Monday, April 15, 2013

What mountain bike dreams are made of...

My instructions were simple: "Stand where I tell you and keep the flag on your downhill side." Simple. A child could do it. A reasonably intelligent monkey could do it. A stick could do it. And then it hit me - "I'm a human surveyor's rod." At first I said it to myself, but then I said it out loud and Jim Horton, of Horton Design and the trailboss designing the trail being put in at Zack's Fork, said, "Yeah, pretty much."

The job was simple and complex. As we tromped through the woods, Jim eyed a route that would take us from one section that had already been laid out, to a flag that signaled the start of another section that had been laid out. What the job entailed for me was to serve as the reference for Jim to measure incline of small bits of trail to make sure that he didn't deviate from a + or - 10 degree incline. This keeps the trail beginner friendly, insuring that no climb is too steep or descent too scary and maximizes the fun factor as you end up with a fun, flowy trail.

In a 3 hour long trail design tutorial, I got to see how an artist lays out a mountain bike experience upon the highly variable canvas of a landscape. Nuggets of wisdom like what trees to avoid routing a trail to close to (Pine trees with their wide spreading root systems that are right at the top of the soil require tons of work to route trail near as the routes have to be removed.), how a trail should maximize space but not be so stacked upon itself that you just go back and forth seeing the trail you've been on and the trail you're headed to, how trees are used as "choke points" to control rider speed going into S-turns, and much more. My favorite gem of wisdom was that dogwood trees basically fall over "as soon as you put a survey flag beside them."

Over the course of 3 hours, I got to see the trail that we have talked about and dreamed of for many years taking shape. Views emerged that I had never seen before as we tromped through the woods. I was struck by the idea of not only how much fun this trail will be, but by how pretty it will be as well. I simply can't wait now that I've seen the sketch on the ground!

Yesterday Golden, Owen and I went to explore the Boone Fork Recreation Area trails. Primarily horse trails, the potential for the area is incredible, but poorly designed trails coupled with neglect has made the need for trail maintenance very high. We, of course, chose to ride a route that is best avoided by mountain bikes at this time due to the incredibly damaged and poorly routed nature of the trails. We managed to stay clear entirely of the two trails that Jeff recommended to me (the green/white flashed and orange flashed trails) and opted instead for the blue/green flash (avoid), and the yellow flash (very fun at the end, but didn't make up for the tremendous amount of hike-a-bike).

 Owen got to perfect his steep descending technique with a tutorial from his mom. Hands on the brake levers, eyes forward, butt way back off the saddle, he dropped down some long, steep chutes and ruts like a champ. We sang songs ("I like big ruts and I cannot lie"), we dubbed sections of trail "rut-o-rama"s and generally had a great time. But this turned into a fairly typical Moore family excursion in which one of us (usually Golden but this time me) suggests some ride that is far more than what we bargained for. With Golden, it typically starts with something like, "Well let's just see where this trail goes. We've got plenty of time." What typically follows is some over the top route that takes us deep into the early set up of a survival tale and ends with us running low on water, or energy, or daylight (or some combination of these) and emerging way farther away from our car than would generally be advisable, but persevering and surviving nonetheless. 10 rugged miles and 3 hours later, Owen joined the family tradition by surviving with flying colors his first Moore Family Sketchy Backwoods Adventure.

Butt back, jersey unzipped.. pure focus.

Monday, April 08, 2013

The 24 hour vacation OR The Hunt for the Great White Squirrel

Spring break ended yesterday. For me, big vacations from school become opportunities to work more at the shop. Now that we are short handed*, being able to work more in the shop is more critical than ever, but it doesn't lend itself to taking advantage of one of the few perks of being an educator. Enter the 24 hour vacation. We decided to condense the traditional spring break getaway into one, 24 hour blast of fun.

Golden had a grad class Saturday morning, so final prep for the trip fell to Owen and me. Friday night I finished building up my new mountain bike which was integral to this trip since we decided to go ride Dupont State Forest as the focal point of the trip. So new bike in hand, Owen and I tackled all the other details while Golden got schooled.

Our first mission was to find someplace cool to stay and the +Sunset Motel looked to be just the ticket. Located in downtown Brevard, the renovated retro-fifties style beckoned us. With great amenities, reasonable prices, close proximity to restaurants and other downtown offerings, plus the all important WiFi for watching Sunday's live streaming of the Paris-Roubaix, we weren't disappointed in the least.

Second on the to-do list once we had unpacked the car was to get some food. I did a little searching and found a couple of candidate restaurants. Among them was a Mexican place called +El Ranchero . With a thumbs up from the guy behind the desk at the motel, we headed downtown for a mexican feast.

We sat down at an outside table beneath the crookedest tree Owen had ever seen and ordered some drinks. Checking out the menu, I found it difficult to decide while Owen immediately became intrigued by the "Mexican" cheeseburger and Golden chose the fish tacos (this was somewhat predictable given an in depth discussion of various ways to prepare fish tacos that we had listened to on "The Splendid Table" radio show while cruising down I-40). The waiter arrived with our drinks - apparently it was 1/2 gallon of draft Negra Modelo for $3 night (Score!) and I was now faced with entree selection crunch time.

