Feb 15, 2017

Soft as snow?

Every rider knows the feeling. That sixth sense feeling that something is wrong and something bad is going to happen. It's like being in the middle of a train wreck and not being able to stop it. The question becomes - once the train wreck has happened, what do you do?

Saturday night, at the starting line for the first race in the Leadville Winter Bike series - my personal favorite The Tennessee Pass Night Jam. The full moon was hidden in clouds and snow was piling up on the groomed trails. It was going to be a epic race and a fun ride. I was eager to start, a little nervous and ready to see how the new tires handled the fresh snow. It was a record crowd for the race and everyone was raring to go. The symphony of fat bike brakes filled the air as Sterling called us to the line. This was the only part I didn't like - the downhill start followed by the sharp right turn for the start loop. It made for great spectating and a spectical of lights flowing down the hill. But it always made me nervous. Between the rush of the start, the clunky bikes and the snow, it seemed like someone always went down in the that corner. My plan was to try to stick on Nick's wheel for the right hand turn and then settle into my own pace. Play it safe and get through the traffic jam before really starting to race. 

At the starting line under snowy skies
Photo Justin Talbot - http://www.40minutesfromleadville.com/

Feb 10, 2017

Return to Milagrosa

Back in 2012, when Nick and I were visiting his parents in Tucson prior to racing 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, we got punked into riding La Milagrosa - one of the most technical downhill trails in the Tucson area. I walked most of it back then - both the AZT portion and Milagrosa proper. So when we made plans to head down to Tucson at the end of January to visit his parents again, Milagrosa was high on Nick's list. I'll admit, I was also looking forward to once again trying m y hand at that trail. Would I be happy and having fun with the advancement of my riding ability for that kind of trail or would it be mental break down? Only one way to find out and that was to head up Mount Lemmon and take the chance on the miracle trail.

I thought that we would ride the road at a comfortable pace. And by comfortable I meant my pace. After all, it was about six miles of solid climbing and Nick wanted me to be all A game for the descent. So it would be an easy ride up the road, right? Well, somehow my thinking it would be an easy ride didn't translate. There were just enough roadies out that Nick didn't want to let them all pass. Obviously the fully kitted out dude with the complete bike that weighed less then Nick's pack wasn't going to have anything to do with the two mountain bikers. But the rest of them? Fair game! That meant a hard tempo climb and one that I wasn't really ready for, but too proud to ask Nick to slow down on. I was just happy I hadn't put my knee and elbow pads on at the bottom like Nick! That meant I could take a break after we turned off the road to get my pads on.... Thinking ahead!

Looking up to the saddle above Molino Basin

I didn't really remember the climb up from Molino Basin from the last time. I remembered walking a bunch because the chunky rocks were big enough to swallow my little Era had I tried riding them. I also remembered switchbacks. Lots of switchbacks. My goal was to ride as much as I could, but to be realistic and not kill myself for the descent later. There were a few things I tried, one switchback that I made when Nick didn't and then a few things that I looked at and when "nah... not today." There was still some mud and ice in the shady areas, which made some of the rock ledges even tricker. And me less likely to want to try them. There will always be another chance. I don't think the trail is going anywhere. And my goal with this ride wasn't the climb. It was the descent that had totally freaked me out years ago and had me walking almost everything. Why stress out about the climb when I had other objectives for the ride? Finally, we reached to top of the saddle. There was a group of hikers up there enjoying a snack, but other wise, nothing but miles of desert in all directions. The sound of running water echoed among the canyons - this was the first time I've seen that much water in the Mount Lemmon area in all our years of riding there! Nick was actually worried that we might not get to ride all of Milagrosa due to the water.

Time to focus. I remembered that the first descent had really been all rideable but that the sharp fall to the left had freaked me out last time. So I didn't even look left as we started ridding. Kept my eyes on the trail, picking my best line and letting the bike take the rock ledges. It was all rollable if you didn't want to jump things and I was perfectly content with rolling. It was much better then walking! And I was actually having fun. It was still challenging and I was a little on edge with a lot of self talk to stay focused, but I was having fun. I didn't meet my goal of not crashing though - on one of the switchbacks, I didn't quite get around enough and wasn't able to bail neatly. A few bruises, but I didn't land in a cactus, so all is good. Next time - it wasn't even the hardest switchback. That one I still had to walk. I just wasn't ready to try it. Finally, we reached the bottom where the water tank was. The creek was full and flowing fast. We stopped for a snack at the water tank, looked at the map and then headed out, hoping for the best. With the amount of water running, the entrance into Milagrosa was going to be questionable.
Nick studying the map - we actually needed two maps to complete the loop due to where they cut the boundries!

