Saturday, August 27, 2011

Single Track Mind

Ask my wife and she will tell you I always have one thing on my mind…that’s because I like to focus on one thing at time, complete it, and then move onto another.  Right now my focus is single track…oh sure, I’ve got some upcoming gigs and I’ll get out and do some fly fishing locally, but for the next month I’m focused on single track.  That’s because my eldest son has talked me into entering a local mountain bike race.

Years ago I did a bit of racing, on a road bike.  I did plenty of organized rides and tours, a few cat 4 and 5 races, some duathlons and even one “mini” triathlon.  I liked doing these events because it gave me a goal, something to focus on in order to keep me riding.  During that time I purchased my first mountain bike…it had no suspension and was beefy, but I loved it.  Mountain biking provided a great change of pace…no cycling computer, no log to track my rides, just me and my bike in the woods.

So why would I want to enter a mountain bike race?  Well…two reasons I guess.  First, it’s a great way to spend time with my son.  Second, it gives me a focus…a reason to make sure I ride, even when the days’ stress tells me to head to the pub rather than the trail.  However, I refuse to add a cycling computer to my mountain bike, and I refuse to keep a log.  I simply don’t want to taint the joy I find single tracking through the woods.  That’s why my goal for this race is simply to finish.  I don’t care if I beat anyone, I just want to finish…in one piece.

That will be a big accomplishment.  It’s been almost a year since I went endo and broke a rib.  I was riding a private trail that I helped build last fall.  I was riding my new mountain bike and was getting pretty comfortable on it and decided I could bunny hop this log across the trail.  The log was wet, and a little slick…my rear tire didn’t quite clear the log.  The rear tire slid sideways and the bike stopped abruptly, and I didn’t.

I remember it felt like I was flying through the air in slow motion.  I was admiring the fall foliage as I went over the handle bar.  For a brief moment, time stood still and I felt like a cartoon character that just realized I went off a cliff…suspended in mid air, then crashing down…hard.  The impact knocked the wind out of me, but otherwise I seemed ok.  My new bike came through without a scratch.  I climbed back on and tried to ride.  I knew something wasn’t right.  Later that evening, I sneezed…that’s when I knew this wasn’t a bruise.

I got back on my bike in December but it has taken me eight months to regain my confidence on the trail.  In the past year, log crossings scared me, skinny’s scared me, drop-ins and whoop-te-dos scared me, but no longer.

This past week my son and I rode our home trail…the “hard” loop ends with a rock skinny, a wooden banked turn with an “up and over”, followed by a rock step over a big log, finishing with a skinny.  This all happens in about 100 feet.  I may make one or two, but usually ride around the skinny’s and walk the log.  This ride however was different…while a couple of climbs still beat me…I was determined to ride all the obstacles.  As I got to the end, I hit the rock skinny, caught just a little air went into the banked wooden turn and proceed to run right up and over the rock/log combo rode the last skinny.  I let out a satisfying yell!

While my stamina is still in question, I feel like my bike handling skills are back…but let me qualify that…these are 47 year old, don’t like getting hurt, not ashamed to walk around an obstacle bike skills…but hey, I rode that combo and my 17 year old son didn’t!

So for now I have a single track mind.  I’ll will enter my first mountain bike race next month.  Sure, I’ll be in the beginner, over 40 category, along with a bunch of other old farts trying to act 21 again, but that’s what keep us young at heart.  I just hope my heart, lungs, and legs hold out for the duration.  If not, I may have to change my focus.

