Friday, December 28, 2012



The big five-oh.  Half a century.  Five decades.  Way too many months, weeks, days etc. to bother to enumerate.

The beginning of every decade of your existence is supposed to be some sort of milestone.  When you turn thirty it's supposed to be a big deal.  And when you turn forty everyone acts like it means something profound.  Again at fifty - ooooh, look at you being sooo old.

Bah. I'm basically not buying it.  I know people that are the same immature idiots at 55 that they were at 25.  In other words, growing older doesn't always equate with growing up.  We all know people that hit their maturity early as well.  Folks who show a wisdom and poise beyond their years.  So it's not quite as linear as all that.

But I am in a pretty sour mood.  I have 11 days off work, using the Christmas holiday, New Years holiday and my left over vacation time.  So I get to spend some time with my son while he's off school, which is nice.  But damned if the weather didn't get all wintry on me, so instead of my dream vacation featuring days of riding singletrack I'm moping around the house.  Too much snow to do trail work too, but I did get out for a couple of hikes.  Spending some time on the bike would have really helped take the sting out of this day, but you get what you get.

And really, I tried - I loaded up the bike and headed out to the trails to give it a shot.  The snow is right at the depth where it starts to make riding impossible, but I could make some headway.  It was great - unbroken snow on the trail in front of me, almost perfect silence in the sun - but I had to turn back.  This happens early in the year - snow lying on unfrozen ground.  And that ground was wet in spots, so that I'd be doing damage to the trail if I went on.  So it was a short ride, but I stretched it out by adding some snow covered road riding - lots of fun.

But  back to fifty.  I can reassure myself that I'm more fit at fifty than I was at forty, and that is a certainty.  My strength is better, my weight is a little less, and my stamina has improved.  But I definitely feel that I have a lot of room for improvement, so I hope to make some changes this year. 

I did pretty well early in the year with my nutrition, but kind of lost focus during the summer.  I was riding five days a week and with that exercise level I didn't have to worry about my calorie input.  But after getting sick in September and then getting really busy my riding schedule suffered, and the shorter days of fall made it even worse.  So I need to get back on track with my calories and with my exercise as well.  Just because it's snowy out I shouldn't just forget about exercise.  So I have to face the ugly reality and get back to riding the stationary bike in the basement (groan).  What I plan on doing is getting back into the habit of using MapMyRide as my nutrition and workout tracker.  It's a great site, especially since it's free, and I know from experience that it can help.   So starting with the beginning of January I plan on logging in and keeping my stats every day.

Hopefully that will result in losing some weight and improving my fitness a bit more this year.  I have a lot of things that I plan to do this year, from riding and trail building projects, to work on the house and time with my family.  Being healthier will make all of those things easier and more fun.  Wish me luck.

My next post will be more 'literary' in nature - I just needed to get this stupid 'fifty' thing out of my craw so that I can realize that today is just a day, and tomorrow will be yet another day.  Might get some more snow tomorrow - maybe I'll go sled riding...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Revealed and Concealed

I'd had a restless night, with sleep just beyond my grasp for too long.  I stumbled around the house, getting ready for work while coaxing my son into preparing for school.  Stepping outside and locking the door I was pleasantly surprised to feel how warm it was, despite it being the first week of December. The sun hadn't yet come up, but there was just enough light to illuminate the neighborhood, filtered through a thick layer of fog.  Streetlights stood out as beacons through the grey distance, and the sound of traffic on the busy street one block away was barely a whisper.  I stopped to enjoy the sight, and listened to the sound of moisture dripping from the bare branches of the oak trees.  I've always loved the fog, and this morning it brought back an experience from 15 years ago.

