of 19%.

It felt good.

As I approached highway 15 I'd been on the bike 2 hours. I was overtaken by the third car of the morning. Last week I researched the loop and chose my route based on low traffic counts on maps from the KYTC webpage.

I jogged down to Stoner-Ephesus Road and was on much more familiar pavement. Cruised to L&E Junction, then to Kiddville, then to Levee, then to Willoughbytown, then back to highway 11 and returned to my sister's house.

Until I reached 11 for the last stretch I'd not been overtaken more than a dozen times. I'd picked a good loop, low traffic, high scenic value, good rolling terrain, and just the therapy I needed.

Thursday, March 21

What We Really Want

Mandy and I are at a crossroads. We’re trying to figure out where we want to settle. It’s a tough decision.

We’ve learned a lot in the past five years and we’re far more informed than we were when we left Kentucky. And even then we knew we wanted to avoid long commutes and living distant from needed destinations. From a Transition standpoint it makes sense for us to condense our lifestyles and to reduce all trips. We understand and accept this.

But herein lies the conundrum: horses.
Lexington is the “horse capital of the known universe.” Except that there are few horse farms in the city proper. Lexington created an urban growth boundary ages ago at the behest of the horse “farmers” to prevent the encroachment of sprawl into the periphery of the city. This would have been a great idea if it had been done to preserve the city’s local food delivery system. That wasn’t the case. It was to preserve the wealth of the wealthy.
In our modern society we do not use horses for draft, for eating, for transportation, or for any needs based purpose. They are right up there with our grossly overpaid sports athlebrities.
In a ring around Lexington, perhaps 20 miles out, rural land is excessively expensive because of these multi-million dollar horse farms. You have to get into the suburbs before homes become affordable to the (lower) middle class and those homes do not come with much land or character.
What this means for me is that I have two options: commute 30+ miles to work or live in the soul-crushing suburbs.
What this means for my family is this: we need to decide what we want as a family. I know what I want personally. I want to live on the fringe of the woods, to be able to walk on my own land, and to have some space between me and my nearest neighbor. I don’t want to listen to the noise of incessant traffic. I also don’t want to have to drive 30 minutes to the grocery store, and I sure don’t want to drive 45 minutes one way to and from work each day.
Where do we find our balance of resilience? In the long, long run I think owning land and being able to provide food for ourselves would be the most bang for our buck. I may not always work in Lexington. Heck, someday I might write that bestseller! But if we confine ourselves to the suburbs we lose a lot of the opportunity to be resilient. Of course in the short term choosing to live in the country means we’ll be putting a greater share of our resources into fuel and time for me to commute. We can mitigate that somewhat by planning to buy a hybrid in the future, but for now that just means hundreds of miles of commuting by car each week. That’s time and money lost.
My heart says country, but my wallet says city. For me, alone, the decision is easy. It’s not so easy as I look at the needs and wants of my family. I have to remain cognizant of the fact that economic conditions could worsen before they improve. If food costs go up and we can provide food for ourselves then having land makes good sense. But if food costs go up it is most likely because fuel prices have gone up.
Again, I may not always work in Lexington, so fuel costs may not be the major factor in the future either.
However, if economic conditions improve (if I make more money over time) then fuel costs don’t matter and we can presumably rely on the existing food delivery system indefinitely. That doesn’t really help make the decision either.
From a lifestyle point of view, I think owning land and growing our own food is going to make us healthier. We’ll be more active and will be in control of our own food supply to some extent. I think we’ll be happier in general and when we want to venture to the city it’s still there within reach. But I'm not 100% certain of this.
It’s a conundrum. And there are other factors I just haven’t listed here because they’re not relevant to the greater populace. I want what’s best for my family. Deciding what’s best separate from what we desire is difficult.

Tuesday, March 19

Ten Years After

[Yeah, this is a two post day. I wrote the previous post a few days ago and just couldn't put off posting it any longer. And today's post has some dated relevance. I apologize for bombarding you, but I tried to keep them both short.]

My son is almost ten years old. His birthday’s in early April. And I remember sitting in the hospital room with my wife and my newborn firstborn watching American troops roll into Baghdad on TV.

