Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Right Coast Road Trip, Part Deux...

Things back here on the correct side of the country started off with a bit of a drive… From Greenville, SC to Manhattan, NY for a last minute Giant Media event at the Hudson Hotel. Mapquest said 12 hours for the 760 miles. I would have made it eleven with the help of a large fuel tank on the Thule van and an enlarged bladder from all the refusing to stop when I didn’t need gas if it weren’t for a couple of rookie move wrong turns once I was in New York city proper. A wrong turn, caused by a general lack of absolutely precise route, in a van is something you want to avoid at all costs in Manhattan… Nightmare.

Buy, hey, the media event was worthwhile and we got to stay in a swanky hotel…

After some catching up on sleep at the Hudson, my esteemed Giant teammate Kelli Emmett and I picked up our buddy Ross Schnell at my cousin Jen’s place on 28th street and pointed it out of the city for the weekend. Our destination was the US Gran Prix of Cyclccross race just outside Trenton, NJ. Our host housing provider for the weekend, Tom Mains on the New Jersey cycling club, was impressed with the stature of our vehicle, and even more impressed with my feeble grind of the curb in front of his house… Some cold weather bike riding around the twisty, turny, sandy, but dry, course got the city out of our legs and minds, it was nice to be back out in the countryside where we usually live and work…

Saturday morning we took advantage of the peace and quiet on Pasadena street in Hamilton Township by sleeping till about ten… Racing cross would be a whole lot less fun if it took place at 10am instead of 3pm. But, as always, before we knew it we were standing on the start line, Ross and I united by our “bodybag” (one piece legs, arms, etc.) skinsuits but divided in our commitment to bunnyhop the (18” tall) double barriers on the first lap. Ross was fired up and I was scared. After the usual 147% effort at the start, I actually said “I’m scared” as we raced up to the barriers somewhere in the pack. For good reason, it was so cold (about 35) that Ross’ right hand pulled off the bars instead of up on them as he emarked on the flight path of an emu… I felt kind of bad laughing and pointing as I (and 70 other guys) dismounted and ran past/over Ross. I guess I should have upheld my part of the bargain instead of running them every lap like a sissy…

The rest of the race was average for me, as I’m usually winding my fitness down by this time of the year and starting to think about the Mountain Bike season to come. This translates roughly into riding around in the top 10 having fun with the corners and sand pit whilst waiting for the more motivated guys to crack. A few did, I got 8th place. Fair enough. Kelli was 11th in her race with an identical approach…

The USGP series is cleverly built around two days of racing in the same area, often at the same venue. So, after a huge spaghetti and meatballs dinner, topped off with the best snickerdoodle cookies in the universe while watching a movie on a gigantor TV, we slept it off, knowing tomorrow would be another day at the office. This time the janitor must have skipped work, because it was raining at the office (Mercer County Park) and everything was a bit of a mess. Not too bad, the grass wasn’t quite churned into a six inch deep trough of mud, but it was slick and snotty. Perfect actually. Some crashing is always fun, as are powerslides on ten-speeds… These entertaining conditions moved Kelli and I up a spot each in our respective races, we’ll take it.

Anyway, enough of that bike racing stuff. I write about that all the time. On to some hanging out in Mahnattan, which I never, ever, do. It’s pretty entertaining when you have your favorite cousin transplanted (willfully) there. JC knows all the places we we didn’t even know we wanted to go amongst the ever so tall buildings. The local coffee shop owned by a nice man and his partner, where you can get a mean greek breakfast wrap and cup of tea at one in the afteroon. The series of thrift stores we definitely couldn’t have completed our visit without checking out, and, subsequently, buying a bunch of cheap random stuff, including, but not limited to, some rad square toed shoes for Emmett and a hilarious old school black leather four-season motorcycling jacket, complete with neon orange bands… A piece of the “World’s Best Pizza” completed our walking around during the day and nicely pre-empted watching the (cloudy and dark) sunset from the roof deck atop Jen’s building. Later in the evening, after some “cozy” studio apartment napping, we were flipping through the weeklies looking for something to do for the night. It seemed like a Broadway Show would be appropriate, if a bit spendy… The idea of finding an independent Hip-Hop show was tossed around. Then Kelli brought up Comedy. Genius. After a good local pub dinner we strolled on over to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre for a (free) Stand-Up show, accompanied by JC’s buddy Rich, who happens to be taking Improv classes at the UCB, and also happens to be absolutely hilarious in a creative, dry, born and raised in Brooklyn, kind of way. Our amazing host comic intro’d half a dozen acts over the next two hours, some headliners from far away lands and some random drunk locals, all of whom were trying out new stuff and finding a way to be anything from awkward to straight up funny. It was great. Unlike the UCB theatre, which is a bit of a pit… An appropriate pit, though.

