Ending the Year in the Right Place

Thursday, 27 Dec. 2012
The year was coming to a close, the 25th of December and all its grandeur was in the rearview mirror, and we were on the road to Hoover, Alabama with high hopes of trail running and mountain biking at Oak Mountain State Park. The main goal was to get out of town and into some elevation and connect with some old/new friends, Andrea and Casey Fannin, for some good times. And damn, do I have to say Hoover and its surrounding areas just blew my mind. I had no idea we were arriving to the fittest place in the fattest state of the nation, though I do have to admit we spent all of our time within a fairly small community of trail enthusiasts.

After the long drive (about 9.5 hours) from New Smyrna (always a nail bitter when traveling with our boys, Gabe – 3.5 and Shael 5.5), we arrived on a Thursday evening to a warm welcome, much-needed beer, and the shock of cold, yes cold weather.

Oak Mountain Part I
The next morning was even colder, so I was not in any hurry to get on the trails. I assumed we had plenty of time, and we should just let the sun do its thing. Casey, with his somewhat new and somewhat reluctant smart phone knowledge, was not having it. Another cold front was bearing down on the area, and the rain was eminent. Off to Oak Mountain we went, that is after Casey took the time to dig through an old box of warm gear for me to use (we don’t have that much need for winter fitness apparel in our area of Florida). Luckily, the sun was shining on Oak Mountain when we pulled up. The parking lot was warm, and after putting on several layers, I was ready to hit the trails.

Casey and I, his Shepard Roxy in tow, went for a short warm-up around the lake (sorry trail names will be sparse at best – nice to just follow someone who knows). It was in the five mile range or so before we stopped at the parking lot to drop off Roxy (not feeling 100%) and, surprisingly, to shed a layer.

Back out quickly, we headed off for what I believe was designed to be a loop around the whole mountain. Disaster struck not far in. Disaster, in hindsight, is an overstatement, but at the time, I was thinking it was a day-ender – rear-derailleur lost a bolt and came apart. As I was planning to walk, run, coast back to the parking lot and to the bike shop, Casey spotted my parts in the road. Now, we were just missing the bolt. Back to the truck we went, Casey’s box of random bike stuff in mind with high hopes of finding something that would work.

Amazingly (for me anyway), he found a bolt that worked, I put the chain through the wrong way, tightened everything, and then Casey popped my quick-link, re-fed my chain, and we were off on a, now, altered path. Damn was it great though. We rode more than 18 miles and possibly climbed more than I had the entire year (oh, Florida). I remember Johnson’s Mountain and Jekyll and Hyde distinctly as times when I was mentally and physically dancing on the high that is mountain bike riding, of course enhanced by my unfamiliarity.

The more we climbed and descended, the more my muscles screamed. I was pushing and pushing, but the bowl of oatmeal I ate for breakfast was long gone. My body is not trained to burn fat very well (2+ year plant-based diet), and the bonking started. I thought I’d test and see what would happen – Casey offering a gel that was temporarily declined. After a couple more miles, I bonked. I just had nothing to push with. I could manage but I couldn’t really ride.

I ended up taking the gel and feeling a lot better and a lot stronger, and I take away a good and bad decision from my experience. Just as I need to understand my nutrition on the trails, I also need to understand when I’m bonking because of food and bonking because of fitness level, strength or cardio. I felt my legs returning and we finished for the day after a few really fun downhill sections. And our timing was perfect…

We loaded up the vehicle and headed out for some lunch, and not long after, though it had been threatening toward the tail end of the ride, it starting pouring rain. Cold rain. Not fun for this Florida / tropics lovin’ guy. And the rest of the day is easy to sum up…

Beer>Lunch>Homebase>Beer>Shower and layers of warm cloths…>Food>Beer>Couple Honey Jack sips>Beer>Sleep….

Oak Mountain Part II

Cold, nasty morning. Here I'm walking with Gabe up to a pioneer house in the neighborhood.

Cold, nasty morning. Here I’m walking with Gabe up to a pioneer house in the neighborhood. We let it warm up a bit before heading to Oak Mountain. Photo – Jen Newell

We headed out to the park again around mid morning when it warmed up and dried out slightly. The kids and I went to the BMX / pump track area and the girls went for a trail run. The wet weather put the pump track in bad shape, washed out and soft. But the BMX track was in rideable condition, and when Shael took his first lap, he was truly on vacation. Eyes wide. Glowing. Around and around he went until exhaustion. Crashes meant nothing but a slower run. Helmet hits and bike tangles were nothing to worry about. It was a BMX track and he had it all to himself. The day ended in a similar fashion as Friday. Good to be on vacation. A real vacation.

The morning cracked to clear skies but really cold temperature; it was about 20 degrees when I looked out at the gauge. I was horrified, but the boys were super happy to go outside, glove-less and find all kinds of ways and means of cracking the patches of ice they found on the deck and in the yard. “My hands hurt,” Gabe said. As far as I could tell, it was the first time his hands froze and were thawing out. Inside for awhile. Gloves on outside. An equation for warmth and avoiding frozen fingers.

Post trail run. Thanks to Valerie McClain for taking the photo.

Post trail run. Thanks to Valerie McClain for taking the photo.

