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...

Mar 24, 2015

Red Rocks and Fun Trails - Sedona

We spent three days riding at Sedona - Tuesday and then Saturday and Sunday. Nick also got a short ride in Friday. Nick had sent out texts asking for trail beta prior to us leaving St George and gotten plenty of information. With the addition of a map, we were pretty dangerous for getting in some really good riding.

Tuesday - a late start to the day so we could get a map and find the trail head we wanted. The goal was Baldwin, Templeton and HiLine. The parking lot was already crazy, filled with hikers and tourists. Since everyone had suggested HiLine, that was where we headed, clockwise on Baldwin. We didn't realize that HiLine was one way for bikes and had to pause to consult the map. Revamp the plan - and that meant dealing with the hikers. Amazingly, most of them were super polite and eager to watch us ride up some of the tight rocky switchbacks. Then we were traversing the edge of a slick rock mesa. Easy riding at that point, but very cool with huge views of the red rocks and formations. We climbed up Slim Shady, looking at the lines for coming down. Luckily, there weren't many riders and we had a clear run for the climb. And then we were at the junction point with HiLine. A large sign warned that it was an experts only trail with cliffs and technical riding. Nick immediately got excited. But we did have more climbing to do, on a narrow trail high above the valley. In places, the trail felt like it was painted on the cliff, winding between the trees and rocks. We reached a lookout and the trail tipped downhill. Time for some fun! A faint white line led the way down the red rocks, with some big drops and high cliffs. And then... I rode down one drop and saw Nick off his bike scouting the next line. He got back on and rode it all, but I decided to walk it. I rode the next few things, but quickly found myself walking again. Too steep and big consequences for that early in the trip. But it was still fun - just a little big for me. Nick rode all but one chunk and had a big grin when we rejoined Baldwin. Our first taste of Sedona riding was awesome. We debated staying a little longer and riding more, but decided to head south to Phoenix. More exploring to do!

At the over look on HiLine - trail far below us. And we got photo bombed by the dog!
After our time in Phoenix, we decided that more time in Sedona would be an ideal way to spend the weekend. We got there early enough Friday for Nick to head out for a solo mission while I played porch monkey on the very comfortable porch of Sedona Bike and Bean. Amazing how quickly time passes with a nice beverage and awesome company. Becky and Eszter (in town for the Sedona Big Frigging Loop) were already occupying the porch when when I walked in (walked right past them without noticing!) and I joined them and the parade of people to chat with. Before long, Nick reappeared. He joined us on the porch and we all hung out for a bit longer. Then it was time to retire to the campsite. Becky's directions got us there in time for dinner and more bike talk. Trails, bikes and the beauty of planning for no plans.

Sunset from camp - no rain, but plenty of lightening from that cloud
Becky and Eszter got up early for the race. We got to the Bike and Bean early enough to see them off and then get some coffee. For us, it was a piggy day. High on the Hog, Hog Heaven and Hog Wash... I have never ridden trails that were so much fun. Even the well traveled Little Horse was fun - both up and down. Another "experts only, expect cliffs" sign greeted us at the junction of High on the Hog. And this time, they meant it with the cliffs! The trail was a narrow, two foot at the most in places, ribbon on the red rocks. Nick loved High on the Hog and Hog Heaven - we actually did a mini loop to be able to ride Hog Heaven twice. He wanted to do High on the Hog a second time, but I vetoed that - getting tired. I loved Hog Wash - a little lower on the cliff but just a much fun. My favorite part was when the trail zigged and zagged down a series of waterfalls and washes. There were a few chunks where the trail fell away into air, but I handled it well. And then I got to chick a bunch of guys on Little Horse... Nick rolled through the group standing around as they sessioned one of the rock sections. They ignored him and kept talking. And then I came around, riding the rocks with confidence. A sudden silence and I could feel all eyes watching me.

Being a tourist and taking a photo of the city sign!

Sunday presented a choice - stay and do an easier ride or move on. I voted to stay - ride some of the lower trails like Slim Shady and Easy Breezy and Llama. Didn't take much convincing for Nick to agree. I could tell it was getting close to rest day time, but the loop we did was perfect. Not highly technical, but not ridiculously easy. Just right. We headed out on Slim Shady and took Templeton around to Easy Breezy. Completely different riding then the other days - meandering along and across a wash below the main highway. We did climb up Little Horse again, but just to Llama. Lots of armored ups and downs on Llama - chunky but all rideable if you were ready for them. Nick gave me a bailout of just taking Slim Shady back, but I wanted to try Made in the Shade. Happy I did. Yes, it was hard riding up and down but nothing I couldn't handle.

