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...

Oct 28, 2015

Gymnastics - or rocks don't make for soft landings.

It is a strange feeling to be fully committed to something and know that you will get hurt. The only question remaining is how badly. Such was my experience on Saturday. At the very end of a fun ride - with snow on the upper reaches of Gold Camp Road and traction for miles on every other trail, we dropped into Strawberry Fields for the final chunk of single track before heading home. Before that came the final obstacle - a five foot rock drop. The rock alone is challenging, but made harder by a very narrow landing zone - bordered on the left by a large tree and on the right a rock filled ravine. After you make it though that, one more challenge remains. A step, rocky kicker of a climb. I've made the rock drop maybe 10 times total - and the entire section only a couple of times. The last time we rode there, I made cleanly all the way through. So I figured that this time would be no different. 

Except it was. I slowed, let Nick clear it and then made the approach. I thought I was where I needed to be - on the line to drop the rocks, squeeze between the tree and the ravine and then power up the other side. But something was wrong. I was too far left and past the point of no return when I realized it. And so there I was, poised at the top of a six foot rock, on the highest entry point with the greatest amount of undercutting. I could picture myself wedging that front tire into the undercut and crashing headfirst into the tree. I was fully committed to something - I just didn't know what. 

Somehow, I managed to keep the front tire rolling and the rear tire in contact with the ground. No endo, although the it was desperately close and I'm still not sure how I'd managed. I was in the clear - I would be able to get up the next section and shake it off. A microsecond later my left grip slammed into the tree. And it wasn't budging. 

The next thing I knew, I was lying in the ravine, my bike tangled in my legs and several rocks digging into my back and shoulder. My helmet was askew and my glasses cadywompus on my face. I thought about moving - untangling myself from my bike, but decided to wait for the boys to come and help. Nick was already down there, asking if I was okay and Matt was right beside him. They could figure out how to get my bike off of me while I did a mental inventory. Was I hurt? My right shoulder was throbbing, my back already bruising from the rocky landing. Both wrists were aching with my left pinky throbbing. I was sure there was more, but agreed with Nick about getting out of there before things really started hurting.

Amazingly, nothing was broken - not even my bike. A testament to my gymnastics skills as Matt said I had plenty of air time in which to play cat. Things are still popping up - my left pinky is a little black and blue and my right shoulder very tender. Man handling the bike for wheelies and such isn't happening too well right now. I also think there's a deep bruise on my right hamstring as well since that went into spasm during a run on Tuesday. But if that's it - I'm lucky. At so many points during that entire sequence, things could have gone very very wrong. And next time I approach that rock, I think I'll take Nick  up on his offer to spot me!

Oct 15, 2015

Into the wind

It's no secret that I've decided that I'm going to do a 50 mile race next year and that I selected the Human Potential Running Series Sheep Mountain 50 in Fairplay as the race of choice. I have 8 months to get ready for the race - and part of the preparation is scouting the course so I know what I need to work on in the training. Just running is good, but it doesn't quite cut it when it comes to training for an ultra! I had a copy of the course map and wanted to focus on what I thought would be the hardest part of the race - the climb up Sheep Mountain. I had a little loop in mind that was about 16 miles, starting out of the Four Mile Campground.
Sunrise from the camp site - a quiet morning except for the wind!

Wind woke me up early. Howling down the gulch, bending the trees and sending dust eddies swirling. It was a chilly wind too - making me nervous about my plan to climb above treeline. If the wind was this strong down along the creek, what would it be like at 12,500? I would find out soon enough.

Sheep Mountain - Starting to wonder what I was thinking!
Things you don't think about, running in city parks every day - the ebb and flow of hunting season. It's currently elk season in Colorado and we'd seen a few hunters out and about while riding the Crest trail. On bikes, it's not that much to think about - our clothes are pretty bright to begin with. No orange, but plenty of vibrant colors from blue to red to yellow. But for running? I hadn't thought that far in advance and hadn't even considered hunting season. I'd brought a navy blue tank top, a pale orange short sleeved and a grey long sleeved for running. My rain jacket on the back of my Rev 1.5 was a nice bright orange, but I wasn't going to be able to run in that. It was chilly, but not that cold! Lucklily, I did have a reddish-orange wool long sleeved that I'd brought to wear around. It wasn't a "running" top, but I could run in it for sure! Bright, noticeable and just want I needed for a measure of safety alone in the woods.
Nick at the Limber Grove trailhead - he would end up doing a five mile hike-run
I had a course map on my phone and figured that would be enough. Time to head out and up! Nick was also planning on running and hiking a little, and offered to let me take one of the maps. I figured the one on my phone would be enough and declined. I had a general idea of where I was going as well. It would be pretty hard to get lost - I hoped.

