Monday, September 24, 2012

I should do this more often

It's been at least a few years since I've done a traditional cyclocross race. I'm not very good at the whole dismount, hurdle barriers and remount gig. Then I busted my ankle in 2010 and thought better about messing around in this domain of competitive cycling. Way too easy to roll an ankle and suffer another major setback.

But with a couple years running under my belt now, I feel much more stable on my feet. Even if my bone density hasn't improved much, having better control and strength in my ankles must reduce my chances of injury, right?

There was a CX race at White Park in Concord, NH this past Saturday. Field sizes were small, there'd bit a bit of climbing in the course, weather was nice, so I thought why not?  My friend DaveP registered for the 35+ age category, so I decided to join him in that field, mostly so I could heckle him if he screwed up.

Only a dozen riders lined up. There were a few fast guys who I would be no threat to. There were others who I had no idea how I'd stack up against. I lined up last row. We go off, and I'm second from DFL going out onto the course.

Dave, Sean and me. All photos by Beth Penney.

I hung back there for a lap checking everybody out. Also in the race were teammates Carl Ring and Matt Wilson, and Gewilli too. After snickering at Dave a couple times around the first lap, I decided to pick it up a notch. It took a while to catch Carl and Matt, who got a nice jump on me in the first lap. The next thing I knew, Carl was suddenly in front of me. Seems he had a mishap. I trailed Carl for a lap to observe his lines and barrier prowess.  Carl gained at least 3 seconds on me over the barriers. Over seven laps, that adds up to 20-30 seconds, which is no small chunk of time in such a short race.

Just after passing Matt

Bearing down on Carl

After about three laps around, I was in no man's land. I gained on fourth place finisher, came close to overtaking him, but my back started killing me. The course had some pretty rough root sections in it. I still have clinchers on my CX bike and ran them at 45+psi after hearing reports of flats in earlier races. I took a beating. Mashing a big gear up the climbs several times per lap exacerbated the problem. I rarely experience back discomfort while riding. This race presented something a bit novel and my back didn't much like it. I backed off a bit for the remaining 2-3 laps, feeling pretty confident that nobody was going to catch me and it was a huge time split to a podium finish anyway. I was there to have fun.

Is it any wonder I had problems with my left IT-Band
a while back?

And fun it was. I managed to stay upright on a course that Carl described as quite technical. Carl took a couple spills I believe, and Dave slid out too. One cool thing about a cross race is it's over in about 45 minutes. I'm pretty good at burying myself for 45 minutes. This is a pretty typical hillclimb event duration, something I aerobically train for. It was interesting to look at the Garmin data afterwards. My first lap was over 8 minutes, then the rest around 6:30-6:40 minutes per lap. A very steady effort.

The new 'cross bike also performed flawlessly. The handling is precise, and it seems to be very well mannered on rough terrain. My only two peeves with the bike so far are these: bottom bracket bearing seals and saddle clamp. It seems some moisture got into the bearings during the D2R2 ride a few weeks ago. The bike then sat, and two nights before this race I found my crankset completely seized up. The left bearing would not spin at all, the crank spindle would turn inside the bearing race! That was what, my fourth ride on the bike and only a little bit wet? I did manage to free up and repack the bearing, but this problem needs a remedy.

The seatpost has a worthless saddle clamp. Every bump I hit hard on the course cause the saddle to angle a little further back. I even roughed up the clamping surfaces to give them more bite and used a carbon prep, a gritty compound designed to increase locking force. Still not there. I think the Bontrager seatpost will have to go. Crappy design for a cross bike, maybe ok for a road bike. The rest of the bike though, spot on.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Junction Creek: Final Colorado Trip Ride

Our last riding day in Colorado looked to be the finest weather-wise. Zero percent chance of precip and cool. Dave and Isaac lean more towards the fun-factor side of riding and less towards epic elevation, especially if hike-a-bike is involved. Some of my most memorable solo trips in Colorado involved rides with extensive hike-a-bike sections, even before I took up running. Just being "out there" completely overrides the fact you might be slogging up at 25% grade at less than two miles per hour. I had planned four high country rides for the trip, but weather thwarted one of them. Of the two remaining high country rides I created tracks for, there would be a fair amount of hike-a-bike. I offered the 48 mile Junction Creek loop as an alternative, something we could do right from the hotel without having to get in the car and drive an hour. Dave and Isaac jumped on this option.

