Jun 23, 2015

Summer Solstice Fun

There's having plans that aren't negotiable and then there's going with the flow. Knowing when to pick which option is the important part. Three rides in Salida when the high trails aren't quite clear yet or two rides in Salida and then one in COS with friends? That was an easy choice! We still got some good riding in and got to go to Cam and Amber's summer solstice ride and part.

Friday was the CT from Blanks Cabin to Raspberry Gulch. Last time I rode that was September, at night. Things look very different during the day... We weren't sure how busy the camping up the road would be, so took one of the earlier spots that looked pretty quiet. It meant a five mile road climb up to the CT, but since that's part of the day come September - I wasn't going to complain. And wow - no wonder that road climb was so long! It's hard to see the steepness in the dark, but in the brilliant sun of the last days of spring, the elevation changes are clear. And then there was the Colorado Trail. Riding that in the day made it clear why it's so hard at night. There's a lot of steep pitches, babyhead rocks and tight corners. It's not really a trail to conserve lights on if you want to ride fast. I've only done it a few times - this was my third - and I still get turned around as to which obstacle is coming up next. I didn't even realize we were on the steep hike-a-bike right in the beginning until almost to the top! I almost made it all the way up, and Nick got even further. Surprising, but only because I haven't looked at a topo map much - it was actually harder coming back. I thought the climbing southbound wasn't going to end! But it's a fun trail and on a Friday afternoon, there was no one else out there.

Saturday found us on Rainbow. I'd wanted something a little longer, but knew Sunday's ride was going to be big. So it was a short and sweet little loop - up the Otto Mears Toll Road to the western terminus of Rainbow. I'm really starting to like Rainbow - it's just a fun trail. Once again, it was just me and Nick - without the entire Crest open, there was no one out riding. We were able to rip the descents and not worry. And when it's just Rainbow, even the steep hills aren't that steep. Now add on the rest of the Crest? Different story! That will come when the Crest is open.

Then came Sunday - the first day of summer. We met up at Cam's house for a Jone's Downhill run. When I saw the group making the selection on Gold Camp Road, I knew I was in for a hard day. Cam, Flynn, Nick and me... When Nick stopped to make some water (it was already hot out...) I kept going. I knew I would need the time to ride at my own pace before trying to stay on the wheels of the guys. I almost made it up through our little hike-a-bike to St Peter's Dome before the guys caught me. I really hustled the hike-a-bike this time. I cracked a little from the heat on the final climb up past Wye Campground, but was able to hold it together until Frosty's Park and the start of the downhill. I've only done Jones two other times, so I'm not familiar with the trail. It was all I could do to keep Nick in sight - and he was riding at 3/4 speed so I could see him. But I wasn't getting the mental overload I've had the other two times we've ridden Jones and I was going much faster. I did leave an offering of skin to the trail gods at one point, but didn't let it shake me. The only issue with Jones is descending back into town is like dropping into an inferno. It's so nice and cool up at the start of the trail and you descend so quickly. The first day of summer was proving it's worth in heat and we were all out of water by the time we hit the top of the Chutes. Time to head home! I think I drank a gallon of water when we finished that ride!

Jun 21, 2015

Speed hurts - Beti Bike Bash

What do you do when lining up with national and world caliber athletes? In 2011 when I raced the Beti Bike Bash at Bear Creek Lake Park my answer was to be nervous and intimidated by the women surrounding me. I finished almost a lap behind the winners that day - and on that four mile course, that's a huge gap. It was the hardest kind of racing for me - all fitness and power and I was left behind in the dust at the start. Since then, I've embraced the endurance world of mountain biking, seeking out the challenges found in the miles and darkness. Still hard - but a different. And I didn't return to the Beti Bike Bash despite always being asked.

Sometimes it's worth taking a chance and seeing what happens. When I heard that the Yeti Betis were moving the race to a new venue in Castle Rock, I was intrigued. Not enough to jump in yet, but enought to investigate. I let the idea percolate, pondering making the drive up there. And then things came together  perfectly to make it happen. Moved some things around in my training so I could have a little taper and got ready for what I knew would be the hardest hour and a half of racing I'd done in a while.

Driving up with my mom who was racing sport gave me plenty of time to preride and check out the course. It wasn't the super easy, beginner friendly venue of Bear Creek. Plenty of climbing, tight singletrack winding through meadows and scrub oak, followed by off camber switchback descents into more climbing. It was fun - interesting. Not challenging in a technical, rock garden aspect but still a grown up course. It would be hard for sure - corners at preride pace would be sketchy at full race pace. And the flowers. The fields were full of flowers - explosions of color amid the green. But the reason for all the flowers? Our extraordinarily damp May and that rain left its mark on the course. Mud puddles - several of them. And they were deep. One was nearly hub deep on my Fate, and that was after the two creek crossings! I was splattered with mud and my bike filthy with just one lap! I finished my warmup on the roads to stay out of the mud and out of the way of the sport racers now out on course. 


