Wednesday, November 28, 2007

craigslist giveth, and craigslist taketh away

About a year ago, I was separating from my ex and I needed a place to live. I did not really want a place to live in Salida, since winter's hammer was coming down and I wanted to be getting ready for my first 24 hour solo, not shoveling snow and shivering the long nights away. So I went out onto craigslist, and soon the legend of the tPOD was born.

I lived in that little sucker for 10 months. We were down in Arizona during January and February, then squatting rent-free for the rest of '07 here in the upper Arkansas River Valley.

I hauled her out to Moab for the 24 hours, but then on the first of November I rented an apartment and she was mothballed. Today my craigslist ad brought me a willing buyer. And officially, the era of the tPOD has come to a close.

Once I'd spent a week in a dwelling with no wheels under it, I knew I would never be able to live for a long term in that little box again. And it's quite a chunk of weight for my T100 to haul just for vacations. And then there's the fact that $3/gallon now seems like a good price for gas.

So that's that.

I haven't posted for a little over a month. What's been going on with me? Well, I decided to spend the winter in Salida. And my decision was re-enforced by the sweetest riding November I can remember up here. I rode a ton until about a week ago when Old Man Winter rolled into town to make life chilly.

I'm going to learn how to tele ski if we ever get any actual snow (it's cold, but not snowy at all yet). I'm going to keep plugging at the trails effort I started here, Salida Mountain Trails. And I'm going to have the luxury of staying connected with the close friends I have here in Salida. Right now I'm missing Arizona, but home ain't that bad either.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

24 Hours of Moab

The first 24 hour race I witnessed was the 2001 24 Hours of Moab. This is the 24 hour race that I compare all others to. It’s big, it’s brassy, the course is quite a handful and the talent that shows up for it is impressive. It’s late in the season, which makes it feel like a grand finale, but that also means that weather can be a huge factor.

This year I hooked up with Dave Armbruster from Denver, the team captain from my first tour of the 24 Hours of Moab. Dave has been fielding teams since that first year. He had a spot open and he offered it to me. Our team was The Mud Pigs. We entered as a Men’s Veteran 4-man team.

I went out to the venue mid-week to grab a good parcel of real estate. Dave and Jesse showed up early Friday with a travel trailer they had borrowed from one of Dave’s 2006 teammates. We set the trailers up in an L-shaped formation to block the wind, should it become a factor. Our fourth guy, Paul, rolled in Friday afternoon.

Friday was a beautiful, idyllic day, but with the wispy clouds that warn of an approaching front. The rumors were that there could be some harsh weather. Saturday morning was cool, with a sort of moist breeze. There were fairly high clouds moving fast--looked like something was going to happen. But the race start was approaching, and nothing looked likely to stop that.

Jesse was our 1st rider. He volunteered to do the LeMans start and hit the course in heavy traffic. Paul was #2, Dave was #3, and I was anchor. We agreed Friday night to stick with a simple 1-2-3-4 rotation. So I didn’t have anything to do until some time after 4 PM.

From the start, three or four teams stormed off ahead of all the others in Men’s Veteran. This is the way things go at the 24 Hours of Moab. To be on the podium in any category requires that all riders on your team are elite, and no mistakes are made. Our guys all did just fine, and we were sitting at around 13th of 25 by the time I headed for the starting line.

I had a decent first lap, an hour and twenty minutes. That's as fast as I've ever turned at Moab, even though the course was remarkably sandy this year. My 2nd lap started at quarter to 11 PM, so it was plenty dark. I was rockin' a really fast night lap, but flatted about 2/3s of the way through and spent nearly 10 minutes fixing it in the dark. That lap was 1:39. My third was a nice frisky 1:33:46, which is decent for a 2nd night lap that started at 5:30 AM.

As I was preparing for that early morning lap, I conferred with Jesse and Paul. We were analyzing our results with Excel on Paul's laptop in a trailer in the desert in the wee hours of Sunday. Jesse was due out after me. He was feeling shelled, and also feeling regret that we were looking iffy to get a 16th lap because his times were suffering. He did a 1:55 lap between midnight and 3 AM. In order for us to have any chance at a 16th lap, we needed to have him do a 1:50 or better when he went out after me. He doubted that he had that in him.

We had been playing around between 11th and 13th place in Men's Vet since the start. The best we were going to do was 11th, and finishing there would definitely require doing 16 laps.

Jesse offered to skip his lap, letting all the faster riders do theirs, and he would take the clean-up lap at the end, which we would almost certainly get to do. In order for that to happen, Paul would have to be ready to go right after me, and he had just come in off the cold, dark course. So that sounded pretty difficult to him.

As I got up to go ride, I told them that it was really up to them. It was Paul's burden, and he should decide if he was willing to do it. Jesse noted that I had a say in it too, since I could lose the chance to do the four laps that they all were doing. I told them that I was OK with whatever.

I went out on course. As I raced, I considered that perhaps I should offer to double up, and go out again when I saw Jesse at the start/finish. But I eliminated it by the time I got there. I felt that it might not be respectful of Jesse's feelings. I should just smile, wish him luck, and let him know that I had faith in him to do his best. It really didn't matter. We were doing this for fun, and Jesse could do his lap or not do it. He could turn a fast lap or he could fall completely apart, and it was his experience that mattered then, not whether we did 15 or 16 laps.