You’ll know how I did by watching out on Craigslist under “mountain bikes for sale.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tour de Fish Kill

I’m just back from our fourth annual Tour de New and it might be the last…at least in its present form.  The Tour de New started a few years ago when my buddy Cope and I headed down the New River trail on our bicycles, toting along our fly rods.  The New River trail is a 57 mile converted rail-trail. We would start our ride in Fries, VA and ride to the triple shoals areas.  That stretch of water produced some 100 fish days for us and our bikes allowed us quick access, especially on the way back when Cope would say, “Do you hear that? 
It’s a beer calling my name!”
Over those four years we expanded our the tour to include a day on the Virginia Creeper trail, which is also a converted rail-trail along Whitetop Laurel Creek, a fine wild trout fishery.  We added a float trip on the New River with a guide service out of Pembroke…and we added more fishing buddies.  Six went this year, me, Cope, Rog, Fin, Sep and Chris.
However, we wouldn’t see a hundred fish day, not even between all of us combined, at least not on our favorite stretch near Fries.  We fished hard for a day and half, including an awesome display of wading prowess by Fin…he crossed some sections of the river that most couldn’t have done in a drift boat, let alone wading. Yet despite our best efforts, only three or four fish were caught…and I was skunked.  Something that had never happened on this stretch for me, and yes…I got my dauber down because of it.
As Cope and I rode back to the truck on our second day he said, “There must have been a fish kill.”

“Nah,” I replied, “We would have heard about it.”

Well…it turns out there was a major fish kill and we didn’t hear about, until we talked to a local that day, and apparently not many people knew about it.  In the spring, there was a spill…a tank filled with manure slurry ruptured and flowed into a small tributary that dumped that stuff into the New River right below the dam in Fries.  According to the news reports I Googled upon my return the river was shut down to contact recreation from Fries all the way to I-77 just above Foster’s Falls.  The news reports also talked about the drinking water issues, but nowhere, and I do mean nowhere could I find anything official about a fish kill.  This angers me quite a bit.  I can’t help but wonder if the fish kill was kept quiet due to the negative publicity that followed the fish kills in the Shenandoah and James rivers a few years ago.  I plan on contacting the Virginia Department of Inland Fisheries to find out more.  I’ll keep you posted but in the meantime, one of my favorite stretches of river won’t be worth fishing for years to come.  Our Tour de New may go away too…or at least change.  The bikin’ part may disappear but the fly fishin’ and beer drinkin’ won’t!
Waiting out the storm
Fortunately for this trip, we did have our float trip still to come, but before that me, Sep and Chris took our bikes to the Virginia Creeper Trail.  We parked at the lower end just upstream of Damascus and rode up the trail to some nice looking water. The trout seemed willing and each of us managed to catch a few before a thundershower chased us under one of the trestle bridges for shelter.  Chris was hesitant to tell me about his fishing to that point.  I guess he thought that odor he smelled was the skunk still upon me.  It wasn’t, it was just the previous night’s dinner. At any rate, Chris caught a nice brown trout before the rains came and I appreciate his considerateness, of not ribbing me about it.  None of the others on this trip would have done that.  Of course he did make a crack about me leaving my rain jacket at the cabin and my emergency poncho in my bike bag…I think it was something about a great organization called Boy Scouts that teaches you to be prepared.  He got me with that one…I hope none of my scouts read this blog!

Our day on the Creeper included a break at the Creeper CafĂ© and ended with bikers passing by and shouting, “havin’ any luck?”  “I was,” I thought to myself…before they shouted at me.  On the way back I decided to push it a little and ride like the wind.  An unseen rock, caused some wind…from my tire.  I changed the flat about the time C-man and Sep caught up with me.  Turns out we were just 100 yards or so from the truck.  All and all a good day with some fine wild trout willing to play with our flies, so contented, we headed back to the cabin.
Unfortunately, we arrived to one of the worst circumstances I have ever endured.  The cabins were locked, we didn’t have the keys and the cooler with the beer was inside, not outside the cabin as I had instructed the others to put it.  C-man was able to access one of the cabins through a window and produced a bottle of bourbon.  Sep produced a 6-pack of cowboy warm beer.  I enjoyed both.
They certainly look like they can catch fish!
The following day found us in Pembroke, VA where we floated with a guide service.  There was a mix-up in that they thought we were spin fisherman.  The gall!

