Saturday, April 28, 2007

Yeti Spring Series #2

I've done so danged much riding in foul weather in the last 6 months, it can be hard to believe that there once was good weather in the west. Today proved that there is good weather in the west.

Yeti #1 back on the 7th was harsh. Cold, moist, breezy. Today was nice. Mid-70's, and windless almost. I felt good too. Not too danged fast, but faster than last time I'm sure. And the trick knee felt great. No hint of discomfort. Only perspiration, dust, crashing Juniors only a bike length ahead of me--it just does not get any better. At least for me. Good danged day.

This above is a shot I got of one of the gravity events. I wasn't patient enough to get a really good shot, but you get the idea.

Personally, I don't do gravity. Gravity does me. It knows me, in the biblical sense. If you get my meaning.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Re-defining Tom's residential appliance

As I live in America, and have the world's finest marketing culture washing over me nearly 24 hours a day, I am aware of and energized by the phenomenal success and pervasiveness of the iPod. I personally do not own one. I have an MP3 player made by some inferior, 2nd-string company. It is stylish, sure, but compared to an iPod it's almost like carrying around a '47 Hudson automobile.

But I am hip. I'm with it. I'm down with the iPod thing, baby. In order to express my progressive ultra-American consumer identity, I am officially renaming my home, the POD. I hereby unveil the New & Improved Residential Capsule: the tPOD.

I'm in the 2nd week of life in my tPOD, located in the new POD-quarters up on the hill north of Salida. Nice place to be. I have a about 450 feet of elevation to climb in 3 miles when riding home from work at the bike shop, but that builds character. And aerobic endurance.

A storm rolled through Monday night and Tuesday, dropping plenty-o-moisture, some of it white. Here's what this morning looked like as I saddled up and headed for a day of good honest labor:

Racing at Nathrop for the 2nd race of the Yeti Spring Series Saturday. I'm getting in some good long rides between storms, so hopefully I won't vomit.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dave's GDR Party

Cool party, nice people, great venue. Downtown Denver is such a hip, happenin' place. It was fun to be part of such a cool thing.

Go big Dave! Make your GDR trip the 1st record-setting Divide run on a fixie!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Strikes and Gutters

Some mostly crappy weather followed the race weekend. I had to drive to the Front Range on Tuesday the 10th and I had weather in South Park that'll turn your hair white. At one point I found myself driving 30 mph in 4wd on solid ice with white outs making zero visibility beyond my hood. Driving utterly blind on a US highway, waiting for the grim reaper in the form of a big rig to appear out of the white cloud of swirling snow. Sure, I lived through it, but oh baby, what a way to celebrate spring!

No riding during that week. When Saturday came and I had a chance to get out, I took a four hour ride on my road bike. The last hour was done in grimacing pain. My left knee felt like it was coming unglued. The rest of the day I limped around feeling depressed. So much for my endurance race season. Time to go find a physical terrorist and start trying to work out a tendinitis problem.

The Angel of Mercy came to me in the form of my good friend Chuck. He loaned me a book about cycling medecine which had a good stretch for the IT Band. It also had a page or two dedicated to discussing the causes of IT Band tendinitis. Cleat disalignment. Pedals too narrow. Saddle too high or too low.

I've been having trouble with some of my SPD pedals. The right pedal on my best pair of 959s has been releasing too easily. The left side of my brand-new A520 road pedals floated around on every pedal revolution. So I turned over my shoes and really looked at the cleats. They were way worn. And I had mounted them as far outboard as possible since I was concerned about the wide the Q-Factor of the XT 760 cranks I got last summer. I pulled those cleats and replaced them with fresh new ones, and I mounted them in a more neutral position. I tried them on my mtb pedals and the release problem was gone. I tried them on the road pedals and the engagement was solid with no odd float.

Then I measured the Q-Factor of the new road bike cranks. Wow, they are about 17mm narrower per side than the XT 760s! The shop just got in some 20mm pedal extenders for setting the pedals farther apart. I installed them and went for an easy ride. Ah! Comfort.

Monday I rode for 3 hours. I climbed Poncha Pass, then rode north to the 285-291 intersection where I turned east and rode into a heinous head wind trying to beat a storm into Salida. It was a pretty big effort. My knee felt fine, like there had never been a problem.

Oh, sweet resurrection! I'm back, baby! I'm not mortal! I just suffered from a bit of improper bike fit! I will live forever, riding like the wind. Looking good, smelling good, fighting off the ladies!

Well, maybe it's not that great. I better really start stretching better, I better get myself back onto Glucosamine/Chondroitin, I should do a better job of working my abs and upper body--basically I should behave more like a 43-year-old who hopes to ride like a 32-year-old. But at least I'm not off the bike! Woo hoo!

