May 6, 2015

April (and May) Showers

The canyon is the perfect extended backyard with the kind of weather we've been having here in Colorado. The decomposed granite soaks of the moisture, turning the kitty litter trails into pure fun. The canyon is also a powerful place when it rains. Normal dry rocks have waterfalls cascading down their faces and the sound of the creek echoes no matter what trail I'm on. Last week, I got out for fun ride after two days of rain with the sole goal of enjoying the traction. Little did I know I'd also be finding some new and spectacular waterfalls. Every where I looked, there were small waterfalls pouring down the walls. When I got to the junction of Spring Creek and Columbine trails, the only option was getting wet because the usually faint spring was overflowing. A few switchbacks later down Columbine, the roar of the water drew my attention to the west. But I was in the middle of the descent and didn't want to stop to take pictures. A little bit lower down, two hikers told me to be careful, that there was a waterfall on the trail. And yes there was. Cascading right across the trail, just before the short little uphill. Again, I didn't stop at that point.

The waterfall from Spring Creek - with the snow covered mountains showing how low the snow line was.
But when I reached Starsmore, I decided I wanted the photos. So back up I climbed, enjoying almost unheard of traction on Columbine as I climbed. I stopped at the first waterfall running across the trail and took a few pictures. The roar of the water was so loud I couldn't hear anything but water. Every hiker also stopped and gawked at the sight of the falls. Then back up higher to the Spring Creek waterfall. Once I had my photos, it was time to ride back down and head home.
The waterfall that covers Columbine trail - cascading from high above.

With my bike for some perspective
Then this week - after the fun birthday ride, the rain moved in. It rained most of Sunday night, and then the majority of Monday. I was looking forward to Tuesday. Time to ride and benefit from the rain! I was going to ride with a friend and hit all the granite trails in the canyon. It would also be the perfect oppertuintiy to test out some of my light weight rain gear - make sure that it actually works in weather like this! But something came up and Matt wasn't able to join me. I'll admit to sometimes being a little hesitant to get out in adverse condtions alone. With the rain now pouring down at 9:00 and no end in sight, I reluctantly took my ride inside. There would be another time to test my gear. It wasn't worth something happening alone in a 40* cold rain, alone up in the mountains.

Well, that some other time came when Nick got home. He dumped his work stuff, and asked "you want to try out your knickers?" Sure! Despite not planning on a night ride, it didn't take long to get organized and we were soon heading up Cheyenne Canyon into the clouds. The air was damp and our lights reflected the still falling drizzle. Clouds teased the mountains all around us and waterfalls thundered off every cliff. The creek was a roiling mass of brown water and white foam. I was happy to not be out there alone, wondering what I would find around the next corner - intact trail or washed out cliffs.
Nick, coming around one of the corners on upper Columbine, his lights (Exposure Lights 6-Pack) almost blinding my camera
Columbine was as I had anticipated. Tight and fast, but with the occasional stream crossing. It was perfect riding and we had the trail all to ourselves. Or so we thought. I did see a few deer at one of the switchbacks climbing back up to Gold Camp, but that was it. Until Nick pinch-flatted. He was riding his fat bike since that bike was still dirty from the last rain storm and had his uber warm pogies. We were just east of the waterfall crossing the trail, just after the one little climb. At first I was just standing around, watching Nick deal with the flat. Then I started feeling like something was watching us. I started looking around more, searching for eyes in the dark. Nothing - just the echoes of the water and the light reflecting off the damp leaves. Yet the feeling of being watched wasn't going away. And then I saw them - glowing eyes, reflecting the light of my Diablo. It wasn't a deer - the eye spacing was too forward facing, like one of my cats was watching us. A few steps closer and then the eyes froze, the animal realizing that I'd seen it. I told Nick we had company and he finished pumping up his tire. I tried to keep the eyes in the beam of my light, but they had vanished. Time to skedaddle in a hurry!

Trails look so different at night, under just the bike lights. Who knows what is watching us riding?

