Monday, March 26, 2007

Thrift Cove/Black Mountain and the Case of the Lost GPS

The more I ride mountain bikes, especially in Western North Carolina...the more I come to the realization that North Carolina would be a great place to pursue a career as an independent map maker for Pisgah National Forest (PNF). Maps for trails there are of course expensive to say the least but also nothing short of confusing. Many times I have found myself looking for a trail with a certain name that has since had it's name changed and no longer matches what the map says. So of course you start to question your whereabouts. I have one very basic rule for survival when in doubt as to your location. No matter what, always go downhill. There is usually more stuff at the bottom of a hill than at the top, in most cases.

The first ride of the year took place this past Saturday on the Thrift Cove/Black Mountain trail. It is a loop configuration thereby making it a safe and simple way to do a little trail ride. Kim gave me a GPS unit two years ago for Christmas upon which time I had to purchase a handle bar mount for the bike. I use it to keep track of where the parking area is and basically to tell me how to get back to my starting point if I get bewildered temporally. Once the ride is over than I can dump the data into Google Earth and get an aerial view of the ride.

The day started out with trying to decide where to ride and which trail to take. I love it when life has these difficult challenges. But we (I) managed to make an executive decision and off to Pisgah Forest we went for a beautiful day of riding. Thrift Cove was the first trail we ever rode in North Carolina it does have some enduring qualities for us.

I have this new gadget known as GPS, for most of the die hard outdoor adventure types a GPS is looked down on and even cursed. Real adventure seekers don't need technology to guide them. I use it more or less as a easy way to keep track of where I have been rather than where I am going. The track feature drops a digital bread crumb at pre selected intervals along your line of travel thereby leaving an accurate marking of your journey. Once I get back to the computer I can then download these tracks and do a black magic and then dump them into Google Earth and see exactly where I have been in the grand scheme of things. So suffice it to say that my GPS is near and dear to me.

I have this mount for the GPS to go onto the handle bars of my bike giving me an easy look at my progress or lack of in most cases. At each stop we made on the Thrift Cove ride I made certain to give a look at the GPS to first be sure that it still there and second to monitor the route. At each of the many rest stops along the way the GPS was firmly attached. One last stop with less than half a milt go and Mr. GPS was still attached. So we point downhill and head for the parking area. Once we arrive and prepare to load the bikes up, I look down to check the route and the GPS IS GONE! My heart sinks and my lungs begin to heave in pain as the realization sets in that I'm going to have to go back and turn over every leaf on the trail to try to find it. So I tell Kim that I'm going back and look for it and she tells me that she would be glad to wait for me at the car. One trip around was enough for her. So I head out slowly scanning every inch of ground as I ride back into the mountain. I know I had it at the last creek crossing so that is where I am heading.

As I get closer to our last stop my hopes are slipping that I will ever find it. Several bikers had passed as we were coming down and I began to believe that one of them was feeling good about being the owner of a slightly used GPS unit. My heart is on double time, my lungs are in shut down mode and hopes fade quickly as I go far beyond our last stop and still no sign of a GPS. So I stop. I begin to dread the thoughts of telling Kim that I lost the GPS that she gave me for Christmas. That bothers me more than anything. So as I am standing there beside the creek, I hear........MARK........Mark!! It was Kim just fifty or so yards behind me. I FOUND IT, she yelled! My heart slows, my lungs expand and down the hill I go. Sure enough, there she was holding it in her hand. My first thought was....Thank you God! My second thought was.....where the heck did you find it? I had rode all this way back into the mountain, UP HILL, and she found it about two hundred yards from the parking area.

The ride back out was just as fun as it was the first time! The lesson here is this.....sometimes, sometimes the downhill is worth doing at least twice and always, always take your wife with you when you go riding. You never know when you will need her to find what you have lost. Sometimes women folk see things that men folk can't.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From the Knobby News

The writing that follows was taken completely from the news letter of the Northeast Tennessee Mountain Bike Association. I find that this article holds true for all things in life and is worthy of being shown here simply because of it's importance.

Editor's Riff:
I have been reading a book lately by George Leonard called The Way of Aikido. Leonard is an aikido master, a fifth degree black belt who writes knowingly of the martial art whose name translates "harmony spirit way." But his book is less about the moves and philosophy that inform those moves.