This post is about oil and economics.

I remember strong feelings radiating out from me. I wasn’t okay with the war in Iraq. I fumed and clenched and unclenched fists when I heard stories like the soldier who told his small son that he was going to kill the man (Saddam Hussein) who blew up the Twin Towers. I remember thinking then—as I did even in my blatant ignorance in 1991—that the war was a resource grab. The US is, and has been throughout my life, greedy for oil. I’m not saying we thought we could just fill up our tanks and gas cans and walk away with it after the dust settled, but I am certain the war had everything to do with making sure there was a “free” market we could participate in.

9/11 woke me up. Until that point I avoided talking about or learning about politics in any way. I didn’t want to know how government worked. I just knew I didn’t like it. And until that time I had the luxury of being that selfish. But when the planes slammed into the buildings I had been married just over a year with the promise of starting a family. I was deeply affected by that event. It was easy to watch the unholy connection of threads that were woven between 9/11 and a push to send troops into Iraq.

So of course, the war in Iraq was part of my early political education. I watched it develop with intense focus. I scrutinized, analyzed, and prattlized about every news story I saw. I took up reading articles on the progression of aggression. Ironically, I did all this was a more seriously sprained ankle than the one I’m still hopping about on now. Ten years, almost to the day…

Anyway, the war in Iraq convinced me that our greater system of government (I’m speaking of size, not moral fortitude) was corrupted beyond fixing. The war, probably more so than 9/11, incited me to delve even deeper into world politics.

Now, I don’t profess to be an expert political analyst. I’m just this hack, you see. But I pointedly yanked my head out of the sand and have kept it out ever since. I owe it to my children to understand the world I brought them into. I owe it to them.

I didn’t know anything about the concept of peak oil then. But I did see the global obsession/dependence on petroleum as being fundamentally unsustainable. In the decade since I’ve gathered the tools to better understand why the political world operates as it does. And in 2008 I was slapped with another revelation: economics. I had pointedly ignored economics when I should have been studying politics and economics and their intertwinings.

I didn’t cheer when Saddam Hussein was executed. I understand he was a bad man, and he was found guilty of his crimes and punished accordingly. But as an American I didn’t think that was really any of my business. His crimes affected me only because they occurred in a country that has a wealth of oil underneath it. I just didn’t think that was right, that we went in and ousted him when we let so many others continue in their sins. Others…who aren’t sitting on oil and trying to keep us from getting it.

These days I understand the economics of resource dependence much better. And I better understand how resource dependence ties in to even the most mundane political themes.
Cypriot. That’s the word I was trying to think of last night. Cyprus, a little island nation in the Mediterranean, is the fulcrum. Will it fall out of the EU? Will it implode? Who else will try these tactics the Cypriots are proposing, or imposing a bank deposit tax to bail out the country?
It will be interesting to see how this turns out; interesting to me, horrifying for those directly affected by it today.
Do we care? I think we should. How does an island nation going into bankruptcy face the dawning of a new day? I’m not a very adept economic analyst. I don’t know where we’re headed. But one thing I do know for certain is that all of the so-called experts don’t agree on what this means, how it happened, or what we should do. We’re shooting blind, from the hip, and in the dark.
I’m just wondering if in ten years I can look back with another sprained ankle and remember with clarity where I was when the economic collapse began and say:
Happy 20thBirthday Boone.

And the Seasons Roll On By

A few days ago (before my running injury) I visited the local bike shop on my lunch break to pick up some cable ends. An older gentleman was perusing the bike shoes. One of the shop guys called over to him familiarly to see if he needed anything, but he said he didn’t. And as their conversation evolved I got the impression that the older man was one of the elder statesmen—or at least in the running to be so—of the local cycling scene.

And then he said it. He said those words that have set my teeth on edge since as far back as my earliest rock climbing days. These words make me want to stand up in the middle of the room and yell “what’s wrong with you wool-headed, milk-skinned, limp-legged, silly-song-and-dance wannabe weekend warriors?!” He said:

“Well, the season is almost here.”

