Friday, December 14, 2012

Bone Chill

Many of my regular readers have asked why I have been silent for a couple weeks. Truth is that I have been riding and writing however last weekend I got struck down with the flu. I have three incomplete entries that are now sitting stagnate waiting for me to recover. 

For the past week I have been slowly melting into my couch, coughing, sneezing and trying to manage my manic body temperature that hopped between freezing and burning like a jack rabbit. 

I am on the mend, slowly but surely.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Broke It

Lee and I rode Paradise Valley on Wednesday night. We each fought the overwhelming urge to sit on the couch and watch TV; so easy to do this time of year. Not only does it get dark around 4:30 but rain has been falling off and on for several weeks and so it came as no surprise that it started to rain again around noon on Wednesday. Yuck. Oh yeah, and it’s cold. These are not the most encouraging conditions to jump on a bike and go for a ride: wet, cold, and dark. 

At the trail head we shuffled around, getting our gear on and chatting about the day as the rain came down. Helmet, pads, gloves, fenders all being put on wet. As if we needed any more of a deterrent, the rain pounded harder to test our resolve. Once you’re wet, well, you’re wet. We saddled up and off into the black forest we rode.

When everything is soaked with water riding becomes more about keeping in contact with the bike and less about getting fast section times. My grip is tighter because my gloves and grips are wet and slippery. My feet are tense because my shoes and pedals are covered in muck. My glasses are fogged by the mixture of body heat, dripping rain and sweat. Not that it matters because it’s foggy and it’s cold enough to see my breath so each time I exhale I push out a cloud of steam in front of me that obscures my already diminished vision.

It was under these conditions that I broke it. For the first time I broke a small piece of Paradise. All the conditions were awful and I felt sapped and unmotivated; being cold, wet and shrouded in darkness does that. Somehow, I managed to set a personal best on one section of single track, Cascara is about a half mile of up/down, twisty-tight trail with plenty of roots and obstacles. I shouldn’t have even come close to my best time and yet I beat it and by a respectable margin. This is the kind of thing that keeps me out there, keeps me going, and keeps me interested. Not because I’m looking to get record breaking times but because even though I didn’t “feel” like riding I did it anyway and I proved to myself that I can still produce excellent results despite having the odds stacked against me.

True to life, my exuberance was short-lived. About 30 minutes later I barreled in to a corner covered in slimy roots and my front tire gave way. My bike slammed flat to the trail and I lurched sideways against a dead tree stump about as round as my thigh. I broke the top two feet of the decayed tree off with my ribcage. It knocked the wind out of my body but not my spirit. I picked up my bike and kept riding, needless to say, I did not break any time records after that. Paradise giveth and Paradise taketh away.

Monday, November 26, 2012


A master Japanese potter will deliberately mark his beautiful and delicate masterpiece with a single blemish. They have a word for this, I am sure but I do not know what it is. Not the point. The point is everything is flawed either by accident or by design, incidental or deliberate, natural or man-made. We know this deep in our bones and yet somehow we strive for perfection. Hopelessly in search of the flawless. So it should not come as a surprise when the simple and humble bike breaks or stops working. They do though and usually at the worst time. 

My heart is pounding hard, I can feel it deep in my jawbone. I normally try to breathe through my nose mostly but not now, I am sucking in all the oxygen I can get. My mouth is wide open and I am eating the air and swallowing hard. Legs are pumping and pushing the bike crank round and round, one agonizing revolution after another. Up the hill I go, over slippery roots, uneven rocks, and loose, wet dirt. My quads are burning with lactic acid, the arches of my feet ache from attempting to hold my feet fast to the wet pedals. 

Every muscle and fiber of my body wants to tighten down and strain against the steep hill climb. I have to intentionally relax my upper body in times like this so I don't injure myself or make a tactical mistake and crash because I'm too tense. It's an odd feeling; pushing my lower body to it's bitter edge while simultaneously relaxing my upper body. Being careful not to relax so much that I lose my grip or steering control. My hands resting on the grips, lightly with all of my fingers relaxed and straight. 

