Monday, August 31, 2009

2nd Annual Race to the Top of Vermont

Bike - Dean Singlespeed, 19.95 lbs
Tires - 26" Specialized Mt Baldy @ 45psi
Gear - 22 x 19 (30.5 inch-gear)
Sleep - about 5hrs
Coffee - two giant mugs of extra dark Starbucks House Blend
Breakfast - Bowl of Life cereal, roast beef and cheddar sandwich, plain bagel
Forecast - cool, slight chance of rain. Not far off.
Result - 3rd overall, 1st men 40-49

The Good (The Ugly comes later):

My singlespeed experiment was a smashing success this weekend. I have never raced my singlespeed bike before. I previously posted that, had I raced a five pound lighter bike, I would have been in contention for an overall win on Mt Mansfield last year.

I figured the only way I'll shed five pounds was to forgo gears and suspension fork. Based on a target finishing time of 37 minutes (the current record from last year), I could calculate exactly what ratio I needed for the cadence I wanted. I did this in a comment, reproduced here:

The Mansfield climb goes 4.3mi, and I did it in 39.1min last year. So with a single gear, here's my rational for gear selection:


This is actually a bit low for me. If I assume I can do it in 37 minutes (to beat last year's winning time), my cadence will go up to 77.8rpm. This is still a tad low but probably close to what I averaged on Mt Washington this year with gears.

Ok, now the race report. It seemed much warmer than I expected. I brought long layers with me. They surely were not needed for the climb. In fact, I was sweating while lining up in the sun. They announced it was 15F cooler at the summit in the clouds. I just hoped I got into that cool stuff before my little turkey pop-up done-indicator went pop.

There were more than twice as many bikers than last year. In total, there were over 500 biker and runner finishers this year. The bikers went off in one giant wave of nearly 200, the runners 10 minutes later. I'm lined up at the front, when minutes before the start, a kid pushes me back by coming in from the front. I thought to ask him "are you fast?" in a sarcastic tone. We were asked to self seed. I figured third overall last year qualified for a line spot, now I'm one row back in what was sure to be a melee.

The course starts out on a 15% paved grade that quickly turns to gravel for the rest of the climb. We go off, there's a bunch of bumping, but nobody close to me goes down. I am immediately swallowed up in bikers coming around me on both sides. Half way into the initial paved section, about 40 riders bolted on ahead. I thought WTF, don't any of these guys know anything about pacing? Then I remembered, most of them are pure mountain bikers. They probably never done a TT in their lives, and MTB race starts are all about hole shots. They were going for a hole shot that didn't exist. There was no singletrack on this course, folks. It is a dirt road the whole way up.

Before we got to the top of the 0.3mi paved bit, I realized I was already standing a lot. I was in world of hurt. Maybe those 40 guys that bolted on ahead of me had gears that let them do that, and I was in over my head with too big of a gear. I began to think I was faced with my biggest hillclimb disaster of all time. Dave Penney was in that group of 40 too. He's never started a hillclimb faster than me. He was pushing an even bigger gear than me, a 22x18 I believe, but he can mash. I can't.

I settle into my pace of astronomical hurt. This was brand new territory for me. I had no idea if my effort was sustainable or not. What I failed to recognize last year on this course were the hundreds of nuances in gradient change. It was no where near constant. Parts were 15%, parts were near 0%. Never constant. When you have gears, you subconsciously shift. You don't feel the grade the same way. I had to stand all the 15% stuff. That is not how I normally climb. Slowly but surely, I began reeling victims in. By the two mile mark, I was amazingly in 4th place overall. I caught the 3rd place guy at roughly 2.5 miles into the 4.3 mile race. I asked a spectator if the two guys in front of me were the leaders. Yep. They were way up. Interestingly, one of them was the kid that pushed me back at the line. He was fast enough that I no longer thought he was a dick.

I tango'd with the guy I passed for 3rd place a good while. We'd hit flatter parts, I'd spin out (at 10mph!) and even had to coast a few times. He'd catch me. Every time I spun way up, my HR and respiration would skyrocket. Every time it got nasty steep, I'd have to stand and drive burn deep into my quads like I've never experienced. I had no idea of my pace at this point, just that I was in 3rd place overall.

At the three mile mark, the grade gets seriously steep through a series of switchbacks and does not let up. I dropped my antagonist for good through this section. I even started gaining seconds on guys in first and second place. I never entertained catching them, knowing the finish would come too soon. I crossed the line in 3rd, only a minute back from winner. My time was 37:15.5, just three seconds from last year's overall winning time, and two minutes faster than my time last year. Mission accomplished. I was pretty psyched. My thoughts went from total disaster a minute or two into the race to thinking maybe there really is something to this singlespeed stuff.

After a number of other riders came through, another singlespeeder came through. A spectator noticed and remarked, "Wow, did you see that? He was on a singlespeed!" Guess she missed me. I'm not sure what the next fastest singlespeed time was, as there is no singlespeed category. I'm sold enough I may try it on Mt Washington next year. One of the faster geared riders couldn't figure out why I would come back the second time with a singlespeed, like didn't I think it was hard enough the first time? Then I told him I was two minutes faster without gears. That was more information than he could process. It made perfect technical sense to me. Geared riders are at a weight disadvantage. Just don't expect me to be faster at Bear Brook on a singlespeed.