Well, Jesse dug deep and came up with a 1:44. It was fast for him on his tired legs. And he got the dawn boost that I had predicted would help him. He came off the course smiling, happy, and proud of himself. Hot damn! And we were still in it for 16 laps!

Paul went out and turned a nice quick 1:27. Then it was Dave's turn. He hit the course at 10:24:45 AM. He needed to do a 1:35 to get me onto the course for a final lap. His first lap, when he was fresh, was 1:29:19. Clearly, it wasn't going to be easy for him to throw down and finish a lap that fast. I cleaned up my bike, suited up, stretched, and got ready to go if he got back in time.

All three of us were in the start/finish tent as noon approached. Wildly enthusiastic team exchanges were going on. The team that was currently holding 11th place sent out their rider at 11:49. So he had a lead on me, but I'd been smoking this guy through the whole race, so I wasn't worried about catching him if I got to get out there. But would I? The minutes kept clicking by, no Dave. As it got past 11:58 I started to assume that we were done. Oh well, that's how it goes. Then it got to be 11:59. The announcer started to count down to noon, and suddenly I heard Jesse yell "He's here!"

I jumped over to our start/finish volunteer and said "Our guy Dave is coming!" The countdown started and here came Dave, his eyes hollow with exhaustion. He rolled up to the table, handed down the baton, scanned his card, and promptly fell over, bike and all. I laughed out loud, took the baton, scanned my card and jogged out to get my bike and start that last lap. I laughed on and off for about the first 5 minutes, then got down to the business of catching the rider from the 11th place team.

There were lots and lots of exhausted solo riders out there, and other quite a bit slower riders. But of course that's all I saw. There really weren't any riders starting after me. I was probably the 2nd to the last rider to hit the course, if not the last. So nobody was passing me, and I was passing plenty of slower riders.

I kept the hammer down, watching for my competitor. I checked the number of every rider I approached from the back. I covered all the gnarly climbs and technical sections in the tough first half of the course with as much speed and grace as I could muster. It was not the time to crash or flat.

Finally, as I approached one of the last technical rock descents in the middle of the course, I saw my guy. He came to the top of the rocky descent and skidded to a stop. I heard him say, "Not this time." Then I blew past him and dropped it. I heard him say "Nice job", but I just kept after it.

So now I knew that I had 11th as long as I didn't mess anything up. As far as I knew, there was still a chance to move up even more, especially if somebody had a mechanical, so I stayed on it as much as my tired body could.

My final lap was 1:27:30. We were 11th place, and all was at peace in our world.

For mere mortals, this is how the 24 of Moab goes. The podium belongs to the truly fast. The rest of us create our arbitrary measures of success, and we go out there and do the best we can. Real victory for us comes in behaving like a team and making good memories. So we won. We all had the most dramatic, best finish ever at Moab. Everybody on the team threw down big time to get us that 16th lap. We all got what we got by doing our best.

It was a great time. A great way for me to sum up my 2007 race season.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sandy Course!

Out at the venue, I've done two laps to check out the course. She's deep, bro. Mucho sandy. Gonna make it interesting this year. The big wheel will be an advantage.

This dude powered his way through the whole dune, but it's deep baby!

I'll blog a report when I have it, but don't look for it before Sunday. Woo Hoo! 24 Hours of Moab, baby!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Porcupine Rim

What a classic ride.

After I spent the morning helping out at the venue, I decided it was time for some “me” time. I put on a wool jersey, threw my provisions into the truck, and headed to Moab.

There are lots of stock rides I could do. One of them, the Sovereign Trail, I’ve only ridden once before. That was during the ridiculously rainy Rim Ride Moab. There was some temptation to do that ride, but I haven’t ridden good old Porcupine for a couple years. It’s a wonderful ride. So that was it.

I went straight to Lions Park, at the intersection of Utah state highway 128 (the river road) and highway 191. The ride finished onto 128, a few miles upriver. So I parked there and rode through town and up onto the Sand Flats Road. I had to pay $2 to the BLM to get into the Sand Flats Recreation area.

It took me about 90 minutes from the time I parked to the time I hit the Porcupine Rim Trailhead. I encountered three jeepers right away, then two hikers. From that point, I saw nobody for an hour or so.

I rode the jeep road downhill section with a strong sense of mortality. I’m still a bit sore from the crash I took at Phil’s World on Monday, and of course I broke my hand on that road back in 2000. I remember that day like it was yesterday. No need for broken bones today, especially with me all by myself.

The first other human I saw after the hikers was a Euro chick in full-on pro racing togs. She was walking up the jeep road as I was descending. I stopped to ask her if she was alright and she pointed to her bare wrist and said “I lost the jewelry—you see any jewelry?” I shook my head apologetically and rolled on. A minute later I ran into her Euro racerboy companion. He told me “She lose her jewelry.”

I saw a cluster of shuttle riders (an empty shuttle van had passed me as I climbed the Sand Flats Road) just as I approached the beginning of the singletrack. I rolled past them and hit the brief but fun and technical singletrack. It was just as I remembered it; all ride-able, but with several difficult visual problem-solving puzzles. Only after you give up and put a foot down do you see the easy line. It’s the kind of ride that you could get dialed if you rode it every day for a week.

