Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Her Shoes Are Too Big For Me To Fill

I have been able to squeeze in a decent amount of riding lately thanks to copious amounts of suitable riding weather. The weather in Arkansas can be rather fickle, so it pays to have options when it comes to riding gear, especially shoes. My feet usually do not survive long in the cold and they, along with my hands, tend to be the limiting factor in how long I can stand being in the great outdoors during the winter. My feet do not die; they just get cold and I cannot stand the discomfort. Over the past few years, I have acquired a few pairs of shoes and I usually keep one of the pairs in my truck as a backup (in case I actually forget to bring my shoes) to the footwear I have chosen for the day.
Strong Chance of Ride
and Good Reason to Try
Yesterday, as we checked the weather in the morning, we decided there was a strong chance we would be able to ride. We quickly grabbed shorts and jerseys so we could change, conveniently, into our bike costumes after work and hit the trails. We carpool to work so I had to pick up my wife at her office before we headed to the trailhead. All was going well. It was at the trailhead that I discovered that I had arrived sans shoes. Luckily my wife has had, on a daily basis, a pair of Mavics that she has been trying to discover whether she loves or not in the truck. She decided that it was one of those days that she would wear the Mavics. Luckily, her winter (optional) shoes were in the truck. To date, we have relied on Specialized Defrosters to keep our feet warm and dry during the winter sub 40 degree weather rides. (I did not know prior to writing this entry and doing a little research, that these shoes appear to be great at shedding "durt.") On this day, it was her winter shoes that I would have to wear, not to keep my feet warm but, to keep them attached to the pedals. 
We rode 5Mile, which is quickly becoming my new-old favorite trail, before it was time for her to call it quits and head back to the office. I decided to stay in TA02 and do a little trail maintenance. I found her shoes to be warm and comfy with plenty of room for my feet to roam. I was admiring the quality of the experience despite the fact that they were a size too big when a friend rode up. It was time to ride again even though I will never be able to fill her shoes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Trail History

I started riding the trails in TA02 in 1996. There were are few times we rode other places on and around Camp Robinson. Eventually, we were locked down to the area where the trails are today.

TA02 Trails 1996
This map depicts all of the trails that were in TA02 at the time. 

Dogwood Trail
Twin Bridges
Flat Lands Loop
5 Mile Loop
Elevator Trail
Airport Loop
Port-a-Potty Loop
Outside Loop
Berm Trail
Christmas Tree Loop

Most of the trails on this map are drawn by hand. I find it amazing that whoever contributed the hand, did a decent job of understanding the shape of the trails. This is the first map that I worked on. I had access to a GPS however, they were very inaccurate so I often had to make adjustments whenever I finished plotting the coordinates on a map. There was no easy function that I could use to upload a track, I had to record coordinates at key locations (like a turn or an intersection) and then play connect the dots later. It is so much easier today to produce maps of the trails using a Garmin. 
New version of the trail map
created using Garmins and Google visualizer 
I mapped the section of Outside Loop between Christmas Tree and where it connects with Port-a-Potty using a compass and a measuring wheel. It took a day of shooting an azimuth, walking and measuring, then recording the data. Later, I had to recreate the section using a protractor, then resize a copy of a map to get the correct scale and trace the trail to the map. Point is, it was labor intensive to simply map a short section of trail.
Today, we use GPS data captured by our bike computers as we ride the trails to create maps using various products. Google makes a few decent mapping tools and I often use Google Earth to view GPS tracks from the Garmin Training Center to get a bird's eye view of a recent ride. 
A few of us are working on an updated version of the trail map that depicts the current shape and location of the trails. In the meantime, if you are not super proficient at navigating the trails or understanding how they are networked, ride with someone who is and pay attention to where you are at all times. On group rides, it is not uncommon to hear "Are we still on Outer Loop?" answered by "No, this is Porta Potty."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Speaking Camp