The only place we stopped on Made in the Shade to take pictures! And not a rock in sight...
I wish we'd taken more photos during the weekend, but the emphasis was on riding bikes. Not much time to stop and take photos. But I am pretty sure we will be back - we might even try the SBFL next year!

Mar 22, 2015

True Grit Epic

True Grit Epic - the first big race of the season and a new race to boot. There were sections of the course I'd ridden a few times (Zen) a few I'd only ridden once (the Barrel Rides and Barrel Rolls as well as Stuki Springs) and some I had no clue about (Bear Claw Poppy and Rim Runner) - stringing all together would be a challenge. It was also the first chance to test out my training and see if short and hard on snow would translate into  long and hard on rock and dirt. Adding to my stress was also the fact that this was the first big race that would see both Nick and I out on course at the same time. He had opted to race Men's Open instead of single speed this time and so would be starting with me and finishing well ahead of me. So I was a little nervous at the start and very quite - focusing on the 50 (or so) miles ahead of me. There was a very tough field assembled in the women's race and I knew making it into top five would be a challenge. Surviving the start had to be the first order of priority though - it was a mile and a half of black top followed by a steep dirt road climb. I was worried about an aggressive start and getting left behind before the race even really began. Luckily, the start was fast but mellow. I hit the dirt road just behind Wendy Lyall and with Liz Carrington. A decent position. The scariest part of the race was actually the high speed run down Cove Wash. It's one thing to make that ride with a few other people; a completely different picture when it's race crowded and race paced. I had to be very conscientious about my lines and aware of where everyone around me was. 

And then the climbing of the Barrel Ride section began. The top three women had already vanished ahead - far enough out of sight to almost be out of mind. But I could still see Wendy and I was playing tag with Liz the entire time. I'd catch and pass her, she would re-pass me a few minutes later. No matter how much I tried I couldn't make a move stick on that first section. Part of the problem was I wasn't willing to go red that early in the race with the most technical sections coming up still. And Wendy was still just ahead, slowly stretching the elastic. Again, I wasn't willing to push it to catch up to her wheel. To make matters more challenging, the first wave of the age group men who had started seven minutes behind me were now catching up. Wendy's white jersey quickly blended in with the stream of riders effectively rendering her out of sight. On one of the last descents before the long climb up to technical section, I finally got a bit of a gap on Liz. I didn't know how much or if it would hold, but it was enough for me to be able to switch my focus to the upcoming descent. I caught a peek of Wendy running her bike up one of the climbs on the traverse - not as far as I thought but now too far to try to chase down. 

And then it was my turn. Making the left hand turn into the singletrack of Barrel Ride, I flipped my suspension from climb to trail. Time to ride. Down the first little descent and up the chunky ledgy climb - humbling some of the guys around me. Yes I was riding my bike, not pushing! And then - there it was. The guy in front of me paused at the top and dismounted. I dinged my bell and he moved out of the entrance. With my saddle lowered and the line painted in my mind, I pointed the bike down the rocks. First drop done, weight back and no front brake. Control the speed over the little traverse and into the next drop. Not as smooth as I wanted, but it was good. Just the final turn and rock garden left. To the whoops and cheers of the spectators, I wrestled my bike back onto the line, making the last right hand turn. As I rolled out of it and started the descent into the canyon I was hooting. Hadn't really anticipated being able to ride it all with the number of riders around me! Nothing but compliments from the guys. My moment of celebration was short lived - I was still in the middle of a race and still had the Zen loop to ride.

Through the aid station - didn't need anything yet and onto Zen. I settled into a hard and steady tempo, tapping out a nice rhythm on the pedals as I climbed. The chunky rock moves seemed easier this time - only my fourth lap around Zen and I was finding peace with the rocks. I was actually riding everything on the climb except one thing - a steep ascent with some tight rocks, big ledges and a cliff to the right. No one around me actually made that, so I didn't feel bad about walking. The rest of Zen went very smoothly - able to muscle through all the big moves and pick solid lines over and around the rocks. I was getting a lot of compliments - both on how well I was riding and the ease at which I was allowing passes to happen. I missed one more thing on Zen - the steep rocky climb back onto the single track after the short road section. Oh well - gives me something to work on for next year. At the aid station, I just refilled the bottle on my bike. Had originally planned on taking a fresh bottle and not stopping, but the larger bottles they were using didn't fit well on my bike. 