A little further analysis (I'll spare you the details) suggests that more went on than just weight savings. If my geared bike last year was five pounds lighter, I should have been only about a minute faster. I was two minutes faster. I suspect I went harder because I lacked bailout gears. In other words, I'm not as disciplined with gears as I think I am. There could also be some mechanical efficiencies. It is well known that singlespeed drive trains are more efficient than derailleur based drive trains. That might be a percent at most, but that is good for half a minute here. Last year much of the road was loose. This year recent rain left it a little spongy. Hard to say which might have been faster. You certainly did not have to worry about rear tire slipping when standing. I just might be more fit this year too. I did, after all, PR a couple climbs earlier in the season. I would definitely come back again next year singly geared. Same gear too. I might manage to take another pound or two off the bike.

Jim Fredericks and crew did an excellent job pulling this thing off. I think he said over 650 riders and runners were pre-registered, an event just in it's second year. Most events that grow this fast have major growing pains, but I didn't see it here. I believe Jim has been organizing major ski events for a long time, so he's a veteran organizer. Good food, cash bar. It took a while to get awards underway. I got a classy custom pottery mug, Darn Tough socks and a little cash. Jim said he'll work on the cash part of it next year to attract more talent. Just in case you are wondering, the fastest runner beat me by two minutes. On dirt, runners reach parity with riders at around 10-12 percent grade. It's a weight penalty/rolling resistance thing. On pavement with road tires, parity comes at a much steeper grade, around 17%.

The Ugly:

So how do you top off a great hillclimb event? You pound out some more hills, of course. A group of four of us had a 72 mile loop in mind with about 7000 feet of climbing. It entailed Bolton Valley Access Rd, Bolton Notch Rd, then finishing over Smugglers Notch. Deal was, awards started late, so Dave P, Alex and Paul started without me, doing an out and back over Smugg's and then scooping me up. I joined the other three as they were coming back up Smugglers Notch. Paul bolted through the ridiculously narrow curves at the top. The road is only one lane wide with a lot of traffic coming up. You can't see around the house sized boulders the road literally is paved right around, like the boulders are there for decoration. No way was I chasing Paul that recklessly. Alex was right behind me. I brake coming into the third or fourth switchback to avoid some bad pavement and take the inside line (any other line is suicide here). I hear a skid past my left side and a hard crash as I finish rounding the switchback. Dave, who was riding behind Alex, yells "stop!", then "call 911!"

Oh no, not again. Dave and I dealt with another mishap two year's ago when Bill Dunkerly crashed in the White Mountains. I get to Alex and he's trying to get up. I had him sit right back down. His facial injuries were pretty horrific. He went straight off a switchback into a rocky embankment. Fortunately there was cell phone coverage up there. It took 20 figgin minutes for the ambulance to get there. I would think Stowe or Jeffersonville are 10 minutes away on either side. State police were there quickly, as well as a former or off-duty Stowe EMT who just happened by or maybe heard it on the radio and was very helpful. Alex's injuries maybe looked worse than they really were, but we did not know at the time. A severe smack to the head is always serious.

Alex was able to walk to the ambulance. Turns out he sustained multiple facial fractures. I think he said they put in 22 stitches. Initial prognosis is surgery will not be required, but he will be seeing a specialist on this. Paul was able to take Alex's car to the hospital and drive him home that evening.

Alex did comment to the others something seemed awry with his front brake moments before crashing. I wonder if the cable was slipping in the clamp screw. Post impact inspection suggests the cable might have slipped, but the impact could have caused that too. The right lever (rear brake) was completely mangled. Without full front brake performance, there is no way to safely descend those switchbacks. Inside gradients are at least 20-25%.

That put a damper on the day. Always leaves a sick feeling in your stomach when a rider goes down like that, because you know it could happen to you too. Shit happens. On the flip side, it could have been much worse, say a car was coming at that instant, or spinal injury. We wish Alex speedy recovery.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Durango Wrap-up

Finally got around to stitching a few of the panoramic images together I attempted to capture. The ArcSoft tool I use struggled with a couple of the panoramas. I had to reduce the number of stitched images to get the silly tool to converge. Click on the images here, set to full size, then pan around. Hopefully it gives you just an inkling of what is like to be in such big open spaces. The coolest thing about some of these rides is I went hours without seeing or hearing another human being. Some folks don't like to be isolated like this. I find it to be a superb reset once in a while. The three images here were composed above 12,000ft elevation.

I tallied up the rides. In six days, I rode 27.1 hours, 215.6 miles and climbed 29,400 feet. Not a huge amount of climbing, but when you factor in it was mostly very technical, some hike-a-bike and in thin air, it was easily equivalent to twice that much vertical on road at sea level. Per day on average I rode 4.5 hours, 36 miles with 4900ft of climbing. I have never done 27 hours of fairly intense riding in six days before.

I'd have to say this Colorado trip was my best cycling trip of all time. The weather was perfect, which is highly unusual for this time of year. Despite huge volume, nothing in my body broke. It is not uncommon during periods of big volume to get some knee or hip tweakiness. I had none of it. I experienced zero flats or mechincals too. Maybe that has something to do with my obsesive attention to maintenance details. I ran low 20's pressure most of the time, including down some pretty gnarly descents. By Monday, just two days after my last full day in Durango, my legs already felt snappy. Perhaps rich oxygen content at sea level had something to do with that. I feared I would need a whole week to recover from my vacation. Tuesday and Wednesday this week were uber hard intensity days. I felt well primed for it. Weight is near a two year low too, hitting 160 lbs (72.5kg) on the scale this morning. I ate as much as I could in Colorado, twice a day, for a week and lost weight. Gotta love riding.