Are. You. Kidding me?
(Imagine Lewis Black presenting the following rant)
For one thing, the 39th Parallel is quite temperate in winter lo, these past half dozen decades or so. If sunny and 50F isn’t a good time to ride a bike, when the @#$! is? And another, who gets to determine when the so-called season begins and ends? Is there a committee meeting I can attend to voice my opposition?
I pity these poor folks who hang up their bikes (or climbing gear) in the garage and mothball all their athletic clothing until April, or—dogs forbid—May, and miss out on half the gol-darned year.
Now, I understand, some people just don’t enjoy participating in outdoor recreation in cold or snotty weather. I get that. But for crying out loud, winter in Kentucky is hardly. The lines between the seasons are kinda fuzzy, and not well established. As far as which season should be the “off” season I would put in my resounding vote for summer. Summers suck here in the arctic section of the Southeast. 90+F temperature and total humidity (100%) combined with bugs, dogs, car exhaust and migrating Buckeyes…it’s just not a fun time to be out from under the AC in my home state. Fall, Winter and Spring are far more suitable for spending time outside and exerting yourself…just sayin’.
Okay, assuming you don’t have a debilitating disease that is compounded by extremely cold temperatures…and assuming you don’t live in Alaska or Boise…AND assuming you’re not a complete and total namby-pamby…what is to stop you from riding on—for crying out LOUD—paved roads on nice days during the winter months? Nothing. You know, the evil black void that eats up the universe in that ‘80s fantasy classic The Neverending Story—The Nothing. That’s all that can really stop you: a lack of @#$!ing imagination.
I know of people who ride on nothing but a trainer all winter. I know of people who just don’t ride. And do you know what? I kind of like it. I like having the trails to myself on nice sunny days when I’m not inclined to sweat like a fat kid in a locker room full of jocks. It’s nice to have bicycle facilities to yourself. Cars can’t use them, and if they’re clogged up with bikes then they start to feel like roads.
From the standpoint of the bike shops I can see a definite benefit to an “on” and “off” season. Off season means a break from humoring the spray-lords loitering in your shop, hinting around that they want a sponsorship for their Cat-6 commuter races. Off season means more time to actually get out and ride. During “the season” you can actually work with the lights and AC on in the shop instead of using candles to conserve precious profit. So there are trade-offs.
Rant over.

The night previous to my visit to the bike shop I had a dream. It revealed a bit about the changes in my cycling mentality over the past three months, and I want to share it with you. I had a meeting downtown that same day as the bike shop visit, and I planned on riding Minus (’86 Bianchi SX) to the meeting instead of driving and having to pay for parking. Plus, I just needed an(y) excuse to ride.
In the dream I went to the meeting, but in the midst of it I realized I had forgotten to lock up Minus (my version of going to school/work naked) and started to panic. And then later in the meeting my wife dropped off Bean and left before I could tell her that I was on the road bike and had no way to transport my youngest spawn back home.
Of course when I left the meeting Bean was missing and so was the bike. When I finally made it home my daughter sat grinning over dinner at the table, but I was short a bicycle.
I’m not one to go on about the meaning of dreams, but this one is clear: the thought of commuting to a meeting in an unfamiliar city had me stressed. What’s different about that is that just a few short months ago I would have welcomed the challenge and scoffed at any negative thoughts. Not only have I stopped burning as many calories of late, but my mind is sinking into lethargy as well. This must cease.
In conclusion, and as an aside, I ended up driving to the meeting because immediately after I’d arrived at work it began snowing and turned the streets sloppy. I wasn’t afraid of riding in the changing conditions, but I had only planned for riding in dry conditions in my khaki pants and button up shirt (under a sweater, obviously). Since it was a morning meeting I knew my pants would end up all grungy from the ride, and I had to remain presentable for the rest of the day. I had not planned accordingly. That won’t happen again.
I am resolved no longer to give in to the laziness that is soaking into my bones. From now on I’ll plan on riding to in town meetings regardless of the weather, the timing or otherwise.

And of course in my desperation of fatness I took off running through the woods and jacked up my ankle.