Junction Creek begins with a 4000ft climb. The last 18 miles, nearly all of the climbing, are gravel, rough towards the end. The reward needs to be pretty great to suffer through a climb like that. The end point doesn't quite reach treeline, but some great views do open up. It peaks out around 10,600ft. The descent is all singletrack, 20+ miles worth. It is not all down, however...

We had our only flat of the trip near the top of the climb. Seems Isaac picked up a cactus thorn the day before riding in New Mexico. A slow leak. He's still running tubes on his 29er, Dave and I were running tubeless with Stan's. Dave and Isaac totally dropped me on the climb, so I was kind of glad to see them again before bombing down the singletrack.

Isaac fixing flat with Dave being Dave

Reaching max elevation

Nothing but bluebird sky

Near the Junction Creek Trailhead

At the singletrack, we met a couple local women ready to bomb down. One of their mother's shuttled them up. No delicate daisies though. Junction Creek is a rough descent and I'm sure it claims victims regularly. We discussed other rides in the area. One visits New Hampshire regularly and asked about where to ride in New England. I was apprehensive about entering the trail before the women did, as I was sure I'd get girled on the descent.

Not shown: how precipitously it drops just out of view,
several hundred feet.

Being the last ride of the trip, I dropped my air pressure to about 18psi. Racing Ralph's and totally squishy pressure is a scary combination, but I needed all the help I could get to stay with Dave and Isaac. We dropped in, and in no time, I was riding solo. Because of the exposure along many miles of this trail (you could free-fall or tumble hundreds of feet), I asked if we could try to keep it together for the first portion. But noooooo! They did wait for me at the bridge crossing though. The women didn't catch me on this first volley.

On the climb on the way down

After the bridge begins a heinous climb. Neither Dave nor Isaac attempted the first couple switchbacks. But after that, they rode almost everything. I was getting very tired and cranky at that point and gave up trying to stay with them. I could not go fast enough to not wobble on the 20% grades at 9000+ feet, so I walked. Much of the trail is benchcut into a near vertical canyon wall and is not wide enough to dab with a foot to the outside. You get the idea.

After maybe 30 minutes, I caught back up to the other two waiting for me. We weren't to the top of the climb on the descent yet. There are two sections, the first being most obnoxious. The second section is pretty much all rideable, except I still walked sections because I didn't trust myself.

The top, finally, had us back up to 9600ft. That meant upwards of 3000ft downhill coming up. This part is less technical, wide open, bleary eyed fast. Dave led, Isaac hanging tight, with me trailing for dear life. All kinds of sketchiness ensued, with hoots and oh-shits, and f-bombs.  I thought surely one of us was going to stack hard before the bottom. I know I was taking risks I've never taken before.

Both tires were constantly bottoming out on rocks. Hard. Like metal to rock clangs. Once I even stopped, expecting Stan's sealant to be spewing out. Nope. I had to be bending my rims though. I was riding Shimano XTR's.

On a particularly rutted out section (think foot deep trench, foot wide, filled with cantaloupe sized rocks), Dave completely lost control of the situation. I bet we were going 20-25mph, and it would have been a nasty place to go down. Legs came off the pedals, hands still on the grips, possible ready to ditch the bike. Yet somehow, from this superman position, he recovered it. Did he slow down after that? Yeah, right! I think he went even faster. I would have messed my chamois had that happened to me.

We made it intact to Gudy's Rest, a great lookout with a view up and down the Junction Creek canyon, all the way down into Durango. We stopped for a few to eat a bite, knowing the ride, and the trip, were almost over. We met a hiker would was just finishing through-hiking the whole Colorado Trail, Denver to Durango, something like 475 miles. The bottom of Junction Creek trail is the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail.