From Jura Knob, looking north along the Colorado Trail

From Trail 918, looking east

From Calico Trail, looking east, Calico Peak on left, Horse Creek basin center

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mansfield Machine

The Mt Mansfield hillclimb, aka Race to the Top of Vermont, is this coming Sunday. Except for the first 200m, this climb is a loose dirt road. The race rules require minimum 2" wide tires, as the post race descent is quite sketchy. I did this race last year, the first time they held it. I raced my hardtail, as-is, with no weight trimming efforts. It is not a light weight machine, weighing in at over 25 lbs. I placed third overall on this bike. I calculated, had I a five pound lighter bike, I could have potentially won the event. There's no way I'll take five pounds off my hardtail. I'm starting with a 3.6 lb Ti frame. It already has an XTR drivetrain. I'm not about to make an investment in a carbon hardtail yet. So tonight I finished cobbling together one of the most bastardized machines yet.

Mt Mansfield is a fairly persistent 12% grade. Sure, there are a couple momentary places the grade levels off, and several section where it is much steeper than 12%, but I'll spend about about 90% of the climb in a single gear ratio. This got me thinking about trimming down my singlespeed for the hillclimb. Stock, it actually isn't much lighter than my hardtail at just under 25 lbs. I have heavy wheels, tires and fork on it.

So I shopped for a good deal on a White Brothers rigid carbon fork. That alone would take 2 lbs off. Then I have these old non-tubeless wheels sitting around I custom ordered eons ago. The disk wheelset weighed in just over 1500g, very light for 26" disk set. Even though I have to add tubes to the tires, this took about another 2 lbs off.

So how do I come up with another pound reduction to reach my goal? I had an old flat bar laying around, silly light aluminum that weighed half the weight of the alloy riser bar I have on the bike now. So I swap the bar over only to realize that the stem is OS (oversize, or 31mm clamp). Argh. Now I have to scrounge for a different stem that doesn't weigh more to fix that problem. Still needed to shed a little more weight.

I pulled the carbon seat post/SLR saddle from my road hillclimb bike. Silly post, it was inches too short. Maybe if I just swap the saddle. The saddle I had on the singlespeed was already a minimalist design, but weighed 250g. The SLR weighed 140g. Perfect, another quarter pound saved. Grab the fish scale, I got 19.95 lbs. Good enough. There are folks out there with fully equipped hardtails out there lighter than this. But this is all I have to work with for now without spending a fortune. I figure the carbon fork will see general reuse from time to time.

I just hope the cobbled up contraption holds up. I'm using a 22x19 gear ratio. That's a 30.1 inch-gear for those that think that way. As you can see, there is no way to test this thing except on a really steep grade. It spins out at 10mph. The test will come shortly after the start of the race. My biggest concern is the chain and chainline. I had to take links out, did not have any spare 8spd chain pins, so I had to reuse the ones in the chain. Bad, bad, bad. The 22t ring had to be mounted on inner BCD too, so I had to move the cog in back closer to the wheel center.

If the Mansfield race were important, bringing an untested rig like this would be hugely risky. Did I get the ratio right? Will I be over/under geared too often? Doesn't matter. The race is not part of the BUMPS challenge. It is just a fun event for me. It would be a riot if a guy on a singlespeed wins it, but I suspect many more people are going to show up this year, making the overall podium a long shot this time. I've always wanted to race my singlespeed. This isn't exactly what I had in mind. A few of us hope to hit trails up that way afterwards to make a complete day out of it. Yes, I will bring a different bike for that.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Durango Town Ride

Horse Gulch and Animas City Mountain
24.3 miles
3440ft vertical (Garmin)
3hrs, 11min riding time (~3.5hrs total)

This has been my second trip to Durango, and I had yet to do any of the "in town" rides. There are several places, each with enough trails to keep one entertained for a day. To reduce risk of running late on Sunday, I decided to ride early and local today, right from the hotel. There were two areas I wanted to hit, both offering nice bird's eye perspectives of the city from different vantage points. These areas were Horse Gulch east of town and Animas City Mountain northwest of town. My hotel literally sits a block from the Animas trailhead.

After my normal breakfast fare here at the Best Western on Main St (Waffles, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, raisin bran, oatmeal, coffee, and a fresh donut out the door), I was rolling by 7:20am. Chilly, but I opted to forgo the long sleeves, as I would be climbing momentarily.

From the balcony deck of the hotel, all week I've been staring across town at a set of switchbacks that are cut into the side of a very steep mesa. They were calling out to me. A little research suggested it is a trail open to biking, although I never saw anyone on them. So this morning, I was going to ride up to Fort Lewis College via those switchbacks. I had a little trouble finding them. A woman walking her dog straightened me out and within minutes of leaving the hotel, I was on pristine skinny singletrack carving up a 400ft wall.

Switchbacks up to Fort Lewis College as seen from hotel deck. (you'll have to click on it to see them)

I didn't see the sun until I popped over the lip of the mesa at the campus. Rim Trail follows around the perimeter of the campus on the rim of the mesa with gorgeous views of Durango the whole way around. My ultimate destination was to hit a bit of Horse Gulch before heading to Animas City Mtn. I figured I had enough time to climb up to Raider Ridge, another 600ft above the Fort Lewis mesa. The Horse Gulch trails I sampled were extremely technical, copious amounts of ledge and loose rock. Working up the spine of Raider Ridge, I could easily have mistaken the terrain for typical New England ridgeline riding. Lots of dagger-like rocks to poke your tires or rib cage out. I cleaned most of the climb, running into a couple dismounts near the high point. There was some serious exposure up here, very similar to sections of the M&M trail in Connecticut. The view 1000ft above downtown with the sun to my back was superb.

