Aug 27, 2014

Here comes the rain again... 2014 24 Hours in the Sage

This was my sixth time racing at 24 Hours in the Sage and Nick's eighth. In all those years, we have had nothing but perfect weather - sunny and warm with just some wind during the day, a few rain sprinkles as sun set, chilly and occasionally humid nights and then beautiful sunrises to end the day. I've never needed arm warms until after dark and then hardly needed a jacket. So when I packed for our foray into the 12 hour offering, I debated leaving most of my rain gear and such at home. After all - shorter race, less clothes needed, right? Last minute I opted to bring the new rain jacket Nick got me for my pack, as well as my Gore jacket and the usual assortment of gloves, wool socks and booties. And when the rain moved in Friday, I was suddenly happy to have it all...
Yep- Ready to go for 24 (er, 12...)

12 Hour Duo class
Race morning started with a quick downpour followed by some sun. I knew we weren't out of the woods. Anytime there is a rainbow to the west, it means trouble. The skies spat at the KOA throughout the morning, letting up every now and then. But the heavy clouds never lifted even up to the start. Nick was doing the first lap and took off well. Without the usual suspects charging up the blacktop, I had a feeling they would all tuck in behind him for the tow up to Hartman's. And I was right - even before the race was out of sight, there was a train behind Nick. Oh well. I didn't ponder it as it was time for me to get ready for my lap. My first race in my Stars and Stripes. If only deciding to wear arm warmers or not was as easy an decision! There was a nasty wind howling through the KOA, but the sun was peeking through the clouds. With arm warmers and jacket tucked into my jersey pockets, I rolled up to the transition tent.
Racers charging from the line

Nick making the turn onto Gold Basin Road

Nick was in the top ten as usual and the first of the 12 hour duo riders. With the class changes, it was duo open, so we were honestly racing against the guys. They knew it too. The second rider of eventual winners caught me on the road. He didn't seem to happy when I tucked onto his wheel and stayed there almost all the way to Hartman's. I knew I wouldn't be able to stay there once we hit the singletrack, and I was right. I could climb with him, but not descend. A little hesitant on the Punch Bowl still and just not feeling settled on my bike made for a slower start then I wanted. And the new chunk of Behind the Rocks didn't help. It's a great addition with some good rock gardens and fun lines - I just wasn't smooth on it. Add in the wind on Sea of Sage - I had to pedal! - and on the black top and it was a much slower lap then I wanted. Our original lap goal was already out the window and it was only two laps in! 

I had wind on my first lap, but also sun. The sun wasn't sticking around much longer, with sheets of rain filling the valley between Gunnison and CB. Only the fourth lap of the race, and I was already donning leg warmers and arm warmers. It was that cold. The trails were in good shape from the rain, but the rocks were slick in places. I was more settled on the bike for my next lap, finding the ebb and flow of the rocks and climbs. Up in the rocks, the approaching weather was evident. It was going to get colder and wetter before the day was done. No faster then my first lap, I handed off to Nick. The down jacket was already making an appearance at 4:20... 

My third lap started out good. I'd adjusted my rear brake and the rotor was no longer grabbing with each pedal stroke. Maybe I could get my lap time down to where I wanted them! Confidently up thru the Punch Bowl, along Behind the Rocks and down Alonzo's. Onto the road... And that's where I got a little cocky and paid the price! I didn't realize until I almost landed in it that there was a three foot ditch hiding in the sage along that road. Yeah, over confidence was my weakness and I lost control, executing a high speed bail into the bushes to avoid the ditch. As I flew through the air, I felt and heard the phsht of my tire burping. Whoops. Luckily, no physical damage except to my pride - stupid wipeout in my champions jersey in front of two guys... I still had to deal with my now soft front tire. I couldn't tell if I'd dented the rim or just had pile of dirt in the bead. But it wasn't holding. I was a minute away from  putting a tube in when it finally held. I added like 10 psi more then I wanted to make sure it held (not easy with a hand pump) and headed back onto course. Still didn't trust it and rode so easy on every single rock left on the course. Which was a lot. Got one rock wrong and heard another phsht.. Sweet talking to the tire works, right? Finally made it back to the KOA - 10 minutes late and sealing our second place. 

