Monday, October 20, 2014

There are several opinions - Brown County Epic weekend

I love my mother-in-law.  I know that this puts me in a small group of men.  But she's great.  She has a juvenile sense of humor and is one of the kindest people I know.

But my favorite thing about her is how squirrely she can be.  She balks at every decision.  She does this half in fun and half because she would rather defer than make a choice for others.  We laugh about it all the time, and she even has a catchphrase:

"There are several opinions."  

This may be the most passive statement ever known to man.  And the elegance of this phrase is that it can be used in response to almost any question.  For instance:

Where do you want to go eat?"
"There are several opinions."

"What do you think about Obama?"
"There are several opinions." 

"How are you feeling today?"
"There are several opinions?"

(Really, there is only one question that can't be answered that way: "What do you think about ebikes on mountain bike trails."  Answer: "They suck.")

Kill it before it breeds
But the point is, she knows that there are a variety of alternatives for any given choice, and that they are not always mutually exclusive.  In most cases, one choice is as good as another.  For this reason, my mother-in-law doesn't care much for polemic arguments or those back-and-forth news shows where some "liberal" argues with some "conservative," except as a form of comedy.  She knows that we're all just people at bottom, even those who shout from the mountaintops, and we're all looking for basically the same thing--happiness and comfort. 

Eddie loves you
 In short, "there are several opinions."  So, how to judge whether a particular choice is good or bad?  Well, sometimes you can't.  Sometimes there are several opinions and you just have to accept that fact.  

Let me illustrate with an example.

Last weekend, I went to the Brown County Epic.  I took the boys.  The Brown County Epic is a weekend long mountain bike festival at Brown County State Park in Indiana.  It is put on by the Hoosiers Mountain Bike Association, which is a state-wide organization in Indiana with over 600 members.

As with all such events, a lot of hard work is done by a small group of people.  And while I don't know all of them, I saw my Hoosier friends Paul, Heather, and Tammy working their butts off all weekend.

Paul rocks the Gator

Tammy rocks the registration table
I love these trails.  It’s a wonderful system, with an almost embarrassing richness of terrain and space upon which to build trail.  As Paul put it, “When the State offered us the opportunity to build at Brown County State Park, they didn’t realize what a gift they had given us.” 

We drove in the afternoon Friday, and it rained on us nearly the whole drive.  The rain didn't let up when we got there either.  But it wasn't awful; it was just a light drizzle.  And it didn't dampen the spirits of the hundreds of people in attendance.  We enjoyed the music provided by the New Old Cavalry.  And beer by Big Woods Brewing.  Their porter is something special.

Then we retreated to our tents to be lulled to sleep by the patter of soft rain.

Saturday morning, we had coffee and donuts.  The sky was clear and the trails had miraculously dried.  According to some HMBA members, the rain Friday was actually good for the trails, which had been rendered hard and dusty by the long recent drought.

So, the boys and I headed to the demo tents to pick out some fun bikes for the day.  But which bike to choose?  There are several opinions.

Ultimately I settled on the Specialized Fatboy.  It’s a fat bike with the new Rockshox Bluto fork.  If you haven't tried a fatbike, you should.  What's to say?  They're just fun.  We did a few miles and then decided to go back for new bikes and lunch. 

After lunch, my friend Dean showed up, and we went back for more demo bikes. 

This time, we all rode Specialized S-Works Enduros.  Yowza.  What a ride.  

After that, it was back to the camp for more music, this time by Such A Night and more beer from Big Woods.  

Sunday, it was time for the epic ride, so I left the boys behind to choose their own adventures.  There were distances of 100, 75, 50, and lesser mileages.  Which to choose?  There are several opinions.  In the end, I made my choice the way I usually do; by first finding the dirt bags I want to hang out with.  (Although I was probably the dirt bag in this group).  So, I headed out with Andy, Dean, and a bunch of guys and gals from Northeast Indiana Trail Riders Organization.  We picked up others as the ride rolled along like a big old circus train.  

Our ride started out on the fun, fast beginner North Gate Trail to the North Tower Loop and picked up Aynes Loop, which is categorized as an intermediate trail.  There were plenty of stops at each trail junction, and as we waited for all the riders to roll in we chatted with other Epic riders, each on their own rides.  There were around 400 people registered in all and everyone I met had a smile on their face and a friendly word on their lips.

The next trail on our route was Hesitation Point which is a little more difficult, with a few obstacles here and there and some rock-strewn switchbacks.  Then we reached Walnut.  Oh Walnut.  This trail is almost out of place among the fast, fun, and flowy trails of Brown County.  It has plenty pf rocks and stairstepping root crossings.  Every time I ride Walnut, I get stymied on something and this ride was no different.

On this lap, I came up a small rise where the trail ran between two close trees.  I didn’t clear the massive root running between the trees and my bike came to a sudden stop.  My body started to launch over the bars, but my forward momentum was halted by the tree on my left which, while painful, was probably fortunate.  I came out of the situation with only a bruise on my shoulder and a scrape on my knee.

