Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You're Cool...For an Old Guy

Late in October, I went on a whitewater kayak trip with other Carolina Canoe Club members: Russ, Chris, Brian, and Dana. We ran the Pound and the Russell Fork, which only have dam releases in October and we wanted to catch the last release of the year.

We all took a half day of vacation Friday, met up at REI in Durham, loaded all of the gear in and on Russ' big diesel truck, and headed up to a remote corner of Appalachia. It is an area on the Virginia and Kentucky state line, which is coal country. We passed numerous coal mines and you could see coal seams in the rock where roads are cut into the hillsides.

Our destination was an "interstate" park that is in Virginia and Kentucky, the Breaks Interstate Park. The Russell Fork forms a gorge that is known as the "Grand Canyon of the South". The gorge itself contains class IV and V+ rapids, which are much too advanced for me right now. We were going to do a couple of sections before the gorge that go up to class III+, the Pound and the Russell Fork BEFORE the gorge. We met up with the Smith River Valley Canoe Club (SRVCC) from Virginia.

We camped in the park, which has very nice facilities. It has hot showers, clothes washers and dryers, and a lodge with a restaurant where you can get a hearty breakfast.

The forecast called for hard rain Friday night. It rained quite hard on our drive up to the campground, but let up when we arrived. Brian called the lodge, and it had rooms available. It would be $12 each to camp per night, $25 each to share a room. We choose poorly. We choose to camp. As soon as we paid for the campsite (the camp office had a sign "No checks or refunds"), the sky opened up. We had to pitch camp in the pouring rain. I had my tent up the fastest, the tent was pitched and I was in my sleeping bad in well under 10 minutes. I had the tent and sleeping gear in a dry bag. First I pulled my rain jacket from the top of the bag and put it on (I knew rain was in the forecast), I pulled out the tent from the dry bag, closed the bag, pitched the tent, and threw the bag inside the tent. One quick run to the truck, and I got the other two bags of stuff. It poured throughout the night. I tend to overpack for trips, but I was VERY glad to have brought a spare pare of jeans. Everything I had on then was soaked.

We got up in the morning and headed down to the lodge for breakfast. The lodge sits on the edge of the gorge, but was enveloped in fog. The fog was thick, but it was supposed to clear up later in the day. I had a hearty breakfast of biscuits, scrambled eggs, bacon, coffee. No gravy for me thanks, I may regret that later (especially if I am upside down in the water). I managed to pour half the coffee on the table and got some on Russ. I wasn't allowed to pour my own coffee after that. The top of the pot was stuck, and I put too much angle on it. The top popped open and coffee was everywhere.

We figured out the shuttles for the day, changed into paddling gear, and headed to the put in, which is right below the Flannagan Dam. We started a little further downstream to avoid the outflow from the dam. A couple of guys from Lexington, Kentucky joined our group: Sean and Zack (Zack hardly said a thing all day, so I may not have the name correct). In all we had 17 people, most of whom were in kayaks, but some were in whitewater canoes.

Dana had been on the river before, so we tried to follow her lines.

I got my first combat roll of the day in the Pound. I scraped the bottom of the river with my right arm and shoulder before rolling up.

We then entered the Russell Fork itself. We needed to go under a bridge, which has an old dam below it. You can only safely go one way, between the right most pylons of the bridge. When you go between the right most pylons, you go over a tongue of water, and you have to angle left. We all went single file and I was through fine.

We then came to the 20 Stitches rapid. We got out of our boats to scout the rapid. It looked easier on the left side since the right side had lots of boiling water. The plan was to eddy hop a couple of eddies before hitting the main part of the rapid on the left side.

I blew past the eddies (I need to work on catching eddies in faster water), waved to Russ on my way by (who was sitting in the second eddy), and went for it. According to witnesses, at the bottom of the rapid, I was airborne a few seconds, then flipped. But I rolled right back up and received kudos for my rolling timing and technique. That was combat roll two for the day.

A little later, I flipped and rolled in a section that goes below a bridge. I'm not sure if it was here or at 20 Stitches, but we were very surprised to see that Russ was swimming. Russ is a very experienced kayaker and teaches the whitewater safety clinic for the club. I wasn't a big deal since it happens to everyone at some point, there were plenty of people to help, and Russ didn't have to swim far.

Next came a rapid Dana called "Eddy Land". It is best to hop from eddy to eddy to the bottom. Towards the end of the run there's a no named rapid that also requires you to negotiate around rocks.

