Finishing 2017 Strong

As mentioned before, my days of late have been busy with work, school and renovations around the house. I haven’t made much, if any, time for cycling. That said, little points of interest have been poking me, prodding my sedentary self and giving me grand ideas for the coming months and year ahead.

After a conversation with a good friend the other day about goals achieved this year and other goals not so achieved, I have come to the determination that I want to get back on one wheel. Last Christmas my wife gave me a unicycle. I had wanted one for a long time and was excited to get out and give it a try, but I really didn’t know where to start. A quick google search led me to Mike Boyd’s Youtube channel. On his channel, called Learn Quick, he posts videos of his progress learning new skills. One of those was his unicycle video, which is truly brilliant and inspirational! I decided to not only use his tips to try to learn to ride the uni, but also video my progress.

Unfortunately, with only a couple sessions in the first two months of the year, I shelved the uni and haven’t touched it since. It sits in the corner, taunting me each time I notice it. The time has come to make good on my goal for the year. My plan is to recover my progress from earlier this year and learn to ride the uni before the end of 2017. That will require practice, but I’m confident I can make it happen.

Another fantastic bit of inspiration has come from my friend Janie Hayes and her blog of her Trans Am Bike Race 2017 adventure. Janie is truly an artist with words and will captivate you with her story. Despite knowing that I won’t be racing in 2018, by reading her posts, the question that has come up in my brain is, “could I give the Trans Am another go?” The answer is a resounding YES! I love the route and in many ways feel like I have unfinished business with the race. I am certainly proud of my 24 D 16H time in 2016, but my goals for that race were more ambitious. The thought of going back for another shot makes me excited and I found myself staring at spreadsheets last night until the wee hours, plotting what I would do if I toed the line again.

As I said, there won’t be any racing of the TABR/TD magnitude for me in 2018. That is, unless I would come across some sort of windfall that would make it feasible. I wouldn’t want to make a go at it without a completely funded budget for racing and with home projects and 2 kids in college, I don’t see it happening. There is, however, something that I could do.

Ever since my Trans Am tour in 2011, I have dreamed of writing a book. I have never considered myself a writer, but while blogging that trip, I had several people say they thought I should. I brushed it off, thinking that they must have poor taste. The fact is, I wasn’t confident in my writing and invalidated their responses because of my insecurities. Since then, I have taken some classes and the writing comes so easy to me. Add in that my class grades reflect the same positivity as my 2011 blog post praisers and I find myself more than intrigued.

I have spent some time brainstorming and writing around a couple of ideas. One in particular has me excited. I’m not certain how it will flesh out, but I anticipate maybe a road trip/cycling vacation with Jeneen in 2018 to do more research, capture photos and add in some stoke for the project. I’ll leave it at that for now, but I am SUPER excited about it!!!

As always, stay tuned. I will report my progress here and cannot wait to do so. First, I’m going to go show that unicycle who’s the boss!

The three amigos ride again!

Despite my lack of riding as of late and all the other responsibilities that have kept me out of the saddle, I came across a great opportunity to get out this morning and I just had to go. My friend Ben, who moved to Colorado this past summer, came back to spend a bit of time with family and wanted to get the old crew back together for a MTB ride at St Joe. I couldn’t pass it up!

The morning was a cool one with temps in the upper 30’s. Having not done any cool weather riding since last spring, I found it funny how I feel like I forget how to dress for temperatures. Last night, as I was getting my things together, I was uncertain what to wear. In the end, the base layer and leg warmers I chose were just right. I could have used some covers for my toes, but it was a short ride and I made it.

Ben, myself and our friend Lindell met at the Blankshire Trailhead. We said our hellos, got on our garb and hit the trail. Ben had his Weimaraner Toby along as well. We hit the paved path and took the first left on the MTB trail. I felt completely out of my element.

After having not ridden MTB much as of late, I was way out of practice. Add in that fall has fell, completely obscuring the trail with leaves and I was more than cautious. I babied the corners and was on high alert for big rocks. After an easy first couple miles, we got to the first of the climbs. St Joe doesn’t have anything too big, but I am so out of shape that I was winded quickly. Fortunately the guys stopped a few times and let me catch back on.

