Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice Day

Acknowledge the darkness, appreciate the light.

Solstice Sunrise
Crazy sunrise on the shortest day

deer
Deer in the pre-dawn park. The rut is in full swing.

wind hike
Hike up in a draw out of the wind

sand dunes
Looking down at the valley from Salida's Sand Dunes

solstice storm

Strong snow-smelling wind
Winter's breath from the Divide
Look now toward light

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cruising to the end of a tough year

I've been through plenty of tough times in my 50 years on the blue marble. Was this year the worst? Hard to have perspective to know. Memories from other difficult years, like the year my marriage failed, are clouded by time. I'm in this year now, and I'm still in the process of climbing out of the hardness and leaving it behind. It will not be my story.

So whathafock happened? Well, actually quite a few suckful things happened in my personal life, but the big thing was a serious injury. I realize looking back at the few posts I wrote this year that I never told the story here on the blog. So here it is.

On May 4 I was in the San Rafael Swell in Utah with my good friend Earl. We were riding motorcycles in the canyons. It was a Sunday, and we'd done a big ride of over 100 miles on Saturday. I was tired. I made a mistake while trying to corner on an easy sweeping left turn in a dry wash. I won't call it an accident. I made a mistake. I blew the turn, went wide into the rocks. Just before I crashed I kicked my right foot out to try to shove me and the bike back to the left. All I did was hurt the leg. It's not easy to kick 300 lbs of motorcycle and 200 lbs of Tom-meat off the course that it's on.

immediately after the crash
This picture was found in a hidden cranny on my digital camera just a few weeks ago. Earl took it when we both thought this would be a funny story some day.

When I landed face down in the gravel I knew I was hurt pretty badly. The knee was screaming, and I clearly had a chest injury. Earl picked up my bike. We talked about the situation a little and Earl asked me if I could ride. I said something like I guess we better find out.

We were an hour's ride from where we were camped. But it took almost two because I was really hurting. When we got back we scrounged up all the pain relief we had between the two of us. I had two advil and Earl had one. I took two and saved the other for later and Earl loaded up the bikes and everything else. We drove the hour to Green River and stopped for lunch. I had a hard time sitting in a chair, and when we got back in the car I leaned the seat way back and just tried to relax.

We drove the 7 hours back to Salida. We went to Earl's house where I got Vicki and we went home. I found a Vicodin from a previous adventure, took it and went to bed. I actually slept. In the morning I started moving around, doing things like cleaning cat boxes with three days worth of produce. While I was doing that I started to have muscle spasms from in-breath. A breath would trigger a spasm which pushed out the air, another in-breath another spasm. It was kind of like a seizure, and very difficult to stop.

I put Vicki in the truck and we went to the hospital. The knee hurt really really bad, but it was the ribcage that was a crisis. When I got to the hospital I told them to never mind the knee and figure out what was up with my ribs. I expected to be there for an hour or two, then go fill a pain pill prescription and go home. The ER doc came back with an X-Ray and told me he wanted to check me to stay. He told me I had a pneumothorax, which is doctor-talk for a punctured lung.

So, let's cut to summary: I had broken 6 ribs, two of them in two places. It was ribs number 3-8, all fractured right where they join to the spine. Probably 5 and 6 had fractures in the middle as well. My theory is that the lung wasn't punctured immediately, otherwise I never would have survived 24 hours without treatment. I think the spasm seizures displaced the fractures, moving a jagged edge up against my lung wall.

That first day in the hospital was super bad. My pain seemed to be escalating. All day long and into the evening, the doctor had to be asked to up the dosage. By nightfall I was on IV dilaudid. For the next 6 or 7 weeks, narcotic pain meds would be part of every day.

I was in the hospital for three nights. When I got out, my sister Meg arrived to stay with me for a week to take care of me. My memories from those weeks in May when I was heavily medicated are hazy and unreal.

My knee was sore, but I was so medicated that I could kind of ignore it when I walked around. When I finally got off the pain meds (no easy task folks) the knee became more of an issue. So I went to an ortho, expecting that I had torn meniscus that would need a scoping. Nope, fractured tibial plateau. The ninth fracture, which I had been walking around on without crutches or cast for nearly two months.

So I had the darkness of lonely days spent whacked out on narcotics, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix. Then I had the darkness of trying to get up, go to work without any pain pills clouding my judgement and function in life. Nobody likes to hear a whiner whining, but people, that was a very difficult time. I could barely stand to sit at my desk, but worse than that my ability to bring any energy to my work was limited. I felt like crap because I felt like crap, and also because I really didn't feel like I was earning my paychecks. And I really needed to start bringing home paychecks again because I had not worked for a month.

My ability to enjoy weekends during June and much of July was severely limited as well. I couldn't walk for more than a couple miles, both because of pain and because I would get tired. I couldn't ride a bike. Pedaling really irritated the knee pain. I didn't even ride my townie bike to run errands for most of the summer. I actually rode the motorcycle, because it was easier than getting in and out of the truck and didn't drink so much gas.

It was isolating, boring, frightening, and sad. I was depressed. I wallowed in sadness and self-pity for much of the summer. It really took willing myself to feel better to get past it. I just had to put a different goddamn expression on my face in the morning, go to work, and get on with it.

Right now? A week before the winter solstice, a time of year that usually depresses me because of the darkness and the cold, and I'm in good shape. Very grateful. I've mostly healed. My knee actually has recovered enough with no intervention that it isn't limiting me from doing the things I want to do. The only thing my ortho forbids is running. Which is fine, because I only run when I'm being chased.

I'm enjoying playing in the snow with Vicki on snowshoes or fatbike. I'm enjoying relationships with friends that were taken to another level by the help and support they provided when I desperately needed it. I'm enjoying work, and I think I'm earning my paychecks again.

I'm kind of re-inventing myself, and I'm energized. I seem to have moved beyond the era of endurance mountain biking. I'm riding, but I'm just not thinking about doing dirt hundies or 24 solos. That stuff has been an obsession for a decade for me. Maybe I'll get back to it, but I did lots of that stuff. Not sure that my mission in life is to wear out mountain bikes. So maybe my path will be to do something else. Or lots of something elses. The years of endurance riding weren't very diverse. Or very social. Now I'm going to do lots of other things, and enjoy a wider spectrum of life.

This year is not my fucking story. In the years that come I'm committed to finding my joy. I will treat 2014 as a symbol of why we should be grateful. I lived through that shit, came out stronger. My body took a hit, but it's not the first time.

Thank God we heal.

old monarch

Here's to finding beauty, joy, and companionship in 2015 and beyond. Thanks to the people who helped me through the darkness. You will always be special to me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Healing Update III, RELOAD THE WALLET

Going back to work today. I'm nervous. It's been a while. I have not earned a dime in May, the last time I worked was April 30. Now I'm able to handle at least part of a day without narcotic pain killers.

vicki

Yesterday was the first day for that. I got up feeling better than ever since the injury. So I took Vicki back up Bear Creek and we hiked most of the jeep road up to the trailhead, and walked down the trail for a little ways. It was Vicki's first exposure to the Rainbow. I hope this section of trail will be come very familiar to her.

I did way too much. I got home exhausted and in pain. Took some pain meds and promptly fell asleep for two hours. But I feel like at this point I need to do a little too much every day, as long as I can rest my way back to feeling OK by the next morning it isn't too much.

This whole damn thing has been really intense. It's been humbling, frightening, depressing, boring... and inspiring. My friends and family have completely overwhelmed me with their support and work on my behalf. I have been touched deeply. Thinking about it chokes me up.

Now I'm trying to claw my way back to normal life. But it's going to be different. This has changed me. My old habits and routines have been completely blown up. Lots of what I do on a daily basis will change. My perspective has been changed.

Wish me luck. I hope I can be worth a crap at work. I need more than my income back, I need my life back.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Healing Update Too

Today Saturday May 24th I woke up feeling decent. Not done with this by a long way, but better.

Forecast was for a stormy afternoon and evening, so I decided to make the most of a pretty morning when I'm feeling good. I drove Vicki up to Bear Creek and we went for a walk up the jeep road. I 4-wheeled up part way then left the truck with the goal of climbing up to the trailhead and back. After about ten minutes I adjusted my goal to, make it a mile then turn around.

