Sunday, September 19, 2010

Groundhog Year

Kathy and I watched the movie Groundhog Day recently. I wanted to see it again after many years. I'd been thinking about passing days, the repetitive nature of living a workman's life, and familiarity.

aspen ridge

Today I rode up to Aspen Ridge, out in the dry Arkansas Hills north of town. I did this because I've been seeing the blazing colors up there on my drive home from Buena Vista each evening.

And I did this because it is something I do this time of year. Aspen Ridge is kind of like the Sea Otter--first big race of the season. The trees; up there they go all golden early.

aspen ridge too

So I rode up there, just as I did last year. It was a nice ride too, lovely fall weather and beautiful clear late summer light.

Looking at that post from last year I see that it was posted 364 days ago, and it's about doing exactly what I did today. And what's really weird: I write in that year-old post that Kathy and I had gone up to Silver Creek to ride the Rainbow at Silver Creek the day before. Well guess what? Kathy and I did that yesterday, just as we did 365 days ago.

aspen ridge three

I'm coming to the close of my 10th year in this little corner of Colorado. Mayberry in the Mountains. It's no surprise that I'm retracing my steps as these years float past. Given my new life, with vacation time more limited than at any time in the last 15 years, I've been playing close to home much more than normal. So I'm seeing the same trails, the same events, the same little seasonal traditions marching past. I did the Gunny Growler in May. Visited Crested Butte in July. 24 Hours in the Sage in August. In another month I will simply have to go to Fruita or Moab. Like the Swallows of San Juan Capistrano, I will feel compelled to put stuff into my truck and go west to the red sand for a few days. I just will.

aspen ridge four

At the conclusion of Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character has fallen in love with a woman with whom he was trapped in a tape loop, and with the little town where he had been walking in his rabbit trails.

Maybe this is a good thing. Certainly, many things about it are good. Otherwise why would I still be living here, doing these things? But today, after feeling like I had done the same thing yesterday, and that yesterday was exactly a year ago, and both those days' real yesterdays Kathy and I had done the same thing also?

Just a little spooky.

Monday, September 13, 2010

2010 Vapor Trail 125

We had a dandy this year. The weather was clear, classic rocky mountain late summer perfection. It was chilly overnight, I think more than normal. But the stars were brilliant, the dawn was bright and beautiful, and it was dry.

I had a camera with me, but it never cleared leather. I've included three money shots from the most dramatic place on the course, taken last year on a recreational ride. And a couple shots Shawn got from Aid Station 1.

But first, the story.

There was probably the largest field we've ever had. I believe it was 47 starters. The stretch of F Street from the bridge to our turn right at 2nd was a bit crowded with cars and pedestrians as a large peloton of mountain bikers rolled through.

A Salida City cop car pulled in front of us just as we started crossing Sackett to do the neutral start. We've always made plans with the City Police Department to have this, but I can't remember any of the prior races where we actually had a cop with lights flashing leading the group.

It isn't easy to be a driver leading an actual neutral start. To be completely neutral, the car has to stay between 8-10 mph on flat or slightly uphill ground. It isn't easy to drive that slow actually, but if the lead car goes much faster, some riders have to hustle to stay with the group. After we got past the airport, my friend Kent Davidson and I dropped off the back of the group. I didn't have any desire to go anaerobic just to stay with the neutral start. To finish the Vapor Trail 125 I need to ride my pace. Period. So we were probably more than a quarter mile back from the 3rd-to-last rider when the lead car pulled aside. No biggie. Neither of us were in it to win it.

The dirt grind up to Blanks Cabin and the Colorado Trail trailhead always seems to take longer than it should, and we didn't get there until just before midnight. I was the last rider to get there, since Kent usually climbs a bit faster than I do. But I was feeling pretty good. I'd been staying on my own pace. Happy to be to singletrack and the peace and quiet that comes with being away from the lights of the sweep vehicle (being driven by Scot, which means there was a certain amount of ribaldry and shenanigans going on behind me).

I always enjoy riding the Blanks to Chalk Creek section of the Colorado Trail, especially at night--technical, beautiful, quiet. I came off the trail 3rd to last; I had stayed ahead of Kent after he stopped at the trailhead, and I caught and passed Todd Schweitzer halfway through. That was encouraging, because Todd is a veteran of the Vapor Trail 125. When he starts it, he finishes it. If I'm with Todd I'm on a finisher's pace!

Here I am filling a bottle with HEED, that's Kent over my shoulder

I rode into the Cascade Aid where there was a fire, warm breakfast burritos and lots of friends. I had a burrito filled with scrambled eggs, potatoes, and an impressive blob of mayonnaise. I didn't want to get too comfortable there. I ate, put on my warmest long tights, and headed back out into the night on my way to the Continental Divide at Alpine Tunnel. I expected Kent to catch me and pass pretty quickly.

This climb into the wee hours always seems endless. The part from Aid 1 to St Elmo seems especially long. I was riding with just a meager helmet mounted headlamp, conserving battery for my main bar-mounted light, so I seemed to be missing some of the landmarks that help me gauge my progress. I was surprised and delighted when I noticed just in time that I was about to miss the left turn to Hancock and the Alpine Tunnel and ride into St Elmo. More than halfway from the Aid Station to the divide crossing! Neither Kent nor Todd have caught me, I must be climbing well!

I continued toward the divide in good spirits as it got to be around 3:00 AM. Shortly after I made the turn I noticed that it was getting colder, so I stopped to put on my jacket and took the opportunity to eat one of the mini-croissants stuffed with egg and potatoes that I brought. One of my instructions from Kathy (AKA Coach): eat much and eat often through the night! I should know that, but I don't very often do that. (Other key instruction: When in doubt, chill out.)

Sometime between that stop and my arrival at the Alpine Tunnel hike-a-bike over the divide, I started getting that 4:00 AM feeling. Tired, time starting to become oddly abstracted, darkness seeming very dark. I turned my main headlight on just for the company, so I'd have a little more to look at. Almost immediately the light's indicator went from blue to red--limited battery time left. I had an extra charged battery, but didn't want to bother digging it out. But the red-ness bugged me, adding to the 4:00 AM feeling of vague foreboding.

Just as the section from the aid station to St Elmo felt shorter than usual, the section from St Elmo to Hancock felt unreasonably long. There's an old mining building that leans out over the road just near Hancock. I kept watching for it to appear out of the darkness. Then, after what seemed like a really long time, I rode into Hancock and saw the tail lights of the Vapor staff motos waiting to watch the last riders pass through Hancock and up the railroad grade toward the tunnel trail. Never saw the building, but finally made it to Hancock.

The old mine building, obviously in daylight...

There's an odd thing that happens up in the mountains as you travel at night. You pass through temperature pockets. I had put on the jacket near St Elmo, but somewhere between there and Hancock it seemed to have gotten just a little warmer. I was perspiring, just a bit. I felt comfortable, and not so warm that I needed to strip off the jacket.

I was starting to feel pretty tired, and tired of the steady, relentless grade to the tunnel. I'd been on that same grade for 3 or so hours. Hiking sounded better than grinding along. The trail from Hancock to the Alpine Tunnel is 2 or 3 miles long, not really singletrack, but not graded gravel either. There are still railroad ties visible here and there from the narrow guage line that was abandoned before the turn of the last century, and there is close tree cover and some shallow water in a few places. The railroad ties were reflecting tiny crystals of frost. I had ridden back into a cold place. There were thin coatings of ice on standing water near the trail. But I was still climbing, and had a jacket on. I felt reasonably comfortable.