Once on the backside of the course, I started to get my mojo back a little. I wasn’t as puckered up on the downhills and that helped to keep momentum for the ups. The climbs still hurt. I have GOT to get back out on the bike more!

The original plan, according to the text thread, was to do two laps. When we got back to where we had started, I let the guys know I was going to be happy with just the one lap. They agreed that was all they wanted today as well and we headed back to the parking lot.

Overall it was a fantastic little morning ride. Only 7.2 slow miles, but it felt good to get back in the saddle and enjoy some time in the woods, especially with the old crew. Ben said he won’t be back for quite awhile, so I was glad I went. Good times!

There isn’t much savings in Daylight Savings Time

The nights are coming much more quickly these days and with it, they bring cooler temperatures. Sunsets before 4:45PM and sunrises dallying until near 7AM make for long, cold nights that plunge below freezing. I realize that is not much of a mark for some areas, but for us here in Southern Missouri, it is cold.

All that said, the only cycling I have done as of late have been short trips on my towner bike to run errands, go to a friends house or meet a buddy for a beer. It is a slow time for riding, but I am ok with that. Other pieces of life have filled in the gaps.

After waiting far too long to do so, I have been working on the roof of our house. I’m doing a complete tear off and replacement, as well as replacing all the fascia boards. It is satisfying, but hard work, especially for a fella that spends his work days at a keyboard. Prior experience from days of yore gets called upon and I take my time. I am much slower roofing than I was at 19. I probably do better work though, as I am much more particular.

Another time sink as of late has been a personal endeavor. The reason I was roofing at the age of 19 was because I dropped out of college. After a tumultuous year at the University of Missouri- Columbia the year following high school, I came home and took a few classes at a local community college over the course of 3 semesters. Sadly, my heart wasn’t in it. Most of my classes I withdrew from and I did not pass the majority I kept. The frustrating part for my parents was that I certainly had the potential to do well, but the desire just wasn’t there. Even with the weight of disappointing my folks, I decided to scrap it all and went to work. What followed was a fast forward as I watched life start to unfold. Marriage, kids and life happened quickly. Before I knew it I had been out of school for 10 years and the thought of going back to college just didn’t seem like it was in the cards.

Suddenly around the holidays in 2001, I found myself unemployed due to a layoff. I decided to go for it and went back to that local community college. With life experience under my belt, school was easy and all my classes came up roses. I had a 4.0GPA on the classes I took and discovered I loved the challenge. As luck would have it however, I was called back from my layoff in the summer and school took a back seat once again.

Over the years that followed, I thought about going back many times, but I never got excited about it. This past spring, while having lunch with a friend, the subject came up. I said that getting my degree would be nice, but I wasn’t so sure at 45 that I wanted to go through the effort to make it happen. He encouraged me, I saw a spark of enthusiasm in myself and said I would look into it. Knowing this friend is the type of guy who will hold me to it, I decided I had better do more than just say I would call the school. I actually phoned the admissions office and asked to get a degree audit so I could find out how much I was short for my Associate of Arts. I was flabbergasted when I found I only needed 16 credit hours to get my two year degree.

The short version is that I went ahead and signed up for a couple classes to get things in motion. Now I am nearing the end of the semester and just wrapped up writing a research paper. Finals are approaching and I feel good about the prospects. I am only taking two classes, so the work load is minimal, but I am sitting on a 4.0GPA again. It feels good to be making strides at self improvement and doing well.

All that said, between work, school and family, my cycling has ebbed, but the saddle is certainly not forgotten. Soon enough I will be back at it and I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store.

Backpacking on Bell Mountain

As the racing season winds down for the year and seasons change, my cycling has dwindled to nearly nothing. Beyond the trip a few weeks ago with my buddy Nathan, I haven’t been on the bike at all, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been outside. This past weekend I headed out into the wild with a couple friends for a backpacking trip and it was fantastic!

I try to get out for some time in my hammock every year when things start to cool off. As the weather started to turn cooler, I was happy to get an email from a group of friends that I have backpacked with before. There are 11 of us on the email thread, but due to schedule conflicts only 3 of us could make it happen this time. Myself, Jason and Chad made plans to head to Bell Mountain Wilderness Area in Mark Twain National Forrest on Friday 11-3. The plan was to hike in Friday evening after dark and camp on top of Bell Mountain through Sunday morning.