I open my mouth wide to relax my jaw. It's at this moment, during my hardest effort that it breaks, my sweetness, my bike. Not break exactly but expose a flaw, show me a blemish, introduce me to its lack of perfection. It gave way under the force of my hard-charging legs. The pedal stopped resisting and just gave way completely with no fight, no nothing. All I got was the unmistakable sound of the gears changing and not finding it's home, anywhere. The chain jumped free and then jammed.

So there I lay, with my bike. Both of us flawed, broken, covered in mud, sweat, and alone. I'm still breathing heavy. Cussing, of course, looking up at the trees that just stand there looming over me like shocked bystanders at some horrible accident. They are no help to me. I'm not hurt but I am mad. How can I make this better; me, my bike, my riding, my living? How can I do this by myself, where has my master potter gone? How can I fix the flaws, overcome the mistakes, make the right choices? How?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Round Pegs Make Round Holes

Mountain biking, or any worthwhile endeavor that requires self-mastery through consistent effort, sacrifice, and dedication will at some point ask for more than can easily be given. The request usually comes at the point of physical exhaustion, imbalance, or mental fatigue. It never wants anything except absolutely everything you have and whatever is left after that too. 

The trail post that marks the beginning of a wicked single track bears a sign with one of the most ominous trail monikers, "Braveheart". Just to begin requires a hard swallow, a gut check, and a sternly worded pep talk. To start is to commit fully, there is no stopping and getting off or quitting once the front wheel rolls over the top ridge of the trail head. 

The ground falls away from the bike so steeply that I am completely off my seat with my arms stretched to their limit as I try to counterbalance the quickly descending bike by nearly sitting on my rear wheel. My bike speeds, tumbles, and bucks down the face of this fifty-foot luge. The side of this hill is packed with jagged stones of various sizes and shapes. These misshapen blocks force my direction and at multiple points they actually drop off completely on the downhill side by a foot or more. 

Under normal conditions this trail is technically challenging to say the least. Add to that the fact that the Northwest has been saturated with rain for a solid month. This rain turns everything into mush; wet leaves, spongy moss, and gooey forest debris all mix together into this sort of slimy and slippery Vaseline that coats every surface; especially jagged stones of various sizes and shapes. 

In situations such as this descent, foot position on the pedal is critically important. But with all the other things I was trying to manage, navigate, and control (like NOT killing myself) it slipped my mind. Mountain biking made me pay for that lack of attention in-full, plus interest. About halfway down the face my front wheel leapt from the top edge of a drop and slammed hard on an unyielding block and my ill-positioned left foot slipped off the pedal. The results can be seen in the picture above. I didn't crash, I just kept going, riding, pedaling and pushing myself up the next hill. 

Friday, November 16, 2012


I do not intend to do all seven deadly sins but I simply cannot avoid this one: sloth. I never understood why laziness would be listed in the top seven bad habits that warranted the moniker of "deadly", until now. I rode heavily this past summer. It felt great. But it's been over two weeks since I've even looked at my bike. I have, however, riden the couch in front of the TV like a mad man. 

The body atrophies quickly with lack of exercise. I have done more harm than good by resting for as long as I have. Now when I go back out to ride it will feel very much like the first time. It's not going to be pretty. In fact I am so bored and disgusted with myself that I don't even have the motivation to write this blog entry. How sad is that?

At some point, even the sloth has to get up off the dirt and forage for food right? Right? He does eventually get up. I am pretty sure that other animals don't actually come serve him meals like ordering room service at the Fairmont Hotel, which sounds really good at the moment. 

If we let our inner sloth take over, then the view never changes, if we never challenge ourselves we never learn anything. We grow through doing, not sitting. It's been raining pure sadness here for two weeks straight and so that makes it crazy hard to get up the motivation to go ride in the muck. But into the muck I must go. My sanity depends on it.

Okay, so I have resolved to not let my slothfulness be the death of me. I am committing to myself and the throngs of my devoted followers (all four of you) that I will rise up this weekend and ride. But not before I eat something. Hey what's the number for room service again? Let's all say it together: ice cream is my friend!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Being listed as one of the seven deadly sins can hamper a word's image. Add to that several centuries of religious dogma declaring it a tool of that rascal Lucifer and it can be rather confusing to see our culture embrace it with such reckless abandon. We live in a culture of conspicuous consumption. Lust is the icing slathered on top of every salacious news report, advertising campaign and Hollywood romantic comedy. It is inescapable. It seeps in to our subconscience despite our best efforts against it. 