"Feels like you're standing there so small - just a space between the stars. Don't be afraid to risk it all..."
Took the advice from the song and went for it.
Then it was our turn to line up. While not quite as star studded as my first race at the Beti Bike Bash, there were still plenty of fast women and big name riders like Erin Huck and Jenny Smith. But unlike last time, I wasn't going to be intimidated. I took a spot on the line, in the front row. The course narrowed quickly and getting a good start would be important. The countdown began and then we were off. Full sprint. I met my first goal of being in the mix with a strong start, entering the singletrack in fifth place. But that was only the beginning. I watched as Jenny, Erin and Maghalie rode away, but couldn't get on their wheel. Passing is still sometimes hard for me and it's even harder when I'm all out on unfamiliar singletrack. It took me a little and the help of a mud puddle to get around Emily and by then it was too late. The top three had ridden away and it would turn into a battle for fourth, fifth and sixth.



I was at my limit - and we were only 20 minutes into the race. Would I be able to keep the pressure up and the pace where it needed to maintain my fourth place? A job that was made that much harder by a slide out on one of the off cambered corners. It would have been nothing but a few seconds had my chain not been dislodged. The momentary pause to get it back in place allowed Rebecca to pass me and Kaylee right on my wheel. But that's part of racing. And now it really was a race as we all came through the first lap with 10 seconds gap. I used the double track to attack, gaining some time on them. With two laps left, it was going to be painful, trying to hold them off. Rebecca was on my wheel and I couldn't shake her. The punchy climbs were already taking their toll on my legs and I wasn't descending to my normal level. Add in the mud...


Ahh - the mud. Those puddles and stream crossings that had gotten me a little dirty on my preride? Well, at race pace - I was already filthy - and so was my bike. There were only a few good lines through the mud puddles and if you missed the line, you were in the mud. In a few spots, we were trying to ride through a meadow to avoid the hub deep mud - but even that was ineffective. One of the deeper pits got me every lap. I knew there was a line through it, but couldn't get it. On the second lap, when I bobbled the exit again, Rebecca was right there to take advantage of it. And down into fifth I went. And Kaylee was still just behind me - just outside of striking reach.

Oh crap, this is painful. How much longer to I have to ride? Thirty minutes?!?
As we started the third and final lap, I was still able to extend the gap to Kaylee on all the short little climbs. But she was still closing. It would be a question of if my legs could respond and maintain the power across the flats and if I was still smooth on the descents that would determine if I held onto fifth. I was at my limit - asking for more power from the engine room, only to be told that there was nothing left. Before the final descent, Kaylee made the junction. I was so tired that even the smooth, twisty off camber descending was getting to me and I wasn't as fluid as I needed to be. There was no way I would hold her off. Just before the final stretch of singletrack, she made the pass.  I tried to jump on her wheel - hoping that I could hang on just long enough to be in the mix for a sprint. That wasn't happening. The only response was a feeble attempt at an acceleration. I wasn't the only one who was fading though - Rebecca was just ahead. Kaylee caught her - meaning there would be a sprint for fourth. I tried, but could only watch as they rode away. A 25 second gap that was insurmountable.

2015 Beti Bike Bash podium - top 15 women
But sixth place was higher then I'd honestly anticipated finishing. And to be in the mix for a top five for most of the race? Even better. I don't race the short, hard cross country racing frequently and I was concerned that I wouldn't have the top end speed to actually be competitive - just like in 2011. But the speed was there. Maybe not as long as I needed, but there.

And finally this year... The Drag Race. Worth sticking around for and utterly hilarious. The guys took it seriously, with some very fancy outfits and some costumes that cannot be unseen....
The Drag Race La Man's start - they were just as serious as we were on our starting line!
 
Brave. Very brave - not only to be seen in public but on a bike in that!
 
 
Baby dolls, dresses and mud....

Jun 2, 2015

Growing as Rider in the Growler

After the midnight downpour and mud disaster that was Nick's Half Growler, I spent the rest of Saturday almost compulsively checking the weather forecast. Every time I looked there was a chance of rain overnight with more rain possible Sunday morning - but it was a fluid forecast, changing hourly as I checked. As long as the sun stayed out and we didn't get any rain, Sunday would be awesome. That sentiment was echoed around the KOA and most likely across the Gunnison Valley! I'm sure there were more then a few racers doing their anti-rain dances...
That sun wasn't quite as warm as it looked...
Sunday - cold, but not as cold as anticipated, with sunshine attempting to peek from behind the clouds. And no rain so far. I dressed for racing, not for rain - with fingers crossed that the clouds wouldn't close down again. Wool socks, knee warms, arm warmers, vest and over-gloves - not clothes I would normally be wearing at the end of May! Nick dropped me off at the start and headed out to Bambi's. With the roads being fairly muddy still, he wasn't going to take as many chances driving up into Hartmans as he did last year. He'd be there for me, but maybe in fewer places then the first year. Which was fine. I was ready to go, with some rice bars in my bento and a water bottle full of Skratch.