Arriving at the singletrack hike-a-bike over Altman Pass (the ridge under which the Alpine Tunnel crossed the divide before it collapsed for that last time over 100 years ago), I simply climbed off my bike and started pushing it without even a pause. I wanted to be over the top before first light. I knew I needed to be if I was on a finisher's pace, and it was a symbolic goal for me to be up there on the divide while it was still dark. I looked down after I'd been hiking for a while and saw the light of one of the two riders I knew were behind me, Kent and Todd. I marched on, pausing for breath periodically. Later I saw another lamp down there. All three of us were hiking to the divide.

I reached the divide under an icy blanket of brilliant stars. The very first bit of gray light was appearing on the southwestern horizon. I was at once in awe of where I was and what I was doing, and also in the strange funk that comes from being deprived of oxygen, sleep, light and calories. I only paused briefly to take in the moment. Surreal and beautiful. Even though I didn't dwell long, the vivid memory of that moment was stored deeply.

As soon as I began my descent to the Alpine Tunnel West Portal, I was seized with the coldness of the air. I was no longer working, and was acutely aware of the moisture under my thin jacket.

I met Tracy Smith, Shawn's brother-in-law and the lead support moto rider for each of the Vapor Trail 125's that has happened, after passing the old railroad infrastructure at the west portal. He was waiting there to watch the three of us, the last riders, to be sure we were on our way to Tomichi Pass. Tracy was with the Search and Rescue crew from Western State in Gunnison who Dave Wiens had arranged to help out. They had a fire going.

I was in a state of grave concern about my body temp, and knew I needed to peel off everything I was wearing above the waist and replace it with the dry base and mid-layer clothes I had in my pack. If I had not had those dry things, my ride would have been over right then and there. I should probably have accepted Tracy's invitation to come over by the fire, but I was afraid of getting too comfortable.

I hurriedly peeled off my moist jacket and wet jersey. The frigid air hitting my moist skin was painful and I shivered as I pulled on my dry stuff and put the moist jacket back on over it. While I was doing that Kent rode up. I'm afraid I must have seemed rude, but I was just hurting with cold. He told me later that I wasn't but I doubt I was very nice. He rode on. Now I was 2nd to last.

I got out my winter gloves, put a beanie on my head and pulled a hood over that. I had dry stuff on, but I was shivering. It was time to eat. I didn't really feel like it, but the words of my coach rang in my head. I pulled out my chilly food and stuffed it in my mouth, shivering as I chewed. While I was doing that, Todd rolled up, talked to Tracy and I for a minute or so, and went on his way down to the bottom of Brittle Silver Basin and the beginning of the slog up to Tomichi Pass. I was DFL again, for the first time since we got to Blanks Cabin, 5 or 6 hours earlier.

Eventually I stiffly climbed back onto my bike. There was now enough dawn twilight to turn off my lights. The descent was only 10 or 15 minutes, but it was agony. Moving through the cold, cold air, my hands went painfully numb even through the thick gloves. I was worried about being able to brake properly, but even with my deep discomfort and strange negative mood, I was deeply moved by the stark beauty of the surroundings in that soft pre-dawn light. Through chattering teeth I whispered to myself "man, is this beautiful".

Then got to the bottom and jumped off the bike to start pushing it up the hill. Even though I knew I was starting one of the big challenges of the whole event, I was happy to be off the bike so that I could stamp my feet, flex my fingers, and begin working again to bring warmth back to my body.

The first time I attempted the Vapor Trail 125, I named the climb to Tomichi Quit Hill. It's a long, steep slope covered in bowling ball-sized rocks. Marching on the relatively clear sections, staggering through the steeper and looser ones, I made slow progress toward the top. I could see Kent in front of me. Todd was way up there, and eventually gone from my site. Todd is a closer. If I was with him I knew I'd finish, but as I fell back I was beset with the thoughts of failing. I started thinking about scenarios for how I would abandon.

I eventually made it to the pass. Of course. There were Tracy and Chad, moto support. They had passed me as I staggered darkly along. We saw Kent a few hundred feet below us at the Canyon Creek Trailhead, sitting down to eat. I talked to Tracy and Chad for a while, then rolled on down the quarter of a mile south to the trailhead and sat down next to Kent. I pulled out my food and started eating it. We were in similar moods, talking about how we really wanted to finish, but how it was starting to seem unlikely that we could. We talked about how the field all seemed so much faster then we were this year. They had just ridden away from us from the start. Gone. We talked about how badly the hike-a-bike climb to the top of Canyon Creek was going to suck.

Kent went, after a while I got up and trudged off after him. Shortly I needed to stop to peel off my jacket and switch my clear glasses to sunglasses. The sun was streaming down on me. There was certainly relief in that!

But that climb is heinous. A deeply trenched trail, sometimes hip deep or more, with huge loose rocks. And sickeningly steep. And it's way up high in the thin air, baby. All the way up to 12,600 feet. I had to stop fairly often to catch my breath. But again, it was such a rich experience. Suffering, struggling--yet passing into a place of such splendor, and being warmed by the daylight and effort after being so cold.

Earl hikes the last bit to top of Canyon Creek
Earl hikes the last bit to top of Canyon Creek. (these pictures were taken during a different time of day, in a different month and year from the 2010 Vapor Trail 125, but they are what I have to show you about where it was and what it looks like)

I made the top. Kent wasn't anywhere to be seen, already on his way down. Earl Walker (shown in the picture above), also riding support moto was up there with Chad. He had manhandled his big KTM motorcycle up this gnarly trail, which had probably been at least as big an effort as it had been for me to push a bicycle up. I drank in the view for a minute or two, talked to Earl and Chad for a minute, then climbed back on the bike and started the most dramatic singletrack descent in this part of Colorado.

Top of Canyon Creek looking back toward Alpine Tunnel
Top of Canyon Creek looking back toward Alpine Tunnel, the way I had come.

Looking down onto Tomichi Pass
Looking down onto Tomichi Pass. See where the trail starts, down by those trees? It's way down there!

A few minutes after I started my descent I looked at my watch. It was just after 8:00. Wow. I realized that maybe it wasn't hopeless. Maybe I was still on a finisher's pace. One of the miracles of the ultra-endurance effort, turning from dark pessimism to giddy optimism on a dime. Started finding the flow of the trail, and truly enjoying myself.

I caught Kent about halfway down. He climbs just a little better than I do and I descend just a little faster than he does. We talked for just a bit as he let me by and then I opened it up and let the bike go again.

Only a half a mile or so later I heard my bike start making some wrong noises. When I hit bumps it kind of made a snapping sound. I wondered if I might have broken my frame. I stopped and looked down at it without getting off, and saw nothing wrong. As I got started again I noticed that the suspension didn't really seem to be working in the back, then I hit a bump before I was going very fast and it made the noise and then the suspension actuated. Lockout on, and the big bumps hitting the blowpast threshold?

My StumpJumper29 has a Fox Triad. The selection lever points back and to the right for ProPedal, back and to the left for free travel, and anywhere else with no detent keeping it in place is locked out. I glanced down and saw that it was facing forward. Lockout. It had been in free travel mode (of course) and I couldn't imagine how it had moved. I tried to put it back into free mode but the detent was gone. It was just spinning freely around the whole circle. Ah, I see. Blown.

