Nov 20, 2014

Escaping life

Last year's post Frog Hollow vacation was mostly off the grid, dirtbag style camping. It was nice and relaxing - a chance to just settle in to a routine without distractions of the world. We did plenty of off the grid this year, but all spent more time in cities and around people. In some ways, the mix was even better - we were better prepared to head off the grid but were able to make all kinds of connections. And the time alone was that much sweeter.


Sunset at the McPhee Reservoir outside Dolores - got to see a part of Colorado I'd never been to before
Thanks to the challenging weather at the race, people were in a hurry to get home, get clean and warm. With no one left at Frog Town and a brief dry window, Nick and I also packed up our gear and headed to St George. Our first thought was a nice campground with laundry and showers, but that proved to be elusive. We ended up in Snow Canyon for the night - one of the quietest nights I've had. Best shower I'd had since the 29th of October (and it was only the 2nd of November.) After riding and some more searching, we settled on a cheap motel that offered kitchenettes and laundry. Ended up staying three nights - the place was centrally located and we had power, cooking abilities, laundry and showers. We had clean clothes and a cooler full of prepared meals when we finally left town. With the in town came cell service - good and bad. Good because I was able to get a start on the race report and such. Bad because it meant I was able to peruse Facebook and such. Part of the goal of the trip was to loosen the wires and cords I've become attached to. However, it also allowed us to meet up with Jonathan Davis and ride with him twice.


Took more selfies then ever on this trip - kissed by the sun in this shot
Gooseberry was the first off the grid nights for us. A quiet campsite and no power quickly led to an interesting schedule. I would get up as the sky lightened - just before sunrise. It was chilly but it was my time. No distractions. I took advantage of the dawn stillness to stretch and do yoga. Peaceful - moving through the flows on a large, with the sun rising to the east and the moon setting in the west. No sounds but the birds chirping. After it warmed up a bit, Nick would also get up. We'd eat and then get organized to ride. Mornings were riding time. It was a little chillier then, but the trails were quiet. Nick stretched after the ride and I got a snack ready. We'd chill out - read, enjoy the sunshine and generally decompress. Dinner was served as the sun was setting, which treated us to a spectacular moonrise on the first night. And then as darkness surrounded the camp it was bed time. Yes - we were climbing into bed around 7:00 most nights, asleep by 8:00. Not something we would ever do at home, with the lights and the distractions of TV, music and cell phones. And it was awesome, getting that much sleep. I think it was one of the reasons that I was able to keep riding more last year, on harder trails and for longer rides.


We thought about camping at the reservoir, but the wind was too bracing. Found shelter in the trees at Boggy
The next time we were in town and had service, I was able to get a hold of Jeff Hemperly and we joined him for a spin around Phil's World in Cortez. He was recovering from the Moab Trail Marathon and I was starting to reach my limit of consecutive days of riding. I needed a day off the bike soon - but I didn't want to miss Phil's World. So it was a slowish recovery ride for Jeff, a super easy ride for Nick and fun for me. I was slow, I was tired but Phil's World is just too much fun. I did behave and take the next day off the bike, just running a little while Nick was riding. On Jeff's advice, we were in the Boggy Flats trail system. Not as off the grid as other nights, but close. We did a little exploring - heading to the end of the road and getting caught up in a Dolores traffic jam. Missed the new riding, but the running was much easier then Phil's World would have been.

An interesting traffic jam to get caught in... All in a days work
And then Moab. We woke up with ice on the inside of the windshield and discussed getting a hotel while in Moab. There's plenty of camping options, but it's still November and it was getting cold. We had big days planned and not sleeping because we were freezing would prepare us for the big days. So hotel it was, which actually worked out great. We got clothes washed and were able to cook delicious, healthy meals in a warm kitchen instead of shivering over a little camp stove. When we woke up Friday to snow on the rim and cliffs around Moab, we were even happier we'd spent the money for the hotel. We did decide to skip that day's ride because of the weather and started heading for home.


Nick coming down Rib Cage in Phil's World with me in the distance
Truly lucky with this trip - the perfect blend of racing, trail riding and fun. We got plenty of exploring done around St George. I finally got to ride Porcupine Rim. We were gone for 17 nights and only spent 6 of them in hotels. We had big plans for riding and only had one day weathered out - and only because we decided it was time to head home. Not everyone is able to live this kind of lifestyle - traveling around with no plans except for riding and the two weeks was a treat. I was concerned about two weeks on the road prior to leaving, especially when one week toasted me last year. But it was good - we balanced riding, rest, relaxation and running enough to get almost everything done.


The gummi worms I carried with me on all the rides were a hot commodity at times...