Isaac at Gudy's Rest

We all made it back to the dirt road in one piece, to my surprise. I think that ride was a hit with Dave and Isaac, their first time on Junction Creek, my third. I felt like a big ballast on the ride, as I sucked so badly on the climbing parts. But to my surprise, my riding time was nearly 30 minutes faster than when I did the exact same loop last year. Just goes to show how easily our psyche is manipulated by context. Ride with strong guys, be slow guy in group, feel like suck-ass, having a bad day, etc, but in reality, a great PR effort was put out.

Post ride, Dave and I began the recovery process with a malted Sonic shake. I think we had one every day but one in Colorado. For dinner, we hit Zia Taqueria, a block from the hotel. They have real tamales as a special on weekends. I got pork. It comes with all the fixings of refried beans and rice.  I didn't stop there though. I also ordered a two fish taco plate. Easily two meals for a normal person and twice what Dave and Isaac got. I could not eat enough on this trip. I'll have to post some thoughts on this later.

After supper, it was the sad chore of boxing bikes back up. After six epic days of riding, the first hints of reality start coming back, the office, home chores, the same old mundane rides back home. That's what makes trips like these special.

Monday, September 17, 2012

100k in the Land of Enchantment: CO Day 5

Isaac and Dave had their fill of high country for a day or two, and the previous day's ride had our bodies begging for a less onerous riding venue. Durango is close to the New Mexico state line. There are a couple riding destinations less than an hour south in the Land of Enchantment, for which I captured a couple GPS tracks for just such a contingency. The elevation hovered around 6000ft (there'd be air to breath), and the min to max altitude change was less than 1000ft. Sounds like a recovery day to me...

First on tap was the Road Apple Rally race course in the area known as Glade Run rec area. This is BLM land. Most of it is open to moto's, primarily trail bikes. The soil also varies between sand and clay.  Some trails we ride around Crested Butte or Salida that are open to motos are pristine singletrack. Glade Run does not quite fit this description. Much of the trail is loose, quite wide and heavily whooped up. After a while, this gets a bit old. To be sure, there are fun parts, and the scenery is quite good. I like "see forever" views, even it is not from the tops of mountains.

The Road Apple Rally course

Parts had high fun-factor

On this weekday, we had the course to ourselves. Once we got away from the trail head in Farmington, NM, we never saw another trail user. The Road Apple Rally loop did not offer recovery, however. Once we got out to the clay areas, there were heinously steep grades to punch up. Short, but each one took a toll.

I didn't blow my legs up on this seriously steep grind. Dave and
Isaac both cleaned it.

More roller coaster fun. Dave and Isaac said they didn't need
to ride here again, but two times for me and again is not out of
the question.

The 30 mile loop gains upwards of 1000ft heading out, so that meant on the return, things would flow a little more quickly. It did. The route finished with a few miles of mint singletrack not churned up by motos.

Pretty clay formations. Looks like cross between Bookcliffs at Fruita
and Maah Dah Hey trail in Bandlands of North Dakota.

The weather was perfect for a desert ride. I suspect most of the year it is too hot to ride here. Temps might have reached the 70's by the time we finished. I logged 32mi in 2:40 riding time, a great first ride of the day.

After a quick refuel and heading part way back to Durango, we pulled off the highway in Aztec to ride the Alien Run loop. This loops passes the claimed UFO crash site.  I found some other interesting MTB tracks on Strava to bring the distance up to 25mi. Nothing like doing 50+ miles on a "recovery" day.

I didn't like where we parked. Heading north to Alien Run meant traverse several modest ridgelines. More climbing. We started on dirt oil well road but soon found ourselves on a purpose built singletrack called Mountain View trail. It was good stuff. Skinny, nice surface, nice wilderness feel to it, and decent flow.