Would this thing fully fail, keeping me from finishing? Or would it just stay in lockout mode, leaving me with a stiff ride and a nasty noise every time I hit a significant bump? Seemed to be holding air...

So now I was in a mode of travel where I wanted to make good progress while the course was pointing down hill, but my mind was busy mulling over the details. What time could I conceivably make it to Monarch Pass? The climb back up to the Divide is one of the two major obstacles to finishing--how will it go? Will I feel too crappy to make it up in time? Will the shock hold out? I bet Kathy's already at the Aid Station, looking forward to seeing her...

Then it happened. I came whizzing into a little meadow on a sandy section of trail in dappled sunlight. A large log blocked the trail. I was distracted and didn't see it right away. Then when I did see it, several beats passed before I realized that I needed to decide what to do about it. When I finally got around to reacting I spazzed and grabbed the brakes hard. I was in deep soft sand, and the front wheel buried. I was instantly going over the bars. I don't think I even took my hands off the grips. Wham!

Then I was laying on the ground on my back. My head hurt, I had smacked it down. At first it seemed like I was really busted up, as in, Search and Rescue busted up. Slowly I picked myself up, carefully checking to see if anything was broken. After a while Kent Davidson rode up. He's an M.D. and he asked me how I was. Slowly it became clear to me that I was OK. Certainly OK to get out the mile or so left to the 2nd aid station. The sweep motos, Tracy and Chad, rolled up and Chad checked my eyes (he's an EMT/Ski Patroller). After a while Kent and Chad rolled on and Tracy followed me.

I was able to move, and after a while able to move pretty easily. I was rattled, so I wasn't going very fast, but I was able to function. When I first crashed I was certain that I was done, dropping. But as I got back underway I was thinking about it. My major concern was with the lack of focus that had led to my crash. There was lots more ground to cover, much more dangerous descending than the smooth, open bit of trail I'd crashed on. I wanted to talk to Kathy about it, but my rational mind got me thinking about grownup values. How important to finish? Worth risking long term health? Why couldn't I consider the rich experience I'd already had a success? Why force myself to accept only a true finish, even under the circumstances?

It was great to see Kathy when I rolled off the trail. She was standing right at the end of the trail, taking pictures of me as I approached. I knew pretty much completely that I was going to abandon when I saw her.

We walked over to the aid station where Dave Wiens and the crew were cleaning bikes, making pancakes and generally helping riders do what they needed to do. An old friend from Buena Vista, Ron Gillingham, took my bike and asked if it needed any attention. I told him about the shock. He looked at it and we saw that it was barfing oil all over the downtube. I started eating a pancake wrapped around a sausage, and then told Tracy that I was dropping. He cut off my wrist band and my Vapor Trail 125 for 2010 was over.

It was a great experience. Maybe I'll never finish one. Maybe I will. Maybe I'll go out sometime with a few friends and do the loop without the structure of the event and finish it as a big ride. Either way, I can celebrate the event as a success. It'll always be part of me, no matter what happens next year or in years to follow.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vapor Trail 125, 2010 Edition

Here it comes.

If you're wondering what got me thinking about blogging again, wonder no more.

As I approach this year's biggest riding milestone, working to make myself train enough and to keep my mind in the right place I've been thinking much about limitations, and the acceptance of them.

Team Velveeta, the ongoing story of an athlete of limited talent. And now, one whose time and energy for training is constrained in addition to his physical limits.

For a goofball like myself, finishing the Vapor Trail 125 is a problem to be solved with the brain as much as it is a problem at which to throw brute force endurance. If I set an expression of grim determination on my face and grind away like satan is chasing me, I will almost certainly fail. I've learned and forgotten this lesson several times. But I really want to solve this one. I've got to keep that lesson up there, even when things get weird with pain, oxygen debt, and low blood sugar.

Stay loose. Eat enough. Keep your head. Keep moving, but don't move in desperation. Be appreciative of the fact that you can do this stuff at all. It's a miracle--as are the surroundings.

The start of this trail marks the last 15 minutes of the first climb to the Continental Divide
The start of this trail marks the last 15 minutes of the first climb to the Continental Divide. On this year's course, with the 10 PM start, if I'm on the pace I need to finish I'll be mounting this climb in complete darkness.

Watch the action of the 2010 Vapor Trail 125 from a satellite's-eye view at Starts at 10 PM Saturday, Mountain Daylight Time. 11 PM Central.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Summer Weekends

The summer has been quite full for me really. What I've done during most of it is to retrace my steps through local haunts. I haven't taken many pictures this year, because most of the places I've been riding and hiking are places I've been before on a routine basis, and of which I have stupid numbers of pics already.

One day in July I rode Starvation Creek and took I think some decent pictures:

Just before I hauled out the camera that day, I was up on the ridge before dropping into the Starvation Creek canyon when a bull elk in velvet trotted across the road in front of me. I thought, "those guys hang out together during summer before the rut starts." I could have gotten the camera out then in anticipation of seeing this guy's buds. Sure enough 45 seconds later two bulls in velvet came from the same area the first one was, and one was a whopper. Opportunity lost.

I had many great days like this, and one very memorable day hiking and gawking near Crested Butte (Schofield Townsite) with Kathy and her folks. Here from the summit of West Maroon Pass:

toward Snowmass from West Maroon Pass
Looking toward Schofield from West Maroon Pass

toward Schofield from West Maroon Pass
Looking toward Snowmass from West Maroon Pass

It's been a good summer. Now on to ushering it out by finishing the Vapor Trail 125.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bless me readers for I have slacked.

It has been 6 months since my last posting.

(This is a picture of a confession booth in a Catholic church, in case you don't recognize it)

I've been not blogging for the last half a year. You might have noticed, or not. That happens sometimes. Since I started this thing I have often let it go for a month or so, but this has been kind of a fundamental shift. Those of you who know me at all have heard me explain (in nauseating and repetitive detail) about how my lifestyle has changed.

It has.

I spent most of this decade living a life of copious freedom in a little Colorado mountain town. I worked from my house or I worked at a bike shop. It wasn't what you call regular work, and I didn't have to show up anywhere at 8 AM 5 days/week. It was really flexible, and quite often really seldom.

When I moved to Salida it was to be a telecommuter. I was really busy in my little home office at first, then things changed at my company. My workload started wandering off to the Far East. My deadlines began to be more like critically ill-lines. Then out of the woods-lines. Then completely cured-lines. Finally I got laid off. Freedom to do whatever became my lifestyle.

After I became a divorced guy several years ago my freedom and independence increased even more, as amazing as it is that that's even possible.

Lots of you have heard this shite before, so let me fast forward to my point: I got really really spoiled during this decade, the one that's hard to name (the oughts?). I got used to the idea that work is something that happens in no particular place, without any set schedule. Sure, I also got used to spending into my savings account almost every month, but I took for granted that work really didn't interfere with My Life™ to a very significant extent.

Then, almost by accident, I got offered a good job. The kind that pays enough that you can actually SAVE money. But here's the hitch: 8 to 5, 5 days per week. Holy Crap!

It was a dramatic, sometimes painful adjustment. But I've adjusted for the most part. I have a routine that involves heading up to Buena Vista, CO every day, getting there around 8 and leaving around 5. Every two weeks a paycheck lands in my account. The same amount every time. Magic.