And as if that's not enough, today I get to go to a party and benefit for my friend Dave Nice. Dave is an endurance racer who suffers from the affliction of thinking that fixies are a good idea. He is also the guy who gained fame within the cycling community last summer through the unlikely event of having a fixed gear bicycle stolen from right next to him as he napped in the Wilds of northern Montana in the early days of the 2006 Great Divide Race.

It will be a good time for sure. Nice chance to connect with some old friends and maybe make some new ones. See you there!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Change of Venue

For the past month or so, when I wasn't in Utah or couch surfing at one place or another, I've been parking the POD and living in the parking lot at Bongo Billy's Salida Cafe. Parking lot living has been a little odd, but at least I had the sound of the Arkansas River to lull me to sleep at night.

But today moved into a new POD-scape. Thanks to the generosity of my good friends the A-Team, I'm going to be spending the summer living in the POD on the multi-mammal bikey commune. Three bike shop employees and the agreeable and good natured bikey wife of one of them. Amber is a Humane Society shelter manager and she and Anton (the A-Team) make a habit of acquiring hard-to-place pets.

There will be four hominids, three canines, two felines, a smattering of chickens, a turkey (not me, another turkey) and who knows what other critters. And bikes. Lots of bikes.

Good summer coming!

This bikey commune is in an undisclosed location. Near Salida.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cold Danged Race Day

Today was the Yeti Spring Series #1 X/C in Nathrop, CO just 10 or so miles north of Salida. Promoted by RPM Cycling's Keith Darner, a friend of mine and a danged good guy, run on the same venue as the Chalk Creek Stampede, which is the opener of this year's Mountain States Cup.

A weather thing blew in yesterday, and overnight it got pretty cold. Dawn was overcast and in the 20s. But I was racing, dangit. I've shown up at that venue in some pretty bizarre weather before only to have perfectly appropriate race weather by the time the starter said go. So I dug out the warmies and headed up there around 10am.

Warming up wasn't easy, as it was around 39 when I got my kit assembled and started pedaling around. By the time we lined up it was mid-40s and the cloud ceiling seemed to be lifting, but it was still chilly with a moist breeze blowing.

I probably should have lined up with the experts, since I was bound to have my ass handed to me no matter what category I entered, but I entered Sport. Still feeling pretty tired from my White Rim day Wednesday of this week, so I really liked the sound of two laps more than three anyway. I always pummel myself silly in these short races. Two laps of suffering seemed to be a better fit.

I was 6th out of 9, which is pretty much where I normally finish in XC races. The left knee shot me a couple of yelpers, which makes me think I am going to have to deal with this IT band thing. Same pain as usual, outside of the left knee. But it hit me pretty hard today. Definitely slowed me down in the last half of my 2nd lap.

And then I got cold. I had to ride into the breeze about a mile to where my truck was parked after finishing, and I got a deep chill. Got home to Salida where it was snowing hard, ate a big pile of beans, rice, ground beef, cheese and a tortilla then took a nap with about 30 lbs of clothing on.

Another day, another dollar's worth of lactic acid.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

White Rim in a day

Another sweat-crusted jersey hits the laundry basket. My celebration of rims, ledges, red sand, sandstone slabs, long multicolored views and warm, dry breezes has completed with a bang and a wimper.

This ride was brought to you by Hammer Products, Red Bull, and SPAM.

I got up to the Mineral Bottom Road around 9pm on Tuesday night after viciously flogging the T100 all afternoon and evening across the State of Utah. Tired and goofy, I drove up highway 313 looking to park, set up, and sleep at the intersection with Mineral Bottom. Just after seeing the sign for Mineral Bottom a road took off in the same direction labeled “Mineral Bottom Campground”. I drove about 100 yards down that road before I realized that it wasn’t the right place. I couldn’t find a place to pivot the POD so I started backing her out of there. It did not go terribly well. I had a hard time doing it in the dark, with the T100 backup lights simply lighting up the front of the POD. A jeep dude with some of those superbright Hela lights came up and at first I was annoyed, but then he came along side and offered to light my way for me. Nice, it helped me a bunch.

So 5 minutes later I got the POD parked tolerably well and started the process of filling my pack for the ride. I was too jacked up to sleep for a while, and I actually wasn’t planning for a big sleeping night. I intended to get myself up at 3 or 4 and get started with lights so that I could be maybe halfway done before the heat of the day came on.

I filled my 100oz bladder as full as I could get it with water, then filled the 70oz as fill as it would go and dropped it in there. Then I filled a water bottle with HEED and jammed it in there. Tight. I jettisoned the shock pump I usually carry. I put one Red Bull into each side pocket then a can of SPAM into the front pocket. Hmmm, no camera (the pictures here are from my trip on the rim last September). Better bring the small sunglasses so I won’t need to pack the Oakley football case for the M-Frames. I wedged the smallest sunglasses case I have in with my sunglasses.