I took a trail called Rocky Road back down from the ridge. Yeah, a dualie with some burly tires sure would have been nice for this. I had dropped my tire pressure a bunch after starting the ride, both to gain whatever traction I could and to soften the blows to my tush. Feeling the rubber bottoming out frequently was a little unnerving. The WTB tubeless Mutanoraptors have not let me down yet.

I doubled my way back, hitting a couple different bits of trail, including a one-way trail down called Shocker. It was a hoot, steep as heck, but very well maintained.

Hotel on main drag center left. Animas City Mtn loop upper left, peaking 1500ft above town. Fort Lewis College sits on mesa 400ft above town in image center. Raider Ridge is on right side of image, 1000ft above town.

Crossing the Animas River and Main Street by my hotel, I was right back into climbing mode. The six mile loop over Animas City Mountain was next. This mountain is actually a sloped mesa, which technically is called a cuesta. The climbing was brutal, even more so than Raider Ridge. Loose, flat slabs of rock were continuously flipping up and slamming into my spokes. My rear tire was ejecting rock projectiles rearward too. The grade averaged around 12%, but bits approached 20%. It was all rideable, just barely for me with tired legs and lack of altitude conditioning. I completely buried myself on this climb, figuring I won't be riding on Sunday.

I rode the loop counter-clockwise, dabbing only twice en route to the high point. The view of the Animas Valley was grand. A little further around, a panoramic view of the La Plata mountains opened up too. I got only one picture before the camera went ha-ha, memory card full. I forgot I had only a 1GB card in it, and I've been working on it for the whole trip. The high point was around 8100ft elevation, 1500ft above my hotel.

Parts of the descent were even steeper, although less technical I think. Maybe that's why a CCW loop is recommended, as most riders would not be able to pedal up the 25% bits I noted on the GPS while descending. I had to stop once to give my wrists a rest. Totally punishing was the descent.

I got back to the hotel three minutes ahead of my target time. I needed to break down the bike and get it to FedEx before 1pm, but I really wanted to get there before noon just in case they decided to close a bit early if it was slow.

As I left FedEx at noon and headed north, I noticed the normal monsoonal clouds were building in the La Plata's. Sure enough, the web confirmed there were thunderstorms going on in the high country. Forecast next week is showing 30-60% chance of thunderstorms every single day. I had a full week of not only dry weather, but bluebird clear weather. What a treat. Thank heavens for SPF 50 sun block. Dave P knows what a few minutes unprotected in the sun can do to me.

I killed the afternoon by milling about downtown and hitting the Durango Museum. Lot of interesting history behind Durango and the original inhabitants, the Ute Indians. Durango has always been a cycling hub. I bought a reproduced photograph from 1895 showing the Durango Wheel Club sitting on a bridge over the Animas River. Looking at all the photographs from well over 100 years ago, I was struck with how clear they were, and I wasn't even looking at the originals. It seems modern photography has gone backwards.

For dinner, I wanted to get some real meat. There's a pretty low key place just a couple walking blocks up Main St from here called Serious Texas BBQ. I found their menu online and decided to give it a try. Very simple. You get meat there, and lots of it. I got the sampler with smoked brisket, pork loin, turkey and sausage. You also get homemade dipping sauces. The chipotle cherry sauce was to die for. You get as much bread as you want with the meat to fix your own sandwiches. The meat was some of the best I had anywhere at any price. The whole meal with drink and side cost only $12, and I could barely finish it all. I will definitely have to go back there again.

I have become quite fond of Durango. I could live here. Don't think I could find work in the field I'm in though. The economy seems to be booming here. You see new construction going on and very few empty stores. So here's what I think is cool about Durango:
  • Huge mountain biking culture, see truckloads of guys with bikes everywhere
  • High country riding
  • Many great riding opportunities right from town
  • Many pro cyclists and legends live here
  • Winter trail riding possible at lower elevations
  • Excellent winter sports options
  • Hikers don't give mountain bikers stink-eye
  • Sonic and Starbucks right by each other
  • College chicks everywhere on bicycles
  • Laid back attitudes
Maybe I could retire here. Would I be too old and feeble to ride up these mountains then? I plan to enjoy them while I can. Already thinking about when to come back next year.

Animas Valley from Animas City Mtn

The La Plata mountains from high point on Animas City Mtn

An easier part of the Animas City Mtn climb. It was loose slabs of rock the whole way and uber steep.

Rim trail around the campus. Somewhat exposed with non-stop views of town.

View across town from Raider Ridge.

One of a few "no-fall" zones on Raider Ridge.

Bony Raider Ridge ridgeline with Animas City Mountain in background.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fruita, Without The Drive

Glade Run Trails, Farmington, NM
45.3 miles
3040ft vertical (Garmin)
3hrs, 56min moving time (less than 4.5hrs total)

Having trails kick my butt the last couple days, I opted for a change in terrain today. Durango sits right on the edge of the mountains. An hour south, you are in the desert. I brought a Falcon MTB guide book with me and was skimming through it last night. In Farmington, NM, there is a trail system called Glade Run. The guide book broke it up into three separate rides, the longest being 20 miles. I figured I could head down there and ride the whole place and make a day of it.