Anywho, after 36 hours in The City, I was ready to head north and get back out in the woods. Maine was the next destination. A pit stop in Seymour, CT, for lunch with the Thule Crew, and a dinner pit stop in Portland, Maine to catch up with an old friend from elementary school had me home in time to say hi to Grandma before she hit the sack.

It was a wikked nice day for a drive on 95…

Whenever I get to Maine I have one goal in mind. A run through Gulf Hagas. My first proper creek run as a budding kayaker in the fall of 1999, it’s kept me coming back with classic north maine woods scenery and classic whitewater between the slate gorge walls. Hagas might just be my favorite kayaking experience in the world. Everything about it is great, it’s only an hour from Grandma’s house in Corinth, with the obligatory pit stop at the Brownville Mobil station for a slice or two of pizza, and maybe a piece of fudge.

Then, to get into the run you get to drive some classic northern Maine logging roads past the historic Katahdin Iron Works and majestic Silver Lake (which was frozen…). These days I can never find anyone to join me at Hagas, I’ve pretty much given up trying, I just bring a bike and stash it at the Hermitage take-out before driving myself to the put-in at the Head of the Gulf. This drive was complicated a bit by the four inches of fresh snow atop an old ice layer on the road… You see, Hagas has quite a bit of gradient, I think, in the meat of the run, it drops about 650 feet in a couple miles. This means you have to drive up a bit of a hill to get there. The hill up onto the plateau is only about a half mile long, so, you do the math… Two wheel drive van, steep hill, snow, ice. But, don’t forget to factor momentum into the equation… I certainly did’. Which got me about this far, twice…

After a second, very tense, a bit out of control, session of tucking tail and backing down the hill, this time with som guys in a 4WD truck in New Hampshire (live free or die) plates watched amusedly, I figured I’d give it one more go… Hitting the bottom at about 50 definitely helped, but it was staying out of the packed down lemming line and being easy on the wheelspin that made the third time the charm. Sweet, I would get to float through Hagas today, before the weather turned even worse.

Gulf Hagas was the first place I was exposed to what I’ve come to call the “international standard bridge footing gauge” You see, an uncanny number of runs around the world seem to be on the low side when the water is just lapping at the footing (such as on this day at the Gulf, although the footing was covered in ice) then medium from four inches to about a foot over, then on the high side from a foot to about twenty inches. Above 20 is taking matters into your own (flooded) hands…

Even the paddle in to the Gulf is perfect, at about fifteen minutes of flat, meandering mountain stream, it’s just enough time to stretch your muscles before it splits around an island and begins to drop.

The first few drops in the Gulf are classic waterfalls with names like Billings and Faceplant before it drops through the overhanging chasm of Wedge and into the inner gorge.

Once in the gorge it’s classic rapids and waterfalls separated by short pools, just enough to take in the surroundings. Which were quite spectacular on this day, huge overhanging icicles decorating every surface for the duration. After making your way through Buttermilk, Turnstile, Jaws, Shark’s tooth and a variety of other rapids, the run mellows perfectly as you float the two miles out of the gorge, which still offers up some classic moves, and the best rock spins in northern Maine as you wind down. Like I said, I love it here. Enough to ride my bike, wearing my drysuit, covered in ice, back to the put-in under the “moonlight”… The moon wasn’t so visible, since it was dense fog up on the plateau. Good thing I know the road…

Ah, Thanksgiving. Always a good time with the Craig Family. This year we all got together at Grandma’s, loaded up some turkey and a bunch of desserts, then went up to town to crash the Dunham and Patterson’s group dinner. It was great to meet some other folks who’d lived in the same town as us, and, of course, eat a bunch of tasty stuff. Lots of people mean lots of dishes… Mmmmm. And, to top it all off, when we got back to Grandma’s house there were a flock of turkeys in the garden. Good thing we were full, and the pellet gun was broken…

Any trip to Maine for me wouldn’t be complete without riding Mount Waldo with the boys. Matt and Justin Qualey are probably the most hilarious brothers you will ever meet. Ever. It’s amazing. And it never changes. We, accompanied by Sparky and Bruce, spent a brisk afternoon riding at our original stomping grounds. Which Sparky has handily improved (by roughly a shit-ton) by cutting a bunch of absolutely classic east coast singletrack to justly reward those who suffer through the 25% pitch grainite slickrock (which, when covered in ice, is extra slick) climb to the peak. Sparky demonstrates the slickness…

Of course, at the top there happens to be a pretty nice view of the Penobscot Bay stretching out to the Atlantic. And, to the north, of White Cap, which happens to stand watch over Gulf Hagas. But we’re here to ride, and laugh...

The Qualey boys...

The quarry trail is awesome. If you can get someone to show you where it is, check it out. It puts the Mountain back in Mountain Biking. And you’d better be from around here if you expect it to flow well, but flow well it does, all the way down to the Quarry… Which happens to be a rad summer swimmin' hole. It used to be better, but they took down the tower (on the right) which held the king of all rope swings...