I go outside and look at the sky to make a judgment call about the rain jacket. Not bringing it invokes Murphy’s Law—if you have it there will be no rain. But I just really don’t have room for it, and the pack already weighs about 20 lbs. The weather has been so nice too! Oh, look at the moon. That’s right, the full moon was just last night. It’s still big as a house. Maybe skip bringing the big light? Nah, I like lots of light.

I set my alarm for 4am and finally crawl into the bag at around quarter to 11. It’s gotten so late, I decide I better give myself 5 hours of sleep if I want it. Just as I’m starting to drift off I hear somebody drive up and park. Damn, it’s late for somebody to just be getting here. I wonder what they’re up to? I listen for breaking glass and hear somebody tinkering around, opening and closing their car door. Maybe it’s somebody else staging a Rim circuit? After a while I hear a conclusive door close. Then silence.

I laid awake for what seemed like quite a while, then woke up with a full bladder. I hit the light on my watch and see that it’s 3:30. I cancel the alarm, make tinky and then grab the day’s first Red Bull from the fridge. Ah, nothing says “let’s do something crazy” like chugging a Red Bull in the middle of the night.

I get the bike out of the truck, mount my lights, go through a checklist I’ve made the night before, eat some cold cereal for breakfast, etc. It takes me nearly 90 minutes to be really ready to go. The big white moon shines silently through a nearly clear sky.

I pedal south down highway 313 toward the park entry. I am doing a clockwise circuit for a number of reasons. One is that this is the first way I ever saw the White Rim, another is that there is a section from Murphy’s Hogback down to Potato Bottom that I have almost always had to drive when doing the Rim traditionally, yet another is that I don’t want to finish with the long slog up the Schaefer Trail. But the single most important reason is that I feel quite certain that there will not be a government employee sitting in the entry booth looking to squeeze currency out of me at 5:30am. Just in case, I’m practicing my line: “Ontree fee? Me no speaky good eengleesh, wäht ees üntree fee?”

My legs complain a fair bit as I warm up pedaling the paved highway. I add up the miles I’ve done since Saturday. Let’s see, 25, then 80, then 58, then, uh, 25—nearly 190 miles in the last four days. Yeah, you take your time warming up, legs.

I get to the booth at a bit before 5:30 and it’s dark and deserted. I grin with the elation of the cheap bastard. Covert Op, baby! I swing a wide turn left into the Schaefer Trail entry and my tires hit that federal government gravel and down I go, down below the red rim for the real start of my journey.

The switchbacks of Schaefer have seen some work recently. I just climbed these last September on a wet morning about a month before the road got closed in mid-October. Huge rainstorms hit and all the people on trips below the rim got stranded down there. The Park Service had to rescue everyone down there and there were private trucks and jeeps stuck down there for more than a month while the road was fixed. I can see that lots of dirt has been moved.

The moon is huge behind me, but as I start into the steep park I pass into a deep black shadow. I am hauling ass, but can’t imagine going half as fast without my HID light. I’ve often heard about people doing the White Rim on full moon nights with no light. Always seemed a little crazy to me. What if it gets cloudy? What about shadows?

I zoom down and down. What a blast! Nothing like riding fast behind a good headlight with a belly full of Red Bull!

In no time I hit the first bottom and begin climbing. There is a fresh pee spot right in the middle of the road. I yell out “Piss in the road!” with an Italian accent, as is my custom.

After a few of these climb/descent cycles I’m descending fast with a head full of exuberance when I see that the end is near. The road takes a sharp off-camber left which comes up on me too fast and I see that I’m not going to make it. In quick semi-panic I lock up the rear and start sliding toward an offroad encounter. I slide to a stop inches away from a big red rock. OK mister, let’s just reel it in a little. Nothing wrong with having fun, but you are a long way from the emergency room and there aren’t any ambulance drivers handy.

I shake it off and get back into motion. Almost immediately I see another piss spot. Wasn’t the last one just like a mile ago? “Piss in the road!

As I emerge from Schaefer Canyon onto I sense that headlights are coming up behind me. It look back and it’s the moon. I’ve just emerged from the shadow. It’s after 6am, and the sky in the east is just starting to get a little light. My headlamp is still pretty handy, even though I’m out of the moon’s shadow.

I start the classic White Rim boogie, climb out and around a promontory, then descend back toward a canyon head, cross a wash. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The Musselman Arch parking lot goes by on my left. I’m not stopping at any of the attractions this time. I’ve seen Musselman Arch 30 times, in daylight, with people walking across it and talking about how it looks like it should fall… Not today. Today is all business. Pedaling, rolling, pedaling.

Piss in the road!” Weird, it’s like I’m following a piss machine.

The light in the east is now outlining the La Sals, which are capped with clouds, a small patch of orangy-pink shows just to the north of them. But the moon is much brighter, and the wash of my HID is brighter still.

