Friday, July 29, 2016

Free rides? No, freerides! An Epic trip of Epicness

What does this blog have to do with goats? Well, my friend Kenny recently started posting a picture of a baby goat on any Facebook post that contains a political rant. No real reason, other than to break up the bullshit with a little bit of goaty awesomeness. I think it's a damn fine practice, and I'd encourage you to do the same. 

I've always liked goats anyway. With their obstinacy and funny pupils. So, in honor of Kenny, today's post will be peppered with random baby goats that I found on the interwebs. 

Running a blog is a funny thing.  When I started this blog, more than two years ago, I would email it to a few friends and family.  I was lucky if my posts, in those days, got 30 views.  

Nowadays, things have changed some.  My posts have been shared by IMBA and Dirt Rag, among others, and my readership is now comprised mostly of people I've never met. 

I like to think we're all friends though.  Hopefully, you're coming back because you're digging what I'm putting out. And I bet, if we met, we'd have a beer together.  Or at least ride bikes.  

Speaking of beer, I am reminded of a conversation I had recently with a friend who is a prosecuting attorney. He was telling me that a certain brand of soda (guess which one) appears so often in crime scene photos that they have started referring to it as "crime juice." 


It got me thinking about the drinks I most commonly see in mountain bike photos. Guess what tops the list? Beer, of course. That is why, from now on, I will be referring to beer as "mountain bike juice."  Juice is healthy, right? I may or may not be drinking said juice while typing. 

But back to the topic of blog traffic. I have been checking my stats and noticed something interesting.  See, this blog is a Google platform, and, as such, Google provides me with some basic analytics on my readership.  It tells me things like total page views, referring sites and so on.  Possibly the most interesting stat is geography.

In the last few days I have seen a spike of traffic from Russia, of all places.  270 views in the last few days alone.

To all my Russian friends, I say Привет! and Добро пожаловат!  Don't know what brought you here, but welcome.  Unless you're looking for Clinton's emails. I can't help you there. 

I went to Russia in high school on a student exchange, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That's where I first tried vodka ("Russian juice") and puked in a Moscow hotel room (sorry Mrs. Ulanoff).  As a sidenote, I have puked all over the world.  But that's another set of stories.

What I really brought home was a life-altering perspective change.  It's amazing what a good trip can do for you.  You come back with an awareness of the smallness of your own world view and the realization that some of the things you accept as "real" and "given" simply don't exist in other places.  

And, you can see that, even without the trappings of your own culture and belief system (surely the "best" beliefs and institutions), people in other places still manage to survive, prosper, laugh, and have good lives.  

On the flip side, you can see what's really good about your own home - what you have to offer that's different than other places.  Funny how changing your location can make you appreciate what you have. 

Same thing is true in mountain biking. For instance, I have previously reflected on the different lingo in other places, such as Michiganders' annoying habit of calling double track "two track."  

It's doubletrack, dammit.

And, on a recent trip to Sedona, my attire stood out from everyone else's. I was all "dirt roadie" in my kit of bibs and a road jersey (pretty typical here in Ohio), while everyone else at the festival was all "western as fuck" to borrow a phrase from Drunk Cyclist. They were all bro'ed out in their baggies and enduro jerseys.  And probably laughing about my display of Lycra. 

I look good in Lycra 

But, what I really enjoy about travel is the escape.  Putting distance between yourself and the "normal" of your life.  Meeting new people and trying on their way of life, trying new foods, smelling different air, and especially riding trails in different ecosystems. 

How could I truly appreciate the punchy, rooty, muddy Ohio trails without having experienced the sharp rocks in Eastern Pennsylvania's Allegheny mountains 

or the dusty red trails in Moab, 

or the aspen trees in the Colorado Rockies, 

or the granite domes and pine forest of Pisgah? 

Now, I'm not going to make it to Russia again anytime soon, but I am planning on a more local adventure.  An epic trip of epicness. From Columbus Ohio to Bentonville Arkansas and back. 