After a while my friend Chris S rode up and stopped to talk (he incidentally is a radiology guy who has taken x-rays of me after previous run-ins with two-wheeled vehicles). Then Alex B came up and I got to tell both of them my war stories. I felt that I should have a large gnarled wooden cane to lean on as I told the whippersnappers my tales of bravery and misery.

vicki

Where you see the whippersnappers up the road is about as far as Vicki and I went.

Which was fine. It was so nice to just be out in the fresh air and the aspen leaves had popped. I love the brand-new aspen leaves. They are so fresh and light-green. Hummingbirds trilled through the woods. It was nice.

vicki

I think Vicki liked it too.

This whole thing has been pretty mind-altering for her I bet. She gets adopted and spends 5 or 6 weeks with me, gets past trust into having fun. Then I go away for a long weekend. She gets to stay with a wonderful lady and an incredibly hunky 8-year-old blue heeler, so it's not traumatic that I'm gone, but still. Then I come home for 12 hours, we sleep together in my house. In the morning I drive her to the hospital parking lot and ask her to wait. After several hours somebody else (someone she trusts deeply) comes along and drives her home. Then it's back to the nice lady and the hunky heeler.

I'm gone for another 3 day spell. And when I get home I'm...

different.

I move differently, I seem to sleep a lot. I'm home all the time, which she clearly likes, but I'm not chasing her around in the yard playing like before. We only seem to go to places that are a couple blocks away, and I walk like somebody who just busted out of the nursing home but forgot to grab the walker on the way out.

It's going to be a while yet before I can give her a workout when we go to the woods together. But it's nice to take a baby step.

I took a 90-minute nap when I got home. I think I'll sleep well tonight. Amazing to think that walking eight tenths of a mile with maybe 175 vertical feet of climbing could be a workout. But that's where I'm starting. Bring on the healing, bring it on.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Healing Update

Doctor's appointment today with Dr Johnson who was in charge of me when I was in the hospital. Dr White is my personal doctor. I saw Dr White last Wednesday and will see him again Wednesday afternoon. This was my so-long, farewell appointment with Dr Johnson. She ordered an x-ray which she'll check out, but I'll be taking it to my family doc Wednesday and will follow through with any problems with him.

I can walk, and have been taking Vicki with me at least once a day down to Riverside Park. If I go more than about a mile it wears me. And it's a pretty much senior citizen pace. But I can move around.

Vicki walks with friend

Tough for the Vicki Dog though. Thanks again to my amazing friends for getting her out there sniffing and playing. Here's a picture of her on a walk with my friend Sydney.

I slept probably 3 hours or more during the day today. I'm still managing pain, and often find myself on the recliner in front of a movie realizing that it's almost over and I have been sleeping.

Hmm. Lots like being a senior citizen.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Reporting on Status Reporting

Hello!

To people still reading this blog, all six of you, just wanted to let you know about things around here.

My first real experience riding dirtbikes went wrong on me. At first it wasn't wrong, it was a blast.

swelling is down

My friend Earl and I hauled the bikes over into Utah to the San Rafael Swell. We rode about 120 miles on Saturday May 3. Perfect weather, lots of chances to learn and figure out my motorcycle. Good fun day.

I was really tired on Sunday but we both wanted to ride at least for a while before loading up to go home.

My crash was unspectacular, embarrassing really. It wasn't that a challenging obstacle got the best of me, it was a total spazz move. For my mountain biking friends, it was your basic SPD fall. Not because you're going big, but a less-than-graceful reaction to a challenge situation.

I am far from having poise on a dirtbike. I was doing a decent job of faking it for much of the weekend, but when things went a little wrong on Sunday my response wasn't the kind of instinctive, muscle memory instant reaction I expect when I'm on a mountain bike.

kitty cat film

I spazzed.

kitty cat film

Upshot is that I broke some ribs. It was six, left side numbers 3-8 right near where they attach to the spine.

For the sake mainly of friends and family, I'll try to make some updates in this blog in the coming weeks. Current status:
  • Managing pain with pretty serious medicine.
  • Not working (job). Obviously wasn't working last week from the hospital. Haven't been able to operate without pain killers and that's going to be what holds me back from going back. I will have to be able to tolerate hours in an office chair with a clear head. I think that's not going to be this coming Monday. Please stand by.
  • Fantastic people coming out of the woodwork to help me with things.
  • Fantastic dog keeping me company, and being very patient about how slowly I move.
Thanks everybody, and check back here for news.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Vicki the Adventure Buddy

I got a dog. It's been a long time. My heart was bruised by the loss of my sweet Rosie almost a decade ago. And my life changed not long after I lost that dear friend. Having a dog would have been incredibly impractical.

But now it's not impractical. I have the house and yard. I have a reasonably flexible lifestyle. And I miss having that kind of friend.

So I decided I'm going to get another herding dog, but this time one without so much baggage. I spent a decade with Rosie scanning the horizon for other dogs any time I was out. She might jump any dog that came up to her nose, and when it was go-time she did not hold back. I paid for many stitches during that decade, her victims' and her own. I loved her very much and she loved me, and I miss her terribly. But she was really a pain in the ass!

Rescue takes many forms. Giving a good life to a young dog who's already reasonably well-adjusted, but homeless, is rescue. Taking a dog that's been neglected and/or abused is a pretty big burden. So many good people do it out of pure love for animals, I think we forget how difficult it can be.

So this time I decided, it's all about finding one who's pretty much OK but needs a home. I started looking around, mainly for heelers (AKA Australian Cattle Dog) and heeler mixes. Using the internet I found one on the western slope who had apparently failed to cut the mustard as a working dog, but had lived on a ranch until her incompetence came to light. Perfect.



By the time I got in touch with her shelter she was gone. Of course other possible dogs had popped up on searches. I sent emails and left messages for various shelters and rescues. A woman at Foothills Animal Shelter in Golden was very prompt and helpful. I had asked her about Mara, a beautiful red heeler who looked too sweet. Being in the shelter had been stressing her so they'd found a quiet foster home. She had been picked up stray in late February. She had been with the foster family for a couple weeks, and they apparently loved her.

I made an appointment to meet her at 4:00 PM Thursday, March 20. Vernal Equinox, first day of spring.

When I met her, she was quite fearful. Shelters freak dogs out anyway, but she definitely had her radar up for danger. A couple milk bone fragments and I had her coming closer. She wasn't completely freaked out, I could touch her, but she was eyeing me warily. Also, her teats (nipples for the non-farm set) were quite large for a 1-year-old. I wondered if she'd had puppies, then realized that it was likely they had done a spay-bortion. She'd probably been found stray and pregnant.

So, she had baggage. She was also very sweet, especially to the women who had been taking care of her. I could see that she had the capacity to trust.

And she yanked on my heart. She really needed to be someplace safe.

So I guess I fucked up that "this time one without so much baggage" thing. My practical side caved to my sentimental side.



At 4 PM I met this dog, by 5 she was in the front seat of my truck watching me deal with rush hour traffic trying to get to 285 and south to Salida. She sat there confined next to me for 3 hours and was OK. But not relaxed. She did not sleep.

The picture above is from the Friday morning. I gave her some food, and then we went for our first of three walks that day.

I decided to call her Vicki. I discovered that day that Vicki had no idea what to do with a toy. She had no idea what a ball is for. She would come to me and accept affection, but she always had an eye out for her escape route. Every once in a while I would inadvertently do something that made her flinch.



Being outside together was better, but I had to keep her on the leash. She was obviously still half afraid of me, so I couldn't count on getting her to come and let me put her back on the leash if we were out in the woods. I briefly took her off the leash in the above picture as an experiment, with the treats handy. In this picture I see a dog that is not frightened, but just kind of neutral.

When we got home from that walk we went out in the truck to run some errands. One of them was Scanga (MEAT!), where I got a box of frozen beef liver. When we got home she had some raw liver, which went down pretty easy. She took a nap, and later went out into her yard. She walked the perimeter, then returned to close to the back door. She stood briefly sniffing the breeze, then dropped a shoulder and rolled onto her back and writhed around. That wallowing on their back thing is a happy dog sign.

I went out after a while and called her over. I was scratching her chin when she slowly laid over, making full eye contact the whole time, and rolled onto her back. I reached out and scratched her chest, and she closed her eyes. For the first time, she showed me her belly and enjoyed a long chest rub with her eyes closed.



Then we went back inside, she found a corner in the living room and fell asleep. Real sleep, not the one-eye-open naps I'd been seeing her take.


