Nov 22, 2015

Little Creek and more

Just on the other side of the highway from Gooseberry, but a whole different mesa of trails. After vacating our campsite on Gooseberry, we relocated to Little Creek for some brand new trails and exploring. Found one of the best spots to camp, complete with a fire ring and plenty of room. With the temperatures a little warmer every day, we didn't bother with the hunting tent this time. Instead we had a fire every night and stayed up late (8:00!!) to watch the sunset, moonset and the stars. So many stars without any light pollution around us. And so quiet. We spent two nights up there, just enjoying the quiet and the solitude.
My breakfast fire - I was quite proud of that little fire since I'm not usually the one in charge of fire.
We'd found some good trail info online and stuck to the recommended route for the ride. A good mix of fun, tight single track through trees, then popping out into a field of slick rock. Some tech moves up and over rocks and lots of searching for the next cairn to find the way. Some areas were very much like Gooseberry and others completely different. There were a few places that went really close to the mesa's edge, a little to close for my liking. But eyes on the trail and keep focused on where I wanted to go. Its worth going back for - even to get to know the trails a little better to be able ride smoother.

Nick at one of the many view points along the western loop
And then Nick took over for the supper fire...

After two nights on Little Creek, with the chance of weather moving in, we decided to make the last ride in that area on the Hurricane Rim trails. We parked at the western terminus of Hurricane Rim and rode it all the way out. Wow, lots of climbing, lots of sharp turns and lots of chunky rocks. Hard but fun riding and very fitness oriented. After the rim, we climbed up Dead Ringer to the top of Jem. I'd never done Dead Ringer before and it was a nice, sustained climb. I was getting a little confused at times as to where I was - trying to figure out where JEM was in relation to the trail we were on. Finally, we crossed, right at the road. Didn't see that one during the race! More sustained climbing paralleling the road and the JEM descent and finally the upper crossing where JEM becomes one way. Then it was onto the real climb to the top of the mesa. Not bad, better then the road, but quite a challenge. Once on the top, it was time for the JEM drop. Probably my smoothest run through that section on this trip! We took JEM all the way down to Cryptobonic and Cryptobonic back to the Rim. Silly me, I'd assumed since most of the Rim trail had felt like climbing before, it would be all descending back to the car. Wrong! No such luck there - there were some burly climbs for us to get back to the car. We'd beaten the weather and gotten several nice rides in after the race. Time to relocate from St George to the other desert riding mecca....

Nov 21, 2015

To the edge

At what point do you cast aside the weight of society and step into the unknown? It's a gamble - like creeping up to the edge of an abyss and peering over. Can it be crossed? And at what cost - or reward? It's so easy to take that look down into the depths and just back away. That is the safe route - staying with the known, no matter what the circumstances. Most people wouldn't even approach the edge, preferring to remain far away from any chance of danger.

But what if the danger really lies in doing nothing? In staying "content" with the status quo no matter how much it chafes? Then what are the risks? Climbing to the edge of that abyss and looking over might be rewarded with a way to cross and a different life on the other side. It might not be any better , but it would be different. A chance to do something new. The opportunity to find a new sense of self and see the world from a different perspective. 

Which is vision is reality?
It is that crossroads that we find ourselves now. We are at the edge of the abyss with Nick wanting to take the leap and find that crossing. Me? I keep creeping up and looking down - not over and across to see what lies beyond. I hear all the reasons, all the options we have, but find myself stuck by the fear of the depths and the unknown. But really, it is now or never. Chances like this - the opportunity to create a clean slate come along so infrequently. No ties holding us down, binding us to one spot. I know that this could be a great experience - something few people have had the chance to do and something so many dream of doing. So why am I balking and letting fear of change hold us back? The only thing constant in life is change. What is the difference if it is gradual or all at once?

One chance to step across the the abyss. I need to close my eyes to the depths below and look forward to the other side, trusting my partner to find the safest crossing. 

