Transcendence

Most people do crazy stuff when they turn 40 - the classic midlife crisis type affair. There's buying a snazzy new car (does a 4WD Merce...

Jul 29, 2014

Hike-a-bike

Usually, it's something to be avoided. The dreaded hike-a-bike. Instead of steady pedaling up fun trails, hike-a-bike involves pushing, carrying or dragging my bike up unridable trails - or trails that would take more energy then it's worth to ride. Most people - myself included - try to plan routes to ride our bikes, not take them for a stroll. But...

There are two seperate hike-a-bikes seperating aid station one and aid station two during Vapor Trail 125. A short, maybe 10 minutes to the roof of the continent over the Alpine Tunnel. And then dreaded Canyon Creek - 30 minutes at least of shelping my bike over rocky steps and up boulders. At night, at 12,000 feet.  Those two sections are both challenging under any circumstances - it will be a different world at night, with miles under the tires already. Hike-a-bike is a skill, like hucking off rocks or finding the right lines thru tight trails. But it's not a fun skill, so gets neglected until absolutely needed and then we find ourselves cursing the same machine that will provide hours of fun.

We wanted to make sure that doesn't happen. So instead of avoiding the hike-a-bike and searching out fun singletrack, this weekend was all about the hike-a-bike. On Saturday, we had a nice plan on the map with two separate sections of hike-a-bike. The first, in the shadow of St Peters's dome, was actually mostly rideable, but that wasn't the point. The point was to get comfortable pushing or carrying my bike. I know that the Stumpy carries a little differently then my Camber, but the general idea is the same. That was a pretty easy little chunk of hiking, but Nick warned me the next would be harder. And it was - a wide, rock filled trail marked by cairns, leading straight up the slope. It was like a mini canyon creek, but without the altitude! And it was hard - finding solid footing among the loose rocks, and figuring out how to drag the bike up the slope. Practice for later...
Pushing my bike near the top of the second hike-a-bike. Practice makes easier...


The trail led to an overlook reviealing views of the city and surrounding mountains. We could see the next trail we wanted - across the valley. We needed to get on one of the jeep roads to get back to the trail. But it was a network of faint roads back there - we took a few sucker trails, but finally made it to the trail junction. Just like at canyon creek, the hike-a-bike would be followed by a fun descent. We ended up taking St Mary's down instead of Pipeline - it was getting late and storms were building..
 
Nick surveying the spiderweb of trails and roads from the top of the hike-a-bike


Jul 24, 2014

Into the inferno...

Okay, it might not have actually been that bad. But it was bad. I'm better at managing heat then I used to be, but yesterday was kinda nuts. It was already 90* when I got home from work and the hottest hours were yet to come. I knew it would be rough and had frozen one water bottle near solid and had plenty of ice in my hydration bladder. I was off into the shimmering heat of Chyenne Canon - planning on two trips up for my workout. I was sweating before I got halfway through Stratton, a glistening sheen of moisture on my arms. And then I reached the gate and started up the first time. That glow of sweat quickly became rivulets streaming down my face and back. The air was heavy and still with the heat, like the blast from an oven. I started out strong, but as the salt caked my jersey and the sweat stung my eyes I was struggling. Despite being on my Fate and having the low MTB gear range instead of my road bike, I couldn't get the cadence up. It should have been easy to just spin up the black top, but it wasn't. At the gravel parking lot, I sucked down some fluids - so happy for the ice in the bladder - it was still cold! Then back down to the bottom to do it all over again. Hoping for smoother and more focused - but it wasn't happening. Started slower, but with the goal of bringing up the intensity as I climbed. My glasses were coated with a salty sheen from the sweat pouring down my face. The canyon walls reflected the midday sun down onto my back as the blacktop burned into my face. Halfway up and I was dying - fighting against the bike instead of being one with the machine. I'd opted to ride my Fate for the traction coming down - there were piles of gravel all over the road from the rain last week. I wouldn't have wanted to hit any of them on my road bike! But for the climb, it was not fun. Workouts aren't supposed to fun, but riding my bike it supposed to be enjoyable. And with the furnace conditions I was facing in the canyon, it wasn't. I reached the top again and went in search of shade.