So that brings me back to this blog. It started out as Team Velveeta™, the story of a man of modest natural athletic ability who would seek the limits of his physical capabilities and write about what it's like to do things on a bicycle that the actual elite riders do, only much more slowly. I did big underground races like the Rim Ride Moab and various NMES and AZES rides. I rode in 24 Hour races, and mainstream hundies like the Cascade Creampuff, the Crested Butte Classic 100, and the Leadville 100, finishing among the last and slowest. But doing it! Finishing all of it. And I did big solo efforts, like my midnight ride down Agate Creek under a full moon, and several circumnavigations of the White Rim. I took pictures and I wrote. And I rode a TON. I was fit. I had time to be fit. For a while there, fitness and this blog were what I really had going.

So now what? What's up with Team Velveeta™? Well, now I guess I'm really everyman. Now I still want to do those big things but I really only have two days per week to train. And often I am so dead tired in the brain that I just don't feel like going when the door is open!

So maybe now Team Velveeta is really about Velveeta more than Team. I'll be doing what I can, a man with not much natural athletic ability and constrained time to train. I'll be fighting weight gain more than budget problems. I'll have days where I ride way out there only to find out that I'm too tired to ride home--finding that I wasn't really fit enough to be doing it at all.

Maybe I'll be writing about the after work rides. Riding on rollers during lunch hour in the warehouse at work. And probably, commenting about what others are doing. Voyeurism. Yikes.

But seriously, thanks for actually keeping tabs on this silly blog to a point where you notice a posting after 6 months of none. I'll try to put something interesting here once in a while as time rolls forward.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Making a deal with Mother Nature

There's been a bit of a conflict going on between me and Mother Nature. She messed with my Vapor Trail. She locked down my local trails at least a month early this past fall. And she's been giving me an in yo' face winter to deal with.

On February 22nd I knew that I would be starting my new 40 hour/week gig, so I had two weeks to enjoy my weekday freedom. I wanted to take a day trip to Pueblo to ride the Lake Pueblo Trails. Not terribly ambitious, just a day riding singletrack without needing to make a drive all the way to St. George or southern Arizona. I had things that I needed to wrap up for the shop, so all I really wanted to do was enjoy some of the ordinary things about having time flexibility on weekdays.

Turns out there was a layer of wet snow about 3" deep all over the Lake Pueblo Trails that had been left behind by the weekend's weather. So I started watching the melt and dryout process through the interweb.

Mother Nature kept things cool, she kept her sun behind her clouds. She clearly did this to slow down the drying of the trails because she wanted to frustrate me. I tried to hide my resentment and avoided shaking my fist at her. But I think she knew she was getting to me.

Yesterday I went down there, ready to take my chances. A little mud? Fine. Hopefully not fields and fields of mud.

Turns out that there was some goo, but it was mostly no problem.

I rode The Duke to Rodeo/Rodeo Ridge. On Rodeo I encountered my first mud, on a short hike-a-bike. Not sticking. Good. Then I rode Cuatro Sinko. A couple pretty nasty bogs, splattering but not sticking (of course I rode through the middle of them, because it's the right thing to do).

I encountered a minor mud bog on Outer Limits, just past Pedro's Point. No biggie.

About mid-way through Outer Limits I saw a pair of bald eagles over the reservoir inlet between the Outer Limits and Voodoo peninsulas. There was ice on the water up in the inlet, and it looked like one of the eagles had picked something off the ice and was flying it to a probable nest in a cliff face over there. I stopped and pulled off my backpack, got my camera out, turned it on and looked for the eagles.

Gone. Can't see them anywhere. OK, I'll try to get them from over on the Voodoo side.

Looked like everything was going to be just fine, mud-wise. I was having fun. It wasn't terribly warm, but it was warm enough. Warmer than Salida! And it was the singletrack I craved desperately.

Then way out on Voodoo I rolled into a pretty bad mud bog, then another. I was going through the middle of each bog. Then I hit one that had the sticky mud, and it started to snowball onto the bike. I hate that; when the stays, fork and front derailleur all get clogged up with adobe clay.

Hate it.

At least it was short. I used a stick to carve the mud out of the fork arch, the stays, and off the tires to the extent possible. After I got under way I encountered several other bogs. Some had standing water in them. I started getting off the bike and carrying it around the bogs, trying to walk on rocks and not disturb vegetation. Eventually I cleared the thick juniper, which was keeping the trail shaded and therefore muddy, and continued on. Once I past out of those junipers I never again encountered mud so bad. Some of the bogs I'd passed on the way in were clearly dryer on the way out just a few hours later.

As I got to the edge of the cliffs over the inlet where I'd seen the eagles, I kept my eyes and ears open. I peeked over the edge a few times looking to see if there was a nest. Nope. So I just enjoyed the singletrack.

Then, as I rounded a corner, I heard a startle noise. I looked toward the noise and saw a huge bald eagle trying to hurriedly get into the air off the top of a juniper bush he had been perched on. It was perhaps 75 feet from me. I jumped off the bike, clawed the backpack off my back, yanked out the camera and spun around as I turned it on. I saw the eagle for just an instant as it flew below the cliff edge, out of site. Gah!

Oh well. I put the camera away, again, and got back on the bike.

I was starting to get tired as I finished up Voodoo. I'd been out for quite a while.

As I climbed out of the Voodoo trail toward the highway, I ran into Cannon and a friend both wearing the distinctive green of the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse Team jerseys. We chatted for a while, I warned them about the adobe mud, we talked about the last of the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Race Series, the Mineral Belt Mayhem. Then we headed our separate ways.

Cannon and his friend riding out onto Voodoo

As I rode back onto Outer Limits for the return journey, I saw my eagle sitting on the ice. Haha! I will photograph him, yes I will!

He was probably 300 yards away, but I knew I could get a pretty clear shot with my camera's zoom. He was far enough away that I hoped he wouldn't be spooked by my movement. Once again, I leaped off my bike, peeled off my backpack, pulled out the camera, stood and looked--he was gone! Where? I looked left, I looked right. I could not believe it really, how could he get out of site so quickly?

Mother Nature! Has to be--it's her doing. She realizes that I'd like to get a harmless photo of this creature, and she's messing with me by using magic to make an eagle disappear repeatedly! What did I ever do to piss her off like this??

As for Mr Eagle, I'm thinking I'll vote for the Wild Turkey next time it comes up for a vote.

I made my way a little farther up Outer Limits, and after about 10 minutes, guess what I saw? The fuggin' eagle! Standing on the ice again.

I did the whole Houdini routine with my backpack, this time keeping one eye on the eagle. He immediately jumped into the air and started flying up into the head of the inlet. With little bits of spittle forming in the corners of my mouth and veins bulging, I pointed my camera at the fleeing bird and got the following grainy photo:

Ha! I think you'll agree, I won this little skirmish with Mother N. Maybe next time she'll know better than to mess with me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Life Taking a Turn

I've got a new job. I start Monday.

Lots of reasons--other than just paychecks.

It's been just shy of 10 years since I got away from working a 40 hour week in an office. At first it was telecommuting. Full time, but at home. And a home up in a little mountain town.

Then came the great outsourcing plague of the early aughts. In 2003 I was set free from full time work, and freed from the tyranny of regular paychecks.

I started to work for Absolute Bikes, the best job you'll ever love. And I house-sat. And started a web programming business that brought in a tiny trickle of income once in a while. I tried returning to the food service industry for the first time since the late 80's (huge failure).

