Monday, February 22, 2010

Not Just Go-Karts and Putt-Putt

There is a running joke that I have with my brother about going hiking anywhere within 100 miles of Gatlinburg, TN and that's that he's just going down to play Putt-Putt, ride Go-Karts and get 3 for 1 deals on Cowboy boots, the kind of thing most Red Necks do in Gatlinburg. I do this because I'm a mean older brother who likes to make my younger brother feel small and unaccomplished so that I can feel better about myself. Well for last weekend's trip we had to drive right through the famous G-burg in route to our planned destination of Black Balsam Knob, North Carolina.

In order to get to our destination and carry out our itinerary it required using a good chunk of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a road that was questionable due to the 36 inches of snow that some of the higher elevations had gotten recently. There is a number you can call to see if roads in certain areas are open or not and Aaron claims that the recording said the Parkway was open, but when we got down there it was closed and didn't look like anyone had attempted to remove a flake of snow. So we called the local sheriff's office and they confirmed, "don't expect that area to be open for another month"... So we pulled into a parking lot to throw together a new plan. The first night we found what we thought would be a decent little overnight hike down by Fontana lake and up to see some waterfalls and other bull.

My dad about to sneeze mid picture

A little scope: That icicle in the middle is close to 20 ft long

Well, we got to the trail head and it turned out to be much less extreme than we had hoped for, with a school bus full of 3rd graders, a big church group and a couple pushing a baby stroller down the first part of the trail. Aaron was pissed, I just laughed at how pissed he was. To be fair, the most touristy part of the trail was just a waterfall that was 0.2 miles from the parking lot and that's where everyone was heading, except us. We hiked as far away from the Billy Madison Field Trip and found a decent little place to camp while we adjusted our plans. We decided on a trip up Mt. LeConte, one of the highest points east of the Mississippi. We had heard the trail was impassable due to snow drifts, but we figured that might make it more fun.

The best part about camping this time of year is how much sleep you get. You go to bed pretty much when the sun goes down and get up when the sun comes up. This time of year that means near 12 hours of sleep and that is awesome. So we hiked out first thing in the AM and drove an hour to the LeConte trail head. The hike to the top was around 6 miles with three thousand feet of elevation gain. The trail wasn't too hard or technical for most of the first half, but the snow did add a few slippery situations. The real action took place in the last mile or so of the climb. This was the area where it had been impassable earlier in the week.

We weren't the first people to hike to the top since the snow, but it was definitely less traveled once we got higher up. The trail got really narrow and with that much snow you couldn't tell if what you were standing on was actually supported by the mountain, or something that was ready to break loose and send you bouncing down the mountain to your death. Tight. We just tried to step where other had proven to be safe places and we were alright. There were a few situations where we were looking 6 inches to our left and there was a good 200 feet straight down. That added a little spice to all the Go-Karts and Putt-Putting.

We "summited" in just enough time to cook dinner and watch the sunset. Then it was off to hang our packs and food away from the bears and be in bed by 7. The night was damn cold at around 10 degrees for the low, but we all survived. The next morning we went to see the sunrise and started the slippery trip back down to the car. We all had a few little slips on the ice coming down, but nothing too serious. There was one spot where we took turns baseball sliding about 20ft down this slope that was too steep to walk. As we were almost back to the car, we passed a group of German tourist who smelled like Cool Water cologne and they asked "Vas it vorth it?" Oh yes, German's, It was "vorth" it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dear "Innernet" Friends...

This weather is trying to drive me into the ground and I need to whine about it for a minute, will you listen?

This shit is trying to kill me. The average high for February around these parts is supposed to be in the mid 40's and I'm not sure if it's been above freezing yet this month. Not to mention we've gotten something like 20 inches of snow in the last 10 days. Snow doesn't go away very quickly when it's 24 degrees and overcast either. One of the main problems I've run into is that I went out too hard on my trainer riding and used up all my tolerance for for riding inside, and since I'm in the process of Hardening myself The Fuck Up this off season I refuse to skip workouts and skimp on hours. If I les out, someone out there is dragging their ass into the wild, doing their workout and getting ready to rub my face in the dirt come race season and I ain't havin' that shit.

The most recent reason I wanted to hang myself was the 10 inches of snow we got on Sunday/ Monday (I know, cry me a river. D.C. got like 30 inches). The problem is that all this snow has come right in the middle of crunch time in this training block, so today I found myself playing in the snow for 4 hours while pounding out a sizable amount of Tempo into what seemed like an ever-present headwind. My legs tried to convince me to quit after each of the three 30 minute sets and I almost gave in, but now that I'm warm and dry I'm glad that I didn't. I know that I'm in the home stretch of this training block and hopefully the same goes for this foul weather. I'm sorry for whining, but it's just a really tough time to be a Middle Class White American bike racer.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Things are cruising along nicely here in the Midwest, in a mostly uneventful fashion. Despite the never ending below freezing temps I've been able to get in the best early season training I've ever done. I did have to invest in a few critical pieces of apparel, but since then it's been smooth sailing.

This month things are starting to ramp up a little, but still trying to enjoy some off season like activities at the same time. This weekend is Lauren's birthday as well as Valentine's day, luckily my significant other enjoys a good pedal herself, so I imagine it will be a good weekend with plenty of riding thrown in. Next weekend I'm going on a little camping/ riding trip in North Carolina with my dad, brother and Lauren. The trip is only for a long weekend, but it should be great to take in a bit of nature as well as ride the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few miles too.

Following the trip to NC, we've got our Panther/ Competitive Cyclist team get together in Ohio for a weekend of riding and distribution of all our gear. Seriously, I couldn't be more excited to ride for a team with a great roster and that's sponsored by the sweetest online retailer around.

After all of this stuff, it brings us almost to bike racin' time. Now, I'm not going to be driving all over the place to race every little spring race on the calendar, but I'll pin a few numbers in March and try to get myself up to a decent level for April and continue to take my time building my form for the summer.

And last, but not least... Cross Worlds to Louisville. Can't believe it, but pretty excited by it. Some of you know that I have aspirations to go to Worlds as a racer and some of you don't, well now it's out there. That's what I'll be working and training for over the next few years. Hopefully making a public declaration of my intentions will keep me accountable, and remind my friends and family to help me stay on track. In years passed, guys like Tristan Schouten and Brian Matter have been able to represent the Midwest at Worlds, and guys like that are my inspiration. Worlds selection is an interesting process and when those guys raced Worlds, they got a spot thanks to a few of the top guys not wanting to make the trip. It's safe to say that with the U.S. hosting worlds for the first time, there won't be any top U.S. crossers skipping it. I realize that this makes for a pretty lofty goal, but what's the point in making a goal if it's just to be mediocre? Plus, when you think about it, I really just need to make a couple minutes improvement in a 1 hour time trial over the next 3 years. Totally do-able.