Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Plan Fockin' A

We're having a great deal of rain. This summer we're getting monsoons like India gets monsoons. The rain often starts around noon in the high country, and it tends to be hard rain for a long time--sometimes until nightfall.

I've been antsy to do a big ride. The Leadville Trail 100 MTB race is less than two weeks away. Soon it will be too late to do a big training ride. And I don't like seeing the summer slip past without a few more Big Danged Rides™.

So I hatched a plan. Sunday evening (the 29th) I watched a DVD with friends. Then I went to the tPOD and loaded up my Camelbak. I snapped the NiteRider onto my handlebar, guzzled a Red Bull, and then left at midnight.

There was a huge moon. The official full moon was Monday night, but it was plenty big. The air was cool and moist, with patches of mist drifting around. My lamp made weeds and evergreens covered with dew reflect fluorescent light. I rode through the deserted night up to Marshall Pass.

I reached Marshall at around 3:45 AM and then headed north on the Monarch Crest Trail. I encountered quite a few drifts of sleet from the prior evening's storm. Several times I was startled by what seemed to be the headlight of someone coming up behind me only to turn around and see the huge moon shining at me.

I got to the top of the Agate Creek Trail at around 4:45. I adjusted my brakes and then headed on down. The drifts of sleet and frequent puddles and muddy patches kept me throttled back. I didn't like the idea of getting hurt so far from another human being.

Agate Creek Trail at dawn

The trip down Agate was pretty intense. All the roots were incredibly slippery, the crossings were running deep, and the light was really unusual. I had a setting moon, pre-dawn twilight, and of course the blue-ish white light coming from my HID NiteRider. And of course I had not slept for nearly 24 hours. It's hard to describe just how messy it was. There has been so much rain. Mud splattered all over me and the bike.

Oh, and it was beautiful.

I staggered out of Agate Creek at around 7:30 AM. Down Highway 50 to the White Pine road and the bottom of the Old Monarch Pass road. I started my ascent of Old Monarch around 8 AM.

Getting up to Old Monarch made me suffer. I was trying to keep from bonking, so I was hitting the water and Hammer HEED pretty hard. About halfway up I realized that I was running low. I should have gone down into Sargents to refill. I had to start rationing my intake, and it was not a good time to be holding any calories or fluid back from my body. I had HammerGel, but without enough water to digest it I would suffer dehydration. So I just plugged along trying to maintain my pace.

When I got to Monarch it was 10:20. I went into the bathroom and spent quite a while filling my Camelbak and mixing up hammer for my two water bottles. By the time I hit the Monarch Crest trailhead it was 10:45. Ominous dark-bottomed clouds were building, and I was running late for crossing the Continental Divide Ridge over to Marshall Pass.

I hardly stopped. Being on pretty singletrack, having plenty to eat, and wanting to avoid the storms breathed life into me. There was still some sleet on the trail near the very south end, even after more than 7 hours since my last trip through.

I started a figure eight after I got to Marshall around 12:15. I headed on south from Marshall to the top of Silver Creek. Those dark clouds were getting darker, and I started being spattered by light rain. I kept the hammer down, but the effort was starting to get thin. I was almost 13 hours into the ride. I had planned to do the Rainbow Trail, but between weather, my waning energy level, and a bent chain link discovered during a lubing session, I started doubting that I would be doing that.

I descended the Silver Creek Trail quickly but safely. Then I splashed my dirty bike through the flooded trail sections and hit the road on down. I rolled my tired ass all the way back to the tPOD arriving at around 3 PM. Ready to eat.

Monday, July 23, 2007

mid-Summer Riding

I've done some good rides since I got back from the Crested Butte Classic 100 on the 14th. The week was about huge afternoon/evening rains. A couple times it was farghin' biblical. I did the good ol' Bear Creek Loop with a friend on Wednesday and got home just as things got wet.

Then on Thursday it was nutty. It didn't start raining where I was until about 5 PM, but once it started the driving rain and electric light show was quite impressive. And it kept raining until well after I went to sleep.

I woke up early Friday morning and left before the sun was up to do my old standard Marshall Pass/Silver Creek Loop. I have never worked so hard to get to Marshall Pass in my life. The road was full-on oatmeal all the way from hwy 285 to the pass. No momentum, no easy rolling. I was pedaling hard, down two full gears from normal all the way up. A good day, but a hard day.

I worked all day at the bike shop Saturday, then made plans to ride Agate Creek with no shuttle with a friend. She came up ill Sunday morning, so I tried to hook up with a group who were going to St Elmo to ride up to the Alpine Tunnel then on the Continental Divide Trail to the Tincup Pass road, then back to St Elmo.

I went a bit early, and started near the Colorado Trail trailhead on Chalk Creek, rode up to St Elmo, then up to the Hancock townsite, up and over Williams Pass, then up the west approach to the Alpine Tunnel, then to the Tincup road on the Continental Divide Trail, then back down to my truck. Turns out that I never found that group, so it was a big solo high country ride. Very cleansing--I had the mountain tops to keep me company.

The beautiful approach to Williams Pass from the east. Bluebird day.

Breathtaking view West from the summit of Williams Pass

Close up of one of the Palisades--rock walls created without mortar in the 1800's by workers for the Denver & South Park Railroad, their line from Buena Vista to the Gunnison Valley just west of the collapsed Alpine Tunnel. Note the much larger one to the right in the distance

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail I had just traveled viewed from north to south

Beautiful mid-summer day for a big, rugged high country ride. Plenty of gasping for breath at around 12,000 ft elevation for a couple hours. Julie Andrews country.

Summer is good.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Crested Butte Classic 100

Just got back from this year's CB Classic 100.