Now I'm going back to white collar IT. Salary. Five 8 hour days per week of clean office work (no bike shop dust or the smell of rubber--god I'll miss that!).

But it's up here, in the upper Arkansas Valley! Where going to work usually means making espresso!

I've gotten used to being able to pick a weekday to take an all day ride in the mountains. Or leave town for a week or three to travel the southwest.

And I've gotten used to living in a state of frugality even as I nibbled away at my savings.

But the lack of structure, order, regularity--this has been one of the greatest downsides of my life after the layoff, as ironic as that seems even to me. I'm going back to a job that uses my education and training. I'm going to be an IT problem-solver again. Not just now and then when a project comes my way, but as a staff programmer. And that feels good.

I can still go to the shop and smell the rubber, talk bikes, hang with my peeps (as Kathy would say). And I'll wake up here in Salida every morning. I can take big rides, but now it will call for a bit of planning.

It's a big change for me, and that makes me nervous. But it's a damned good thing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

2010 Leadville Winter Series #2

My camera was set on the wrong setting, but it looks like I was trying to do something arty with this shot from the balcony. You decide, screw-up or art.

The race thumped me good and hard. I did not win. I did not vomit. Somewhere between those two.

Always fun to be part of these races.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tour de Palm Spring 2010

I've done this thing a bunch of times. It used to be kind of a "normal" century ride. Now it's 10,000 rolling bikes. It's an amazing number of riders.

After all the riding I did in the 10 days leading up to this year's tour, I was quite mortal. I finished in a little under 7 hours.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Art Smith Trail

I wasn't necessarily planning to ride my mountain bike two days during my visit to my folks. I was going to probably take the day to rest up a bit, hang with the 'rents, maybe buff up my road bike...

But yesterday's ride whetted my appetite. And furthermore, when I looked at the map I could see where Hopalong Cassidy intersects the Art Smith Trail (the plan for Friday). I had trouble following Hopalong that far--it ran into a new housing development. There was a sign that said the trail continued, but it looked like it could have gone any of a number of ways. And I was ready to turn around anyway. But I wanted to explore to see what things look like from Art Smith.

The trailhead was easy to find, I got rolling. More accurately, I should say I got pushing. The beginning of this ride had me thinking I had made an unfortunate choice. Some was rideable, but much elevation was being gained in a compressed area.

Then, just past where I met the intersection with Hopalong Cassidy (yes!) things started to level off. And then it became kind of spectacular:

Nice ride. Really nice ride. For lots of it, there was no way to tell that a big urban area was just right nearby.

Looping: a guy could start down at the bottom of Art Smith, ride it to where it hits highway 111, ride along the highway for what looks like a mile or less, then climb back up Hopalong to the intersection with Art, back down to the starting line.

Nice find. Hope I get a chance to do this again soon.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hopalong Cassidy Trail

My folks are snowbirds who spend their winters in the Coachella Valley Sprawl-o-plex. It's pretty much a classic southern California suburban landscape, but it's surrounded by lots of interesting natural landscapes. The San Jacinto Mountains loom above the valley to the west. Joshua Tree National Park is pretty close to the north.

I had heard that there were some good mountain biking trails, but after many years of visiting my parents there, I had never found one that I thought was worth going to back to see again.

My dad gave me a guidebook for cycling routes in the Palm Springs area last year. I cracked the book open Thursday morning, picked a promising-looking trail, and then used mapquest to figure out how to get to the trailhead.

Guess what? It was pretty damned good:

Lots of people up there, all of them on foot. I saw exactly zero other mountain bikers. But that's OK, there isn't anything wrong with walking. People seemed pretty OK with the idea that I was riding, though some were kind of incredulous.

The best news about this trail, I now know how to use it to make a nice fat loop with the ride that I did Friday.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Soft landing at Sweetwater

The morning after the Ripsey ride I woke up feeling like I'd been beaten with a garden hose full of sand. Gary and I had ridden four days in a row, and all four riding days were either long or anaerobic or both--at least for me and my mid-winter fitness. Then on the fifth day we did Ripsey.

At the end of the Ripsey day I had crawled into my sleeping bag shivering and with a belly bulging with food. It took me a while to fall asleep with my heart beating fast. I woke up in the middle of the night with a dry mouth and with a full bladder.

In the morning I felt worked. Legs stiff and tired, eyes puffy, brain thick and foggy. We loaded up and rolled back down the Freeman Road, crossed back over the San Pedro River and hit highway 77 back toward Oracle.

On the way back south, I called AdventureLee because we had been talking about making another attempt to ride together Tuesday. Gary and I had already agreed that neither of us felt strong enough to do anything remotely epic, but we were into doing something light, and wanted Lee to be there if he could. He told me that he really had some important work that he could do, and the 2 hour round trip just for a short ride didn't seem like a great bargain. He told us to call and let him know what we decided to do, but that he'd probably stay home and work. Then he told me about a good restaurant in Oracle. I had eaten some cold cereal before we left, but a real hot breakfast sounded heavenly.

After breakfast we went to my friend Jake's house in Oro Valley. Jake and his wife Tracy live in Salida during the months when our weather is good, and Tucson when their weather is good. Doesn't that sound like a good idea?

I had brought Jake's singlespeed from Salida, and it had ridden on the rack on the back of the tPOD through two significant wet weather systems. I delivered the bike, and Gary and I accepted an invitation to stay for the night. Then we got in touch with Scott Morris and worked out a plan to go ride a fun place, Sweetwater, which is a Pima County resource designed by Mark Flint (yep, there's that name again).

Gary and I rode over there with Jake, met Scott, and had a blast. It was just about exactly as much as my legs had energy for. And it was really fun. The weather was sweet, but just like Saturday night, that didn't mean that there wasn't crappy weather on the way.

The Wednesday rain system made itself known at dawn. It wasn't raining exactly, but the sky was gray and the smell of rain was there. Gary talked to Scott, and he suggested that we could ride, Starr Pass being mentioned as a good idea. But I was feeling even more worked over than Tuesday morning. As most of us endurance ride junkies know, the morning after the morning after is when the real extent of one's tiredness and pain is felt. Riding, especially a ride that might be interrupted by a big 'ol rain storm, just didn't sound good to me.

My next destination was southern California to visit my parents and do a century ride on Saturday. I had promised them that I would be there by nightfall (5 hour drive from Tucson). Gary was going to head home as soon as we wrapped up our riding.

So that was that. Jake fed us one tasty waffle after another, then Gary headed out, east on I-10. I yakked with Jake for a few hours, then headed out, west on I-10. 25 miles out of Tucson I rode into torrential rain. It was the 3rd big, wet weather system I'd been subjected to in the last 7 days.

I made the folks place by dinnertime. Road Trip Part II began.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Big Adventure Out North

As we at dinner at the picnic table in our campsite in Catalina State Park Sunday, Gary and I discussed strategy. Weather was our nemesis. We clearly had a blue chip weather day coming for Monday, and Tuesday also looked promising. Wednesday's weather was a question mark.

The ride that we had been planning to do with AdventureLee, the Ripsey Section of the Arizona Trail, was the must-do ride that neither of us wanted to miss on this visit to southern AZ. We were hoping to ride Tuesday with Lee, and ideally we would have gone together up to Kelvin, AZ that day. But Lee told me that he really couldn't afford the time to go all the way up there again.

We decided that we really should go up there and ride it. We should get up in the morning, load up our stuff, and then drive up there. We would ride the ride then camp where we finish. We figured that we would drive up to Kelvin, where we were going to meet Lee, and do the loop he was going to lead us around.