There is nothing like a good road trip. The gas station food, the bugs on your windshield, sleeping in the car, and stopping at random places for mountain bike juice. 

The ultimate destination is Bentonville Arkansas for the biannual IMBA World Summit in November.  I can't wait to see what the trails there will hold. 

I attended the 2014 Summit in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in case you've been reading that long, and you can find my posts on it here, here, here, and here.  What a blast.

Bentonville promises to be equally amazing.  The area, with the help of the Walton Family Foundation and IMBA, has doubled-down on mountain biking, recognizing the value of being an outdoor destination.

Slaughter Pen - image from
Bentonville has tons of local trails - everything from downhill and free ride at Slaughter Pen to bike park jumps and man made features at The Railyard to cross-country single track at nearby Bella Vista. I can't wait to hit these trails. And Saturday's epic ride will be choice!

And the IMBA Summit itself is packed with all kinds of goodies for mountain bike nerds like me. From seminars and breakouts from industry leaders to vendors and demo bikes. Hans "no way" Rey and Danny MacAskill will be there to humble your own thoughts of being a MTB badass. 


Plus, the folks at the event know how to get down and party! Did I mention that one of the sponsors will be New Belgium Brewing, sponsors of some of the finest mountain bike juice known to man? 

On the way to the summit, I plan on riding the Berryman Trail in Potosi Missouri and camp there too. It's a 26-mike loop in the Mark Twain National Forest. And it's an IMBA Epic to boot. 

On the way back from the summit, I plan to hit the O'Bannon Woods trails in Corydon Indiana. This is a rugged 18 miles through the rocks and ravines of Southern Indian, according to MTB Project. 

I can't wait for the trip. P.S. I'm looking for a travelling companion.  November 8-13.  All it would take is gas, grass, or ... Oh wait. Just gas money. Interested? Get in touch and we will talk details. 

Be brave and do it somewhere else. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Hugs not Drugs

What's your favorite stress reliever? Mine's French fries. With mayo. And don't come at me with some fancy aioli. Just regular old mayo. Don't judge me.

I recently read an article that was ostensibly about stress and weight loss. The article explained that many of the empty calories taken in during the course of the day are from "stress eating."

As many of you know, eating is a comfort activity that eases, at least temporarily, some of the little spikes of stress that we feel throughout the day.

The premise of the article was that, by training yourself to find comfort from a different source, your default wouldn't be to reach for the chips.

This resonated with me. I have a pretty stressful job. And I have noticed that I take in a lot of empty calories throughout the workweek, but I don't eat nearly as much on the weekends or vacations. 

As a crutch, I pack lots of fruits and veggies to take to work. That way, when I feel the pang, at least my calories are lower and the food is nutritious.
That's me on the right, 8 years ago
But what if I didn't have to respond to the pangs with food at all? Intrigued, I kept reading. 

According to the article, a very strong stress reducer is human touch. Studies have shown that a hug can greatly lower one's stress levels. Particularly effective is being held by another person. Petting a fuzzy buddy has a similar calming effect.
My buddy
The idea is, replace the hunger response with some human contact, and train yourself to seek this response instead. 

Unfortunately, I can't really go around hugging people at work. And they already nixed my idea of an office cat. I'm  not about to go ask my boss to be my cuddle buddy.
Did you know that cuddle parties are a thing?
Fortunately, I do have an expert hugger at home. My daughter absolutely loves giving me hugs. She makes sure to send me off to work every day with a hug. And, at random times during the day, she will shout "free hugs!" And come wrap her arms around me. 

Some people, like my daughter, seem to have extra capacity for love and contact. It's easier for them to breach the invisible barriers that keep people separated like opposing magnets. 

If only I could bottle that and take it to work with me. But I can't. 
Wish it was easier, or more culturally acceptable, because it seems we all crave the contact on some level. 

Last weekend, I got extra hugs, because I took my daughter camping. Just the two of us. It's been a tradition for a few years now. 

