Sunday, August 30, 2009

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss four hours goodbye

Go ride the Canyon Creek Trail.

Confrontation and a good deed

Two weeks from Vapor Trail. My coach (me) tells me that I should do some final large training efforts this weekend, then not more than 2-3 hours of medium effort starting Monday until it's time to line up at 10 PM on Saturday the 12th.

Plan was to climb to Old Monarch Pass via the (mostly) dirt route that roughly parallels Highway 50. Then ride the portion of the Vapor Trail 125 route that continues from there. The big test I had in mind was the confrontation of the climb from the bottom of the Starvation Creek Trail back up to Marshall via the Poncha Creek Road. I had never climbed that road in all the years I've been living and riding around here. It always seemed like a dumb idea. Why do that when the railroad grade-based Marshall Pass Road is right there?

Well, why this time was because I'll be dealing with it, while tired, in two weeks. And it has a reputation among last year's riders as being the worst obstacle to finishing. I have been dreading it and wondering if I'll have the stones to deal with it after more than 15 hours in the saddle.

I left the house at o'dark thirty. At sun-up I was climbing in the chill. Always nice to see dawn happen from the saddle. Took me a long time to warm up. But of course it was not warm... That does seem to be a theme with me this season--it takes often almost 2 hours before I feel ready to step up the pace.

At Old Monarch I got onto singletrack, heading south first to (new) Monarch Pass, then on down the Crest. It was crowded. We get spoiled living in Salida, most of us arrange to ride the Crest on weekdays or very early in order to avoid the crowds. But it's hard to pull that off when you climb from town. I was relieved to make Marshall, and unceremoniously headed down the upper Poncha Road to the fork over to Starvation Creek. I was passed by a train of lawn tractors and it was almost windless. The thick dust they raised hung in the air and I had to breath it for way too long.

I was tired, especially after staying on the throttle passing huge herds of Crest Riders when I saw them stopped. I made my way down Starvation slowly because I felt tired. When I hit the bottom I did the un-thinkable, I turned left to climb back up.

Ugh. It felt yucky. For the first 30 minutes or so, it felt endless and I really wondered. Would I be up to this? Ugh. Seemed unlikely.

Then I got to where it was OK. I got off and walked a few sections that either seemed especially steep, or when I just felt like walking. After a while, I got up to the intersection with Starvation, and then to the top. I was tired, but it was doable.

After that I felt much better. It is doable. It will not be fun, but it won't beat me unless I let it.

I got to Silver Creek and descended it again in the company of the herds of Saturday Crest riders. Then I got to the Rainbow, feeling good and ready to finish out the last couple hours of my self-inflicted trial.

Less than a mile down the Rainbow, in the first fast and flowy section, I came around a curve and saw a rider sitting on the ground below the trail. I asked him, "are you OK". He had his back to me and did not turn around, and he said in a shaky voice, "No, I'm hurt". Then I saw his bike, hung up in a small tree, back wheel up. I laid my bike down and made my way down off the trail to where he was. As I passed his bike I saw that the front wheel was heavily taco'd.

When I got close, I saw that he was holding his right arm with his left, and he said he thought it might be broken. I was the first one there, so I started asking him questions, and carefully feeling his arm, and asking him if it hurts here, or here, etc. Some other riders came along presently and they stopped and asked more questions. Then his buddy came back from up the trail. He came down to where the guys was (David?) and got involved. Then a group of riders that included two male nurses came along. The cavalry.

Then another of his friends came back, got truck keys and headed down to fetch a truck to pick up the down rider. Unfortuneatly it did not occur to me until after he was gone that he should have gone back and down the Silver Creek Road rather than continuing on the Rainbow.

We all hung with him getting the situation under control. When he tried to stand, his arm spasmed, and he yelled. We slinged the arm with a tube, then a rider came along who had a triangle bandage, so one of the nurses slinged it better. We got him on his feet, and then his thigh cramped hard.