As pre-dawn twilight starts to make my light unnecessary I approach a fairly significant promontory. I think I can see a rider climbing it. Pretty far off, but I seem to be able to see someone, looking like he’s wearing a blue-green jersey. I quicken my pace to try to catch him, but by the time I get over the top he’s gone. Minutes later as I pass the Lathrop Canyon intersection, I see a rider wearing a blue-green jersey, and he’s peeing! I’m listening to music, and I probably can’t tell how loudly I talk, but I say “the Pisser!”

He looks up (I’m still perhaps 100 yards away) then finishes and gets on his bike and goes. I give chase, but never see him again. “That guy is hydrated!” I say to myself. After he rides away from me I can see that he’s no slouch on the bike. Could he be the guy that showed up at Mineral Bottom just before midnight? If so, how could I have caught him after sleeping for four hours? My theory: if it was him he was riding without a good light. Imagine how he would have had to pick his way down Schaefer without a light? That would explain the high concentration of piss spots—he wasn’t making good time because he couldn’t.

The sun makes its appearance as I near Gooseberry Canyon. Around this time I come up on a rider wearing a t-shirt and large backpack riding a 12-year-old Trek hardtail. I pass him on a fast downhill, then he passes me as I am stopped to put on sunglasses and slam the day’s second Red Bull. When I catch him again I ride alongside and talk with him. He’s a young dude from Flagstaff (Todd? Bill?) who has never been here before but is doing the whole ride. He has a bivvy sack in his pack in case he can’t make the whole circuit. Nice guy, riding steady without flash on an old bike. I wish him luck on roll onward.

Five minutes after I pass the Flagstaff dude I pinch flat slamming through a wash. He passes me as I fix the flat. I catch him maybe 20 minutes after I got started again. Then I stopped to strip off my leg warmers just as I got near the White Crack turnoff, and saw him coming up. I was moving again before he caught me, and I never saw him again.

I climb the series of climbs toward the big traverse up onto Murphy’s Hogback, and wheez during the grind on up onto Murphy’s. There’s a big Dreamride group staging for their day up at Murphy A. I wave and roll on by. I don’t even put a foot down, it’s time to pass the symbolic halfway point and keep it rolling. I raise clouds of fine dust descending the tight switchbacks off Murphy’s toward the Green River side. Yeah, baby! It’s all downhill from here! (yeah right).

The next 20 to 25 miles are probably the easiest of the whole ride. When my odometer hit 60 miles I came to a big ring area that was great. I flew through the next 10 miles, hitting about mile 70 as the white rim disappeared into the banks of the Green River near the base of Hardscrabble.

Ah, Hardscrabble, the beginning of the end. I’ve cleaned the climbs to the top of Hardscrabble many times, though it’s never been easy. This time it was hopeless. Some wheezing granny gear climbing, with the front wheel wandering to and fro, but much of the climb was done on foot, wheezing and pushing. Yep, I’m mortal. And goldarnit, it’s lunchtime!

I got to the top, sat down on a slab of sandstone, and hauled out my SPAM and a plastic spoon. SPAM is not fine cuisine, no sir, but you know it is kind of a miracle of good old American can-do know-how. Take the parts of the pig that would normally be made into dog food, add a liberal amount old-fashioned sodium-chloride, seal it all up in a can with a convenient pull-ring opener, and you’ve got yourself a meal. Zesty. Smelly. But I ate all of it, and it wasn’t hard. Then I washed it down with my last Red Bull.

Red Bull is another minor miracle. I think that, in addition to all the good solid nutrition delivered in the tiny can, Red Bull must have some kind of advanced dental cleanser. That baby wiped all the grease and odor off my teeth, and left my whole mouth feeling fresh and slick.

After I finished my noon meal I consolidated my pack, mixing up a new batch of HEED from the powder I had brought along out of the 70oz bladder, then poured the rest of that bladder into the pack’s 100oz bladder. I folded up the empty bladder and slipped it in next to the empty water bottle in there, smashed my SPAM can and my Red Bull can. When I put the pack back on it felt light as air. And I felt minty-fresh all over. I rolled down off Hardscrabble with a song in my heart and Ween in my headphones.

I cruised along the Green River smooth as baby poop. There were nearly 80 miles on my odometer. I was a perpetual motion machine, but my hands and butt were beginning to get a little worked. And the danged left knee—the IT band pain has become a constant companion during days when I ride way too far. Dangit!

Then came the time to climb up to Horsethief Bench, up and onto the red rim to the completion of the ride. Not as long or hard as Schaefer, but not short or easy either. You start out near the Green River at around 3900 feet and climb to nearly 4900 feet in just under 2 miles. I started around 1:30. It wasn’t as hot as it can be, but the sun was shining through a clear sky and it was over 70°F with no breeze.