I still had an hour or two left to ride. My previously frozen water bottle was lukewarm, but I polished it off. I needed the fluids badly. My arms were crusted in white and my sunglasses needed a scrubbing before I could continue. I wasn't looking forward the rest of the ride - my legs were aching from the workout and the heat. But off I went - to be treated to some empty trails, which led me to a longer then planned ride. I guess I was the only one stupid enough to try to ride in the middle of the day! I did bump into to some friends and rode with them for a little near the end - we all agreed it was a little toasty out... Heat training is good, but that was a little crazy. Unfortunately, there are a few more hot days forecasted. Have to keep focused on the goal, not the conditions. 

Jul 23, 2014

Consistency

A hallmark of endurance racing - consistancy over time. Consistancy was one of my goals at the Ascent Cycling Series CMSP 50 mile race. It was nine laps of a 5.2 mile course - one with a decent amount of climbing, some very technical rock gardens and a fun descent. So consistancy would mean staying steady on the climb, smooth thru the rock gardens and safe on the descent - over extend on any section and the next one would suffer. Especially in the last few laps. Another goal was to meet or hopefully beat my time from last year, even with another five laps to ride. We raced four laps on the same course last year and I'd finished in 2:24:51. So - there were a few things I was looking at during the entire race, besides the usually hydration and food.

One thing I did differently this year was a slower first lap. I hadn't had a chance to preride and I didn't know how the recent rainstorms would have affected the trails. With nine laps at least, there was plenty of time to learn the lines - so that first lap was more a preride then anything. Kept it steady, figured out where the ruts were, how to maneuver over the rocks and where to watch out for things. (If only I had been able to remember that darn tree on Boulder Run - almost every lap got smacked in the right thigh...) As a result, I came through the first lap in about 35:30 - two minutes slower then last year's first lap. Had I only been doing four laps, I would have been concerned at that point. But I'd made a concerted effort to stay well below threshold for those first few laps - hoping to either build into a faster pace at the end or just stay consistent. I'd also seen my lap times drop precipitously over the last three laps last year. I knew I would have a much better race riding smart.

And consistency was the name of the game. Laps 2-5 were all within one minute of each other. I came thru lap four at 2:24:47 - seconds away from my four lap time from the year before.Perfect. Kept the climb under control and smooth on the technical stuff. Even with the fatigue from the distance, I was still riding most of Cougar's Shadow. I did slow down more then I wanted on six and seven - was walking the entrance into Cougar's at that point. I also think the heat and humidity was starting to affect me - I was drinking nearly a full bottle on each lap. I'd also made a mistake starting my fourth lap - I'd opted to roll through and not grab the full bottle offered. I though I had more in the bottle on my bike then I really did. As a result, I'd ridden most of the lap without any fluids. Whoops. I don't know how that honesty affected me - outside of the mental aspect. But I was able to recover from that error and stay focused on the race. 

So after looking at the results from last year and this year. I'm pretty happy. I didn't have any power data either year - my hub was being repaired at that time last year and I rode the camber this year. Opted for the heavier, but more fun bike since there's plenty of rocks at CMSP. But based on all the other variables, there's been good improvement in both fitness and technical ability over the past 12 months. I need to keep focused on the improvement and stay healthy - just over seven weeks to go! 

Jul 17, 2014

The crash after the high

When I was running marathons, I'd read about it all the time - the emotional letdown after finishing an event. Never had an issues with it it then - maybe because I always had another race coming up quickly and I used most of them as training for a few key events. When I had great race, I used it more as a learning experience for the next race. What went wrong, despite having a successful race. What worked - in training, recovery and nutrition. There wasn't time to have the let down after a race - it was already time to build up for the next. If I had a bad race, it was the same thing. I always had another marathon in the cue, another shot for redemption. The few really bad races were always followed by some great races and I was honestly reaching way outside my ability levels at that time. So even with the crappy races, I was still pleased with my progress towards the long term goals. I never reached those long term goals, but it was more due to me modifying my goals. It was a similar story from the triathlons. Sometimes I had no goals besides just finishing, other time high expections that I somehow managed to reach. Each race a stepping stone to something else - which kept me focused. 