The last destination on the list for a typical Maine visit is Vermont. For some reason I’ve been doing the “Route 2 screw” over to Burlington, VT since I got my driver’s license. Friends, bike races, skiing, kayaking, whatever it was, it was always happening in Burlington.

I usually try to make the drive “worthwhile” by stopping somewhere to do something along the way. Usually it’s boating, as there are roughly a shit-ton of awesome runs sort of along Route 2. This time, it was a bit cold for boating, and by that I mean the rivers were frozen and too low. Ironically, they weren’t quite frozen, or low enough for the activity I bumbled into… I stopped at the confluence of the Wild and Androscoggin rivers, thinking I’d ride up with Wild and over Evan’s notch, a road I’d never been on before, a mini-adventure of sorts. I made it about two miles up the road before getting sidetracked by a snowsled bridge leading to some trails. The first to catch my eye was the Highwater trail, which appeared to run up the opposite bank of the Wild. I figured I could ride it’s riverside sweetness up to another bridge and loop back on the road.

Every mile I went I got a bit more committed to the loop. And every mile I went was another mile with no bridge. I eventually reached a junction with signs pointing to “Wild River Road- 0.2”. Sweet. Wait, no bridge. An out and back it is… Good thing the trail was perfect river grade and perfect ‘cross bike terrain. Good times in the crunchy snow. And I still got out of the woods with enough time to ride up to the top of Evans Notch and back on the iciest road I’ve seen in a while… Nice sunset.

On this particular trip I had a “meeting” with a fellow by the name of Ken Sowles, and his new assistant, Erica MacConnell, who are looking around for creative, out of the box, sponsorship angles on my account. By meeting I meant we went skiing at Stowe and sort of talked business on the chairlift, when we weren’t talking about how much fun skiing is. Even on man-made snow in a thick fog/mist combo. As the icing on the Vermont cake, one of my favorite people, a member of one of my favorite families, Lea Davison, tagged along. Let’s have a conversation with Ms. Davison, shall we?

“Lea, what do you think about the skiing conditions at Stowe on November 26th?”

“Hey, Lea, can you see the chairlift in front of us? You know, the one with the four snowboarders wearing awesome (if a bit overdone) neon suits?”

“Wait a minute, how do they get all that snowmaking equipment up on the hill?”

“But, Lea, why aren’t there any photos of you actually skiing?”

“Well, Adam, we’re clearly too busy skiing by Braille on the top half of the mountain for photos, and we’re clearly not going to stop on the bottom half, where we’re focused on using our newfound power of sight to bomb GS turns back to the lift.”

On that note, after some amazing Thai food at Tiny Thai in Burlington, VT and a really awesome drive to Bradley Airport in Connecticut through a solid rain/wind storm, I’m on my back to my alleged home of Bend, Oregon for the last time this year. I’m not going anywhere for a while… Or at least till next week when I’m bored and it’s snowing somewhere within a day’s drive…

Monday, November 12, 2007

Utah trail of tears

The phrase “Road Trip” always evokes visions of wide open skies, scenic vistas and long stretches of open highway. When the opportunity to plan one after this year’s Interbike Show presented itself ten of of us jumped at the chance. The plan was simple, do an epic two-day mountain bike ride on the Virgin River Rim Trail in southern Utah and experience breath-taking views, twisty singletrack and some high altitude camping. We would employ the expert services of Red (Editor in Chief of Outdoor Utah Magazine) to arrange our lodging, shuttle services to the start and finish of the trail and be our trail master.

Three vehicles departed Las Vegas after the close of the show on Friday afternoon in route to Brian Head, Utah. The members of the Thule Crew consisted of Fred, TJ, Mark, Tripp, Christine, Martin, Schuyler, Bob and me, Karl.

After arriving in Brian Head it was evident that the base altitude of 9600 feet was going to be an issue. Climbing to the third floor of the condo with our bags over our shoulders completely winded us. This should have been our first sign of things to come. After an all-star dinner by the Medium Rare Chefs it was time to get some sleep for the days to come.

Sleeping at close to 10,000 feet is not a fun or easy thing to do. The air is so thin and dry that it makes getting a solid night of shut-eye virtually impossible. I know I was not the only one who couldn’t sleep as I heard Martin and Tripp tossing and turning in the bunk room all night.

Day 1 – 22 miles of singletrack
As the morning came around everyone started getting their gear together for the two-day adventure that was forthcoming. We went to Brian Head Mountain Bike Park to pick up our bikes and meet Bob, our shuttle driver. I was very happy to see that my trusty Santa Cruz arrived without a scratch thanks to my Thule Round Trip Bike Case . With all the bikes loaded, Bob drove us the 30 minutes to the trail head of the Virgin River Rim Trail. After unloading our bikes, Camel Backs, Clif Bars, Bear Naked Granola, Princeton Tec Head Lamps and Pedro’s Tools he drove off with a cloud of dust. We were now on our own.