As a bonus, near record highs were forecast for Friday. I need some heat stress riding for my race in two weeks. How many folks go out into the middle of the desert, mid day, in August, to ride for hours? At least it is a "dry" heat out here. The forecast was calling for 98F. Sweet. Maybe it will toughen me up for the next Mt Washington race.

Ride started lower left, loops ran CCW.

It takes about an hour to get to Farmington from Durango. It was already warm at 9am when I started riding. I did not need to pack warm layers for this one! The nominal elevation was around 6000ft, about the summit of Mt Washington. Despite being much lower than my previous four rides, I could still tell I was riding at altitude.

Glade Run sits right on the edge of town. It is all BLM land with hundreds of natural gas wells on it. I've read the motoheads created these trails in the 1940's and to expect lots of whoops.

I first rode Anasazi Trail, a three mile loop from the Lions Amphitheater. What a blast. Mostly hard as rock narrow singletrack. Just a few loose bits here and there. The soil here has bentonite content. It cures like pavement, but will render your bike inoperable in seconds after it starts raining. It has been a long dry spell now without a cloud in sight. Loose was more worry than sticky clay. The terrain was fast non-stop dips and peaks. My Camelbak was constantly slamming me in the back of the head.

After this initial loop, I went out on the big loop, hitting trails named Road Apple, Imperial Walkers, Kinsey and more. At the furthest point out, I was about 15 miles from my car, and man was it getting hot. In 90 minutes, I was quickly depleting my 100 oz Camelbak.

Imperial Walkers section

I hadn't realized that the whole time I was heading out to the most northerly point, I was gaining elevation, 600ft worth. When I started back on Imperial Walkers Trail, I thought for sure I was in Fruita bombing down the famous Zippety-Do-Da Trail. The scenery was almost identical to the Bookcliffs area of Fruita, the trail surface the same, and huge sphincter pucker factor drops. What a riot. This was positively the kind of ride I needed after yesterday's slogfest. The trail back towards the car involved only infrequent pedaling and was a non-stop amusement park ride.

Alas, all good things come to an end. I dropped down into the valley that separates the two sides of the trails and had to climb back out to my car. With only 30 miles and 2.5hrs riding time, I was still wanting more. Rather than hit Alien Run on my way back to Durango, I decide to refill the Camelbak and hit another 10-15 miles of stuff I hadn't hit yet.

It was now noon, and the temp had risen into the 90's. The nice breeze in the morning was gone too. You could feel the direct heat from the sun and the heat radiating from the hot earth. Double heat. I wasn't going out too far this time. I hit a trail called Seven Sisters. Had a little trouble finding it, as none of the trails are labeled out here, just signs that say "Trail" with an arrow pointing. But with no trees and big sky views, you could always kind of tell where you were heading. The lower part of Seven Sisters kind of sucked. It was lower elevation where sand collects. I had one eject but didn't hit the dirt.

Apparently I road Seven Sisters backwards, as it proceeded to go up a series of plummets. Most I could ride, one had a work-around, one I had to push up. I would love to ride the trail the other direction next time. It is another Zippety-Do-Da kind of trail. At the top, I picked up Kinsey Junior (online map calls it Rigor Mortis). It parallels Kinsey, sometimes no more than 20ft away. Kinsey and Kinsey Junior are unidirectional trails. The track in the Google Earth plot is correct, there are two separate trails that almost run on top of each other. Kinsey Junior is much more technical, recently built IMBA singletrack. The motoheads haven't gotten to it yet.

With the temp approaching 100F, I wasn't feeling so good anymore despite moving fast most of the time with unzipped jersey. I had been riding nearly 4hrs and never saw another person on the trails. I would never have expected this with so much residential area near the trails.

That was one of the most satisfying spontaneous rides I've done. When I come back to Durango, I'll have to hit Glade Run again. They run a race in October here, called the Road Apple Rally. I pretty much rode the course, missing Bong Rock Trail, and I rode it mostly in reverse. Looks like a scary fast, fun race. The first three hours of my ride yesterday netted a 3.8mph avg. Today, the first few hours averaged three times that.

I'm worried about getting home on Sunday. It appears that Hurricane Bill with be at its closest to New England about the time my flight arrives in Boston. I may do an abbreviated ride Saturday morning so I can drop my bike off at FedEx in Durango. The FedEx here closes at 1pm on Saturday and is not open on Sunday. Dropping it off at FedEx in Denver on Sunday leaves very little margin, and I want to get to the airport early in case flights east are screwed up. There is a nice loop that involves a piece of Junction Creek Trail that I rode a couple days ago. A "P" shape ride can be put together with Junction Creek/Dry Fork/Hoffheins. Horse Gulch across town is another option. Have to see if my legs have any climbing ambition when I get up Saturday.

Oh, the monsoons are supposed to return starting Sunday. Man, did I luck out this week.

Imperial Walkers Trail with La Plata mountains near Durango in background.

Section of Imperial Walkers with giant whoops.

Section of Seven Sisters with plumets like Zippety-Do-Da.

Kinsey trail. Looks just like stuff at the Bookcliffs in Fruita, doesn't it?

