Monday, September 14, 2009

The Civil War battle of Asheville, Biking to Britain, Bike portage as a sport and life with the Spot part deux.

I admit it. I am woefully behind in my blogging. I was looking over my photos from this summer and found that there was so much that I did that I didn't bring all my adoring fans (okay the bored masses goofing off at their jobs) up to speed on. I feel like Britney, keeping you, the loving paparazzi, at bay while I hide out with my small, nearly unclothed children smoking alone in my backyard.

Please forgive me for my indiscretions. I'll do my best to set the record straight right here and now. First thing's first - there were many accomplices. I did not act alone. This summer was a dance - not a slow waltz with caring ear nibbling and giggles, but a fast-paced disco beat of craziness.

As many of you know, I embarkated flagrantly on a Civil War tour of mosquitos, gators, guns, foods fried to within an inch of their lives and attempting to ride on a beat up rental MTB with a busted-ass bottom bracket. This trip was long on and adventure and short on biking, so I'll keep this part of my account brief as well. It went something like this: "Wow, it's hot here. Buildings are old. Savannah is groovy. Swamps are cool but actually hot. Asheville was really cool, but Trek hardtails weigh way too much and make weird noises when you jump them. People will fry just about anything here. Lot of people died in the Civil War. What's so civil about war? What does Cool Hand Luke have to do with Guns 'n Roses?"


Cool city squares that the city is famous for (and lots of Spanish moss).

The old city of Savannah.

What I remember most about walking through the swamps at Congaree National Park

Our camp at the top of Mt. Pisgah (outside of Asheville). It was very lush and tropical and cool. Kinda of like living in a terrarium.

Here is our view looking down on Asheville and our mountain biking Mecca for this trip.

Riding in Asheville was great fun. When I was sold the bill on Asheville, I heard that this was "the PLACE" for mountain biking, but the bike shops haven't really figured that out yet. The best I could find was a fairly beaten up hardtail that weighed in at somewhere between a hippo and the Red October. The best part though, was that it was a "rental car"! Man, I put that thing through it's paces! It was actually pleasing to hear the creak of metal on metal as that thing came down off of a jump - I knew that it wasn't my bike to fix! Asheville's riding was great. It was a lot of fun hardpack through trees with some roots and small jumps thrown in to boot. Now, I had heard a lot about creepy crawly bugs and such (tics dropping from trees, angry spiders and this guy). Luckily, I had no run ins whatsoever. The weather was warm, and humid, but still in the low 80's probably. Good times for riding. So good, in fact, I forgot to take pictures or video. Luckily, there was a camera crew on hand that shot this video of my riding while I was there.

My friends doing some first class Civil War reenacting at Antietam, are demoing most of the rest of the trip. If you ever watched all those cool PBS shows on the Civil War, you might have wondered what it was really like to be in the places where battles took place. It was really crazy for me (a bit of a history buff) to actually set foot on a few of these places. Probably the craziest thing was how close the opposing sides would stand to fight and how tightly they would pack together. At this battle, the major Union line ended up in an all day shootout with the entrenched Confederates at a distance of only about 80 yards. Using guns accurate to well over 1,000 yards, it was just a matter of throwing people into the thick of it until one side gained an advantage or ran out of people. Not only that, but "the enemy" were speaking the same language and often from the same areas as you.

Well, that's enough of the Civil War trip stuff. I have a lot more to tell, but as the soldiers were not on bikes back then, it's probably not terribly relevant to the blog.

Part Deux - the bikes of Britain

There were so many cool things about this little getaway with my loverly wife that I could wax semi-bad-poetic about it for hours. It was a fun trip and a chance to mix history, art and the outdoors in a very British way. First, while Britain has made many leaps forward in the 15 years since I last visited, the food is still bad. I'm sorry, but I am of British heritage, and I honestly can't see how people who eat boiled and fried meats so consistently ever had such a large empire. Wow. But, the flip side is that if you like Indian, Thai, Chinese or any other food from a nation once "befriended" by the British people, you can eat amazing food.

Second thing - the beer. It's nice to walk into a bar and see a range of beers on tap and not see Bud, MGD and Coors featured prominently. But, be prepared as American Bud has more alcohol than most British beers. I had a lively discussion with a bartender when I pointed out the fact that most beers were 4% or less in Britain. I mentioned that the Oskar Blues beers were usually above 6% and that my favorite (Gordon's) was nearly 9. She seemed to think that the high alcohol content of beers made us Yanks all alcoholics and probably explained such things as Jermaine Jackson, most of the people who appear on Jerry Springer and our lack of a strong public healthcare system.

Okay, now for the bikes! Bikes, bikes bikes! London is totally BIKE CRAZY!!!! You would think that a city so totally mind-bogglingly crowded and filled with dancing cockney speaking chimney sweeps would be anti-bike. After all Boulder County seems to think they are akin to the bubonic plague and we are a pretty sparsely populated area. But NOOOOOO, London is just filled with cycle commuters.

I saw old people, young people, fat people svelte people. I think I saw a dog riding a bike! As you can see from this picture, about all that the people had in common on bikes was that they were very pale. There were a lot of bike lanes and people filled them up. Where roads were narrow, bikes and cars shared. I did see one shouting match, but for the hundreds, nay thousands of bikers I saw commuting around the city, it was amazing that everyone just seemed to get along so well.

"How do they do it?" you ask. Well, I guess they have a big toll for driving in the heart of the city now (to cut down on pollution and congestion). Also, the government allows people who cycle commute to buy bikes tax free (not just sales tax, but income tax too). This means that a person could easily pay 50% less for a bike through the program. Not bad eh? Anyway, let's cross our fingers that maybe we can open our minds to things here in Colorado!