Mountain View Trail

The trail crossed a road. Dave was leading and kept going on the singletrack even though we needed to head north on the oil well road to pick up Alien Run. Once we realized we were off the planned route, I encouraged continuing on, as the singletrack was so much more inspiring than a dirt road. But, the trail did not continue in a direction we wanted to go. I looped back around south and eventually popped us out on our route where we had been 30 minutes earlier. A 5+ mile boondoggle, but good riding. We notice many trail junctions here, so there is a robust network worthy of further exploration.

After several rolling climbs on oil well roads, we reached the Alien Run trailhead. The sign informed us there was now a "hero" extenstion to the 10 mile loop. We had not enough water or food to tack this on to our ride, especially after the 5mi boondoggle. I had ridden Alien Run a few years ago solo, and I rather enjoyed it. Lots of slickrock.

Slickrock on Alien Run trail

More slickrock

50 off-road miles into the day, we were all pretty much in a catatonic state. I was still having fun, but Dave and Isaac weren't as punchy off the front like the day before. I was even leading most of the time.

A tight squeeze on Alien Run

I didn't even attempt this

On a fast section coming back to the Alien Run trailhead, there was a long, skinny snake across the trail. I almost ran over it. Dave nearly passes out upon merely seeing a snake. The other two were right behind me before the snake, but I didn't see them again for quite a while after the snake. Isaac came up with some story it chased them. For all I knew, it looked like a harmless grass snake from back home.

Isaac nearly crashing himself while giving victory salute finishing
Alien Run

The prospect of riding miles and miles of hilly singletrack back to the car seemed like it would bury us all. GPSs are great. You can see where you started and can attempt beeline straight back if you want to cut miles out. problem was, my GPS had no info on rideable options other than breadcrumb trail we went out on. Fortunately, there is a fairly substantial grid of oil well and ATV trails out there. I totally winged a 6-8 mile route across rolling desert to get back to the car in a few less miles than the way we went out and in much less time.

We finished with 31.2mi in 2:47hrs for our second ride of the day. Over 100km total, and it was a "rest" day! For dinner, we hit Serious Texas BBQ again, which is nearly next door to our hotel. I could never get sick of eating here. Not exactly the kind of place to carbo load for the next day, but that's what Sonic malted shakes are for.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Staying High: CO Day 4

We finally had a better forecast for our 4th day in Colorado. Probability of afternoon storms was sufficiently low enough to head into the high country. Our planned ride started at the base of Engineer Mountain, wrapped around Coal Bank Pass on Lime Creek Rd (rough jeep road) to Molas Pass, where we picked up the Colorado Trail. Much of the ride hovered in the 11,000 to 12,000ft range. As a new twist on this route I've done a few times now, we'd climb over Rollings Pass on the CT, then contour back to Engineer Mountain Trail on White Creek Trail.

Heading out on Lime Creek Road

Isaac and Dave promptly dropped me on the initial Lime Creek climb. Four days in, Hill Junkie's legs were tired and motivation was low. At least the scenery was quite nice to take the mind off the suffering. Most people ride Molas to Coal Bank section of the CT by shuttling it, either by spotting a second vehicle or hitching a ride back to the start. Very common. I've met people on the trail that plan to hitch a ride back, saying it is easy to find motorists to give riders with bikes a lift back up Hwy 550 to Molas Pass. But they miss the 12 miles of solitude riding through the Lime Creek gorge.

Line couldn't move fast enough

Upon reaching Coal Bank Pass, I needed to purge more of the massive quantities of food intake I've needed on this trip. Unfortunately, there was a long line to the single restroom at the pass. The women's was closed. I'm probably eating about 6000 calories per day out here, at least 30% more than Dave, and probably 50% more than Isaac, who is smaller than Dave and I. Isaac thought it was pretty funny I had to anxiously wait in line and snapped a photo.

Starting out on the CT. Engineer Mtn on left of image many miles away.

The scenery on this section of the CT is surreal. I'll let the photos do most of the talking. While the Monarch Crest lets riders cruise on the continental divide at 12,000ft, giving a top-of-the-world feeling, the CT from Molas to Coal Bank immerses you in beauty and the feeling of being "out there." The lack of air makes you loopy and adds to the surreal experience. As I've said before, kids pay good money to feel this way. We "grown ups" get it the legal way by pedaling our bikes up to 12,000ft.