Shortly after, Walnut claimed its second victim, my fried Dean.  Dean managed to clear one massive rock, only to have his front wheel get immediately wedged behind the next root.  Dean did his best Superman impression while his bike did a handstand.  But Dean shook it off like the pro he is, and we kept riding.

It was about this time that I noticed that my freewheel (where the cogs sit on the rear hub) was making a funny sound.  It was going to die soon, I could tell.  Andy heard it too.

The next section was a "back trails" section of trail that is normally not open to mountain bikes, save for this weekend.  As a back trail, it is not maintained by and for mountain bikers.  This makes it harder to ride in some points, as the climbs are a little harder than normal, and some of the descents were rocky and steep.  At one point, I was descending so far off the back of my bike that my butt bumped the rear wheel a couple times. 

Andy demonstrates the proper mountain bike greeting
I sprinted ahead to lie on the ground and take pictures of Andy and Dean as they rode by.  And as they rode by, both of them shook their heads and chuckled.  I found out later that, when they saw me lying there, they both initially assumed that I had wrecked and that I might be unconscious.  Turns out, this was an omen of things to come. 

Dean is relieved that I'm not unconscious
Finally, we reached our destination and turn-around point - "the cabin."  This cabin is a rustic home located on a wide strip of private property, sandwiched between federal and state forests, but the owner welcomed us and greeted us individually as we arrived.  There was also a keg of beer and snacks and sandwiches.  Had we gone for one of the longer Epic ride options, we would have ridden on to find hot BBQ food and beers too, but I was happy with this stop.  We ate and drank and agreed that we were all jealous that we didn't live in the cabin.  There are several opinions.  

The NITRO pack with Dean and everyone's Uncle Dan

The ride out from the cabin was harder than the ride in.  There were a LOT of long climbs and they took their toll on some of us.  By the time we got back to the main trails, our group was fracturing.  Some of the guys were hungry, and quit waiting for others so they could hurry back for the barbecue awaiting us at the finish.  And when we reached the entrance to Walnut, we lost more riders.  Some wanted to ride the road back and others were loading their bikes on cars.  There are several opinions. 

My rear wheel was still holding out and my knee wasn't too bad, so I decided to press on.  I entered Walnut by myself and rode it the other direction, which I found to be easier.  I cleared Walnut without injury and made it to Hesitation Point.  Halfway through Hesitation Point, I saw a couple of younger guys stopped by the trail, pondering a particularly difficult obstacle.  I smugly smiled to myself and cleared the obstacle without slowing down.  You can guess what happened next - as they say, pride goes before a fall.  

At the very next obstacle - a rooty stair-step drop - I wiped out at full speed.  I went down hard.  This was one of those wrecks where, as you are falling, you have the fleeting thought that "this could end up really badly."  I went down chest first, sliding over the bike and roots.  My foot was caught under the bike and the force of the wreck ripped my shoe strap apart.  My left knee was gouged open and my ribs hurt.  This was one of those wrecks where I had to sit down and allow the pieces of the world to come back into order in my head before I could get back on the bike.

Let's pretend the roots were this gnarly
To make sure my hubris was fully punished, the young guys caught back up to me.  And, instead of laughing at me, they immediately dropped their bikes and ran over to me asking "Are you okay, sir?"  Fortunately, I was, so I thanked them and sent them on their way.  I taped my shoe back together and sat by the trail side, trying to get my composure back to get on the bike. While I was sitting there, I got a couple texts from my wife asking when we'd be home.  The boys had homework that they still needed to complete this weekend.

After a while, the Purdue cycling team started rolling past me.  I was still sitting at the bottom of this obstacle, and I realized that I was creating a distraction.  Everyone was looking at me, and asking whether I was okay, instead of keeping their eyes on the tricky trail.  So I decided it was time to roll on.

I finished Walnut, then Aynes.  Now it was time to make a decision again.  I had already ridden something like 35 miles.  On my right was the quick way out - only about two more miles back to camp.  On my left was the Green Valley trail - seven miles back to camp.  I had never ridden Green Valley and I wanted to badly.  Everyone told me how fun and fast the trail was.  

Photo from
 But I was tired.  My rear wheel was in its death throes.  My wife wanted me at home and my kids had more homework to do.  My buddies were already back, showered, and eating barbecue.  

There are several opinions.  What would you do?  I sat there for about 10 minutes and watched riders go both ways.  After a while, I decided that I could always rest later.  The homework would wait.  My wife would forgive me.  And, although my rear wheel was almost dead, it wasn’t dead yet. 

So, I pointed my bike left and headed out to Green Valley.  I was alone by now, travelling at my own speed.  And despite the miles I had put behind me and my crash, I was in the zone, having the time of my life.  Of course, that’s not the end of the story. 

I dove into a rock-armored dip in the middle of a right hand switchback.  When I emerged from the other side, my front wheel was making a funny noise.  It seemed that my tire was rubbing the fork.  Ordinarily, this means that the wheel got off-kilter in the fork.  However, it was worse – I had somehow bent the rim.  And I still had four miles to go.  I tried truing the wheel, but I think I made it worse instead.  What would you do?  I kept riding.

