I'm in Middlesboro, Kentucky right now in a motel room watching Women Behind Bars. I'm up here for my 130/190 Basic Wildland Firefighter's Course, given by the Cumberland Gap National Park Fire Module. They're a group of guys who are a mobile fire unit working mostly with prescribed fires locally and wildfires out West.
Middlesboro is in the tri-states area, where Kentucky meets Virginia meets Tennessee. It's a prelude to the eastern Blue Ridge Mtns, and there's a definite Appalachian feel to the region.
Above: The tunnel going through the Cumberland Gap. I enter in Tennessee where my motel is and come out the other side in Kentucky to attend my class.
During our lunch break yesterday, I headed off to town to the only listed bike shop, while another girl in the class (Ami) went to the other nearby town to inquire about trails at an outfitters store. We agreed to compare notes afterwards to see what information we could come up with about biking trails in the area. After listening to that bitch on my phone that's supposed to be a GPS--I think I would have done better with a sextant and compass--, I finally found the hole-in-the-wall store. I walked in to a bizarre sight: an elderly man was resting in a recliner that was probably nearly as old as he was, and the entire room was dimly lit. From what I could see, he possessed about 2 teeth (upper -- maybe 1 or 2 lower, but I wasn't doing a dental exam). He was stroking a cat that I imagined wasn't a very effective mouse catcher anymore (you starting to get the picture?). Despite the comical situation, the man was extremely nice. I probably could have stayed for a nice town history lesson, but I had to get back to work. Although he wasn't familiar with the trails, he referred me to the neighboring town to an outfitters store, which incidentally ended up being the same one I mentioned earlier.
Once class let out yesterday, Ami and I jetted to the outfitters store where we had agreed to meet Joe, the bike store owner, who was going to give us a tour of the local mountain biking trails. During the ride, I got to talk at length with him about his running, as he is an ultramarathoner. We got to the top of the hill/mountain/road and started to turn back down the access road because the weather was rapidly deteriorating. A dark bluish-purple cloud had moved in so fast we didn't notice it until the trees started bending over. It reminded me of Alabama pre-tornado weather. Within a few minutes, we were all soaked and could barely see in front of us. The mud was spraying up from my front wheel, and I had to slow way down at each corner. It was thrilling and a tad bit cathartic.
I had planned to campout at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (where I'm doing my training), but I'm kinda a fair-weather camper, so I bagged it in after the ride & headed for a motel. I was glad to be able to warm up, and I also was able to utilize the tub to wash my new 29er. Can't have it staying dirty for too long! I seriously love riding that thing. The only problems I'm having is getting my shocks dialed in. For one thing, the rear shock on-the-fly lockout is not working, so I'm going to have to see about fixing that. Everything else seems to be in working order. The XTR gruppo is smooth, and it's nice to have precise shifting when I want it.
As far as the quality of 'singletrack', the trails around here are surprisingly disappointing. On top of that, there doesn't seem to be any sort of bicycling community. I was shocked about the lack of cycling here, because it seems like such a prime area. I'm going to investigate the surrounding areas to see if there is a local group of riders somewhere nearby. Very weird.
Meanwhile, the weather has been spectacular. The cloud to ground lightning has been like a theater for the gods. It prevented me from getting a run in with the bike shop guy & his friends today, but hopefully it will clear up by this weekend. My plan is to stay in the area or maybe somewhere in Tennessee since I'm already up here.
Last week was equally exciting. On Monday the 8th, I flew out to Seattle to meet up with Meegan, a good friend of mine who was graduating from the University of Washington. I was excited about going out there since the last time I went was the disaster of a climbing trip to Vancouver (which I don't think I ever blogged about because it was so emotionally taxing. Basically, I took a trip to Vancouver and Squammish, one of North America's climbing meccas to boulder and climb for a week with 3 friends last summer. Although we managed to salvage some fun out of the deal & I got some good climbing in, it really turned out to be a bad trip). I was looking to reclaim the area as a place of enjoyment rather than bad memories. I also wanted to visit some of the places where I had lived when I was stationed on Whidbey Island & see some of the folks I hadn't seen since I got out of the Navy.
I spent the first couple of days hanging out with Meegs and cruising around the Queen Anne and Capitol Hill districts. Love it! I had a great time. It was nice to be around an eclectic crowd that was more liberal and open than what I normally see in Alabama. If a gay couple walks down the street holding hands there, for example, they don't get gawked at like they do around where I live. It's awesome to have some quality coffee, too. There are over 420 Starbucks in Seattle! And there's still enough coffee that you could get a cup on practically every block withOUT having to be a Starbucks whore.
Above: Deception Pass Bridge, connecting Whidbey Island with the mainland.
During the middle of the week, I drove up to Whidbey & stayed a couple of nights on the island. I even went for a run on the base trail that I used to run every day.
Thursday I went back to Seattle, and that's when the Corcoran family came to town. Man, they are a hoot. I am now officially a part of the fam. We had a great time, going to Pike's Market, seeing Meegan graduate, and just hanging out and laughing.
We took a Duck tour (those old amphibious boats that were used in WWII) which was a blast. The boat part of it took us out to Lake Union, which is at the heart of Seattle. These floating houses in this picture are not houseboats. You can't move them. However, they sell for right around a million, and that's for about 1500 to 2000 square feet. The picture below shows a tiny light blue floating house with a grey roof. This beauty is 250 square feet, and recently sold for $150,000.
The Corcoran Clan has adopted me as part of their fam.
I was reluctant to go back home, but I knew I had to.
I flew out early Sunday morning, getting up at 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time. I landed in Huntsville at 3 p.m. Central. After waiting 30 minutes for my luggage (slowest airport ever!), I spent a couple of hours with my mom, eating and visiting. By the time I drove my car over to Fort Payne to pick up the government vehicle to drive to Kentucky for my week of fire training, it was about 6:30 p.m. I limped on into Middlesboro, Kentucky at nearly 2 in the morning. Can we say exhausted?. I've been here since, doing my training & getting excited all over again about another adventure in a new place.
I'm hoping the rain will pass tomorrow so I can pitch my tent!