Ah well, it’s beautiful anyway. You descend to the river in a way that looks impossible. So far down, such a steep canyon wall.

I was back at the truck in almost exactly 4 hours. I drove straight back out to the venue to defend my turf. When I got there, I found that I had neighbors on two sides. But my boundaries had not been breached.

Home at the Venue

I dragged the tPOD into the 24 Hours of Moab venue Tuesday early afternoon. Monday night I stayed at the Moab KOA where I could shower, fill the fresh water tank, and dump my poopy tank. After I checked out of the KOA I went into town to do laundry and some shopping.

Then I rolled out to the venue and pulled the trailer in there using 4wd low. Even though I went in using creeper, the road really wasn’t all that bad. I remember years past when it was really pretty gnarly. Granny Gear has worked it over really well. Perhaps it will get worse after a couple hundred vehicles, trailers, and RVs have rolled in to prepare for race day.

I got a decent spot, then walked over to command central to volunteer to help. I’d like to reduce my camping bill, and it helps to know people anywhere you go. So Tuesday late afternoon I helped Snedly clear tumbleweeds from the beginning of the course, heading east along next to the entry road. Wednesday morning, we filled prairie dog holes in the field used for the lemans start.

People keep trickling in, but as of Thursday morning, it’s still pretty much empty. SRAM and Cannondale are the big vendors who have arrived, and IMBA has sent one advance scout.

Let the games begin.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Phil's World

Damn, but do I like Phil's World.

I rolled over to the entrance to Phil's just about an hour before sundown yesterday. I carefully towed the trailer over some nasty road to a turnaround where I could park for the night without blocking the road. It got danged cold overnight. I hung out in the tPOD until almost 10 AM waiting for the air to warm up a bit.

Then I hit it. I spent a whole day riding Phil's last Spring during the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde. Today was no race, just for fun.

Man is this a fun place to roll! Swoopy, curvy, up and down singletrack weaving through the piñon/juniper and sagebrush. Then there's the ribcage. How much air do you dare?

OK, this is pretty funny. I decided to shoot a little digital camera video of myself stylin' off one of the best whoops in the ribcage. I took two bits with the camera positioned too high, then re-set it and went for the final cut. If you can handle a ~9 MB download and you have a minute or two to burn, check out my crudely edited video here:

So, on that last one, it might look like I landed it fine. But I was too far forward. I could tell while I was in the air, and I stiff-armed the landing. The biff happened off-screen, and you get to listen to me commenting on the after-effect.

I'm OK by the way. Rung my bell just a bit and scratched myself. I'll live to make a fool of myself another day.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Durango - Telegraph Trails II

It did dawn clear. The air was very chilly, but the sky was cloudless. I got up, ate some breakfast, secured the tPOD and hauled her back up to Durango.

It took me longer than it should to find a legal place to park the truck and trailer, but once I found one I was suited up and ready to ride in a few minutes. I had to dress pretty warmly, since it was probably mid-50s in town at around 11 AM when I was getting ready to embark.

I went back to the Horse Gulch-Telegraph trail system on the east side of Durango. I like that place, enjoyed it in May when I was last here, and it's nice and low. I didn't feel the need to ride in cold high-country. I could do that at home.

I made a couple goofs and wound up doing more hard climbing than I wanted to, including climbing up the Anasazi Descent, which is obviously not meant to be climbed. All the walking I did gave me plenty of time to peel off my leg warmers, since I clearly didn't need them by the time I got halfway up.

Once I got to the Telegraph Trail summit, I spotted this little crawly thing crossing the trail. Not a huge tarantula, but bigger than any of the hundreds of black widows that can be found back at the bikey commune.

My lenz is nicely shaken out. The Fox fork is wonderful. Long live Fox Racing Shox!

Good day riding. Nearly 4 hours out there and almost no re-tracing of routes. Now I'm doing a few minutes of library time, and then it's off to Mancos-Cortez. Tomorrow, Phil's World!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Road Apple Rally

I hauled the tPOD to Farmington, New Mexico on October 5th, the day before the 2007 Road Apple Rally. I parked it in the parking lot of the Lions Wilderness Amphitheater, which serves as Road Apple HQ, then got my bike out to do a little shake-out ride. I have a brand-new Fox F-29 fork hanging off the front of the Lenz, and I’d re-cabled the front and rear shifters. That had all happened without even a test ride, other than around the shop--dodging the clothing racks and display cases. Just hadn’t had time to take her for a proper shake-out ride. So just as the sun set on Friday, we did a little 25-minute dance on the Roadapple singletrack.

Afterwards I twisted the barrel adjusters on the shifters a little and let some air out of the fork. Then I locked her to the tongue of the tPOD, made some dinner and hit the rack.

When I woke up, I could hear people talking and RVs being backed around. The parking lot was already filling up as the sun came up. I fried some bacon and ate a little cereal, then I put on my monkey suit and started circling around, warming up like the other bikey geeks that were showing up from all of the four-corner states.