Pirate staking out the beest. What kind of beest? Is it dangerous? Let's just assume that it is...

Meanwhile, Vicki's new life is complicated by the fact that there are these eyes on her all the time when she's inside. She'll come around a corner, and one of these fluffy hissy things will blow up like a fur balloon spitting and hissing. Early on, they would perch up on something high and just growl at her. Now they are starting to mellow out a little. Cautious approaches, a little closer every time.

She's kind of freaked out by doorways, or closing and opening doors, so when a door opens she tends to kind of charge right through it. In the morning when we get up and leave the bedroom, inevitably there is a cat in the hallway. She bolts out, and the cat(s) freak out and run. But they've figured out that she doesn't want to chase. So now they've started experimenting with approaching her on the floor 5 feet or less away. It's clearly going to be OK.



For day two, I decided on a longer hike. All the way up Sand Dunes, and we'd see how it went from there.

Once we were clear of town and alone on the trail, I decided to try an leash-off test. I had the treats in my hand. I took her off the leash. Moments later I called her close and gave her a treat. Then I just started walking up the trail. She followed along and it was like we'd always hiked together. I made a point of calling her over often. I would kneel down and give her some lovin'. Sometimes treat, sometimes just the affection.

It wound up being a pretty long hike, three hours. At times she seemed totally fine, but there were still moments when her radar popped up for some reason. She was suspicious when I took out the camera.



But it was a good, tiring hike. When we got home I popped open a can of the special artisanal‎ organic no-grain beef (dog) stew I had picked up before we met. I dumped it into her bowl and put it in front of her. She gave me a look that was like "really, for me?"

She tucked into that food and made it go away. Then we went into the living room so I could read and she crashed. About an hour later she woke up, and I took her outside just in case she needed to take care of nature's call. The door closed behind us and she did this kind of little dance step thing, then spun around to face me with a funny look on her face, and she turned and ran a big circle out into the yard coming back for a fly-by with her tongue out and a face full of fun.

Joy! She was showing me JOY! For the first time I saw that she knows what joy is. I was afraid I was going to have to TEACH this dog joy.

She was getting it. She was starting to understand that it's all going to be OK. She's going to be safe, and life will be fun. We played a game where I pretended to be trying to catch her and she showed me that she was way too fast and way too agile ever to be caught. After a while she came over for a big chest and belly rub. I had a few tears in my eye. She looked at me with happiness and security and let me rub her chest.

Today (Sunday March 23) was her third morning waking up with me. I seem to have lucked out and caught a cold, so I feel pretty crappy. But I want her (and me) to get into the habit of having at least a short walk every morning. So I blew my nose, put on my puffy down jacket and big gloves and grabbed her leash.

When I got outside I saw my townie bike leaning against the fence. She had been really good off-leash, maybe it was time to introduce her to The Bicycle. I realized that being Sunday morning, there were virtually no vehicles on the roads. I put her leash in my pocket, got on the bike and said "c'mon". And off we went on our first bike ride together. We rode the 8 or 10 blocks through town down to the F-Street Bridge. I made her stop and come over at every intersection, but she really stayed close on her own. My concern was that something would freak her out, but it was super quiet, so I took advantage and just got her over across the river and we had a nice little short trip on the dirt. Then I took her home and blew my nose again.

After it warmed up, it was time to go have some more exercise and quality interaction time. I grabbed my singlespeed and the leash. It was mid-day. So it would be leash all the way through town to the dirt. On leash next to a bike is way harder and more volatile than running along with the bike off-leash.

I put her on the leash and walked on the left side of the bike while she was on the other side. We walked along like that for half a block or so and then I stepped onto the pedal and swung myself on and started riding. She just kept walking along next to me, the leash slack. We made it all the way downtown that way, her consistently on my right even as cars drove by and dogs barked at us.

She's a year old, and way too young for big long runs, so I just took her on a nice flat trail along the railroad tracks, less than an hour, and I kept my pace down to about a trail-runner's pace. She was amazingly good at it. She just followed right along behind my wheel.

I stopped often to call her over and give her love. I did not bring any treats on that trip.

Her body language is changing. You can see it in a couple of the pictures below. She is relaxing. Her fear is beginning to be less acute.







So yeah, I fucked up the thing about baggage. Oh well. Even with all the improvement, she is still very jumpy. I don't take her collar off because she is uncomfortable with people putting things around her neck. So she doesn't like having it put back on. She doesn't like having me put the leash on her collar either. As I move around the house, every once in a while I'll do something that makes her flinch. She's weird with doorways.

But she's going to be OK. She is very sweet. As she continues to learn to trust me I can tell that she's going to be much like Rosie was, a sweet, loyal, and loving friend. I will probably always have to help her with fear. But she's going to have as much stability and reassurance as I can give her.

I need to teach her about balls and fetching. The game we have right now with the chasing wears me out. I like more the idea of being able to sit on my ass while she brings me balls to throw. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Need More Red Sand in My Diet

Nothing is better for the mountain biker's constitution than a good dose of slab rock and canyon wren songs.

beginning of steves loop

Like any good first-world white male homo sapiens, my frustrations are legion. And like most first-world problems, they are not simple to explain. That's not to say they aren't problems, but come on. Get over yourself. Chances are, the more complicated your problems, the less significant.

Best thing for first-world problems, pack your expensive mountain bike into your vehicle. Go.

The desert is the chicken soup of my soul. My blood pressure lowers as I roll through the gnarled junipers, sage and rabbitbrush. I know when my personal spring has arrived when I hear my first canyon wren.

steves

Followed a little group of bro-brah dudes up Mary's and saw them stop at Horsethief. They were doing the standard gawking trash-talking dare ya to ride it thing on the drop-in. Easy decision to skip that shit and keep going. I prefer to play the back nine at Loma anyway.

steves

Steves, Lions, Troy Built. The stupid doubletrack climb up onto Mack's Ridge. Warm enough to perspire lightly, giving me that dried sweat salt/dust grit facial that all mountain bikers crave.

troy bilt
When you have a non-graceful dismount, it affords you a moment to reflect. And take a picture!

Got what I came for.

up on Mack Ridge

Finished up as the shadows got long. Last vehicle in the parking lot. Fire up the rustbucket, get on the interstate and west to the last Colorado exit.

rabbit valley exit

Nice secluded camp spot, set up the Wildernest via headlamp. Couple beers in the camp chair and a cold dinner. Lulled to sleep by cows and coyotes.

wilder nest

Up in the morning just before sunrise. Coffee. Fresh rubber pants. Ride the bike out of camp, time for Zion Curtain.

zion curtain

Beauty day. Started chilly, but not too chilly to skip the leg warmers and go bare-knee'd. Plenty of perspiration on the climb up to here. Start layering the dust/sweat. The layers work like sunscreen after a while.

zion curtain

Zion Curtain is big and raw. And it leads to the lovely and amazing Western Rim.

western rim

Commando trip. Drive-ride-sleep-ride-drive, and back home. Spring arrives in my heart.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cleared Another February.

T.S. Eliot, a wonderful poet and a great influence on 20th century western culture wrote a poem called The Burial of the Dead. The poem begins:

"April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain..."

In this instance, Eliot was a dumbass. February is totally the cruellest month. Dumbass.

This one has been remarkably hard. Salida lost a good friend. And the winter wind blew and blew.

backbone above cottonwood

Saturday brought us a new month. Yesterday I looked up and saw that the Walmart bag wrapped around a branch high in my neighbor's maple tree was hanging slack. For at least a little while the wind rested.

cottonwood March 1 2014

Welcome March, month of the vernal equinox. Must make red sand pilgrimage soon.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Elk Hunting and other Expressions of Incompetence

late afternoon

I've spent the last two weekends putting lots of energy and time into trying to get a clean shot at a cow elk. I picked Silver Creek, and that was the place to which I returned through the season. I expected to be competing with lots of hunters, and I knew that Silver Creek would keep most of them out. The trail starts with a nice steep slog up a trail carved out of a scree slope. It's more or less an hour of marching before you are into a place that would be likely to have elk.

I went up Silver from the furthest point that motor vehicles are allowed for the first time Saturday morning, October 19th. Opening day. It was just about 4 AM when I left my truck to start that slog. There was fresh snow. I saw the tracks of somebody who had been hiking with a dog, but those tracks were in the previous layer of snow. I was the first one up. I expected to see somebody else up there later in the morning, but for the first part of the morning at least the canyon was mine.