As we started the initial climb we knew this was going to be a long day in the saddle. Within the first half-mile both Mark and TJ were off their bikes with chain issues. Somehow Mark managed to twist his chain 90 degrees to how it is supposed to be and TJ was holding his chain in his hand. We managed to get Mark’s chain straight thanks to the pliers from a Leatherman and we got TJ back up and running thanks to Martin’s supply of Shimano HG pins.

The first 2.5 miles were straight up. I mean, STRAIGHT UP! Let me quickly remind you that none of us are professional mountain bikers and that this trail is well over 9,500 feet. Even though we all ride road bikes at lunch over very hilly terrain it didn’t do much to prepare us for this. At the top of the 2.5 mile climb we stopped to regroup, get out of the cold wind and eat some lunch. At that point we made the hard decision that due to the low temperatures (43 degrees and scattered flurries) and lack of air that it would be safer for some to head back to the start rather than continue on for the remaining 20 miles of unknown singletrack. With that decision we lost three riders who elected to back track to the start and await one of us with a truck to pick them up.

Being down to seven riders we decided to break into two groups; each with a mechanic. Tripp and myself would be group one and Martin, Fred, TJ, Bob and Schuler would take up group two.
Tripp and I rode off at a steady pace passing some of the most beautiful views in the South West. As the day (and the climbs) continued we decided that I was to ride ahead in order to get to the camp site and pick up the crew that elected to turn around.

Riding alone in rural Utah can be an exciting and freakish experience. I experienced groups of mule-deer, elk and a fox. It is a bit unsettling to see a herd of 300 pound mule-deer running across the trail in front of you. I was just hoping that the last one in the herd was actually the last one and that I wasn’t going to get clipped by a straggler.

As I arrived at our first night camp I was met by our backwoods cooks from Medium Rare Chefs, Amy and KJ. Dutch ovens were busy cooking our dinner over hot coals. After catching my breath, I told them that I needed to borrow a vehicle to go after the three that had turned around after lunch. After a quick check of the map to getting my bearings I set out in the truck to find them. I was pleasantly surprise that they were more than ½ ways to the camp via the road when we met up. We loaded their bikes on the Thule hitch rack (LINK) and drove back to camp.

Within five minutes of arriving back to camp we started to see the rest of our group finishing their epic day of riding. Two-by-two they showed up from with the strain of the day visible on their faces.

Stories around the campfire.

As we gathered around the campfire it was evident that this was truly an epic day of riding. The crashes, near crashes, mechanicals and views were ones worthy of mountain bike magazines or adventure guide books.

After all those miles, dinner that night truly hit the spot. Inside one Dutch oven was home made corn bread which we ate with clam chowder and a fresh salad. For desert was another Dutch oven creation, pineapple upside-down cake. Yum! One unfortunate story came that came back from the trail was one of a mishap with a log at mile two. It seems that TJ was going over a log when a slight miscalculation led to his ejection from the bike. After trying to break his fall with his hand he managed to hurt his elbow. Suffering through the next 20 miles he knew that something was more seriously wrong than he originally had thought.

When the decision was made to get TJ to a hospital in the morning it opened the door for some others to get a ride back to the condo for a warm shower and a soft bed. We couldn’t blame them for heading back. It was an extremely hard day in the saddle and by just finishing day one was an accomplishment into itself.

That night the remaining group that braved the sub-20 degree night consisted of Fred, Tripp, Red, Bob, Schuyler, our chefs Amy and KJ and me.

Day 2 – 12 miles

As we awoke on day two it was evident how cold it actually got over the night. Frost was on my hat and covering my tent. As I opened the rain fly on my tent I could see that Fred was already up getting the fire started. A quick check of my cycling computer revealed that it was currently 21.4 degrees.
As we got our gear ready for today’s ride (and thaw out our Camelbacks next to the fire) Tripp told us about how he could not get warm up at all during the night and that no matter how many layers he put on couldn’t lose the chill he got from the day before. Never being one to quit half-way through a challenge Tripp decided to mount his bike for day two.

Since we were on the western edge of the time zone the sun took a bit longer to rise. However, as it did we knew the cold temperatures of the day before were long gone and today we were going to enjoy some comfortable riding weather.

Bob and Schuyler decided to swap places with Amy and KJ and let them ride the 12 miles out with us. At around 10:30am our group set out for the final leg of the trip.

The day was pretty uneventful in terms of crashes and mechanicals. A quick fix of Red’s flat tire reveled that his rim strip was shot. Being a good Boy Scout Fred had some duct tape with him that we used to fabricate a new one. We mostly stayed together as we rode though groves of aspens, high meadows and washed out jeep trails.

We stopped for a quick snack and Tripp mentioned that he didn’t have much energy left in the tank and was just going to ride at a slow steady pace. Since the day before was so tough we brushed it off as just fatigue.