I was inspired by Arkansas Outdoor's recent post Revisiting an Old Friend when Joe started the blog speaking what I refer to as Camp. "Entrance to Yucca to Center to Port-A-Potty to Outer Loop to Airport Loop to 10 Bridges and out. I know, it makes no sense unless you ride mountain bikes at Camp Robinson." I suppose this occurs in other sports or anywhere people must communicate routes or reference local landmarks in some sort of abbreviated form. In the case of Camp Robinson those people are mountain bikers and the words they are speaking are the names of trails. What's interesting is the volume one can speak to another who understands Camp by simply rattling off a list of trail names.
First, the basics. In Training Area 02 on Camp Robinson, there has been a series of Mountain Bike trails for well over 20 years. Very few can provide an exact history and many are often wrong about timelines and how things have progressed over the years. What is known is that today there are close to 40 miles of trails in TA02 and those 40ish miles are divided into 25 or so named sections/trails:
Circa 1998 This is one of the oldest maps of the trails.
Note: Berm Trail no longer exists and many of the trails
that exist today are not on the map. The trails are primarily
hand-drawn. Ten Bridges was much shorter and was called
Twin Bridges.
  1. Entrance
  2. Zig Zag
  3. 5Mile
  4. Dogwood
  5. Yucca
  6. 10Bridges
  7. Christmas Tree
  8. Christmas Tree Extension
  9. Turn Turn Turn (Tx3)
  10. Outer Loop
  11. Airport
  12. Budha
  13. Ball O' Nails
  14. Helter Skelter
  15. Advanced Trig
  16. Porta Potty
  17. Elevator
  18. Dead Elvis
  19. Can O' Corn
  20. Merlin
  21. Shipwreck
  22. Pipeline
  23. Double Dip
  24. Freeway
  25. Center Road
Circa 2003 this is one of the first GPS versions
of a map of the trails in TA02
I am sure I missed one or more trails and arguably, some of the trails are not trails.  Some of the trails were there when the mountain bikers first started riding in TA02 and the rest were built by a local club called Central Arkansas Recreational Pedalers (CARP.)
Furthermore, the trails are connected in a network that resembles an asymmetrical spiderweb; Christmas Tree-which while it is a trail name-it also referred to an actual tree that was 'The Christmas Tree' that served as a sort of central hub to the trails. In an earlier time, it truly was like a hub but as trails were developed, only the core/original trails connect to spot where 'The Christmas Tree' used to be before the TA02 remodel. Most of the trails are connected to one another by shortcuts known as 'lanes' creating a seemingly endless number of possible combinations. Some of the trails have new sections/destroyed sections and are just a little different from how they used to be but for the most part  they have stayed the same and a map can be found here.
The complexity to which the sections are connected is where the confusion and the beauty of the trail system lies. Unlike most trail systems where a single trail is miles long, on Camp Robinson most trails are only a mile or two long. Given that the average camp rider only rides five to fifteen miles in a given ride. This means that unless one is doing laps on 5mile (which in reality is just shy of five miles in length) one must ride on multiple trails. Once one enters a trail, it may not be far before one encounters a lane that leads to another trail. Unfortunately, not all trails are marked well and it is possible to switch trails without realizing it. This past weekend we passed a group of riders on 5Mile only to meet them again on Yucca. I asked them how they had managed to get to Yucca and the first rider replied that he had no idea. However, once one is familiar with the sections and how they are connected, one can create any number of 'rides.' Rides that never take one far from a road or the parking lot. A big advantage to a mountain biker whose bike has been disabled due to a mechanical malfunction or who has to been riding with friends and must respond to a deadline or phone call.
The creek crossing on Love Trail offers a challenge to
most riders
Like the terrain in TA02, the trails are varied and offer a smorgasbord for all who visit Camp. The trails range from very easy to very challenging. When picking and choosing trails, one can either end up with a challenging wheel tester of a route or a relaxing that-was-easy kind of ride. For example, a new camp rider might choose to ride 10Bridges, Airport Loop, Tx3, and Yucca out. This route would provide a relatively smooth eight or so miles with little change in elevation (climbing.) Or one might choose a route that includes Budha, Ball O' Nails, Advanced Trig, Outer Loop, Elevator, Dogwood, Merlin, Shipwreck, and Zig Zag. A challenging route that smokes legs with rocks the size of horse heads and momentum killing switchbacks.
By speaking Camp to one another, riders can quickly communicate the route or combination of sections they want to ride. For serious competitive riders, they may express a desired heart rate, amount of climbing, or technical skill they wish to work on in their route selection. A more recreational rider's choice reflects how much challenge they are seeking or, most likely, it represents their favorite trail or one they have not ridden in a while. In either case, it takes time to become familiar with all of the trails and what each has to offer.