Monday, March 18

Fattening Up For The Kill

Fate—it seems—has a sense of deviousness. A sprained ankle is one of the most effective ways to guarantee someone can’t burn extra calories. You can hardly walk, can’t run, can’t…ride a bike, can’t tap dance. All you can do is sit around eating Ho-hos (well, you used to be able to eat Ho-hos, now you have to eat some disgusting knock-off) and drink sugary drinks while bemoaning your involuntary hiatus from hardcore training.

Okay, so it was the “hardcore” training that put me on the couch in the first place. That’s not really the point. And the weather! Saturday was phenomenal! I could have cranked through the woods for dozens of miles! But NO! Had to be gimped up. Had to delay gratification. And so I get fat to be served up to an uncaring universe on June 1.
It was a great day though. I took my nine year old son to the Lexington Comic & Toy Convention and he had a blast. Then we went to Games Workshop to round out our geek-fest and he had an even bigger blast. Then the schools were having a Reading Celebration and we went to that and had a continuing blast-fest. And then I went home and sobbed over a grotesquely swollen ankle. But it was worth it.
I saw a friend I hadn’t seen since high school. She’s a comic artist now. I saw a few other friends I hadn’t seen in ages. This whole moving-back-to-my-hometown after five years makes for a string of surreal experiences that are hard to assimilate. I keep running into people I hadn’t seen in decades (two is plural) even though we’d lived in the same town for all those years. Having kids in school brings you back into contact with those people more often than not.
The ankle is improving fast. I’m not limping much today, though I still have some oogly bruising and it is still definitely weak. I’m hoping by the weekend I can at least be on the road bike and start making up some of those lost (gained) calories. My 5k training is on hold, but that’s okay. I can run a 5k right now, I’m just not as graceful as a gazelle yet. Yet.

Friday, March 15

The Leadville Saga: Oops! Training Setback

Just when things seemed like they might be turning around...Daylight savings went back to normal, the weather seemed to want to cooperate a little...BLAMMO! Sprained ankle.

But hey, Dear Readers, you should learn from my mistakes:

Last night I headed onto an obscure trail with less than 10% cell charge, alone, I was racing the setting sun, and wearing only a t-shirt and arm warmers in the 45F air (well, and pants and shoes and underwear too!)...the lesson, Dear Readers, is this:

A sedentary lifestyle will kill you.

I've always maintained that if I were to break (or simply sprain) an ankle while out cavorting in the woods alone that I could always drag myself back to civilization by my teeth if need be. Well, last night I almost needed be.

After a late meeting in Berea I drove back to Clay City. Since the rest of the family was watching my niece's first softball game in another county I decided I'd go for a run. And not just run, but go for a trail run at dusk at a nearby nature preserve.

This Strava record was my actual ascent, nothing to write home about, but it was a good benchmark for me to move forward from in my training.  I did a mile point two in twenty minutes but that was with 710' of gain.

I did not run the entire way up to the overlook. I ran until I thought I was going to die and then slowed to a walk. I kept walking until the trail would level out and I could run again. I made it to the overlook (where supposedly Daniel Boone first saw the Bluegrass) and saw the sun was still high enough off the horizon that I had time to make it back to the car in the daylight.

And then I began my descent.
It went well for most of the return trip. I settled into a nice rhytmn and was beginning to think I wasn't as out of shape as I had thought. I was taking care on the stairs and waterbars. And then...
Well, I rolled my ankle while running downhill at a pretty stiff jog. I immediately jumped back to my feet, growling at the stupidity of it all, and I took a couple of limping steps. I knew that even if I had broken it, the best thing I could do at that moment was to begin walking out. It didn't seem broken, just severely sprained.

And so I began the long limp out, hobbling on the stump of my stupidity.

I must have staggered at least a half a mile. The sun had set by the time I reached the car, but I didn't have to use my light. There was still enough to see by. I sighed in relief as I settled into the car, but wasn't sure how the drive home was going to play out. I drive a stick.

It was more painful than I expected. It was my right ankle I sprained, so at least I didn't have to work the clutch with it. But it was an interesting ride home to say the least.