The nervous milling about, egos being compared for where one should line up, the countdown from ten, then the pack starts rolling. An uphill doubletrack start spreads the pack out pretty quickly. I wasn’t in this thing for a win, but any racer knows that once people start racing, people start racing.

I don’t do much cross-country racing. I’m not blazing fast. I prefer setting up a decent pace for a long haul rather than pushing my throttle down to the floorboards for a couple pain-filled hours. But the Road Apple—it’s so steeped in tradition. Ned Overend rolled past while I was warming up. And the course is a blast; long and swoopy, and flat relative to Colorado race courses.

So when the riders started sorting out on the doubletrack at the beginning I put the hammer down. When the doubletrack gave way to the seemingly endless rolling uphill singletrack, I stayed on it to the extent that I could. When the rollers got deeper, I pump-tracked my way to a couple easy passes.

About 30 minutes into a cross-country race, you get to witness what happens to people who really don’t have much fitness, but can hang with faster riders for a while. You’re grinding along behind someone, feeling pain but staying with it. Then their body language and sometimes even an audible queue tell you that it’s all over for them. They give kind of a huff, and either shift down or start pedaling slower. You say “on your left” and they happily slip to the right to let you around.

I don’t think I’m any faster than usual, but I have some pretty deep fitness in my life right now. I went out hard. I kept at it hard. About an hour and a half into it, when I was about two-thirds of the way through my race, I wilted for about 10 minutes. I didn’t drop my pace entirely, but I was feeling it. Then some guy who had been following me on a section of singletrack, about my age, came alongside me when we came out onto a stretch of road. He had an exasperated look on his face, and said “how much did we pay to do this?” I just smiled at him and rode away like he was standing still. I may feel like I’ve been beaten, but this goober is NOT going to cross the line before I am.

He didn’t.

I finished in 2:19. That put me in 7th for 40-49 Sport. I was 11 minutes behind 3rd place. Of course I had to look at where I would have been in Expert. I was only 9 minutes behind 3rd in Expert. Damned sandbaggers. I’m going to declare myself Expert next year. If I’m going to be mid-pack when I race X/C, I’d rather be a mid-pack Expert than a mid-pack Sport.

As my race finished up, the decent weather that we had started to degrade. A chilly wind came up, and the clouds rolled in. I put on some warm clothing and went to the awards and to collect my free plate of Mexican food. It got colder as the awards ceremony went on. I bumped into some friends from Albuquerque and another one from Bakersfield, CA (Sportsman).

After the awards wrapped up, I wandered back out to the parking lot where the tPOD sat. The lot was already more than half empty. The wind was rocking the tPOD. I went inside, took an Advil, turned on some music, and stretched my legs out. Within an hour the parking lot became almost totally empty, and the wind became a force. I started reading a crime novel, and thought about where I should go tomorrow. I’m doing the 24 Hours of Moab on a team next weekend, so I’m just staying out this way for the next week.

Is the weather going to go to shit? Should I just skip Durango and stay somewhere lower? Maybe I should just do a day at Phil’s World then head on up to Moab.

Tom Waits from the speakers, the wind, the empty parking lot—these things combine to make me feel melancholy. But tomorrow is another day. As the wind blows itself out there seem to be fewer clouds in the sky. Tomorrow will probably dawn clear. I’ll pick someplace to ride and get on with my 4-corners tour.

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.

Monday, August 20, 2007

24 Hours in the Sage

Oh man.

I did 24 in the Sage this past weekend. I'm still really really tired. I finished 5th place among solo men (not counting solo singlespeed, which was its own category). As of today, the results on the web only show laps run through about 6:15 AM. I was in 8th place then.

As usual, I started out too fast. I had a good night, no real depression or soul-searching downs. Just riding, staring at stars and the orange crescent moon that set around midnight.

At about 6:30 AM I rolled out onto the course. I looked at my watch. It was 6:30.

OK, I'm redundancy-ing myself.

The rules of the race were that any racer returning to the start/finish tent after 11 AM was done. I had been doing laps at around 1:45 through the early hours of the morning, including pit time. I did the math. At that rate I would do 3 more laps and be done. I didn't know how many laps I already had, but I knew I wanted more than 3 more.

My dawn-refreshed brain decided that I could do four more if I hopped to it, and that I should do four. So I hopped to it.

At that point at 6:30 I had actually been in the pit for nearly 20 minutes. So my 12th lap did not look remarkable, but I know it was. I was back at the start/finish at 7:45. By my watch I turned about a 1:15 lap--only a few minutes off my first lap, which was my fastest (1:13:37).

My brain was full of rare adrenaline. Where my adrenal gland found more of that stuff is a mystery, but there you have it. I was hauling. I rolled past my pit without stopping after that hot number 12 lap, right through the start/finish and back out onto the course, big-ringing it back to Hartman to go at it another time fast.

I finished my 14th lap right around 10:30. PLENTY of time. All I had to do was finish the final by 12:45 to get credit for it.


Off I went.

Just as I started, I ran into my friends the A-Team (Amber, Anton, Andrew) who were doing the 4-person 24-hour Townie Bike World Championship on a collection of hoopty old cruiser bikes. Here is Andrew coming in from a lap on a Rollfast:

They were all going on a final lap together, a parade lap. I passed them as they aired up a low tire. I figured I'd be waiting for them at the finish, since I'd be far ahead of them on their heavy single-speed townie bikes.