Each rider must become familiar with the trail system and maintain an inventory of how each trail is divided into sections by how it connects to another trail. For example, Outer Loop is bisected by a lane that connects it to Porta Potty. Starting from Christmas Tree, the first section of Outer Loop is smooth and fast. Past Porta Potty, Outer Loop turns into a rock covered wheel testing leg burner. It is necessary when deciding a route to determine if one really wants to ride all of Outer or just a particular section.
Each trail and direction of travel on the trail has a particular (relative to the rider) value and as a route is discussed, those values are subconsciously added up and if the cumulative value exceeds the threshold for a rider on a given day, a rider may offer suggestions to ease or increase the difficulty of the route accordingly.
If a pace sits too long, the groove is gone.
Most importantly, when one Camp speaker (Camper) encounters another, the ride takes on a new quality. Without fail, a ride with more than one, is called awesome. The quality is worked out in the dialogue and confusion is minimal. Especially if one Camper leads and the other marshals or herds; experienced group riders working together can read the group in addition to quickly communicating routes and facilitating flow. If the group or pace has to stop too long to discuss/explain the next section as well as debate whether the dude got lost or not, the groove just sort of leaves the scene and everyone realizes how sweaty and tired they are and conversations turn to heading back to the truck.
Camp is confusing and figuring out a route can be very frustrating for those who know the trails and those who do not know. Usually the conversation goes something like this:
Camper: "So what do you want to ride today?"
nonCamper: "I don't care, I like Dead Elvis."
Camper: "How do you want to get there?"
nonCamper: "Whatever is fine."
Camper: "How about Zig Zag, drop down Shipwreck, Can O' Corn to Dead Elvis?"
nonCamper: "Sounds good, is Can O' Corn muddy?"
Camper: "Wet in places, but it's in pretty good shape. What do you want to do after Dead Elvis?"
nonCamper: "I don't know, what connects to Dead Elvis?"
Camper: "Well, we can do Ball O' Nails or Flatlands to Elevator, or if you are feeling really frisky, we can do Advanced Trig."
nonCamper: "You can do Advanced Trig but not me! I guess Ball O' Nails."
Camper: "Long side or short side of Budha?"
nonCamper: "Whichever, I am following you."
versus a Camper to Camper conversation:
Camper1: "So what do you want to ride today?"
Camper2: "I am feeling pretty good and I haven't been on Advanced Trig in awhile, so how about Zig Zag, down Shipwreck, Can O' Corn, Ball O' Nails, Budha counterclockwise to Advanced Trig, Flatlands clockwise, up Elevator, Porta clockwise to Outer, and Ten Bridges out."
5Mile clockwise, to Yucca, to Christmas Tree, Christmas Tree Extension Clockwise,
Christmas Tree to Porta Potty Clockwise, lane to Outer Loop (easy side) to Ten Bridges  out.
I am not sure how long it takes to learn the names and to develop an inventory. I know that it pays huge dividends to participate in route conversations and to ride alone with a map. However, I highly recommend that one start with a Camper who is willing to mentor and who takes the time to stop frequently and ensure that the new Camper understands where they are.
Unfortunately, those who speak Camp seem to be more rare today than ever. There was a time when the CARP group was very active and rode at Camp Robinson regularly. Most of those guys seem to have adopted road bikes on the River Trail as their new poison. I rarely see any of the original CARP guys except for Basil on the trails and I see Basil more frequently than anyone else. Others were motivated by the races on Camp and were only familiar with the trails that were a part of some race course. Now that the races have gone, so have those who were seeking to pre-ride the course. A few of us have spent a lot of time maintaing the trails and the culture of Camp. New riders are showing up and some of the old riders are rediscovering what the trails of Camp Robinson have to offer. Guys like Joe. 

