Aug 25, 2015

End of a era - Saying goodby to Sage

Normally, I would be writing up the race report for the 24 Hours in the Sage right now, talking about all the fun times we had racing, the competition, the fire booter and all the other excitement that we came to look forward to during our weekend at the KOA. Well, not this year. Yes, we still went out to Gunnison for some fun times riding at Hartman's Rocks and hanging out at the KOA. But we didn't get to race. The 24 Hours in the Sage was not held this year and more then likely, last year was the final hurrah of that great race. Sage was the most family friendly venue of all the 24 hour races I've done, as well as one of the best courses with something for every kind of rider. Word of mouth alone led to the race filling up for three years in a row. But as people's racing tastes change and events compete on a packed calendar, something's gotta give. Unfortunately for the people registered and ready for the "best 24 hour race at a party" it was 24 Hours in the Sage that ultimately gave in.

I'm sad to see this happen, given that Sage was my first exposure to 24 hour racing and also my first 24 hour race. I ran Pit Crew for Nick and his friend Bret at the 2006 event - helping them as best as the runner I was at the time could help. I remember how cold and wet everything was and how hard it was to keep the riders moving. It seemed like the  stupidest and craziest thing possible. I couldn't even ride the course back in 2006 - I tried and turned around on Behind the Rocks - the first section of singletrack. It was just too technical for me back then. And then in 2008, Nick and I raced duo for our anniversary. I got the mellow start and we were riding two laps at a time at that point - except for the night laps. I did a few night laps, but Nick did most of them that first year. I also remember walking quite a bit on Rocky Ridge and nearly panicking coming off the Notch. Then came 2010 and we were a well dialed 24 hour racing team, showing up with the Turtle and a plan. 2010 was one of the closest battles among the Co-Ed duos, with the race coming down to the 19th lap of the race. Every year, I was able to ride more of the course and we rode more laps. In 2011, we won the duo class outright with 20 laps, beating the men's duo by a few seconds. 2012 was another solid 20 laps and outright win in the duo class. Finally in 2013, we got within minutes of being able to head out for 21 laps, despite Hartman's Rocks deciding to claim some carbon spoils. That will never happen now, as we dropped down to the 12 hour race in 2014 for a variety of reasons.

It's very easy as outsiders to say that if the race had promoted more or if there had been more advertising, then the numbers would have been there. But Sage was never advertised through much more then word of mouth and always got the numbers. I know I've spent plenty of time bragging about how much fun that race was and how awesome the course was. As did everyone else I knew that had ever done the race. Once the news that the race was canceled due to lack of interest, there were the typical "hold the race anyway" comments. Again - easy to say for the outsiders who just show up, pitch a tent, eat some of KOA Dave's yummy food and ride a couple of laps over the course of the 24 hours. But we riders aren't the ones involved with the nitty-gritty. Event safety, permitting and staff and the general stress of making sure the event is well run and that everyone is safe. The staff isn't there to make money off the riders - they are there to ensure that we have a great race and everything runs smoothly. Those things we don't see as we race and party at the KOA. It's also easy to say that they should have held the race with the people who were signed up, and then announced that it would be the last year for the event. Would more people have signed up last minute if they had know that it was going to be the last year for the race? People always say that they would have, but the voting was being done the wallets in the months and weeks before. People don't just sign up for a 24 hour race the week before just for fun and old times sake.Was the cancelation news I wanted to get the week before the race? No. But I understand the reasoning and decision making process that led to the cancelation.

So there will be tales coming from this weekend. Just not from racing - from getting out of town and exploring without an agenda and without lofty racing goals.

Aug 12, 2015

Health Trumps All

Health is the one thing that we shouldn't take for granted but so many do. When everything is going great, we don't even think about what might be lurking around the corner. All it takes is one bug, one bad meal or a mistimed sneeze to turn it all sideways. I learned that the hard way....

After a great weekend in Salida, I was all primed up for a final hard few days before 24 Hours in the Sage. A few hard workouts, some long runs and a long ride. Big plans for some hard days and a nice boost to my fitness. Or so I though. The rumbling in my stomach started Tueday on my run. Wednesday wasn't much better on my long run, but I chalked it up to the heat. Then Thursday hit - I barely made though work. The workout I had planned for Thursday didn't happen as the couch and bathroom were far more appealing. Same thing on Friday - I never strayed from the couch. Called off Saturday since I still wasn't moving from the couch or bathroom. Having not kept a thing down since Thursday, it was amazing how quickly I lost energy. Even climbing the stairs from the basement was a workout. So much for that nice long and hard weekend I had planned. 

