Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rosie Dog

About 16 and a half years ago, a dog came into my life. She was adopted from the Denver Dumb Friends League. She changed my life.

This dog was special. She was smart, she was devoted, and she lived life fully. Rosie wanted to be part of my life, and she wanted that life to be fun. Full of adventure, which by her definition meant lots of excursions into the mountains. Camping. Moving across the face of the earth. Finding out what's around the next bend in the trail.

I lost Rosie in April of 2005. She had been stricken with arthritis since the late 90's, and it got much worse toward the end.

But those early 90's--those were some years for Rosie and I. We spent some wonderful days together back then.

For most of her life, Rosie was easier for me to love than for almost anyone else. She had a bit of junkyard dog in her. Actually, quite a bit. She tended to attack dogs that she didn't already know were afraid of her. And she was brave about it. I saw her attack some big dogs without the slightest hesitation. And she prevailed often, but not always. I got her sewed up more than once.

It seems that she felt it was just easier to jump them so that she wouldn't have to worry about being subject to any other dogs. But as she got older and less confident of her toughness, it became clear that she was afraid. Other dogs were a threat. She assumed the worst.

Most often people were greeted with friendliness and enthusiasm, but she wasn't so sure about kids. She snapped at every neice and nephew ever presented to her.

But I defended her. She was my dog. She loved me and cared about me. I know that dog training specialists often claim this is an illusion, that our dogs really only show us this kind of attention because we feed them. But I really felt something different from Rosie. She really cared about me, and all the other people in her inner circle. She remembered her favorite people, and recognized them almost instantly, even if she hadn't seen them for several years.

So why am I waxing on about this dog? Why now?

Today I decided to create some closure, to try to celebrate Rosie's memory for the whole day, to do something she would have really enjoyed doing.

After Rosie died, I had her cremated. Her ashes were in a ziplock bag in my file cabinet for almost 2 and a half years. I knew what I wanted to do with those ashes, but it never seemed to be time. Today I decided that it was time.

I drove over the Kenosha Pass with my bike and Rosie's ashes. I loaded up, put her remains carefully into my hydration pack, and headed for Georgia Pass. This was a place--a bike ride, that we shared many, many times way back when. I haven't ridden there for perhaps a decade. But I couldn't think of a better place for Rosie, for the memory of Rosie.

I left all the gadgets at home. No MP3 player, no camera, no GPS. I wanted to spend the ride reflecting on my life with Rosie rather than filling my head with music. The images that surrounded me were not for capturing digitally, they were for taking me back to those days when Rosie and I passed through together.

I rode all the way up to Georgia Pass. I summited the pass into a brisk autumn wind. I stood looking over South Park, opened the bag, and let half of the ashes be carried in the breeze downslope. The wide basin up there above treeline was a place Rosie used to roam as I followed the singletrack.

On the way back down, I came to a familiar switchback. Rosie used to shortcut that switchback, and would be waiting for me when I got down to where she'd run. Her face would be full of mischief. She had outsmarted me! She knew a shortcut.

I sprinkled some of her ashes there, where I could almost see her waiting, smiling and wagging as she panted from the effort of running down the trail with me.

When I got to Jefferson Creek I sprinkled some of her ashes into the rushing water. She always loved water, and used to flop down into Jefferson Creek on warm days as we passed by.

Then I headed back toward Kenosha Pass through the large sweeping parks between huge stands of yellow aspen. The image of Rosie running through the grass brought me back to those good, sunny days we spent together. The last of the bag found its way into the breeze there.

Goodbye Rosie. Good dog.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Last Day of Summer, 2007

End of summer often brings the Rocky Mountains stellar weather. Today was a perfect example. Crisp, clear air. Almost no wind. Fluffy white clouds contrasting a blue sky. Perfect riding weather.

Maybe the last Monarch Crest day, maybe there will be more. But any more days up above tree line will be a gift. Once the equinox comes the high country can become a wintry place.

Starvation Creek is maybe the prettiest little corner of the Sawatch Range when it's time to ride through a litter of aspen leaves. Today was classic. The leaves still were a mix of green and yellow, even though some stands were completely bare. Just like the day--one foot in summer, one foot in autumn.

My friend Margie on the Starvation Creek singletrack

Monday, September 17, 2007

Banana Belt Loop Race

Every September for the last 10 years, I have lined up on Salida's F Street Bridge over the Arkansas River for a tiny local race. Salida has been known as the Banana Belt for many years for being a town in the Rocky Mountains that has relatively dry, warm weather.

Eighteen years ago, a local mountain bike club started running a race every year at the end of the tourist season. The Banana Belt Loop Race, normally called simply the Banana Belt, became a rite of passage marking the end of Summer.