Junction with Engineer Mtn trail, where we met group of three others

En route to Rollings Pass on the CT

We reached the decision point to turn off on Engineer Mountain Trail or continue on the CT. The skies looked completely non-threatening, so we soldiered forward on the CT. This was a section I hadn't yet ridden. The climb up to Rollings Pass at about 12,500ft was a spanker with minuscule bit of hike-a-bike, but the scenery blew me away. This was easily the best scenery in Colorado I've bike through yet. Very remote and untouched in all directions.

Climbing towards Rollings Pass

View from near Rollings Pass summit

Another view from near Rollings summit, looking north

The descent from Rollings Pass was a blast, much better than coming down from Jura Knob that I've taken in the past. We lost a lot of vertical, which gave me some consternation, as I knew how much we'd have to gain back at Engineer Mountain.

We turned off on White Creek Trail, new to me. Topo showed this as contouring. Immediately, there were dismounts and hike-a-bike sections. It was much less manicured than the CT, and I wondered what I was getting Dave and Isaac into. But fears were quickly put to rest. The trail leveled out, popped out into the open, and flowed oh so sweetly through meadows. It felt just like riding Trail 401 in Crested Butte. More elevation was lost, so I knew this flow would come at a price.

White Creek Trail. A lot like Trail 401 in CB.

More White Creek contouring

We reached Engineer Mountain Trail and resumed the route I've taken in the past. We immediately got into the hike-a-bike section. It was much more hike-a-bike for me than Dave or Isaac at this point in the ride. I was pretty much done. There were several gully crossings. Dave disappeared up the other side of one, and I thought dang, I at least have to try and clean it too. I didn't make it and went over just like Dave did the day before in the Test Tracks trail system. I laid in the pile of rocks for a minute to assess the damage. Seems I escaped unscathed for the most part. Did Dave and Isaac come back to make sure I was ok? Not exactly. Isaac hollered "ok?" before bolting on.

One thing I notice is altitude seems to impact me more than Dave. I wonder if there is a fast-twitch/slow-twitch thing going on here. Could a supposedly fast twitch guy like me be at a bigger disadvantage at altitude than a slow twitch guy like Dave? I'll have to research this a bit.

We reached the final apex of the ride at Engineer Mountain. From here, it is a 6mi/3000ft descent back to the car. Almost no pedaling, screaming fast, rutted, hammer your wrists into oblivion descending. It is a great way to finish an epic ride. I was so trashed upon reaching the apex at Engineer Mountain that all I could do is flop on the ground. My body was blubber and I feared I would make reckless mistakes on the plummet.

The Hill Junkie was slain by this ride

We finished the ride with 42.5mi, 7100ft and 5:40hrs on the Garmin. The White Creek extension puts this loop over the top. Have to think hard about doing this loop again. Climbing at altitude imposes a huge penalty it seems. Everything happens in slow motion.  Maybe instead of coming back to Engineer Mountain, the route could continue a bit further to Cascade Creek Trail, which cuts a bunch of hike-a-bike climbing out. Next time...

From Engineer Mountain looking north

For dinner, we went to Steamworks in Durango. Wouldn't you know it, Ned Overend was there too, waiting for a table. He was with a group, so we didn't talk with him, but it was interesting to see him two days in a row.

I've gotten a couple days behind on posting. Internet access is crap at our hotel, plus sleep is more valuable than blogging on trips like this. I'll have to finish post on the last two days of our trip next week.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

First Blood: CO Day 3

A bit of weather moved though the western states today. The forecast for Durango was abysmal, with 100% chance of rain by noon and flash flood watch. Chilly too. The sun was pokng through a bit at 7am, so we decided to ride local until weather chased us off the trails. A recovery day would do our bodies good anyway, with three epic days planned the rest of the week.