Nov 18, 2015

Gooseberry doesn't disappoint

In past years, we always tried to get up to Goosberry early in the morning so we could set up camp and ride all in the same day. That works great on the weekends when the mesa is crowded and there's lots of people camping and riding. But in the middle of the week? Not as big an issue. So we took our time, riding in St George first - on Barrel Ride and Zen - and then making the trek up. We had plenty of light left to set up the tent and get camp organized before the sun dipped down and temperatures started dropping. It was a good thing we did opt for the tent this year - once the sun set it got cold fast. Morning lows were in the mid 20s when I got up both days. I was able to crank up our Mr Buddy heater, get warm after a chilly night and then enjoy the sunrise with my coffee. The perfect start to every morning.

Sunset on the first night atop Gooseberry Mesa

Reflections at camp

Even though I knew Gooseberry is either easy pedaling or big power moves, the kind my hamstring wasn't liking, I still wanted to run. I opted for a nice easy run each morning while we waited for the temperature to warm up enough to ride. My leg was feeling really good - better each morning and the bruise had faded. With the warm sun and cool temperatures, it was perfect running conditions as well. I opted to stay as close to the van as possible on the first day, doing a couple of smaller loops to make sure I could bail easily if needed. Got to play on the trails and just enjoy the morning. No issues. Sure, it wasn't fast given the techy trail running and me behaving not, but that wasn't the point. The next morning, it was test time. Time for a bigger loop - one big circle with a point of now return - I wanted to run all the way out to the windmill on trail and back on the road. There was just a little stiffness when I got started, but overall everything felt good. I continued along my planned route, past the first bail out point. I was dancing along the slickrock, following the white dashes and cairns, enjoying the solitude of a chilly Goosberry morning. I kept waiting for my leg to  spasm as I passed the final bail out and point of no return. To my delight, when I popped out at the windmill trailhead with nothing but easy road running left, everything still felt really good. Maybe it was t an injury per se, but left over effects of the crash combined with extended sitting and then the cold run. Who knows. But those two runs on Gooseberry were the best I'd had in three long weeks. 

View from Windmill trail on my run
Once it warmed up and after we'd had time to enjoy breakfast and Christopher Bean Coffee, it was time to ride. The first day we stuck to a more classic Goosberry route - Cattle Grate, North Rim, Yellow, out to the view point and then back along South Rim. A nice sampling of stuff from slickrock bowls to piƱon tree cruising to winding along the cliff's edge. A few things I bailed on because I knew it was a little too much for my leg. A few others I just needed a second run to get a reminder of the right lines.
The second day was a little more off the beaten path riding. Some road, the fun of Hidden Canyon (that trails is awesome - I could do laps on it all day...) and then some work on our route finding skills and being ready for the unknown around the corner. Nick had me redo one section so I could take the line I thought was best - but much bigger with a small gap jump. Overall, another good day of riding and being off the beaten track meant we didn't really have to worry about other riders around some of the blind corners. It was just a Friday, but the trails were much busier then the day before. All kinds of riders, including one person who was super proud he'd done a few laps at Frog Hollow! Still had his number plate on...

Nick out at the western viewpoint
We talked about staying another night there since we were all set up, but it was starting to to crowded. New trails called on the other side of the plain - in a place we'd never been. Time to pack up and explore!

Nov 16, 2015

Nap Time! Or Not - 25 Hours Of Frog Hollow

Sunrise. One of the only times I've been in the middle of a lap at a 24 hour race and wishing for my camera. It was surreal - the thin silver crescent of the moon hung low on the eastern horizon like a bowl with Venus, Mars and Jupiter dripping from the sky into the moon. Scattered clouds captured the light of the sunrise as the celestial quartet faded slowly into the magenta, fuchsia and oranges. Every turn on the road climb revealed an new phase of the sunrise, the colors ever changing. It was our 20th lap of the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow and one of the few moments where I was completely distracted from the bone chilling cold and ever present wind. A moment that was imprinted on my mind and one that will never happen again. 