I rode it clean, almost all the way to the top. A sheen of sweat was showing on my arms. Just as I rode into the last switchback, with the top of the rim visible out of the corner of my eye, something weird happened. I think I bumped a small rock embedded in the road and stalled. I didn’t have the reaction time to get my foot out of the pedal, and I keeled over onto my right side. Plumpf! As the dust settled, I think I said something like “that was unusual”. I got my right leg out from under the bike, and was about to stagger to my feet when I decided I might as well take a moment for a bit of refreshment. I was already seated and I was already dirty. I just sat on my butt in the middle of the dusty road and drank from my HEED bottle, washing down some sea salt crystals. I probably just sat there for two or three minutes before getting up and going on.

Oh, the Mineral Bottom Road, that damned sneaky, malevolent bastard. I’ve ridden that road many times, in either direction. I remember climbing it the first time I ever rode the White Rim, a one-night supported trip. It seemed long. “How long is it?” I asked myself. Gosh, eight miles? Maybe ten? I couldn't quite remember. My odometer was creeping toward 90, it had been 86 when I keeled over on Horsethief. I seemed to remember that the whole circuit was a little under a hundred.

Endless bastard. I glance off toward the La Sals, visible again for the first time since mid-morning. I drink HEED, I drink water, I eat hammergel. I grind along. More than 8 miles… I think there’s a dog-leg to the left just before you come to the highway. Ruthless bastard. More than 10 I guess…

I come to a dog-leg to the left. This is it! I climb the 100th climb of the damned Mineral Bottom Road --“I think the POD is just over this rise!” Then I get over the rise. Nope. More than 11…

Well children, it’s actually almost 13 and a quarter desolate, god-forsaken miles. I rolled up to the POD at about 3:15pm. GPS shows that I was stopped for a little under an hour, so my on the bike time was about 10:15.

Oh, the POD. Oh, the cold gatoraide that can be found in the POD’s fridge. Fire up the barbeque. Make the hamburger patties. Eat. EAT. Where’s that ice cream?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Gould Rim/JEM Trail/Hurricane Rim Trail

After I finished washing dishes and mopping sweat and dust off my body last night I realized that I didn't have enough water left to mount another adventure like the last three. I promised to be back in Colorado by April 5 and today is April 3. So this morning I hooked up the pod, hauled it down off Gooseberry, dumped my poop tank, and headed for Hurricane, UT.

The last time I was here Jim and I rode Gould and the JEM Trail and they made a fabulous loop. Seemed like the perfect way to say goodbye to southern Utah. So that's what I did. I got the T100 and the POD parked near the cell phone towers just above Hurricane, threw on my long-sleeved wool jersey (one of the last clean things I have, and you have to be kind of liberal to call it clean) took a single water bottle and hit it.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Gould was pretty new last time I rode it. There were some sections that were pretty rough from having been recently picked out of the hard soil. Not now. It's smooth like a baby's butt. I dug that trail. Man, it was sweet. Of course JEM is sweet, and the Hurricane Rim trail is nice bit of effort, technical riding, and pretty views. Nice 25 miles (could be shorter, but I rode the JEM all the way out then came back to the intersection with Hurricane Rim).

So, last night as I was drifting off to sleep I hatched a plan for tomorrow. What better way to wrap up this tribute to Utah than by riding the White Rim in a day? I can't think of a more absurd, surreal, and pointless gesture than riding myself into the ground in order to express esteem I feel for the Colorado Plateau. Rims, baby. Rim Ride Moab, Gooseberry South and North, Little Creek, Gould, Hurricane, and finally the grand daddy of them all. The Great White Way.

And besides, it will make me tough. I'll probably stagger through Darner's race on Saturday like a corpse, but as a wise man said, "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me want to eat a whole quart of vanilla ice cream".

Yeah, baby. Yeah! (better quiet down I guess, I am in a library.)

Monday, April 2, 2007

Gooseberry and Little Creek

I slept like a rock and woke up feeling really pretty good, but I figured I better take it a little easy. My plan was to roll up the doubletrack and make a real effort to find the Hidden Canyon Trail on Gooseberry, then double back, probably on the relatively direct South Rim Trail, and ride over to Little Creek Mesa to revisit those trails. Jim and I rode Little Creek back in ’04 and I remember it being outstanding. It was a younger trail, and the markings were not as good as Gooseberry, but really fun. My memory was a little vague about how to find the way over there to the starting point, but I studied my topo and made another ballpoint map which I immediately put in my pack.

Hidden Hidden Canyon

I checked out the map that is posted by the vault toilet on Gooseberry to figure out how to get to the Hidden Canyon Trail. I thought I had remembered where it was, but had not stumbled on it during my ride on Saturday. I made some mental notes, and gathered some landmarks to watch for then set off.