Fortunately we had our own fly fishing gear, although maybe not the fly selections needed.  C-man and Sep fished with a guy that really didn’t know his fly fishing stuff.  It’s a shame and they let the guy know.  I hope the guide service makes it right for them.  We were all genuinely disappointed that they didn’t catch more fish, and that the guide really knew nothing about the long rod.

Fin with another fine smallie

Fortunately for the rest of us, our guides had at least fly fished  before and put us in the right place.  Fin and I fished together and fished topwater bugs the entire time.  At one point I thought I’d have to push Fin out of the raft if he didn’t stop catching nice smallies.  It wasn’t gangbusters, but we were catching quality fish.

Rog and Cope were also doing fairly well.  Cope caught his first citation sized smallie, 21 and 1/8 inches long; a nice fish on a fly rod…a nice fish on any rod.  Even better for Cope, he caught it on a fly he tied, a pattern called a “sex dungeon” presumably because it’s got a lot going on.  The fly was originated by Kelly Galloup.  Cope was fishing it on a sinking line, twitching and stripping it along a submerged rock wall when this big ole bronze back hit.  He claims that he lost another one of equal size.  Dang fisherman, always skewing the truth.
Cope's Citation
I too managed a citation smallie.  We were drifting some skinny water looking for cruising fish hoping to pick off a hapless cicada floating on the water.  Ahead I noticed some bait fish jumping…not frantically but more to get out of the way of something.  I made a long cast and let the bug sit.  A shadow swam to the bug and slurped it into his mouth.  I pulled tight on the line and lifted the rod tip.  I yanked on the line two more times to be sure to set the hook.  I had lost a good fish earlier and wasn’t going to allow that again.

Based on the shadow, I figured I had hooked into a 16 inch smallmouth bass.  I was wrong.  No…it wasn’t it smaller.  The fish jumped and even the guide said it was a big fish.  This smallie fought admirably and at one point I had the guide leaning over the raft to net him but the fish was under the boat.  I had no idea where he was but kept up the side pressure.  Soon the fish was in the net.  It measured only 20 inches but weighed in at 4 pounds, a damn good fish in anyone’s book.

Four pounder...weighed on a scale by the guide!

Well…I must say my dauber weren’t down anymore.  Neither was Cope’s and I think Fin had a good day too.  For the other 3, it was tougher fishing and at dinner that night I think they had their daubers down. 
I didn’t ridicule them though.
After all, I was the one moping around the first two days because I hadn’t caught a fish.  Some mistook that for ego.  While I admit I may have an ego (what warm blooded male doesn’t?), I’m not egotistical. I wasn’t really moping because I was fishless and the other guys weren’t.  Rather, it was just me, a hard core fly fisherman, trying to figure it out…it wasn’t ego.
Actually, I had a lot of other stuff going on in my head and I didn’t feel compelled to bring it all to light and share.  Regardless, I was on a fishing trip and I wanted to catch a fish.  Isn’t that why we do this? It’s an ongoing discussion for me.  You see I got lectured one time by someone while we were on a fishing trip.  We spent a lot of money and in three days, not one fish was caught.  Wouldn’t you grumble? This gentleman went on to say that he didn’t fly fish to catch fish but rather fished for the friendship of his buddies.
Bull shit!  Anyone that willingly picks up the fly rod does so to catch fish.  If we didn’t catch a fish now and then, why would we invest all that money into the equipment?  How many times have you reveled in catching a fish on a fly while your hardware chunkin’ buddy couldn’t catch a snag, let alone a fish?  Heck, if I didn’t catch a fish now and then, I wouldn’t go fly fishing. 
If I didn’t go fly fishing, however, I wouldn’t have attended my forth Tour de New with such a great group of friends.  I guess it’s a “cart before the horse” or a “chicken or the egg” sort of thing.  Regardless, I fly fish because I love catching fish on the fly…I have fly fishing buddies because I love razzing them when I catch fish…and I love when they razz me when I don’t.
Touring the New River in a raft...flyfishing along the way. A great way to spend a day, as long as you catch one or two