The Banana Belt was yesterday and there are still 5 days of Summer, but as I write this the tPOD's tiny furnace is running, taking the chill off the morning. I've been chasing mice out of the tPOD's cargo chambers--they're looking for winter quarters. Aspen are beginning to turn, and once the leaves start turning it happens fast. Then the trees are bare and it's time for snow to fly.

I raced the Banana Belt for the 10th time. I lived through the lung-searing climb up Bear Creek, I railed the now-familiar Rainbow Trail remembering the first year I raced when I saw it for the first time. I slid and rattled my way down the jeep road off Methodist Mountain, passing people from out of town like they were standing still. Got the 10th t-shirt.

Banana Belt Course Map

Banana Belt Course Profile

As I made my way around town during my post-race Sunday afternoon, I looked around wistfully. Ten years ago I looked at a town that I wanted to move to. It was love at first site. This would be home, if only I could figure out how to get moved here. That was late-summer 1998. By Spring of 2000 I owned a house here, with plans to get it renovated and ready to be a primary residence. I moved here with my ex during Christmastime, 2000.

Now I look at this place with a striking sense of ambivalence.

I know more people--have more social connections, than any place I've ever lived other than perhaps my hometown, Fremont, Michigan, a town almost the same size as Salida where I was born and lived for my first 18 years. I have some really close, dear friends here.

And then there's the wild country that surrounds Salida. Over the years I've become familiar with the mountains and piñon/juniper hills around Salida. The southern Sawatch Range, where the Vapor Trail runs, the venue of the Monarch Crest Trail, Starvation Creek, Greens Creek, Silver Creek, Blanks Cabin, the Alpine Tunnel. The northern Sangre de Cristo Range which gives Salida it's southern skyline--Simmons Peak, Methodist Mountain, Poncha Mountain. And of course the beautiful but understated Arkansas Hills, the piñon-juniper-ponderosa pine hills that separate the Arkansas River Valley from the South Platte drainage--namely South Park.

There are so many places out there that I love. And yet, given my lack of enthusiasm for winter sport, I rarely visit any of these places other than the local bits of the Arkansas Hills from November through April.

So then the downsides of my life in Salida:

I've come to dread the winters. I just wait them out. Damned wasteful way to use half of one's life.

The hourly-wage-no-benefits reality of work in Salida has been a threat to my savings since I was laid-off from Agilent (Flatulent) Technologies four years ago. I probably haven't been as creative about finding more lucrative work here as I could have been.

There really aren't very many available women here. I'm divorced. I've been on my own for nearly a year. I have hardly even dated here. There just are not that many opportunities.

Now that the Banana Belt is history it's just a matter of time before the really cold weather comes down. The days are already getting short. All summer it was easy to put off really thinking about what comes next in my life. But now it's becoming obvious that I need to leave Salida, at least for long enough to figure out what else is out there for me now that I'm single for the first time in a few decades.

Where'll it be? Someplace warmer, for sure. I've got some connections in Tucson. I spent a couple months there last winter.

I've lived in Grand Junction, CO (Grand Junkyard) and I have some fond memories from that place. Of course there's damned fine biking there, and it's almost year-around.

Then there's the question of what the hell to do, like, for money. So I'm going to a new place, a bigger place. Am I going back to IT? Back to school? Will I become a film and TV star? News anchor? Superhero?

Damned autumn. Why can't summer just keep on keepin' on?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Vapor Trail 125

Hardest thing I've ever done.

This was the sentence that repeated itself over and over in my head as I approached Aid Station 2 near Whitepine, CO. This was around 8 AM Sunday, September 9 after about 50 miles of the nearly 130-mile route. I would be on my bike for 10 more hours after that.

Saturday was busy for me. I was trying to pull together all the loose ends of organization that would hopefully make the event go off smoothly. My friend Trey Beck helped me most of the day getting the registration process lined out, stocking Aid Station kits, and all sorts of other little jobs.

As the evening wore on, riders started massing outside Absolute Bikes like Salmon at the base of a dam. At 9 PM we started having them fill out waivers and lining them up for a medical check. Then I stood up on a chair and talked to them for about 15 minutes about the day that wouuld start in a few hours.

Finally I grabbed a Red Bull and ran out to my truck a bit before 11 PM to drive out to the tPOD and get my own ride gear together. At 10 minutes to midnight I rolled on my Lenz toward the F Street Bridge with the rest of the riders. Shawn counted down from 10, and then we were rolling through Salida and beyond, west toward the Colorado Trail in the darkness.

The rollout went a bit faster than I would have chosen and the pack was strung out pretty well by the time we got to County Road 250 and started climbing on dirt toward the first singletrack section.