We all made it to the take out. You have to be sure to stop at the Garden Hole takeout, otherwise you're in the gorge. The takeout was a zoo. There was a race through the gorge that day (which sounds crazy to me). There were lots of different kinds of boats, including longer race boats. You could also could see some of the different subcultures of the kayaking world. There was some loud music blaring and we joked that many there probably smoke herbage. Of course, that's probably why they can paddle the gorge.

We had a long wait for the shuttles back to the campground. Sean didn't have anything warm or dry to wear, so Bill (a SRVCC member) loaned him a Polartec top. Sean commented on the relative ages of people there and says to me, "you're like what, 28?" I replied, "No. Try again. A lot higher than that". He was shocked when I said I was 40. I said something like "yup, I'm old". Justin pipes up, "You ARE old. But you're cool...for an old guy". Sean had to get on the road so I ended up with the Polartec. We knew the SRVCC folks were in the same campground and I was able to hand it back to Bill as we drove by his campsite.

While waiting, we watched kayakers slide in their kayaks down the hill into the water. Some did a little flip or twist before hitting the water.

The road out of the Garden Hole takeout was interesting. It is a single lane dirt road, steep, has sharp switch backs, and we had to get up that in a big truck loaded with people and gear.

We stopped at the campground office and bought firewood. We asked the ranger if they had beer. He said that it's a state park and alcohol isn't allowed, but wink, if you behave, it's ok. The closest place is three miles up the road towards Elkhorn City. We headed to camp and got the fire going and hung up the gear.

Now what to do for dinner? There weren't many options. There's the buffet of fried foods at the lodge, the "Rusty Fork" and "La Mesa Grande" (allegedly a Mexican restaurant), both of which are in Elkhorn City. We were told to NOT do the buffet by someone who suffered through it the night before, so it was off to Elkhorn City.

We picked the Mexican restaurant. When we ordered, we asked what beers they had. None since we were now in a dry county in Kentucky. The Mexican restaurant was a bad choice overall. The service was slow. The mole sauce on Dana's Pollo Loco was 'like Chef Boy-R-De'. But this is where the chicken dance meme started. When Dana said her dinner wasn't that good, I said "so you're not going to do the chicken dance then". Then everyone started doing the chicken dance song. It gets worse. There was a toy chicken in the restaurant that did the chicken dance if you pressed a button. Russ, of course, presses it. The chicken dance starts blaring, and everyone in the restaurant looks. From that point on in the trip, people would spontaneously do the chicken dance.

Saturday night turned out to be quite cold. I was thankful for the sleeping bag liner I had that adds 15 degrees of warmth to the sleeping bag and for the thermal underwear. Chris heated up a rock by the fire and brought it into his tent, and that worked great for him.

In the morning, I had to put on damp, cold neoprene. An extra neoprene top and pants are on my Christmas list now!

We then had a repeat of Saturday: breakfast at the lodge, figure out the shuttles, put on paddling gear, head to the put in. We were able to arrange for Russ' truck to be at the takeout so we could get on the road sooner. One odd conversation happened while we were waiting. Several SRVCC folks said to me, "You sound JUST like that guy on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me". Peter Sagel? "YES, HIM!". huh.

On Sunday we had 13 people in our group. Sean and his friend had to head back to Lexington, and some SRVCC people headed home. We also picked up a couple of new people.

We went through the same sections of the Pound and the Russell Fork. However, the weather was much better. The sun came out and we had blue skies.

Chris managed to swim below the dam. This was after saying he hadn't ever swam in that boat (he now has multiple whitewater kayaks). He provoked the river gods.

I flipped and rolled in 20 Stitches. But overall, I was feeling more comfortable on day two. On Saturday, I hadn't been in my boat on a river for a couple of weeks and I didn't know the river. On Sunday, we knew what to expect and the weather was much better. I also got great advice from the SRVCC folks, which helped a lot. They noted that I needed to lean forward more, paddle more aggressively, and use my hips less to steer the boat.

Dana had a swim on Sunday as well. In the end, we had three swim team members: Russ, Chris, and Dana. Brian and I didn't join the swim team that weekend.

Chris then told me that Bill, from the SRVCC, was out to get Brian and I. He thought we should ALL be on the swim team. I came up to the last big rapid of the day, the one where you have to negotiate around rocks. I see Bill sitting there behind a rock. I THOUGHT he was out to get me. No, he was trying to show me the route. I flipped and was heading for a big rock. I rolled before hitting it, but now I was going backwards down the rapid. I didn't get myself stabilized, and flipped again. I rolled up, and was now heading for another rock. I flipped for a third time, and beaned my beanie when I rolled back up. Rocks are hard, which is why helmets are good. But I made it through without swimming.