Limber Grove trail - yes, there is a trail there!
 My first inkling that this was going to be a big - and a little longer day then I had planned was in the first mile of the run. Limber Grove Trail - after crossing the creek, it climbed up for a bit and then into a rocky boulder field with the trail marked by cairns. I opted not to try to run through the boulders, choosing my footing carefully. Then I reached the next trail - and it turned up. Straight up. What what I thinking up. Running was out, power hiking was in. For the next mile, it was a power trudge - hike up to treeline. And once I popped out of the trees, the full force of the wind hit. I was leaning into it, hunched over just to make forward progress as the trail headed west. Thought about turning around, but didn't want to admit defeat. It was just wind! I stopped in a small grove of trees to get my jacket on - the wind was cold! I almost put on my hat and gloves, but opted not to. With the wind howling in my ears, I pressed on.
Horseshoe Mountain - taken from the "safety" of an abandoned mine building to shelter from the wind!

History on the trail - an old mine high above the trees - I couldn't imaging working up there!

And at that point, I was committed. Might as well finish out my loop! Along the traverse of Sheep Mountain, I was a little more protected from the wind. I kept climbing up and up as I crossed the face of the mountain. There was a short little section where I was unprotected from the wind and I was almost blown over a few times! Yikes! I was so happy to finally get back into the trees and start dropping in elevation.

The drop down to Brown's Pass was fun running as the trail meandered lower and lower. Then at Brown's, the course turned right for the race. I turned left, rejoining the trail much further on. There's a whole other loop to explore... Brown's Pass road wasn't easy running. Steep and loose and as I descended, the temperature dropped. I was starting to get a little worried about how long is been gone - I'd told Nick 3 hours and I was at two, with an unknown distance to return to the van. As such, and without a good map, I took the first road turn north I got to. I was sure it was the right road, but hadn't looked close enough at the map to be sure. Without strong glasses, the map on my phone was barely useful. Just enough to not get me completely lost. I still got a little turned around - I'd wanted the second road, not the first and so missed one of the trails I wanted. Oh well! The purpose of the run was to explore, not try to run everything in that area. Having some unknown come July will be good.

View to the east - overlooking South Park, with Pikes Peak in the distance

Oct 11, 2015

Making the most of Fall

We've taken the shuttle to the top of Monarch Pass twice this year. Once for a ride of the last 50 miles of Vapor - the entire Crest trail with the addition of Starvation and Poncha Creek Rd. A worthy use of the ride to the summit. This time, the goal was the two creeks we hadn't ridden yet - Fooses and Greens. After last year's end of season exploring, we knew that we could make a good loop of it and get both descents on one shuttle ride.

Early morning shuttle ride meant I was able to catch the sunrise over S-Mountain while getting coffee
Surprisingly, the only shuttle time Nick was told when he was making plans was 8:00am. Mid 40s down in Salida meant low 30s on top of the pass - burr! I was not overdressed in my wool puffy and wind jacket. At the top, I even had overgloves and headband on - it was that chilly. We were ready for the cold, so when our bikes were unloaded, we were ready to ride. The three of us - Nick, Shad and myself, were the first riders heading down the Crest. I was hoping it would last - while I wasn't moving as slowly as my last trip down the Crest, I was feeling the effects of a lingering and nasty cold. Sluggish is a good word to describe how I was feeling! Which was okay, because the goal of the ride was to be smooth and enjoy the descents - not race the climbs and traverses.

Shad getting the Go-Pro ready for the descent down Fooses
A short break at the top of Fooses and then we dropped in. Fooses was a little damp from frost and the guys took it a little easier at the start. Easy for them - I was still focused and concentrating! Even feeling sick, I was much more comfortable this time down Fooses. Following Shad, I was able to see a few different lines and approaches then what Nick would take. It was nice to be able to follow a new wheel and then have to pick my own lines. Having a completely empty trail was also nice! Fooses is a fun and chunky descent - rooty and wet in places. I really didn't remember anything from the one other time we'd ridden it, so being able to clean the entire trail was a treat. Just as my arms were getting tired from the brakes and throwing my bike around, we popped out at the trail head.
Nick at the top of Fooses - "I can't feel my hands... It's riding time, not chatting time."

Time for the climb back up to the pass! North Fooses - aka the power line climb to the red gate after that first section of singletrack on the Crest. It starts out easy enough - a gentle double track rolling along the creek. But then there's nearly a 180* turn and the road tips straight up. I didn't even bother trying to ride. Just picked up my bike and started hiking. Soon enough, we were back at the gate. Dejavu - and time to tackle the rolling traverse of the Crest again. Legs feeling a little bit more sluggish this time - I just told the guys to ride. I didn't want the pressure of having to think I needed to keep up. It was just about 10:30 and there were a surprisingly large number of people on the trail. (We would find out later that there had be a 10:00 shuttle due to demand.) There were also a lot of people just sitting around on the side of the trail!