Lee was going to send us the GPX for that loop. And I also had a GPS track from the AES site for the Antelope Peak Challenge, where a new option for the 2010 ride went north from Antelope Peak to the Ripsey Section, then looped back using the Florence-Kelvin Highway, a graded gravel road. Chad called me that night and I told him what we had planned. When I asked him how we should do the ride, he said we should just go out to Antelope Peak on the Freeman Road and do the ride as a lollipop just as the APC had done in January. So in the morning, that was the idea I pitched to Gary.

We stopped at the Catalina, AZ library on our way north, got some GPX info, looked at Mapquest to see how we wanted to get up there, and then got going. Chad had recommended that we just take the Willow Springs Road north to the Freeman Road, but we saw that following highway 77 north to a place called Dudleyville could get up pretty close on pavement, then we could pick up the Freeman Road and head west to Antelope Peak. We stopped in Oracle, AZ to drop off Valentine's Day cards for our sweeties at the postoffice.

It was a pretty short drive to Dudleyville, and when we got close we started slowing down for each possible left turn to look for a sign saying "Freeman Road". Lots of the intersections were not marked, and none were what we wanted, so after we started leaving Dudleyville behind, we went back to the only gas station/convenience store there to ask directions.

Inside there was only one employee, a woman probably in her mid-3o's. I asked her if she could tell me how to get to the Freeman Road. Her eyebrows went up and her expression became strained. She blew out a deep breath and said something like, "Oh boy, I don't know exactly what to tell you. This is going to be kinda hard."

"You don't know where it is?" I asked.

"Well, it's hard to find, and they're trying to close it. It's them conservationists. They want to close it down to us. Guess there's some kind of bird up there."

"But there are people up there all the time, ranchers and gas line workers, aren't there?" I asked.

"Well yeah, there's people that live up there, and they probably don't want you up there either. Be careful if you go, you might find stuff in the road."

I pictured things like sharpened rebar. "So there might be pieces of metal or something?" I asked.

"Or road closed signs." She said knowingly.

"Well, I think we'll take our chances if you'll tell us how to find it."

She blew out another breath and then gave us directions, turn at the old crusher, cross the San Pedro River (about a foot deep, no bridge) then follow the railroad tracks...

We headed out, saw a road crew working across the river from our crossing, and Gary got some more complete directions from them. And we were on our way.

The conversation with the woman at the convenience store was a bit of amusement, but in retrospect I regret not following Chad's advice. I think it would have been a more direct way to just get there without all the farting around.

We drove south on the side road that goes to the foot of Antelope Peak and found a place to car camp. Then we set about starting on our journey. We had burned a fair amount of the day. It was getting close to noon. Chad had said the lollipop was a 7 hour trip. And those are 7 Chad hours. Gary is faster than I am, but he would probably be forced by good manners to take as long as I would take to finish. And that would most likely be more than 7 hours, assuming no mechanicals or vomiting from too much exertion.

Basically, it was pretty much a sure thing that we would finish in darkness. We attached lights. I looked for my Oakley M-Frame clear lenses. I have prescription lenses. As I like to tell people "I don't really need these glasses. Unless I want to be able to see." I looked and looked. I started looking in places where I had already looked. After half a week of living out of the truck, things were a little cluttered. I burned too much time looking for the damn things, and finally took a spare set of regular inside glasses I keep in the truck that stay on my face fairly well. Food, warm clothes, plenty of water. I had some trouble getting my hydration pack to zip closed.

At something like 12:30 we rolled. Gary had his GPS bar mounted (my bar mount sucks a$$ so my GPS was in a backpack side pocket). Gary was new to GPS navigation, so this was a pretty good exercise for him.

I've ridden the Boulders section of the AZT several times. It's fun and flowy, and it rolls out into desert that is more and more remote. The Freeman Road travels through some pretty remote country, but once you head north from there you're really getting out into it.

Very soon, the feeling of being rushed to get going passed and we were just out there. Yep, it was going to get dark before we finished. We had enough food, clothing, etc. Might as well stop and take some pictures.

My camera, did I pack it in the stuffed "no room for anything more" backpack?? I looked. Nope. All the pictures would have to come from Gary's camera.

We progressed through the Boulders section, past the namesake boulders, then beyond any of this AZT section I had ever seen. New frontier. There were a couple sections of powerline service road, with the standard man-eater erosion ruts and v-bottom crossings. Then there were some sections of singletrack that were completely faint, mixed in with cowpaths. I told Gary, in some of those places I think trailbuilding was really just a process of gathering rocks to stack into cairns. The recent rainfall had obliterated most of any tracks other than a horseback rider. Gary and I made note of this, and both wanted to be through this bit before it got dark enough to make route-finding tough. Turns out that we did do that, make it past this area while there was still ambient light, but just barely.

At some point we passed a sign that said "Ripsey Hill Section of the Arizona Trail". As we continued, things got pretty damned cool. There was so much. The single word that I think both of us agreed summed it up: spectacular. I'll let the pictures tell some of this:

We dropped off the high ridge down a series of tight switchbacks. It was really an elevator ride down. Then the trail dumped us out onto a jeep road. We gave up another couple hundred feet of elevation and then arrived at the intersection with the Florence-Kelvin Highway. If there had been more time, it might have been fun to go check out the Gila River just a little way down the road to the north. But we were burning daylight, and it was time to make the return.

From here, the GPX file became more than valuable. We used Gary's GPS to find the right turn off the dirt road onto a doubletrack, and we used it actually to select the correct doubletrack of the two that branched off from that turn. There were countless forks in the doubletrack after that, and we were not on the AZT so there was no expectation of signage. When we did rejoin the AZT, we encountered forks that were not signed as well. Some we remembered because by then we were tracing our track back. But some were a mystery. A map would not have been helpful. There was simply too much detail, and it would have taken too much map-reading time.

The sun went below the horizon about the time that we got back onto the AZT and our outbound route. The sky was beautiful, but we were both anxious to get past the hard-to-follow sections while we were still in twilight.

By the time full darkness fell, we were pretty much back to singletrack AZT. Now it was just time to plug away at the miles to get back to camp where we could eat and go to sleep.

The Boulders section just feels really flowy on your way to the north from the Freeman Road. And that's because it's just slightly downhill all the way. On the way back to the Freeman Road, it's slightly uphill all the way. That's just how this stuff works.

Our starting point was actually the highest point on the whole ride, as you can see from the elevation profile:

It seemed like it took forever. My legs were really getting tired. I love night riding, but it's a lot more fun when you aren't feeling trashed.

But we got done. And we ate food, and with almost no conversation or sitting around, we went off to sleep.

53.25 miles
A little over 7 hours moving time
A little over 8.5 hours elapsed time
Total Climbing: 6643 ft (is that all?!?)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Brings a Change

Saturday afternoon and evening treated us with classic southern Arizona fair winter weather. The air was calm and warm but not hot. There were some high clouds, but nothing that looked threatening in the least. I wore shorts and sandals even as darkness slowly settled on the desert.

We had been watching an NWS forecast for rain showers Sunday since before we left home. But we simply could not believe that it would happen. After dinner I spoke to AdventureLee and confirmed plans to meet him along the Florence-Kelvin Highway near the Gila River around 8 AM in the morning. We all agreed that rain seemed unlikely. Gary and I set alarms and went to sleep assuming that we would get up, break camp, and go have an adventure in the remote desert way north of Tucson.