We knew what the takeout looked like and headed right for it. We loaded up the gear, got into dry clothes, then broke down camp.

On our way home, we stopped at one of the gorge overlooks. You could see the water far below and could hear the water. We watched a group of kayakers go though one of the large rapids. A couple of kayakers did flip and roll, but the size of the rapids compared to the kayakers is amazing. If you look at the pictures I took, the last couple are from the overlook. You can barely make out the tiny kayaks on the water.

Click here to see photos I took. The pictures were assigned locations, so you can see on a map where they were taken (a couple locations are best guesses).

There were professional photographers taking pictures:
It was a great trip and I plan to have the Russell Fork on my calendar next October. I would like to catch an earlier release though.

In the map below, A is the put in at the dam. You can see the road to the take out at the bottom of the Breaks Interstate Park. Bartlick Road is where we crossed under a bridge and over an old dam.

View Larger Map


video coming soon

Russell Fork 2008 video via http://www.betweenswims.com/
I am at 2:45 in the video.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

North Carolina, you have embarrassed me

The residents of North Carolina have embarrassed me.
What the heck is going on here? What would you say if this this was happening in somewhere like, say, Iraq? Would you say that we need to keep our forces there because clearly they cannot govern themselves or would you say that they are running their election well? This is not acceptable behavior and should not be tolerated.

Come on people, express yourself at the polls. Early voting has begun in North Carolina. Get thee to the polls and stop the violence. These are clearly attempts at voter intimidation. Don't let these thugs stop you from voting.

Real Americans set a good example of how well representative democracy works by expressing themselves at the polls.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cycle North Carolina Wrap Up

  • Tim's rear wheel. I saw a lot of it!
  • Gary in his tri jersey, no matter what the temperature was!
  • Brian who was a 17-year-old high school senior traveling with his family. Brian's dad was riding a tandem with Brian's younger siblings. For the first three days, Brian's 7 -year-old sister was on the back of the tandem and for the final four days, his 8-year-old brother was on the back. The night in Concord, both of them were a part of the indoor camping sleepover. I cannot imagine doing those climbs on a tandem -- especially with virtually no help from the rear.
  • The soap opera in the indoor camping area and the comment afterward. "I'm with my new friends. Dudes. They're safer."
  • Les saying that there was a cock roach sighting at Laurel Hill. Fortunately, he told me this after we were already in White Lake. In retrospect, I suspect termites. The floor at the front of the gym was kind of sketchy.
  • The look on peoples' faces when they realized that they could have whatever they wanted in the Wingate University cafeteria.
  • Lake James is really beautiful and a lot larger than I thought it was.
  • The Reed Gold Mine rest stop where there was someone with a nugget of gold. The first memory is that they said that in it's heyday the Reed Gold Mine was worth more that Wall Street. Someone said that it was true again! The second memory is a few rest stops later someone -- Jon or Tim -- said we could have taken the guy with the gold nugget, what would he have said, someone in tight black shorts with a really colorful top who was on a bike robbed him?
A typical day

Several people have asked me what a typical day for me was on Cycle North Carolina.

5:55 am - Alarm goes off, beat the 6 am crowd to the rest room. Put on sports bra, brush hair, wash face.
6:00 lights on
6:00 Pack sleeping bag and sleeping pad.
6:00 - 6:45 - breakfast
6:45-7:15 - change into riding gear, pack sleeping gear and other items, bring bags to luggage truck
7:15-7:30 - pump tires, head to designated meeting place
7:45 - 12:30 ride bike

12:30-1:30 - locate bags, save a space for sleeping, shower and change
1:30-4:00 - find food, explore the town, talk to the area representatives, talk to my friends
4:00 - Doug usually showed up from his hotel about then. We would talk, see anything interesting
5:00 - Dinner
6:00 - 7:30 explore the town, hang out with Doug and other cyclists
7:30-9:00 social time
9:00-10:00 head back to the gym if not already there, hang out and talk. A big sleepover
10:00 lights out