The final three miles of the ride were all down hill. The first mile was a series of twisty turns through trees and fields. The other two miles were a full-on downhill over a washed out jeep trail. This was a great way to end the ride.

At the bottom of the jeep trail we met Bob the shuttle driver. We loaded the bikes onto the trailer and Bob drove us back to our condo.
When we arrived at the condo we finally got word about TJ’s condition. It seems that he suffered a radial fracture of the elbow. He was in a half-cast and was advised to see an orthopedic doctor on Monday morning.

Most of the group had early flights out the next morning so there were only four of us left in the condo. The next day we were planning to ride a 12 mile downhill off the back side of a Brian Head. Going to bed that night we were all pretty trashed but excited that we didn’t have to do any climbing the next day.

The adventure continues...

That night Tripp was up all night coughing. He couldn’t lie down and when he did it sounded like he was making espresso in his lungs. As he continued to cough he started to spit up blood. This was clearly more than a case of altitude sickness or fatigue.

Since Red was heading down to Cedar City to bring TJ to the orthopedic doctor, we felt that it would be good to get Tripp down out of the altitude and get checked out by some doctors.

Needless to say, we canceled the ride for the day. Fred and I went over the Brian Head Mountain Bike Park (LINK) to pack up our bikes and gear for the shipment home and drove down to Cedar City to check in on Tripp and TJ.

As we pulled into the hospital we were greeted by Red and TJ. The orthopedic doctor told TJ that he would be fine in a few weeks and to just take it easy. That was a relief.

Tripp’s condition was still unknown but we knew that they wanted to keep him overnight for observation. After a quick stop at the hospital gift shop to pick up some flowers and a cheesy card we wandered down to his room where his male nurse was checking him out.
It seems that with the cold conditions combined with the altitude Tripp managed to get a case of H.A.P.E (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). Now we knew why he didn’t have any energy the day before. Tripp was released from the hospital the next day and is now on his way back home.

Since all members of the Thule Road Trip are now all accounted for and are either back home or off to other business engagements it is time to reflect on how truly epic our road trip to the Virgin River Rim Trail was. We are all looking forward for our next road trip and the adventure it brings.

Monday, November 05, 2007

East Coast Road Trip, Part 1

A while back I casually asked my buddies over at Thule if they had a vehicle they wanted me to drive around the eastern time zone for a month or so. Instead of not responding like the couple of other people I asked this same question, Steve got back to me with a prompt “yes.” Evidently there was a Chevy Express van parked out back that I was welcome to use in whatever way I saw fit. After some planning and struggling, I had a rough plan for a fall spent on the right coast doing a bunch of random stuff.

The outline went something like this, starting October 19 and ending November 27, try to follow…

Step 1- Fly to Connecticut and pick up the van.

Step 2- Drive to Diablo Freeride Park in New Jersey to attend a Giant Ride Maestro Demo and jump some stuff.

Step 3- Drive to Philadelphia and race skinny tired bikes on some grass.

Step 4- Drive to Asheville, North Carolina and do some kayaking.

Step 5- Drive to Athens, Georgia for another Maestro Demo

Step 6- Back to Asheville for more kayaking, maybe some Pisgah MTB’n.

Step 7- Drive to Louisville, KY for some more cyclocross racing, round one of the USGP.

Step 8- Drive back to Asheville, more boating and singletrack.

Step 9- Race in the Green River Narrows kayak race.

(this is where I’ve gotten to so far, I’m now flying to the opposite of western NC, that being Los Angeles…)

Step 10- Fly back from the west coast and drive, over the course of two days of screwing around in the woods or on the water, up to Manhattan for some Media shenanigans.

Step 11- Race Cross Bikes once again, this time in New Jersey. USGP #2.

Step 12- Hang out in Manhattan getting all cultured up with my cousin Jennifer.

Step 13- Drive to Maine for Thanksgiving and some hanging out with the family and friends.

Step 14- Over to Burlington, VT for singletrack and adult stuff, meetings and such.

Step 15- Back down to Thule HQ in CT to return the van, meet some people and be on my last airplane ride of the year back to Oregon. Whew.

There it is, the fifteen step plan to driving a bunch of miles and doing a bunch of random stuff, just like in the good ole’ days…

Step one went smoothly once I got done with my usual shellacking at the Chicago Airport, my flight was only delayed 3 hours, no big deal. Thanks to the ingenuity of Steve over at Thule, instead of dealing with getting the van up to the Airport or having me take a cab, when I arrived at the airport there was a guy in a suit and a nice hat holding a sign with my name on it. Turns out he was driving the “White Stretch” parked in front of baggage claim and would be chauffeuring me the van, stashed at a Park n’ Ride with the keys under the bumper. Sweet.

