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...

May 26, 2015

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

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

The Half Growlers heading making the right turn onto HWY 50
Photo - Matt Burt,

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

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

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

Coming in for the finish

May 6, 2015

April (and May) Showers

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

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

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

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

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

May 5, 2015

Happy Birthday Ride

The beginning of May is a popular time for birthdays in our circle of friends, and this year we were able to join Todd on his birthday ride - which happened to fall on Nick's birthday! I was invited to join the fun this year, since I'm starting to get to the point where I can just barely, almost, kinda hang on to the group. I know in prior years, me attempting to participate in the ride would have been a lost cause - first rock garden and it would have been all over. I was debating the wisdom of joining as we pedaled into Palmer Park - I was already hanging on by coattails, and this wasn't even the full group of guys. The numbers swelled to 13 riders at the meeting point in Palmer Park, all of them fast and skilled riders. I would have my work cut out for me.

My only real goal was to stay smooth on the technical - and with this group, there was nothing but technical riding. It wouldn't do me a lot of good to try to race to keep up if I was constantly missing obstacles. Sure, that meant I was off the back a lot of the ride, hoping for glimpses of brightly colored shorts or helmets through the trees, but I was able to ride 90% of what we did. In between the rocky sections, I would have to gun it to catch back up - or at least decrease the amount of time they spent waiting for me. We started out in Palmer Park, hitting all the fun trails - including some I'd never been on before. Every ride in Palmer Park has to include Little Moab, and this was no different. Nick went ahead of the group to catch the train coming down on camera.

After Palmer Park, it was time for Pulpit Rock. A bit of a road climb to get to the top and the trail entrance, then narrow, twisting singletrack. Again, I was focused on keeping the train in sight - knowing that Nick and Geoff were taking turns kinda riding back so I could see them. Since I haven't ridden much at all in Pulpit, it was a bit of a challenge for me. I didn't know the trails and couldn't plan for what was coming up until I saw it. Made some of the climbs and descents a little tricky! Between constantly looking ahead to see where the group was going and trying to ride new trails at near race pace I was mentally on edge. But was keeping it together - I could tell I was getting tired, but I was still reading the trail and picking good lines. A benefit to being just off the back at times - I was forced into picking my own lines and not blindly following wheels. Until the final descent back to Todd's house - Nick told me to stay a bike length back from him and follow his line. I would not have been able to navigate the tricky rock descent without the guidance of a wheel in that section.

And while I didn't get Nick anything for his birthday - I was able to give him some time on two wheels, riding the kind of trails he loves, almost at the pace he normally rides - with me. Can't ask for much more then that - other then maybe being able to ride at the pace he normally rides!

May 1, 2015

Oil Well Flats

Canyon City really has something neat just north of town - Oil Well Flats. We first rode there last year, after the Growler and the trail system has been expanding thanks to the tireless work of the BLM and the local cycling community. On the last Saturday in April, Nick and I went down there with Shad, Stephanie and Sharley to ride (or run) as much as we could get away with. Nick and I were also hoping to be able to camp down there and ride some more on Sunday, or even dart over to Lake Pueblo on Sunday. But that would be weather dependent...

Steph and Sharley took the maniac otherwise known as Ned the dog and headed off for a run. I was left with Nick and Shad and the prospect of a few hours of very hard riding. And they did not disappoint. I was working hard from the start of the ride, as we headed up the Fire Canyon climb. There were plenty of other riders out and we were constantly keeping an eye up canyon for descending riders. It took me a bit to warm up and get settled at the pace the boys were riding and then I was fine. Not quite keeping them in sight during the descents, but feeling much smoother on the chunky rocks of Island in the Sky. A quick regrouping and they were off again. As we climbed up the double track between Fire Canyon and Unconformity, I was feeling better. We hit the singletrack and while I wasn't on their wheels, I was holding my own. And having fun. It's one thing to just ride the trails - it's a completely different thing to have the guys up ahead and knowing I can fly without worrying.

As we started the descent down Anticline, I was a little worried. The last time we'd ridden at Oil Well Flats, I'd had some issues with one of the A-lines built into that trail. We were riding much faster then that last ride and I was pushing myself to keep up with the guys. Would I balk at the A-lines again or would I just ride right down them without a second thought? Well, there was a second thought - but not long enough to keep me from committing. And as I rolled down the rock face, I had to laugh at myself. What had I been so scared of last time? There was nothing to it! Just a kinda steep rock with a little bit of a blind entrance...

I was starting to jump the little rocks at this point and try to launch the larger ones. I did whack my rear wheel pretty hard one time, but the guys did the exact same thing at the exact same spot, so I wasn't worried. Bikes are meant to be ridden. And that was the biggest difference I noticed between this ride and the last ride down at Oil Well. Instead of just pedaling the bike and steering at times, I was riding the bike. Leaning into corners, moving my entire body with the bike, floating through the rock gardens and over the rocks. It's something I've been working on for the past few years and I finally felt like I had achieved unity with my bike during that ride.

And then it was over. tongue dragging on the ground, completely exhausted yet thoroughly exhilarated with the ride. With clouds moving in and heavy rain forecasted, we hung out for while then bolted for home. Both Oil Well and Lake Pueblo turn to cement clay when its wet and it wasn't worth the risk of getting rained out.