Turns out, I was the only one who hunted Silver during the entire season, unless there were people hunting down from the top. But I got 2/3 of the way up on a couple of occasions and never saw any tracks on the trail other than my own, rodents, a coyote or two, and one distinct set of bear tracks that were also in a previous layer of snow. Silver is the last major drainage in the south end of the game unit. The slope to the south was the divide between the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins.

I was hiking with a goofy 1970's era orange external frame pack. The pack mostly had things I would need to butcher a cow elk and pack her out. Knives, rope, snacks, water, my SPOT beacon, other odds and ends. Not much weight but awkward and bulky. Shouldering the rifle sling was not natural and easy with the pack on. I also had a pair of binoculars swinging around my neck. Sometimes they were joined by my GPS on a tether.

That first morning was demoralizing. It was chilly, and there was a clear sky with a huge Hunter's Moon. I felt like I was walking with a junk show on my back. The moon shone like a street light. There was new snow which should be a help, but it seemed to make the light level even higher. The elk were certainly able to move around easily all night, and could easily see me coming from quite a ways. And the snow made it easy for me to tell that I never crossed the path that an elk had walked since the snowfall on Thursday night and Friday. Just before dawn I found a place to sit where I could see for a fairly long way. But it was too cold to really just sit. I had to move around.

By the time I got back to my truck it was 10:30 and I was worked over. Taking all that junk off my back that had been hanging on me since 4 AM was heavenly. And then sitting down behind the wheel of my pickup, that was nice. I recall heaving a sigh after I started the truck and thinking about how clueless I really am as a hunter.

I didn't work up the energy to go again until Sunday afternoon, evening. It was a similar experience. A walk through a beautiful wild place that I had all to myself, watching the day fade into night. No new tracks, nobody had been in there other than me all weekend. Bright setting sun. Screeching hawk. Would have been nicer without all that stuff to carry, but nice.

All week I worked, and felt vaguely guilty that I didn't take a day off to go back up. I had lots of other stuff going on, and it was a productive week. But I didn't hunt. I was out late with friends Friday night, Saturday morning came and I felt an acute sense that I needed to do something a little more committed before I gave up the whole thing. But the laziness--so hard to overcome.

With a fair amount of effort, I got up off my ass around 1 PM and started putting together a kit to spend the night out. Get way up high, bivy, and be there in the middle of where they were. It was obvious, even to a clueless goof like myself, that they were still way up above where I'd been tramping around. It was a waste of time to go out unless I was going to get way up. And I felt that I needed to already be up there at dawn when they are moving.

So, the other hunts were exhausting, but this time I went with a sleeping bag, tent, pad, stove, extra clothing, more food. And of course a 10 lb rifle. I would haul all that up onto the ridge between Silver Creek and Starvation Creek. I really felt strongly that the ones in the area I was focusing on were probably in greatest number on the north-facing slope of Starvation Creek. It's a steep slope of dark timber. Getting up from the bottom on the Starvation Creek side is impractical. Too steep, too much down timber. And you just aren't going to sneak up on an elk from below. So from above. Early.

At about 3:30 pm I parked my truck in a familar place, hoisted a pack with actual weight (and no hip belt--if there was one on the pack in it's earlier life it had been removed) and left for the familiar slog up through the scree.

beaver

It was beautiful. I watched the end of a beautiful mid-autumn day up high where winter is everywhere. Ice on the beaver ponds, snow back in the woods. I've never actually seen a beaver in the wild. I've seen lots of what they do to the landscape, I have fished their ponds. But they've always been hidden away when I've been in their homes.

As I marched past the first major pond of many along Silver, I heard a plunk. Kind of sounded like what it would sound like if you dropped a rock the size of a cantaloupe into the water. I looked out and saw the disturbed water in the middle of the pond and knew the beaver had slapped to warn the surrounding area that there was an intruder. It's something they do.

When I came up to the next major pond I slowed down and did what I call my Elmer Fudd walk. Watching for sticks to avoid stepping on, trying to stay quiet. I saw the guy in the photo above and watched him for a while. Eventually he saw me and swam into the middle of his pond, and slapped. And then he was gone.

I marched up the Silver Creek Trail for about another 20 minutes until I saw the relatively mild slope to my right that I'd found by studying the topo maps at home. I left the trail and started bushwhacking up onto the ridge. I climbed about 700 vertical feet to the top of the divide between drainages. As I got closer to the top I started seeing some fresh tracks and fresh poop. I was actually getting up into where they were.

It was just getting dark so I hustled to set up my little camp. I was in the tent laying in my bag trying to read by 7:15 or so. Gusts of cold air quickly did away with any remnants of the relatively warm afternoon.

Faint in the wind at first, I heard sounds. Coyote howling in the night, or the elk talking to each other? As the air settled into windless night, the sounds became distinct. Elk were out there. They were exactly where I'd expected. North of me. Down the slope toward Starvation Creek. I figured they had to be at least 3/4 mile away from the way it sounded. Still down in the timber. But would they move during the night? Would they leave the timber to be over on my side of the ridge where the south-facing slope had more grass?

My hands got too cold to read. So I buttoned up the bag, and I think I was asleep by 8. I only have a 20° bag, but I had on lots of supplemental clothing including down booties. I was warm enough, but just barely.

cold camp

I woke up before dawn, especially since I was asleep so early. I started hearing the animals again just at the first light. I dreaded getting out of the bag. My bladder was full, and it was time to take advantage of where I was so early. But it took a pretty hard effort to get me up. I realized that I had neglected to bring a lighter, so my stove wasn't going to be making me any coffee.

I jumped out of the bag and pulled on my cold carhartts, boots and puffy as quickly as I could. I considered leaving camp set up and just going hunting, but then I would have to go back. And that would limit me. If I wound up far away following animals or sign of them, I might wish that I didn't need to go back. So I broke camp in less than 10 minutes, strapped it all onto my dinosaur pack, hoisted the whole thing onto my back and started heading north to see if there was a chance that I'd see some of those critters I'd heard all night.

Elmer Fudd walking is not nearly as relaxing as regular walking. You watch for every stick. You look for ways to walk around the patches of crusty snow and the most tangled blow downs. You do a kind of tai chi thing when you need to get over a high log. Soon I was needing to shove my way through a stand of dense evergreen. I knew that was a losing game. No way to be quiet when you have nylon scraping through branches.

I turned back to the south. Now I was going to hopefully see critters who made the tracks and poop I'd seen on my way up. I got to a place where I could see pretty far through the aspen, and I sat. Hoping that they had gone over to the south side and would be heading back soon to hide in the dark timber.

Cold. I listened. I scanned the furthest reaches of what I could see with the binoculars. Eventually I got too cold again, too cold for sitting. Elmer Fudd time.

I worked my way down the slope slowly. Stopping often to listen and watch. As I got close to Silver Creek again, I reached a curtain of dense evergreen. No way to continue without making some noise. If there were animals just below me who'd gone to drink, I'd have that much less chance to get a look at them.

dawn mountain
Mount Antora just at dawn

But I was right back at the trail anyway. And when I reached the trail I was in a dense enough bit of forest that there was snow. I stepped onto the trail, then lowered the pack to the ground and walked up canyon for half an hour or so. I was just at the beginning of a series of open parks. I was already tired, and I ached for a hot cup of coffee. And I had low confidence. There were sources of water and graze on the slope I'd just descended. They had no reason to be down where I was now. I saw no tracks. Would have been surprised if I had.

By then the blush was off the morning. I hiked up canyon for a ways, used my binoculars to scan the full circle. Then decided to just hunt my way down.

The familiar, routine walk back down Silver Creek Trail. Sun was lighting up the rock formations north of the trail where it terminates. So much beauty. The creaking pack I had grown to hate. The rifle, which it seemed was impossible to carry gracefully as it fought with the pack for position.

I arrive at my truck. I heave off the demon pack. Take out the stove, use the lighter that was safe in the cab of the truck all night to light it and start some water. Pull out the camp chair and set it in the crusty snow and think about the experience.

It's really about the experience. I can tell you with authority, beef is cheaper. After you buy a rifle, commit the time, put gas in a truck enough to 4-wheel up into the mountains several times, permits... If you bring home an elk every year, after 3 or 4 you might have paid for your rifle.