Well, it didn't really work that way. First, I was really slammed by the three hot laps I had turned in order to make the 11 AM cut-off. Second, it was getting really hot. Third, they just weren't that slow! Andrew passed me on the granny gear climb, standing and hammering that Rollfast up the steep singletrack climb.

So cool, I would do my final lap with company.

Then, just a few miles into the lap, I had a horrible and tragic chain suck event. While shifting a dry chain into the middle ring, it wound up and got hooked to my front derailleur.

I really didn't have the mental or emotional resources for dealing with this. I stared at the mess, probably with a total lack of emotion in my facial expression. I'm sure I would have eventually set about fixing it, but I didn't even know where to start. My mind was a blank (other than wordless panic).

Thank goodness, Andrew was right there. He squatted down in the dust and started evaluating the situation. And it was really a pretty grim situation. The chain was absolutely jammed into the front derailleur, and stretched tight so that the rear derailleur was just near failure.

Ultimately we had to loosen up the front derailleur clamp and turn it, then break the chain using the powerlink. It took over 10 minutes to fix, even with an actual pair of competent bike mechanics right there on site.

By the time the drivetrain had been resurrected and the chain slathered with lube, I was physically and emotionally damaged. Pedaling had become torture. Hot, acidic sweat was finding its way into the corners of my eyes. My mind swam with negative, panicky thoughts. How much time was left? Could I get through the 3 big climbs that remained? Would I run out of water? I couldn't seem to drink enough.

Eventually I stopped and swallowed about a teaspoon of sea salt crystals. My lucidity returned gradually. I kept pedaling, and Amber rode along with me, keeping me talking, encouraging me. Sure, it was a little discouraging that she could keep up with me on 40 pound townie cruiser and drive the conversation, but it sure helped that she was there.

Eventually we came to a several-mile-long fast and windy downhill, and I let gravity take me towards home. The A-Team never quite caught up to me after that, and I finished in time, at about 12:25 (roughly a 1:55 lap).

The final results have me at 5th place. I picked up 3 places during that frenetic morning. I'm really pleased. And god-forsaken tired. I don't think I'll be able to ride a bike for a week.

But I'll probably ride one sooner anyhow. Woo Hoo!

This is actually me after the 24 Hours at the Old Pueblo last winter. But it's a fitting image.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race

August 11, 2007. 6:30 AM. The legendary shotgun blast starts 1000, that's one thousand riders who all are taking a stab at possibly the most famous endurance offroad bike race that has ever been. Up front are luminaries such as Floyd Landis, Nat Ross, Jake Rubelt, and of course the greatest Leadville bike racer ever, Dave Wiens.

There was plenty of hype about Floyd, and there were rumors that His Lance-ness would show up. Floyd did show, and he showed up fit and ready to rumble. But Dave drew a line in the sand. He broke the course record by nearly 10 minutes, beating Floyd by about 3 minutes.

So sure, it was pretty cool to be on the same course with hotshots like those guys. But how did my day go? Damned well, thank you very much.

One of the important things about the Leadville Trail 100 is that everyone's experience is valid. Dave Wiens battles all day to retain his place as the King of the LT100, and the everyman (or everywoman) battles through an even longer day to finish in 12. Both of them have to dig deep, and their peers respect both for having the patience to prepare and the tenacity to reach their respective goals.

My basic goal at Leadville has always been to finish in 12 and do the best I can, and to do it in a way that respects my fellow racers. That means staying as cheerful as possible, looking out for the safety of everyone, and offering congratulations and encouragement to all my peers. Since I started doing this, I've also wanted to finish in under 11 hours.

My first year, 2005, I finished in 11:15--but I was rarely cheerful during those hours. I had a tough time, dogged by uncertainty and surprised by the difficulty of the final 25 miles.

Last year I was caught in a huge rainstorm, but was proud of the way that I kept a smile on my face even as I wondered whether I would finish in 12. I wound up finishing in 11:25 and was pleased for myself. But I still wanted to finish under 11 hours.

This year's LT100 was a great race for me. I went out hard, maintained a tough pace through the first three quarters of the race. During the tough final climbs the temperature was up there and the sun shone clear through the thin air of the high-elevation course. I had a hard time keeping enough water with me, and it was difficult to eat enough since my body needed more water to digest the food. But I marched through it, stayed positive, and finished strong.

I'm thrilled with my 10:25:35 finish. I'm thrilled that Dave Wiens maintained his dominance of the race. I'm proud of the many friends of mine who raced--all of them, even the ones who did not officially finish put in efforts that we can all be proud of.

It's just a bike race.

How many chances do we have in life to be excellent? To face a daunting physical challenge with a chance to prove to ourselves that we can--win or lose, finish or not, doing the best we can; this is a wonderful thing.

It's just a bike race, but it's a damned fine one. Hats off to the folks up in Leadville who give us this arena for self-assessment. They do it with style and they make it fun and rewarding. And they have created a culture of cooperation. Riders like me who will never break 10 hours get hearty congratulations from the fast folks. And we all encourage the ones who try, whether they succeed or fail. We celebrate each others' success.