Electrolytes. I should scrape these off and put them back into the Endurolytes jar from where they came. Green thinking, eh?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Struggle in the San Juans

Priest Gulch, Calico, Horse Creek loop
29.8 miles
4790ft vertical Garmin, 6875ft Topo
4hrs, 33min moving time, over 5.5hrs total time

I've known about the Calico Trail for some time, since AspenMike (Mt Washington Unicycle record holder) first suggested I give it a try a few years ago. He knew I had a fondness for high altitude ridgeline riding. The topo data looked enticing - long segments of trail that followed knife edge ridgeline at 12,000ft. Of course, you had to get up there somehow.

Many trails in the Rico area are open to moto's. Bikes only, not ATV's. There are great trails all over Colorado that are open to moto's. One of my favorites is the Rainbow Trail coming down from the Monarch Crest Trail near Salida. This does not deter me. Some times moto's can make a trail a mess to ride. ATV's are really bad. Trail bikes, not so much. All of the trails I rode today are open to trail bikes, and none of the trails were any wider than 12".

I studied route options a good while for this loop. Originally, I planned to go big, parking at Priest Gulch trailhead on CO-145, then ride 25 miles of pavement to pick up the most distant access point. It was hot today. I also worried that I could no more than get into the singletrack and need to bail due to not having the legs for it or running low on water. My ride would have consisted of a state highway then. So instead of normal Hill Junkie format, which is big road climb, trail descent, I opted to hit trail first. Then I could maximize the amount of trail ridden. There were three intermediate bailout points down to CO-145 along the route.

In summary, the plan was to climb Priest Gulch Trail for eight miles, gaining about 3000ft from 8000ft starting level. This seemed quite easy, actually, as Whiteface Mountain in NY gains more in same distance and it is only 8% grade. Priest Gulch terminates on the Calico Trail. I could have started right away on Calico, as both trails start from same parking lot, but Calico was labeled with many double black diamonds on that section, and I didn't want to bury myself so early in the ride. Once up on Calico Trail at 11,000ft, it was supposed to be contour city until I wanted to get off. Burnett Creek Tr was first exit chance, just a mile into the Calico Trail. Then there was Horse Creek Tr, about 3mi in. About eight miles in was Dunton Rd, and finally I could continue on Groundhog Trail all the way to CO-145 not far from Telluride.

I was rolling shortly after 9am. The air was frigid and I needed the long layers again. The first three miles of Priest Gulch Trail went smoothly. A couple dismounts over huge waterbars was about it. The deal was, I wasn't gaining significant elevation. That meant only one thing. The climb was going to be heavily back loaded. Again, I was relying on sketchy data from the web. Mile 3.5-5.5 turned into a heinous hike-a-bike. I don't think the grade ever got less than 15%, and I saw 34% in one section. That is barely hikeable with a 30 lb bike. To make matters worse, often the trail was a trench filled with scree. You'd slip, slide, twist ankles, skin shins and knees up. It sucked. It really sucked. What I didn't know at the time, this was just a taste of things to come.

After mile 5.5, the grade moderated some, but nearly all of the climbing was in 15-25% range. I'd carry up a section, get on the bike, only to give half that vertical back again, get off, carry, ride 10sec, carry up, over and over and over. After a while, I learned it was more efficient to just stay off the bike. There were many water crossings, and there were no MTB tracks. Only moto tracks. I wonder why?

After about 2hrs, I reach the Calico Trail right on the edge of treeline. The view was nice. I could see the mountains I biked up two days earlier. I started riding the Calico Trail, come around this bend, and see the most despicable fall-line trail ever. The sucker went up at 30% grade and again was a trench filed with grapefruit sized rocks. It was utterly unrideable and barely hikeable. I gained another 200ft off my bike. Now the view was getting pretty nice indeed, and maybe, just maybe some of my frustration with this ride would wane. I found anywhere the trail went up or down, it was a rock filled rut. Going up, your pedals would go bang, bang, bang on the sides of the rut and your rear wheel would go slip, slip, slip on the loose rocks in the rut. It was easier to walk.

There were a few very tasty morsels of contour trail on the ridgeline. These were fleeting instances. Most of the trail went up and down fall-lines, the descents uber sketchy. I reached the high point of the ride, about 12,100ft elevation in three hours moving time. At least two hours of that was spent off my bike. Yeah, this ride became my biggest hike-a-thon of all time. In fact, I'm quite certain I could have hiked to this point much faster than carrying a 30 lb bike with me.

So I see the sign for the first escape route, Burnett Creek Trail and decided I didn't suffer 4000 vertical feet of this crap to ride a mile above treeline. The sign said next exit, Horse Creek Trail, was 1.5 miles. I figured how long could that take, you know? Well, it can take a long time, and it turned out to be 2.0 miles. At the 1.5mi mark, there is no sign of a trail. I was BS. I keep going, lose hundreds of vertical feet on the nastiest scree filled trench you can imagine, thinking I better NOT have to go back up that again. I found Horse Creek Trail, right near Calico Peak. At least the scenery was about as good as it gets anywhere in Colorado. Horse Creek Trail looked barely travelled, and it went over an edge reminiscent of Tuckerman's Ravine by Mt Washington. It didn't look good, but I wasn't pushing my bike up any more fall-line trails.

Horse Creek started out riding pretty nicely. Steep as heck, at least 20%. It certainly was a good test of sphincter control. Then the trail passes trough some scree and very steep switchbacks. Dismounts were required, but no extended hike-a-bikes. The temperature rose dramatically as I descended from 12,000ft. Glad I brought an extra bottle along. Most of the way down I encountered the first person of my ride, about 3.5hrs into it. A solo male hiker with a dog, just like yesterday. This guy was from Texas and similar age to guy I met yesterday. We talked very briefly.