There are many trail systems accessible from town. I had a modest loop planned for just such a contingency. We'd climb up to Fort Lewis College, wrap around to Horse Gulch, ride over Telegraph Pass, then cut through town over to the Test Tracks trail system, now called Overend Mountain Park.

Overnight rain left the trails perfectly tacky, taking the dust down. My legs immediately rebeled on the rim drive climb. We stare at these switchbacks from our hotel balcony. They look so sweet, but hurt so bad on tired legs. Up on the college mesa, we ripped along the rim with morning rush hour buzz way below us. Riding conditions were perfect.

Animas valley from the rim

Riding along the rim

We decided to cut out the long Raider Ridge portion of the ride. It is quite techy and would have added a lot of time to a ride that we might have to pull the plug on at any instant. We went right for Telegraph Pass, which peaks out about 1000ft above town. Nice and quite in Horse Gulch with several other bikers and runners out before the rain moved in.

Dave failed to clean Telegraph Pass (on two attempts, he-he)

The descent from Telegraph Pass on Crites Connect and Carbon Junction is a blast. This was my second time riding here, first for Dave and Isaac. It would have been great to go much deeper into Horse Gulch, but the skies would surely have opened up on us if we did. I suspect the clay based soil would quickly render bikes inoperable in rain.

Bombing down Carbon Junction trail

We crossed part of town and headed into Test Tracks. I've never ridden in this area. I didn't know how the trails flowed. I simply linked bits of GPS tracks to make an interesting route much in the same way a geneticist stitches DNA together to engineer new tomatoes. I had no idea what phenotype my GPX DNA would produce.

Dave pretty much cartwheeled over backwards and slid on his
back down these rocks. Cuts on hand.

I do not know all the names of the trails we hit, but some were clearly ridden the wrong way.  Around one particularly tight switchback, Dave decided to topple over backwards, nearly landing on Isaac. He's quite lucky to escape relatively unscathed given how far he fell, pretty much on his back side. I had to catch his front wheel as it came at my face. Good times. Pretty much all of the trails here are benchcut into extremely steep terrain, are buff, and a riot to bomb around on. I definitely have to explore this area further.

Climbing in Test Tracks

We finished the ride with 24.4mi in about 2:33 riding time. There were ominous clouds around the high peaks, but nothing in town. The rain didn't come until 2pm.

This gave us some time to bum around town, pick up some gifts for spouses, and check out the local bike shops. While we were admiring all the vintage bikes at Mountain Bike Specialists, Ned Overend and Greg Herbold walked in. We managed to snag HB for a photo while Ned snuck away to a meeting downstairs. A great shop, essentially a museum of bikes and jerseys from world champions going back to the 1980's.

Isaac talking with HB. This shop is essentially a MTB Hall of Fame.

With the weather system moving out, we should have clear skies for the rest of the trip. Hard to say if there is snow right now above 11,000ft. We saw lots of pink on the radar north of here. It is a risk this time of year. Either way, it will be much colder and probably a long layers ride. Hope to hit a long section of the Colorado Trail above treeline north of Durango on Thursday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Don't Think, Just Go: CO Day 2

Colorado Day-2 was planned to be a shorter day. We had to check out of the Salida hotel and head to Durango after our ride. Just as well. The forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms. We planned to ride a large sampling of trails close in to town, the Methodist Mountain and Arkansas Hills trail systems. These trails are purpose built for mountain biking and are wicked fun. I had ridden the Methodist side last year, but never the Arkansas side.

We started early, rolling out at 7:15am, before the sun even poked over the Arkansas Hills to illuminate town. A bit chilly, but not enough to necessitate arm warmers. A couple guys staying at our hotel were also mountain biking, hitting the Monarch Crest like we did yesterday (except they shuttled). One was from Vail area and said weather system coming through was expected to bring snow down to 11,000ft. Hope that doesn't happen further south in Durango. Anyway, it didn't take long to warm up.

Dave and Isaac heading up Frontside. Salida in background.