With that said, I have a confession; I have lusted after YETI mountain bikes for longer than I care to admit. Now they have really outdone themselves and I find myself starving for something I didn't know I needed, until I saw it: the YETI SB66C (C is for Carbon Fiber). The frame weighs 6 pounds and boasts 6 inches of rear travel. What?! Plus, they've spent the last two years engineering their new "Switch Technology" platform. I won't bother to describe it here, suffice it to say: it's bitchin!

The question I always ask myself, when it comes to spending more money to upgrade to something different: Does it really make a difference? In this case it's not a matter of throwing done a few hundred bucks or even a thousand. A real top-notch build out of this frame would set someone back about eight grand. Wow! Now, the bike magazine editors would have us believe that it makes all the difference in the world. These guys ramble on for paragraphs about how they can detect the difference in a bike's weight change of just a few miserable ounces. Uh huh, sure.

The problem with giving in to lust is that once the seal is broken it cannot be fixed. The gash never heals and in most cases the opening just gets bigger and bigger until one day it just flows through without resistance. So how much is enough? When is good enough acceptable? Even if I do decide that enough is enough and that my current ride is more than acceptable, how do I turn off the craving, or at least dial it down so I can get some sleep?

It's a pretty straightforward choice at this point because I can't really justify laying down that kind of cash. That doesn't mean I've stopped thinking about it. It doesn't mean I've stopped trying to justify doing it anyway. I've come up with some awesome rationalizations. None of which have passed the muster of trying to convince others that it's important. Because even if I had unlimited resources I'm not sure I could bring myself to spend that much money just for the sake of lust. It is dreadfully tempting though. I guess that's why it's still on the deadly sins list. Lust:


See more delicious pictures of the SB66 Carbon here 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dirt Rag Magazine

I haven't posted  here in awhile. Not for a lack of riding, even though the weather here has conspired to make riding a challenge. I've been poring all of my creative juices into a single piece. Every year Dirt Rag Magazine holds a Literature Contest and I was determined to enter something this year. I'll post here first if I win and if I don't then I will post the story that I entered. 

Thanks everyone for the support and stayed tuned, I'll be riding and writing very soon.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What it is

When I tell people, "I'm into mountain biking" they look at me with this blank stare like I've just said, "I'm into eating cereal for breakfast". They are completely unimpressed, uninterested and begin looking for an exit. If I dare make an attempt to elaborate, I notice a heavy glaze stretch their face downward as if some invisible force is pulling a nylon stocking over their head, bank robber style. 

Today I realized why; context. When I say mountain biking I mean one thing but when most people hear it they think something completely different. Why? Because everyone knows what a mountain bike is, they have at least one themselves, hanging from the ceiling in the garage, on the deck or in a tool shed. They've been meaning to ride it but they never get around to it. So there's a disconnect. 

I'm going to fix that disconnection here, with pictures. When I say mountain biking this is the image that pops into everyone's brain:

Ha! Maybe if you're some 80 year old retiree living out your last days in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. 

This is what it means to me:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Darker than a Raven's Taint

Crash, Caution & Princess' Bike

The theater is solemnly dark and mostly still. But somewhere the sound of shuffling, stirring, and rustling can be heard. Shapes, shadows and figures are just blotches here without the light from overhead. 

A thick, ink-black, plush-velvet curtain, drawn closed at the outermost edge of the stage has a small hole in it. The hole shines bright from the light it leaks. A bright beam from beyond, as if shining from the crown of a lighthouse.

Grab the fabric taut with both hands, peer through to see beyond the engulfing darkness. But only bits can be seen, not the entire stage, not all at once. Pivoting the view reveals different aspects, sections, parts and pieces but never the whole stage production. Never enough to get a true sense of where this belongs, or that sits, or how these things relate to those things. Sharp greens, bright yellows, deep oranges scatter the floor and bright white drops shimmer under the harsh spot light and give only a hint of their true nature.

Riding in the near-dark of dusk, shrouded by the thick canopy of century old pines is one thing (see earlier post: Riding Braille), but riding in the dark black of night is entirely different. Day and night different? No. More like the difference between coffee with cream and sugar and black coffee.