The Colorado Trail from Blanks Cabin to Chalk Creek has always been an uncivilized bit of rocky punishment. After this year's monsoons, it has become even more dramatic. Lots of sand and soil has been washed out. In the dark it was a voyage of discovery. Luckily I had only one minor crash, when my front wheel dropped into a deep rain rut. I was able to just step off the bike. But it left me feeling jumpy. Hard to go very fast on the remaining singletrack.

Arriving at the first Aid Station was a real comfort. There were people there, a fire, and Jon handed me a freshly made breakfast burrito. I washed it down with a Red Bull, then mounted back up and headed up the railroad grade toward the Alpine Tunnel. It wasn't quite 4 AM.

As I climbed the easy grade toward our first Continental Divide crossing, I chatted first with Sean McGuiness then with Adam Lisonbee. Adam rode ahead of me from the intersection with the Tincup Pass road, then I caught him just at the Hancock townsite and rode ahead of him to the top of the Alpine Tunnel.

Riding hard, alone in the cold darkness, one’s mind can be visited by many unhelpful thoughts. Endurance sport is a mental as well as a physical challenge. After riding through the night, dawn almost always boost one’s spirits. But as long as there is more ground to cover the task of staying positive and confident is a constant challenge.

Me hiking up toward the Continental Divide above the Alpine Tunnel, photo by Adam Lisonbee

Dawn greeted me as I hiked up to the divide pushing my bike. When I first felt the sunshine on the back of my neck, I turned to see the sun just clearing a mountain behind me to the east. I experienced a sense of elation that is hard to describe. I threw my head back and laughed. My mind was full of joy and I hardly felt tired, even though I was cold and had been riding hard for almost 7 hours.

Less than an hour later, as I started climbing toward Tomichi Pass, all my confidence and energy left me. I thought about quitting, excuses coming quickly to mind.

The course took us south toward Whitepine over Tomichi Pass. The 2nd Aid Station, located just north of Whitepine, was staffed by the legendary mountain bike racer Dave Wiens. I sat in a chair staring at a hot campfire while Dave Wiens oiled my chain. I was thinking that I might quit soon, but I certainly didn't share that with Dave. After I had been sitting there for a while, one of Dave's sons gave me a 4-leaf clover. I still have it.

Getting to Aid Station 2 was a huge challenge, but it was only the start.

Leaving the second aid station we proceeded south through Whitepine and on to the Old Monarch Pass Road. The 2500 foot climb to Old Monarch Pass in a bit over 9 miles took us to the halfway point of the Vapor Trail 125 course. This climb to the Continental Divide was the 4th long climb of the day. I started expecting to quit when I reached the Aid Station at Monarch Pass. Somehow by the time I reached the Old Monarch Pass summit I had talked myself into continuing.

Once more, incredibly supportive, positive, and helpful volunteers at the Monarch Pass Aid Station helped to fuel me up and get me on my way, energized and ready to get back to work finishing the Vapor Trail 125.

I proceeded south on the Monarch Crest Trail, into a chilly wind, watching a storm brewing up ahead. I knew that it was likely that I would ride into the wet storm, but I saw no reason to quit. I felt positive and energized. I rode quickly with purpose, toward the beginning of the Agate Creek Trail, eight miles from the Monarch Pass Aid Station.

Riding downhill is usually so much more fun and so much easier than climbing, it rarely is thought of as hard work. The descent down the Agate Creek Trail toward the intersection with the Lime Creek Trail was difficult. It was steep and very technical, with lots of ruts, rocks, and drop-offs. The effect of the summer’s monsoons on the trail made for some very tired hands and shoulders.

As exhausting as the descent was, the climb up the Lime Creek Trail was far more devastating. For perhaps the forth time since midnight, I found myself feeling utterly exhausted. My thoughts turned negative, and I lost confidence in my ability to finish the ride.

Another difficult descent, this time down the Indian Creek trail, brought me to the 4th Aid Station. Once again, the support and encouragement I received from volunteers turned my experience back toward positive confidence. Restocked with food, water and encouragement, I rolled onto the Marshall Pass Road and made my way east toward the pass.

A headwind sapped my momentum. But I kept turning the pedals. All I needed to do was reach Marshall Pass, then ride south to the top of the Silver Creek Trail. From there I'd have the familiar Silver Creek Trail descent, which would surely be a shot in the arm. The prospect of finishing with a ride down the Rainbow Trail to highway 285 was quite daunting, but I would cross that bridge when I came to it.

As I ground along climbing the Marshall Pass Road my stomach started to be upset. I had trouble keeping food and water going into my body. The full body ache started to work at me. After all those climbs, all that pedaling, I was beginning to bonk. I stopped to answer nature's call, and Sean McGuiness caught me. I rode along with Sean for a while, but there really wasn't any talk. I didn't have anything to say. Sean also seemed occupied.