I passed trailheads for the South Rim Trail and the North Rim Trail and got to a point where I figured I’d see Hidden Canyon. My odometer estimate told me that it would be about a mile past the parking lot, which was about a mile past where the POD was set. Eventually I saw a cairn marking a singletrack off to the left. It was in the right place, but there was no carsonite sign, and I was sure that Hidden Canyon was a system trail. I tentatively rode past, then saw a marker for the beginning of the state trust land. Aha! The trail began just before the doubletrack entered state trust land! That un-signed singletrack was it. I doubled back and went in there.

It was just as I remembered. It had been the one trail that stuck in my memory, much more singletrack-ish than the rest of Gooseberry. It had some very challenging slickrock features, but then wound between boulders and piñon. Lumps of petrified wood were everywhere. Wonderful.

I wondered why the official trail marker was gone. Had BLM of the State of Utah decided to try to make it disappear? If so, that wasn’t working. Lots of folks were riding it.

I popped out onto the South Rim, thoroughly satisfied. I looked for the white paint spots to lead me east and back towards camp so I could now get on with my Little Creek adventure. I had also wondered how I missed the intersection with the South Rim Trail when I rode it Saturday. But clearly by the time I got to the rim I was already on the South Rim Trail. I would have to double back to find the way east, but I knew that I was on the verge of some really fun stuff out toward the western point, so I decided to just ride around the horn and then take the North Rim Trail and the Windmill Trail back toward camp. Those bits have such a nice view of Zion NP.

By the time I got back to the POD my odometer showed a little over 13 miles. I stopped in to get a few more Scooby Snacks since it looked like I was in for a little longer day than what I had originally intended.

Over to Little Creek Mesa

I quickly made my way back out toward highway 59, road back to the west of about half a mile on the highway then took the left turn onto a dirt road that looked like the most direct way onto Little Creek Mesa. From the map it showed that there were several ways, which made me a little nervous. The last time I went up there was with Jim and we drove. Or I should say Jim drove, so I didn’t need to know how to get there. That’s why I didn’t remember exactly how to get there.

I climbed up the dirt road after referring to my ballpoint map. I saw some things that I remembered, so I felt good about being on the right track. The day was warm and I was wearing a long-sleeved jersey because that was one of the few I had left that were still clean. I figured it wouldn’t do me any harm to keep the sun off my arms for one day anyhow, but it was a little warm.

Somehow I got turned around once I was up on the mesa. I don’t know how I wound up on the doubletrack I was on, but I came into a camp that had obviously been used by 4-wheeler people since their tracks were all over. In a big sandy clearing was a messy fire ring which a walmart bag full of garbage left unceremoniously in the middle. This was Monday morning, and it had obviously been left there over the weekend.

I have heard that the trails on Little Creek are not being supported by BLM, and that they are trying to keep them from become officially recognized. It amazes me that they would wring their hands over a few bicycle trails when these 4-wheeler scum are abusing the area. Not only is there trash scattered all over, but they have made a network of crude trails all through the sage and slickrock all around me. Assholes.

I make my way past the camp and try to proceed in the right general direction, but I’m starting to think I’m screwed. I hope to find my way back onto the main road without having to double back, but soon find myself following some of the new 4-wheeler trails, eventually dropping into a wash that is bottomless sand. I push my bike and consider using the GPS to give me a trail of breadcrumbs back out of this mess. Then through sheer luck I find my way back onto a graded gravel road. I start heading west and assume I’m on the right track. Soon I see the radio towers that are a landmark on my map. But I don’t want to go to the towers, I want to pass south of them I think. I newly graded road goes off in the right direction, but it is less wide than what I’m on, and looks like it may have just been created. I stay right on the wider road, and soon I’m right at the radio towers. Crap. I reach into my jersey pocket for my map. It’s gone! Damn. What did I do with it? I take off my pack and search it, re-check all my pockets. Gone. Crap.

I follow a minor doubletrack that goes off to the west of the Radio Towers, and immediately it starts heading down off the mesa. I decide I might as well double back. Perhaps this just isn’t my day to find the trails on Little Creek. I’ve already been riding for over 25 miles and it doesn’t even feel like I’m close. I ride perhaps another quarter mile, and there’s my map laying in the road. Woo hoo!

After consulting with the map I decide I need to take the newly graded road that goes off west. It looks like it could really be the way that I had intended to go, so I take it and ride on. I at least feel like I know how to get back out if it doesn’t work. After a mile and a half or so it intersects with a wider, more traveled road. Yes, this actually has a bit of familiarity. I stop to answer nature’s call then remount. My rear tire is flat. I know where it happened, I hit a pretty good chuckhole on one of the descents just past. I put my spare tube in, and take a minute to lube my chain. It’s now about 1 o’clock and I’ve ridden about 30 miles including my bit on Gooseberry.

I ride up this bit of rough road, which climbs steadily. I remember what the place looked like where we parked years ago, and I’m watching for it. My odometer starts marching up into the 30s. Oh well, it’s an adventure, whatever happens.