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.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Chainsaw Consultant

Today I decide to leave the bike at home, strap on the work boots, grab my chain saw, and head up the Silver Creek Trail to clear all those downed trees I saw on my ride on Friday. Guess what? They were all still there. I ran through a full tank of chain saw gas, running out on the last snag I worked on my way out. I had to put a shoulder to the damned thing and shove it off the trail.

A couple of those downed trees were big honkers. My little 16" saw had its work cut out for it (no pun intended).



I had literally hours of Great Divide Racers' reports to transcribe before I could turn in for the night. It's quite a race this year. There were 25 starters, and they are dealing with some really cold, rainy weather. It's proving to be pretty much a preparedness contest. Tough.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

First big high-country ride of the season

Living in Salida, every summer one of my favorite rituals is a big ride. I start in town, I climb to around 11,500 ft. elevation above Marshall Pass, then I descend the Silver Creek Trail, which follows Silver Creek from where it forms out of a wet area less than 100 yards from the Continental Divide down to an old mine, the Kismuth. From there I ride to the trailhead for the western terminus of the Rainbow Trail, and ride the Rainbow for 11 miles to Mears Junction on highway 285. From there I follow the route I took up and out of Salida.

Most years, this route is melted off and mostly dry about 2 weeks before the Monarch Crest Trail opens. Once the Crest is rideable, the CDT and Silver Creek route becomes quite busy, especially on weekends. So the first couple weeks that it's open are special.

Sangre de Cristo Range on the East side of the San Luis Valley taken from the Marshall Pass Road

The climb is really nice and relaxing. On a weekend, highway 285 is always busy. But the breakdown lane is wide and smooth. So it's kind of noisy, but it makes the dirt Marshall Pass road seem all the more quiet and wild.

It takes me about 3 hours to get from Salida to Marshall Pass. It's a very meditative 3 hours.

Snow drifts on the Continental Divide National Scenic trail south of Marshall Pass

The road to Marshall was dry all the way up. It felt just like summer, even though it was still nearly a week before the solstice. I even had almost a mile of mostly dry Continental Divide Trail. But after I climbed deep into the woods, I started encountering drifts.

The first few were minor. Someone had been up the trail earlier this month, and I could see that they had skirted around the drifts. I committed myself to scrambling over them, to begin creating a melt rut and to avoid trampling the moist emerging vegetation at their edges.

More snow drifts on the Continental Divide National Scenic trail south of Marshall Pass

There is a 2 or 3 mile bit of singletrack directly south of Marshall, which comes out onto the logging road that continues to the top of Silver Creek. My expectation was that I would deal with drifts for a while, then, once I got on top of the ridge, I would find dry trail. And I expected that the doubletrack would be dry. What I actually encountered were quite large, deep drifts for over half a mile, a bit of dry trail, then drifts blocking most of the rest of the singletrack. My legs stung and numbed, my shoes and socks utterly wet, and every bit of lube washed off my bike chain, soaked disk brakes--it was sloppy but clean. The brakes howled like the hounds of hell when I finally got onto the Silver Creek Trail and started descending.

Silver Creek had many, many large trees down. I plan to hike it with my chain saw as soon as I free up a day. I cleared several smaller trees that I was able to yank off the trail. I also kicked a few diversion channels into the outslope of the trail to drain water that was running straight down the rut in the middle of the trail. And I had chances to rail fast down some clear, open bits, which is the real thrill of the Silver Creek trail. Over the years I've descended way fast on Silver Creek, sometimes picking up impromptu races with other riders. This time I was a bit reserved, with good reason. I had to perform a few sliding, dust-raising emergency stops when a blowdown appeared in front of me.

My perfectly clean legs and bike got splattered with nearly black trail mud as I made my way down Silver Creek for the first time in 2007. By the time I got to the road at the part that always runs with water my legs were tar-baby black and I had splatters all over my jersey and smiling face. A little got splashed off riding down the creek-road, and in the various crossings on the Rainbow Trail. But I got home dirty. I made mud in the shower.

Perfect day. Perfect.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Riding with a Bevy of Beauties

Yesterday I was blessed with a ride in the company of three pretty girls. Margie, Moriya, and Deb are friends of mine who all were ready to do the Silver Creek Rainbow loop. We had been planning to do it Tuesday, but the weather forced us to scrub that mission.

It was a good day. Very good. Here are some highlights:

Margie nailing a crossing

Moriya crossing with full-on determination

Deb and a guy named Jordan from Tennessee we ran into on the trail

Deb and Margie cresting the last climb of the ride

Yours truly, a photo that Deb got with my camera descending to Mears Jct

Monday, June 11, 2007

Summer Approaches: Longer Days and Expanding Horizons

The weather has been great in Chaffee County, CO. The high-country snow is melting, the Arkansas River is running high and tea-colored. And I've been getting out and riding a ton. I've hit my favorite two sections of the Rainbow pretty hard in the last 3 weeks or so, the Bear Creek Section and the Silver Creek Loop, but I'm ready to break routines and start visiting my other singletrack options. These are magic places that I really don't see from November to April.