This isn't the worst sprain I've had. The worst sprain turned half my leg black and almost caused me to pass out in a cloud of nausea before I could get my shoe off. It was oogly.

This time I have hope I'll heal up quick. The biggest danger right now is that I won't give it the attention and rest it needs and/or that I'll sprain it again while its weak.

So learn from my mistakes: stay in shape, don't fall into a wretched state of fitness, and always, always, always maintain the grit to drag yourself out of the woods in a crisis.

Thursday, March 14

My Transportation Philosophy: Part III

This is the conclusion to my three part series. The first two installments can be found here: Part I and Part II
Roads move people.
Roads were not intended to move cars. Or bikes. Or buses. Or horse and buggy combinations. Roads were intended to move people. Dernit.  The idea of roads predates cars by millenia.
You can refuse to yield to a pedestrian walking in a parking lot. But the nanosecond after you reach your destination and get out of your car you become a pedestrian yourself. And have to dive out of the way of some jerk behind the wheel of his SUV that’s driving way too @#$%! fast in the parking lot!
Don’t get me started on parking lots. I have a huge issue with our standard design of having a public drive lane across the front of every building. Doors are for people, not parking, not dropping off, not waiting for a spouse, but for human beings to enter a structure. There is no need for drive-up SOV access to public entrances. Stop being so lazy. There, I said it. And if you're going to be lazy...SLOW DOWN near the doors!
Freedom. That’s what I was going to address in this post. What is it about driving that resounds with those who see freedom as the number one consideration in life? That’s easy. We think because we have a key to a four-wheeled, steel and plastic contraption capable of travelling at much more than human speeds we are more free than if we did not have access to such a powerful machine. (There is no fundamental human right that implies each individual on planet earth is entitled to singular access to a petroleum powered chariot.)
But are we more free? What choices have we given up to maintain our deathgrip on the choice to drive?
Would you prefer to live within walking distance of your place of employment or live 50 miles away (if you had the option of choosing)?
Which choice gives you more freedom?
If you live within walking distance of your job you can walk, bike, or drive to work. If you live 50 miles away driving is the only practical option left to you. And believe me, I know, having commuted 20 miles one way to go to classes, once you get over 20 miles the bike becomes less and less feasible as a mode of transportation.
So if you truly value freedom you would choose (if you could) to live and work close together. There are many reasons people choose to live far away from their jobs. Some people necessarily will work in the city, but prefer to live in the suburbs or the country and vice versa. Some people cannot find jobs close to where they already live and do not want to move. This is a problem in itself, that we cannot satisfy ourselves occupationally in our hometowns, but I’m not going to address that factor in this post.
If you do not have the option of walking, or biking, or taking public transit to your destination (to fulfill your intentions) then what freedoms can you still enjoy? Well, you can enjoy the freedom to have a driver’s license. Oh wait, those are compulsory if you want to drive and be in compliance with the law in all fifty states of the union. Then you can still enjoy the freedom to pay car insurance. That’s a freedom in all fifty states of the union as well. Oh, not a freedom? That’s right, another compulsory law. Well, you still have the freedom to buy as much gas as you want. Right? No matter how much it costs? And when the car breaks down you still have the freedom to choose NOT to pay exorbitant amounts to get it fixed. Right? When the ole odometer clicks over 300,000 miles you still have the freedom not to replace the car and choose a different mode of transportation. When your commute is 50 miles one way. Right?
When you stretch out your destination beyond the scale that is humanly traversable you give up a lot of freedoms. Now, this might be hard to understand for those of us (you) that enjoy a more than modest income. It’s easy for me to understand because I grew up with little to spare, and at times in my life mourned the lost income burned up in the combustion chambers of my car engine.
If you feel the pain at the pump, and I mean really FEEL it, then this concept is easy to understand:

 You’re not truly free when you’re a slave to your car.
You might love your car. You might enjoy your car. But that doesn’t make you any more free to decide where to spend your life energy (represented by cold hard cash or numbers in a computer.)
As a society we’re not truly free if we’re slaves to our transportation infrastructure. If we can only survive as long as we keep throwing cash at our existing roads and bridges and wringing our hands because we can’t afford to build more lanes and more roads then we’re not really a free people.  Do we want to be free now, or at some distant point in the future when we've finally built enough roads?
My family was more resilient when we only had one car but were able to make many of our trips on foot or by bike. We didn’t funnel as much money into the lone car we had and we prolonged its life by using it less. We practiced true conservatism, and we were rewarded with the freedom to spend more of our life energy as we pleased.
Now we’re on the cusp of making the choices all over again. The problem now is there is a layer of complexity that we didn’t face before. Once we sell the house in Colorado and begin looking for permanent digs we will need to weigh the economics of the 80 mile daily commute with the possibility of owning some land versus the 5 mile commute and a diminished opportunity to directly provide our own food and basic needs. See, we want a small farm to grow produce and raise animals. And it would be possible for us to do this fairly cheaply in our home county. It would be hard work, but also fulfilling, and something we’ve talked about for a few years now. Or we could live in Lexington and try to be backyard farmers, skirting the regulations, trying to shoehorn in a land use that isn’t optimal in suburbia.
In the whole scheme of things is it better to pour excessive resources into a car commute while working toward self-sufficiency, or is it better to reduce the direct carbon footprint of my family and be more dependent on the carbon footprint of the food delivery system? This is actually not as easy as it seems to sort out.
And what pains me most is that to have the job I have now, which I love, and which I see as being a place where I can do some real good, I can’t have my cake and eat it too. But I made a choice, and I still have some freedom to continue choosing. At least for now.
My closing point is just to reiterate what I said in the beginning of this post and tie it back in with my previous posts:
Roads move people.
Roads were not intended to move cars.
So when we look at planning any kind of development, whether it be transportation infrastructure, residential or commercial development, or anything at all, we need to first consider if we can reduce the time and/or distance that people need to move. Second, we can then look at reducing the friction in our existing transportation system, and then, if all else fails, look to building a new road with all users’ needs considered and incorporated into the construction. And we do this to give people back their time, which is what we truly value as finite beings in a harsh world.


Wednesday, March 13

My Transportation Philosophy: Part II

This is, ironically, part 2 of a series of three posts. Part 1 can be found here: My Transportation Philosophy: Part I and the conclusion here: Part III

As I suggested in my last post population may be the underlying root of our transportation problems, but what is the purpose of transportation? That is a question that bears some examination because if there were no need for transportation (my unwritten secret #1 metric: eliminate the need to travel) then we wouldn’t need transportation planning.

The purpose of transportation is to move people. Where are we moving people? Between destinations. What are destinations? To borrow from Jarrett Walker destinations are intentions. We intend to provide for our families. This requires moving from one destination (our homes) to another (our jobs) and back home. We intend to provide a good education for our children. This requires moving our children from one destination (again, our homes) to another (the school we have chosen for them) and back. “Transportation” is really secondary to the intention. It is simply the conduit along which we move as we exercise our will.

When you have a large number of people attempting to exercise their individual wills you get a lot of conflict through congestion, crossing lines of drift, and time loss.
Again, to borrow from Walker, while we are travelling between our intended destinations our lives are on hold (not always, but I’ll get to that) and we feel the loss of time—the theft of our lives—as we pine away behind the wheel stuck in traffic. And so, when someone impedes our progress toward our destination, delaying our intentions, we feel as if they are wasting our time. As the minutes tick away while I cannot engage in my intended activities I sense my mortality more acutely and am driven by the urgency to reach my destination.
So how can our travels be less of a taking and more of a desired addition to our lives? How can we enjoy moving back and forth between our destinations? That is a complex question, but possibly a simple question to answer. It all depends on our motivation. There have been times in my life that I enjoyed a good long car ride. It allowed me to unwind from a stressful day, or to delay the return to work, or a stressful situation at home. Honestly, for me, sometimes driving has been an escape from the historical wretchedness of my life. 