Now came the fitness part. A few technical things down from the Mesa to the valley (not being entirely sure where I was going, I ended up taking the middle finger down...) and some big whoops that meant for some fun air. But mostly, Bear Claw Poppy was fast, flowy and benefited people who'd ridden it a few times. I settled in behind one of the guys, a little slower then I wanted, but still quick. And I could read the lines based off his reactions. As we made the wide turn to head back uphill and to the west, I saw green helmet with green socks. It was Liz and she was gaining quickly. My break on Barrel Ride hadn't been enough. I debated going again, sprinting away, but opted not. She was gaining. Let her make the catch and I could follow her for a bit. So that what I did. She passed me and I latched onto her wheel, trying to stay right behind her. At first, she kept pulling away and I'd have to dig to catch back on. But as the long gradual climb dragged on with no sight of the turn, it was getting easier to stay with her. I was actually having to back off on the steeper hills to not run into her rear tire. (Which I did once, sorry.) I knew I was going to have to do something - try to attack again and make an escape. But where? With the gradual climb, I didn't really see any good places to try and make a move. A few minutes later, I saw it. The steepest and longest of the hills and an immediate fast descent. As we started up the hill, I bolted. Digging deep and powering up the hill to reach the super fast descent first. I had a gap. Not much of one, but a gap. Now to make it stick. 

There were two more sections of trail left - Rim Runner and Barrel Roll. Rim Runner was a short and steady climb followed by a fast road descent. It did have an out and back which afforded me my first look at Wendy since the start. Only about 10 minutes ahead of me. The other constant was the bobbing green helmet in the back ground. About a quarter mile behind me - not dropping off pace but not getting any closer. With maybe 45 minutes left in the race, I had to keep that gap. Another quick pit stop to refill my water bottle and I was off onto Barrel Ride. I'd ridden that loop once before, but slow and easy. There was nothing slow and easy about this ride. Pushing hard, focused on the trail and trying to keep up with the guys around me. We were also starting to catch some of the 100 mile racers who'd started an hour before us. They had another loop yet to do! There wasn't much technical on Barrel Rolls, but plenty of undulating switchbacking singletrack. I could see Liz a few switchbacks behind me, still there, just close enough to be a threat. Into the one technical descent and traverse - finding my best line down and focusing on riding my bike. I almost made the traverse but slid out on one rock. Didn't dwaddle getting back on the the bike and cleaned the climb back up. Riding scared the rest of Barrel Roll, I blazed through the final check point. Just a little more singletrack and then the road back to the finish. Had a guy pass me just before the singletrack and tell me that the next girl was only 45 seconds back. Yikes. One last climb and we turned left - down the road and onto blacktop. I swung wide coming off the dirt, holding onto all of my speed and sprinted. With just a mile left I had no other choice but to dig despite the fatigue in my legs. I caught up with the guy who'd given me the time gap. He glanced back at me, shifted a few times and pointed at his wheel. Never one to turn down a free pull, I latched on. We time trialed down the main highway. As we approached the finish, I eased up, planning on letting him finish ahead of me for the pull. But he had other plans and waved me through. Okay! 

Nick was waiting for me at the finish. He had a sprite and water for me, having finished about half an hour ahead of me, 43rd overall and 23rd in Open Men. I'd finished fifth woman in 4:26:16 and was 96th overall. Not bad for our first trip to the desert. Looking forward to next year!

Congratulations to Joey Lythgoe (3:52:17) Karen Jarchow (4:01:02) KC Holley (4:07:33) and Wendy Lyall (4:14:37) for claiming the top spots on the podium. 


Mar 13, 2015

Return to Zen... And Barrel Ride

It's a good thing plans are loose when on vacation. We'd originally planned on skiing at Brian's Head on Thursday, but decided against it given the forecast for early morning rain. When we woke up at seven to the sounds of rain drops (and a rather rude truck idling behind the van) it was time to head straight to St George. Not skiing would give us a chance to ride one more lap of Zen to stretch the legs from the drive. We weren't the only ones with that idea. Plenty of other riders were already prepping for singletrack when we rolled up. We didn't ride right away - eating breakfast and then snoozing for a bit. Neither one of use had slept all that well.

