Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dad's Retirement Party

So after 30 years as the elected Treasurer-Tax Collector of Yuba County, Calif (total of 42 years service in local county governments across Northern California) my old man finally decide to hang it up and retire! A long and distinguished career of public service at the local level, including dealing with effects of California's Prop 13 in the early 80s, and the near meltdown of the local gov't financial markets in the wake of the Orange County fiasco. He was President of the California Association of Treasurer-Tax Collectors, voted as the Outstanding County Treasurer of the United States in 1996, and the list of local accolades is far too long to list (moving all of the plaques out of the office made my back sore).

But my old man can be a stubborn S.O.B. at times, and for years threatened he would not show to any retirement ceremony if one was put together. "I don't want any f***ing speeches, any plaques, any damned proclamations, or other B.S. I'll skip the whole damn thing!" But the man deserves to have something after 42 years of service, right. So his wife and good friends finally cajoled him into an "open house" event at the local Peachtree Country Club. Accordingly, this invitation went out, a parody on the property tax bill that has come from local county courthouse under his name for the past three decades.

And the old man had no idea I was coming. So after some collusion with his best friend (Dave Brown, Yuba County Assessor) and former assistant (now succeeding him in the job), I flew out to Sacramento on Friday morning, and managed to catch him and Dave at the China Moon in Marysville. Completely surprised, he was weeping in chow mein when I plopped down next to him in the restaurant. After holding an initial coordination for my 20-year high school reunion that evening, I crashed down after 22 hours on the move!

But a great party on Saturday afternoon: no speeches, no plagues, no proclamations, just 250+ dropping by a nice location to shake hands, chat a while, eat some food and drink some booze. Even our local Congressman, Wally Herger (the guy who nominated me for USMA 20 years ago), came by for about 90min to 'be among the people'. A great afternoon for my Dad. Many photos were taken, these are among my favorites: my Dad is in the blue-checked shirt, the gentleman in the tie/blazer is the Honorable Wally Herger of Calif's 2d Congressional District, and the woman is my Dad's wife, Wendy.

To conclude the whirlwind of a weekend, I flew right back home on Sunday!

Christmas Holidays 2009

I had been meaning to post of some photos from our Christmas Holidays. Oma and Opa were in town for 10 days of the school vacation, which was great and they enjoyed themselves. Alas, I had to pull what is known as a "Christmas Special" most of the time, working late most nights through the 2-week holidays; Uncle Sam can be a tough task master when some staffer n the Pentagon wants "it" (whatever that might be) right after the new year!

I did manage to make the evening kid's service at our church on Christmas Eve, where Matt was in the play. We spent Christmas Day at home with Oma/Opa, though Kirsten and I try to keep the number of gifts under control so the boys don't get warped ideas about Christmas generosity; lots of pajamas, clothes, socks, etc. and even a few toys. Once the Christmas morning commotion of three boys settled down, I went for a snowy trail run over at McMullen Cove, great trail system over there for those looking to explore some.

Andy celebrated his 7th Birthday on the 26th, so we took the crew to Chattanooga for the weekend. Kids were fairly content with a hotel room stay, indoor pool, trips to the Creative Discovery Museum next door to the hotel, even the great Aquarium there.

I took Monday off from work (let my analysts alone for a day to keep hammering and me not bothering them!) and Kirsten and I went for a great day trip to theBankhead Nat'l Forest, Black Warrior WMA, and the Sipsey Wilderness to explore some and hike.

The rest of the week was crazy busy, working 12+ hours a day well into the evening on the Christmas Special. A notable end to the new year was the NYE Toga Party at the Charette Coliseum (more photos to follow).

Exploring the Pinhoti Trail, January 2010

I had been wanting to explore some of northern reaches of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail, the ones above the start of the Pinhoti 100 race, and made it my mission to do a chunk of it during the early months of the new year. This is due partly to sheer curiosity on my part; but also a desire to check out portions of the trail ahead of our upcoming trip in May, where the Pinhoti Adventure Team will attempt to set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) entire 325mi trail in Alabama and Georgia. But more to follow on that later!