We began climbing below the big "S" prominently visible from anywhere in town on Frontside Trail. Nice buff stuff. L'l Rattler threw some more curviness into the mix. Then it was onto North Backbone. This is were the real fun began. Nothing like a little exposure right after a big breakfast. Dave nearly cleaned the whole trail. I didn't fare as well. I tried my hardest to keep Isaac in sight. It was like don't think, just go.  Ignore the precipice to the left, don't worry about what's around the bend I'm coming into with way too much speed, and let the tires drift as they wish over the loose on hardpack surface. Just nuts.

A lot of Backbone looked like this.

We eventually popped out on CR175 (also called Ute Trail), a gravel road that climbs a persistent 6-8% grade. This would hook us up with the top side of a trail called Cottonwood, the name which I didn't know at the time I created the GPS route. We met four women who were ready to enter Backbone where we just popped out. I asked about this trail we wanted to do, and they said "Oh, Cottonwood? It should be in really great shape right now." This group of women intrigued us, very fit, and no doubt skilled.

CR175/Ute Trail

We climbed a few miles on CR175, found our cutoff for Cottonwood. The descending was sweet at first, buff, fast. We thought how awesome to bomb 8+ miles like this back to town. Yeah, right. The initial descent was short lived. We climbed almost back up to 9000ft again. Then the real descent began. Death grip on brakes on 30-40% washboard sketchiness. We entered Cottonwood Gulch, where the trail followed the wash the rest of the way down. Much of it was insanely fast, but it alternated between loose sand, super chunky rocks, sudden dips and rises, and huge ledgy drops. I thought surely one of us was going to wreck today, probably me. Part way down there was a section none of us cleaned, although no doubt locals ride it. This descent left us all adrenaline hopped giggles.

Upper portion of Cottonwood

This section of Cottonwood was beyond our skill level

A couple more buff trails which are part of the Arkansas Hills trail system brought us back to the front side, where our loop north of town was completed. I asked nicely if we could get a late checkout before heading out. No problem to check out at 1pm, two hours later than normal checkout. This meant we could finish the whole planned ride and still have time to shower before packing up and heading to Durango.

Isaac coming back around to front side of trail system.
Continental Divide in background.

We crossed through downtown over to the Methodist Mountain trail system south of town. We'd begin again with a slog up a gravel road, picking up Skull trail to climb some more, then contour on Little Rainbow. Little Rainbow was machine benchcut. Awesome flow. Dave set pace again, using what was left in the tank. Again, I didn't have time to think, just hammer and keep Isaac in sight. It's amazing how much more air there is to breath at 8000ft than 12,000ft. Little Rainbow terminates into Race Track, which finishes the descent back to town.

We finished the ride with plenty of time to shower and pack up. I logged 35.6mi, 3:33hrs and about 4000ft of climbing for our short "low altitude" ride. It was a very different kind of ride from Monday with a lot of adrenaline enhanced fun. Nobody wrecked.  Clouds were definitely building over the high peaks by the time we rolled out of Salida, and we hit many cells of rain and some lightning on the way to Durango. Wednesday's ride is up in the air at this point. 60% chance of thunderstorms pretty much all day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lost Control: CO Day 1

We seriously considered shuttling the Monarch Crest Trail this year. The forecast threatened afternoon thunderstorms, which are one of the most frightening experiences you can have when getting caught on a 12,000ft ridgeline with not even a rock to duck under when lightning starts. Shuttle providers tell you the Crest must be shuttled for this reason, which is bull. I've ridden the Crest many times without shuttling and haven't yet had to dodge lightning bolts. The forecast dropped to 10% afternoon storms, so we decided not to shuttle, but morning-of, the forecast went back up to 30%. An early start and no dilly dallying about should get us off the ridge in time.

Bike build. You should see the looks Dave gets from this T-shirt.

The climb up Hwy 50.