May 5, 2015

Happy Birthday Ride

The beginning of May is a popular time for birthdays in our circle of friends, and this year we were able to join Todd on his birthday ride - which happened to fall on Nick's birthday! I was invited to join the fun this year, since I'm starting to get to the point where I can just barely, almost, kinda hang on to the group. I know in prior years, me attempting to participate in the ride would have been a lost cause - first rock garden and it would have been all over. I was debating the wisdom of joining as we pedaled into Palmer Park - I was already hanging on by coattails, and this wasn't even the full group of guys. The numbers swelled to 13 riders at the meeting point in Palmer Park, all of them fast and skilled riders. I would have my work cut out for me.

My only real goal was to stay smooth on the technical - and with this group, there was nothing but technical riding. It wouldn't do me a lot of good to try to race to keep up if I was constantly missing obstacles. Sure, that meant I was off the back a lot of the ride, hoping for glimpses of brightly colored shorts or helmets through the trees, but I was able to ride 90% of what we did. In between the rocky sections, I would have to gun it to catch back up - or at least decrease the amount of time they spent waiting for me. We started out in Palmer Park, hitting all the fun trails - including some I'd never been on before. Every ride in Palmer Park has to include Little Moab, and this was no different. Nick went ahead of the group to catch the train coming down on camera.
video

After Palmer Park, it was time for Pulpit Rock. A bit of a road climb to get to the top and the trail entrance, then narrow, twisting singletrack. Again, I was focused on keeping the train in sight - knowing that Nick and Geoff were taking turns kinda riding back so I could see them. Since I haven't ridden much at all in Pulpit, it was a bit of a challenge for me. I didn't know the trails and couldn't plan for what was coming up until I saw it. Made some of the climbs and descents a little tricky! Between constantly looking ahead to see where the group was going and trying to ride new trails at near race pace I was mentally on edge. But was keeping it together - I could tell I was getting tired, but I was still reading the trail and picking good lines. A benefit to being just off the back at times - I was forced into picking my own lines and not blindly following wheels. Until the final descent back to Todd's house - Nick told me to stay a bike length back from him and follow his line. I would not have been able to navigate the tricky rock descent without the guidance of a wheel in that section.

And while I didn't get Nick anything for his birthday - I was able to give him some time on two wheels, riding the kind of trails he loves, almost at the pace he normally rides - with me. Can't ask for much more then that - other then maybe being able to ride at the pace he normally rides!

May 1, 2015

Oil Well Flats

Canyon City really has something neat just north of town - Oil Well Flats. We first rode there last year, after the Growler and the trail system has been expanding thanks to the tireless work of the BLM and the local cycling community. On the last Saturday in April, Nick and I went down there with Shad, Stephanie and Sharley to ride (or run) as much as we could get away with. Nick and I were also hoping to be able to camp down there and ride some more on Sunday, or even dart over to Lake Pueblo on Sunday. But that would be weather dependent...

Steph and Sharley took the maniac otherwise known as Ned the dog and headed off for a run. I was left with Nick and Shad and the prospect of a few hours of very hard riding. And they did not disappoint. I was working hard from the start of the ride, as we headed up the Fire Canyon climb. There were plenty of other riders out and we were constantly keeping an eye up canyon for descending riders. It took me a bit to warm up and get settled at the pace the boys were riding and then I was fine. Not quite keeping them in sight during the descents, but feeling much smoother on the chunky rocks of Island in the Sky. A quick regrouping and they were off again. As we climbed up the double track between Fire Canyon and Unconformity, I was feeling better. We hit the singletrack and while I wasn't on their wheels, I was holding my own. And having fun. It's one thing to just ride the trails - it's a completely different thing to have the guys up ahead and knowing I can fly without worrying.

As we started the descent down Anticline, I was a little worried. The last time we'd ridden at Oil Well Flats, I'd had some issues with one of the A-lines built into that trail. We were riding much faster then that last ride and I was pushing myself to keep up with the guys. Would I balk at the A-lines again or would I just ride right down them without a second thought? Well, there was a second thought - but not long enough to keep me from committing. And as I rolled down the rock face, I had to laugh at myself. What had I been so scared of last time? There was nothing to it! Just a kinda steep rock with a little bit of a blind entrance...