So after a great New Year's Eve party at Coliseum Charette, I decided to put a long adventure run on the first day of 2010. The out-and-back stretch I pulled on New Year's Day was a long, tiring day but well worth it to cover a solid section of the trail.

Borrowing from the Parkay Maps site, I started from the Burns Trailhead on Calhoun County Rd 55 outside Jacksonville and Piedmont. Heading south past the Choccolocco Creek Watershed to Coleman Lake, and then all the way to the Pine Glen Campground:

I left the house about 0530, heading south on US-431 to Gadsden, east on US-278 to Piedmont, south on AL-9, over Kings Gap Mtn Rd to the trailhead on Cnty Rd 55 between Rabbittown and Burn. The weather was cold and overcast to start, but runnable. Heading south on the trail, I passed several hunters in the early miles before crossing over the Choccolocco Watershed. The trail get a bit technical from there as it's carved out of the hillsides, mayber 18" across and on a cant. Passing through multiple creek crossing, it took 2hrs total to reach the Coleman Lake trailhead. I was feeling pretty good, sun was coming out, so I continued to head south south past the Shoal Creek Church historical site and all the way to Pine Glen Campground (start of Pinhoti 100). Sat down around noon to change socks, call Kirsten, eat an energy bar, etc.

I had seen plenty of trail, so I opted to head back north along FS500 (Motorway) instead. That turned out to be an interesting choice, for while the trail stayed along creekbed and was fairly level, the roadway climbed and turned and climbed some more; it was harded to run than the trail! Once I got back near the Shoal Creek church around 1345, I re-entered Pinhoti Trail and headed for Coleman Lake. Took a detour there around the lake’s recreation area just to explore a bit, finally got back on the trail back at the Coleman Lake trailhead and turned north again. The section north of Coleman Lake is a red-cockaded woodpecker habitat, and I actually saw one; first time after living in the protected areas of the South for 15 years! The stretch back to the watershed is some tough running, with 7-8 creek crossings, lots of running on the cant of steep slopes (trail just carved out of the side of the hill), with sun going down. Once I got back to the Choccolocco watershed around 1545, was pretty tired but still upbeat. Pushed through the final 2 mi for the Burns trailhead by 1610.

About 8 hours on the move for approx. 34-35mi. Great day of solid trail exploration! Headed back through Jacksonville, grabbed something to eat there, and was home by 1900.

Having seen south the of the Burns Trailhead, I spent the federal holiday on MLK Day to do further exploring to the north. That day's route was through the Dugger Mountain Wilderness. I left the house and my sleeping children about 0530 and headed south via US-431 to Gadsden, then turned on US-278 to Piedmont, south on AL-9 thrugh Nance's Creek and to the trailhead near Rabbittown and Burns.

Here the route maps, again graciously borrowed from the Parkay Maps site. First one covers from the Burns Trailhead on Calhoun County Rd 55 going north into the Dugger Mountain Wilderness:

The second map covers the final climb over Dugger Mtn and the descent down to the Dugger Mtn Shelter just off FS500:

I met several Pinhoti Trail Alliance volunteers in the parking lot. They were quite pleasant, offered me good tips on the trail, and thought I was nuts for running over the Wilderness! The weather was cold and foggy as I started the run around 0800 out of the trailhead. First few miles were fine, getting a rhythm and playing around with my new Casio watch (combo altimeter, compass, barometer, thermometer, plus the usual stopwatch and alarms). The section through Laurel Passage was quite pleasant, with a rushing creek below and to my right. Alas, couldn't see much due to the fog. Around 1000 the sun finally started to burn through, just as I was passing the Dugger Mtn peak on the left; the trail runs about 200-300m and 100' elevation down the slope. I kept looking for the observation tower on the topo map, but turns out the tower has long since been torn down.

Once past the peak, the trail descend 1000' over the next 1.8 miles; no switchbacks at all, just a long, steady descent. Ran into more Trail volunteers crossing over the creek at the bottoom, chatted with them a few minutes before pressing to FS500. Crossed over the dirt road and ran up the trail another 1/2mi to the Dugger Mtn Shelter. There I found two more volunteers clearing and improving the shelter area, so stopped and jawboned with them for 15min or so; good folks with lots of local trail knowledge.