And now, a month after 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest and I finally understand. I have another big event in September - Vapor Trail 125 - but the last few weeks have been strange. I took the needed recovery in the first few weeks - sleeping and doing what I wanted. Still riding the emotional high of finally reaching one of my ultimate goals. It was great - congratulations from all over, my name out there in the articles. People knew who I was - on almost every ride, someone would stop me and ask about the race. But with any high, comes the crash....

The first hint of the coming crash was during the spectating at the USA Cup at Pulpit Rock. People I knew were racing and doing well. Why wasn't I racing? It was a home course and I should be representing. But while mentally I felt like I should be ready, I knew I wasn't. And that frustrated me - recovery was the primary goal and I felt like I should be recovering faster. And the next two weekends - two big races with lots of friends toeing the line. I did get some solid training in but still could sense the deep fatigue. Still tired, stiff and just not 100% and by now - I should be. I've never needed this much time to recover after a race. I saw another friend having fantasic race at the Breck 100 - and she'd ridden just as much in June as I had! I love that race - I wanted to be there, riding over the continental divide three times. Frustration because I wanted to race, wanted to feel spunky and recovered again.

But the final piece of the emotional crash was the anonymity of the weekend. I can ride my bike - I have the technical skills to keep up with many guys. Yet every time we caught a group of men over the weekend it was the same thing. "Oh shit, a girl is getting ahead of us. That's gonna just ruin the rest of the ride." Did it matter that we'd just caught them? Obviously I'm moving a little faster then they were. Did they even realize that we'd not taken the shuttle up, instead climbing to the divide? No - but that wasn't the point. Deep down I knew, but I was hoping that there might be a glimmer of recognition - that girl's in the blue and yellow of Procycling.... But there was none of that. Just the traditional pony tail factor that I've been dealing with for years. 

Ugh. I'd had a great weekend, showing some fabulous fitness gains coming off 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest. I'd gotten on some new singletrack and put together a few more pieces for Vapor. But the reaction of the guys on Silver Creek soured it - what more will I have to do to finally earn the respect of other riders? Maybe it's not so much a post race let-down, but still. I've put some much work into the last six months, have achieved something very few people ever will and still remain an "obstacle" on the trail. How much longer will it take before people see the ponytail and don't automatically assume that I'm going to be in the way, that I can't ride or that I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing? 

Jul 16, 2014

Lentils and Collard Greens

This year, I've been trying something new - a CSA share full of veggies and such. More on that later - but one issue I've had is how to use up some of the awesome greens I've gotten. Example one - collard greens. I've never cooked with collard greens before and the few experiments I did with the first batch weren't all that tasty. Then a coworker suggested steaming them overnight with bacon - getting the flavor of the bacon and softening the greens to point they could be eaten. Now, I didn't see the point of just cooking the collard greens if I could make a full meal with little fuss. Hence the lentils. Cooking is an inexact experiment and art form in my house, so this is more of a guideline then a recipe. I was also trying to use up a few of the items from my box besides the collard greens...

In a slow cooker or crockpot, combine:
- about 1.5-2 cups of lentils
- six (or more - depending on how meaty you want it) slices of uncooked bacon, chopped into small pieces
- 5 cups water
Salt, chipolte pepper, tumaric, and other seasonings
Cook the lentils and bacon overnight on low. 

The next morning, give the lentils a stir and add:
- two bunches of collard greens, washed and chopped - you can use more or less depending on how much you have to use
- two leeks (or other onion like green), chopped
- one garden onion, chopped
- bulb and greens of fennel, chopped,
- 1 cup chopped parsley
-  a few garlic scapes chopped fine (just found out what they were!)
- clove or two of garlic, chopped
- another 1-2 cups of water. 
Garlic scapes -who knew? Learning about some interesting things with my box...

Turn cooker up to high and bring to boil while getting ready for work. Turn it back down to low, give it another stir and add 1-2 cups of wild rice, depending on how much liquid you added earlier. Cook for the rest of the day. The lentils will get nice and soft, the collard greens palatable and the rice will absorb the water, while making a complete protein for the dish. Like I said before, cooking is an experiment in my house - feel free to make any modifications you want or add different spices. Carrots near the end stage of cooking would be yummy. I also used some fresh basil this time .