Now stuff up to about 10,000 feet is open and rideable. So today I made my first 2007 visit to the Colorado Trail to ride Blanks Cabin to highway 50.

I spent about two hours pedaling pavement and gravel to get to Blanks, which is more widely known as the Mt Shavano trailhead. Shavano is a local 14er, and Blanks is the typical jumping off point since you can drive to there.

The aspens were beautiful, dandelions were blooming everywhere, and it was a good day to be riding.

I just beat a thunderstorm as I rolled out onto US 50 at about 1 PM, so that's the way to do it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Spring giving way to Summer with a Vengeance

Oh my goodness, spring is rolling on. Summer is about two weeks away, the Great Divide Race starts in just 10 days.

Cactus blooming red out in front of the Bikey Commune

The days are getting ridiculously long and the nights almost painfully short. For people like me, whose sleep is subject to photo period, it's becoming difficult to get 8 hours. If I don't pass out before 10 pm, I get only a relatively small slab of sleep.

Yeah, sounds like an old guy's lament.

As I tell young ladies I'm flirting with, I'm old, but I'm very immature.

I've been riding a ton. Long singletrack rides above 9,000 feet are like candy to me. I often have my camera with me, but can't bear to stop and interrupt the flow. So I'm including some non-riding photos here to let you know what our little valley looks like these days.

Ouray and Chipeta with declining snow above treeline

What a great time of year. Fleeting thunderstorms. New leaves shining bright green. Cool, clear mornings. The Arkansas River flowing high and fast.

Ah, early summer/late spring in the Rockies. There's no finer experience.

Indian Paintbrush along the road

Thursday, May 31, 2007

NASA and our planet

OK, I apologize in advance to people who only read my blog for mountain biking content. This post is related to mountain biking, but it's really about something that makes me hopping mad that our stoopid gubment does:

We insist on using one of our publicly funded (and richly funded) research institutions, NASA, to continue pursuing manned space travel. As an activity, manned space travel is kind of sexy, and we all have heard about the great technology that came out of the space race in the 60's and 70's. But you know what? We can't really afford to do any more of that crap. Here's why:

We really really need to be throwing our research science resources at problems right here on our planet. Global warming. The complete reliance on burning fossil fuels. Drug-resistant diseases. Sustainable agriculture. Getting us past the two-party democracy that is keeping America from actually working.

Colonizing space will benefit a tiny fraction of the earth's population. And you know what? Space sounds incredibly boring to me. There are no environments that we know of out there that we can live in. So we'll be inside all the time. Probably in cramped places. Eating synthetic food. Crapping into bags and jettisoning them into the vacuum that is space. Gee whiz, sounds like a blast.

Earth by comparison is way fun. We have sunsets. We have rivers. We have singletrack. We have air! Will we always? Will our children (not that I have any)? Not if we don't get off our fat asses and start fixing the problems that we aren't really fixing. Playing around sending people into space at HUGE cost doesn't do much of anything to fix our best resource--our planet!

OK, I'm done ranting for now.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Spring Is Sprung

It's been a while since I've posted, nearly 2 weeks. It's not that I haven't been doing anything, more like too busy to goof with the internet much.

Rainbow Trail just east from the Silver Creek jeep road

The weekend after I returned from Durango, many friends hit the Kokopelli's Trail for the annual hoo-ha out that way. I would have enjoyed doing that, but it's time for me to stop flitting about Colorado and focus on the home country.

It's opening up, by the way. I've ridden the local Bear Creek section of the Rainbow Trail in the last 11 days, and yesterday I got up to the Silver Creek section. This bit of singletrack is probably my favorite bit in the local area.

How was it? Three words: Ooo La La

I've also been working quite a bit for Absolute Bikes, buffing up their web presence. Busy busy.

New Girlz seem to be showing up in Salida lately. The river is up, summer is coming.

Ah, Spring!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Durango Test Track

Tuesday late afternoon, Durango. I had ridden more than 4 hours in the Horse Gulch trail system east of Durango. A looming thunderstorm had driven me to the library. Around 3:30 I made my way back to my truck, watching the sky. The T-Storm had diffused into mostly cloudy, the afternoon was cooler, and little spritzes of light rain fell once in a while. But this weather looked quite benign. No thunder, no place visible looked like it was getting truly rained upon.

I was feeling a little lethargic, but thought this weather might actually be perfect for a little tour of Durango's test track. I had picked my parking spot based on that strategy that I'd be able to ride either Horse Gulch or Test Track with little inconvenience. So I reached into the truck for my duffel, and pulled out what turned out to be my last clean jersey and my last clean pair of lycra shorts. I squirted a copious amount of Chamois Butt'r into the shorts and pulled them on while sitting in the passenger seat, parking lot superman.

I got my bike back out, threw a leg over, and grimaced as my sore butt settled onto the saddle. It had been a long 5 days of riding. Oh yeah.

I pedaled over the raging Animas River on the river trail pedestrian bridge. Then I turned left and made my way through a residential neighborhood toward where my map showed one of the many trailheads.

Passing a sign that said Durango Mountain Park, I saw a whole herd of shrimpy mountain bikers on 20" and 24" wheeled bikes being supervised by two racer type young riders. Durango is a bikey town. Those little goobers would have been on a soccer field anywhere else in the USA. I passed them and spyed a singletrack emerging from the gambel oak to the left. I turned onto it and began to climb.