I went for the Chipotle Chori which turned out to be a pork chop smothered with squash, onions and crimson chipotle peppers the size of a swollen thumb.

Then, quite possibly the world's worst mariachi band came out to serenade the diners. While the two guitar players weren't bad, the violin player sounded about on par with Owen after his first violin lesson and the trumpet player made up for his consummate lack of ability by steadfastly remaining wildly off key. After enthusiastically warbling renditions of La Bamba and Tequila, we decided to forego the remainder of the Mariachi Standards for Gringos playlist and wander around downtown.

In case you don't know, Brevard is a bit proud of their white squirrels. Lots of places in town reference the squirrels, which aren't albinos but are a white variant of the common Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciuris carolinensis). We had never actually seen one and I kind of thought the whole thing was just a bit of local color ginned up for the tourist trade. So we walked along playing spot-the-white-squirrel in which Owen points out all of the white squirrels on shop signs, town banners, or the stuffed animal variety sitting in shop windows, when I saw a white squirrel run across a parking lot and sit on the stoop of a derelict building. I pointed it out and Golden and I both pulled out our phones to capture the evidence.

Behold! Definitive proof of the extant white squirrel! Add another weird squirrel to my life list which includes the Abert's squirrel (Sciuris aberti), the Kaibab Squirrel (Sciuris aberti kaibabensis), and the Mt. Graham red squirrel (Tamiasciuris hudsonicus grahamensis).

Our impromptu cryptozoological expedition over, we headed back to the motel, bed, and a night's rest before THE BIG RIDE. Morning came. Coffee and breakfast were procured from the excellent +quotations coffee cafe (Three words: blueberry french toast). We packed and watched Zdenek Stybar play human pinball on the final cobbles of Paris-Roubaix as Fabian Cancellara went on to win his third cobblestone trophy. With all of that out of the way, it was time to ride.

We play fast and loose with our family mountain bike adventures. While some plan things to the nth degree, we printed off a map of Dupont State Forest trails, drove off in the general direction of the forest and picked a random parking lot with multiple trailheads after driving by it and finding a place to turn around.

One of the unique features of Dupont is its slick rock trails, something better associated with southwestern riding meccas like Moab, Utah and Sedona, Arizona. We had ridden the Dupont slick rock several years ago, but hadn't been back on them since. As fate would have it, the random parking lot we had chosen was the access to the slick rock section of trails in Dupont. What followed was an all day mountain bike adventure that took in some of the best views on a trail anywhere.

My new Niner SIR 9 (with a suspension fork!)

The key to riding with kids is to constantly shove food
 in their mouths...

We got back to the car, feasted on triscuits, cheese, hummus and pears, and then loaded up to head home. We stopped at Tupelo Honey Cafe South (a restaurant that we eat at every chance we get) to fuel up for the drive home and then pointed the car east on I-40 and booked it to the casa. Our 24 hour vacation drawn to a close.

*Contact us about exciting opportunities in the fast-paced world of Bicycle Retail! Experienced mechanics needed. No freaks. OK, the no freaks rule is pretty loose.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Coming back to life

I went to a funeral Thursday. Funerals seem to make me contemplate the past. At least that's what I've noticed from the few funerals I've attended.

This time, I started thinking about my friend +Jason Darden and how he brought me back to cycling. I had drifted into a life that involved more partying than riding by about a 100:0 ratio. Jason meanwhile, had continued racing and had gotten on the powerful Chisholm Racing team as a Category 2 rider. He specialized in criteriums, which to be honest, was really about all there was to race back in the early nineties.

Jason showed up at my door in full team kit with a gorgeous red, white and blue Schwinn Paramount with a full Dura Ace kit and the first STI shifters I had ever seen. Jason said, "Get your bike. Let's go ride."

We had grown up on bikes together, Jason and I. Our houses were less than a mile apart when we were growing up and we lived right on the edge of the Ft. Bragg Military Reservation which was nothing but sandy pine tree scrublands in every direction. We had great country roads to play on and we took full advantage. We spent countless hours in the saddle together in high school.

I got my kit on and pumped up the tires in my bike. Fortunately, down tube friction shifters withstand a lot of neglect or else my bike would not have been functional it had been so long since I had ridden it. We headed out at a comfortable pace, out into the country roads that surrounded Greensboro back then. We road and talked and slowly but surely I emerged from the fog I had been living in. I will never forget us passing this exotic bird farm with all of these parrots living in breeding cages stacked up in transfer trailers. The end result of this one ride was the rekindling of my love of riding.

After two years of not riding, I got back on the bike that day and haven't gotten off since. If you haven't been riding in a while, then consider this your gentle reminder. And to give you a simple, modest goal to keep you in the saddle and turning pedals, consider signing up for 30 Days of Biking and pledge to ride your bike every day in April. And make today's Mellow Monday ride your first ride of your #30DaysofBiking pledge! The one thing I know about riding my bike is that I never regret it.