This is how I chose to spend my birthday. Me and my two friends, Crash and Caution, with lights strapped to our helmets, rode off into the sea of black. Paradise was empty, completely, save our trio. 

I love riding at night because the problem solving of day riding is amplified at night. With only a small spotlight punching a hole through the deepest darkness its difficult to see the whole problem. Only parts and pieces, sections and samplings but never the whole thing. Never seeing enough to get a true sense of the next obstacle, or corner, or where the actual trail is. Rain-soaked leaves cover the ground with sharp greens, bright yellows and deep oranges. Beautiful but slippery dangerous. I can't wait to go again.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


The black speck at the crest is Lee

By any standard of measurement, riding to the summit of Tiger Mountain is difficult. From the upper parking lot the ascent is over 4 miles on a loose-gravel service road. The incline is relentless and constant, there are no flat or downhill breaks from the 30 degree ascent, in fact, the only change comes when it actually gets steeper. It takes over an hour to gain over 1700 feet of elevation, pedaling the entire time. Which I did not do.

But mountain biking is like that: difficult. When it 's approached with serious devotion, with intent, and in a way that leads to mastery; it's hard, it's painful, it's dangerous and more often than not, it's crashing. 

Most of the time a crash is scrapes, bumps, and bruises but sometimes a crash is breaks, blackouts, and permanent damage. Crash, is also the nickname of my best friend and faithful riding companion, Lee. I've been friends with Crash since the 80's but he only just received his mountain bike name this summer. 

Ride after ride, he would crash, usually in very spectacular ways but always without drama. He simply gets back on his bike and rides on as if nothing happened. 

Consistently crashing on a mountain bike (several times each ride) usually means that the rider is out of their depth, or their skill set is less than the conditions demand, or they quickly find themselves in an unsolvable problem. In Lee's case it's different. Lee crashes not from inability or inexperience; he crashes with intent. That is not to say that he deliberately sets out to go ass-over-tea-kettle. No. 

He rides with abandonment and with the idea that every ride is an opportunity to become better, to push himself past his limits, to break his old-self into pieces so he can carry them forward into a place of mastery. This unrelenting effort is difficult to match. Combine all that with his iron will, the endurance of a Kenyan marathoner and the result is that I frequently find myself on rides with him where I watch him disappear ahead of me down the trail without effort. 

The ride on Tiger Mountain was a typical ride with Crash. I struggled up the road with everything I had, I dismounted often, I walked my bike (shameful), and I cussed. Not Lee, yeah he struggled too but his determination and tenacity kept his pedals moving when mine stopped. I am reminded of that brutal ride today because we rode 12 crushing miles at Lord Hill this morning and once we started on a trail I saw very little of Crash. Only at crossroads, he'd patiently wait, as if he'd been there all day. 

Crash to Master.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Riding Braille

Greg aka: Caution riding into the darkness

It's that time of year. Gone are the long summer nights when the sun hangs in the sky forever. Now it runs to the horizon like its late for dinner and darkness drops like a thick blanket in an instant. One minute it's light and the next it's black.

I love this time of year though, my favorite season actually. The smells, the colors, the chill in the air and it is the run-up to the Holidays. Also, someone managed to throw my birthday in there as well. 

Our weekly rides at Paradise Valley run from 6 to 8 usually. Wednesday night, however, night fell hard at 7:30. Even so, it was dark in the woods long before that. In the deep thick of Two Trees Trail or the black hollows of Llyod's Trail the way is not always clear even when the sun is at high noon. But at dusk, trees seem closer, the roots swallowed up in the dark shadows, bumps and dips appear flat and all around the dark blanket of night closes in. 

It can be a bit creepy, dead leaves, quietly dark woods and then suddenly the deep, sharp hoot of an owl sends goosebumps across the skin and that pretty much seals the feeling. The temperature and the sun drop and so does the riding speed. Trails that normally record quick riding times turn into leg dragging zombies when night falls. 

I often take for granted, the ability to clearly see the way ahead, the ground beneath, and more importantly the stumbling obstacles in my path. But a funny thing happens when the sight line disappears and I'm left with nothing but my memory of the trail and the feel of the bike as it responds to the conveyor belt of bumps and bobbles, twists and turns, and the ups and downs. My mind relaxes. 