It was very tight, cut through a narrow tunnel in the scrub. I was mostly climbing, and the sight lines were short. I felt a little vulnerable, since any fast-moving downhill rider would be on top of me quickly and there would be not much room to bail off the trail. But there was nobody.

Soon I came out into a little junkyard-looking lot. There was some recently bulldozed soil on a ridgetop, and I looked down on some commercial property. There was a little residential trash and some discarded household items. So this was kind of like Salida's S-Mountain, or maybe the Camel Humps. Soon I saw a fridge. Seems like every Rocky Mountain town has somewhere that the goat-ropers go to get rid of couches and the like.

My opinion soured a little. Even though the singletrack was very interesting, my impression of the area was being blown. I figured I'd spend maybe another 20 minutes then bag it and get on with my evening.

Soon I topped out in an open area that looked like it was bulldozed tailings or some such. There was the hardbody gal, one of the two riders supervising the little kids. I rode up to her and asked if most of the riders who used this park climbed up on the road as she had to descend. She pretty much told me that I should do whatever, that there were no rules or customs. She also told me I'd come up the farthest southern trail, and that I should work my way up to the north if I wanted to really see the park. So I did, descending the trail I had just climbed first, then up a rough doubletrack back to where the kids were, then I spotted a singletrack to the right and took it.

I went up, then down, then up again. The trails were more of the same, for the most part very tight and fairly steep. Almost all were climb-able though--after all this is Durango.

On one of the trails on a ridge top, I found a really killer dirt jump series.

Eventually I found myself in a wash gulch, climbing good singletrack. There were a series of solid wooden bridges. I stayed low, following the trail until it became the wash itself. It turned into kind of a Death Star type setup, wash bottom with steep vertical sides. When it turned muddy I turned around and headed back down. I had a much higher opinion of the Test Tracks than my early impression, but I was getting tired. So I figured I'd leave the rest of it to explore another day.

But then I saw a track heading up out of the gulch, and it looked really good. "OK" I said out loud, as if I was a little exasperated at myself, and I clicked down into granny to climb another trail and headed on up.

Damn it was good. If I'd been a little fresher, I would have been able to climb it without dabbing. But it was steep and the switchbacks were tight. The gambel oak leaves had just come out, and they shone bright green in the late afternoon sun. After about 15 minutes I topped out on a ridge with absolutely fabulous 360° views. OK, OK, here was another incredible community asset. A little rougher than the finished diamond that is the Horse Gulch trail system, but damned good. And variable. And quite vast for a trail system that literally comes right out of a residential neighborhood.

Durango rocks.

I got back down to the truck after another very satisfying, more than two-hour ride. I loaded up, and headed downtown to find one of the two Thai restaurants that I'd located while on the 'net in the library.

I got a curry dish, inhaled it, and got onto hwy 160 headed east. With all my important clothing dirty, it was time to head home. I figured I'd get at least past Pagosa, find someplace to crawl into the back of the truck near the bottom of Wolf Creek Pass. But when I got there I didn't feel too tired, so I just rolled. I got back to the tPOD at around 11 PM and crashed almost immediately. Back in Salida, ready to re-enter Real Life™.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Horse Gulch Trail System

In case there is any confusion let me say: Durango kicks ass for mountain biking.

I got up to the sounds of lots of happy birds up in the Junction Creek Canyon, ate some breakfast, brewed some Maté, and then put on my lycra and headed down to the middle of Durango. My plan was to park somewhere free, and then roll onto one of the trail systems that can be found at the edge of town. I found a lovely little park called Rotary Park right near the roaring Animas River. I parked got the bike out, clicked in at 8:30 AM, and found my way to a trailhead within 5 minutes.

At first I climbed up to a trail that my map showed skirting around the Mesa that Ft Lewis College is on. The picture above comes from that trail. There were shrubs blooming, a great view of the town, and lots of pretty women walking dogs. What can be nicer? And the singletrack? It was climbable.

As I came around to the point of the mesa, I found this pump track and a few dirt jumps. Ft Lewis is a mountain biker's school. Seems like it might be hard to actually go to class or study though.

After I left the Ft Lewis College area, I crossed a road that went up to a place where many earth-moving machines were creating Progress. It's hell to see a place as beautiful as Durango suffering progress, especially when it takes the form of trophy homes, huge condo complexes, and the like. But it's understandable. Durango is pretty &*%@$ nice.

The trails that are found out off of the Telegraph Trail are utterly killer. They are not difficult. They tend to be smooth, swoopy, utterly hard-packed, and of course, climbable. What a pleasure! Imagine being able to ride out there on a whim, any time.

I did not return to my truck until almost quarter to 1. I was riding the whole time. Over 4 hours. And I had a fabulous time. What an asset.

When I got back to town, thunder was rumbling and a big dark cloud was looming. I was going to just re-fill my HEED bottle and hydration pack and head over to the Test Track, but it looked like that would be a recipe for wetness. So I ate a ham sandwich and went to the library.

Looks like things are improving now though, and I'm burning daylight.