Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kottonwood Kolerz

Last day of September, honored with my first singlespeed Cottonwood loop of the fall.

Cottonwood (trees) have I think a more beautiful color than aspen, and they stay bright for much longer. They generally start a little later and keep their leaves quite a bit later. What better place to watch them start to turn than Cottonwood Gulch?

OK, now I'm going to digress a bit from bikey subject matter. I know that it is often unpopular among readers of recreation blogs to get political rants, so if you have no tolerance for that sort of thing, click away my friend...

The health care debate is making me ill (pun intended). Why must Americans insist on sticking with a cost-management approach to health care? Why can't we expand our minds to see health care as a health management issue?

All the debate in Congress and the press is about whether it should be mandatory private insurance with some new regulation, or whether there should be a so-called public option. This public option would be government provided insurance.

Why does there have to be an insurance layer between the sick person and the health care system? Because we are still seeing health care as a cost problem.

In countries that have successful health care systems like Britain, France, and Canada, health care is not seen as a cost, it's seen as a vital component of the well-being of citizens. In those countries, a public health care infrastructure is maintained by the government. Not run by the government, it's run by health care experts. They don't worry about cost, they worry about treating health issues. And through some magic, it all costs less!

They pay more tax to support the system, but they don't have to cough up huge amounts of income to pay for insurance. The insurance that is emptying Americans' wallets is often worthless. The insurance companies charge huge premiums, fight claims and often force the sick person to spend hours on the phone trying to get the care they need. Often those hours on the phone are wasted, and the insured American goes bankrupt because they got sick and their insurance turns out to be worthless.

Perhaps countries that have public health care pay less because there isn't a whole wing of every hospital full of administrative staff who spend their days trying to get money out of insurance companies to pay for their patients' treatment? How does that overhead really help sick people get treatment?

Sometimes, profit motive does not produce the best solution. Sometimes the public sector is the only viable provider of services.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Marshall Starvation

Perfect autumn day. Clear blue sky, warm without being too warm. I had to make a trip up to Marshall to be part of it.

Mount Ouray. The monolith that towers over my favorite bit of the Rocky Mountains.

The vast aspen stands that line the Marshall Pass Road are only starting to turn. The colorful ones light up their surroundings as the sunlight passes through. Love the climb up this old railroad grade to the pass...

Starvation Creek Trail

Perhaps Starvation Creek should be known as Satiation Creek. To a human being passing through on foot or on a bike, it's got quite a bit to offer. I'm sure there's a story behind the name, probably not a happy one.

Here's a picture of Mt Antora from the Starvation Creek Trailhead

The trail is so sweet down this less-traveled drainage. Sometimes passing through grassy aspen stands, sometimes through sagebrush, sometimes through thick undergrowth of young fir, willow, and down trees.

When I was almost down to the bottom, I scared up a yearling elk. It bolted across the trail in front of me from where it had been standing down in the creek bottom. The creek was on my right. This elk and another, a mature cow, crashed up onto the slope to my left. I slowed and was just going to pass through when I heard bugling from the right across the creek. I stopped and carefully pulled my pack off and quietly took out my camera. There was one animal directly across from me bugling, and then I heard another slightly upstream across the creek. Then I heard another behind me where the cow and yearling had gone.

I peered through the thick vegetation across the creek and saw the huge antlers of the first bull I had heard. I turned on the camera and moved around trying to get a clearer view. Then he got a clear view of me--our eyes made brief contact, and he turned and thrashed through the brush making a path for his antlers. But he didn't run up the slope. He just got out of sight, then kept up his grunting and whistling. The other bulls kept making noises.

I looked back up the other slope and saw a cow, perhaps the one I had flushed, standing on the slope and looking not toward me, but across the creek toward the sound of the bulls.

I wondered if I might see a fight if I hung out long enough. But I did not really have time to linger there into the evening. I put the camera back, never getting a shot worth taking. Just the memories of an autumn experience in a quiet corner of the Rockies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Magic Carpet Completion

Rick Hunter sent me the custom stem he made to go with my Hunter Cycles frame and fork. She's all built up, and ready to load and go. Today's test flight had my mind full of ideas about where and when.

Ain't that stem purty?

Of course, the season change is making it seem futile to make plans to ride and camp overnight in the mountains. But it's only September, I'm sure October will bring us some nice weather again.

And there's always the desert.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Aspen Ridge

Vapor Trail is finally over. Weeks of preparation, both for the event and for my own ride, went by quickly. Then the event happened, and I woke up Monday morning and it was past. That's OK, I'm wistful but relieved.

Probably the most distinct and lasting images that stay with me from the ride are of the golden aspen that I could see with my lamp as I passed by St Elmo in darkness. Then the dusting of snow on the high peaks around the upper Chalk Creek canyon visible in the pre-dawn light. I remember being somewhat startled by the glowing yellow aspen--it's Fall?!? I'd been so busy for the first two weeks of September that it hadn't really occurred to me that the trees would be changing.

Well, they are. Even more this weekend. Autumn doesn't really start until Tuesday, but the trees are turning.