Okay, one more geek moment here. As you may not know, I have a master's in geography. As such, maps and things like that are really cool to me. So, we took a quick jaunt to Greenwich to allow me to geek out for a bit. Greenwich is the point of origin for our longitude lines (like 105 degrees West - this is 0 degrees!) It's where it all begins baby! In the moldy old days when boats would set sail, the only way they could know where they were was to set their clocks and to Greenwich time and then do some hocus pocus with measuring the sun angle when they were out at see. So, before ships took to sea, they would look up to Greenwich (up on a hill above the port) and set their clocks. At precisely noon, there was a big red "ball" on a stick that would drop. People could see it from far away and set their clocks. So that's how we get the phrase "on the ball". Geeky huh? I know. So here is a pic of me on the Prime Meridian (the 0 longitude). And another of me trying to keep the ball from dropping!

Crowded touristy outdoors place, but all Britishy

We went to a bunch of other places, but hey, that's what boring slide shows are for right? Come to the next party at my house and your insomnia will be cured! The last place I'll talk about on that trip was going to the Lake District. Imagine Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Put real cars on it and 500 year old stone walls 1ft off the side of the road and you have driving in the Lake District. It was beautiful to be there! The hiking was great! The mountain biking was fun (more in a sec), but oh (choose any expletive) the driving was madness. Here is a pic of Becca hiking a "Fell." What they think of as a mountain, they call fells. We would call them sheep-infested really soggy, don't even think about trying to avoid stepping in manure hills.

But the best part of all was that in the Lake District the public has free access to private lands!!!! That's right, people have right of way on private lands. So, you really could walk from one town to the next on trails that were hundreds of years old through sheep farms and stuff. It was really relaxing and the landowners were a part of the system - not the problem at all. What a difference from the "Trespassers will be Shot" signs here.

I did learn that there are a heap of mountain bikers up there and they love their sport. It was a very different experience from home (again). I went to a part of the national park there that had purpose-built mountain bike trails. Right there on the park's land, there was a bike shop with a fleet of rentals. The area had a slew of trails for all different skill levels. By far, the biggest group of people there were parents with kids on great gravel roads that gave great views.

I did have my first "Colorado Street Cred" experience there too! I got to the rental shop at about 11am (after proper British breakfast - ugh no more fried tomahtos please) and went into the shop to rent.
"Hi, I would like to hire a bike." (people say hire there instead of rent. Go figure)

"What kind of bike do you want to rent?"

"Um.. Whatever is cheap that I can take out onto the singletrack"

"Sorry, we've hired out all of those bikes. We just have the cheap cruisers for riding the gravel roads."

"Sigh. Can I use one of those on the singletrack? I don't mind," says I with a hopeful, slightly lost puppy dog look on my face.

"No, I'm quite sorry. It's not allowed. The bikes couldn't handle it" (oh crap, I think. Who told them about my trip to Asheville?)

"Oh.... I understand," I demurred. "I just haven't had a chance to ride in the last week since I left home in Colorado"

"Colorado?" says the bike shop dude excitedly as if I just offered him a secret handshake after standing at the door for five minutes. "You're from Colorado?"

"Yes. I live in Boulder and ride around there."

"Oh.... Hmmm," looking over his shoulder up to the sales floor of the bike shop. "I say,
Worthington. Chap? Do we have that brand new Canondale demo ready to go? There's a fine upstanding man from Colorado here and he wants to ride singletrack today!"

And that's the way it happened. If I'm lyin' I'm dyin'! So if you ever need a bit of shop lovin' in another country, don't forget where you come from!

Here I am in front of some old moldy building from a time before Tim the Sorcerer with a brand new Canondale that I got to thrash on for the afternoon.

The trails themselves were fun, but very different. I guess imagine if someone made all of our mud kinda much more fun and less likely to gum up your bike with 50lbs of sludge and that'd be a start as to what it was like. They had a lot of boardwalks and some skinnies which I really enjoyed. There wasn't much elevation gain, but they put in a lot of obstacles and such. And let me tell you, I was one wet, stinky dog after that ride!

Les Grande Finales! Isn't it fun to carry your bike?

The last thing to throw into this smackdown blog report is the only thing that you'll probably even consider as a thing to do yourself! I rode an amazing, stupendous and butt-kicking epic ride out of the White Pine area called "Canyon Creek". This ride had all the suffering a biker could want.

A couple of my friends asked me if I wanted to do an amazing all-day ride on the other side of the divide with 10 miles or so of downhill. "Hell yes," seemed like the only appropriate response unless I could counter with "How about we ride with Captain Nemo in a submarine and go visit penguins in Antarctica instead?" Since that whole incident with the giant squid, I thought it might be best to stick with their offer.

What they didn't tell me is that according to the Mountain Bikers First Law (namely all things that go down, must also go up) we were going to be in for a day of some climbing. The picture there is of me at 12,500 feet. I ported my bike on my shoulder for nearly 500 vertical feet of climbing after already riding that dang thing up 3,000 feet! Wow, I was just like this guy at the top.

Then came the descent! Man, what a trip. If you like fast, pumpy descents with some hardpack, some technical and a lot of rolling pedaling sections (makes me giggle just thinking about it), this is the trail for you. It was just an amazing trip down. Of the five of us (me, two other men and two other women), we had no wrecks. Just a great day! If you want any of the deets on the ride (map, GPS file, better review), let me know and I'll get back to ya.

Well, that's about it for my summer! I'm excited to start blogging about fall and CX races and practices and brats and stuff. Let's here some other great summer stories!

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