As I've mentioned before, Paradise Valley is awesome technical riding. Riding there is an exercise in rapid, consecutive, and  complicated problem solving: what gear, what line, what effort, what apex, what's next? Quickly, bam-bam-bam and sometimes crash! But when all of the equation's variables are obscured by the black magic marker of night the problem becomes unsolvable. 

And so we plow through it, the dark unknown, doing the best we can with what we have. Smiling the whole way.     

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Broken But Not Shattered

Trail jump on Lloyd's Detour guarded by a hungry squirrel 

Last summer I broke my arm. Mountain biking, of course. It was embarrassingly unspectacular, the crash that nearly snapped that little knob of bone that pokes up at the elbow-end of my left arm. My doctor said "You have a radial head fracture", as she shook her head. She was not happy with me. I had waited two weeks after the not-so-epic incident to go see her. But this entry isn't really about that crash, or the break, or the recovery. 

I rode differently after that. I tried not to but I couldn't help it. I had wrecked before and hurt myself but I healed and kept riding. This was different. I really broke myself. Not just my arm but my confidence. It made me realize that I was not invincible. I bought a crap load of protective gear after that. New helmet, chest and shoulder protector, elbow pads, shin guards, knee pads, elbow pads and a back pack with spine pad and I even seriously considered wearing a mouth guard. 

I rode like I was afraid to fall off my bike. Which I did anyway, frequently. Each time I did I tried to resist the fall, like I was trying to hold the entire world back with my arms. Vainly attempting to keep it safely away from my core. Complete bullshit. I crumbled every time under the weight of my body and the force of my own forward momentum. I finally learned how to crash well. Rolling out of a fall instead of resisting the inevitable. 

My confidence went up, a little. I realized that falling from my bike wasn't going to kill me, in most cases. Hurt? Yes but death, not likely. 

I really enjoy technical riding: tight turns, close trees, complicated roots, rapid gear changes. These types of trails always have man-made obstacles as well. They go hand-in-hand. Split-wood bridges, downed tree curbs, ramps, and fallen-tree-rails are all common trail tricks. I've always avoided these and even more so after the break. Because crashing and falling on these types of trails is common. So I've, done only the ones that were unavoidable and skirted around the rest. 

On Saturday, I decided to try the only trail at Paradise that I had not ridden, Llyod's Detour. Last year, a trusted riding buddy told me it was unrideable and so I just ignored it. But yesterday I thought, what the hell and tried it anyway. He was right. It's a very short trail, about half a mile and it is packed full of super technical stuff, natural and man-made. In truth, my first time through I was off my bike more than I was on it. 

I didn't care! I fell in love. It is so technically challenging that I would bet that there isn't a rider out there that can make it the entire Detour without touching foot to ground at least 4 or 5 times. 

I went back again today. I rode nothing else but the Detour. Forward and backward. Six or seven times. I forced myself to do the obstacles. If I fell off (which I did often), I stopped, turned around and tried it again. Over and over until I could do it without a mistake and then I rode to the next one. I was determined to ride that bastard without a mistake. That didn't happen today. 

There is always tomorrow and I am feeling less broken with each ride. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Red Right Hand

From Left: Ken, Dad, Kyle, Kirt, Keith

I look down at my right hand, palm facing up. It's covered, uneven and blotchy, and dripping. Drop by slow-motion drop, on my pants, my shoes, the floor. Its red and its everywhere. My fingers are so coated that my index and middle fingers stick together easily. I test the tackiness by moving the two fingers out and in, out and in, like I'm cutting thin air with my crimson soaked fingers. I can feel it drying on my skin, making it tight. I'm entranced by the glossy sheen. 

I've mentioned that dad and I had an arrangement. The sort of thing that just kind of happens. No one set out to make a pact. Naturally, I guess, is how I always thought of it. Although, I knew him, I know me. I know that he yearned for moments to teach, to impart his vast knowledge, experience and passion. To watch over someone as they pushed through a problem under their own power, it brought him the kind of joy that turns the monotony of day-to-day living into something cool. 