I come up over a rise and there I am. I’ve gotten to the parking area, which is unimproved. Just a patch of slickrock with a few places people have traditionally parked. Nobody is parked there however. Looks like I have the joint to myself.

With a little deliberation I find the singletrack that peels off to the right. When Jim and I were here, we got confused and missed this and wound up riding down a doubletrack for miles before doubling back and finding the way in. So I remember where to look, and I know that it’s not obvious. There! Ha! I ride in there and begin having the time I wanted to have.

Little Creek is really cool--much more singletrack-ish than Gooseberry. I ride singletrack for a while then pop out into a slickrock area. Cairns mark the way now. Every once in a while you see a faint, faded white spot, but for the most part the way is marked by cairns. People have been riding it though, there are plenty of fresh tire tracks from the weekend.

I wind up on a trail that is away from the rim at first, heading mostly west. It’s a wonderful time, faster and more flowing than Gooseberry. Then I pop out onto the rim facing north. There are parts of the trail that have real exposure to the cliff edge. Very cool. Now I remember, there’s a big loop that I seem to be taking clockwise. This part plays about with the rim, but sometimes ducks back in singletrack away from the edge.

Eventually I wind around to head more south, but still on or near the rim. I start feeling a little tired in the legs. My odometer shows nearly 40 miles.

I’d been warned about how route-finding is a little tougher on Little Creek than it was 3 years ago, but so far it’s been pretty easy. Then I come to a T-intersection on singletrack. The left way seems to be heading in the direction I want to go to get out, so I take it. I roll downhill and pop out onto slickrock, I see a cairn and head that way, pass it, then no more. Huh? Where? Way off, down a little side wash I see what appears to be a cairn. I drop down the most technical thing I’ve ridden yet today, a stair-stepping pour spout down into this side canyon. I ride a hundred yards and come to a boxed in place. Doesn’t look like there’s a way to continue and I see no cairns. I backtrack and push my bike back up through the pour spout. I stand on a high spot with a dumb look on my face scanning for cairns. I see the ones that I saw when I entered this little bowl, but nothing else conclusive. Eventually my addled brain adds it up, and I decide I need to go back to that T-intersection and go right rather than left.

Climbing back to it takes longer than I think it should. I’m wheezing a little and starting to feel thirsty. OK, better just wrap this up and start heading back. When I finally get to the T I start scanning the trail for my own tracks. Have I been this way? I switch my GPS to the map view, and I can see that I’m slowly closing a loop, so as long as I continue heading toward the track that I laid on the way in, I should be able to find my way out of here. Yep, the legs are getting tired. I’m definitely mortal. I’m down to one partial gel flask and my emergency clif bar. Plenty of water I think (I squeeze the bag, and it feels like there’s enough there to keep me going for a while). I get confused one more time, back when the GPS tells me I’m on my route in. It doesn’t look familiar. But I was kind of hauling ass back then…

Finally I find my way back to the parking area. I roll back out on the graded road, and this time I take the way that looks more right according to my map. Yep, this was the direct way. I should have gone left at the strip mine rather than right. Or did I go right? I don’t know, I don’t care. Just want to get back to the POD to put food into my face.

The return trip was pretty uneventful really. It only took me about an hour and twenty minutes to go all the way from the Little Creek Parking area to highway 59 (all downhill) and then on up to the POD. Still a long day, but a danged fine one!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

April Fool's Errand

After riding for nearly 4 hours on Gooseberry Mesa the afternoon of March 31 I was thinking of a bit longer, more aerobic ride for Sunday. The riding at Gooseberry is all full of short hero efforts and tight turns on slickrock. There isn’t much in the way of wide open pedaling. It would be hard to ride for 6 hours up there, not to mention the fact that you’d have to do laps.

Sitting in the POD on Saturday night I fired up the laptop and started looking at topo maps. One option was to cross highway 59 and head over to Little Creek Mesa, but once there it would be time for more anaerobic fun. And it’s not too far to get there, maybe 12 miles over, 12 miles back.

The Arizona strip beckoned. This is the bit of Arizona that is isolated from the AZ state government by the Grand Canyon and the long road distances involved in going around it. The Fundamentalist LDS set up shop there years ago and have been continuing to practice polygamy and other somewhat non-conformist activities like corruption of school systems and local governmental agencies in the name of feeding the hordes of children produced by the local families. As long as I’m in the belly of the LDS for vacation, seems like I might as well see the sights.

The topo showed me a few points of geologic interest down there. Just north and east of the town of Hilldale, UT was a promontory called the beehive. There was a jeep road on the map that rolled north west of the beehive, then continued either to the west into the Canann Mountains or northeast toward Kanab, UT. Then it hooked up with another jeep road that could take me south to Utah state highway 43, which looked like it might be dirt and would definitely take me past Pink Coral Sand Dunes state park. Nice big loop. I could follow 43 down into Arizona then head back north through Colorado City and back into Hilldale.