Pre-riding up the Punch Bowl
Time to break out the Camber. With only two laps left, I wasn't going to deal with fixing the tire on the Fate. It was also time for warmer jersey, clean shorts, dry wool socks, booties and rain jacket. As well as lights. Nick was leaving for the sunset lap, which was underwhelming this year thanks to the rain. It went from grey and damp to dark and wet. Not much of a change! It was drizzling again when Nick rolled in, telling me to be careful and things were slippery. Still a little shaken from my crash, I was riding cautiously to start with - but loving the suspension. Even with the damp, I was able to ride everything but one little rock. A little rock that has eluded me on nearly every lap I've ridden out there... 

There is something out the night that I love. I was almost sorry that we were doing the 12 hour - I would only get two night laps. Add in the rain and it was mystical out there. Quiet trails with lights dancing off in the distance - nothing like watching riders plunging off the Notch as you approach from the road to highten the anticipation for the next hour. I love it. The rain drops glinting in my lights as I climbed and descended. Pitch darkness surrounded the course - no stars or moon to be seen. It was some of the best night riding I've done. 

The rain was even stronger when I started the final lap. I'd swapped my light weight jacket for my heavier rain coat was getting drenched. The riders weren't liking the rain, but the salamanders were. I have seen plenty of rabbits, squirrels and mice - both flat and still hopping. But I have never seen salamanders. Yet there they were, baby godzillas slithering across the road. I couldn't ride more then 20 feet without seeing one. Nick said he also saw some on the trails, but once I hit the dirt I was focusing on rocks. No time for salamander spotting. It wasn't fast, but it was clean for a final lap. And fun. I was smiling in the rain, comfortable in my jacket and feeling confident with my riding. It was dark, it was wet - but it was fun.

Nick was already changed and ready to party when I finished. One reason we were doing the 12 this year - the faster recovery and ability to enjoy parts of the race we usually miss. Because of the rain, there wasn't as much late night partying as normal, but plenty for us. I ended up going to bed about 1:30, only to be woken up by rain on the roof of the van at 2:30. And the 24 hour racers were still cranking laps!

The other 12 hour duo teams didn't stick around for awards....


Aug 23, 2014

Sage!

That time of year again - best party at a mountain bike race as crazy cyclists take over the Gunnison KOA. It's going to a fun weekend - Nick and I are doing the 12 Hour Duo this year. There's a lot of duo teams in the 12 hour so the competition is going to be good. It's also duo open - so we are honestly racing the guys! We did a pre ride Thursday to find super sandy trails. Stopped to take some photos in my jersey..
Ready to race and proudly wear my national champion jersey!
Sun was the story of Thursday - but how quickly fortunes turned overnight. The rain, clouds and drizzle moved in. Friday was a dreary day, with off and on rain the entire day it seemed. But we weren't complaining. The trails could use the nice steady moisture - tramping down the sandy pits. 
Hartman's Rocks from my run - low hanging clouds and a light drizzle most of the day

Those clouds yeilded quite the downpour Friday night!

So we chilled under the shelter of our tent, watching the clouds and rain drifting over camp. Racers were slowly filling in the cracks with tent forests. 
Pot of gold at the KOA! We were hoping the rain was finished.

Sunset brought rainbows and more rain.
Sunset Friday night in a break in the rain

The patter of rain woke me race morning. I missed the sunrise, opting to stay warm and dry in the van. But I did see the rainbow over the west as the sun peaked through the clouds. 
Morning rainbow to greet the racers - more rain coming!
We haven't had a wet year yet - this might the year. Regardless, it's going to be fun. 24 Hours in the Sage is always fun. 