It took a while, but we finally got him up onto the trail, shaky but under control. I jumped on his taco'd wheel to get it straight enough to at least rotate in the fork without binding up. Three riders walked out with him back to the Silver Creek trailhead, and I jetted back down the Silver Creek road to try to catch the guy going for the truck to confirm that he knew exactly where to go with the truck. I got down there 5 or 10 minutes before he did, made sure he knew the way back up, and then left to go back to town.

I didn't get to finish the whole 2nd half of the course, but big deal. I had the priveledge of being able to help a fellow rider who needed help. It's gratifying to see how the community of riders come together to help one of our own.

Good day. Today it's Canyon Creek!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

See, I was having fun!

The event photos from Saturday-Sunday 24 Sage came out. I now have proof that I was doing the right thing; having fun.

Hartman is such a gas.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

nocturnal e-mistakes

Four of the last 5 weekends I've strapped a light onto my handlebars and spent a good portion of the time when I should be sleeping out on a bike. It's been about preparing for the Vapor Trail 125. Only one of those nights was pretty much completely fun.

I've been getting lots of good advice about this strategy--that it's well-intentioned yet dumb. Nothing that's un-fun is good for preparing for an event.

This past Saturday I decided to line up at the 24 Hours in the Sage, my third year at that kick-butt event at Hartman Rocks in Gunnison.

I was determined to take the good advice seriously; I kept a smile on my face and a happy thought in my heart. And it worked. I was having fun and I was having a good race. The late afternoon was tough just because of a gnarly wind blowing, but I stayed positive. I established a more or less sane 24 hour pace, and I plugged away. At midnight I had completed 7 laps.

My eighth lap was looking good. I had put down some food during a pit stop at midnight and it was agreeing with me. My pace was settled and I was just getting down to the business of keeping up the pace all night.

The finale of the 24 Sage course is The Gap. It's a series of slanted granite slabs punctuated by granite curbs. After many laps on this course, I felt completely comfortable dropping through it. I had no trepidation at all. But on that 8th lap, it got me. As I entered it, I saw two other racers. One was working on his bike--he'd apparently broken something on the way through. The other was just finishing walking the toughest part. The good line was more or less open, but for some (stupid) reason I decided to experiment with a line to the left that looked OK. My front wheel dropped into a deep V and I landed on my head. I picked myself up, the front wheel of my Voodoo spun all the way backwards. My head had a mild pain sensation from the shock of impact. Of course I was thinking about closed head injury. It wouldn't be a bad one because I wasn't going fast enough, but a concussion is still a concussion. And I had the achey feeling that you get when you're body gets slammed around.

I rode back to the tPOD carefully, committed to taking some time to be sure that I didn't start getting goofy.

Long story made short: after sitting around for half an hour I lost interest in going back out. I laid down for a while trying to sleep, then went to the shower at about 4:00 AM. When I got back I put on street clothes, carried my transponder to the start/finish tent and volunteered to help with timing.

There I had the distinct pleasure to meet and witness the energy of Dave Taylor, who operates the KOA in Gunnison where the event is headquartered.

I've stayed at a few KOA's over the years, and a few nice ones. Dave's outfit is top notch. And he is a hoot. At 5 AM he was the life of the party. He could just support this event as a businessman and sponsor, but he goes way beyond that. He dances, he howls, he gives incoming solo racers man-hugs at 5 AM. I mentioned that I was hungry and he rushed off and came back with food. He's just one of those people who exudes positive energy.

Then of course there is Mitch, the man behind the 24 Hours in the Sage. God I wish I had a picture of him wearing the mullet wig, but alas, I had no camera.

It's a great event. It was a positive experience, which is what I needed to put in the bank. I regret my bad judgement, which got me into a crash that could have been much, much worse. But it was fine.

I'm not going to ride at night again until September 12-13. I'm going to continue to train, but I'm keeping it in perspective. I'll finish the Vapor Trail 125 or I won't. Life will go on either way.