Jul 15, 2014

Dodging Rainbows

Day two of our three day exploration weekend. We'd discused paying for the Monarch Crest shuttle and doing the entire section from the pass on - including Starvation and Poncha. But neither of us were motivated to get up early enough for the 8:00 shuttle and the 10:00 would be too late. So we decided to ride back up Poncha Creek and join the Crest at that point. We'd miss the fun alpine sections from Monarch to Marshall, but it would still be a solid ride and tackling Silver Creek and Rainbow after the Poncha climb was something I was nervous about. So off we pedaled, back up to the 11,000" and Continental Divide. We would earn our fun on Silver Creek... The climb up Poncha seemed easier this time - knowing how long it was and the twists and turns helped. Will I remember come September? Who knows. I was able to set a nice steady and sustainable tempo. Hard enough to keep it honest - I was actually able to keep up with Nick and even force the pace a little! But not so hard that I wouldn't be able to ride smart and fast come the singletrack. It doesn't matter how fast you climb if you crash because you're blown! I was also paying more attention this time - where I could eat and drink in preparation for the coming Colorado Trail. That's the point of scouting - besides having fun!
Yep - Poncha Creek is gonna be a sucker punch in September...


As we got closer to the pass, I commented to Nick about how many shuttled we might see. After all, the 8:00 shuttle usually doesn't disgorge it's herd until close to 8:30 and few riders get going until 8:40. There was a chance we'd see a few. It was 10:27 when we crested the summit of Marshall Pass. There was no way we'd see anyone from the 10:00 shuttle, but we quickly started catching riders when we joined the Colorado Trail. 

I'd forgotten how much climbing there still is after Marshall Pass. Wow. Things to remember and budget for on the morning of September 7th. Nick was riding his pace - forcing me to pedal hard on everything to keep up. I remembered bits of the trail from the last time we'd ridden it and was able to stay smooth and flow on the singletrack. And it was fun. I was taking some chances, but riding within myself. I needed to keep my focus on my lines and not try to chase Nick. We passed a few more groups of riders, always smiling and being nice. Flowing though dark pine forests and open alpine meadows filled with flowers, just enjoying the ride. We rolled through the tight switch back, noting a trail heading off due south, then the steep grunter of a double track climb and then the drop into Silver a Creek. 

A group of guys was standing at the entrance to Silver Creek, near blocking the trail. Nick rolled through and vanished down the singletrack. I followed confidently - well aware of the glares from the clustered guys. A pointless glare - they weren't even ready to ride at that point! And the snarky "crap, a girl," comment disappeared on the wind as I dropped my saddle and entered the singletrack. I wouldn't see them again. But there were plenty of other guys who either gave me dirty looks or didn't want to get chicked down the descent. To each one, I just smiled and said "thank you" in my most feminine voice. If you're gonna pull out just in front of us to prevent the girl from passing, you should be fast enough to actually stay infront... But I digress - the focus of ride was to work hard ride smooth and have fun. Not get frustrated by the still evident ponytail factor. 

Silver Creek was awesome. Nick dropped me quickly, leaving me to find my own lines and ride my own pace. Which was good. I need to be more self reliant on my lines and confident of my riding abilities.  Nick did wait in several places as he always does, but never let me stop to rest. Just ride - eyes on the trail, launch the rocks if possible, pick the fastest and smoothest lines. I felt a lot more confident and comfortable and was enjoying the trail. No panicked, fingers clenched around the bars, holding the brakes for dear life this time. I'm not sure I could have gone much faster - I was so close to my limits. Processing the trail, picking my lines was mentally consuming. No time for sightseeing or pictures.

The only picture from Silver Creek and Rainbow - Nick was more interested in riding then photos this time!
I was hoping for a respite on Rainbow. But it was not to be... We'd just passed a large group of guys and Nick wanted to stay ahead of them. So no break. We blasted right through the transition from Silver Creek into Rainbow. I found myself rolling right over the rocks on the intial section of Rainbow instead of trying to pick my way around them. This time I was able to remember that every downhill into a gully means a steep, ugly little climb is coming. I also was able to pick better lines through the multiple creek crossings. Nick was still driving, still pushing the pace (for me) on every little climb. I was starting to fatigue a little, but still handling the trail well. Thunderstorms were also starting to build - ominous rumbling mixed with much to close booms. The original plan was to take 203c down from Rainbow - avoid the last few sections of climbing. But when we reached the junction, Nick offered me the choice. Left or straight? Down or continue on the trail. I opted to continue on Rainbow - might as well finish the day out right! Felt a lot stronger on the climbs this time and wasn't struggling on the road back to camp. A successful day of riding and a good confidence builder! One more day left....

