Friday, January 16, 2015

ISO bears in the Great Dismal Swamp

I think I am like many in this region who are guilty of not appreciating the natural resources right in our back yards.  I finally made it a point over the last couple of years to explore The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife refuge.

Lake Drummond (above) is one of only 2 natural lakes in Virginia.  It sits in center of the swamp, virtually untouched.  It's not easy to get there. The shortest way by bike or on foot is down Washington Ditch.  I like riding from the Jericho parking lot, heading down Lynn Ditch to Washington which gives round trip of about 16 miles to lake and back.  The only way to get there by car is to use the Interior Ditch, and by canoe, kayak or small boat through the Feeder Ditch.
Riding the double track looks simple enough, but the map is very misleading.  Below is an image of the East Ditch which appears on the map to connect to Camp Ditch and back to Jericho.  The disconnects in the trail are sometimes completely overgrown portions, and sometimes flooded portions like the one to the right.  It gets scary in there, slogging around with no way out, knowing the place is crawling with bears.  Actually, I still haven't seen any bear but would love to.              
 It's also not possible to access the Suffolk trails from the Chesapeake side.  And there is a similar network of trails to the south of the NC line that do not meet up neatly with the Suffolk side. 

Information about the Virginia side
Information about the North Carolina side

There is a Dismal Swamp Canal Trail that is easily confused with all of this.  The Canal Trail is a paved trail that runs on the far eastern border of the swamp (see map).  You cannot get from that paved trail to any of the dirt trails unless you get off your bike and get into a boat.

This is Bethany on Washington Ditch.  It's the most recent picture I have, taken in December 2014. 

Friday, February 07, 2014

Remembering Austin King

Austin King passed away on March 21, 2013.  It was untimely in the most awful of circumstances since he was a victim of crime. It remains a shock, tragedy and everlasting question of "why." Austin was best described by Sally who said he was an anchor. She meant that in every physical and metaphorical sense of the word.  Blair commented that Austin, in his quiet and polite manner, understood his fellow cyclists more than the rest of us understand each other.  These observations about Austin are reflected in the poem below.

It's a poem constructed to be read aloud as it was during a dedication ride July 7, 2013. It's also directed to an audience that knows where Austin would position himself during a group ride--at the back, as an anchor. He served as the guy who placed himself between the pack and any cyclist who dangled off the back, struggling to hang on.  If necessary, he'd fall back to pull that person back to the group. 

On the July ride, about 80 cyclists gathered at Conte's in Virginia Beach to ride out to the Creeds store and back as a dedication ride.  55 miles is a long dedication ride.  However, it was Austin's routine on Sunday to do this loop, so it seemed best to honor him this way.  Also, he had purchased a bike rack for the store a couple of years before since the store marked a common layover for cyclists riding in the rural part of Virginia Beach.  He made the purchase and paid for the installation without any big announcements.

Austin contributed in other selfless ways to the cycling community.  It is common in cycling to help with the promotion of bike races IF a person is a racer.  However, Austin helped with races for no other reason but to support the racers on the team since he did not race himself. He worked behind the scenes at about 40 Tripower-sponsored road events dating back to the mid-90's. He hauled and set up hay bales, cones, extension cords, and caution tape for races held in Downtown Norfolk, at Little Creek Amphibious base, at Mt. Trashmore, and even a few in Smithfield. 

The July dedication included the installation of 3 benches:  2 at the Creeds store and 1 at Conte's.  Numerous contributors made this happen.  We gathered there at Creeds with Austin's wonderful family.  His wife Melanie spoke to us and said so eloquently how much Austin enjoyed the rides and the people.  I felt strange hearing how much he enjoyed us when I had always viewed Austin as one we relied so heavily upon rather than the other way around.  It made me think about how much we all really need each other.

In Memoriam, Austin King

Summer came slowly

stalled by an April chill

without you here.

Winter lingered

as if waiting for the deep frost

of losing the kindest of souls to melt.

What hasn’t melted is the mirage

of you here safely in our pack.

I shiver, you shake a full fingered ski glove:

“Oh quit complaining you’ll be sorry when it’s hot.”

You would laugh at me now,

standing here sweltering in July,

your predictable annotation:

“You’re going to read a POEM—in spandex!?”


Yes, and I had to train for this ride

designed to trace your path, your Sunday, your church

to Creeds,

and I have no idea how I’m getting back in cell range

without the steady, sure, reliable wheel

called Austin King.

Over the years, between raising kids,

chasing work, breaking in pets,

we slide back to your bar, your clean well lit space

to catch an inside joke you make

only loud enough for one at a time to hear.

Where I try to vent about the pace

ramped up too high, too fast,

You say, “Oh, quit complaining.  We’d both be up front

if we could.”


I’ve heard you called an anchor,

a bookend to counterbalance the tipping weight

of a disciplined lead train.

But you understood

we don’t measure our ship by its anchor

or even by its mighty topmast or figurehead.