Jeff - very happy to play tour guide at Phil's world and regale us with tales of his marathon (sounded like a fun time...)


Nov 19, 2014

Moab Meltdown

Many years ago, while on a hike during a Sierra Club camping trip I wanted to join the adults on a hike to the summit of a mountain. I don't even remember the mountain, but I know that in order to get to the summit, there was about 50 feet of trail exposed on both sides. The trail was maybe a foot wide, just a ridge of rock, with nothing but air on either side for hundreds of feet. Well, I made over to the summit just fine, but panicked on the return trip. I think it took me a hour to cross that 50 foot gap, and only with patient coaxing from nearly all the adults on the trip. Ever since, exposures have been a weakness of mine - one of the reasons I was so proud of myself for not panicking in sections on Porcupine Rim. I was able to block out the tickles of fear and focus on the trail. Well, I wasn't so lucky on the second ride at Moab this time around.

Quick - let's play find the trail along the distant cliff!
We went to the Amasa Back area with no real agenda - we'd been told that Captain Ahab was a great trail and there was plenty of riding there. I had a bad feeling when we got to the parking lot. We drove up a little further and I could see the trail carved into the cliffs across the creek. On either side of us, shear sandstone walls. There was a gnawing pit in my stomach as we started riding, but I was able to ignore it. I couldn't place why I was so unnerved being out there - but there was something.



Climbing up Hymasa - already freaking out about something

The climb up Hymasa was fun - it was a well build chunk of trail that was hard but not over the top. Plenty of things to challenge without scaring and I was starting to feel comfortable on the bike finally. The trail maps every time we reached an intersection were great, allowing us to just focus on riding and not worry so but getting lost. Up and up we climbed, meandering over rocks and slick rock, through small stands of pinons and criss crossing the Amasa Back jeep road. At the top, we had a choice - take Captain Ahab down or continue on the jeep road. Nick decided we would keep exploring and off we went on the aptly named Cliffhanger. I really can't see how jeeps manage that - I would be terrified. As it was, despite how wide the trail was, I was starting to have issues. Maybe it was the chunky rocks and the crash the day before. I know the 1000 foot cliff to my left wasn't helping. 
Taking in the view from the top - huge terrain out there

We took Pothole Arch trail out to the little arch. A fun trail, finally away from the cliffs for a little. Over slickrock, meandering to the north with huge views of Canyon Lands NP. I enjoyed the mix of terrain and took my time to enjoy the views.

Nick at the end of Pothole trail, taking in the surroundings
And then came Rockstacker. The sign warned that it was technical, but I wasn't too worried. If I didn't feel comfortable on sections, I could walk. No shame in that. And it was technical - hard riding that was a little over my head for how tired I was. But that was okay - we were there to explore. And then it wasn't - one section, with the trail switchbacking above a cliff dropping all the way down to Colorado River. I could handle the switchbacks, but not the cliff. That was it - I was done. The nervous breakdown was starting. Nick was loving Rockstacker, but I couldn't keep my eyes off the cliff and ended up walking more then I wanted. And there wasn't any desire to repeat things - I was completely unnerved and out of it.
video
 
Settled a little bit on the climb back up Cliffhanger and then it was time for Captain Ahab. I wish I could say I enjoyed the trail, ripping up and down the rocks along the cliff edge, but I didn't. The panic returned and it was all I could do to stay on my bike. There were several stops for me to try to regain my composure. It was a thoroughly miserable ride down back to the car. I was slow as molasses because of the panic and I was unable to focus on how fun the trail was. I rode everything down Captain Ahab, but it wasn't pretty. It was slow and pathetic as I got more and more annoyed at myself and then more panicked when I tried to ride faster. Ugh. So next time - I need redemption. I want to return to Ahab and come back with the grin that trail deserves. 

Nov 18, 2014

Porcupine

Three years ago, our planned Porcupine Rim ride got rained and snowed out. We drove up to LPS that day and played in the snow, but left without riding. Last year, I wimped out on the climb up Sand Flats Road and we were unable to arrange a shuttle so we could ride Porcupine. So with two trips to Moab under my belt and I'd yet to experience one of the classic rides - still no Porcupine. This year we made it the priority. We wanted to explore Moab a little more and ride some new trails, but first - Porcupine. I even took a day off the bike on Tuesday to ensure that I would be ready for the rough, challenging terrain and long, technical ride.