Eight pounds - that's a pretty good percentage of my weight. And something I didn't want to loose due to dehydration and not eating. Yet that's what happened thanks to the nastiest stomach bug I've had in a while. I didn't even have the energy to get the computer stuff I needed to get done while not doing anything useful. Ugh. A waste of a weekend and my chance for a final long ride. An hour easy pedaling was all I could manage on Sunday - and that a struggle. I knew the weekend was a wash and focused on just getting healthy. Trying to eat some high electrolyte and easy to digest meal so I could prevent any further damage to my system. It took three days to start getting weight back on - and I'm still not quite there. At least it happened this weekend - and not during Sage. That would have been a nightmare! 

So don't take health for granted. Be smart and take the steps needed to stay healthy - but without going overboard. A little dirt is good sometimes. 

Aug 6, 2015

Focus

It's easy to lose focus on the key goals when there's as many distractions out there. Even I get readily distracted by all the cool events available and the chances to explore. I wrote about the running vest Nick had gotten me for my birthday, setting off an entire new spiral of distractions - for things a year away! How would I balance the running and the riding to be able to compete well at all the events next year? What would be the best way to build up my running volume and intensity? I was completely distracted from the events coming up in just a few weeks.

And then we went back to Canyon Creek and I realized - yes, building up my running in order to race a 50 miles trail run the right way will take an entire year. But I can't lose focus on the most important things - the races next on the schedule. I still have some big days planned before the 24 Hours in the Sage and there's a lot of prep work to be done. I have to go into the workouts completely focused on the bike and the purpose of the intervals. And I need to start setting up the plan and getting the prep work finished so when we show up to Gunnison, there's nothing left to do but race. The pre-race preparation can make or break an event. And in the middle of a 24 hour race is not the time to be wondering about other things. So I need to get cracking and focused on what really matters right now - which is not the 50 mile race in a year!

Three weeks after Sage comes the next challenge. A return to the alpine night riding of the Vapor Trail 125. Last year I was a noobie with no ideas of what would really happen during the crisscrossing of the continental divide. I had a time goal, but really just wanted to finish with a smile. I didn't meet my time goal, but I did finish with a smile. This year, I'm not novice, but I'm not ready to call myself a veteran. I've hopefully learned from some of the issues I had last year and have made the needed changes in training to address them. I still have that time goal and have been working hard, both in the fitness and the technical aspects of riding. I've seen times on climbs and descents that a few years ago would have been unthinkable. I've riding longer, hitting bigger numbers. Will that all lead to the race I'm hoping for on September 12? We will find out in a few short weeks! And for that, I need to stay completely focused on the here and now - the current goals.

Aug 4, 2015

A line on the map

No good biking weekend is complete without an adventure. For us, that meant exploring a line on the map and trying to make a different loop in the Monarch area. Part of the ride was a success, but we weren't able to make the connections that we wanted in the beginning. There was some bushwacking and backtracking involved...

Once we crested Monarch Pass and got on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), the adventure really began. Neither one of us knew what to expect from looking at the line on the map the represented the CDT. The first part was straight forward - right across the top of Monarch Mountain Ski area.
It was so quiet and empty without the snow and the lifts running - just a few foot prints in the dusty road that will soon become a ski run.
It looks a little different without the feet of snow! At the top of one of the lifts at Monarch Mountain

I'll be seeing you in the winter time!
We stopped for some photos and to eat small snack. Then with the clouds building all around us, we continued north, following the contours of the Continental Divide to the very edge of the ski resort. And then it was single track. A narrow ribbon of single track extending as far north as we could see, wrapping around the mountains ahead of us.

Nick on one of the last little climbs on the ski resort. We would hit singletrack soon
 So far, it was all rideable. We pedaled steadily, climbing higher and higher. There were a few steep, boulderish switchbacks that I chose to walk. The walking gave me a chance to look around and take in the expanse around us. In one of the saddles, stopped to read the historical marker signs, detailing how the first inhabitants of the mountains hunted elk. Just after the signs, I happened to glance down in the valley below us. A fine herd of elk was sheltering in the trees. I couldn't get Nick's attention without spooking them and settled for attempting to get a photo. No luck with that one!
A short break for some interesting history
The nature of the trail changed as we climbed higher. I was forced to walk more and more as the boulder fields were challenging enough - without the 1000 foot drop off to my left! Trying to remember to always unclip with my right foot and lean right whenever I stopped wasn't easy. I got a little shaken when my front tire hit a rock and I couldn't correct the leftward lean. Visions of my and my bike rolling down the hillside flashed through my mind as I toppled. Luckily, it wasn't on one of the steeper sections and we only slid about 10 feet....
Nick riding among the boulders at 12500 feet. Far off in the distance is Tomichi pass, the line just near his elbow. That's where we were on Saturday!
Nick taking in the view. The wind was brutal on the exposed saddles and we never stopped for long.
Water Dog Lakes - I've seen the line on the map and the people hiking across 50 with fishing poles, but never the lakes themselves

 And then came the descent off the alpine ridge. Wow. I rode chunks, but walked others. Between being just a little shaken from my slide and the continued consequences of wiping out that high up, I choose to fight another day. We traced the thin line of trail around the ridge and down into the trees. It didn't get any easier as we descended, providing a challenging ride for both of us. Nick was having a blast, picking his lines through the roots, rocks and tight switchbacks.