I was starting to jump the little rocks at this point and try to launch the larger ones. I did whack my rear wheel pretty hard one time, but the guys did the exact same thing at the exact same spot, so I wasn't worried. Bikes are meant to be ridden. And that was the biggest difference I noticed between this ride and the last ride down at Oil Well. Instead of just pedaling the bike and steering at times, I was riding the bike. Leaning into corners, moving my entire body with the bike, floating through the rock gardens and over the rocks. It's something I've been working on for the past few years and I finally felt like I had achieved unity with my bike during that ride.

And then it was over. tongue dragging on the ground, completely exhausted yet thoroughly exhilarated with the ride. With clouds moving in and heavy rain forecasted, we hung out for while then bolted for home. Both Oil Well and Lake Pueblo turn to cement clay when its wet and it wasn't worth the risk of getting rained out.

Apr 27, 2015

Road Riding

Sorta, kinda, maybe road riding that is. With the cold front that blew in on the 16th, our plans for some camping and some fun in Salida were snowed out. All the trails were snowed in with heavy, dense cement spring snow. What to do, what to do.

Go for a road ride of course! Well, a road ride the Thelen way, which doesn't include skinny tires. In fact, there were nothing skinny about our tires for this adventure. After doing chores in the morning on Sunday, it was time to ride. The goal? Ride our fat bikes up Old Stage Road and then come home down Gold Camp Road. It was all roads, so it has to be a road ride, right? We didn't need to load down with our backpacks because of the frame bags on our bikes, but still made sure that we all the warm clothes we would usually carry. It was clear down in Colorado Springs, but clouds lingered on the mountains, lurking beyond the horizon. The weather could turn in a moment and we needed to be prepared.
video

Having never ridden up Old Stage before, we rode out at a comfortable but steady pace. The road was in good shape - all the snow plowed away and just a few mud puddles on the lower stretches. Up and up we climbed, further into the mountains and away from the city. We were getting some odd looks from the drivers plowing through the deepening mud, but kept going. Higher and higher, dodging deep, water filled potholes. The clouds descended to greet us as we ascended Hayman Hill in flurries of snow. It kept snowing as we approached the junction with Gold Camp Road. We didn't know what to expect on Gold Camp, but having come that far, there was no way we were going to just ride back down Old Stage. At the top, we both put on another layer, getting ready for what we hoped would be a fast and fun downhill on the snow-covered road.
video

There's a cabin down Gold Camp Road and the owners have a key to the gate. They'd driven in sometime earlier and we had packed in tracks to follow for a while. It was great riding - a few inches of fresh powder over the packed tracks and we were cruising. Things got a little harder if I got out of the track, but I didn't pay attention. And then - the tire tracks made a 25 point turn and we had a blank canvas of snow ahead of us. The road was slightly washed out and the edge was hard to see under the snow. No more packed tracks and easy cruising. All of a sudden, it was hard riding -  harder then riding up Old Stage! It hadn't gotten quite cold enough for a solid crust and we were punching through. I was able to ride a lot more then Nick, but it was tricky - having to float the front tire enough to compress the crust without cracking it. When I was off and pushing, I was post-holing up to my knees. The snow was that deep! It actually got harder as we got lower - the snow went from deep powder over a thin crust to wet snow with a thinner crust to finally just cement spring snow. It was a challenge of balance and even pedal strokes to keep the bike moving forward as we descended. But we didn't have to worry about cars!

Apr 2, 2015

Speaking Out Against Stables in Bear Creek Park...