Before the fun of Porcupine comes the long grind up Sand Flats. We didn't even bother calling about a shuttle this year, figuring we'd get the same answer as last. Time to ride up the road. With our early start and the chilly temperatures, the road was quiet. There were only a few cars in the Slickrock parking lot and even fewer further up the road. Despite the sunny skies, it wasn't warming up and a stiff wind kept us cool. Clouds lurked behind the La Sals, hinting at the possibility of bad weather. We took our time on the climb, riding steady but somewhat easy. Nick made sure I wasn't pushing the pace, reminding me frequently that when I needed the power and spunk to ride, I would need it and not to waste it on the road. About two miles down from the main Porcupine Rim trailhead, the shuttle van came roaring down the road - the only traffic we'd seen in miles. Guess they had enough people to run today! Oh well. We would do it the classic way, earning our descent. We kept climbing past the Porcupine trailhead. Our goal was at least some of LPS - maybe all of it or even UPS depending on the snow and how we (I) felt.

Sand Flats road with Arches NP and the desert far below us
 

Still heading up, surrounded by huge rocks

At the main sign post for the Whole Enchalada, we stopped. I had a snack and Nick looked at the map. There was snow in the shade all around and we decided to jump on LPS there and start the descent. I wanted to keep going and at least ride all of LPS. I really wanted to go all the way up to UPS, but Nick vetoed that. He told me this chunk of LPS and Porcupine would be enough. No sense pushing higher then we needed to go, only to have something happen later because of fatigue. I was still reluctant, but followed Nick onto the singletrack.
 

Let's go! Finished with the easy part - the climb!

LPS was great. Right along the edge of the rim, in and out of the pines, up and over rock gardens, down sandstone slabs, the kind of riding that I'm starting to really enjoy. We took the Notch option off LPS proper, leading away from the edge of the canyon. Once we hit it, I took one look and chickened out. No way - wasn't happening at all. Nick studied and picked out the line but decided not to ride it. With it being an off season weekday and just the two of us it wasn't worth the risk. Then back to LPS, carefully over the patchy ice covered trail in the shadow of the cliff edge. I was having fun, finding the flow over the chunky rocks and drops. It was awesome, challenging and lots of work to ride. Perhaps I was getting a little cocky...

That's a long way down into Castle Valley...

And then I was flying. But my bike wasn't. The front wheel was at a dead stop and the rear of the bike rising up, bucking me into the air. With my arms outstreched ala Superman, I only had seconds to react and establish a landing spot. There really weren't any good options - there was going to be damage no matter what I did. The trick would be to minimize it. I didn't quite get my hands in all the way to be able to roll out of the flight, jamming a finger into a rock. My right shoulder hit another dust covered rock, with my face finding a third. Adding to the insult, my bike clattered to landing halfway on top of me. Ouch. But there was no searing pain anywhere - just dull aches from the rocks. My chin hurt and my shoulder stiff and covered in dust, but I had full movement and all my teeth. I picked my bike up and checked it out, then coasted down to where Nick was waiting for me. Pride was shaken and it took a little bit for me to regain my confidence on the slabs of standstone jutting up into the path.

Riding back up to work on some skills and get my mojo back
 
video
 

We caught the first two shuttle bunnies midway down the motorized section of Porcupine. Classic flat tire posture with one bike upside down along the trail. Nick slowed but they waved us along with a smile. The second group was near the end of the road, also with a bike upside down. They also waved us by, assuring us they were fine, seeming content to enjoy the views and take their time with the repair. A few more minutes of bone chattering descending over rocks and the road ended. Barriers preventing jeeps and motos from going any further. We took a few minutes to look around and then it was time for more singletrack.
 

We were way up there - at the La Sals not that long ago
 
Nick waiting for me to clamber over the rocks - another long way down...

Time to focus on the ribbon of trail in front of me. No more sightseeing allowed. The trail was narrow and rocky, with cliffs stretching for 100s of feet beside it. The exposure was unnerving in places, so close to the trail with such huge consequences for even a simple mistake. I kept my eyes on the trail, my one woman conversation loud enough for Nick to hear. There were only a few spots that I decided to walk for sanity's sake and a few others where Nick warned me to be careful. Despite the exposure and the occasional surges of fear  - heights and exposures were a huge challenge for me when I was little - I was having fun. I was on the limits of my trail reading ability and pushing the speed as much as I could. We reached the canyon crossing and I thought better of trying it - my chin was an oozing reminder of how much overconfidence can hurt. Nick gave it a solid go, almost cleaning the entire thing.

Nick working the canyon crossing near the finish of the trail

And then we were at river level. The trail dived under the highway and popped out on the westbound side. Save for a short distance, there was a bike path all the way from the trail head back into town. Awesome! The feared death march along the highway was replaced with a casual pedal separated from speeding cars. While we cruised back to town, I pondered the luck - had the weather not prevented us from riding Porcupine three years ago, we would have attempted it. I would have hated it and the classic "take your wife mountain biking" scene would have ensued. Even last year, with how tired I would it would have been a struggle. This year was perfect - except for the bruise on my hip, bleeding chin and torn backpack...