A solid drive through a solid rainstorm listening to surprisingly unstimulating (for greater NYC) local radio found me at Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, NJ. The Diablo Freeride Park guys lease this little (1000 vertical feet) ski resort in the Jersey Highlands each summer so they can transform it into the east coast’s best place to ride a lift up and charge back down over and

over. Good business plan. Giant had cleverly chosen this location for one of the Ride Maestro Demo Tour events. It having a lift and being in the hometown of Giant Street/Freeride star Jeff Lenosky made it a ringer. We did a presentation on our (awesome) Maestro suspension design to about 50 dealers in the morning, had lunch, then rode the hell out of some bikes under sunny skies all afternoon. Wallrides, jumps everywhere, drops, berms, scary rock gardens, slippery singletrack, etc. We had a real good time. People were fired up on the bikes. It was a success for sure. I’m glad I “volunteered” for this one…

That night I drove down to Philly, stayed with and old friend and slept a ton. We made a huge breakfast and set off for the Wissahickon Cyclocross race. Turns out a huge breakfast is just what you need to make it back through the entire field after rolling a tubular on the first lap… Yup, I was pretending the ‘Cross bike was the Reign X I had been riding irresponsibly the day before. Turns out you can’t back it in on a light racing setup like on a freeride bike… Whoops. Fortunately, I had a spare bike, and I like passing people anyway, it’s entertaining and way less pressure than actually riding at the front of the race trying to “win” or whatever… I made it up to 5th, then Barry Wicks waxed me on the last lap. 6th place, an envelope with cash in it and some of those valuable “UCI Points” to secure me a reasonable start position at the Gran Prix coming up in Kentucky. Oh, and another sunny day, two down, forty to go…

The Green River narrows is a funny place. It is a classic Class V river tumbling off the Western North Carolina Escarpment through a vein of beautiful Granite. Yet it’s got a dam on it, the Tuxedo Hydro Station. Usually this would mean certain de-watered stream channel death for a small, steep river. But no, the Green runs more than just about any other Steep Creek in North America due to daily releases from Tuxedo. You simply wake up and call the flow phone to see what time it turns on and viola, warm water creekin’.

My problem was that I was in Philly at sunset and wanted nothing more than to get on the green the next day, 600 miles south. I called the phone, which was still relaying last week’s message, in an awesome southern drawl.

“Tuxedo Hydro Station will be running one unit at 100% load from 7am to 11am Monday, October the fifteenth, Tuesday and Wednesday, Tuxedo will be shut down. Thursday the 18th through Sunday the 21st Tuxedo will be running one unit at 100% load from 7am to 11am”

What this meant to me is that if I didn’t bust down there through the night I wouldn’t get on the Green until Thursday. Unacceptable. I bore down, taking advantage of the Red Bull and racing combo that seems to give endless energy despite incredible fatigue… This boost took me well south of Roanoake, Virginia, just a few hours north of the Green, by 2am. Fortunately, the Express has a robometronic back seat that turns into the narrowest bed you’ve ever seen. It was awesome, long, firm and perfect for a few hours of sleep until that pesky sunrise reminded me of my quest for the Green.

Once again, I called the flow phone. Once again it was last week’s news. I figured I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway so I might as well drive down to Asheville and see if the locals knew the story. My first stop in town was Jessie Rice’s place, which happens to be about as non-dirtbag-kayaker as you can get. On the 4th floor of the Kress Condo building right downtown, her studio was probably the nicest apartment I’ve ever been in… Her friend Lizzy English was in town and keen to go kayaking, she figured that the Green would be running this Monday as it had been for the last month. Unfortunately, the frequency of class five kayaking that happens in Asheville had caught up with young Lizzy in the name of landing on her head off from Gorilla two days before. She hooked me up with the infamous Billy Jones, an old buddy of mine from Oregon who had recently moved to Asheville and we made it to the Narrows in the nick of time, actually running down the put-in trail to catch the last of the release. And catch it we did. A run down a river like this with a buddy who happens to know every nook and cranny is well worth driving through the night. We had a real good time.

A late lunch at Burgermeister with Lizzy and Billy was a hilariously entertaining segway to an afternoon ride with legendary local Sam Koerber in the Pisgah National Forest. The morning’s light rain had turned to a steady downpour as we headed up Yellow Gap to Laurel Mountain Trail. Sam kept me honest about the fact that I’d just eaten a huge Feta Burger by keeping a high tempo for the entirety of our hour-long climb up perfectly techy singletrack. I casual “I recommend you drop your seat now” meant we were about to shred a couple thousand feet of the east coast’s finest singletrack. Which we promptly did despite looming darkness and heavy, warm rain. It was an awesome end to an awesome day.