Or so we thought. It was actuallly just one deep spot to cross, with the water spilling out below the trail into pools. I opted to walk the entrance as well, but this time I could see the line people were taking to ride it. Maybe later - on a bigger bike with more padding. Or not. There are some things that just don't need to be done in my mind. We climbed up from the creek onto the ridgeline, traversing the ridge through grass and cacti. I wasn't pedaling too hard through that section since I didn't want to catch my shoe on a prickly pear. I've done that - it hurts! I was pretty happy with how I was riding, tackling everything the trail had thrown at us.  I actually only walked one thing on the descent - and that was just because I needed a mental break for a minute from picking the line and deciding if it was a roller or if I needed to launch it. That mental processing is still a work in progress, but getting better every year.

Approaching one of many rocky ledges.

Rolling it out. I'm still working on the hucking part!
It is always nice going back to a trail that was a little (a lot in places) over your head a few years ago and seeing the difference in skill and confidence. I'm sure the bike helped a bit - but having the best bike for the trail doesn't mean anything if you are still not willing to ride something.

Feb 6, 2017

Tucson Training Camp

It was a shorter trip then we had originally planned, but we still made the trip down to sunny Arizona for a short training camp aka visit Nick's parents trip. Nick's parents are huge horse riders and January/February is usually a great time to be in Tucson for riding. And since they have friends who live in Tucson now, it's even more convenient. We took a day after the hut trip to clean up, wash clothes and get ready for some sun and dirt. The first stop was Red River for some skiing. Not a bad hill - lots of carharts and camo. I'm still not sure how some of those skiers manage to keep their nice Stetson hats in place while they are flying downhill! The skiing meant for a long last day of driving and we finally pulled into Tucson about midnight Saturday. Ugh. That's the hardest part of going somewhere in the winter - it is such a long drive to anywhere dry!

Sunday was more a recovery day from the driving. I did a long run in Fantasy Island while Nick rode. My opinion on runners and Strava hasn't changed at all. Runners don't like segments! The same trail that had about 10 segments in six miles for Nick? Nothing on foot! We were also lucky that it was the coldest day of the week - only about 60* because we got a rather late start. Not used to even that kind of heat, that's for sure! I was happy I had my little hand held bottle with me - and wishing I'd brought my pack instead. The run ended up being a little slower and a few miles longer then I'd planned, but Nick and I finished at the same time so all worked out well. He'd ridden all but two trails in the park while I was running. And after the run? Nothing! We had nothing that needed to be accomplished. Other then play with the puppies...

Nick playing with his new best friend. Osa is addicted to her balls..

Sunrise on Mount Lemmon from near where we were staying
Monday was another easier but longer day. We got out a little earlier and headed across town to Sweetwater. We've only ridden there once - after the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo a number of years ago. So we really didn't know what we were getting into. Nick remembered one rocky switchback thing that I had to walk back then, and naturally it was his goal to find it again. Well, we rode everything in the park and I think we found the trail he was looking for, but there was nothing even remotely challenging. It was fun riding though the giant cacti and there weren't that many people out and about which made it even better. But it's a long drive from where we were parked. After we got back from the ride, I still needed a short run. This time, I opted to wear my light weight wool long sleeved shirt instead of getting more sun. I love that shirt - best ever for running even in hot weather!
Nick in the distance among the saguaros


Pedaling through one of the smaller chunky sections


Tuesday was Milagrosa - the one ride Nick had been looking forward to since we planned the trip.
For our last day in Tucson, I needed a running workout, so got up early and got out before the sun rose. I was surprised. Given how hot it was supposed to get that day, there was nobody out and about even at 7:00! In COS I always see at least a few other people when I'm out running! But it was nice to get it done and not feel like I was melting in the hot AZ sun.  A quick breakfast and we were back at Fantasy Island for another ride - with the goal of hitting the two trails that Nick had missed on Monday. Why were we in such a hurry to get everything done? Because we always like doing one touristy thing each trip and this time it was a trip to the Pima Air and Space Museum.
Capturing the start of the day with a run

Cactus!!! and Squirrel!!