Yesterday (Saturday) I got to show Kathy the Silver Creek section of the Rainbow Trail for the first time. There were some colorful trees up there, but they were still green for the most part. Today we headed up to Aspen Ridge, north and east of Salida.

The official "gateway" to Aspen Ridge. Framed shot of Mt Antero.

Autumn seems to be coming in kicking and screaming. Another gnarly weather thing is on the way. This shot was taken at about 12:30. Looks like a moist afternoon coming.

The farther up I go, the more turning trees.

This one was from the summit.

Also from the summit, this time with the Sangre de Christo Range framed with Aspen.

Looking off to the north, the Buffalo Peaks.

Another Shavano-Antero shot

And of course, it only makes sense to take the Cottonwood Trail back to town. Just in time to miss the rain.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Vapor Trail 110

The story is out there about this year's Vapor Trail 125. Weather.

We moved the event into September from August in 2007. We had little choice--the bike shop runs the event, and August is go time. Things are often still jumping in September, but after Labor Day is just plain better. And usually the weather is great.

But sometimes you get a little taste of Fall/Winter in September. A nasty little system decided to appear with perfect timing to mess with the 2009 VT. And I mean it was perfect timing. The storm peaked, at least in town, right between 9 and 10 PM when we were supposed to be rolling. The rain was hammering down, lightning, was flashing and the thunder was loud because that lightning was close. At about 9:15 I was at home putting stuff in a backback. Kathy was looking at me, incredulous, asking me if I was really going to go out there if it was still doing this at 10 PM. I shrugged and said, "yeah, I guess so." I could not give her a coherent reason why I would do something so, well, stupid. But I kept putting stuff in the pack.

I went outside to leave for the start and two riders, including Ed rode up to tell me that the start had been pushed back to midnight. I realized that my cell phone had been off, since I'd wrapped it up in plastic to take into no-cell-service country for the whole night, just in case it proved to be needed and useful at some point. As the supposed Event Director, I realized that I had been quite absent at a critical time in the execution of said event.

Yep, it was happening. I rode the several blocks to Absolute Bikes and asked Shawn what was up. Weather. That's what. There were concerns not only because of the threat of hypothermia, but even that the route might be difficult to travel on. The delay meant shortening the route. That's really the only way it could happen. The longer route was made possible by the 10 PM start. Without it, none but the truly fast would be able to finish before nightfall. And the obvious part of the course to cut was the one that took us up way high above treeline, where the snow would be deepest if there was snow. And where it would be hardest to rescue the hypothermic.


Ultimately, we agreed that it had to be Canyon Creek, and Starvation Creek as well. Time and likely trail conditions drove those decisions. It would be a 110 mile course. Not the whole banana.

So we stood around looking at high tech radar images on the internet, speculated about whether indeed it showed that a break was coming, and further speculated about whether the big cell that was over the San Juans near Montrose was headed our way.

Then somebody noticed that it wasn't raining outside anymore. By about 11 PM there were some stars showing faintly through the clouds. It was breaking up.

We did roll at midnight. I was wearing way too much clothing. I was still dressed for the 10 PM conditions. Even during the moderate neutral start, I began to swim in my own sweat. But I did not want to get out of the pack, because I knew that we wanted to be together at least for the crossing of Highway 285, and really all the way to the end of the neutral part. Didn't really matter, by 285 I was already soaked.

When the pace car pulled out of the way and the riders found their own pace, I pulled over to finally peel off my jacket. And then I was all alone. Bye bye pack.

I started the dirt climb, DFL, and watching silent lightning above the Sawatch Range ahead of me. Thoughts about that cell--how likely it was that our weather was not done being crappy, filled my head. It was too chilly for my wet clothing to dry, so I just rolled. At least I wasn't so hot anymore.

Then I saw a few drops of rain fall into my headlamp light. Then more. Then, by golly, it was raining again. Criminy. I stopped again, and put the jacket back on. I thought about whether this thing should even happen, and whether I should stick with it even if it did. Short course. It wasn't going to be like finishing a real Vapor Trail even if I did. And that's what I really wanted, to finish the big one. To redeem myself after abandoning in 2007 when I was so close to a finish.

And now it was raining again. Crap.

Well, I wasn't uncomfortable. Yet. I wasn't cold, just sopping wet. Might as well keep going until I became uncomfortable.

Then I saw some lights, and a group of riders putting on jackets. Golly, I'm not DFL anymore. Probably only temporary, but it felt pretty damned good to not be off the back. Then I saw some lights on moving bikes, headed back toward me. Riders abandoning already? Are they uncomfortable or just psyched out? It was quite the mind game, between the waiting around in the shop, the speculation about how much more bad weather, how cold up high...

I kept going. I was still bummed. I thought to myself, and then said aloud to JJ when we rode together for a little while, "this is not the vapor trail I expected, and it is not the vapor trail I wanted". But I kept going.

Then I got to the Colorado Trail. There was a little crowd gathered around Shawn who was recording times. None of them were really heading up to the CT. I assumed they were just changing clothes but it turned out that many of them, for a variety of reasons, were calling it.