Aug 16, 2014

Agate Creek

Saturday - sandwiched between two Canyon Creek runs. It was time for some serious Vapor scouting - and then some serious fun. With Greg along for the ride (welcome to Colorado, lets go spend some time above tree line!) we had a big loop in mind. I figured it would take us about 5.5 hours, including stops and such. Up Old Monarch Pass, across the Continental Divide Trail to Hwy 50. Then onto the Monarch Crest Trail to Agate Creek Trail. It was all new for Greg - and Agate Creek would be new for me. A big loop - over 40 miles with plenty of climbing, fun singletrack and creek crossings. Lots of creek crossings....

Me and Greg, cruising up Old Monarch Pass Road. All smiles at that point,
The day started out silly, with another rider cruising around camp, desperately looking for a pair of spd shoes to borrow. She was doing Canyon Creek and had left her shoes at home (?) but was still hoping for a solution. I happened to have two pairs of shoes - my Rimes and my winter shoes. My winter shoes happen to be a size larger then my others so I can wear two pairs of socks. They also happened to be just the size she was looking for. So I went out on a limb and took a chance. One day I might need something from someone - or might need the Karma...

At the top of Old Monarch - you know you're friends when this is the "serious" pose!

Greg coming down the Continental Divide Trail at the crossing of Monarch Pass
The climb up Old Monarch Pass was steady - and a nice warm up for what was coming. We rode comfortable, climbing towards the sky. A few stops along the way and we reached the Continental Divide. A fun section trail connecting the old with the new and we darted across the Highway. Time to face the Crest for a few miles.Greg was starting to get tired - between the altitude and the terrain, it was proving a long day. We passed Fooses Creek and Green Creek, catching some of the 10:00 shuttle riders as we headed further from the pass. I'm not sure what some of them were thinking - they were so clearly out of their element it was scary. And they still had a long way to get to get down to somewhere safe...

Nick and Greg on Monarch Crest Trail - silhouetted against the mountains

Nick actually posing for a picture! On Monarch Crest Trail

Nick and Greg getting ready for the descent of Agate Creek
Meanwhile, we had Agate Creek. Nick's done that trail twice and said it was fun but a little wet. I was looking forward to it - a fun descent with new challenges. It started out steep and chunky as we dropped towards the trees. Line picking was very important up there as I bounced from rock to rock. Then into the trees and the trail opened up into fast and flowing, like a scene from Starwars. Couldn't help but grinning as I chased Nick between the trees. That all changed as we reached the creek. The first few crossings weren't too bad - feet got a little wet as we splashed through. I almost ran over a little fish on one of them! Each one got deeper and faster until we were finally forging the river, carrying our bikes. No pictures - I was too focused on keeping upright in the chilly water. Shoes and socks soaked and no chance of drying. It was over too soon and time to climb out of the canyon. Back to reality, which meant the descent down Hwy 50 and the climb back up Tomichi road to the campground.

Aug 15, 2014

Mortality

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a pretty and well preserved body; but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming 'Wow! What a ride!'”
- Hunter S. Thompson

It seems such a trite quote, but true at the same time. Life is about the journey - the adventures along the way, the failures and successes. A life well lived is a person with stories to tell, taking the chances along the way that will provide fulfillment. You don't realize how close we are teatering to the edge until something happens that affirms our mortality. 

In eleven years of practicing physical therapy in a nursing home setting, I've had my share of experiences with death. Never close though - far enough removed to be touched by the passing but not affected. Sometimes it's expected and everyone says "it's for the best. They are happier now." Other times, it's not and we are all shocked when we get to work and hear about it. Even when not directly working with the residents, we still get to know them and form friendships. In some ways, the expected nature of life jades us. Death happens. It's just a question of when and how.

Until this morning. A patient I've worked with before and one who we all cared about. Someone who'd had his share of medical issues, but seemed to be turning a corner with one last surgery. The OT saw him yesterday and said it was the clearest he'd been. Memory and conversation bright and alert. I decided to come in early and start my eval before my exercise class. Usually I get to work on Fridays and run right upstairs to teach a class for the AL/IL residents. But with an afternoon appointment, I decided it would be smart to at least start the paperwork and do the eval prior to my class. I grabbed his chart, glanced over it for any precautions and new concerns, then headed into his room. Immediately concerned over the amount of confusion I was seeing, I let nursing know and asked on of the CNAs to help me with the dressing and tranfers. I just didn't feel comfortable with doing it alone. Something was wrong.