Once it warmed up to a reasonable sunny 35 degrees or so, Jen and I got directions and went to Red Mountain Park, which is a new park with some rich Birmingham history. It was mined for ore and contributed materials to aid world wars and the industrial development in the US, helping put Birmingham on the map. Tangent cut short, we avoided all that and just enjoyed a beautiful 5 or so mile trail run. The trail conditions could not have been better, and I mean it. The Birmingham Track Club was hosting the “Resolution Run” for the next morning (New Year’s Eve), and they had taken the time to clean up and actually blow all the leaves off the trails. I was pristine. We found our way up, down, and round about with a few stops for discussion and way finding.

Oak Mountain III
After lunch we headed back out to Oak Mountain. It was continuing to warm up, and it was time to get back on the bikes. Jen took our little man to the petting zoo, while Shael, Casey, Andrea, and I rode the Lake Trail – about a 5K loop. Shael led the way with me behind, helping him up some of the climbs when needed.

Shael. Getting ready to ride.

Shael. Getting ready to ride. Photo – Jen Newell

The crew in the parking lot at Oak Mountain.

The crew in the parking lot at Oak Mountain. Photo – Jen Newell

Overall, he just did great. Big smiles all the way with a few panting stops for “Daddy, I need a drink of water.” It is quite funny when I feed him water out of my hydration pack like a baby bird, but functional it is.

Once back to the trailhead, we met back up with Jen and Gabe. Jen took the boys back to the BMX track, and Andrea and I headed off for more time on the trails. Casey went to the BMX track and met us coming from the other way on the trail. Andrea led me up through some insanely good single track (can’t remember the names). We rode for some miles up and down through the forest and onto an wider access rode. Casey wasn’t far away, and when they inquired about my interest in the flow trail, I beamed with excitement, as I hadn’t ridden a mountain-bike specific downhill flow trail. And man, was it everything and more. I think I clocked 22 miles an hour or more and spent plenty of time airborne over the tables, opting out of some of the gaps (no casing the landings for me).

At my age and with my level of jump experience, especially at that speed, I definitely took it on the conservative side. In one piece is how I wanted to finish the day. No matter. It was one of the best runs I’ve had since being back on the bike. The trail immediately following the flow trail was insane as well, and we wound down toward the BMX track to, once again meet up with Jen, Gabe and Shael.

We all rode out onto the BMX track, joining Shael for a few laps, spent some leg-burning runs on the pump track, and called it a day – probably clocked around 12+ miles for the day.

Heck of a spread. Sushi and photo - Jen Newell

Heck of a spread. Sushi and photo – Jen Newell

Beer>Homebase>Beer>Shower and layers of warm cloths…>Sushi>Beer>Sake> Beer>Sleep….

New Year’s Eve dawned to more clouds and threatening misty, almost rain. Not what we expected. The report called for some good weather, so much for reports. Not that big of a deal. I wasn’t raring to go too hard anyway. My legs were feeling the miles. We took a long, slow morning before even thinking about what lay ahead for the day.

With Andrea off to work (yes, can you believe it?), Casey took us to Moss Rock Preserve for a hike with the boys. What we planned as a slow leisurely stroll in the wood quickly turned into some rock hopping (not really climbing) and slinking through some cave-like breaks between the rocks. We followed the trail down to the stream and up the other side of the ravine, following another stream that flowed into the one at the bottom of the valley. Gabe was in the lead and doing what he wanted no matter what, going way too hard for his own good, and Shael was way behind taking his “own route.”

Gabe and Shael. Rock hoping at Moss Rock Preserve - Photo - Jen

Gabe and Shael. Rock hoping at Moss Rock Preserve – Photo – Jen

Shael coming through Fat Man's Squeeze. Photo - Jen.

Shael coming through Fat Man’s Squeeze. Photo – Jen.

Cave pose. Jim and Jen self portrait.

Cave pose. Jim and Jen self portrait.

Needless to say, both boys started running out of energy and fuel (kid bonk), and their attitudes fell by the wayside into quite a fit for the little guy. I ended up carrying him for a good chuck of the way back to the trailhead. Slight frustration wasn’t going to spoil it for me though. Easy to shrug it off in such an environment.

Moss Rock is just a beautiful place, and it is right in the middle of Hoover. Neighborhoods and shopping all around. The hike ended up being the absolutely perfect decision. It was a time to chat, look at all the various plant life and terrain, and stretch out my legs. After some leg burning days, it feels as if a good walk breaks up the lactic acid and lets all my muscles, tendons, and ligaments find their natural locations. I’m not exactly sure why; it might have something to do with stride and cadence, but I pretty much do everything by feel, so I’ll just say it seems to heal and speed recovery.

Up the stream. Gabe up ahead. Photo - Jen

Up the stream. Gabe up ahead. Photo – Jen

Casey and the boys. Looking for some adventure. Photo - Jen.

Casey and the boys. Looking for some adventure. Photo – Jen.

Our day then led into a fairly normal New Year’s Eve of revelry and a bonfire to toast in 2012 and burn the Christmas tree, which closed out yet another incredible day of vacation in Hoover, Alabama.

The day began with that kind of “oh-shit-why” feeling, as if most of my brain was dehydrated, and someone found a way to steal away all of my sleep. But no big deal. It happens, and damn was it fun. After loading the car and hanging the bikes on the rack in the rain (Yes. In the rain. Luckily, it wasn’t cold. If it was raining and cold, I’m not sure what I would have done.), it was time to get on the road.

After “goodbyes” and hugs, we began a long, hung-over drive home. Until next time…

About Jim Newell

Associate Professor of English, Daytona State College / Thinker / Ponce Inlet Surfer / Improviser / Dad
This entry was posted in Other, Ride Report, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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