By now the sun was fully out and it was turning into a very pleasant day! The climb back up Dugger Mtn is not too bad and moves obliquely up the contours, bur runnable if you take a steady pace. As I got near the peak, I turned off the trail and clambered up the slope and through the briars to where the old tower stood. Great view down into the Piedmont area and Chief Ladiga Trail. Gave Kirsten a call to let her know I was alright and enjoying the day, then worked back down the slope to the trail, slashing my shins on more briars for good measure!

Began the long descent down the southern side of the wilderness area and ran into two more trail volunteers clearing debris (met a total of 8 during the days, all working under the Pinhoti Trail Alliance). They advised me to take an alternate route down to the trailhead via the old Jones Branch Rd. Turned out to be great advice, and picked up that old 4WD road (just a trail now), and took the last 2.5mi back that way. It follows a creek down to Cnty Rd 55 and winds through a lovely little narrow canyon at the bottom. A shallow descent most of the trail made a great way to finish the day's run. Approx 20mi in just shy of 5 hours (including breaks and jawboning with the volunteers).

Stopped in Jacksonville for some Quizno's before heading. Drove past this place just outside of town and had to stop and take a photo. Good place to get rid of some old crap from my cadet days?

Keel Mountain Climbs

Given that I usually dedicate my Saturday to hanging out with my boys and giving Kirsten some free time, I usually try to leave the office on Friday afternoon to put in my long training runs. However, the impending freezing rain storm we saw in North Alabama on Friday afternoon and Saturday, prompted me to bolt for the long run on Thursday afternoon to beat the weather (luckily, Thursday afternoon was flexible).

So I got my employees settled in with tasks to keep 'em busy for the next 2-3 working days and took off about 1400 on Thursday. I had already spent to pre-dawn morning in the weight room, so a long hard run this afternoon could get interesting.

At home I quickly pulled my gear, water, and fuel together and to Keel Mountain for some serious climbing and descents!

Got started about 1515 and took about 20min to get a rhythm going, just as the first monster climb started. The road is very steep, winding my up through several properties with barking dogs for the first hour. One pair of dogs was actually a touch scary for a minute or so, the pair came right up to me barking like crazy and had the look of being ready to sink some teeth into. One was an old bitch with at least 8 sagging nipples from producing who-knows how many pups, the other was one of her grown male pups. I was about 10-15sec from having to take the offensive, for they were not backing off. Luckily, the toothless redneck owner emerged from his trailer and called them back. With a wave and a smile I continued on.

Once on Keel Mtn plateau, I turned south on the main road and got a decent tempo rhythm going. The running was quite pleasant, even some friendly looks from the folks who live on the rural mountain community. I took a short detour on Angel Bluff Rd and was rewarded with a wonderful view east down into the Paint Rock River valley. From there I continued south on the main road and down the gnarly descent off the south end of Keel (quad busting hell). Got to the bottom in about 2hr 5min, put down some fuel and electrolytes, then turned around and went back up! The southern end of Keel climbs about 900' with a pair of switchback at 19% grade, making for grunts and taunt calves.

Once back on top of the mountain, I got a decent tempo rhythm back up and turned on my flashlight. The dogs are less of a problem at night, owners have them indoors over the winter. Took another view over Angel Bluff with the rural lights on below, but steadily knocked down the miles before turning left and working through the more wnding portion of the mountain. After about 3:30 on the move, dropped over the edge on the descent, 25% (+) grade in several places on the way down, gotta love it! Once past the dogs and in the final mile, I could afford to tune out a bit, so turned on my mp3 player, listening to the Mission to Mars soundtrack. I especially like the finale music, which made the last mile sail by as I was able to shake off the long, hard descent and pick up a steady 8min/mile pace to finish out the run around 1930.

4 hrs 5min on the move for about 24.5 miles. A great route to keep preparing for hard climbs and descents this summer in Colorado. A little stiff in my knees and hips in the office on Friday, but not too bad. As predicted, the freezing rain and snow storms rolled in Friday afternoon, shutting down schools early and leaving icicles over the trees on Monte Sano, Huntsville, and Green Mountains. The boys even played in the very brief snow flurries on Saturday afternoon!