I saw several people on the CT at the start of my travels there including Earl, but then I rode off into the darkness pretty much on my own. Later I played leap frog with John for a while, and passed Todd on his singlespeed in Raspberry Gulch, where a big ring comes in real handy.

When I made Aid Station #1, I was still utterly soaked. But I had removed my jacket, and never got really cold or uncomfortable. I had sent a dry, warm, Sugoi hoodie with the Aid #1 staff. When I got there I peeled off my wet stuff and dropped it with a mighty plop onto Jon and Rickie's tailgate. I pulled on my hoodie, put a good Pearl Izumi shell over it (one that I had kept pristine in my pack), ate some good aid station food and headed on up the road to the Alpine Tunnel. I was good, I was going to ride this vapor trail and enjoy it. It was going to be a good vapor trail even if it wasn't "the vapor trail I wanted".

The night was lovely, dark and deep. I was by myself the entire rest of the night. I marvelled at the beauty of groves of aspen turned golden that I saw by my lamplight. When the first faint light of dawn flooded into the upper Chalk Creek Canyon, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the snow-sprinkled peaks above. When I stopped just before the Hancock townsite, John caught me and we both commented on what an uncommonly beautiful dawn we were being treated with.

It was cold. My feet were cold, but not to the point of pain. Not comfy, but livable. The rest of me was fine. I was grinding away, and I was making warmth. And I felt good. The place, the air, the view--I was exhilerated.

On the other side of the Alpine Tunnel, it was quite a bit colder. But isn't it always cold anywhere in the Gunnison drainage? I had to descend for about 20 minutes before starting the grim hike-a-bike up to Tomichi Pass, and I got cold. But then it was time to hike, and I was comfy again. And I was fine with the hike. It's long and hard, but it ends.

And then I was at Aid Station #2, Chatting with Dave Wiens while Jefe Branham worked on my bike. Those Gunnison guys are a class act. Their Aid Station was top notch.

Many kudos to the man in the middle of this photo, Rick Garcia, owner of The Tuneup, Gunnison's Legendary bike shop. Rick really worked to make this Aid Station great.

I left Aid #2 feeling good, well fed, dry clothing, great-working bike. Kathy took this shot of me as I approached the bottom of the Old Monarch Pass climb. It's good to feel good at the bottom of this climb, because it's probably better than you will feel at the top. It seems endless. Ah, but it does end.

I arrived at Aid #3 quite tired, but again, we had some top notch aid station people there. And Kathy. I refueled, filled up my hydration pack, and left knowing that I was going to finish. I had done the last of the big climbs. Sure, I wasn't doing the toughest obstacle to finishing the full Vapor Trail 125 course, the climb back up to Marshall Pass from the bottom of Starvation Creek, but it was still a ride that had taken some grit to finish. The mind game that the start played on us was not trivial. And as we all know, 50% of this game is half mental.

The rest of the ride is a Chaffee County Classic. Crest Trail, Silver Creek, Rainbow. Know it like the back of my hand. Love it like a brother.

What more to say? I felt happy for the whole danged thing after the first two hours. I rode well, I finished feeling strong. And then I joined a great barbecue already in progress. Great day. Thanks to all the other riders, the volunteers, and mostly to Shawn for making this all happen for 5 years in a row.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Vapor jitters

Sitting here in Salida gathering up clothing and deciding what to put in my pack, watching it begin to rain outside.

Maybe it'll just be a crappy afternoon and then be merely cold and clammy through the night.

Either way, adventure beckons.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Slouching toward Vapor Trail 125

I've been really busy, especially in the last week or so. Kathy and I got away from town for the holiday weekend, then I got back. Yesterday I got a request from one of the folks on the VT Roster to offer a decent source for a reliable local weather forecast. I told him that we don't really have such a thing, since the county is so varied in terms of elevation--we have lots of microclimates just within Chaffee County. The outlook is generally good. Doesn't look like a major cold front is headed our way. Normal pattern for this time of year, not too volatile, and not looking to be more so on Sunday.

Edit: Looks like my web weather info talents are lacking--a cold front DOES appear to be headed our way. Ah well, on with the post.

But in looking at the forecast from good ol' whitebread, I saw an illustration that gave me pause. It's just three days away!


Am I ready? What will that 24 hours of pain be like for me? Finish or not? Stay in control of my head or lose perspective, rationality, emotional control?

I've been training, I've been getting my head together. I think that the taper I started 10 days ago will serve me. I have practiced eating a wider variety of food when I'm out in it.

I am committed to getting all the planning tasks and setup done where my race director duties are concerned so that on Saturday I'll be able to rest, and get my head together rather than being wrapped up in the stress of last-minute problem solving.

But there's the nagging concern that settled into my thinking after my near-finish in 2007; that I may simply be incapable of finishing the big loop between 10 PM and the cut-off. That I won't be able to maintain a finisher's pace, even if I do everything right.

Gonna try. All you can do is try.

Of course as Yoda said, "There is no try, there is only do or not do."

But honestly, what the hell does that sawed off little plush toy know about the Vapor Trail?