Between 4 and 5 AM rain suddenly started hammering on the roof of the tPOD. I stayed in bed until my alarm went off but didn't really sleep, it was too loud. After my alarm went off I went looking for Gary. He was up, making coffee on the tailgate of his little Toyota pickup, bustling about in a rain jacket.

I called Lee who was way out north, 30 miles down a dirt road. We agreed quickly that our large planned ride was not a good idea for that Sunday. I invited Gary into the camper and we sat drinking coffee for a while, then decided to head out to find a coffee shop, hopefully with WiFi, to get some breakfast and information.

We broke camp and headed east into Tucson. It was early, and we flailed around for a while trying to find a place to go. Finally we found a restaurant in Oro Valley, north and west of Tucson proper. Turned out it did not have WiFi (what?!?), so we ordered a hot breakfast and then made our way to a library. We did not expect to find it open, but hoped it wouldn't be long. Libraries are a great place for a traveler to hang out when there's down time. Turned out that the only Pima County libraries that would open on Sunday opened at 1 PM. We learned this by accessing the network from the parking lot. We also reviewed the most up-to-date forecast, which said that Monday should be fine but that Wednesday could be another rain day. Damn!

After a while, we started wandering around in the very light rain and saw that west of us there was a break in the clouds. Blue sky. And as time went by, it seemed to be getting closer. Maybe we would get to ride. I was thinking about where to camp when the ground is really wet. Out on State Trust Land somewhere in the remote desert seemed a bit risky, since we could have trouble with roads and could have trouble finding a spot that wasn't a mud bog. Catalina State Park seemed like a really prudent choice since you don't need to leave pavement to get to a camp site, the 50 Year Trail heads right out of the park, and there are amenities like showers. A shower sounded really good. And Catalina State Park is just a really nice place, and not expensive either.

As we discussed this, the rain stopped altogether. So we decided not to waste any time and just get on with it.

We got in there, got a nice site, and started kitting up for a ride. We looked at the map they gave us and saw the option to take the Sutherland Trail back to the park rather than a simple out-and-back on 50 Year. I had seen the option before, but never had ridden that trail. So we decided to take that option on our return if it worked out.

At the start, I looked off to the west and saw a dark cloud headed our way. The rain started again just as soon as we started climbing out of the park on 50 Year. It's pretty sandy, so the trail condition wasn't a problem for the most part, but my wool jersey was quickly getting soaked. I grumbled, than stopped to put on my jacket. When I stopped, I noticed that the landscape had been made dramatically beautiful by the rain and mixed light of a localized rain squall.

I did not take many pictures on the Arizona Trail near Colossal Cave because I have photographed it so many times before. Some of the photos I included were actually archive photos from years past. And I didn't take many in the Tucson Mountains because I was busy. But I took quite a few on this ride. Check 'em:

The Sutherland Trail option turned out to be quite a bit more interesting than I had expected. It started with a pretty long, steep climb on bowling balls. Reminded me of home ;)

When we encountered the singletrack, we found a very technical, very interesting trail. The huge sweeping views were amazing.

Even though I've ridden 50 Year quite a few times in the past, and I wanted to see new and interesting trails on this visit to AZ, I found Sunday's ride to be fresh, challenging, and quite interesting. And as Gary pointed out, it was a bonus. We woke up in the morning assuming that we would have to wait out the rain all day, but we wound up getting a really good ride in.

And then we got showers.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tucson Mountain Park and Brown Mountain

After we thoroughly examined the Arizona Trail both north and south of Colossal Cave Park east of Tucson, we headed west. We had a map and we had a couple trails that we wanted to ride: Brown Mountain and Golden Gate.

We got a campsite at Gilbert Ray Campground just west of Gates Pass. Then we ate some lunch and went about finding Brown Mountain.

It wasn't far, but right away we found signage to be spotty. After just one or two wrong turns, we found what certainly seemed to be the Brown Mountain Trail. We traversed along the base of a rocky ridge, encountering lots of technical features and tight switchbacks. Then we reached the end of the ridge, and the trail went up and up. It was the warmest day of our trip so far, and I broke a true and enthusiastic sweat.

It was up and down, and it was technical.

Truly beautiful trail.

Which reminded me of my pretty little Kathy, who couldn't come with me on this trip because of the limits of her vacation time.

Here is Gary on a rare smooth bit.

The conclusion of the Brown Mountain loop took us pretty much back to Gilbert Ray. So from there we headed south, seeking the Golden Gate Trail. There are a combination of singletrack and doubletrack links that we used to get south. We took the Campground Trail to the Sego Trail to the Gates Pass Trail to the Mariposa Trail to the Avery Bryce Trail to the Kerr Jar Trail to the Golden Gate Trail. Or at least that's what we assumed, because non of them had signs. We just went by what it looked like our map was showing us. And for the most part it made sense.

Then we climbed up what we assume was Golden Gate. And it was really nice. It was a fairly gradual climb with the occasional technical feature--a climbing ledge or narrow rock gap. Then it seemed to just go back out to the Gates Pass Road. There was an option that went right, in the direction we assumed we needed to go, but it looked like a faint hiking trail.

We opted to bag it and try to find the Orcut Trail. By our map it looked like this could be accomplished either by riding right down the Gates Pass Road or by taking the Ironwood Trail to the Chaparral Trail. There was a sign for Ironwood, and we took the trail behind the sign. But then it got confusing. There were branches and braids and intersections appearing constantly. Some were marked with cairns. We tried to stick with what looked like the "main trail" but it was hard to tell most of the time.

Eventually we just looked for trails that seemed to be going out to the road. We took a couple that seemed to go the right way, then turned to go either back where we came from or in the other direction. I think it's just too easy to make a trail in that environment. You really don't need any tools, you just start riding something.

But of course, it all worked out. We got out to the road, we found the start of the Orcut Trail, and we were on our way. Orcut had some moments. There were parts of it that were doubletrack, but even some of that was technical enough to be fun.

Verdict on Tucson Mountain Park:
  1. It's incredibly beautiful.
  2. You need a guide or something better than the crappy map we printed out at the library from the internet.
  3. I want to see the portion to the southeast, Starr Pass and all that.
But tomorrow, elsewhere. We had plans to meet up with AdventureLee way up north to see a remote and rare section of the AZT. Alarms were set for O Dark Thirty.

Friday, February 5, 2010

AZT south toward the Santa Ritas

In the morning I suggested that we ride the AZT south out of Colossal Cave past I-10 and as far as we could. Lots of good singletrack has been built out that way in the last couple years, and Gary is an AZT enthusiast, so he was all for it.

I'll just let pictures talk:

Here are some that I took many years ago from inside Colossal Cave:

It was an excellent Day 2. But I was ready to see some Tucson riding I'd never seen before. So that was next on the agenda. Tucson Mountain Park.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pilgrimage Begins

Over the years I have taken many mid-winter road trips to the south and the west to satisfy my cravings: Singletrack, cactus, mexican food, sunsets and warmth! Often, actually very often, weather puts up obstacles to my pilgrimage.

My schedule was suitably clear of commitments to allow me to leave Tuesday, February 2. But Mother Nature, as interpreted by the National Weather Service, told me not to bother showing up until Thursday since she was planning to pour water all over Pima County on Wednesday.