The next day the boys went kayaking on the Toxaway river while I rode sweet singletrack in Athens, GA at the next stop of the Giant tour. It was held at a farm out in the country that happened to have about ten miles of twisty, rooty, red clay trails in and out of the hollows. Fun trails with fun people, but I was still glad to be ignorant of the “running of the shit” that went on up north while I was “working” down in the flatlands…

I fortunately made it back to Asheville that night in time to have dinner with my host for the week, Willow Koerber. We went to a nice Spainish restaurant downtown and I got my first taste of Asheville’s culinary and cultural diversity. Cool town, especially when you have a van full of toys and a good friend’s house to stay at…

The next morning, after listening to it rain all night, I called Billy Jones to see about the prospect of kayaking. He mentioned the Raven’s Fork and I immediately jumped out of bed and proclaimed that I’d be ready to go in two minutes. Fortunately, the southern boating community operates on a slightly more casual schedule, I had plenty of time… We met at Greenlife, one of A-ville’s many organic healthfood stores, for breakfast and flow checking. Then it was time to gather the rest of the crew and head west into the Smokies. Eventually. We actually left town at the crack of noon, five strong. Drew Duval drove Old Blackie, Billy Jones called shotgun before we even decided who’s car to take, “The Professor” Toby McDermott, young ripper Adrian and myself squeezed into the back and the discussion of our perspective flow on the Raven’s Fork commenced. Maybe it was too low? What was our cutoff? Should we turn around? Stop and check the online flow again? Or just keep driving, which is what we did. We were rewarded with this:

Perfect flow. An impressively steep uphill drive in Blackie delivered us to a forty-five minute hike up an old railroad bed to the put-in. We drove up about fifteen hundred vertical feet, then walked in dead flat to a river that rose steadily through it’s canyon to meet us. We would drop all 1500ft in about two miles. That’s STEEP! Fortunately, the put in had a tiny pool to warm up in before dropping into the teacups right off the bat. Perfect.

The first big rapid of the day was Anaconda, the boys fired it up while Adrian and I exchanged concerned glances… We could run it if we HAD to, but chose the high right line instead, opting to save ourselves for downstream challenges.

Looking back up at Anaconda- Steep and tight…

Like the next rapid, Headless Horseman. A classic slot boof entry to a big slide under an even bigger undercut ledge. Very aesthetically pleasing.

Below there the rapids stacked up right on top of each other. It’s pretty amazing how steep and how runnable this river is. Even when you do have to portage, such as the entrance to Razorback at this level, it seems totally reasonable that you might not be able to run 100% of this creek, 90% is plenty…

We eventually made it down to Big Boy, the waterfall everyone would ask if we ran once we got back to town… Our answer would be no. 35 feet of curling perfection, except for the four foot wide green landing pool guarded by a pile of rocks on the right. Beautiful yet quite ugly…

A reasonable portage brought us down to Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, another huge complex slide that we simply scouted from above and fired up out of necessity and enthusiasm. Like all rapids on this river, the photo from above makes it look tiny, even with the tiny kayaker (Toby) in the frame…

A good handful of bonus classic rapids like Caveman eventually led us out of the gorge, basically intact and quite stoked to have gotten on the Rave’s in the middle of the worst drought the southeast has seen in a few years. We hung out with Emmanuel the elderly Cherokee Indian who is kind enough to let kayakers park as his place at the takeout. He was clearly excited to see his river running again and share that appreciation with the kayakers who were so excited to be there.

The next day we got greedy. Linville Gorge is the longest, deepest, most committing kayak run in the southeast. It was still raining up in the Grandfather Mountain area and Linville was in, probably on the “high side of good”… We met Uncle Jeb Hall and his crew at the lake takeout, planning on taking advantage of reasonable daylight and high water to run the whole gorge. Our optimism was commendable even when the river rose two inches while we loaded the Thule van with nine boats and paddlers…

The road to the put in is fifteen miles of washboard gravel. I drove it as fast as the van would take, heeding the advice of “five or fifty” that came from the peanut gallery in back. They quieted down once we got rolling… Linville requires a forty-five minute hike down into the gorge before you even see the river. We descended into the mist wondering what our flow was. Just as we got to the first overlook on the Babel Tower trail some guys hiking uphill carrying kayaks and looking scared. They said it was a bit high… It was. We deliberated for a while and eventually decided it was too high, but Billy and I agreed to go to river level and give it one last look, just in case. Seeing Toby and Brad Kee (who had run Linville as high as it ever had been run) walking up was the last thing I needed to bag it. It was a nice hike into and out of the gorge even with the ungainly 45-pound kayak on my shoulder…

Instead of driving to Cincinatti and being early to pick up Kelli, who was flying in to race in Louisville, I decided a twilight run on the nearby Wilson Creek would keep the day from being a total Skunk. It was just what the doctor ordered, fun class IV boating, rock spins, hole surfs and some fun impromptu racing with Lizzy and Billy had me relaxed and ready to drive another seven hours…

Once again, I’ve been racing bikes all summer and taking photos of it sometimes. This weekend I didn’t take a single one. Sorry. We did have a good time though, staying at our mechanic Tom’s parents place eating good home cooking was a bonus on top of fun racing and nice weather. Kelli and I each won the “Most Aggressive Rider” award on one of the two days, basically the river who gets the crappiest start and makes the most of it. In my case it was doing wheelies up to fifth place, in hers it was cornering fast to tenth. Good times with the big check.