Rewind 21 hours and I was standing on the side of the road, holding Nick's bike and waiting for the clock to hit 10:00 and for the race to start. Dust clouds swirled around the footsteps of every person who passed. It had been windy since the sun has risen to drag the temperature out of the overnight freezer. The occasional gust sandblasted the faces of everyone waiting for herd of runners to grab their bikes. 25 Hours of Frog Hollow was underway and Nick soon snatched his bike from me and was gone.

Mentally, I was ready to race and ride hard. I'd come into the race wondering if I could come close to Lynda W's record lap time. And then Thursday happened and my ability to even ride had been called into question. My hoped for lap times were thrown out the window and replaced with the simple goal of just finishing each lap relatively pain free. Our plan - while still relying on the clockwork alternating every other lap, had also shifted to me being smart and being willing to bow out of things started hurting. If that happened, Nick would do as many laps as he wanted and then call it a night. I also changed how I normally dress - instead of going light and knowing the climb would warm me up, I opted to dress a little warmer. If I could keep my leg warm, might be able to prevent any spasms. So it was knee warmers even at the start for me. The sun was warm but the wind cold and I didn't want to take any chances. 

At the tent, the first rider came in, the wind already a hot topic of cursing. Nick was in the top five, ahead of all the other duo teams. I took the clothes pin baton and didn't look back. The first big test - I had to be smooth and efficient as I could feel my hamstring on every pedal stroke on the climb. An ever present ache, reminding me that I wasn't 100% and not to ride like I was. I could live with that. It took a little more focus on efficiency and body English to get smoothly through the rough and rocky sections. I still managed an hour flat for my lap so I was pretty happy about that. Not bad at all.

I had one more lap in the daylight. We were only four laps in, but had already gotten nearly 30 minutes on the second Co-Ed duo and were neck and neck with the men's duos, including our camp neighbors. We were nipping at a 25 lap race at that point, but I knew that wouldn't last. Between the wind smacking you in the face around every corner - even on the descents! - and the ever present thing in my leg, I knew my pace for sure would slow. The question was how soon and by how much. Nick was doing awesome - holding mid :50 lap times. I was just over an hour heading into the night.

The sunset lap - signaling the start of nearly 13 hours of darkness. It also brought hope for all the riders. Hope that the ferocious wind would finally die down for the night. It had settled just after sunset the night before and before that. Hopefully tonight would follow that same trend and maybe we would be able ride and not fight the wind. But the darkness was also ushering in the cold. I could feel the chill seeping into the air as I made my way around the course. The next laps would be calling for more clothes for sure!

In transition, our ginormous blue hooded puffy was no longer the object of hilarity, but a much sought after accessory. How big is this blue puffy? Well, Nick looks like the Michelin Man wearing it. The hood fits OVER his helmet - with his light attached. It's our transition coat - an unofficial baton of sorts that keeps both of us nice and toasty while waiting and when riding between pit and transition. Big enough for me to wear a backpack underneath - so when I'm running with just a water bottle, it's really big. Cim even called me Viola! (Blueberry girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). There were plenty of puffy coats in pit this year, but Nick and I were the one ones who got to share ours and both stay warm. With temperatures brushing the high 20s, that coat was a life saver. That and our awesome Mr Buddy heater in our pit tent! After the Turtle died in Tucson, the one thing that has been consistancy awesome is that little heater and a 6 gallon propane tank. Instant warmth!

We kept going with our rotation as the night got chillier. My leg was starting to ache a little more with each lap, coming more to the forefront of my mind on all the technical sections and the climbs. The wind hadn't died down at all - just continuing gusting from every direction. I was starting to get worried about my leg - not by the pain, but by the constant ache. I left Nick a note asking if we could change strategy - have him ride double and me do singles. Not at all our normal strategy, but what I was hoping would dull the gradually increasing throbbing. I hadn't been able to run from transition to my bike all race and dismounting was getting more painful. I could still ride well and was holding my own. But when I got back from that lap, Nick's response was "My fork seized up. Riding rigid right now and wrists hurt. Just back off a little okay?" It seems we were both having our issues!