He never had to wait long with me. Just around the next corner was another stupid mistake, and a wonderful opportunity for him to teach me something. He was not the sort of man that stood on a soap box with a bull horn to declare his mastery of a thing. Quiet, reserved and patient, to a fault perhaps. Frustrated and perplexed, I would stare at him, my brows pinned together like two rams with their horns locked. Every one of my questions to him was answered with a question. 

Argh! Just tell me the answer! 

He would have none of that. Mostly because I was bad at asking the right question. One of his greatest skills, I think, was his uncanny ability to ask the right question at the right time. I'm too impatient for that nonsense. No matter. Not to him. To him the lesson isn't really the one I think it should be. The problem, the one in hand, is rarely the real problem. Not the one that needs fixing, a remedy, or a sternly taught instruction to prevent it from happening again. 

No. Not this problem: red hand, red pants, red shirt, red shoes, and red floor. The resolution to this sticky situation will not prevent its reoccurrence. He quietly looks at me, waiting. I must mentally back track. Balancing along the train rail, following the hard line in my brain that leads me back to where the train left the station, the moment I made the wrong choice. AH HA! I got it!

He sees it in my face and the confidence streams through my 7 year old body. I smile up at him. He smiles back at me and asks, "What is your question?"

I hold out for his inspection, my red right hand and ask him the right question, "How do I hold the can of spray paint so it paints my bike and NOT my hand?" "Ah" he says patiently "excellent question, let me show you how to do that AFTER I show you how to get that paint off your hands".

And so It went. Year after year, I learned how to ask the right question. Sometimes I even got it right on the first try. 

The picture above includes a bike that was obviously painted by one of the boys (most likely Ken) under dad's watchful eye. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Tiger

Mac & Lee at the summit of NW Timber Trail (elevation 1550)

New hand-built trail from East Tiger Summit (elevation 3005)

The Tiger (My rewrite, with apologies to William Blake)

Tiger, tiger, broke my butt
Riding trails where trees were cut,
Nature carved by human hand
Rode all day why can't I stand?

In what distant deep brain of man
Conceived this gnarly trail plan?
On what planet did he dream?
This hell-of-a downhill scream?

And what the hell did he think
The trees flash by in a blink?
And my heart sped up the beat,
Roots, rocks blurred beneath my feet?

What more roots? And what more rocks?
Will I heal from all these shocks?
What the crazy? What Kung Fu?
Strikes hard my every sinew?

When the ascent threw down spears,
I watered the hill with tears,
Did Tiger smile at me?
Nearly conquered it could see?

Tiger, tiger, broke my butt
Riding trails where trees were cut,
Nature carved by human hand
Rode all day why can't I stand?

Interested in reading the original poem: The Tiger by William Blake

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fairy Dust and Angry Gnomes

Normally our 'Saint Saturday' ride is casual, laid-back, and care free. It has been noted that I have yet to crash, hit a tree, or fall off my bike while riding Saint Edward Park. Due mostly to our attitude going in to this ride, Caution (Greg) and I do this relaxed ride every Saturday morning, early to avoid the throngs. After we crank off 7 or so easy miles we pack up gear and head to Caffe Ladro for coffee, sugar, and idle chit-chat. No sweat. 

Our ride this morning was the usual affair with two notable exceptions: a blizzard of fairy dust and angry trail gnomes (see pictured above). 

Easy first. This time of year, in the Northwest, brings with it little rain, much like the rest of the country. Our foliage, used to a constant spritz of fine mist year-round, dries up rapidly under the harsh NW sun and scorching 85 degree heat. Thankfully these torturous conditions typically last only 10 days, often times strangling out 14 straight days. The horror!

As a result, ground-cover turns brown or reverts into its original essence: dust. For mountain bikers this means that trails, once compacted with damp soil, are now covered in a thick layer of fairy dust, with hard pack underneath. Tricky surface this. Riding style for this condition is similar to riding over wet and slippery surface-mud. Tricky because the surface is not slippery to walk on, unlike walking on mud but it is 'slippery' to ride on. Not slippery like mud but it has a loose, top surface that feels slippery, giving way easily under hard-climbing tire rotation or quick high-G turns. I will be glad when some rain returns and the trails regain some of their stickiness.