But the reality is that being alone in the car was not what I desired, it was not my path to true happiness or enlightenment. It was simply the only avenue I had to relieve the pressures of my life at the given time. I was unaware that I had other options; or at the time had limited options for the relief I sought. It just so happened that I had unreasonably long car commutes at the time.
How many of us truly enjoy a half hour or hour long commute alone in our cars? We must not enjoy them too much because we do as much as we can to distract ourselves from the drudgery of driving by listening to the radio, talking or texting on our smartphones, eating, curling our hair (no, seriously!), or whatever else we find ourselves doing to take our minds of the boredom of driving the same roads day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day.
Time is valuable. And for many people, time is much more valuable than money. I can say for myself this is fundamentally true. I want the time to do the things I want to do. I don’t care as much about having only money to show for the time I’ve spent on this planet. Or burned up fossil fuels.

To continue my earlier sidebar: when I choose the bike over the car my life is NOT on hold. I'm actively engaged in transportation, not semi-actively (or downright detached) transporting myself along my intentions behind the wheel of a car. The time is mine and I do not feel its loss. 
You get my point? It’s no secret that we don’t find happiness in the act of daily driving. But what about freedom? We love us some freedom in this country. We like it even more if its fried and super-sized. But what is freedom in the context of transportation? Ah-ha! Part III will answer that question.

Tuesday, March 12

My Transportation Philosophy: Part I

This is the first in a series of three posts regarding my evolving personal philosophy on transportation planning. I assure you, these views will change as I evolve and gain more knoweldge and experience. Parts 2 & 3 can be found here: My Transportation Philosophy: Part II and Part III

Remember not so long ago I mentioned that I was thankful that I didn’t end up being the lone right-brained soul in a left-brained transportation department? Well, I’m still so thankful, and my not-so-frequent encounters with other left-brainers continually reaffirm that view and even gets me thinking a little deeper.

When I realized I was going to become a transportation planner I decided I needed to write down what I believed was important regarding transportation maintenance and development; a personal transportation philosophy if you will.
I don’t agree with the “make ‘em wider and build more of ‘em” mentality regarding roads. It bugs me that some people only look toward the building of more and bigger roads to solve all of our transportation problems. That really makes no sense. More pavement on the ground means more of our local and state budgets dedicated to the upkeep of roads and bridges. It’s just not sensible to continually invest in more and more asphalt. We can’t afford it now, and our grandchildren definitely can’t afford it.
And it goes without saying that by always looking toward expanding the roads we’re just doing more to encourage the rampant overuse of the SOV (single occupancy vehicle). Instead of figuring out ways to cram more people into the pipes we should perhaps look outside the pipes.
While sitting chin on fist, elbow on knee, I came up with a simple metric for transportation planning. This is not my sum total transportation philosophy, but it’s a key tool and component for assessing needs. The goal of this metric is to scale back the use of the SOV to reduce congestion and improve air quality, as well as reduce our investment in suburban sprawl and unsustainable infrastructure development. The goal—in a nutshell—is transportation sustainability. Here we go:

1)       Eliminate the distance and/or frequency needed to travel.

2)      Reduce friction along existing routes.

3)      Create new routes.
The first level assumes that you cannot combine all destinations into one geographic point. It is what I’ve referred to in the past as “condensing your lifestyle.” This is probably the most feasible and most effective approach considering that the toothpaste is already out of the tube so to speak. Instead of figuring out how to allow people to continue with their 20 mile commutes as fast as possible, perhaps we could look at encouraging people to reduce the distances they need to travel by car, by either relocating or by using alternate modes of transportation or mode sharing. Again, these solutions are less about dusting off the paving machines and more about mentally restructuring our lives. If you decide you’ll make choices that bring you closer to your destinations and maintain that attitude, then eventually you’ll succeed and reduce your transportation footprint.

I struggle with the second one. I’m most definitely NOT saying that the next possibility is to widen, straighten, and flatten our roads until they are all four lane, limited access boulevards with 65 mph speed limits. “Reducing friction” may involve traffic calming to even out congestion. It may involve making certain streets one way. It may involve restricting a street to bike-ped-transit traffic only. Reducing friction could mean employing more transit to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. But it may also include widening, straightening, and flattening. 
It’s like an energy audit before installing solar on your roof: before you make the big investment, make sure you’re doing everything you can to conserve and reduce your usage. Otherwise you gain little and struggle to recoup your investment costs.