Early in the book, Leonard refers to aikido as a "radical reform of the samurai tradition," and he suggests that the philosophy of aikido allows an individual "whether or not that individual is a practitioner of aikido - to become "a new kind of samurai." He proceeds to discuss the code of the new samurai, and while all the components of the code make sense to me, it is the twelfth and final item that resonates most loudly -

The modern samurai cherishes life and thus conducts his or her affairs in such a manner as to be prepared at every moment for death.

A statement of fact that is so obvious that I suspect few would challenge it. Yet, at least for me, conducting my life in such a manner is no easy thing. Too often my credo seems to be, Why do today what I can put off till tomorrow? Maybe it's just laziness on my part. Or, maybe postponing for another day, another year, is my misguided attempt at asserting my immortality. And I suddenly find myself thinking of lines from Emily Dickinson - "Because I could not stop for Death, /He kindly stopped me."

No doubt that the recent deaths of my friends Mrs. Alger and Jay Bolland have a lot to do with why a Code for the modern day samurai resonates for me. Both Mrs. Alger and Jay had a samurai spirit. Consider item two of the code: "The modern samurai honors the traditional samurai virtues" loyalty, integrity, dignity, courtesy, courage, prudence and benevolence." Yeah, that captures those two individuals better than any words I can write.

But it is the part of the code that deals with death that most reminds me of Mrs. Alger and Jay -

As a modern day samurai, you know the sword is raised. To step aside when it comes down on you, you'll need to be clear and present, to have no regrets or other considerations. And when the moment eventually arrives that you can no longer step aside-as it must-you can meet your death as a samurai, with no regrets.

No regrets. That sounds good to me.Which means that I better start turning all of my tomorrows into todays. There's no telling when death and his carriage might show up.

ride with bliss

Where are we going?

I live in a section of Tennessee that in my opinion is in the midst of an identity crisis. Houses and commercial buildings are going up at alarming rate. Just within sight of my little base camp I can see houses getting closer and closer to me by the day. I would say that within the past year more or less, there has been at least 100 houses built within 1 mile of my place. Some call it progress. I call it ridiculous! We live in a mountainous region of the state, and in that lies the beauty and the very reason I stay here. I really don't consider an enchanting view of someones back deck to be my idea of the perfect view. Has the almighty dollar became an obsession with us to the point that we are truly endangering the community we live in? Most if not all of these new homes are being built on what once was one of the largest dairy operations in the county. Ever wonder why the price of milk is so high?'s not rocket science, dairy farms are becoming extinct thereby causing the milk of the products they produce to go nowhere but up. Come on people.....Do you really need a "starter home" that costs more than you could ever hope to afford? It's all well and good to dream but there comes a point that dreams are not dreams any longer, they are more like fantasy. Without fail, homes that are barley one or two years old get sold two or three times because the buyer discover that his or her fantasy doesn't match up quite so well with their income. Be realistic, face facts and stop jumping in the deep end without first learning to swim. You will always loose on those types of deals. The only person who wins is the developer of the property and the bank. They get to sell the home many times over and reap the rewards and cash in on your lack of good judgement.

Now that the preaching is over, I'll get to my original point, the identity crisis. What do we want? Do we want to continue to be a semi secluded mountain region and community or do we want to throw all that to the wind and become another Atlanta? Crime is going up no matter how you measure it. Violent crimes are at astronomical rates in the area. Ever wonder why? It's simple really, too many people, too little space. Everyone is interviewing for the same job that pays $6.50 an hour. What was once a pleasant drive to and from work is now an all out race to the next traffic light. I work in a city with a population of roughly 58,000 people, I live in a community of roughly 4,000 people, I grew up in a community of at most 200 people. There will come a point when the powers that be need to make a very real and historical decision, "What do we want to be"?

Natural resources are still in abundance in this little corner of Tennessee, but that can't last forever. We only need to look at civilizations in antiquity to see that we can't continue on the current path we have taken. It has been discovered and proven that there are many cultures in history that had exploited their resources to the point that entire cultures were wiped from the face of the earth. Do we want this? I sure don't.