Horse Creek Trail dumps out on a two-track that bombs the remaining 1-2 miles to CO-145. Once on the pavement, I was welcomed with a 25mph headwind. Sweet! What a way to end a ride from hell. The good thing was the 15 miles back to the car was downhill at about 1% grade. That helped mitigate the headwind, but only partially. I was past cooked. Hefting a 30 lb bike around for over 2hrs on foot really worked all parts of my body over good. Maybe this is a good thing. Even my abs hurt. I hurt around my hips too, in a similar way when I start rollerskiing in the fall. Maybe this ride was a good workout in disguise. It certainly wasn't what I expected. The views were certainly nice, the descent help smooth over the frustration too. But I would never do this ride again. It is no wonder the Calico Trail doesn't even show up on There are other ways to get up to the Calico Trail. I wonder if some of them are more bicycle friendly.

Friday is supposed to be another cloud free day. No more adventure rides. Chance I may do Blackhawk Pass, a loop Dave P and I did last year. It has some minor hike-a-bike bits (for me, I think Dave cleaned Blackhawk Pass). It hits a nice chunk of the Colorado Trail with great views. I would like to get some heat training in too. An alternative plan would be to head into New Mexico, ride Alien Run and then hit the trails by Farmington. Pretty flat, and sure to be hot. I'm afraid the SM100 race will be hot in two weeks and all my riding this week is in very cool air.

Priest Gulch Trail starting out at 9am. Looks harmless enough.

This was first greeting of the Calico Trail. More 25% grade hike-a-bike.

First bail-out on Calico Trail ridgeline. Burnett Creek Trail drops to the left back to CO-145.

Finally some high country singletrack you can actually cruise on.

Calico ridgeline.

Multi-color Calico Peak, thus the trail's namesake.

An impossibly steep pitch to climb on Calico Trail. Lots of stuff like this.

There were some fairly exposed sections along the Calico Trail too. Maybe not fear of death, but certainly scary looking down.

The Calico Trail tends to follow fall-lines. IMBA doesn't build trails like that anymore for a reason.

More contour trail on the Calico.

Lizzard Head in distance (pointy rock), overlooking Horse Creek basin before beginning my 4000ft plummet.

Nice views, but crap surface on much of the Horse Creek Trail descent.

Many meadows along the Horse Creek Trail descent were filled with blue and yellow daisies.

A mile or two of this brought me back to pavement.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Staying High All Day

Stony Pass/Pole Creek Loop
27.8 miles
5210ft vertical (Garmin)
4:17 moving time

Took it "easy" today, hitting one of the shorter loops on my list of rides. When I talked with the guys at the LBS last night about where to go that doesn't involve a boat load of climbing, they mentioned Horse Gulch. It is right on skirt of town. It was supposed to be hotter than blazes again today. Somehow that just didn't settle nice with me. Sure, it is the place locals go for after work rides. Tons of purpose built trails in there. Only a thousand feet or so of vertical difference.

I have an affinity to the high country, however. When you are out there, haven't seen nor heard another human for hours, can see forever, you realize this is still a pretty big planet and we are minuscule. Despite needing a rest day, I drove an hour north to Silverton, a town that still looks like it is right out of the 1800's. Silverton sits at 9300ft, and the mountains around there tower to 13,000 to 14,000ft. This would be new territory for me to explore.

The loop I had planned was a cobbled concoction. I suspected some hike-a-bike would be involved, as one of the trails was a hiking trail (but open to mountain bikes). The route climbs Stony Pass on 4WD road from the Silverton side, then descends to Pole Creek in the middle of nowhere. Stony pass sits at 12,600ft on the Continental Divide. Pole Creek Trail is then taken a few miles to catch Trail 918, which used to be part of the Colorado Trail until recently. Trail 918 climbs to the Continental Divide again, at 12,500ft, then descends Magie Gulch on the Silverton side. A small loop, but a few photos I caught on the web suggested the scenery would be second to none. This ride was more about big sky and adventure than hammering away on some famous MTB trail.

I got a late start, but forecast was perfect. Normally, this time of year is still full monsoon season. Afternoon thunderstorms are expected each day. That is a frightening thing if you get caught at 12,000ft with nary a rock to crawl under. I wasn't worried about it today. I started around 9:30am, and it was COLD. I had to put long layers on.

The climb up Stony Pass Rd seemed innocent enough starting out, a couple trucks went by. There are still many active mines in this area. It didn't take long before the climbing got serious. Then to my horror, I encountered freshly graded surface, so fresh there was still a foot high hump in the middle of the doubletrack with beech ball sized rocks and the craters they left behind all over the place. Five miles of this at 15% grade at 12,000 feet would suck. I soon caught up to the grader. He stopped, then sternly warned me that more of this was going on further up. I smiled, said thanks, and pedaled on thinking I was doomed. I gathered the grader operator thought I was nuts for even continuing. Soon enough, I got past this initial piece of "road" work.

The grade hovered in the 12-20% range the whole way. I'd guess average was around 15% with some long 20+% sections. You can only go so slow before you fall over. Easier gears don't matter. I was in my 22x34 almost continuously. I was breathing way harder than I planned today, but I was not walking this sucker if I could help it.