In case anyone is still not aware, the Broadmoor has purchased a plot of land off Hercules Drive, adjacent to East Bear Creek Park. This plot of land is on the southern edge of the park, with the entrance in the middle of the large hill on Cresta. Currently, that plot of land is zoned residential as the original plan was to build several condo buildings there. However, the Broadmoor wants to run commercial horseback rides from that land, with the goal of providing the true "western experience" to their guests. As such, they want the land down-zoned to agriculture so that they can build stables for 20 or more horses.  The Broadmoor envisions twice daily rides through Bear Creek Regional Park and beyond, stating that they want to be able to take clients through the National Forest up into the Jones Park area. The El Paso County Parks has already agreed to provide the Broadmoor with a 20 year permit for the commercial enterprise.  With permit in hand, the next step is to convince the city to allow for the down-zoning. And after that? Look at the trail conditions in the Garden of the Gods where the guided horseback rides occur and imagine that throughout the entirety of Bear Creek Park, into Red Rock Canyon, the Palmer-16 Loop and trail 666. Imagine not being able to run, hike or ride in or through Bear Creek Park without encountering a string of poorly trained horses in the hands of unskilled riders on constantly degrading trail surfaces. We as park users and tax payers need to speak out and convey to the City and County that this is not an appropriate use of our regional park.

How? Be heard - email city planning, the county commissioners and the Broadmoor expressing our opinions. Here are the email addresses for the parties involved:

Mike Schultz - Colorado Springs City Planning; mdschultz@springsgov.com

Sallie Clark - El Paso County Commissioner, District 3 (where Bear Creek Park is located): SallieClark@elpasoco.com

Tim Wolken - El Paso County Executive Director of Community Services (parks):TimWolken@elpasoco.com

Terry McHale - Broadmoor liaison for building stables: tmchale@broadmoor.com

Tom Schmidt - Broadmoor Community liaison: tschmidt@broadmoor.com

Here are some points to use and rephrase in any letter sent out. If you have any other points that would be helpful in letters, please leave them in the comments below so I can add them and others can utilize.

1) Allowing extensive commercial use of such popular and busy park is a safety risk for all users. The Bear Creek Regional Trail is a main thruway for hikers, runners, cyclists, and individual horse riders from Penrose Stables, and is heavily used through the day for both recreation and commuting. Adding unskilled riders, unfamiliar with horsemanship and poorly trained horses for commercial rides into an already populated and limited trail system will lead to increased user conflict and high potential for injury. The Broadmoor also envisions longer rides through other trail systems, including properties that have been purchased through the TOPS taxes and as such prohibit commercial uses.

 2) Allowing such extensive commercial use of our Regional Trails sends the message that the parks are for sale to the highest bidder. Bear Creek is already host to many events such as the CHSAA Cross Country State Championships, numerous other running events and cycling events . How will commercial trail rides that do not require special permitting affect other users who have paid for the appropriate permits and how will the county ensure that the Broadmoor respects those permits? A standing permit of this nature appears to violate the county's own guidelines for issuing commercial permits as stated through detracting from the enjoyment and interfering with the use of other, as well as interfering with the preservation of the park.

 3)Allowing this volume of horse traffic onto trail systems that are not designed for such use will lead to extensive and irreparable resource damage. The trails currently in use at the Garden of the Gods (which limits commercial rides to specific trails) are heavily damaged, with the natural soil degraded to deep sand which limits the ability of any other trail users to enjoy the trails safely. The amount of money that the Broadmoor will be "donating" to the county fund - $1500 per month - will not begin to pay for the repair and mitigation of damage caused by commercial horse use. There is also no guarantee that the money will be utilized for trail stewardship.
 
4)This  proposal will increased traffic on Cresta Drive, overburdening an already congested road that is the major entrance and exit from the Skyway area. There are three schools on Cresta between the Broadmoor and the proposed stable location. Cresta is frequently used by cyclists commuting and training as well and there are numerous blind intersections. The proposed stable location is situated on a hill, with a blind intersection just above. The number of horses proposed by the Broadmoor will lead to an increase in large truck traffic for hay deliveries, as well as trailers attempting to turn in and out of the driveway. Cresta at that location is not designed for heavy truck use, nor is there room for vehicles of that size to make turns safety without significant impact on traffic patterns.