The VT125 is going to be a killer event this year, and I get to be a big part of it. But it's not make or break. I have a wonderful girlfriend, lots of good friends, I'm fit and healthy--things are good. Why create a big drama around a physical accomplishment that may be beyond me even if the stars align? Fine line between too much motivation (worry) and not enough (apathy). But I'm going to try to walk it.

And I'm going to get a little more sleep between now and then.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hard day's night

Last Saturday night I rolled a little after 9 PM on another Vapor Trail 125 toughening ride. (To call it a training ride doesn't really cover it. Finishing the VT125 takes more than fitness.)

My plan was to ride the first half (a bit more than half by distance) of the VT125 course. For those who've reviewed the course on the website, sections 1 through 5.

I rolled up to Blank's Cabin to start the Colorado Trail and everything was going fine. I was on schedule with race pace more or less, even with a stop to oil my chain. (Hopefully before the actual race I will have remembered to do that prior to the 10 PM start.) An orange waning gibbous moon rose behind me soon after I left town. Must have been a fire somewhere, since the sky was also hazy and there was a faint wood smoke scent in the air.

I ran the singletrack in roughly normal time and arrived at the old railroad grade above Chalk Creek to appreciate a spooky, hazy moonlit view of the Chalk Cliffs across the valley on the slopes of Mt Princeton.

That's when things started going downhill for me. Around 3 AM, as I started the grind up toward the Alpine Tunnel, I began to feel that weak, fatigued feeling I've been getting in the last month or so on long rides.

It took an eternity to reach St Elmo. I actually got off and walked the bike a couple times before I got there. Before even a glimmer of dawn, I downed the 2nd of the two Red Bulls I had brought. My eyes felt heavy and I was yawning and swaying, so I knocked down the wonder cure. It had almost no effect.

It took an eternity plus 5 to get to the base of the tunnel. Dawn greeted me on the approach.

Back toward where I came from, east toward the rising sun

Normally the coming of dawn gives me a kick in the ass when I've ridden all night. This time I just felt like my ass had been kicked.

Soft dawn light

I sat at the base of the hike-a-bike up to the divide in despair. The idea that I have a chance of finishing this year's Vapor Trail 125 sounded like a pipe dream. I ate some cold oatmeal and stared east down the glorious valley but my head was full of negative.

As Shawn pointed out, I should have turned around long before and gone back to bed. But I didn't do that.

After a while, I heaved a heavy sigh and put my pack back on. I pulled the bike upright. I trudged up the trail.

The rest of the story is what you might expect. Joyless pain. I made Tomichi Pass. It hurt. I decided to skip Canyon Creek, which should have been the funnest part of the whole ride. I was way behind schedule, and was worried that I wouldn't be able to contact Kathy until after she started worrying.

Climbing to Old Monarch was a nightmare. If I could have gotten cell service I would have called Kathy to come get me with the truck.

I'm discouraged. I don't know if there's any way that I'll have the fitness to do it. I wish I knew why. It certainly isn't overtraining. But I'm not sure it's undertraining either. I've done some nice big rides this summer, and thanks to my schedule I've done lots of recovering from them.

I'm not done preparing. But my confidence is a bit challenged.

But it's important for me to remember, 50% of this game is half mental. I've got to overcome this negativity. Working on it. Working.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Adventure Tour Lite

Kathy and I drove a wheel truck behind the 35+ Open hot rods at the Salida Omnium road race on Saturday morning. It's a great way to watch a road race, let me tell you. Those skinny tire guys who race have motors.

Saturday afternoon Kathy loaded up the tPOD and headed down to the east slope of the Sangre de Cristo range southwest of Westcliffe, CO to meet up with her family for a little camping. I had a plan hatching to ride down and meet them on Sunday, so I stayed behind.

At about 2:15 AM Sunday, after pretending to sleep for a while, I staggered to my feet and groped in the fridge for a cold Red Bull. Nothing like swigging a Red Bull in the middle of the friggin' night, then pulling on lycra and sidis, switching on your headlamp and rolling up into the mountains.