Some people are lifestyle hunters. They've done it all their lives and they have it down. They were taught the skills by fathers, uncles, grandfathers. Their rifle was perhaps a family possession handed down, they have traditions and knowledge, perhaps they have horses. Perhaps they even have been or currently are outfitters. For them it pays.

For schmucks like myself, if you don't enjoy the experience you're missing the point. It's not a good strategy for maximizing your food dollar. But it is a good excuse to have a more intense than usual experience in the natural world. You are tapped into your surroundings in a way that you probably never are on a normal recreational hike or bike ride. And you might just pick another day for a hike or bike ride when it's cold and windy.

But when you're hunting, you just have so many days and you have to go where your permit let's you hunt. If that time and place is cold and windy, it's probably better hunting. But it might be a little less pleasant than the day you'd pick. And if you don't feel like getting up and out there, you're just missing a day for which you paid to have the right to hunt.

On this bivy trip, comfort was definitely absent. Hard, laden hiking. Being way out there, far away from even a trail by myself was a little creepy. I ate a couple of energy bars, one for dinner and one for breakfast. No coffee.

But it felt like I was really doing it. I saw fresh sign and listened to those grand animals through the night and in the morning. I got skunked again, but by going in deep I got myself into a situation where I had a real chance for the first time.

That seems to be the point. It was hard and in many ways unpleasant. Uncomfortable at least. And if I had killed a cow up there, I would have had a huge pile of exhausting and painful work. A whole winter's worth of meat, but at a significant cost. But an experience. Intense.

I don't know about next year. We'll see. I have a buck deer tag for third season, starting this next Saturday. My game unit for that tag is far less rugged country than where I hunted elk. And you don't have to be at 11,000 feet to hunt deer, they can be found this time of year at almost any elevation in Colorado--mostly below 11K feet that is.

But it's going to be more tramping around rugged country on a day with weather that I don't get to choose. And I am going to be coming into it with hunt fatigue.

I suck at this, obviously. But I'm getting a few hard-won clues as I put myself into this. And I've got some good experience sucking at things I keep trying anyway; I have been working that angle as a mountain bike racer for almost two decades.

We'll see how the deer hunt goes. It will be what it will be, and that will be at least an experience.

To the extent that I have energy to actually do it anyway.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Back Up Off My Ass

I had a really good endurance mountain bike season in 2013. I got as fit as I've been in 6 or 7 years, and it was better than other years because (I think) I now have a more demanding job, but one that leaves time for being active.

So I got good fitness, but I was too busy to overtrain as I have done in years past. At least that's my theory. It is the theory that I have, and what it is too.

I had two goals for the year: 1) Finish Durango Dirty Century, 2) Finish Vapor Trail 125. I achieved them both. And then I just kept going. Two weeks after I completed my ITT of the Vapor Trail 125 I went to Steamboat Springs to compete in the Stinger, a tough 50-miler. Then one week later I entered the 24 Hours in the Sage as solo. And I crashed on my first night lap. Hard. Best diagnosis of my injury was a bone bruise on the point of my pelvis at my left side lower back.

And that was it, I was off the bike. In too much pain to ride. And just burned out and kind of over it.

Then came the events to help run. First the 2013 Vapor Trail 125. Then the resurrection of the Banana Belt Loop Race. Then there was a trail work day last weekend for National Public Lands Day.

But most importantly, I was just feeling kind of lost. Crazy enthusiasm about bicycles has been a constant in my life since the 80s. I've gotten a little tired near the end of the season a few times, but I'm talking October/November. This year, I skipped riding the entire last month of summer, some because of pain but more because of Who Cares?

Some of it is about being tired and spending maybe too many long days just grinding away at the pedals. But some of it is really straight from the crash. I was dead on riding through The Notch at Hartman where I crashed all day long. Five laps. Perfect, never a dab or a bobble. Then I came into it on my first night lap and my eyes saw something that wasn't there. I saw a line that was smooth but it actually was not. My vision--my night vision--failed me. Night riding has been fuel for my passion for over a decade. Is it over for me? Can I safely trust my ability in the dark? I think it's kind of like nearly drowning when you think you're a strong swimmer.

I bought a dirt bike several weeks ago. It's been fun, but I'm such a complete newbie I have to be really careful. Elk season is a couple weeks away, and I've been using the bike to get up into the hills so I can scout.

But I've been lazy. And the weather and other distractions haven't helped--being super busy, then finally getting a free day and watching it start raining before you can finish your morning coffee, kind of takes the wind out of your sails.

So there was a kind of lousy month there. Colorless and odorless.

    2000 Suzuki DR-Z400EY

But Sunday I think it turned. Sunday I rode up the Marshall Pass Road then the Droz Creek jeep road on my Suzuki DRZ-400. I hid it in the woods and hiked up onto a high ridge leading to the northern shoulder of Mt Ouray.

My physical condition has definitely degraded in that month off the bike. But I was able to summon some energy for a hard bushwhack up through an endless aspen slope, and then down into the dark timber of a north-facing slope. I saw a little elk sign, found a couple game trails that are being used a little, but nothing compelling. Saw three does, what appeared to be a bighorn ewe, but no elk.

But it was the most successful of the three scouting trips I've taken so far. I was able to find a bushwhack route that is passable, and more importantly I had the energy to really stay out there and make my legs burn.

Monday after work, feeling sore from a full day of trail work (Saturday) and then a fairly big-for-me hike, instead of cracking a beer and settling onto the couch as has been my pattern during these doldrums, I hiked up into the Arkansas Hills Trail System for an hour. Need to toughen up my hiking muscles.

But most importantly, I need to get off my ass. I know the passion for cycling will come back, in some form. But right now I have a cow elk permit that starts in less than 20 days, and then a buck permit in early November. It's a mission. Scout for elk, hunt elk, scout for deer, hunt deer.

The fire in me isn't yet burning hot, but I think it just needs some stoking. So I'm working on getting stoked.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bruised, Battered and Tired

I think I may be burned out on endurance mountain biking.

This happens, and it's rarely a permanent condition. I can't say it's ever happened to me, and at this point I'm not entirely sure what's going on. But a couple things happened this weekend while I was riding solo in the 24 Hours in the Sage that are making me feel burned out.

The obvious thing was going over the bars and doing a headstand on the bare granite drop called The Notch, and then landing on my back on something pointy. Right above the belt line left of my spine I have a deep bruise of some kind that gives me a sharp bolt of pain if I make certain movements.

I DNF'd, spent half an hour talking to an EMT who suggested I go get a CAT scan. Another hour having friends from Salida who are health care professionals help. They felt around finding the impact spot and using their knowledge of human anatomy to confirm that it couldn't be a short rib that might puncture my lung or a bruised kidney. Probably right near the top of my pelvis there's a muscle that's been smashed. Maybe a little splinter of pelvis bone that moves around in that sore meat when I bend? Kind of feels like that.

The other thing? During the six laps I did ride I was feeling more and more like I was going through the motions.

I don't really do lap races anymore. Except when I do. When a race has some sentimental and social significance I get attracted. That feeling brought me to the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo in February, and fond memories were the definite deciding factor for going to 24 Sage. It's a great party, KOA Dave is an awesome host, and I always see lots of old friends. At registration Friday night Dave had a local caterer with a little brick oven on a trailer set up, and they cranked out fresh tasty pizzas one after another. And there were kegs tapped.

It's a great event, and I did see old friends. Got to hang out and talk with Dave and his wife Kirsten. Dave has fielded 24 Hour teams using the name Mud Pigs for over a decade. I rode my first 24 Hours of Moab in 2001 with the Mud Pigs.

Dave center, Steve left
I've had a successful season. I'm as fit as I've ever been. Before I signed up for 24 in the Sage I had met my goals for the year. I've ridden a bunch all over Colorado, and been in as many events/races as any year since 2007. My riding log as of today shows almost 3,400 miles. The season started early and has been quite full:
  1. January: Lots of long training rides, including tough 50 and 60 mile days at Lake Pueblo State Park
  2. 2/10: Tour de Palm Springs, 100 mile road century
  3. 2/17-18: 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Solo, 194 miles
  4. 4/28: Big Gravel Grinder around Black Mountain in South park, 82 miles
  5. 5/19: Dirty Double Fondo Gravel Grinder, 128 miles, 13 hours
  6. 6/8: Salida Big Friggin' Loop, DNF due to odd afternoon brain goof, but still 83 hard miles
  7. 6/29: Durango Dirty Century, 100 amazingly hard miles, 17 hours and 20 minutes
  8. 7/13: Chama Redneck, 82 hard miles, 12 hours and 20 minutes
  9. 8/4: Vapor Trail 125 Individual Time Trial, 125 spectacularly hard miles, nearly 23 hours
  10. 8/17: Steamboat Stinger, 50 hard and intense miles, 7 hours and 20 minutes
  11. 8/24: Six laps of 24 Hours in the Sage ending with crash in the dark
Got a good night's sleep in the truck Friday night with a little soothing rain after dark. Up Saturday, hot coffee and getting things ready. Then the start.