Old tech!

New tech!

Nick at the museum - bikes were a big part of an airman's life during WWII
I was hoping we would get to do more then just look at the outsides of the planes - it would have been nice to have a few that we could walk inside (or crawl inside given how small some of them were..) but that wasn't the case. The people who worked there were a wealth of information regarding all the planes and it was really cool to see the advances in technology from the fighter planes of WWII to today. I didn't get many photos - the scale was just two big in a lot of cases for things to actually turn out well.
A sunrise to say good bye with
And then it was time to head home. I had the Super Half marathon on Sunday and wanted to be slightly ready for it! Sure, running and riding big days under the desert sun might not be the best way to prepare the week of the race, but it was fun. It's always nice to hang out with Nick's parents and having a few days in the sun was even better. A mini training camp for just a few days - no goals other the riding and running and chilling out. It's something we need to do more frequently!

Jan 26, 2017

Into the Snowglobe

Time for an escape and unplugging from the world. No better place for that then a hut isolated in the snow globe high up in the mountains We decided to try a different hut this year - Fritz's Cabin, to the North East of Aspen. We were able to book the cabin for the nights we wanted without any issues and because it was during the week, we were the only ones there! It was a small group - Nick and I, Todd and Amber and Ian
 
Since it was a fairly long haul into the hut (6.2 miles, 3000 feet of gain), we decided to stay in Glenwood Springs Sunday night. Might as well get the drive done with Sunday so we weren't rushed Monday morning. Amber had the great idea of going to the Yampah Vapor Caves after we checked into the hotel and managed to convince everyone that we really needed to go. Nick is always up for steaming hot but Todd and I were a harder sell. In the end, it was a great start to the trip.
 
We started the trek up just after noon, not really realizing how hard and long of a hike it would be. The sled was loaded with food and drink - ensuring that we would not go hungry this time around! The first few miles weren't too bad - Amber didn't even need her snowshoes to start with. And then it started snowing and the trail tipped upwards. And got steeper. There was one mile where we climbed 1000 feet! Nick and Todd took turns pulling the sled, cursing it every step on some of the steeper pitches. I tried to pull it but only made about 4 minutes before Nick took it back.
 
Todd getting Amber's snowshoes off her pack - it was starting to get deep in a hurry!
Our group heading up the trail, Nick pulling the sled
 Just before dark - the smell of smoke. Finally! We'd made it to the hut - the trip taking quite a bit longer then we'd all anticipated. The combo of steepness, deep fresh snow and the sled had really slowed us down. But we were there, ready to take over. First step - get the fire going and warm up the hut. Next step - inhale food. We'd really not stopped to eat at all during the ski in and we were all starving. The bag of chips was almost demolished in minutes between the five of us... And of course, after eating that much junk food, we weren't super hungry for supper - more tired and ready to sleep. I think we all were in bed really early. Sleeping in was easy the next day - no alarm clock, no sunrise as we were enveloped in the snow.

How much snow is up there?


View from the Loo...
With a sled full of food that the boys had towed up, we ate like kings in the hut. I made pancakes and Amber made eggs and potatoes. Then it was time to let the food digest before exploring. Nick, Ian and Todd headed out to find some turns while Amber and I set off to make our own fun. We did a little exploring, then returned to the hut for the sled. Yup. The sled was going to see double duty.... We met up with the guys as they were finishing one run and told them our plans. Try to stay out of trouble and have some fun! Amber tucked her snowshoes and poles into the sled while I took my skins off my skies and down we went!

The boys went in search of skiing - we scooped out the sledding!
Took a few runs, but WHEEEE!

We did three runs total - the first run was a little more trial and error finding the line for the sled. The second run was much faster and smoother. As we were getting ready to head back up the hill, Todd and Nick came skiing down. Ian had bailed and they wanted to make sure we weren't getting into too much trouble. One final run. Amber beat us all down that time, having packed in a solid path for the sled. We headed back to the hut, still giggling and ready for lunch. The rest of the day was chilling out - playing cards, chatting and relaxing. And trying to finish as much of the food and drink we could...

The trek back out took almost half as long - something about descending 3000 feet! The sled still had a mind of it's own, especially on the steep, narrow descent of Smuggler's Mountain. Amber had been worried about us beating her down - but that wasn't the case at all! Between the sled and not really having much room to turn, those two miles took longer then we'd anticipated. I'm not sure taking the skins off my skis was an advantage - the skins provided some good speed control coming down and I was a lot more comfortable with time on. If the road had been a little wider, it would have been different. I opted to put my skins back on after the really steep descent. I wasn't going to struggle with traction anymore and I wanted a little more control.