Boom! The shotgun released the tense mass of riders. The first turn onto Main Street was uneventful, but my race was almost finished before it started as we turned onto US 50. A rider to my right didn't make the turn well and veered into me, his handlebars hitting my ribs. I was pushing to the rider to my left and our handlebars tangles. We were about 5 seconds from both hitting the pavement and then getting run over by the herd behind us. Somehow, I'm not sure how I managed to stay upright and get my handlebars out from his. Yikes!! Mentally shaken and with my left hand throbbing, I had to work my way back up the field. I'd been right behind Jenny when the tanglement happened and had plummeted. Starting the race in the back wasn't where I wanted to be - I wanted the wheels of the women I knew would be contending for the win. Burned a few matches working my way up, but luckily the neutral rollout was pretty chill until just after the KOA. Then the cop started speeding up and stringing the field out. I'd been working on my cadence and ability to spin quickly while maintain the power and it showed on the road this year. As we made the right hand turn onto the dirt and the racing started in earnest I was just behind Jenny and Wendy. The next goal was to try to stay with them up kill hill and then on the road leading to Josh-Os.

Almost success. I was in a good position entering Josh-Os and ahead of most of the bottlenecking. I could see Jenny's pink jersey and Janae's pink helmet just ahead of me. Racing had started - time to ride. The climb up Josh-Os was stilly slimy from the day before, enough to make steady pedaling important. But where it wasn't wet, the trails were like blacktop - fast and smooth and just incredible. The rocks were dirty and wet, making the line choice important, but the singletrack was sublime. On the powerline road, I could see evidence of the chaos that had been the Half Growler. Tire tracks imbedded in the mud, imprints left from people crashing. We had two dry lines to ride, with soul sucking mud on either side. I was in 7th as we dropped down to the blacktop, but it was a close race, with just minutes separating us. It was also pretty clear just how hard the Half Growler had been - I came through that point ahead of the time from the leaders on Saturday!

Nick was waiting at the blacktop with my camelbak. I ditched the nearly empty bottle and stopped for just a moment to don the camelbak. One thing I need to work on for next year - not stopping as much to get stuff from Nick. If it's just a waterbottle I want, just take it on the fly - don't stop. There were a few times through out the race that I stopped without needing to - giving up about five minutes to the other women. But Nick was great throughout the race - all over the course, with just what I wanted. And sometimes even something I didn't know I wanted, like a camelbak with coke in it. He's awesome support and that's even after turning himself inside out the day before in his race.

Throughout the race, the biggest thing I noticed was how I was riding. The first year we raced the Growler was also a clockwise direction. I remember how hard some of the obstacles were back then - the first bottleneck rock on Josh-Os, the rocks on Skyline, the climb up Bambi's, all of Out Back. Those were hard trails for me and the technical riding was challenging. I was constantly thinking and hitting the brakes to prepare for the rocks two years ago. This year, I was able to ride all of it, and usually without thinking hard or slowing down. Even the Skull Pass descent - I was scared of it two years ago. This year I missed the line in the first section during the first lap simply because I didn't remember. And I was annoyed that I hadn't ridden it! The second time down the pass was cake - and I was smiling huge the entire time. The entire race was like that - a series of mental victories as I realized how much better I was riding. And cleaning a rock section in front of spectators when none of the guys around me did is even better. There were things I rode without pause this year - on Top of the World and Ridge. I cleaned all of Ridge on my first lap, and without the nerves from before. What made it even better was that I was riding that well without any pre-rides. Our traditional early May trip to Gunnison had been canceled due to the weather.

How fast was the course this year? Or maybe a better question - how hard was the Half Growler this year? Well, for perspective, Nick usually beats me by about 30 minutes for his race - which is my first lap. Not this year. I came through the base area in 3:16, in 7th place for the women. And I was ten minutes faster then Nick was for his race. I'm sure that will never happen again, but....

I could see 6th place the entire race. She dangled in front of me, the gap ranging from 15s to 4 minutes. Every time I would sneak up, shutting down the gap, she'd bolt away on the next road climb - manhandling her bike like a singlespeeder. I'd bring her back on the techy descents and flowing singletrack, but never close enough. Never enough to make the catch and attack. After dragging it down to 30s at the top of Bambi's on the second lap, I never got close again. But instead of just shutting down and going into riding mode, I was still racing and pushing hard. I had time goals and I didn't know where the next woman was.