Today I got to do what I love to do

Today, I got to do what I love. It didn't start out that way. I was supposed to go ride road bikes with some fellow bike nerds today. Not something I normally pick especially since I rode my road bike so little that I sold it. The weather was supposed to be beautiful today and one of my regulars really wanted to be on the road given that the forecast was calling for 60 and sunny. The closer we got to Sunday, the worse things were looking. To top it off, I had to be up at 0400 to drop my wife off at the airport. As I drove in the early morning rain and fog,  I thought to myself, "this is ridiculous, there is no way I am going to choose to be on the road in these conditions." I promptly returned home and went back to sleep. I woke briefly and sent the texts notifying my buds that there is no road riding for me.
I had a backup plan; a mountain bike ride was scheduled for 1300 on Camp Robinson. The weather never really got any better and I developed yet another backup plan. If it was too wet to ride, I was going to at least do a little trail work. I loaded my bike in the truck, double checked my gear and headed out to the parking lot at the trailhead in Training Area 02. When I got there, there was a fairly solid pace of nerds and I knew I was riding. One thing to understand about riding bikes in Arkansas is that if someone else is willing to do it, the riding conditions are good enough if not perfect. (I know this seems to contradict what I wrote earlier about road riding. When one participates in more than one cycling discipline, one can default to one or the other. That is, some choose road over mountain and vice versa. Some riders consistently choose one over the other and some choose one over the other depending on the season. I am a mountain biker 365.25 days per year-366 this year.) So even though the air was so damp that my glasses fogged and became useless 3 minutes into the 3 hour ride, it was good riding weather. Even though some of the rocks (especially on Advanced Trig) were slippery, the trails were in great shape. Even though I had three pretty solid wrecks and I am sure my rear wheel is jacked, it was an awesome time. Also of important note, there are few conditions in Arkansas that I am aware of that there is not someone who is willing to ride; even during a Snowpocalypse.

So, we rode.

10 Bridges to Outer to Porta to Outer down Helter Skelter, Ball O' Nails, the short side of Budha, Advanced Trig, Dead Elvis, to Dogwood, up Elevator, down Elevator-Dogwood to Can O' Corn, Pipline to Merlin, up Shipwreck and out 5Mile. We all wore too many clothes to start and eventually had to shed layers as well as our fogged up eye protection. The rain had not saturated the trails so in the muddiest sections, the trail was very tacky and provided plenty of traction. It was the exposed roots and rocks on the north facing slopes that seemed to be the only source of slide. The pace was frisky yet civil enough to allow for jokes and conversation. We regrouped at the intersections, discussed our options and figured out who was missing. By the time we cleared Elevator, only one rider had left our group by choice and one by accident. Back at the trucks we refilled with water and snacked on Fig Newtons. Some were finished and headed home to tend to whatever duties that were waiting at home. Some of us had legs and time and I needed to go back to where I wrecked the first time to look for the strap that had released from my hydration pack as I slid along the ground. This was fine with me since I wanted to get in another hour or so of riding. Luckily, James was riding with me (as in he rode with me in my truck to Camp Robinson) and he really could not choose to not ride. This too is a rule of being a bike nerd, if one nerd is willing to ride another must go. What is a bike nerd? Well, that's another rule of being a bike nerd, you do not talk about bike nerds. That's really not true, but it is a topic for another post.
The important thing is, I logged almost 30 miles today on some of the sweetest single track I've ever ridden. Single track that is a few miles from my back door on a day where a lot of people would choose to stay inside and I had more friends than I could shake a stick at out there with me. It's what I love to do.