The scenery above tree line was amazing. I could still enjoy it despite being in a hypoxic daze. Near the pass, I caught up to the other grader. He was not making anywhere near the mess the first grader was. After stopping a while to soak in the view at 12,600ft, I bombed down the other side towards Pole Creek. This side was not nearly as steep. You could see many miles down the gulch. In a single view you could see ten's of thousands of acres.

It was much hotter when I got down to Pole Creek, about a 2000ft drop. The Garmin was telling me to go left to get on Pole Creek Trail. This is free range cattle country, and the trail was little more than a beat up cow path. Uh-oh. I hate riding horse or cattle trails, especially on a hardtail with an already raw butt. It has been dry for a while now, so the hoof prints were baked in like concrete.

Pole Creek Trail was mostly rideable for me. I did not expect it to start climbing as rigorously as it did. I never really mentally correlated where the climbing was with the trails I was hitting, other than Stony Pass Rd. But now I was on mostly single track. Mostly, because cows are worse at braiding trails around rocks than gumby mountain bikers. Sometimes I didn't know which path to take, whether they'd come back together or not. A few times, I started diverging from my GPS track pulled from the web. I'd have to backtrack, take the other fork to see if that kept me closer to my track. I had to put complete faith into a track created by someone I'll never know. This area was extremely remote. It would be highly unlikely to see someone else back here on a weekday, I thought.

I get off Pole Creek Trail and begin climbing Trail 918, I think. There were so many cow paths to choose from. Then I hit a heinous wall. It was so steep I could barely carry my bike up it. The GPS said 35% grade. At least I could walk anywhere I wanted. It was like I was walking in a 100,000 acre cow pasture. Sometimes the path disappeared entirely and I had to navigate purely by GPS track. Did I say nothing was smooth? I contemplated walking the rest of the way up to lessen the back side pain.

After the 35% punch, I got into some really awesome contouring singletrack. Still cow path, and the scenery made it so hard to stay on the path. I pretty much had to stop if I wanted to look around. This climbed steadily up one side of the gulch, and the valley below was filled with cattle.

Good things come to an end though. The Continental Divide loomed high above me, and I was making little vertical progress to claim it. This could only mean one thing: massive hike-a-bike. Sure enough, the grade goes to 20+% and doesn't come back down. With thin air, bumpy cow path, I was in full hike-a-bike mode. If it weren't for such incredible scenery in every direction around me, I might, just might have gotten a sour attitude. But this ride was about adventure. I had all day, there was nary a cloud in the sky, temps were totally pleasant up here, and my water supply was holding up. I took my time hoofing it up this beast. It took me about 40 minutes to claim the summit. The Colorado Trail crosses my route on the ridge line. It went up steeply to mountain peaks on either side of the unnamed pass I was traversing. I don't think I could ride those grades at this altitude, no matter how tempting they looked.

The work was done. It was all downhill back to the car from here. I hung out for a good 20-30 minutes, basking in the sun with a nice breeze. Other than the faint paths, you could not see human evidence in any direction from this vantage point. I never felt more alive in my life. Some folks live to race their bikes. Rides like today beat any race I've done hands down. This was quite possibly the most scenic ride I've done, and I've done some amazing rides in Alaska and Hawaii too.

I no more than began my descent when I encountered a solo male hiker with huge German shepherd coming up. He sat down and we talked a good while, 20 minutes maybe. His dog was extremely friendly. I never got his name, or even where he was from. He, like myself, lives for the high country treks. He had a tent set up somewhere around 11,000ft. He commented that the weather we're having this week is extremely rare, to go cloudless all day in August. I am fortunate to have scored such a good week. The hiker also told me the cattle rancher's name was Billy Joe Dilley. I checked on the web, and sure enough. Dilley also offers guide services. The hiker told me he hikes this trail a lot, and maybe once per year he sees bicycle tire tracks in the mud. He thought those riders had no idea what they were getting into. He rides too, a man around 50-55 years old. Now he actually meets one of those wackos. He then asked me if I would do it again, 40 minute hike and all. I had to think about it. I probably would. I think he expected me to say Heck No!

There was only 1-2 miles of singletrack on the Magie Gulch side before picking up a Jeep road. It was nearly all rideable but a bit hard to follow towards the bottom. No more than 6" wide in places. Sweet! The remainder of the descent was white knuckle death grip on brakes. I wondered if the loop would have been easier going the other way around, but there's no way I would have cleaned coming up Magie Gulch Rd. 20% grade and wicked loose.

The sky was still cloudless when I got back to the car. This ride was another one of those "lower on the list" rides, but totally exceeded my expectations. It's always cool when that happens. I took about a hundred photos but have time to post just a few. I may attempt a big ride on Thursday, thinking about hitting the Calico Trail. The deal with that one is it's at least 90 minutes away. Have to see what my legs feel like when I get up. 15.5hrs of high country riding in three days takes a toll on my 47 year old body. Yeah, it was my birthday today.

Looking down upper portion of Maggie Gulch Rd

Lower portion of Magie Gulch Rd. Hard to watch where you are going with views like this.

8" ribbon descending Magie Gulch

Descending Stony Pass towards Pole Creek. Stony Pass is in background just above my right knee.

Looking up Trail 918 towards the Continental Divide. Pass is dip on right side of image.

Looking down Pole Creek side of Trail 918 from the Continental Divide

A rideable section of Trail 918

Looking down Silverton side of Stony Pass Rd

Silverton at 9am

Pole Creek cow path