I scrawled a crude map on a slip of scrap paper with a ballpoint. Of course I forgot to actually bring that with me, but actually constructing it helped me recall many of the details even though it wasn’t with me.

I got up and left the POD around 8:30 with what seemed like plenty of food and water. The weather promised to be beautiful. I rolled south on a variety of sandy dirt roads, and as I approached Hilldale I did indeed start seeing some fairly bizarre homesteads. Lots of really big houses that appeared to have been partially constructed then just moved into, with no siding and often missing entire windows, or with a whole wing just roughed in. Lots of Keep Out and NO TRESPASSING signs tacked to high privacy fences.

Eventually I was shoved out onto the paved highway 59 because of encountering locked gates with PRIVATE PROPERTY signs that showed on the map as through roads. Ah, but the adventure was worth a bit of inconvenience.

When I came into Hilldale, things got really weird. Lots of shotgun shacks and decrepit single-wides, but then there were also brand-new huge nice-looking houses with really high brick walls, 12 and 15 feet high. There were more than a few walled in blocks with several huge houses inside. I would have taken pictures, but I felt a little exposed. There was almost no one around, and here I was wearing lycra and riding a bright green mountain bike.

I rolled to the east side of Hilldale to where the jeep road looked like it should go up into the back country. There it was, dirt road heading off across the wash and then proceeding north. I pedaled down into the wash, crossed a little trickle of water in the sandy bed, then climbed a bull-dozed road up the other side. I headed north, glancing back toward Hilldale now and then.

Things were looking good, then I came to a locked gate. No signs, looked easy to lift the bike over, but I decided that adventure was not worth the risk of a lynching. After all, I was alone and nobody knew where I was. I turned around and road back south.

I decided just to find Utah SH43 and go check out the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. The St. George Chamber of Commerce had given Jim and the girls and I a brochure for this park, so I had expected that it might be worth seeing. I skirted around Colorado City, now into the Arizona Strip, then wound up back on highway 59 (actually known as 389 in Arizona). Shortly I came to the Cane Beds road, which I remembered as being the way to get to SH43. I hooked a left and proceeded East.

After riding for a while down the straight, paved Cane Beds road I encountered the gate shown below, which made me feel good about the decision I had made not to cross any locked gates:

You know, nothing says “welcome to the bosom of my home” like 5 dead coyotes hanging from the fence right next to your NO TRESPASSING sign.

I was about 30 miles into my little odyssey when the Cane Beds road turned north and became dirt. Or perhaps I should say it became sand. A sign said “Coral Pink Sand Dunes, 8 miles”. I checked my water, looked good. I kept grinding away.

It was a gentle climb up SH43. Once in a while the sand got truly deep and it became a wrestling match, but for the most part it was pretty and aerobic. Little traffic for the most part. After about three miles I got back to the Utah border, where there was a cattle guard, the road became paved, and a sign announced “Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, 8 miles”.

What the? That three miles didn’t count? OK, OK, I’m not going to just fold up now, what’s another 3 miles between friends—or sister wives?

So I kept going, and soon saw lots of toy box campers with Republican-looking guys sporting flat tops milling around them. I guess these mormon folks like to celebrate the Lord’s Day by burning up some fossil fuels and raising some dust.

So I got up to the park entrance and I though I’d roll in there and top off my water. The day had gotten a bit on the hot side, which was nice, but I could imagine running out of water, especially since I was nearly 42 miles into this adventure and had probably near that many more to get back to the POD. The incredibly skinny gal in the booth told me I’d have to pay $5 to come in, even on a bike. I could hear somebody revving a hopped up 2-stroke behind her somewhere, so it became clear to me that this park was a petro-toy destination. I decided I wasn’t going to pay a 5-spot to see a natural wonder that was being bathed with un-burned hydrocarbon. I snapped this picture:

Seems that the coral pink sand of the dunes wasn’t a remarkably different color from the road:

So I rolled down-canyon back to my coral pink dirt road and back into the Arizona Strip.
The return trip was quite a bit like the trip out except that I was sweatier and hungrier, and my water pack was lighter all the time. I hadn’t really left the POD prepared for an 80-mile journey in 80° heat. That’s adventuring for you!

I stopped at a convenience store in Hilldale on the way back to buy a quart of water. There were lots of stares from the teenage boys in the parking lot, and the pretty little clerk looked at me like I had antlers, what with my lycra, bike helmet, buck rogers sunglasses and earphones.

I might as well have been wearing a black cocktail dress and a gold tiara.

I had the staggers pretty good when I got back to the POD. Luckily the food was already cooked and just needed to be warmed up in the frying pan. I chowed down, drank a couple quarts of gator aid, then promptly passed out on my bunk for an hour or so.