If Fooses is chunky, Greens is straight up rowdy. It's one of the more challenging descents coming off the Crest. Unlike Fooses, where it's a near vertical drop in high above the trees, on Greens it's into the trees right away. Rocky in spots, flowing in others, and plenty of roots to balance out the challenges.  Last year, I was on the limit trying to follow Nick down Greens at half speed. This year, it was the second big descent of the day and I was having fun and holding my own. Granted, Nick and Shad were still stopping and waiting for me in places, but I wasn't overwhelmed by the trail. It's a nice feeling - being able to ride something for only the second time and seeing all the improvement in skills, processing and line choice. I was thrilled with being out there and riding my bike, not scared of what was coming up around the next corner

 And that was only day two of our South Park Circle tour ...

Oct 10, 2015

If memory serves - Cottonwood

Ever since my solo ride that turned into a guided trip down Cottonwood, I've been trying to get backup there with Nick. It was such a fun ride - from swooping through the ravine at the start to the nearly-unridable (or so I thought) water fall feature near the end. Finally, we had good weather and a the chance to ride up Ute Trail to the jeep road. And then, it would be time to see if memory served me well and I could find the trail again. I wasn't confident - I knew I could get to the first part - the swoopy ravine section. But then there had been a grunter jeep road climb and an unmarked turn to the left to drop into Cottonwood proper. That was the section I wasn't sure about. We rode pretty easy up to the intersection with the jeep road. To my surprise, there was a brand new, very nice parking lot there now - not just an open field. And a sign.

Nick started pedaling up the jeep road, but I headed over to check out the sign. A map of the S-Mountain trails, including the new singletrack right there, heading off into the trees. Well okay! Since I wasn't quite sure where I was going and there was singletrack right there, we opted for the trail. It was easy to see that it was new - there were some tire tracks, but it was still dusty and loose. The trail traversed to the west of the hill the jeep road climbed, then dropped down into the ravine I remembered. I think we missed some of the built features in the ravine, but it was still fun. Where I remembered having to get off the trail and onto another jeep road, the new trail continued. Across the road, climbing up and meandering around. This section was even newer - like it had just been finished in the past few weeks. So much better then the jeep road and mystery drop in. I saw the trail that I'd taken with the two locals on my first ride up there after a while. That meant one thing - the water fall was coming up. On that ride, I'd looked at it and opted not to try, not even seeing where the line was. This time? Without scouting the lines like I'd planned, I managed to roll right down it. I think it was cleaned up a little, with the safe line more noticeable then before. But it was still chunky and big and I was really excited that I'd been able to ride it.

Nick finishing out the waterfall - yes, there is a trail behind him!

After chatting with some trail workers from the Southwest Conservation Corps, it was time to finish the ride. I think we took Sweet Dreams down to the far south edge of S-Mountain, but not entirely sure. Whatever it was, it was another new section of trail - well built with some good fun but nothing crazy. All of the trails in S-Mountain are fun and as challenging as you want to make them. It's great place to play and still be really close to town.

Oct 5, 2015

Fear of Missing Out

It's a real thing - the fear of missing out. With so many great races and events in Colorado alone, there's not enough time and money to do them all. Something has to give and despite how much fun or how much prestige an event has, some times, enough is enough. Back in March, I had someone ask me if I was going to Weaverville for worlds this year. I admit to not having a clue as to what she was talking about at that point - the WEMBO 24 Hour World Championship. I did some research and filed the event away in my mind. If things worked out and I would be able to race, I would. It would be a honor to wear my Stars and Stripes for a World Championships and be racing for the chance to trade those in for a Rainbow. So very tempting. I could redo my plan for the rest of the year, moving my focus race back three weeks and then taking the previous A-race and turning it into start of the last hard block before Worlds. I actually sat down and planned it out to see how that would look.

But the reality set in - it's not that far to California, but it's not that close either. And I've done my time traveling across the country for racing. After a long discussion with Nick - on several occasions, the racing schedule would remain as it was. The racing is a partnership here - we both race and we both help each other. Despite the prestige of racing in the world championships, it wasn't something we both wanted to do. I didn't have my heart set on the race - which is what was needed for a shot at competing at that level. Nick also had some very good points about the quality of the races right nearby, including what was my A race for the season - Vapor Trail 125. It's a good thing I have him around - otherwise I might give in to Fear of Missing out more frequently. He also didn't want to travel that far for a race. It might have been for rainbows, yes, but still.

So instead of racing this past weekend, I watched the day unfold on line - cheering on the many friends who were competing. Yes, a part of me wished I was there, wondering if I would have been in the mix. But the desire to be racing was well tempered by distance. I realize that I may never get another chance to compete at a World Championships - they will be held in NZ next year. I've also realized that while the solo endurance challenges of 24 hour racing suits me, the NASCAR style of racing that is 24 hour racing does not. I much prefer the challenge of the unknown - a new trail around the bend, greeting the sunrise far away from where I started. The realization of self and self awareness of the types of challenges that stimulate you do wonders for banishing the fear of missing out.