The ride begins from Poncha Springs, just four miles west of Salida, up highway 50. Around 4000ft in 18 miles must be gained to reach the divide. Traffic was light, temp in the 40's. Dave and Isaac maintained a pretty good pace on the steeper parts. I was thinking about hours 3-5 of this ride and days 2-6 of this trip. The pace concerned me.  We started at 7:40am. Not much after 8am, we saw the 8am shuttle go by. We'd be at least an hour behind the 8-10 guys shuttling up. I wondered if we'd catch any of them.

The last 8 miles holds a persistent 6% grade. Riding dualies with several kilos of water and foul weather gear makes this climb a real slog. Eventually I realized it was folly to match Dave and Isaac's pace. I crested in 1:46, a minute slower than my fastest. I felt completely wrecked.

Obligatory divide pose.

We quickly topped off water at the Monarch Pass store and headed out on the singletrack. Some high level clouds were building overhead and more ominous clouds in the distance. We at least had to bang out the Crest before any bad weather started. It was Isaac's first time riding here.

Along the Monarch Crest.

This is why we ride here.

I soon found myself riding alone. My fears proved true. Dave now uses a Garmin 800, and I gave him a copy of our planned routes. I would no longer be able to control the situation. Bombing singletrack? Why wait for the slow, old guy when the moment is a rush. The thing is, the Crest and later the Rainbow Trail are a continuous, non-stop rush. There are few natural stopping points. Just go and bask in the spirit of the moment. I really don't have much of a problem being left for dead, as I've ridden the Crest multiple times by myself anyway.

Dave and Isaac shredding on the Crest.

We reached Marshall Pass, the last bail point before doing the full loop. The sky didn't look threatening at all, so we kept going to Silver Creek Trail. Dave and Isaac were smoking fast and kept each other company. I stopped worrying about the weather and focused more on self preservation, not making a mistake in a tired state, and taking in the scenery.

Initial plummet down Silver Creek Trail. Dave and Isaac.

The descent down Silver Creek is crazy. I think the Vapor Trail 125 just came through here this weekend (a 125mi MTB race). It has been very dry. Silver Creek was the loosest I've seen it. Uber sketchy at speed in many spots. I had no idea how far ahead Isaac and Dave got, but I wasn't going to wreck here. Lots of exposure to the creek far below too. Dave even lost Isaac at the creek crossing, where the trail becomes braided and not obvious which way to go at all. Isaac waited and hoped I would be coming through soon. Isaac was using a non-mapping Garmin 200 and didn't have the track. Fortunately, the Rainbow Trail starts right near there, and Dave was napping. Literally.

Isaac further down Silver Creek.

One of the sketchiest sections of the Silver Creek Trail. Nothing
stable. I wasn't going to ride it but did anyway.

I stayed within verbal distance of Dave and Isaac on the Rainbow Trail until the rollers started. They were ripping seriously fast. Twice, I nearly lost the trail tread and went over the edge. Isaac heard me squeal like a girl.  Many places, this would be a disaster with precipitous drops. The other two had some close calls too. Soon I was alone again and would be for the next 6-8 miles of this trail. Rainbow is a masterpiece with flow that lulls you into way more speed than you should maintain. On Rainbow, we caught and passed the last of the shuttlers I believe. That felt pretty good. Not only did we hit the trail more than an hour after they did, we climbed many thousands of feet more prior.

Dave and Isaac were waiting at a junction on the Rainbow Trail near the end. Dave nearly cleaned the whole thing, failing to clean just one of the steep rock pitches.  There was some more sketchy dropping right at the end, the switchbacks down to Hwy 285. We all made it, no crashes, no mechanicals. A four mile paved descent brought us back to the car. 54.8mi in 5:11 with nearly 7000ft of climbing. Dave and Isaac both logged less than 5hrs moving time.

This ride beat me up pretty badly. A Sonic malted milkshake and a Starbucks coffee started the recovery process.  Tuesday will be interesting. Forecast goes downhill towards midweek. Plan to do big ride close in to Salida, a large sampling of the purpose built trails in the Arkansas and Methodist trail systems. We'll stay below 10,000ft, but there will still be plenty of climbing. I just may have to  hide Dave's GPS to regain control of the situation so I have somebody to ride with;)