Eventually I finished the trail and made my way back to the tent to shower and eat some food.  But before I got there, I ran into Paul who asked me how I enjoyed the ride.  I explained to him that I had two bloody knees, a bent front rim, and a crust of dried sweat salt.  It was a perfect day.  And, as for the trails, I told Paul, I want to marry them and have their trail babies.

There are several opinions, and many ways to be brave.  Choose one!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

You Are Who They Say You Are

It was a good day
There was a great picture going around the interwebs a week or two ago.

Found on Mandatory
This reminds me of summer days as a kid, where I would often find my friends by looking for the pile of bikes.  In particular, there was an "island"--a little patch of green space between two streets where we would meet up for whatever mayhem was on the docket that day.  Clintonville kids know what I'm talking about. 

But the picture also reminded me of my last trip to Brown County Indiana with friends.

You never outgrow some things.  

By the way, we're going back to Brown County next weekend for the Brown County Epic.  It will be a weekend of awesomeness - demo bikes, live music, a beer garden, and epic rides.  You should come hang out with me too.  It's only like a four hour drive from Columbus.

But back to the matter at hand. 

Fact is, I still look for friends by searching for the bike pile.  Like last time I traveled to a new city and wanted to find a good place to get a meal and a beer in the evening.

I rented a bike:

And rode it around until I found this:

Would it surprise you to learn that all of these bikes were parked outside an artisanal restaurant/pub that served small plates with locally-sourced ingredients and craft beers?  The menu looked something like this:

Of course, that's what I was expecting.  And that's what I was looking for.  A meal of food I like, surrounded by people who dress like me and share my interests. 

Yeah, so there it is.  But, I'm not the only person who does this.  For instance, if you saw this outside a bar:

In fairness, Lucky 12 looks like it has a pretty good menu and taps. 
You would probably reasonably assume that there are people wearing leather and denim inside, eating burgers and drinking American beers.  And probably talking about their Harleys and Indians.  If that's your scene, you could chopper on in and enjoy.

Or, if you saw these cars in the restaurant's parking lot:

Then there's a pretty good chance that you are at a BW3, and the people inside are eating chicken wings and washing them down with Corona bottles from a bucket.  They're likely wearing ball caps (some backwards) and cargo pants.

In this parking lot:

You will find everyone wearing the same colors, and plenty of team jerseys.  Folks will be drinking from red plastic cups, which, as I understand it, have specially developed technology that renders alcohol invisible.  People will be eating grilled meats and discussing the talents (or lack thereof) of particular physically superior, extremely athletic young men and the 40-year-olds that coach them.

And if you see this:

Congratulations, you're at Applebee's or Friday's or Golden Corral.

My point is, that we seek out markers that tell us that we will find people like ourselves.  We look for places where we fit in, where people look like we look and repeat the same things that we say.  Like they said on the theme song to Cheers, "sometimes you want to go . . . where everybody confirms your personal beliefs."  Or something like that.  I do it too.  Is that wrong?

Well, post modern philosophers like Adorno and Horkheimer would tell you this is a product of marketing.  They'd explain that every aspect of our lives have been planned out and marketed for by the "culture industry."  We are sold "lifestyles;" if you want to be a good cyclist, here's the clothes you will need, the beer you must drink, and the bike you must ride.  It's even further broken down - are you an urban cyclist?  A mountain biker?  A roadie?  There are goods and products that will specifically advertise your cycling preferences to the world.  There are even goods designed for people who wish to demonstrate their non-conformity. 

 The height of irony is selling ironic goods un-ironically to those who wear them for fashion.

It's like an irony Fibonacci sequence
Are you wearing tight pants? Do you have a bushy beard?  Check with your doctor to see whether a fixed gear is right for you.

Is that all bad?  Hell, I don't know.  I like to think that, as individuals, we find out what it is that we like to do and where we're comfortable doing it.  You can broadcast that to the world as your "type" by your dress and purchasing choices.  And, because we're all aware of the significance of those choices, other people can quickly sort us into our category.  That way, you can continually be surrounded by people who will affirm that your version of the world is the correct one. 

And if you're confused about how to best present yourself as an immediately-recognizable member of any given subset of humanity, plenty of people online provide guidelines for the "right way" to do things.

I'm fine with all of that, except for the fact that bicycles are identified with particular lifestyle choices.  In our culture, a bicycle is not a vehicle to cheaply get around on for transportation.  Instead, it's just another way of telling the world that you're a hipster, or a hippie, or a jock.  "True" cyclists, who have mastered their own genre will poke fun at the uninitiated or "poser."  Meh.  As far as I'm concerned, the guy riding to work in his chef pants on a department store mountain bike is legit.

What does it all mean?  I don't know.  Maybe we should all ride bikes?  Personally, I like chicken wings and draft American beer.  Can I ride my bicycle to Sturgis?  Maybe they'd welcome me if I wore denim cycling pants?

Somehow, I doubt it.
I don't know.  For now, I'll just continue to look for the bike pile. 

Go be brave, however you like.