And then he started breathing strangely - gasping but not taking full breaths. I got my pulse oximeter, tried to get a measurement but it wouldn't read. And I couldn't feel a pulse. He was still gasping but ashey and grey blue - and not responding to his name or to stimuli. I had the CNA get the nurse - this wasn't good. I knew what was happening - could see the light, the "aliveness" fading quicky. Time does stand still when things are happening. It was only seconds but felt like an eternity before the nurse got there. Still nonresponsive, eyes empty. We both knew but didn't want to believe. Until it was clear. Saying that someone is "gone" sounds corney, but it's true. One minute you're there and then next - an empty shell without a soul, a spark. 

We have so many days on this planet, so many trips around the sun. One day, maybe tomorrow - maybe in many years it will be over. To be content with the status quo is to waste the chances we are given. You don't realize how important it is to grasp adventure until death comes so close. To blindly go through the day, same routine in and out without once pausing to wonder what's around the corner does not honor the soul. My husband has been pushing for years to try something different - get out of town and take a chance on an adventure. And I've always been resistant, reluctant. Afraid of change and disrupting the routine. But if we don't take that leap now - when? In the years down the road, when I'm the patient in the hospital bed, will I be satisfied with my life and my adventures or will I wish I'd done something different, explored more? Only time can answer that question, but I can point the compass in the right direction.

Aug 14, 2014

Finding the fun

With all the pressure lately with getting ready for Vapor, it's been easy to forget about the fun of riding. There's a lot of stuff that I still need to do in the next three weeks. I need to hem my rain pants to knicker length so they fit better and don't get caught in my chain. I have to figure out which arm and leg warmers I want to wear and then make sure they are comfortable for the long haul. I also need to make sure I'm not over loading my backpack. I don't need two sets of everything in my pack - there is a drop bag available so I can get dry stuff at Monarch Pass if I need too. I do need to double check the rain coat and wool layer I'm planning on taking with me - the past weekend affirmed my concern that the alpine darkness will be bone chilling. And lights - we haven't had the chance to sit down and look at the lights for the eight hours of darkness we will be facing. 

Then there's food. How much, when and what? All big questions - I know the aid stations will have a smorgasbord of offering, but I also need to have things I've ridden with and tested. My rice bars are go to snacks on the bike and I just made up a fresh batch (YUM - a curry flavor in addition to my chocolate ones.) But just rice bars are the beginning. I'll need more then just them so my palate doesn't rebel over having the same thing all the time. Two flavors will help, but not completely solve the puzzle. So I've been trying some other snacks - with the baked pasta cakes seeming to be the best. They were filling and easy to eat. I just need to use different noodles. Fluids are another concern. I always carry way too much liquid on some of these epic days. Not something I want to do for 125 miles. The aid stations are pretty close in the back half, but a huge distance between one and two. So I have to sit down and evaluate how much and what. When will I need higher electrolyte concentrations compared to just water? Ugh. Too much to think about.

Which brings me back to the fun of riding. That's why we're doing this race. Because it's going to be fun. It's a hard, honest course. Sure there's plenty of road and double track, but the singletrack is worth it all. This isn't the roadie course that almost anyone can do. This is a riders race that will reward skill and confidence. Any one of the sections of singletrack can be considered a Colorado Classic. To loop them all together - this will be epic. I have to remember in the next three weeks as I begin stressing over the race of the fun it will entail. Of riding alpine singletrack under the stars. Of traversing the roof of the continent with the sunrise. This will be a journey, not a race persay. Sure I will have a number plate and a goal finish time, but the greatest goal is to finish in one piece, with a smile. That's all I can hope for on my first trip around the Vapor Trail 125 journey.