Taking the fast way between point A and point B - and enjoying every minute!
Photo - Brian Reipe, Mountain Flyer

Another thing that struck me this year. I wasn't having any issues with the men riding around me. It was as if the ponytail didn't matter and I was just another rider. It was awesome. I'm sure the fact that I was riding just as much if not more as most of them help, but also the fact that I was polite. Making an effort to help with passing pays back in the long run. Getting out of the way and being respectful of the other racers also helps. There were more then a few times that the guys could have passed me just at the top of a hill or start of a techy section but didn't. On the last climb up Tailpipe, one of the guys I'd been leapfrogging with a few times was right on my wheel. He could have passed me on the road, but let me drop Collarbone ahead of him. It was such a change from experiences in the past at other race and very cool.

I took nearly 30 minutes out of my time from 2013. Granted, the course was faster on my first lap and we had perfectly cool racing weather, but it was also a little longer this year. I didn't move up any higher on the podium, in fact I dropped two spots. But this was a very competitive year for the women's race, with some of the fastest endurance racers in the country toeing the line. Congrats to Amy Biesel - winning in a new course record time of 5:46. Sonya Looney was second in 6:04, with Jenny Smith right on her wheel in 6:08. Janae Pritchett and Wendy Lyall rounded out the top five with times of 6:23 and 6:26. I finished seventh overall with a time of 6:43:15. Still have some things to work on if I hope to be in the mix next year!

May 26, 2015

Here comes the mud again.... Race Support at the Half Growler

View from the Powerline descent - that little cloud would soon turn nasty....
Getting woken up at 11:00 PM with pouring rain isn't the best way to start a race weekend. Having that pouring rain turn into a thunderstorm right overhead is even worse. The hail started at 2:00 AM and combined with the thunder and lightening kept the entire Gunnison Valley awake until sunrise. Even then, there was no respite. A heavy fog had settled over the KOA and Hartmans Rocks, cloaking everything in grey and damp. Gradually, the sun worked it's magic and burned away the layer of clouds, revealing blue skies and drenched surroundings. An interesting start to my day of race support and Nick's race. Hopefully, the sun would stay out and dry the trails into the hero dirt that Dave promised in his race morning update email.

The Half Growlers heading making the right turn onto HWY 50
Photo - Matt Burt, http://mattburt.zenfolio.com

I dropped Nick off at the start in downtown Gunnison and headed up Gold Basin Road to wait at the short blacktop section near the Bambi's entrance. With the rain and Nick's experience last year during the Growler, I wasn't driving up into Hartmans. I was anticipating that Nick would be there in about an hour, so had plenty of time. I hiked up the Powerline road, looking at the conditions and evaluating lines for my race. I noticed that the road was sticky in places, a mild peanut butter mud, but still bad. I didn't pay that much attention though, wanting to get up where I could get some photos of the race climbing Josh-Os. It took forever (or so it seemed) for the leaders to roll through. I got the photos and jogged back down the road to wait. And wait. And wait some more. An hour after the start and even the leaders hadn't yet dropped off the Powerline descent. What was going on? Meanwhile, another storm rolled through. It started out mellow, just some grapple and wind. Then rain and hail, pelting the volunteers and support crew waiting anxiously along the road.

Nick climbing up Josh-O's
Kalan B - in second place at that point, with his bike more then a little muddy
Finally, the first riders came down. And immediately quit, saying his bike was destroyed. Huh. The next two riders that passed me were covered head to toe in mud. Bikes caked in clay and drive chains grinding. Every rider was filthy and many were trying to clear the mud through futile attempts at bunny hopping. I realized that the same peanut butter clay that had forced me to walk last year was wreaking havoc among the Half Growlers. There were numerous drops at that point - with riders pushing bikes caked in mud. Then Nick's orange helmet came into view. I'd been watching the bikes rolling by carefully - no other single speeders had yet passed. I gave him his fresh water bottle and shouted after him (after prompting) that he was in the lead.
Yeah, just a little muddy!
Time to pay attention for Matt. I had clean sunglasses and a bottle for him. He was a few minutes behind Nick and made a quick pit stop. His bike was just a filthy as everyone else's - and his legs and back were coated brown. I hung out at the blacktop a little longer, watching the riders. Choices were being made with every turn onto the blacktop as some riders turned north to head for home and others south for the next section of singletrack.

Nick clearing some rocks and making it look easy
Photo - Brian Riepe, Mountain Flyer
Then to the base area to wait some more. With the trail conditions, I didn't know how long it would take Nick to finish. All the riders were slower this year due to the adverse weather and atrocious trail conditions. And then, there Nick was, bombing down Collarbone. He'd held onto his position in the single speed race, finally coming home with the win this year. I don't think I've seen him that beat up after a race ever

Coming in for the finish

May 6, 2015

April (and May) Showers

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

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

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

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

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