I met the guys at the northern trail head right before dark. With daylight getting shorter every day, sunset was at 6:00PM on the nose. We signed in at the kiosk and hit the trail as the woods went dark. It wasn’t long at all before we had our headlamps on to illuminate the rocky trail.

The hike from the north trailhead to the top of Bell is only 4 miles total- 2.5 miles of spur trail from the trailhead to the main loop and 1.5 miles from the spur/loop intersection to the top of the mountain. Elevation gain is modest at 1500′, as you mostly walk along a ridge.

We took our time and made the hike in about two hours. Once up top, we found a spot to camp and got setup. Being 8PM, we gathered some firewood and made use of the rock fire ring in our camp. Hanging around a campfire in the woods is a heavenly thing to do!

I went to my hammock fairly early (around 9:30), hoping to get some great rest. Going to bed so early meant that the night was a long one, but overall I slept ok. I just woke up a lot.   The wind had been gusty, which had led to my waking, but I rested well.

Saturday morning’s light exposed what was a completely socked in sky. The normal gorgeous view of the valley below was nothing but a mass of fog and mist. Visibility was likely about 100 yards. Oh well. We were in the woods enjoying nature and the view we got was perfectly fine.

The day was spent doing mostly nothing other than chores. First was breakfast and the morning routines. Then we moved camp to a little better spot about 50 yards away. The hope was the new spot was protected form the wind a bit better.

After moving camp, I needed to get water. The other two guys had brought 4 liters, but I only brought 2 liters. On Bell there is no water source, so I had to hike to get it. The choices were to stay on the Bell loop and hit Joe’s creek, which would be about 8 miles round trip or bushwhack off the East side of Bell to the creek in the valley. This is a much more rigorous way to go, but only about a mile one way. Since I had never been down the hard side, I decided to do that.

When at the top of Bell, the trial runs north/south along a ridge. We were at the high point and I assumed that if I hiked south along the ridge trail to a point where I was lower, then bushwhacked down the east slope, it would be less steep and thus easier. I did just that and was able to pick my way down through the trees, rocks and debris along the steep slope. It was quite a hike down, but I eventually made it. I filtered my water and then started the arduous task of bushwhacking back up the steep slope. It was a hard task, but it felt good to accomplish it.

Once back at the trail, I hiked the ridge back north to the high point. Due to my north/south part of the trip along the trail adding in mileage, I estimate I ended up with about 4 miles of walking, most of that being really rugged and steep. In the interest of economy, I probably would have been better off hiking the 8 miles to get water from Joe’s creek, but now I can say I have been down the other way.

When I got back, I was please to see that the other guys had gathered wood for the evening. I felt bad I hadn’t taken part in the exercise, but I was thankful they had. I made lunch, took a short nap and just hung out for the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening, we all made our dinners and then worked together to get the damp wood going for an evening fire. Hanging out around the fire chatting and enjoying the woods was a great way to wrap up the day.

Once again, a bit after 9:00 I headed to my hammock. I was a bit concerned when I got there and saw that most everything was damp. The fog was so thick that water was condensing on every surface, even under the tarp. There wasn’t much I could do about it, so I crawled in and got ready for what I hoped would be a great sleep.

After just an hour or so, the wind started gusting erratically. It would go from nearly still, building to about 15 mph and then still again. The gusts were such a change from the still parts that it succeeded in waking me every time the wind blew. This made for a really, really long night. I didn’t sleep much and found myself so very tired when the sun finally came up.

Jason was already up when I rolled out and had gotten the fire going again. We hung out around the fire and had breakfast before going back to our individual sites to break down camp. Once we were packed up and the fire was extinguished, we started the hike back to our cars. The 4 miles back seemed much longer than it had on our way in Friday night.

Weekend trips like these are what I look forward to this time of year. The weather turns cooler, the bugs go away and sitting around a campfire just seems like the right thing to do. It is trips like this that make me dream of doing a long hike like the AT or PCT. The best part of it all is it helps me to take the time to “smell the roses”. I hope you will take the time to get out and enjoy nature this fall. It is a great way to slow down and get away from the hustle and bustle.