Jul 13, 2014

Sampling Starvation

Starvation Creek. It sounds scary. What happened in the hay day railroad and mining history of Salida that would warrant the name Starvation Creek?  Well, I still don't know the answer to that, but I know Starvation is more then a sign off the well traveled Monarch Crest. And that was our goal this weekend - ride a bunch of hours and learn a little more about the Vapor course. With another three day weekend, it was the perfect opportunity for both of us to ride new trails. A later then we wanted start Friday had us rolling up Marshall Pass road just after 10:30. We found a sweet campsite and quickly got ready to ride. Clouds were already forming and we were heading up into the sky to great them. Up Poncha Creek Rd, a gradual climb until the Starvation Creek trailhead. And then it got steep. Very steep, loose and rocky. No talking as we both settled into the business of climbing. Thunder rumbled all around us as the clouds thickened. And still we climbed. The miles creeped by on my Garmin, laughingly slow. It was only five miles to the summit of Marshall, but time was ticking away. All I could think was how horrible the climb would feel come September 7th... We rode all the way out to Marshall Pass Road and quickly donned rain gear for the looming storm.

The never ending climb up Poncha Creek Road. 
Nick getting ready for the drop in to Starvation Creek
Then to Starvation. Another sucker of a climb stood between us and the promise of singletrack. It didn't take long and we almost missed the faint turn off the road. Just a wooden post marking the way - something I will have to remember. As for Starvation Creek? Wow. A mini version of Silver Creek but closer to the water and with bigger consequences for wiping out. The trail was half as wide as anything we usually ride and benched into a steep, near vertical slope at times. We rode through wooded groves and open, flower filled meadows, down steep descents and up punchy little climbs. And too soon, it was over. Crossing a narrow wooden bridge and we were back on the road where we had started. 
Coming down Starvation - thru the deep, dark woods.

A quick stop take rain gear off - the clouds had rumbled but not done anything, and we were riding again. This time down to the Otto Mears road and a steep ATV track to Rainbow Trail. There was some hike-a-bike as we took a lesser traveled trail the followed a creek up. I was starting to get tired and falling off the pace a little as we neared the junction with Rainbow. A short break and it was back on our bikes for the final chunk of Rainbow Trail. I wasn't as smooth as I wanted and was struggling on the climbs, but still in control on the descents. My third time on that segment of Rainbow and I finally felt comfortable riding. As soon as we hit the dirt road climb back into camp however, the wheels came off. I couldn't hold Nick's wheel and was generally ready to be done. And we had two more days of riding!

One of the climbs on Rainbow - suffering at this point...


Jul 8, 2014

Independence Day

I normally work most holidays - but not this Fourth of July! With Nick having a long weekend, I decided it was time to take a day off as well. Not to go any where, but to get up into the mountains and just ride. Two bigger days with a rest day in between would test my still recovering legs. But September is coming up quickly and it's time start getting those longer days on the bike. On Friday, we headed up Gold Camp at a chill pace. Once we got past St Mary's, the road was empty. It was perfect - quiet and just us riding. Nick let me mostly set the pace and we cruised up the hill, meandering away from the noise of the city. I tried to go a little faster, but Nick reigned me in - reminding me that I've only ridden the next two chunks of singletrack a few times. Instead of blowing up on the easy road, I needed to be smart and be ready for the trail. Its something I'm gonna have to remember for later - the roads are easy but real time can be had with the ability to ride downhill and technical singletrack. Time to chill a little - if possible with the heat! When we reached the turnoff, I was nervous - but ready. How would I handle the steep switchbacks and narrow singletrack awaiting me? Well - better then last time on the switchbacks, but the narrowness of the trail was getting to me. Haven't ridden that kind of fun in a while! I was slow on some stuff, but made a few other rocks that I haven't before. One still gets me though - a rock and root combo with a steep drop off to the left. If it was just the rock and root, I'd be find but the drop off gets me very time. There's another rock that's so easy but with such big consequences I've never wanted to try it. Maybe later.
A nice spot for  a snack! Just use and our bikes...