My plan was to avoid riding down highway 50 east, where there are too many blind corners and drowsy truckers, by climbing up over the Ute Trail divide to the north of Salida. It's South Park country over there, but where I went wasn't officially South Park since I never rode over any creeks that drain into the South Platte. South Park is the high valley basin of the South Platte headwaters. I crossed through the upper Badger Creek basin, which drains back down to the Arkansas.

But it feels like South Park over there. Wide open.

Everything was sleeping when I rolled out of Salida a few minutes after 3 AM. Dogs were not barking, no cars were on the road--nothing but moths were moving around. The sky was clear and the stars were brilliant, even more so as I climbed up and away from Salida's street lights.

The night was warm. I left with my leg and arm warmers packed and did not need them until I crested the 10,000 foot divide and started rolling down the other side at around 4:30. A mouse ran out into the road in front of me just before I got to the top. It was the first mammal I saw during the trip. I startled a couple deer just as I headed down. Even though my gaze was not directed up at the sky, I saw 4 or 5 meteors streaking down toward earth.

I had wrapped up some scrambled eggs and cheese in a tortilla the night before, and at about 6 I hauled it out and chowed it. I had just found the one key turn I needed to make to start heading back south toward Cotopaxi, CO. I was just leaving the wide open high prairie of the upper Badger Creek basin and entering mixed aspen and open space. The pink dawn made for a really nice breakfast mood.

The country up there north of Salida really has some pretty places. And you usually share them only with cows and people who work with cows. The morning was all mine.

This is the magic carpet that carried me on this ride. It's my adventure touring bike, but this is the most adventurous trip we've had together yet. The front rack is the real start of getting the Hunter ready to tour.

The sun slants through a stand of aspen as I crest one of a series of climbs on the way to the long descent into Cotopaxi on the Arkansas River.

In the shot above you can see that I've got some descending to do, but in the background you can see the Sangre de Cristo range to the right and a hint of the Wet Mountain Valley (where I'm headed) to the left. It was about 8 AM when I took this photo. Shortly after, I saw my first human of the day, a dude with cowboy hat passing me in his Dodge pickup.

The day was pretty much going (among normal people) once I passed over the Arkansas and through Cotopaxi and started climbing south toward Westcliffe. The sun was getting hot and people were out driving around. I had 8 or 10 pavement miles to the town of Hillside, to a turn-off that would get me off the highway onto ranch roads. The Sangre de Cristo rise pretty dramatically up from flat hayfields and pastures. Long, straight dirt roads.

I zig-zagged up the valley, forced to ride on the highway again for a couple miles, then out climbing false flats toward the base of the mountains. The dirt route that I had scouted, that would go through, wasn't saving me from any climbing. I would climb up the west-bound zig, then descend the south-bound zag, only needing to climb again when it was time to zig.

I had planned an option for near the end of my trip. Maybe 15 years ago I saw the Rainbow Trail heading south from the Hermit Pass Road. I remembered it being pretty nice, and it looked like mostly a traverse on the topo map. But I knew that I might either be running late or too smoked to make the climb up to the 10,000 foot trailhead, so I had a direct route to the Alvarado Campground mapped.

When I got to the fork in that road, I was moderately smoked. But I had time, I could do the climb and the singletrack if I wanted to. Vapor Trail is coming. I felt like it might not be a bad idea to expose my tired butt to a little hot, mid-day climb up a dusty jeep road. So that's what I did.

This is what a pretty peice of singletrack looks like if we let our guard down and allow the lawn tractors to run amok. This was classic Colorado singletrack at one time. It was moto singletrack, but it was legendary for being "a trail". Now it's a 60" mini-road. Sad.

It was fun though. I rode about 4 miles of this pygmy road. I enjoyed it. Then I rode down into camp to join my sweetie and her nice family, arriving a little after 1 PM.

Eighty miles, 11,570 feet of climbing. Two Red Bulls. That's a good Sunday morning.