We went to a state park, Hueston Woods. It's a nice park, near Oxford Ohio, close to Indiana. Bonus for me - they have a nice system of mountain bike trails. 

We arrived Friday evening and set up our tent. Then, we sat down for some camp sushi - another tradition of ours.

While we were eating, a caravan of pickup trucks rolled in to set up on the sites directly across the street. This was clearly several generations of a family, from youngish grandparents all the way to very young grandkids. 

I felt a twinge of disappointment, because I was hoping we'd have this quiet corner of the park to ourselves. But, it was a fine weekend in July, and I knew the park would get crowded.

As they set up camp, a gaggle of kids rolled out of the trucks and started playing, loud and rough. My daughter, who is pretty reserved, looked at me a little disappointedly and asked "why are they so loud?"

"Well," I said, "they just got done with a long drive and they're on vacation."  "They're just having fun."  But deep down, I wondered too, just what we were in for. 

And, when it got dark out, my fears seemed justified, because they'd brought out an electric flood light. When they turned it on, it was aimed right across our campsite. 

Now, I've had this happen before, and it's a real bummer. Who wants a spotlight in their eyes at night when camping? So, I set my jaw and got up to ask them to move it. 

But before I even stood all the way up, the family matriarch (let's call her "Mama") called out to the guy with the light that he was aiming it at our tent. He immediately apologized and moved it. 

By 10:00, the family was keeping the kids quiet and just enjoying each other's company by the campfire. 

I was already warming to them. 

Soon, our fire started to go low. Mama noticed and gathered up a bunch of their firewood in her arms. She carried it over and handed it to me with a smile, explaining "we've got extra."

The next day, after breakfast, my daughter and I went for a bike ride.

When we returned to eat lunch, the campsites were quiet. The patriarch (let's call him "Papa") moseyed over and, with a wry smile, explained "it'll be quiet for a while. We sent the noisy ones to the beach."  

Mama then joined us and started talking to me like we'd known each other for years. We talked about the racoons that had come into their tent "in broad daylight" and about all the stuff to do at the park. Then we went our separate ways. 

My daughter and I went to the beach, then drove to Oxford for dinner and ice cream.

When we returned, it was almost dark. We set up a campfire and started playing cards.

The other family was also sitting around a campfire swapping stories. One guy, in particular, seemed to be holding court. Let's call him "Uncle Billy."  It was clear that Uncle Billy was a gregarious sort. And the kids loved him, climbing all over him and teasing him, while he laughed loudly and scolded them. 

As the night grew on, and our card games continued at the picnic table, I could hear Uncle Billy's stories. 

One lecture really struck me. It seemed that one of the kids was talking about how she wanted to grow up rich and live in a mansion. 

"You have to be careful around rich people," Uncle Billy warned. 

"Think about it. If you're scared, and you're running down the road, and you need help, who would you go to, the rich folks on one side of the road, or the dirty ones on the other?"

"The rich ones?" Guessed the girl. 

"No way." Said Uncle Billy. "Rich people won't want nothing to do with you. They will only see trouble. But the poor people will help you out. They know where you've been, because they've been there themselves."  

I reflected on Uncle Billy's advice as I sat with my daughter. Maybe it was a little too sweeping, but there was definitely a kernel of truth in it. 

Made me question my own bias. Why had I been nervous when the family rolled into camp? What if Uncle Billy had run up and needed my help? 

Pretty sure I would have given it. But I'm not rich, either.

The next morning, as we were packing up to go, we said goodbye to Mama and Papa and their clan. Couldn't have asked for better neighbors. 

I know a lot of people who have abandoned social media lately. They are sick of the bad news, the diviseness and the polarization that seems to come from all corners. Yeah. I get that. It bothers me too.

To them, I offer this: come get a hug. I don't care who you're voting for, whether you sleep with a gun under your pillow, or what you think about abortion. I mean, I care, but I still love you. 

Be brave, and give someone a hug.