So we would maintain our rotation, just chill out a little. We had plenty of time on second and were actually still leading the duo class overall. It was time for us to start doing math. Would we have enough cushion to be able to take a nap? Math at that point in a race is hard - calculating how fast the other teams could possibly ride. How long would it take them to catch us and how many laps could they do? Fuzzy math is right because there are so many variables. And while we were doing that math, we kept riding. No sense stopping while trying to figure things out...

And so I found myself out on that sunrise lap - something I hadn't ever seen at Frog Hollow before. Usually I'm in the timing tent at sunrise, helping out with timing (and keeping track of our competition.) And that sunrise lap was the best sunrise lap I've had - and it was finally calm. No wind and just a beautiful morning. Our 20th lap and Nick decided that it was time to stop - we were far enough ahead and there was not much time left. His wrists were hurting badly and my hamstring was aching. I was perfectly happy to stop. It was 7:42 and we had a nice 20 laps. Time to watch  and wait to see where things would end up. Waiting is almost harder then just riding!

After 25 hours, Nick and I had maintained our lead in the Coed Duo Class with our 20 laps at 21:42. Matt and Caroline Reid of Kelowana Cycles finished in 2nd with 18 laps at 25:16. Daniel Sturm and Jessica Robinson of Jersey Represent took third with 16 laps finishing at 24:25. We did drop out of the lead in Duo overall, with the leading Woman's Duo (Howler Monkeys) getting 21 laps at 26:16 and the Men's Duo 1st (Survive on the V) and 2nd (Fire on the Mountain) both getting 22 laps at 25:03 and 26:19 respectively.  

Nov 11, 2015

Never Satisfied.

It's a common issues with endurance racers and I am no different. No matter how great the race goes, I always search for what needs improvement or what went wrong. I am never satisfied with simply saying "that was a great race - had some issues but finished it out in the end." This was no different. Instead of looking at the results and thinking - wow those were so fast laps given what happen prior and the conditions we were racing in, I looked at the lap times and fretted. My laps were slower then I'd planned. I could have been more consistent. I should have been able to more closely match the women on the 4-coed and 5-coed team. Did it matter that I ended up doing twice as many laps? No. The women on the 4/5 coed teams are always among the fastest and so that's who I turn to for my comparisons. Which in turn leads to ever more criticism.

It was no different out on course. On the climb, I kept thinking - oh, I'm giving away time here because I can't just power my way up. I had to be judicious with my effort for fear of my hamstring spasming and preventing me from riding. I also have a feeling that I was the only person who cleaned the Jem drop and instead of being jazzed that I made it, annoyed because it was rather ugly and not smooth. Seriously? How can you really make that section smooth with one leg at 75% - and for me it was the primary power leg for making that first switchback. The entire Hurricane Rim sections, I had to be careful and rely on body English to make up for the lack of power. It was still smooth - almost smoother then just trying to muscle my way through it. But I felt in the moment that it was slower and I was just giving away time. I never came in from a lap saying that I'd ridden my hardest in that moment. But I should have been thrilled as the lap count added up - the Thursday before the race I could hardly ride one lap, let alone 10.

Why am I so hard on myself? It seems different then just looking at the training and preparation that goes into these events. After as many 24 hour races as Nick and I have done, our preparation has saved many races. It's more then that - it's a drive to be always improving to approaching perfection. Perfection can never happen though - and to expect it only intensifies the self critical analysis as race after race passes without the perfect event. That drive for perfection has fueled better performances short term, but it cannot last. I have learn to quiet my mind. Once I've reviewed a race, analyzed the good, bad and ugly, I need to learn to move one. Make the needed adjustments if required and then look towards the future. That past has happened and cannot be changed. But the past as a strong influence on the future if I look beyond the imperfections of the moment.