Nick and Todd wrangling the sled


Kiosk map buried in snow
One of the few views we had all weekend
Too soon, the trip was over. We left the snowglobe and hit the interstate heading east. Back to reality, but with plenty of memories from a fun two days in the snow! We learned a lot on this trip and will put it all to use next year - at a different hut I'm sure. Bringing enough food for three nights when you are only staying two? Kinda silly. Having a sled that ensures everyone gets to have fun? That's the ticket for sure. Being the only people in the hut? Even better - and perhaps worth the extra cost to book the entire hut. We didn't have to this time, but that hut would have been crowded had it been fully booked. It was perfect with just the five of us.

Jan 4, 2017

Shutting the bar down

I'm sure it's something on many bucket lists - shutting the bar down. Hasn't even been on my list of things to do before I die - after all bed time is a sacred thing to me. So when Nick and I headed to Fieldhouse Brewing Co for the third annual New Years New Beers party, I figured we'd have a pint or two and then head home and go to bed. I did have a race the next morning after all! Well, with a list of beers that made even me excited and with two new ones for Nick, my first half pint quickly became a few more. Everything was just so good and there were so many cool people! We watched one, then two, then several more of the 10 new beers tap out as we hung out. Soon enough, it was midnight and Happy New Years! And then Ben was rolling the empty kegs out the door... whoops! Way past my bed time and I had a race in the morning!

Another first - showing up to the first race of the year still slightly hung over... we parked at the Stables so I could get a bit of a warm up in before the Rescue Run. That run over wasn't fun - it was a bit rough actually! I was sleepy, had a headache and really just not motivated to run. It worked though while I ran over and though I wasn't feeling 100% at the start, I was as ready as I could be.

A decent start - my goal this year is really to be intelligent with my starts. I'm not as fast as I used to be, so going out like I did back then only ends up hurting. I was comfortably in third when we started the climb up to the mesa, but was passed by one of my fellow Fieldhouse runners - Elizabeth. Her pace was a tad quicker then I felt like running, especially with my head still pounding. So I turned my attention to maintaining my 4th place. After all, fourth was one of the best places regarding points for the Brewer's Cup! As we turned onto Yucca Flats, the wind whipped into action. Yikes! I was able to hide behind some guys for a while, but the wind was persitatant. Everyone had to face it, so I just settled in and ran. This year, the course ran the normal way - counter clockwise on the top of Yucca Flats - but the first few guy most not have gotten the memo! They were going clockwise and we saw them running against traffic on the middle miles. Whoops... at least we were all running the same distance, even if the hills were a little different!

On the sharp turn, I was able to get a quick glance back. I had a long gap ahead to the third place woman and wasn't going to be able to make it up. But there were some women close behind. I had to keep the pressure on or I was going to lose my coveted fourth place. I was starting to feel a little spunkier - the late night was wearing off! Time to start picking up the pace a little! I also knew I need to make up some time and get some distance before hitting the blacktop again. Once I hit the blacktop, I would be able to hide with the 5k runners. That would give me some breathing space, but not enough if I didn't maintain the pace. Sure enough, the crowds in the 5k changed the race. It was crazy this year with the number of 5k runners! Most of them were attentive to the 10k races - more so then last year. I was able to run hard up the last big hill and then the wind again. Wow. The wind was definitely there to play with us as well! And at that point, there was no one to hide from. The turn around at Grandview came quickly - I was able to see the leading women and knew that I was well out of top three. Fourth would have to do. I was also able to see the women behind me. Still close - closer then I would have wanted, but it was all downhill from there. I knew I'd be able to hold on as long as I just kept the pressure on myself to keep running.

After the race, it was time for a few more miles - i.e. Running back to the van. There was plenty of time hanging out waiting for the awards. The Rescue Run is the perfect time to catch up with everyone - start of a new year and everyone has new goals to reach for. Everyone is excited and happy for the start of the year.

Me? After a new bucket list item that I didn't know I had - shutting the bar down!- I was able to come back to the Rescue Run with a good performance. Team Fieldhouse has a solid group this year and I'm looking forward to the rest of the year with the Brewers Cup and getting the points!