If I do CNC again
  • Buy coffee by the day instead of getting a mug for the week
  • No Bubba towels - use camp towels to dry off and bring one regular towel for modesty
  • Consider bringing a power strip to ease recharging congestion
  • Less/almost no first aid stuff. Mostly bring band aids, Benadryl, etc.
  • Packing bike gear in individual bags, a one gallon bag per day, was a good idea!
  • Consider bringing instant oatmeal, bowl and spoon as a backup breakfast. I'm glad that I had the food plan though.
  • Set up a core group to ride with before signing up. The group that I was with was great but I got lucky this year. Next time, do some more coordination up front.
  • Bring every charger known to man. I had car chargers and wall chargers for everything and I was happy about that
  • The iPod with marshmallow earbuds was great for white noise. I used the iPod and an audiobook from LibriVox if I needed to block out camp noise to sleep.
  • Beware of the October sun -- I got a bit more sun than I expected and I should have use more sun screen
The stats
  • 480.76 miles
  • 14,930 feet of climbing
  • 24 hours 17 minutes of ride time

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cycle North Carolina - Day 7

CNC Day 7
White Lake to Oak Island
21.0 mph average speed
26.5 mph maximum speed
3:39:59total ride time
77.09 miles

The day was fun and relatively uneventful. The sunrise over the lake was gorgeous.

We left White Lake at about 7:45. We started as a group of six -- Doug, Tim, Jon, Tracy, and Judith. Gary left a little bit ahead of us. He wanted to get to Oak Island early so that he could start his journey back to Michigan. Judith stayed with us for a little while and Tracy found another group to ride with before the second rest stop. There was not a whole lot to look at along the route. Our biggest events occurred between rest stops 2 and 3. First, rest stop 3 was relocated and we only found out when it wasn't at mile 47 where we were expecting it. Several miles later, there was some chalk lettering on the road telling us that it was in two miles. Over three miles after that, we found it at mile 52. That's a big difference on the final day of a 7 day ride. We were not happy. Also, between rest stops 2 and 3, Doug broke a spoke. Fortunately, the REI mechanics had a spare wheel to loan him so that he could finish the ride. It would have been awful to ride for six days and have a mechanical problem prevent you from finishing the final 25 miles!

At the final rest stop, we had a someone take a group photo and we headed to Oak Island.

DH met me in Oak Island, along with the Girls. After a final good-bye to the shower truck and a finish line lunch, we took Hannah and Emma down to the beach to cool off.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cycle North Carolina - Day 6

CNC Day 6
Laurel Hill to White Lake
21.1 mph average speed
29.4 mph maximum speed
3:38.46 total ride time
77.14 miles
less than 500 feet of climbing

Doug (in blue) and Tim (in white) at a rest stop on en route to White Lake

The century loop, solo at a "touring pace"
17.1 mph average speed
21.7 mph maximum speed
1:27:18total ride time
24.93 miles

Several cyclists commented that all of the stop overs should have been like White Lake. At White Lake there were food vendors, a wine vendor, free beer, aerial demonstrations, a bluegrass band, dancing, ice cream, canoes (not many takers after six days of riding). The indoor camping at the FFA Center was in 15 person cabins. My indoor camping buddies and I were able to vet everyone to create a no snoring cabin.

The best part of the route was a stop at Lu Mil vineyard. They had a tasting at the rest stop there but I stuck with the jams and jellies. I am not a big fan of Muscadine wines.

The route was 77 miles with a rest stop at the FFA Center and then another 25 mile loop if you wanted to do the century option. Most people stopped after the first 77 miles because, after all, we were there. I felt funny about stopping because the century was a goal of mine. I went to the luggage truck and claimed a spot in our No Snoring cabin. Then Doug asked if I was doing the century. I said no but then I put my bike shoes back on and did it. Earlier in the day I told Doug that I might do the century at a taking it easy touring type pace and I went ahead and did that. One of the volunteers at a rest stop told us how beautiful the century route was and how much we would like it. I beg to differ.

The century route was a little bit unnerving. It started out with signs that said "100" and after three or four of these signs, the "100" was not on them anymore. I saw almost no cyclists and I never saw a SAG vehicle. After a while I started to worry that I was on the Day 7 route. I was in a very rural wooded area with no cars or cyclists. I decided that at mile 20 of the century route, I needed to find a way to call if I did not feel like I was headed back towards White Lake. By this time, my hands were getting numb because the road was rough and I was getting a lot of vibration. By mile 21, I felt like I was headed in the right direction and I did make it back to camp. For those who did not do the century, the photo below shows what you missed.