So I left Wednesday morning. The weather that was working overtime in Tucson smacked me in the face right on the south side of Española, NM. I was in heavy snow on very slick roads as I climbed past the opera toward Santa Fe. The wintery weather was hardcore until I got about halfway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Past there it was rain. Just rain. Buckets of rain.

I had planned to pull off somewhere near Deming, NM to pop up the tPOD and sleep. Everyplace I looked off the road, I saw mud. I didn't want to wake up stuck, and wondered if the sound of hard rain drumming on the camper would be very restful. So I got dinner at Irma's in Deming and then I was back onto I-10 to drive into the evening with my wipers running the whole time.

I finally drove more or less out of the rain as I neared Tucson. I went up onto Pistol Hill and found a fairly quiet place to crash in the tPOD.

I woke up in a moist desert under clear skies on Thursday morning. My travelling companion Gary from Del Norte, CO, was due to arrive in Tucson a bit after lunchtime. So I decided to suit up and take a ride. I went on into Colossal Cave Park to get a camp spot. Then I suited up and headed north out of La Sevilla to Rincon Creek. That section is about 8 miles long, and it's just fun. Fast and swoopy, with lots of stickery cactus and scrubby trees to keep you honest.

Smooth and fast singletrack

One of many beautiful Mark Flint turns

After I rode it, I ate some lunch, met Gary, and rode it again with him.

Ah yes, the journey has begun to bear fruit.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

2010 Leadville Winter Series #1

Went up with Shawn to roll around in the snow this past Saturday, trying to avoid vomiting. (I know, it's kind of ancient history now that days have past).

But now I have pictures! First, a falling down action set:

What is that, some ice under there?

Hmm, yep, I think that was ice.

It was a good time. Lots of fresh, fluffy snow on top of everything. It was tough going, but it's always fun to hang out with those Leadville peeps.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

First 2010 visit to Lake Pueblo State Park

In winter, a Colorado mountain biker craving a singlestrack fix can visit a state park on the southwest side of Pueblo and almost always find it dry. And it's fun there.

Yesterday I headed down there primarily because I needed to do some things that are not available in Salida. I had planned a bike ride into the trip.

I got up yesterday morning and looked at my email, as is my habit. There it was, a reminder that I had a meeting at 3:30 back here in Salida. Dang! I considered re-scheduling, then decided that there was one time-consuming task that could happen some other time, and that I could make it work even with a bike ride, though it might have to be time-limited. But making that happen meant leaving the house earlier than I'd planned. Like, as soon as I could get going.

So I hurriedly got my stuff, loaded the singlespeed, started up the cold, cold truck (it's been plus or minus 0° F every morning since Christmas) and rolled east on highway 50 down the Arkansas River canyon.

I got stuff done quickly and methodically, and then made my way to the trailhead.

By my calculations, I had about two hours to ride before I needed to head back. The weather was idyllic. Not a breath of wind. Not a cloud. Right around 60° F. Ah, lovely. I looked at the trail snaking off into the canyons and had a giddy little flutter in my heart. Other riders were embarking.

I put my bike together. "OK, need to do the parking lot superman routine. There are my shorts. Oh yes, I should have the sidis handy so I can step right into them. Wait, my shoes? Did I bring them?"

The reality washed over me. I never put them in the truck. In my rush to leave the house, I left probably the most necessary part of my riding kit. I could ride with whatever shirt I was wearing, and even could ride with my carhartts. Gloves, sunglasses, not necessary. Helmet is pretty damned important.

But shoes are a show-stopper.

I gazed sadly out at the singletrack, a rider happily rolling down a gradual hill at the beginning of his ride. I kept my temper in check. For a long minute I stood looking out there. Then I decided to just make the best of it. I put my bike away, locked the truck, and strode off down the trail. I took a walk.

Sometimes the day just doesn't go the way you want. Sanity comes from learning how to deal.

Friday, January 8, 2010

We don't need no Steenking Thule Racks

Think you need a fancy rack for your light, tiny mountain bike, think again.

This photo courtesy of my friend Wes (click it for the big size).

His email read:

My cousin snapped this pic while traveling through the panhandle

We have much to learn from our friends to the south.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Summer memory

I was trolling through my photos yesterday looking for some images for a project when I stumbled across this one from a post last summer:

It was an early morning shot taken while descending the Silver Creek Trail with Lee Blackwell.

As I ride around dodging patches of glare ice here in central Colorado, this image takes me to a warmer, greener place.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tarmac Daddy, Daddy Tarmac

I struggled, but now I have relented. As often happens this time of year, I have begun to enjoy road riding.

I put on warm stuff and I try to choose the warmest time of the day. Sometimes, like yesterday, it seems as if it will never warm up enough to be enjoyable. Then I go outside for something mid-afternoon and discover that, yes, even though the thermometer shows a temperature south of 30° F, the sun and still air make it feel fine for a ride.

My Roubaix

Yesterday I scrambled, leaving the house at 3:40 PM to do a 1+ hour loop. The sun sets around 4:30 here since we have such a formidable ridge of mountains to the southwest. And when the sun sets, things start getting really cold right quick-like. I rode like a crazed wildebeest. Got back about 10 minutes after sunset, feet numb with cold. But I had a good ride.

I've had my red Roubaix for two and a half years now. It's the perfect road bike for me. Nice mix of performance and comfort/stability. It has a SRAM Rival group. It's a good solid group; very good value. Like all SRAM drivetrain gear, the shifts are direct and the shifters feel like high-quality, robust equipment. But I don't think I'll ever really like the idea of double-tap. Since you have to push the trigger harder past the click for an upshift to get a downshift, every once in a while when I'm going for a downshift and don't give it enough shove, or if my finger slips, I get an upshift.

But I don't race. I don't even ride it much other than in winter.

Also the cranks have too narrow a q-factor for me by far. I have pedal extenders on them, which are steel and quite heavy.

I sometimes consider getting a new set of 105 or Ultegra cranks for it, or even getting a whole 105 group.

But I don't race road! And I don't use it much other than in winter!

Ah but it's good to be enjoying the smooth, quiet serenity of riding through crisp, clear winter air. And I'm arresting my slide into sloth and obesity.

Now, what time is it? Does the thermometer read 25° F yet?

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 is being dropped, Purvis ATTACKS!!

The new year finds me OK. For me, 2009 was medium. Strikes and Gutters. But lots of really good stuff.

There were some really good things, like finishing the Vapor Trail 125, and seeing my silly little business (ArkansasValley.Net) make as much in one year as in the combined six prior years it's been in existence. And Salida Mountain Trails had a great year. We built more than two miles of new singletrack since last January.

And of course spending the whole year with Kathy, my pretty little sweetie.

The not so good stuff? Well it's bound to happen. Might as well figure out how to deal. I'm turning 46 this month, and I'm still learning.

Today I rode as long as I have in a while. It was around 30° F and sunny. A bit breezy, but not too bad. I bundled up and took to the pavement. I decided to take a self-portrait in the Kerkovian tradition, as practiced by the master:

The legend, Jeff Kerkove, in a characteristic self-portrait

Then there's yours truly, the goober of Chaffee County:

My kerkovian portrait just does not have the same pop. Gotta work on this. And geez, wipe yer nose for Christ sake.

It really was a pretty day. I think 2010 might just work out to be pretty decent. We make our own good fortune, and disasters are disasters when we allow them to take on that role.

Good luck to everyone out there. Hope you all find the goods.