Satuday off. A quiet day getting stuff done around the house. A quilt I've been working on for a while seemed like a perfect distraction. And the rest of the family wanted to help - cats are such good quilters! Or so they think!

Sasha "helping" with tacking down the backing of my quilt

Sunday. It took a while to figure out where we wanted to go and the temperature was climbing quickly. Back up Gold Camp we headed - this time a little faster. My legs were feeling better this trip into the west so I rode a little harder. Cadance has always been a week spot of mine - I'm a masher through and through, so this proved the perfect ride to try to spin a little better. Ugh. I hate high cadance stuff! And I wasn't even spinning that fast! Just something else to pay attention to in the next two months. Road climbs need a better cadance and mashing isn't the smartest plan. Nick was again worried that I was pushing too hard - I've only ridden down St Mary's once before and ended up waking quite a bit that time. Again - I needed to ride steady and at a solid yet sustainable effort level on the railroad grades so I've got the strength to ride hard on the singletrack. Despite the heat, I felt solid and ready to handle the coming descent. And I was. Made the switchbacks I'd missed the first trip down  and was railing the rocky singletrack. My arms were still tired from 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest, but I was enjoying the ride. Up in the woods, away from the crowds of the city. It was awesome. Instead of being freaked out and wanting to walk half the trail, I was looking for the lines and having fun. Lots of talking aloud though.... I even made one switchback that Nick told me not to ride. Not sure how - but I was committed when I heard him say "don't ride it!" Down the rock, make the turn, look and lean - will I make it again? Haven't a clue! But I was excited that I'd managed that one time. We took a back way home, lots of fun singletrack and a bit of soil sampling. Same spot I've wiped out in the last three times I've riden that trail... 

When we got home, we were both tired enough that flopping on the couch seemed like a great idea - even before the heat kicked in! I'm not a fan of those super hot days. Getting up early enough to beat the heat and the crowds is hard. But getting out of town and heading up and west is the perfect solution. I'm sure we will be doing a lot of that this year. 

Jul 1, 2014

The Next Adventure

Time to start looking forward to September and the next big adventure. I've been told this race is as hard or harder then racing for 24 Hours solo - only it's one big loop instead of the many little ones. While there are aid stations along the route, I'll need to be mostly self supported - no stopping every hour for a fresh bike and bottle! There is alpine singletrack, classic Colorado descents, and long hard climbs. You cross the Continental Divide twice and spend miles traversing the edge of the sky. There is night riding - seven hours of darkness - and I'll be be greeting the sun on one of the most demanding technical descent I've ridden. The Breckenridge 100 is an appetizer compared to this - and it kicked me in the tail back in 2012 (the three part novel - part 1, part 2, and part 3)! This is a riders race - where being smart and being prepared trumps pure speed every time.

The Vapor Trail 125. Starting at 10:00pm, heading into the mountains for one hundred and twenty five miles of road, double track and singletrack. The Canyon Creek descent is a favorite of many riders for the miles of uninterrupted singletrack downhill. Now imagine doing that under the gradual lightening skies of dawn - after riding for hours in the darkness. People come from all over the world to ride Monarch Crest. By the time I hit that section on Sunday, the shuttle riders will already be in Salida, drinking celebratory beverages. The Vapor Trail 125 is considered one of the hardest - and most unique - one day races in the country - 20,000 feet of climbing, only dropping below 8000' at the start and finish. Rookies have to submit a race resume proving they have the experience from other big days and races before being accepted to the starting line. 
Just the second crossing....
And this year, on the tenth anniversary of this epic event, I am in. I've dreamed of that 10:00 pm start for years, before I even knew what alpine riding was like. Naive? Back then, yes. And when I finally rode Monarch Crest for the first time, my desire to complete the Vapor Trail was solidified. A challenge to the strongest of riders, physically and mentally. A test of skill, fitness, and desire. A question of equipment selection as much as training. I'm scared, I'm nervous and I'm looking forward to stepping up. Only a handful of women attempt it every year and I want to joint the very elite club of finishers. 

On the dreaded Canyon Creek hike-a-bike last year