One of the many lakes we skirted as we descended. The trail actually drops off the alpine ridge above the lake
And then we were down. We took one of the jeep roads down to Hwy 50, then rode up to where we had left the van. Some curiosity satisfied, but as always with lines on the map, left wanting more. What would the rest of the CDT trail be all the way through to Hancock? And what an epic day that would be? Camping at Snowblind, riding up Old Monarch, then across the CDT to Hancock and then back to Snowblind via Canyon Creek? Lines on the map. Each one a different story and a different adventure.

Aug 3, 2015

Of Shuttles and Hike-a-Bike...

Another long weekend with no agenda but riding bikes. Okay - that's not quite true. We did want to get one final scouting trip done before September arrives, so we did have an agenda. Friday, that agenda involved loading our bikes up on the shuttle for the Crest run and Saturday there was going to be some hiking...
The plan on Friday was take the shuttle to Monarch Pass and ride the entire section of trail back down to Poncha Springs - Monarch Crest, Starvation, Poncha Creek Rd, Silver Creek and Rainbow. I'd planned on about 5:30 based on my time from last year and how long it had taken us to do various chunks of the route. Without the benefit of aid stations, we were fully loaded up with food and water while waiting for the shuttle. It was a small group eagerly waiting for the ride - but mountain biking is a small world! One of the other guys happened to be friends with some of our friends from Colorado Springs and with the Boise group we met through them... Another guy was Chama Dave, who I recognized from a feature about him in Mountain Flyer a while back. That made for a very social ride up the pass!

With a big day ahead of us, Nick and I wasted no time once the bikes were unloaded. We were pedaling up the service road and I glanced over my shoulder to see Chama Dave sprinting up the hill to catch us. He'd heard me say we were riding Starvation and wanted to join us so he wasn't riding alone. And it was cool having him along. He was just so happy to ride his bike and share how much he loved riding with everyone. We took the road across to Starvation, just like we will in September and Nick and Dave just spent that entire time chatting. Me? I was eating! Working on strategies for later...We dropped Starvation - thanks to whoever went in and cleared the downed trees - Just as much fun as I remembered. Dave was all set to drop the road back to Poncha Springs, but Nick convinced him to climb back up Poncha with us. He opted for another Starvation trip instead of finishing out the Crest with us, but it was a pleasure riding with him and I'm glad we got the chance. Meanwhile, Nick and I continued along our way. Finishing out the CT, we met two guys at the top of Silver Creek. I was putting on my elbow pads and they both laughed, saying "If they're wearing body armor, we better let them go first!" And they were both on much bigger bikes then my poor little Camber...

Focusing on the trail - the steep little hills always seem steeper at 10k feet!
We made good time on the Silver Creek/Rainbow run and I got some good info for water and food. No sense carrying more then what I need and if I run out just before an aid station, that's okay. I also got a first hand lesson in why Nick always wants a bottle of plain water on the bike. A rather inelegant dust cloud just before Green's left me with sand in my eye. It would have been a very long day if I hadn't been able to wash it out.

Saturday - Canyon Creek. The ride might be shorter then the rest of the rides that weekend, but that didn't mean we were going to take it easy. Nick pressed a steady tempo up the Tomichi Pass climb. I was hoping to ride most of the jeep road this time, but was having some issues finding my cadence in the loose rocks. So there was some hoofing before the hike-a-bike even started - which was fine. One area where I was a little lax last year was hoofing at speed. I'd get off and walk, but without the urgency that I should have had. Not this year. At the start of the single track, we rode for just a little. I knew once I was off my bike, I would be off for good. Too much energy expanded trying to get back on and then off again. Again, a nice quick tempo for the hike-a-bike. A steady pace but one that wasn't too hard and hopefully one I can duplicate later! I carried my bike up the steeper sections and the pushed the rest of the way. A quick stop at the top to inhale some food and get jackets on and then we were off.
Standing there so small, among the giants. The infamous Canyon Creek Hike-a-Bike

Canyon Creek. A descent of over 3000 feet, dropping from alpine tundra above the sky to lush aspen groves along the creek. Worth every step up to the summit. I still find myself on sensory overload at times, with nothing to focus on during alpine descent. And then it's into the trees and the stimulus changes from the vast emptiness of space around me to the tight quarters and rocky lines among the pines. A different challenge, but just as much fun. With Nick riding just far enough ahead of me that I couldn't see his path, I had to find my own lines again. Reading the trail is a skill as much as any - picking the smoothest path through, around or even over the obstacles. Nick would wait occasionally, but take off again the minute I came into view, pushing me every step of the way. There was no letting up this time, not on this ride. So if you want more photos - take a look at last year!