When I got back, there were at least half a dozen food vendors set up so I had a snack from one of the Relay for Life tables. After cleaning up, I enjoyed the DJ and visited with CNC friends. We watched the aerial show and had a Carolina BBQ dinner. Then a bluegrass group -- The Boys from Carolina -- played and several people started to dance. Judith wanted to go out on the pontoon boat and I went with her. It was good timing too, since we were on the lake as the sun set.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cycle North Carolina - Day 5

CNC Day 5
Wingate to Laurel Hill
18.4 mph average speed
38.2 mph maximum speed
3:56:25 total ride time
72.57 miles
2650 feet of climbing

When we were in Wingate, there were signs saying to watch out for fire ants. After all, it would be a bad thing to set up your tent on top of hill of fire ants. One of the people that I was indoor camping near was Brian, a 17-year-old from the Charlotte area. Tim asked Brian to ride with us and Brian backed out -- because an ant bit him. He claimed to have swelling but we could not see it. He laughed when Tim said, "I'm three times your age." Tim's efforts to goad Brian into riding with us were fruitless though. I can just imagine the headline: Ant Bite Stops Cyclist.

The route from Wingate to Laurel Hill was still quite hilly. I kind of knew that but I was still hoping that the route profile was wrong. Tim took good care of me and saw me into Laurel Hill. I just had no legs for hills at all and Tim held up for me so that I didn't have to go it alone. I spent a lot of time looking at Tim's wheel. Jon rode with us from the rest stop on mile 49 to the end of the day's route.

I'm not quite sure about doing the century tomorrow. It's a goal and all but 100 miles is a long way and the route has us stopping at White Lake and then continuing for 25 miles only to circle back to White Lake. In other words, we could be done -- or continue on for another 25 miles. Ack.

Our final rest stop of the day was in Hamlet. I had not really been looking forward to it because all I knew of Hamlet was the fire but Hamlet is really a cute town with a really neat train station. Apparently it is the only Victorian Queen Anne train station in North Carolina.

After a long day on the bike, we arrive in Laurel Hill. The businesses in downtown Laurel Hill consist of Family Dollar, Pate's grocery, Pate's furniture, Pate's appliance along with a post office and a bank. Then, along US 74, is what we called The Strip BP, Citgo that sells pizza, used car place, home cooking type restaurant.

I am happy to report that despite the fact that the accommodations in Laurel Hill were less than luxurious, the caterer did a great job. We had hickory smoked chicken for dinner and the best biscuits of the trip for breakfast. They also found a nice band to play beach music on site. That helped the atmosphere a lot.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cycle North Carolina - Day 4

CNC Day 4
Concord to Wingate
19.2 mph average speed
38.6 mph maximum speed
3:15:32 total ride time
62.35 miles

The photo above was taken at a rest stop along the route.  No, my bike is not in the picture.

When I got in I wrote the following in my notebook, "Tired. Hilly. Hard to paceline due to hills. Hope tomorrow is flatter."

That was a few hours ago and I am feeling much better now. Wingate is a very small town with not a whole lot going on other than the university which is where we are staying. After setting up "camp" in the gym and cleaning up (and getting a latte and the university library!), I walked around a bit.

I headed toward what looked like town and I stopped in the town hall and asked what there was to see in town. A woman with no eyebrows -- none, she had plucked them all and then penciled them in -- said, "Well, there's the university." pause "Oh, the Jesse Helms Center." pause "And we have a park by the elementary school!" I picked up pamphlet there and apparently there are 39 businesses in town (including home day care centers). I think that I saw them all!

One of many gas stations without gas. This one is on US74 in Wingate. I thought that it was ironic since we were biking across the state

Wingate University has a nice campus and everyone has been extremely friendly and helpful. Other than the somewhat clueless town hall employee, everyone has been so accomodating, I cannot even put it into words. After Concord last night, this was a welcome change.

Dinner was in the campus cafeteria. All you can eat. Like Golden Corral but with better food. You should have seen people's faces light up when they realized that they could get more food. They were in heaven!

At dinner, which Tim asked one of the students if their administration had warned them about our arrival. The students kind of laughed and said no. One of them spoke up and said that an e-mail was sent out this morning. Tim was serious. Wingate has just over 2000 students and 1000 cyclists arrived on their doorstep. Jon said that it looked like a group of angry wildebeests had been to the cafeteria and Tim kept on saying locusts. 1000 people coming would eat a lot. 1000 cyclists who have been riding for four days -- 1000 stinky, hungry cyclists that have been riding for four days -- that may be another thing altogether.  We pretty much ran Lincolnton out of food too.  One of the three restaruants downtown closed due to lack of food!

We are about halfway through with the mileage and we have three more days of riding. Tomorrow, the mileage starts to increase as the route flattens. Hopefully the extra food helps everyone ride well.