Aug 3, 2015

Of Shuttles and Hike-a-Bike...

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 21, 2015

Birthday scheming

Birthdays can set in motion some of the best - or craziest plans - ever. And sometimes, the gifts given provide a means to completing a dream. After an extended scavenger hunt for clues on Friday, I finally unearthed my present from Nick. Small, but so powerful. An Osprey Rev 1.5 - the smallest pack in the Rev series, with a 1.5L bladder and just a few small pockets for storage. The perfect size for long trail runs. Not to heavy or bulky, but carrying enough to get in and get out if the weather deteriorates. And why would that be such a cool present? After all, my last marathon was in 2010 and my last trail marathon was in 2009! It's been no secret that I haven't been running much - just jumping into some local half marathons here and there.

Well, back when I was a runner and thought very little of running a marathon on Saturday and then another one on Sunday, I had a goal. I wanted to do a 50 mile race. Heck with the 50k - that was only a few miles more then a marathon and a distance I'd covered in training runs for some of the marathons! No, I wanted to do a 50 mile race. Originally, I was going to do the Big Horn Wild and Scenic Ultra in Wyoming for my Wyoming race. But timing for that never worked out and we ended up doing the Casper Marathon twice. And then I finished the 50 states and got fully involved in the ultra and 24 hour racing world of mountain biking. But that didn't mean I hadn't given up on the dream of doing a 50 mile race. I'd every so often bring it up and show Nick course profiles and times. I was super excited when I saw the Pikes Peak Ultra that Mad Moose Events is bring into town - after all, an ultra that I wouldn't even have to drive to the starting line? Then I saw the course for that. Ouch. I ride those trails all the time and while they are really fun and very challenging, it's not what I wanted for my first 50 mile race.

When we went up to Leadville and rode the Silver Rush course, it got me thinking again - maybe that would be a good race? But again, as we hung out in Leadville after the ride, I wasn't sure. The views were huge and it was wide open double track for most of the race. But there was a corporate vibe in the air that I didn't want to deal with. I'd left road triathlons to get away from the corporate vibe! Back to the interwebs I went, search and plotting. I needed a race that had plenty of lead time so I can get my training build up the right way. I also needed a race that wouldn't affect any of the mountain bike races we have on the horizon - either in the build or in the recovery process. Nick watched me pondering all of this but said nothing.

And then my present - the perfect little pack. Of course, I wore it for my run the next day - just a four mile jaunt through the neighborhood and it was so comfortable. It rekindled my search for a Colorado 50 mile race. So my birthday present to myself - I think I have found the race I will do.

July 16th in 2016 - just before my 37th birthday. The Sheep Mountain 50 Mile Endurance Run. It's in Fairplay and heads into the  mountains to the south and west of town. It's not going to be easy with 9400 feet of elevation gain on a mix of dirt roads, jeep roads, singletrack, creek crossings and alpine tundra. Not a corporate affair, with just 45 finishers in the inaugural year. A small, personal race in an area of Colorado I've only driven past. 2016 will be an interesting year!

Jul 18, 2015

Back to Poncha

With a little more CT thrown in for fun. After our Leadville ride, we decided to camp at Raspberry Gulch and ride the CT a little more. It's early in the night, but one of the more techy traverses. Another few hours learning the curves wouldn't hurt. Given how tired and sluggish I'd been Friday, I was a little worried about the rest of the weekend. Would I actually be able to handle the hours and the trail? A nice lazy morning - sleeping later then I have in weeks and a big breakfast had me ready to go. We headed south first - towards Blanks Cabin. Again, just riding and scouring the trail. My goal was to be smooth and comfortable with all the punchy climbs and rock gardens. Much better this time around, even once we turned north and started retracing our trail. I was able to ride further up some of the steep hills. After the ride and another nap, it was run time. Just a short little run on the CT - working on increasing frequency in prep for some big plans next year!

For Sunday, we had a choice - shuttle and the entire Crest run or pedal up Poncha. Neither one of us wanted to get up earlier enough for the shuttle, so it was a default vote for Poncha. Ahh - Poncha. I forgot how much fun climbing Poncha Creek Road was! It's gonna hurt come September - but felt a lot better this time then last year. It will always be a hard climb, but with a reward of Silver Creek? I'll take it. And that was our goal - the traverse of the Colorado Trail and the descent of Silver Creek. The CT was almost empty - just a few hikers and a couple of other mountain bikers. The lasting snow fields further north on the Crest kept the numbers down. Silver turned into Rainbow, with some creek fording right at the terminus. Guess the mountain bikers weren't the only ones that liked the new trail!

It wasn't the huge weekend I had planned, but we still had some big days. And I was riding harder then I wanted, making the shorter rides higher quality. We rode a lot of the same trails we did last year at this time - and it was all smoother and faster. Taking two minutes out of some of the climbs is pretty impressive - even more so on the last day of the weekend. It's hard sometimes with Nick - I want some solid hours on the bike, but not at the pace Nick wants to ride. So it becomes a compromise.  Nick rides a little slower (not much it feels some times!) and we ride shorter then I wanted. I know we will get the hours I want soon, meanwhile Nick will continue to push me. 

Jul 14, 2015

Seemed like a good idea at the time...