Monday we did some cyclocross mountain biking at some random park in Frankfort, KY before I dropped Kelli at the airport. It was pretty entertaining, riding tight local trails on sketchy bikes.

Another five hour drive had me back in Asheville Monday night ready for more action. I even saw some good southern culture on the way… NASCAR evidently has some fans in the world…

The next two days were “rest days” for green river paddlers, being Tuesday and Wednesday. I decided to rest by doing some huge rides in Pisgah, one with Sam and (badass) dad Bob Koerber. We rode fast up barely makeable climbs and even faster down classic Pisgah descents. Rocky, rooty, fast and covered in leaves. The next day I set off alone to explore the Fish Hatchery zone outside Brevard. Five hours later I’d ridden every trail in the drainage, including the infamous Furlow Gap. Good stuff.

Thursday and it was time for business. Racing kayaks down class V isn’t something to be taken lightly. I figured the best way to get ready was to go kayaking on the Green River Narrows a whole bunch. Which happens to be what I would have decided to do even if there wasn’t a big race coming up. Two runs Thursday and two more on Friday had me a bit sore but completely entertained… I did have a bit of a scare on my last run of Gorilla, the classic blast through the notch but not quite into the eddy above the launchpad. This common occurance (especially for non-locals) usually results in a backwards run off the pad immediately followed by stern-pitoning and falling on one’s head down the rest of the ramp. It didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would. Which is amazing. And lucky. Fortunately, John Grace (of Lunch Video Magazine) was filming the whole incident. He assured Sam that it would make the cut for the carnage section… Which is something I really, seriously, genuinely, try to avoid doing out on the river. We’re not fish, nor are we made of rubber, so I always try to respect the environment we’re so fortunate to travel through by kayak. In this case, I’d respect it by just catching the eddy in the race, eddies being the cornerstone of river-running and all… I’d also respect it by repairing the backband and seat I’d broken in the Shiny new Remix 69 that Woody and Obie at Liquidlogic Kayaks had loaned me for the race. Sorry guys…

I fell for a mean trick on race morning. I should have learned over the last two weeks in Asheville that the boating crew isn’t exactly prompt. When race oranizer Jason Hale told me to be at the takeout at 8:30 for a race meeting I figured he was serious. Really, this was just a rumor to get everyone moving within an hour or two. The real meeting was at the put-in at 10:30… So I met up with local bike race promoter and racer Janet Trubey for breakfast at Waffle House. Not so bad, although the coffee was… Hale climbed on top of a truck at 10:45 for the “meeting” which basically consisted of these few points:

Be Safe.

Are you qualified?

There’s only one winner.

Don’t ask your time when you finish.

Don’t be late.

There would be a party at Woody’s house after the race.

He had official green race panties for all the swimmers.

Our next stop was the field for the traditional photo of everyone with their kayaks standing up in a row, in this case, it was three rows, as there were 130 racers. That’s a lot of “qualified” boaters…

Next stop was Frankenstein rapid, which the race started just above. It was warm and sunny at Frankenstein, perfect for watching people smooth it through, or not… We saw some creative, ingenious lines, some average lines, and some pretty questionable ones… Complex rapid right off the bat.

Toby shows us how it’s done in the new Liquidlogic “Hun-gee” race boat.

Before I knew it my start time had arrived. Since I’m kind of a sissy, and was quite respectful of Gorilla at this point, I decided to go for a brisk paddle down the green all by myself. It just happened that I would be timed. I smoothed some rapids, like “Go left and die.” It was good that I wasn’t distracted by the hundred or so people at Go Left when I came blasting out of Boof or Consequences… The green race is quite the party even at the river… (this is some other guy smoothin’ it…)

And I fumbled some, like Frankenstein, right off the bat. By the time I got to Gorilla I had things under control, even with the rabid crowd, and the rapid was smooth and direct, after which I breathed a sigh of relief before exiting the speed trap and charging down the final slides to the finish rock, upright, intact, and not very tired… Unless you count mental fatigue. That’s a lot of information to process… Kayaking at speed down big hard rapids is an interesting challenge. I have even more respect for those who do it well, like local boy Andrew Holcombe who won this year’s race in 4:26, 76 paddlers ahead of me at 5:37… I think it’s something I could get into someday though, similar approach to a Super Downhill event, smooth line selection complemented by fitness, the reward being speed at all costs. Hmmm.

The party at Woody’s was a thing to see. Southern boaters don’t mess about with the drinking… Or the being absolutely hilarious… I like it down here. And I’ll be back someday, hopefully with my A game…

Thanks for reading.