The first couple laps were pretty fun; mountain biking at Hartman Rocks on a course I know well, only with a couple sections of new singletrack that made it even more fun. It was going pretty well. Then at the start of the third lap I rode through a 15 minute rain squall that soaked me to the bone and made my chain all grindey and noisy. The squall passed and eventually the sun came back out, but it gave me a little dose of negative.

In subsequent laps I started feeling like a machine. The familiar feeling of finding a pace that I can maintain indefinitely as fatigue sets in. Turn the cranks. Deal with the climbs. Recover on the descents. Breath in, breath out.

I'm pounding out laps. My goal was 15. At the completion of every lap I'm doing the math and concluding that I'm on pace to pull it off if I can stay strong through the night. And I keep thinking, "Why is it that I'm doing this? Why exactly do I have this goal, and why is it important? Maybe I should have just paid the entry fee to come over here and party?"

So there's that. But I'm wanting (needing?) to go straight ahead into that bare, raw experience of being on a bike at 4 AM near exhaustion; for the purpose of getting in touch with myself in a way that can only happen when the filters have been washed away. I have some things that I need to work out (when in life do we not?). Some things in my life are happening just now that I don't think I'm really understanding or getting in touch with during my normal waking routine. I know that riding around the clock determined to finish 15 laps will probably take me there. The lap count goal is ultimately a means to bringing on a vision quest.

So I keep at it. Ride a lap, go through start/finish and say thank you to the people at the timing table. Back to my truck, fill up my bottle and do whatever else I need to do. Back out for another lap. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Then it gets to be sundown and I mount up my lights. The start of the interesting part. The part I'm really here for.

I roll into that 6th lap, a third of the way to my goal. I'm feeling as good as I probably ever have at that stage of a 24 solo. I know it, and it's good, but it's just kind of a basic fact. Not particularly joyful, just a fact. This season I've been riding well and feeling good, and often experiencing the happy feeling that I'm holding up better than I might have in past seasons. But in previous events it's been way more positive. Saturday afternoon and night, it was just kind of neutral.

I'm finishing out the 6th lap. I roll into The Notch, the technical test at the end of the singletrack part of the course. I've ridden it five times already during this race with no incident. But I've crashed here before, at night during this same event years ago.

For some damned reason I rode a different line than what I'd chosen all day. My front wheel dropped into something and stopped, back wheel comes up and I smash down onto my head then over and onto my back. Sharp, horrible pain. I'm laying on my side in the dust; my bar mounted light is blazing up into the sky. I yell out an expletive or two.

I know immediately that my race is over, but how bad is it? Am I going to need search and rescue to get my ass out? Hurts!!

I hear a voice and see a light above me, "You OK Tom?"

"Who is that?"

"Jefe."

I know Jefe is in this race to be on the podium, maybe win. And I'm in this... why?

He asks me if I need help and I tell him no, go on. I actually didn't know yet if I would need help, but there will be other people coming through; people who aren't in it to win it. I know he'll stop and help me if I ask, but I don't want Jefe compromising his race. If I need help I'll ask somebody else.

The rest of the story is nothing special. I figured out that I could walk. I was worried that it could be my kidney, and it really hurt. Electric shock pain and muscle spasms when I make certain movements, like bending to pick up my bike. But I'm able to move. I'll get to the road then ask the course marshal for help if I need it. Turns out I don't, I can ride the road back to the KOA.

At the start/finish I tell the timers that I've crashed and I'm dropping. I'm having trouble talking because the spasms keep forcing the air out of my lungs. They call Michael the EMT and he checks me out, then uses a golf cart to get me back to my camp. Another event staffer follows pushing my bike. Brian and Sarah see me being brought back and start helping. Jari, who is in the camp next to mine supporting Jefe, brings a bag of ice and they all help me crawl into my truck to lay face down with ice on my back.

Eventually with the help of Brian and Sarah I conclude that I don't have a life-threatening injury. Getting myself out of my bike clothes and into comfortable clothes takes a half hour of awkward movements and yelps of pain. But I wasn't desperate enough or hurt enough to ask somebody to get me naked and help me put my undies on.

I pee'd and saw that there wasn't blood in it.

After a while Brian, Sarah and I went over to the race HQ to get some food. I was more or less OK as long as I didn't try to bend at the waist. If I do the penalty is swift. But I could walk, and even smile a little.

I'm still trying to sort out how I feel about things. As always, it could be much worse. I could have had hospital injuries, could have even been a spinal or brain injury. Being busted up makes a person grumpy, but I am also really thinking about that feeling I had as I warmed up the diesel--going through the motions.

I'm probably out of the Vapor Trail 125, two weeks away. But that's OK, I already slayed that beast earlier this month. Finishing that and the Durango Dirty Century were my only real endurance riding goals for the year. I did those things. I have my health, in fact I'm in great health. I know people my age who are not so fortunate. The source of pain and discomfort in my back will heal.

I think I'm going to turn to other aspects of my life for a while. I have an elk permit in October and a deer permit in November. If I care about that I should spend some time scouting my game areas. I can help with running the Vapor Trail 125. I can enjoy the good things going on in my life and spend some energy dealing directly with the hard things.

And I can heal and rest. No reason to keep beating the dead horse that is my body right now.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Vapor Trail 125 on my own terms. End of story.

As some of the three people who will read this know, the Vapor Trail 125 has been something of an obsession of mine for more than a few years. I was part of the creation of the event back in 2005, though it was not my idea. I was the event director for several years. I've had something to do with it every time it's happened, and I've ridden in the event 3 times and attempted it on my own once. I finished in 2009, but that was the year that a bizarre weather event caused the start to be postponed and the course to be cut down.

google earth view of vt125 course

So, basically, I never finished it. And that's become a problem for me. Like in those trailers for bad movies where the narrator with the weird voice says, "...this time it's personal."

I'm signed up for my 4th Vapor Trail 125, it's happening this year Septemer 7-8. But I have been needing to finish this thing. Finishing the Vapor Trail 125 was one of my two big endurance goals for 2013 (the other was finishing the Durango Dirty Century--that one was also personal).

Given that I have an almost irrational need to mark this off my list. And knowing that things can happen that keep a person from finishing, things within and things beyond one's control (like crazy weather), I wanted to give myself at least two chances. So I've been watching for my chance this summer to make an attempt at finishing as an ITT (Individual Time Trial) of the Vapor Trail 125.

For those (of the three of you) who don't know, when Endurance Mountain Bike Geeks refer to an ITT, we mean something like, "I am going to go out and ride this thing on my own, and if it goes well I will write about it later on Facebook."

To properly execute an ITT, the geek must ride the course as it is defined by the official event, and should follow the rules and expectations of that event. For example, if I do the Tour Divide or Colorado Trail Race as an ITT, I should practice self-support in addition to riding the course verbatim.

I followed the VT125 course explicitly. I did start a little earlier than the event. The official event starts at 10 PM and I chose to start a little after 7 PM. But that really doesn't make it any easier. In fact for me it probably made it a little harder--I was in full darkness by the time I started riding singletrack and was even in full darkness as I started the tough descent of the Canyon Creek Trail. The VT125 has 5 aid stations. And I was self-supported (mostly). I sterilized creek water 3 times, and carried everything I needed. Except that I really wound up in need of more chain lube than I brought, and lucked out running into a friend and Vapor Trail 125 finisher Gary Pierson who gave me his spare bottle of lube.

That gift may have been the difference between finishing and not finishing. But it happened right where I would have had my bike on a work stand being cleaned and lubed for me while I sat in a chair and received whatever I needed from Dave Wiens and his family at Aid Station #2. So I'm going to call it even.

By now you may have guessed that I finished it. I did, and the relief is wonderful even as my muscles and joints still are bathed in fatigue.