I'd gotten up early in the morning - before the sunrise on a late summer day - and loaded up my paddling gear.  It was a moist, cool morning as I strapped my kayak to the roof of the car and quietly slipped through the deserted streets, heading for the highway.  Less than an hour later I pulled into the parking area beside the ranger's office at McConnells Mill State Park. 
Me on Slippery Rock Creek in 2002.
The sun was just over the horizon, spreading a coppery light across the landscape, but the deep gorge that held the creek looked like a cauldron of shifting mist.  Heavy fog filled the depths of  the narrow canyon, rising to nearly the rim where a lazy breeze dissipated it across the ridge top.  As the sunlight strengthened I put on my sprayskirt and pfd, shouldered my boat, and hiked across the meadow to descend the trail to the water.

There is an easier place to access the creek - an old bridge where you can park beside the road and have your boat down to the water in thirty seconds.  But I'd always preferred the trail behind the ranger's office.  It was only a quarter mile or so, descending among the rock faces and dense forest via several rustic staircases.  Near the bottom, where it wasn't quite as steep, the stairs ended and you had to pick your way down a rocky path to the creek bank.  Though it wasn't exactly an easy trip carrying 50 pounds of boat and gear, I always looked forward to this trip and the feeling of immersing myself in the depths of the gorge.

This morning it was a mystical experience.  The fog obscured the edge of the woods, and thickened as I descended slick stairs.  The sound of the whitewater below, usually a roar by the halfway point, was a distant hiss.  The hemlocks and ferns slowly dripped fog borne moisture to the moss below, and occasionally a songbird would call, it's voice padded by the fog.  At the bottom of the stairs I carefully picked my way across the rocks, slowing to clear the crowding trees with the boat.  By the time I got down to the gravel and mud at theedge of the water the fog was so dense that I could barely see 10 feet.  The bright sunlight I'd experienced at meadow above was a soft sterling glow, giving a strange cast to the dark green and brown of the forest.

I slipped into the boat and stretched the skirt over the cockpit rim.  The water level was low enough that there was little risk, especially since I'd paddled this creek dozens of times over the past year.  By now I knew the path of the narrow whitewater creek very well, and felt confident in making a solo trip at low water levels.  I picked up my paddle and slid down the bank into the current, guiding the boat to the center of the creek.  Ahead of me I could hear the muted sound of a rapid, growing louder and sharper as I approached.  Yet the scene ahead was still a wall of fog, enclosed by the dark rocks of the banks to my left and right.  I knew I had to be to the right to enter the first rapid, and I eased the boat closer to that shore as the current picked up.  I strained my eyes, peering into the gloom - and now I could see the outline of the white foam on the dark water through the mist.  Another paddle stroke and I was at the lip of the ledge and then past, the fog slowly rolling in the breeze above the rapid.  I cut the boat into an eddy, looking upstream, but the waves were already lost in the fog.

I peeled out back into the main current, and guided the kayak downstream.  Once again the sound of whitewater slowly gained volume and focus - and then was revealed at the last moment of the approach.  This place that was so familiar to me seemed like somewhere new - yet it was only my familiarity that could allow me to press forward with barely any visual cues.  As the boat dove through the mist and turbulent waves the cool water splashed into my face, bringing the morning into sharp reality.  Each rapid was an experience, both the same and different than ever before, and I lingered at the eddies, reluctant to approach the end of the run.
Even longer ago - me in the Pirouette on Slippery Rock Creek in 2001.
Finally I made my way through the last rapid.  I knew the bridge for the takeout was ahead, though it was still concealed in the fog.  Floating on the current, I didn't paddle until it came into view, and then eased towards the shore where I gave one last strong stroke to push the boat onto the sandy shore. 

I left the boat hidden in the woods near the creek, and began the walk back upstream towards the car along the streamside trail.  At the halfway point the fog was beginning to thin noticeably.  And as I finished the climb out of the gorge the brilliant sunshine once again warmed me, with clear blue skies above. By the time I reached the car I was sweating.  Looking down into the gorge there was only the slightest wisp of mist to be seen, twisting and swirling as it slowly disappeared.