The absolute last ditch solution should be to build a new road. And even then (knowing that before most new roads are completed they are already obsolete) we should already be thinking of how to reduce traffic, not accommodate more and more and more cars. We will never build our way out of our congestion problems. If we can manage to alleviate them for a time we know that it is only a matter of time before there are enough cars on the roads to clog even the most overly built highways into gridlock.

And so, that leads us back to the root of all of our transportation problems: population. But I’m not going back there right now.

Monday, March 11

What's Next? Riderless Bicycles?

Last week I was listening to NPR on my morning commute. I do those things now. Commute in my car, listen to the radio, cry… Anyway, there was a story on driverless cars and who is liable in an accident involving them.

Before the story developed I was disturbed. As it is in our culture liability is largely skewed and is a concept redesigned to benefit all the wrong people. For those cyclists out there (hopefully still reading) I’m sure we can all cite our favorite story of injustice where some distracted or inebriated motorist struck a cyclist or a pedestrian and got away with little more than a slap on the wrist, or worse yet, the true victim in the situation bore all the blame.
When we add another layer of complexity to the already disgusting mess that is the insurance and legal systems I think we’re exceeding the effectiveness of all parts of the greater system. Driverless cars will only encourage more finger pointing, denial of responsibility, and a complete inattention to the true victims in collisions.
No one will be liable, everyone (car owners, manufacturers, etc) will have someone else to blame, and the courts will become mired down in trying to sort out the mess. Of course, the point of the story seemed to be the need to draft legislation to address this new phenomenon, but I doubt more laws on our roadways will improve anything.
So I have some questions. Who programs how sensitive the driverless car’s sensors are? Sensing a cyclist on the side of the road would be a special consideration. The car would need to identify the cyclist against the background noise, assess the cyclists’ speed, potentially assess the cyclists’ intentions, plan for passing with enough room to be safe, and also be programed to prevent right hooks, left hooks, doorings, etc, etc.

Oh yeah, if I’m dreaming I’m dreaming big. Those programmers better factor in doorings, because once we motorists start letting the car drive you know the next thing we’re going to want the car to do is open our door for us, followed by voice activated windows, air conditioning and then a feature where the car goes out and does all your errands while you watch golf from your hoverchair by the pool.
When you program a driverless car, does the car prioritize the safety of road users outside the car or inside? In other words, does the car follow the Three Laws of Robotics? Whoo hoo! Getting all sci-fi geek on you, eh?
Let’s quick review those three laws:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Driverless cars are going to !@#$ up the first law. Humans won’t be able to program driverless cars in such a way that injurious or fatal collisions cease. The reason humans won’t be able to effectively program driverless cars to obey Asimov’s first robotic law is because the car is still going to be the priority. Robotic cars won’t slow down, NO, we’ll use the automation as a rationalization to speed the !@#$ers up. And as long as the speeds are faster than that of a human scale then the slower-moving objects will continue to get pulverized. So let me restate the first sentence: Human programmers are going to !@#$ up the first law.
Do I really believe this? Maybe not 100%. But based on recent history I believe that profit will be the primary driver, and if profit can be maximized at the expense of a few pedestrians and cyclists (acceptable collateral damage) then the programming will not be as tight as it should be. If the profit margins are high enough, we know that corporations would rather take their chances and just pay fines, settled for millions, and watch the profits roll right over them.
Who will watch out for pedestrians and cyclists? Y’know, those of us not driving right now.
I don’t think driverless cars are a good idea. I mean, you don’t burn a ton of calories driving, but for pity’s sake, aren’t we fat enough from our sedentary lifestyles? Are we too lazy to continue driving with the minimal level of attention that’s become standard in our society? Why not invest in transit instead of this technological dead end? 
And, like the title of the post, if we continue down this road of absurdities, what’s next? Riderless bicycles?