Now for the angry. With one notable exception, Duthie Mountain Bike Park, most of the worthwhile trail systems in this area are multi-use. This means that on any given day we are likely to run into horses, bikers, hikers, dogs, squirrels and of course the dreaded Angry Trail Gnome. Our trails and parks are all clearly marked "multi-use" and I don't often run into problems with other trail users. Most are courteous and considerate. The written hierarchy of users (meaning, who is required to yield to who on a narrow trail) is: horseback riders at the top, followed by hikers, then hikers with dogs, squirrels, and then mountain bikers bringing up the rear. 

This is an odd ranking because, up here at least, mountain bikers are the primary group that maintains the trail systems. In fact many of these trails would not exist without the efforts of mountain bikers. No matter. We all work to get along and share the commons. Well, not the Angry Trail Gnomes. 

ATG are easy to spot. They are usually trail runners (unfortunately every user group has there own version of ATG), always alone and they always wear ear buds (no doubt blaring Barry Manilow), this is so they can't actually hear anyone coming up on them (or the birds, or the wind through the trees). This always results in them being shocked and surprised when they come upon us on the trail. 

Trail etiquette dictates that mtn bikers yield to hikers but these ATGs always yield due too the sudden surprise that they are not alone in the woods. They leap into the bush, aghast. Often standing knee deep in ferns on the side of the trail, waiting for the group to pass, scowling and snarling at us like a dog growls at a bump in the dead of night. Oft times muttering contemptive words under their breath. We are all smiles and apologies and well-wishing, of course. 

No matter to them, the Angry Trail Gnomes, they can't help themselves.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Like a Virgin

Eucalyptus trees are gorgeous, tall, lean, and extremely colorful. The picture above (taken with my cell phone camera) doesn't even begin to capture the majesty of these forests. I don't know how they grow on their own, naturally, because I have only seen man-made eucalyptus forests. On the East-side of the Big Island of Hawaii, along the Hamakua Coast they grow likes weeds on Miracle Grow, spaced about six feet apart and stretching nearly 100 feet towards the open arms of the baby-blue sky. 

To an observant eye, it's easy to get a sense if something is natural or not. These forests look deliberately hand-crafted. A little Google digging reveals that a company called Tradewinds Forest Products planted the trees all over the eastern side of the island, over 14,000 acres. This part of the island is already lush and tropical, exotic plants cover the rolling hills where the tall, lime-green grass doesn't. All of this, of course, looks out over the South Pacific. Paradise, truly. Every hill-top has a breathtaking view.

These forests, scattered along the hills of Hawaii are perfect for mountain biking. And I do mean perfect. I would just stand in the midst of them and imagine a tight single-track running through it. Heaven. The Big Island is world famous for cycling, THE Ironman is held here, so all manner of cycling, running and swimming athletes come here to train. I thought for sure that at the epicenter of such athletic cycling interest that there would be a rich mountain biking scene. Especially considering the seemingly endless areas to ride.

I found a local bike shop, Bike Works (a sponsor of the Ironman) and talked to the manager about the mountain bike scene on the Big Island, hoping I could hook up with a few locals, rent a bike and go hit the eucalyptus forest. I was shocked and disappointed to find out that no one mountain bikes here. No one! He referred to mountain biking here as "poaching", because nearly all the land here is private.

Too bad. If someone were to press the interests of mountain biking here I think that it might just be the best in the world. Oh well, for now it remains completely untouched and pure, like a paradisaical virgin.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Picture Marks the Occasion

My dad came of age in the 1950’s. Sure there were cameras then but they were simple black boxes with salad plate flashes. Images taken were burned onto a section of film. Once a couple dozen shots were taken the roll of film was removed from the black box and taken to the local drug store. They processed the film and turned each shot into a slide. That slide, about one inch square, could only be viewed using a slide projector. The whole process could take weeks, never knowing if any of the pictures were even worth a damn until they were all loaded up in a projector. Queue up 50 plus slides, turn off the lights and force people to sit through slide after slide of the summer road trip from Utah to Arizona. Hm, half of them are out of focus!? Crap!