What a great event. What a cool bunch of people. What a tired pair of legs.

Trailriders Trail #401

The Classic is a three-loop series. This year they changed the order. Rather than starting us out with the Strand Hill-Deer Creek loop we started with the Slate River Road climb (the Slate D’huez) to #403, then down to the Schofield Pass Road, up to #401, then down the first leg of #401 and back to town.

That 401-403 loop is pretty huge. Getting it out of the way first, before the sun is high in the sky was nice. Doing Strand Hill-Deer Creek loop in the noon-day heat wasn't so nice, but I'm not sure there's a way to make Deer Creek nice.

Last year I was utterly shelled after the first two loops. I dropped out reluctantly mid-afternoon and took a nap. This year I felt really confident that my fitness was better, and I knew more what to expect (which is always helpful).

This year, I finished the 2nd loop and rolled back into town at around 3:45 PM. I carefully re-packed water and calories, lubed my chain, and headed out toward Keblar Pass to finish up with the Dyke Trail loop.

Ah yes--long, steady climb on tired legs after over 9 hours of effort. Nothing to do but do it.

It was supposedly only 7 miles from the Brick Oven Pizzeria to Keblar Pass, slightly less to our turn towards Lake Irwin just east of the pass. But it felt like 15. The road to Lake Irwin--oh my goodness. It wasn't that far, and it really wasn't that steep. But it was a dose of suffering on top of several prior doses of suffering.

My legs were making a pretty strong case for stopping. I dinged my left kneecap in a crash a week ago. That knee cap was sending me a message on every single crank revolution.

I had never ridden the Dyke Trail before yesterday. After so much climbing to the trailhead, and with the knowledge that I would have to climb back to Keblar Pass from the other side after completing the Dyke, I just assumed that this had to be a Chaffee-County-style 1-way downhill run. Maybe some trivial climbing, but mostly just a disc brake pad-eating contest. But I should know better. CB doesn't roll that way.

At first Dyke followed a descent-short climb pattern that fit pretty well with my expectations. I passed through the beautiful stands of huge aspen trees that are so typical of the CB part of Colorado. It was lovely.

Then the trail turned in a direction that I thought was completely wrong. It was heading sort of north and west toward the Raggeds Wilderness and the climbing went hike-a-bike. I was transported back to the nightmare hike-a-bike I had lived through hours earlier in the middle of the Deer Creek Trail. But now it was after 6 PM and I'd been riding since 7 AM. Once again, I broke out into a full body sweat. And of course doubt (how can this be right?) troubled my tired brain.

After what seemed like a really long hike-a-bike the trail topped out and turned south, back toward the Keblar Pass Road. Now came the brake pad burning bit. My heart got a little fluttery during this descent, the after-effect of the huge energy output of the hike-a-bike on my tired body. I took several half-a-flask gulps of HammerGel and washed it down with HEED water.

When I finally returned to the Keblar Pass Road I was feeling pretty much spent. How far climbing to get to the pass? How long will it take? This is part of endurance racing, especially on a course you don't know. You have to accept that it will be as much climbing as it will be, and it will take exactly as long as it will take. Find a rhythm and deal.

It was about 6:30, perhaps 6:45 PM when I started climbing back to Keblar. I got back to Crested Butte to finish at the Brick at around 7:45. My official time was 12:30. Fine with me. Done before sundown would have been fine with me.

I had a wonderful dinner with Ed and Jeny, and with Dave and his pretty wife on the patio at a chinese restaurant on Elk Street in CB as the sun set. We had one of those unusually lively conversations among people who should have been too tired to feed themselves, but for whom the day had been stimulating enough to breath artificial energy into our brains.

What a great event. I like it even more now that I've finished it.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

What's Going On?

No BLOG entries for quite a while. What explains this? Have I stopped BLOGGING? Heavens to Betsy no. I've just been too damn busy.

The Great Divide Race is the single biggest thing I've been involved with. I took on a job last year transcribing racer messages to help keep the internet informed of progress. There were 8 racers starting last year, and after 10 days only three racers remained. So, there really weren't that many messages for me to transcribe.

This year there were 25 starters. And the attrition rate was not nearly as high. It has been a VERY interesting race this year. Jay Petervary set a new course record at 15 days, 4 hours, 18 minutes beating the previous course record of 16 days, 57 minutes set by Mike Curiak in 2004. Matthew Lee also came in with a 15 day, 22 hour, 40 minute finish which is faster than the prior record by 2 hours and 17 minutes. The '06 race weather was characterized by heavy rains, and the '07 race sweltered in super high temperatures.

The '07 race for me was characterized by lots of typing.

So, what else has been happening to me beyond typing? Preparation for an aggressive late summer of endurance racing.
  1. The Crested Butte Classic 100, Saturday, July 14
  2. The Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race, August 11
  3. The 24 Hours in the Sage, solo, August 18-19
  4. The Vapor Trail 125, September 8-9
And I've got a new bike, a very distinguished dark blue Lenzsport Leviathan 4.0. She showed up and got built up about 10 days ago. I've been riding her quite a bit.

lenz on the Continental Divide Trail, top of Silver Creek
On the Continental Divide Trail, top of Silver Creek

So, now the Great Divide Race is winding down. Most of the racers still on the course will finish in the next 36 hours or so. And at noon on Tuesday, the race will be officially over. Anyone who isn't finished by then will not be recognized as a finisher, and I will not be responsible for transcribing their messages.

The high country is open. There is almost no snow up there now to keep us off the roads and trails. So that's where I'll be for the next 12 weeks or so. Every day that I can wrench freedom from the jaws of responsibility will be spent on the saddle of my new ride, rolling through the mountains. Stay tuned here for the stories of those days.