But by its journey, its miles logged,

its solitary movement through time.


We gauge the success of Canada Geese

when gathered in a Boulevard median,

not by the goslings’ brave steps into traffic

nor the matriarch’s warning squawks

but we applaud them making the journey

across four lanes

as a flock compacto

to carry on the legacy

of our dear friend.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Church Street Congregation

Cat Slate and David Demin lead the youth group of the Church Street Clean up congregation. This is a quarterly project by Bike Norfolk to clean the bike lane on Church Street. 

Mike Evans and Wes break cornbread on Church. 

I had to laugh as Wes quoted (I think) George Carlin, something like, the problem with kids today is they don't play in the dirt, and they end out allergic to peanut butter.

Dirt there was.  Church Street still lived up to its reputation despite recent gentrification. . .
in more ways than one.  Along half-mile stretch: 2 condoms, pipe, pair of panties, catheter still in the package. 

But any street has its dirt if you look hard enough I guess.   

Monday, January 14, 2013

An office of one's own

Back to blogging.  I need to start somewhere, so I'll start with the last 24 hours.


I commuted to work for the first time in the two years I have been working at TCC.  Thanks to the new massive Jordan Bridge, getting to Portsmouth from Norfolk is much easier.  It also requires going over the Berkely Bridge. One story idea that Wes Cheney gave me a long time ago was themed "Gentrification of the Berkely Bridge."  I still have that story on the burner, along with a new idea "Jordan Bridge: The Innovation of using feet to travel."  The bridge has brought out critics who are horrified that a bridge should be built that allows people to walk and ride bikes over.  "People will get robbed at the top," and "People are going to be jumping off" are some of the comments I have read on line.  My commute is 13.5 miles one way and difficult to make in under an hour since there are so many lights. Glad to have my own office for drying the laundry.

Yesterday was a huge day in terms of mileage and boosting confidence for me.  It started out with plans to do the annual Teeuwen memorial ride (24 miles).  An additional 55 were added when Keith sent word that his group would leave from Hilltop to meet the ride.  And then Mike Carhart thought it would be a good idea to add 19 by riding from Norfolk to Hilltop. I never got word about the additional 15 that were added to "complete the loop" as shown here.  I did 98 with Mike and Mike Park completing 114. 

Now the confidence boosting part is illustrated in the casual conversation of Keith and Paul. I have long given up the idea that I can keep up with these guys (and women like Laura Cook and Ali Ingram who were also on the ride) during the warm summer months when full throttle rides are in gear (think Bully).  But I was beginning to wonder if I had lost the ability to even stay with them on base winter rides when Keith enforces a 20-24 mph pace.  It's not like I'm some star-struck rider who wants to be seen with the elites.  It's that their experience, handling, etiquette, and lack of bonehead stupidity on the road is so much better than many local groups.

Carhart dubbed the 114-mile trek "Neandriol Man's Great Dismal Gran Fondo."  Here he eats 2 donuts with one hand.  I saw him down two fully packed sandwiches over the course of the ride.  He speaks two languages (that I know of), has an awesome wife and two great girls, writes books and is flanked by graduate assistants.  It just all seems important right now.  Maybe because I want to get back to writing, and by far my #1 source of inspiration are the people who ride and my hope of telling our stories.  In an office of one's own I suppose.  (Thanks Mike, Mike and Robert for a great day.) 

Monday, March 05, 2012

Matt Chrabot was HERE

The late great JB Blaszczak documented the 2006 Conte's Cycling Classic in Downtown Norfolk where a guy name Matt who was new to cycling broke away from the cat 4 men's field.  That person was none other than Olympic hopeful Matt Chrabot, whose story I tell in altdaily's magazine at this link.

Here is the page that documents Matt in downtown.  This is the same downtown course that Lance Armstrong raced in the late 1980's, long before he won the World Championships or Tours de France.  The link to JB's page can be found here, though you must scroll down to near bottom of page to find Conte's Cycling Classic coverage.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monster Cross recon

I had the pleasure of pre-riding Monster Cross course with the promoter Mark Junkerman and about 30 other riders this past Sunday.  This 50 mile endurance cross event is happening at Pocahantas State park on Feb. 26 and follows a format similar to cross endurance and fondo events that have become pretty popular in the last few years. 

The course is smokin' fast, with Williamsburg-type climbs that last no more than 30-45 seconds a piece. 95% is on double track with only a fraction of that being gravel. The rest is nice packed dirt. There is one stream crossing (x2 since there are 2 laps), a couple of road crossings, and a road portion near the end of the loop. Cross bike is by far better than mt bike for this course in my view, but I am reserving the option to use mountain bike if there is ice on the ground.

There are a couple of very short sections with some embedded fist-sized rocks that could puncture cross tires Ironcross style. There were no flats in my group, but in the lead group there were at least 3. No need at all for tires that are geared toward doing well in grass.