It was better than picture taking from the turn of the century, when it took an hour just to set the camera up and I think the flash was gunpowder (?). My point is, before the digital age, taking a picture was usually an event in and of itself and so was reserved for marking important occasions, transitions or documenting the unusual. Dad grew up at the tail end of that mindset. He certainly took countless pictures in his lifetime and we have the slides to show it, many of them are actually in-focus. But for all the things he did and places he went and occasions that certainly warranted the documentation of a photograph there is a conspicuous lack of them. 

Cycling was one of those things. He logged over 50 years of serious riding and thousands upon thousands of miles and yet I did not have a single picture of him and a bike. Not one. Until now! Once again, my brother Ken comes through. I don’t know where he got this from or who took it but here he is in Colorado with the TREK carbon fiber bike (the one he later traded in for the 3-wheeled recumbent). 

Notice the snow in the background (I’ve read in cycling magazines that some people actually put their bikes away for the winter). He was 70 in the picture, already had his stomach removed, nearly blind from macular degeneration, and diagnosed with cancer, again. He most likely did 50 miles that day. How? Hell if I know. Tough son-of-a-bitch. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Oatmeal with Mixed Berries

The word I cannot spell. The word is in no dictionary. The word does not exist. The word is a sound. The sound is clear. The sound resonating in my left ear, still. FMMNFT! Or maybe TMKTF! Or possibly WPTKF! 

There is no word or combination of letters or enough exclamation points to phoneticize the sound. The sound of my left shoulder impacting a tree cannot be enunciated. The word I blurted when I glanced the tree at 10 mph can be spelled. The type of tree can be spelled. All the elements of this bike experience can be spelled, easily. Not the sound. 

I smiled the instant after I blurted. Ok, more of a sneer. The kind of split-second half-smile  you might catch Clint Eastwood pull, just after he's been shot but not killed. Well now he's just mad and people better scatter. Right, I know I'm no Eastwood. But the goddamn tree did NOT knock me off my bike. I spit, I cussed, I pedaled, I did NOT stop, I did NOT slow down.

It's in the agreement with Paradise. I break her and she breaks me. Fair, simple, and clear. 

So, why do I have a picture of a bowl of oatmeal with mixed berries? Because that is exactly what my shoulder looks like: pasty white skin with the lumpy texture and color of oatmeal, add to that a fresh bruise that's purple, red, and swollen from the trauma. 

It's either that or I post a picture of my shoulder and no one needs to see that. That was abundantly clear when my wife caught a glimpse of it tonight and just shook her head, and I just smiled. No sneer, smile. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bike of My Father

My dad was a man of many diverse interests, some of which he still receives recognition for postmortem. The Sculpture in the Park show this year was dedicated to him and the High Plains Art Council wrote a wonderful piece about his skill and long history with the largest sculpture show in the US.

Riding a bike, however, was something very different for him. He was into cycling like a fish is into swimming. It was just simply something he did, no clubs, no newspaper articles, and no matter what. I remember him riding his bike to and from work (6 mile round-trip) year round, in Colorado! He has owned countless bikes over his multiple decades of riding. 

I would get his old bikes after he rode them into the ground. I would then disassemble, paint , and rebuild them to make my own road bike. However, since moving to Washington 20 years ago I no longer got his old bikes. 

Well, a few days ago I received the last bike he ever rode, a Specialized Allez Elite. 

Technically not the last bike he owned. A few years back he retired the SAE and dropped some serious cash on an all carbon-fiber bike, which he rode despite being almost completely blind from macular degeneration and his body riddled with cancer. How he managed that, I'm still not sure. There came a time when even his strong-will could not keep him balanced on the bike. He reluctantly traded it in on a three-wheeled recumbent, which he rode nearly to his last day. 

This bike, the SAE, now standing proudly in my garage, represents the return to the old system: he rides, gives to me, and I rebuild into something of my own. That's what he wanted, that's why he gave it to me. The problem is that my sentimentality (which I have very little of) has bubbled to the surface, much to my surprise. I am contemplating the notion of hanging it in my garage next to my coffee roasting station and above two other cycling tokens that he left me: his ever-worn red Specialized cap and his Scottish Royal Coat of Arms inspired cycling jersey.

I wore the jersey for five rides (for his five sons) and then retired it forever. I can't bring myself to wear the hat, not sure why. But now that I have his bike I'm not sure I can ride it either; let alone dismantle, repaint and rebuild.

For now I think I will let it rest, peacefully.