I spent most of Saturday, August 3rd preparing mentally and tactically. I put a great deal of thought and care into what went into my pack. I kept close tabs on weather. If it looked likely to be bad up in the hills on Sunday I was going to scrub the mission. I thought carefully about what was coming, and reflected on the mistakes I have made in past attempts. I knew that I needed to retain a presence of mind, a thread of consciousness that would keep an eye on my own physical and mental state. I thought much about how critical it would be to manage the transition from night to day. For me, that has been when the mistakes and break-downs have been most likely to occur.

At around 7 PM I hoisted my pack onto my back and rode down to the F Street Bridge, because that's where the Vapor Trail 125 starts. As soon as I got there I reset my GPS then headed south on F Street, turning right onto 3rd and headed west. No fanfare, just a typical scene in Salida--a mountain biker riding through town with a pack on his back.

It was a little overcast with a mild headwind as I pedaled west toward the mountains. It took me a little longer than usual to get to Blank's Cabin and get onto the trail, but I was riding a very careful pace--an all-day pace. Twenty minutes before I got to the trail it was dark enough for lights. Just near the last light of dusk, a nighthawk boomed me. If you've ever had that experience you know how startling it can be. I took it as a good omen.

Riding that section of the Colorado Trail at night has become a very familiar experience to me. But it's always new, and it's always a gas. I was riding carefully and at a moderate pace, but I kept moving with purpose. I stopped at Brown's Creek to use my steripen to sterilize some water. I don't like to take water from Chalk Creek because of the superfund site treating mine run-off up near Romley, so Browns was my last good source until I got over the Continental Divide.

It was fairly warm, but still overcast; no stars were visible. Nighttime rain could make things complicated, and we've had a pretty dramatic monsoon this year. I was hoping to see things clear off. It was almost the new moon, I had learned earlier that day that there would be a very thin waning crescent rising sometime around 3:30 AM. I like being out in the mountains with no moon, it makes the stars that much more dramatic.

Around midnight I dropped onto the old Denver and South Park railroad grade at Cascade off the Colorado Trail and started the long climb up to the Continental Divide at Altman Pass over the Alpine Tunnel. As usual, the temperature was at least 10° colder than it had been along the face of Mt. Antero up on the trail. A little breeze was coming down the canyon. Still overcast above, but looking up toward the divide I could see a few faint stars; an excellent sign that I had a good clear night ahead of me.

I stopped to put on leg warmers and mix a fresh bottle of Tailwind. I also drank half a red bull and put the rest into my water bottle. By the way, I did the whole ride on nothing but Tailwind Nutrition and two red bulls. (Get that caffeinated version of Tailwind out there guys! I would rather not have had to drink red bull, but it was the only source of caffeine that was practical for me--and it made me feel a little yukky. Too acidic!)

I made my steady way up, trying to maintain both a sustainable pace and healthy progress. I wanted to be over Canyon Creek and on my way up to Old Monarch Pass before it started getting too warm. And I wanted to be across the Monarch Crest before the potential monsoon storms started. Tick tock! I was focused on the goal.

When I do something like this, I feel that it's important to really be in the experience, celebrate the intensity of what I'm doing. But on this particular night I was focused on the goal. It isn't to say that I wasn't thrilled and overwhelmed by the grandness of it, but I wasn't going to be spending any time laying on my back staring up at the stars. The mission was my focus. I can go look at stars any time, tonight and tomorrow was about the goal.

That said, I did ride out from under the cloud cover and found myself under a blanket of utterly clear and magnificent stars. I made it to the Continental Divide a little after 3 AM. I stopped for just a moment to stare up amazed at the brilliance of stars seen from 12,000 feet with no artificial light visible anywhere. I scanned the eastern horizon for the moon but it wasn't there.

Made my way carefully down to the west portal of the Alpine Tunnel. The way down was treacherously eroded. It was obvious that there had been some huge gully-washer rains recently. The willows grow close together on that bit of the trail, and they drained their moisture onto my legs and arms as I brushed through them. Then it was time for the cold, cold descent down the old railroad grade to the intersection with the road to Tomichi Pass.

The hike-a-bike up to Tomichi, then on up to the top of Granite Mountain used to be an almost insurmountable soul-sucker for me. I gave the climb up to Tomichi the nickname "Quit Hill" the first time I attempted the Vapor Trail. Maybe now because I know exactly what to expect, that part of the course really isn't that bad. Just start marching next to the bike and keep moving.

I summited Tomichi Pass at about 4:15, and Granite Mountain on the Canyon Creek Trail just a little after 5. On my way up to Granite I finally saw my moon. The lit crescent was very thin, and the unlit orb of the moon itself was visible yellow-gold. There was a single planet shining directly either above or below (can't remember now). It was incredibly beautiful. When I was nearly all the way up, my right foot slipped on a rock that rolled under it and I mildly hyper-extended my knee. Luckily it was a little irritated but not enough to stop me.

I never really stopped on the summit of Canyon Creek Trail. I thought about how awesome it is to be there in the pre-dawn light, but I already have pictures and memories from that experience. Tonight (or more accurately this morning) is about the mission.

I turned both my headlamp and bar light to their highest setting, and told myself sternly DO NOT DO ANYTHING STUPID.

canyon creek
Canyon Creek Trail in pre-dawn light

I find that there's a really interesting and strange thing that happens when I am up all night and transition into the day. Being awake at night, my reptile brain seems to be playing a prominent role. Don't know if it's just because I'm not sleeping, or whether it has more to do with the fact that I'm out in the dark in a wild place with bears and lions and other threats where I need to be vigilant for danger. In the night I'm relatively cold and analytical. When it becomes light, the emotional part of my brain comes around. It's like waking up from sleepwalking I guess. It's a vulnerable place for me. I can be susceptible to elation and the resulting irrational behavior can lead to mistakes. Or my emotional state can crash quickly if something bad happens.

canyon creek

The beginning of the descent into the Canyon was really a mess. There had obviously been a great deal of moisture Saturday afternoon and the mud was terrible. It was very slippery and it sprayed all over my bike and me. The bike was an absolute mess and I was having to carefully control speed. Eventually I got down closer to the creek and the trail became less muddy and more sandy. I stopped there and purified some of the prettiest creek water you'll ever see. By the time I was done getting my water it was light enough to turn off my lights.

canyon creek

All the way down the trail I was repeating the mantra DON'T DO ANYTHING STUPID! My last two attempts at finishing this thing have ended with crashes down this very trail in the early morning. My bike was totally trashed. Beyond the multiple creek crossings were numerous puddles, and the wet sand and horseshit was constantly being thrown up into my drive train and onto me and the rest of the bike. I had remembered to bring a cotton rag, so I knew that at least this time I'd have a chance to clean up the chain a little once I got to Snowblind Campground.

canyon creek

In the last couple miles of Canyon Creek there's a climb up out of the creek bed on a sandy trail into lodgepole pine forest. As soon as I turned away from the creek and started climbing and shifted into granny gear my chain sucked up into the gap between chainstay and rear tire. It was bad, and I know that conditions like that can actually lead to bending the rear derailleur and/or hanger. I knew I needed to stop and do something to get the drivetrain ready to go back to work or risk a major mechanical.

I started by using my hydration pack to spray water to wash mud and sand off the chain and both derailleurs. I wished I had a garden hose. Then I took out my rag and immediately wished I had brought one three times the size. I used the rag to wipe dry the chain as much as possible. Then I got the chain lube out of my seat bag. It would have been more effective to ride the bike for a while to dry the chain a little then lube it, but I felt like I had little choice. The bottle of lube felt really light. In a flash I realized that I had committed a serious tactical error. I had not confirmed that I had plenty of lube. What I in fact had was a tiny, almost empty bottle.

The bummer monster grabbed my tired early morning brain. I cursed my bad judgement and started desperately dropping precious lube onto the chain. I ran out before I had placed drops on more than two-thirds of the links. Aaagh! I cursed and muttered, packing up and getting back under way. "I didn't even bring enough lube to do the whole chain once!" The chain was making a hideous grinding noise as I pedaled (but it wasn't sucking any more).

Then I realized what was happening and started telling myself, quit the bummer.

Quit it. Everything is fine. I got down most of the trail. It's early... My self dialog was kind of like Walter Sobchak saying "Nothing is fucked here, Dude." I put it away. And I started hoping maybe I'd run into some moto dudes who had a big can of Tri-flow. I could even ask a hillbilly for some chainsaw bar-chain oil...