Western North Carolina is a decent example of how we could use our natural resources to promote and spawn cottage industry that doesn't adversely impact the path on which we trod. The Pisgah NF is a shining example of what we can be if we choose a different path to travel. The Pisgah is the birth place of forestry in America so it only stands to reason that they would be at the front leading others to a better place of co-existence with nature, natural resources and the environment. They aren't perfect and I'm not saying they do everything right the first time. But they try. that is the difference between Cherokee NF and Pisgah NF. Brevard Nc and the surrounding area is humming with outdoor activity. I have been going there for many years to enjoy exactly the same thing we could have right here in our front yards if we could only be more concerned with watching the tree grow into a massive monument to our belief in who we are, what we are and what we wan' to be, rather than cutting it down to build pallets or another "$180,000 dollar starter home".

Sometimes I suppose I get a little more philosophical than I should or maybe even am allowed to be since my background isn't philosophy. My background is pretty simple when you step back and take a hard look at it. I grew up 2 miles from a landfill that polluted the ground water (we all had wells back then) and is even blamed for the death of at least 2 people that I can recall, one was less than 1 year old. During the Civil War this same valley that was to become a regional landfill had the distinction of being called "Pleasant Valley" had is referred to as such in American history books. Pleasant Valley was home to a small scale mining operation that produced iron and other minerals that was moved by rail to Charleston to manufacture cannons, cannon balls, ammo and other products to fight the cause of Southern America. I'm not getting into the debate of the Southern cause, that isn't the point of this writing. The point is, where is Pleasant Valley now? It doesn't even have that name any longer. It is now and has been Bumpass Cove for as long as any of my ancestors living and dead can remember. As a matter of fact my grandfather worked in those mines as a young man to support his family. Are we all going by the way of Pleasant Valley or are we heading towards a brighter future with all this "progress"?

I spent my nights this week getting Mr. Mountain Bike back in running order. Maybe that's what I need, a little weekend trip out on a few bike trails to make me forget about what I now see out my front door.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Is it true? Can winter finally be over? usual, I have been a little on the lazy side as far as keeping a steady update going here on the blog. All with good reason of course. I despise winter. Even though we have had a fairly mild winter this year, it still puts a huge damper on how much outdoor activity can be taken in during these colder months. It's really not even the cold that spoils things for me as much as it is the unpredictability of the weather. Hiking is of course not so much an issue as biking can be for the winter. If you are hiking, then you almost certainly have a backpack to store some supplies in and to haul a few laters of clothing around as the weather moves from one extreme to the other. Simply put....if your cold, take some clothes out of the pack and put em' on, if your hot....take em' off and put em' in the pack and keep moving.

No so much the case if oyu are on a mountain bike. The idea here is to travel as lite as possible to minimize the load you have to haul up and down (mostly up!) those long steep mountain climbs. It can be a little more than a middle aged mountain biker can take at times. When I ride, it's pretty basic for me. A hydration pack, a mid-day snack, my trusty digital camera and a pack of spare batteries and I'm good for an entire day of dirt, mud, rocks, sweat, PAIN and of course....FUN! Thats what it's all about....right?

Today they say the temperature could possibly reach the 80's. A perfect day for a bit of trail riding. But as always, the really good weather comes during the week when I am stuck in the concrete jungle that we call employment. I'm certainly happy to be employed, otherwise Kim and I couldn't own a mid-priced mountain gikes to go knock around in the woods on. So there are trade-off's. It just seems that the scales are tipped a little more towards the stuck in a ruit side of life that they are leaning more towards the yee-haw havin' fun side of life.

I'm teaching myself (or perhaps God is teaching me) a lesson on being happy whereever you9 are today because tomorrow isn't a promise it's more like a dream. Sometimes they come true......somtimes they don't. Mr. weather man says that this weekend could be in the 30's with a decent chance of snow. That is exactly what I'm talking about! No justice! Just more meteorlogical injustices! Okay...sure, it's March, I understand that the moods of March can swing. But I DONT" HAVE TO LIKE IT!

Fine! I'll stop ranting now. There is good news. I have been getting to know the video camera Kim gave me for my birthday last year a little better. That means that moving video complete with sound is a not do distant possibility for a future post on our web site. There is video there now, but it was done with the video feature on my digital still camera and it only alows 30 seconds of video. I can see in ky future a full scale documentary on the "True Life of a Middle Aged Mountain Biker and His Wife" Coming soon to a theater near you. Stay tuned.
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