But once it was time to ride, we were both ready. It was only my third lap on Zen and I was hoping it wouldn't be as rough as my first two. And it wasn't. I needed a little bit to remember what to do with my suspension - I think I've only riden on dirt once since the start of the year! And the body English for maneuvering the bike around the multiple rocks and steps ups also was a little slow in returning. But overall, I was much happier with this ride. I didn't remember everything, but felt much more comfortable riding. Rocks that had worried me last November looked much smaller and I was picking my gears smarter. I didn't ride everything - fumbling two rock step ups and two steep climbs - the first one overlooking the valley below and then the last little bit of the entrance back onto Zen after the road. I did make the really ugly steep climb in the middle of the travers along the mesa edge. Everything on Zen felt good, fun and I was confident in my lines. Something I would need come race day when I would have more wheels around me then just Nick. (We did not do the Slickrock section or the drop into the wash during the race, but did go back after to work on it. And I made everything but that sharp right turn over the drop and between the boulders. Something to work on for later.)
Zen - just a baby rock to huck

Friday was for checking out the start area and the Barrel Ride chunk of trail. We parked at the entrance to the dirt and followed the orange flagging. Some fast, rutted road sections before diving into the wash, a ledgy climb up a narrow canyon and then we were on the mesa. Up and down, steep road and singletrack climbs winding higher on the mesa, then fast and loose double track descents plunging right down to the base. We repeated the pattern several times - up, up, traverse and down. Sometimes the climbs were steep and straight up the road, others a more gradual affair on rocky singletrack. I knew there was something big coming up - had heard all about the technical drop on Barrel Ride - but didn't know when. We'd been told we know when we got to it. 

And we did. Rolling along the traverses along the Mesa, then the trail turned sharply to the right and disappeared - makes by skid marks on the rocks and a white line. I took a glance down the rocks and eyeballed the line. Just the line, avoiding looking at the consequences and backed up. Dropper post down, clipped in and off we went, me following Nicks wheel to follow his line. First drop down, wrestling the bike around the next rocky turn and turn for the next one.  Weight back, light covering but not touching the front brake. One more little drop to conquer - but the hard right turn got to me. I bailed and walked the final little drop. Oh well. Not bad for my first run down. The rest of Barrel Ride was just as fun - swoopy descent, rock ledges and steep little climbs. We were almost sorry to see that section of trail end. For that ride, it meant an easy pedal back up the wash to the car. Now during the race? It would mean Zen...

Mar 10, 2015

Mineral Belt Mayhem

The third race in the Leadville Winter Bike series - the Mineral Belt Mayhem. On paper, it seemed pretty straight forward - one big lap around town on the Mineral Belt Trail with a few miles of groomed singletrack thrown in for fun. Logistically simple as well - starting and finishing right down town on Harrison Ave. Except for one minor detail - the Leadville Skijoring... Yep. A sport I've never heart of - horses pulling skiers through an obstacle course at full gallop - had completely taken over the down town area. Nick and I watched a little - just the small jumps, not the big course - and it was pretty cool. Lots of standing around waiting for five seconds of action as the horse came tearing past. And I think most people were hoping for carnage at the end of every jump... At registration, we found out that the finish would be us at full sprint down the skijoring course....

I didn't warm up as much as I normally do. The warm and mild temperatures of the day were quickly giving way to the freezing dark and the roads were getting icy. Nick almost wiped out hard while we were pedaling and that was enough. No sense in ending the race before it started! I took a few more laps up and down the skijoring snow, looking for the smooth lines and the ways to cross the horse area. Didn't know how important that would be later.... 

There was a "neutral" start to escort us to the isolation and groomed snow of the Mineral Belt. Knowing how much important being in the front group would be, I worked hard to stay there. And as expected, when the car pulled off and we hit snow, things got interesting. The leading men all sprinted away. One of the Leadville locals pulled along side me and looked to ride away like she'd done at the start of the second race. I wasn't having it this time. I took a few chances on the not quite as packed lines and powered away, propelling myself into the fading light. I knew I was in the lead, but figured she was just behind me. I couldn't let up, not with the thought of her right behind me. The starting climb was long - almost four miles, gaining over 500 feet. It was just long enough to start getting demoralizing as each bend revealed lights higher on the hill. Then finally - below us, far down in the valley. Time to start descending! 