Nov 17, 2014

Fatso

After nearly two weeks of sunshine and warm temperatures, we returned home to sub freezing and snow. More snow was on the way as well. Before, that would have set me to the trainer or to a run. Not this year. I'm thinking except for targeted workout where I have specific goals in mind, the trainer isn't gonna see a lot of use. Nick was right last year with his trainer killers article. There's no excuses to get out and play in the snow now.

Nick heading up into Stratton - no first tracks there. Someone had beaten us there



But we did get first tracks on Spring Creek!
What's changed? A new bike of course and Sunday morning was the maiden ride. We got it just before our trip and had enough stuff to do without trying to get a bike fit as well. So when the snow started falling Saturday night, I was jonesing to go. Nick gave it the once over and did the fit Sunday morning while I made breakfast and then it was time to ride. We dressed for the freezing yet sunny weather and headed west towards the mountains. Fatso (yes - nicknamed after my cat Isis..) was going to get a proper shake down ride for the first pedal.

Coming down Spring Creek - not enough snow, but enough to be fun!
A few things I noticed - that bike is a lot of work to pedal. Its big and heavy and looks utterly ridiculous  underneath me. People notice the fat bikes - took the same route to Stratton that we normally do and instead of getting ignored, everyone was commenting on the big tires. It's back to basics riding. No suspension means using my body much more intelligently even on the easy trails. And even though the huge tires do provide great floatation on the snow, it's still up to me to keep them turning. Traction is an even bigger issue and any weak spots in the pedal stroke are easy to identify. 

On Columbine - man that bike looks huge under me!

Plenty of things to work on! All while having fun and challenging what most people consider riding conditions. That and the winter bike series means this is going to be an exciting winter.
Coming up the Chamberlin extension - winter workouts are going to be awesome this year

A side of Guacamole

After vacating Gooseberry just before the mass of riders arrived, it was a quick stop to pick up a part and resupply. Then onto the next adventure - Guacamole. A few people had told us to check it out, that it was worth the drive up. And a drive up it was! Dusty road through an expansive valley, then up the narrow canyon to the top of the mesa. We were just across from Zion and the rock formations of the national park filled the eastern sky. It was only 2:30 when we parked the van and the sun hung high in the cloudless sky.

Nick decided that he would get in a quick lap of the trail, see what we were in for tomorrow. Despite my fatigue and slowness with the ride at Gooseberry that morning, I decided I would do a short run. I'd originally planned to stick to the jeep roads that lead off in all directions from the trailhead, but my TADD kicked in. There was singletrack - with the potential for views! Why just run on the roads? I can do that at home. So off I went on to the trail. I knew it would be slow when I hit the slickrock section, but speed wasn't the point. I danced along the trail, following the cairns and tire tracks to the edge of the mesa and back. Nick also returned from his ride grinning, so I knew it had to be good.

Gazing down into the valley below - don't lose your balance!
Morning greeted me - chilly and calm. Like the prior mornings, I made a cup of coffee and then did yoga on the rocks as the sun rose. The moon was setting, the sky turning pink as the sun inched higher in the sky. The cliffs of Zion were bathed in gold from the rising sun. A perfect, quiet morning.


Sunrise over Zion
Guacamole didn't disappoint. So different from Gooseberry, but also similar. Wildly varying terrain, with the trail shifting personalities around every corner. We were ducking and diving around the pinion pines, following the same cairns and tire tracks I'd followed before. And then the forest opened up into an old burn area, revealing slickrock and more. The cairns lead us onto huge humps of white rock, jutting out of the surrounding stone. Completely out of place with the rest of the mesa. We found the bonus loop trail Nick had missed the day before and heading out, following small paint dashes and cairns. All the way to mesa's edge, the trail meandered thru the burnt pines, winding in and around the white rock hulks. It was fun, challenging riding and different from what we'd seen already on the trail. One minute we were climbing a gradual slope, then next dropping between small canyons, tires clattering over petrified wood. Then we were tracing the edges of the stones, like we were dodging huge rain drops that solidified on contact with the dirt. The trail was easy to follow, then a confusing mix with cairns in all directions. Which one was the line? Was that cairn a quarter mile away and around several rocks or the next one? Every corner and edge had to be assessed on the slickrock as the wrong move frequently led to a 10 foot drop instead of a roller.


Nick in one of the many rock features on the mesa - this one required climbing up into the bowl, doing a U-turn and traversing the edge around to the far right


We were finishing up the loop as other riders started arriving on the mesa. Time to move on - the next destination called.