After we crossed the washout 4 miles west of Marshall Pass, we started talking about the cut-off and how much time remained. I pointed out that we had plenty of time to get to Marshall by the cut-off, but that we better keep a pace up. Then, after 5 minutes or so I said, "of course we're still racing to get to the Silver Creek Aid Station by 6:30 to make that cut-off". Sean had thought it was just easy downhill from Marshall to Silver Creek, but I explained that there was about an hour of climbing from Marshall to the top of Silver Creek. "You don't have to wait for me," I said. Sean said nothing but doubled his cadence and rode away from me.

After Sean left, my mind turned to despair. Just continuing to turn the cranks made me feel ill. My mind wallowed in pity--"I'm not going to make it." Soon Tracy, the sweep moto rider came alongside me and asked me how it was going. I told him I was shelled. He asked if I was going to make it to Marshall and I said I was committed to getting to Marshall under my own power.

When I arrived at Marshall it was 4:30. Tracy took my bike and I slumped to the ground. I sat in the dirt with my head between my knees, trying to keep tears from filling my eyes. It was obvious to me that I would not be able to ride the remaining 20 miles of singletrack on the course. Failure. Failure.

Andrew rode up on Shawn's motorcycle. I couldn't look at him. I stared at the dirt. After a while they asked me what I was going to do. I told them I would ride down the Poncha Creek Road and go back to town. Andrew warned me that it was hammered by the summer rains, as all the routes we had been using were hammered.

Eventually I staggered to my feet. I clumsily swung a leg over my bike and started toward the Poncha Creek Road. I rode the rough jeep road down, descending several thousand feet over about 7 miles, my hands and shoulders aching from the effort. A grimace of shame and failure all over my face.

A light rain started to fall on me. I was still wearing shorts and short-sleeved jersey. I was unwilling to stop and take out my jacket. I just wanted to be down.

I knew I would need to make an appearance at the post-ride barbecue. I didn't want to show up there all bummed out and full of self-pity. I decided to ride through town, get my truck from where I'd left it near the bike shop, and drive home where I could shower and pull myself together. As I rode down the highway, a big tail-wind pushing me to well over 40 mph, I thought about how inappropriate my little pity-party was. I was being terribly self-obsessed.

Then it occurred to me that I was still in the throes of the mind game that get's played out when we do these silly-long endurance efforts. My brain was starved of glucose, and my mind was full of the self-created drama that keeps us on the bike, pedaling long beyond exhaustion.

Yep, it's a bummer that I'm not finishing. It's the first big event I've entered in a year that I didn't successfully finish. But look at the day I just did. Huge Colorado Trail effort. A whole series of huge climbs. Miles and miles of work done well above 10,000 feet elevation.

Will I be the only person at the barbecue who didn't finish? Nope. But I may be the only one who's moping around, whining about it. Grow up. Go home, shower, put on some comfortable clothing, and get myself to the barbecue to celebrate the biggest physical effort of my life. Sure, I didn't "finish". But did I fail? That's for me to decide.

So that's what I did. One of my biggest accomplishments of the weekend, and one I'm fairly proud of--I fixed myself up, slapped myself across the face, and got on with life. It's a good life. Why focus on the dark side? I missed my chance to finish the Vapor Trail. But life is like that. Renewal is part of it. I can face the Vapor Trail next year with renewed resolve if it's that important to me.

So that's my story. Great day. Mixed outcome for me. But goddamn, what a great success the 2007 Vapor Trail 125 was! Largest starting field ever. Eighteen finishers out of 33 who lined up. No injuries. No major mishaps. It happened. It worked. I got through most of it, and I learned a whole new batch of stuff about myself.

Good day.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Pre-Vapor Trail 125 jitters

I haven't posted a blog entry for a while. Ever since the 24 Hours in the Sage, I've been pretty much focused on recovering and organizing the Vapor Trail 125. I've been involved in planning and execution of the VT125 since the first year, 2005. This year I've had the dubious distinction of being the Ride Director (it's not a race). But to make matters more complicated, I'm also riding it this year.

I intentionally kept myself from doing much big riding since I got off the bike at the end of the 24 Hours in the Sage. And I've been focusing on eating and sleeping. Well, I think I've eaten enough, and I think I've slept enough, but I'm worried that I may have let my fitness lapse a bit more than I should have. I don't feel great. Some of that's from the stress of organizing the Vapor, some is from spending lots of time working at Absolute Bikes where I'm on my feet the whole time. But some of it clearly is from not riding much.

I guess we'll see on Sunday. I know my bike is ready. It's a Lenz Leviathan 4.0 that I absolutely love.

The fabulous wheelset I got from Mike Curiak's shop is mounted up, and the bike feels like a rocket ship with those hoops on there. She's shifting right, shocks are set up perfect, new brake pads nicely bedded from a visit to Crested Butte a few weeks ago.

All ready to go, let's hope the motor turns out to be in anywhere near as good shape.