The descent on the Mineral Belt was long enough to nearly give me the chills. Then we were climbing again. I knew it wasn't far until the singletrack section. I still had no clue what my gap was to second. I just wanted to get to the singletrack clear of anyone so I could ride my own course through the trees. Mission accomplished - I was a few hundred yards behind the guy in front of me and well clear of the lights behind me. And wow - this was my first taste of sustained groomed singletrack and I can see why the Cloud City Wheelers were so excited to get the groomer. It was awesome - a real trail winding through the trees, twisting and turning at every opportunity. Keeping speed was a challenge as I had to slow for many of the tight corners to avoid washing out in the snow or hitting a tree. I couldn't tell if the lights behind me were getting closer or not - I couldn't tell where anyone was in relation to me, the trail twisted so much. 

And then we were back on the Mineral Belt for the final push to the finish. Another long sustained climb to the top of Harrison Ave, with me just focusing on the lights ahead of me and trying not to look back. At the turn into Harrison, the guy in front of me paused, not seeing the little arrow directing us to the right. I told him we needed to turn and kept pedaling. Only to find him sprinting past me as we crested the hill... Well then. Given that he'd not been the most polite when he passed me - barely making the pass then slowing just before he pulled in to the track and sprinting when I repassed him to prevent me from getting around, I wasn't going to go down without a fight. Or at least a sprint to the finish. Happy I'd studied the lines in the skijoring course, I tucked in behind him. When I found my opening and sprinted around, he couldn't match the acceleration. 

Turned out I hadn't need to keep running like a scared rabbit on that last climb. I had a decent gap to second place. But I hadn't known that at the time and it's always better to keep pushing hard then wonder "what if." Huge thanks to Cycles of Life for hosting us this time and to Melanzana for providing the awards. Love the hoodie! My Exposure Lights Diablo and Six Pack performed flawlessly, lighting up the night. While I didn't have hot apples and cinnamon in my bottle, Skratch Labs definitely kept me hydrated in the dry two mile high air. Looking forward to the final race in the series on April 18th - but first... 

True Grit in St George! 

Mar 6, 2015

February in the Rearview Mirror

Even without racing at Old Pueblo this year, our February was just crazy busy. Instead of one being race, we were doing something every weekend - cramming a lot of activities into such a short month. It all started with the Super Half Marathon on the first. I raced and Nick supported and heckled. He's very good at heckling - even when I'm having a sub-par race for me.

The next weekend? Tennessee Pass Night Jam - the second race in the Leadville WinterBike series. Of course, we didn't just ride - we also practiced with our skinning gear before the race and then spent a bluebird day at Ski Cooper working on our downhill technique. Nick is getting much better - compared to the first time I went skiing with him. I might not be able to keep up with him soon!

Stopping to watch the racing happening at Ski Cooper

A weekend at home for Valentines Day with a fancy dinner? Yeah right! Not in this family... Instead of flowers and candy, I got a nice three hour mountain bike ride in the canyons of Lake Pueblo State Park. Up and down, up and down - working on reading the trail and some sections of trail I have never ridden. It was sunny and warm and we were able to ride on dry trails. Can't ask for much more then that in the middle of February.
The "Big Line" on Free Ride - that rock just drops away into the bridge... And don't deviate from the line!

And then the snow hit... From record highs to record snowfall. Time to hit the snow with the planks. We went to Monarch Pass to do some baby backcountry skiing. I call it baby backcountry because we were never far from the road or the car - but deep in the trees and deep in the powder. Literally. It was waist deep in places - leading to big grins and lots of fun. Plenty of trees and we earned all our turns. Four short runs with the skinning up between each run. Each time, the routine became easier for the transition between uphill and downhill. And that was just Saturday. On Sunday, we played in bounds at Monarch, staying out of the wind in the trees. Again, Nick is getting better - we were both doing runs he wouldn't have tackled last year. It was bitterly cold, but the fresh snow falling made it all worth it. We were able to find deep powder stashes on almost every run.
Stopping at the top to switch from up hill to down hill mode... Camera fuzzy from the snow falling!

Fresh powder at Monarch? Yes please! Nick coming out of the trees.

Thanks to the snow, the last weekend of February was one for the Fatbikes. Two days, two hard rides in untracked snow. Even fourth in line on Saturday meant having to pedal down hill. And Sunday was just as hard at CMSP - there was no tracking in - just snow. Up on Blackmere it was well over knee deep and made for some hard riding (and some pushing.)

At the junction of Blackmere and Boulder Run - the snow wasn't deep here, but it would get deeper quickly.