We are good at the "seemed like a good idea at the time" kinda rides. This one? Well, it all started on the drive out of town. We've not ridden in Leadville out side of the Fat Bike races and Nick asked if we should start our weekend there. Sure, why not? Then we both got the idea - Silver Rush, one of the Leadville 100 series races was supposed to be a very challenging race and several of our friends said we would love the race. The idea turned into a spark - let's ride the Silver Rush course! Even better, we wouldn't really need a map since the race was the next day. It would be marked and everything! And so north towards Leadville we headed...

As anticipated, the course was well marked from the start. Since it was later in the afternoon and all the serious racers were hiding in their hotels with compression socks on and feet up, we also had the course to ourselves. Perfect. I wasn't sure what to expect since I hadn't looked at the profile and had only glanced at the map. It seemed like the first hour of riding was straight uphill as we climbed higher and higher, finally ending up above treeline. I was super happy that the views were so amazing because I was tired - slow and tired. The steady grinding of the double track was getting to me even in the first hour. Still, when Nick suggested that we just ride the entire course, I didn't disagree. At that point, I already knew it wasn't a race I wanted to do, so why not see what the entire thing looked like? We were being silly, having fun with what was a challenging dirt road and double track ride. It wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination - but it also wasn't the kind of riding that we love doing.

Nick riding on the Silver Rush course - dwarfed by the mountains around us

Seemed like a good idea at the time... Until one of the bars I'd brought with me to eat turned out to be as stale as cardboard and inedible. And I'd only packed food for a three hour ride. Out of food before the turn around and getting crankier by the minute. Even the columbines and alpine meadows filled with flowers weren't making me happy anymore. We climbed up to the highpoint on the course and plunged down the backside towards the turn around. Nick wanted to ride the entire 50 and retrace our steps. Me? Not so much. Tired from a busy week and generally cranky about being out of food, I mutinied. I'd seen enough of the course and really didn't see the point of riding-pushing back up above treeline. There was plenty of more fun riding to be had the rest of the weekend and I wanted to be able to enjoy the Colorado Trail and other adventures. Nick grumbled a little, rightly pointing out that there really were only two super ugly hills on the way back and it would be superfast and mostly downhill. I was not to be deterred. I was tired of road riding. So we took the quicker route down the Mineral Belt Trail back to the van.

Do I regret not finishing the course just to say we did it? Kinda. Sorta. We probably should have just done it since we aren't ever going to do the race proper. Oh well. But that wasn't my goal for the weekend.

Sunset over the campsite - Raspberry Gulch off the CT

Jul 6, 2015

Changing Plans

I was "supposed" to do intervals on Wednesday. I had a nice, hard workout scheduled - designed to address some of the weaknesses I've noticed in the first few races of the year. But like all plans - things change. Nick's work was in the process of moving buildings and he had the ability to take half a day off. Middle of the week, the chance to ride hard with Nick? Intervals were abandoned in favor of something just as hard, but so much more fun.

It was brutally hot when Nick got home and we both packed water for the 90 degrees it felt like. Then up into the mountains we went - straight up through Stratton, up the Chutes and onto Gold Camp. Given that I was skipping out on my intervals, it was time to ride hard. Nick let me set the pace, but kept pushing a little to keep me honest. Up and up and up, the endless road climb silence of the mountains. We'd originally planned on doing the hike-a-bike up to the St Peter's Dome parking lot, but Nick decided to just take the road all the way out. Might as well get a good baseline time for the start of the season! I slowed a few times to make sure I was eating and to stretch my back out, but we made it out to Old Stage in record (for me) time. And I wasn't blown - not like the last few times Nick has pushed me hard on the Gold Camp climb. We did still have the climb up Old Stage, so it was time for a short break of easy pedaling. Recover just a little so I would be able to descend well when we got to St Mary's.

Yes, that was our goal. Mid week, later in the day with storms rolling in - there would be nobody on St Mary's. Perfect time to ride one of the busier trails in the canyon and be able to ride it fast. I've only done St Mary's a few times from top to bottom, so it's always an adventure for me. I love the top half - traversing through the trees with some tight switchbacks. There's a few creek crossing and some rock gardens but it's mostly fast and wide open. It's once we cross above the falls that things start getting tricky. I always try the tight, scree filled switchbacks, but don't always make them. It's a guessing game which ones I'll get and which ones I won't. Below the waterfall, the trail is more familiar. I never get to go fast down that section because it's always crowded. This ride was the exception - only one hiker and her dogs.

I was expecting that we'd turn right and drop Daniels to ford the river and head home. After all, I really only wanted three hours and that time was getting close. Nope. Nick decided that we'd climb High Drive and finish out on a high note with Jacks. I was looking at the very angry clouds building all around us and wondering about the sanity of riding more. But Nick wasn't to be dissuaded. Okay! Up High Drive we went. At the summit, the heavy rain was even closer and it was starting to spit at us. Time to make quick work of Jacks. An empty trail lead to a fun descent and we were just ahead of the rain as we dropped into Chutes. We almost made it home before the deluge started - but we were soaked by the time we hit the black top. A few lightening strikes closer then I would have liked and we were at the door. Wet, tired but so happy. Nothing like a hard, midweek ride!