I popped out onto the Whitepine Road across from the Snowblind Campground. I looked both ways and saw up a couple hundred feet that there was a guy with a mountain bike getting ready to ride next to his pickup truck. I went straight up and asked if he had any chain lube. I recognized him right away, Gary Pierson from Gunnison. He said "Sure, I have some lube; whatcha up to Tom?"

I was saved.

I quickly got out my already filthy little square of old t-shirt cloth and wiped my chain. I dropped a generous drop of lube on each link. Gary was asking me if there was still a spot for this year's Vapor Trail and I told him hell yeah, you're in. Then I started to put his lube bottle back into his tool bag and he said, "I have an extra if you just want to keep that." Man, what a break. I thanked him and shook his hand, and off I went down the road to climb Old Monarch.
  tomichi valley
Wet, happy Sage Brush next to Whitepine Road near bottom of Old Monarch Pass Road

tomichi valley
Early light on the upper Tomichi Creek Valley

I've gone over the divide and wound up needing to climb back up to Old Monarch to get home many times over the years. I can't remember ever having done it as easily as I did that Sunday morning. It's not that it was easy, I was tired and it's a long climb. I think it was just that it was my mission, and my mission was going well. It was something I had to deal with in order to get on with what I wanted to do. I've slogged my way up that road many times with a grimace on my face in a dark mood, and it's felt like an eternity before I saw the top. This time it just took a while.

During my climb to Old Monarch I started being entertained by benign hallucinations. It was a kind of Gestalt run amok. Something about the sleep deprivation and information overload: I'd look up into the woods and see some piece of timber or rock formation, and it would become a wizard, or a bear cub, or one of the knights that say ni. A tired brain at play? A stressed brain desperately trying to make sense of what I was seeing? I don't know. But it was entertaining. The theme seemed to be very Lord of the Rings.

I got to the summit, took the connector trail over from Old Monarch to Monarch Pass, got there a little after 10 AM. I chugged my second red bull and made my way up to the Crest.

I don't think I put a foot down all the way from Monarch to Marshall. My mission was clear. I needed to get onto the next challenge and deal with it so that I could get on with the challenge after that.

I ran into a couple guys from the midwest on the Starvation Creek road who were looking for the Starvation Creek trailhead and couldn't find it. We talked a little and I described how to find it, then they pulled ahead of me up the evil steep little climb on that jeep road. Ultimately I caught them, and was there to shout it out when they were about to pass the trailhead again. It really is kind of easy to miss. They stopped to eat sandwiches and I dropped in so that I could get to the creek to purify some water.

The fatigue was working on me as I descended Starvation. Descending was becoming almost as much an effort as the climbing. My arms and hands were killing me. The jarring bumps made the meat of my arms and shoulders just hurt. And my hands were wasted. Index fingers were exhausted from braking, wrists exhausted from pounding shocks.

Got to the end of Starvation where it dumps out onto the Poncha Creek Road. A group of fast riders who'd passed me when I was dealing with water were hanging out there. I rode through the middle of them and said, "what kind of retard climbs back up?" They laughed, and I went on to pursue my misery.

That was when it got really hard for the first time. That climb up the Poncha Creek Road is not terribly steep, but I was in a place where climbing in the saddle was slower and more painful than walking. I walked almost all of it. I was suffering. But I knew, this is the last big climb. The energy that got me up there was total goddammit determination. Giving up was not an option. I couldn't guarantee I'd ever again have the luck, energy and health to get this far toward finishing the Vapor Trail 125.

One foot in front of the other.

Finally I reached Marshall Pass again. From the crippled way I'd clawed my way up the Poncha Creek Road, I was afraid I'd be walking every climb the rest of the way home. But it's a funny thing about singletrack--as soon as I got to the CT-CDT with that first steep little climb, I found enough energy to stay in the saddle and gut it out. Not that I didn't wheeze, not that I didn't have to jump off and walk a couple of those punchy little climbs, but I was probably only 10 or 20% slower than normal.

tomichi valley
Combined Colorado Trail-Continental Divide Trail on the way from Marshall Pass to the Silver Creek Trail

When I got to the top of the Silver Creek Trail I brought back my mantra: DON'T DO ANYTHING STUPID! It was time for a 6 mile descent. Going fast wouldn't do anything good for me at this point other than being done maybe 5 minutes quicker. But crashing could ruin it all. Fifteen more miles of singletrack, then ten miles of road--just ride it out. It'll take as long as it takes.

Hard descending was agony by this point. Everything hurt. I ride a full-suspension bike. I can't imagine having done the miles that were behind me on a rigid bike and being still able to function.

By the time I started the Rainbow Trail I was spending much of my energy blocking the pain and thinking about being done. I've ridden that section of the Rainbow maybe 100 times. I know it like the back of my hand. I even have named many of the challenge spots. Creek with Hard Climb, False Creek with Hard Climb. Sweep and Scree. False Gwana. Gwana. Stupid Rock Grunt.

I was counting them off. There was a storm over in the San Luis Valley and the thunder muttered off to the south. I knew it could be on top of me remarkably quickly but I was thankful that, doing this in this monsoon season, I had not been touched by a drop of rain and would likely get all the way home without getting wet. But I kept moving--no need to tempt fate.

The hallucinations were wonderfully entertaining by then. At one point on the rainbow I looked up into the woods and saw a dead tree that made me think of woodsy the owl. I thought to myself, "yeah, that was part of an awareness ad campaign... for what? Littering? Or maybe 'don't rape people'?"

I know. Weird. But that's what happens when you ride a mountain bike for 20 hours and don't go to sleep at all. At the time it was some pretty funny shit.

Don't try this at home kids.

There wasn't really any joy in riding a mountain bike as I made my way through the last 9 miles of singletrack. It was just a job that needed to be done. However there was joy in finishing this thing, solving this problem that had been in the back of my mind for years. Years!

I was like a machine. A clunky, uncomfortable, tired, hallucinating machine. A machine with incredibly sore hands and ass, and a weird sense of humor. I wasn't really capable of exhibiting any externally visible emotion. I could possibly have worked up a smile if you'd given me a chance to catch my breath and let me rest for a couple minutes...

But there was this kernel of happy deep in my tired brain. Even as I groaned my way down the choppy, rocky descents and wheezed my way up that last few climbs to the end of the trail, there was a piece of consciousness in my head that was happy. Content. It's done. All I have to do is get to the pavement without stacking and then coast downhill to Poncha Springs. Then ride 5 damned miles back to Salida.

And I did those things. It took an eternity, or so it seemed, just to roll downhill to Poncha. I didn't really have the will to pedal the big ring down, so my downhill speed tended to vary with the grade. Then I got to the intersection of highways 50 and 285 and was almost killed by an RV with Louisiana plates that was towing an Escalade. It passed me with maybe 8 inches to spare; almost brushed my shoulder. Normally I might shake my fist at a vehicle that does that, maybe try to read the license plate. But all I could really muster was to say, "Hey. Dude. In Colorado it's 3 feet to pass. Not cool."

Five miles. County Road 120. Slightly downhill. Took forever. Finally I got to the Salida City Limits. Needed to go to the parking lot behind Absolute Bikes. That's where the Vapor Trail 125 ends. FOREVER. My God, I thought this was just a small town! What is this friggin' Chicago?!

Then I was there. Keith Darner sees me pull into the parking lot and then turn to leave. He shouts out to me. It occurs to me that since it isn't 6 PM yet it's still happy hour at the River's Edge restaurant, which is where I am. It also occurs to me that if I buy a beer, it will probably not be socially acceptable for me to take off my shorts and get that offensive chamois off my incredibly sore ass. I tell Keith what I've just done. We high five. I doubt I smiled. Don't think I had it in me.

Then I ride the 10 or so blocks to my house. The breeze is ruffling a tree across the street, and that tree is made out of hundreds of little kings, like the ones in a deck of playing cards.

Good God I'm done. Done and DONE.

Shower. Put clean cotton onto my butt.

Food.

Ice Cream.

Sleep. The deepest, most content sleep.

I am grateful, very grateful to have been able to do this. I am 49 years old, and I am healthy and fit enough to do something like this. I couldn't have done one tenth of this when I was 20. I know people my age and younger who have health problems. We all need to count our goddamn blessings when we have our health. It can be yanked away from us in a heartbeat. My sincere thanks to the universe for letting me be there doing that. It was amazing and satisfying. I will remember forever.