The Post-Season: a search for normalcy

The weekend after Vapor Trail, I ended up racing the Banana Belt XC race as part of the Salida Bike Fest. I didn’t want to go at it singlespeed, so I rode the Viral Skeptic- a belt-driven, pinion-geared hardtail. It’s a fun bike, and I like where the belt/pinion combo is headed, but it’s definitely suited to more burly riding than cross-country racing. Nevertheless, I won the race… barely. There was a nice write-up in the local paper.

IMG_2032

IMG_2033

Thus begins the post-season few weeks of emotional turmoil. It’s hard to describe, because it starts out as a feeling of relief, but then spirals into feelings of emotional turmoil and drinking too often. You’re trying to act “normal,” but athletes don’t usually do a good job of being normal people. I thought that I was the only one who felt like that until Josh Tostado came through town a couple of weeks ago, and we hung out over a beer. I found out that not only do we eat exactly the same way during races (a gel flask supplemented by whatever looks tasty at aid stations), his description of activities following Vapor Trail was similar to mine.

So, yeah… my level of normal is “Josh Tostado.” I’m cool with that, though.

The weekend after Banana Belt, I wanted to knock off and bikepack in the mountains a bit. I loaded up the Viral and set out with an ambitious route. I only made it one night, though. The forecast before I’d left on Thursday morning called for nice weather until Saturday afternoon. I figured I could manage a half day of bad weather. I packed for it. However, Friday morning, the wind was insane and the skies were dark. I stopped in the St. Elmo general store for a snack and extra coffee, and the store owner spoke of bad weather moving in early. Apparently, it had already snowed on the other side of the Continental Divide (where I was headed). I pressed on up Tincup Pass, but before I could reach the top, I encountered more wind and winter precipitation in the form of graupel. I didn’t know graupel was a thing until I moved to Colorado. It’s like spoonfuls of shaved ice being thrown from the clouds.

Bad circulation in my hands is something I’ve battled since I was a kid going duck hunting with my dad. It’s only gotten worse with age. Despite my preparedness in water/windproof clothing and chemical heat packs for my warmest gloves, the brief chill I experienced on Tincup went straight into my hands and turned them into useless flippers. I couldn’t bear the thought of dealing with early bouts of bad weather and bad circulation for the whole trip (as opposed to just half a day), so I turned and went home. As I got lower/away from the weather and felt the circulation return to my hands, I stopped and took these photos-

IMG_1956 IMG_1955

Part of turning around goes back to my “trying to be normal” part of the post-season. I’ve pushed myself though the same discomfort of loss of hand circulation *conservatively* hundreds of times by now during the racing/training process. My bikepacking trip was supposed to be fun, and, battling cold and snow, even with all of the clothes I needed to be safe and warm, wasn’t going to be fun. However, it’s hard not to view quitting as just that- quitting. If you’ve ever wondered how I keep going when races or training rides seem physically impossible, it’s because the emotional pain that I experience when I quit is far worse than any pain of pressing on in difficult situations.

At least I got some nice photos while I was out…

DSC00819

DSC00806

DSC00822

I’m slowly starting to get my shit back together and getting back into my safe space of being an athlete. I’ve gone for  couple of hikes, started running a little, and started a little light weight training with a local trainer. I’ve kept the riding somewhat short and fun, and I hope to get in to some snow-related activities once winter really sets in (if my hands can tolerate it). I’ve shopped a little for heated gloves- holy crap, they’re expensive. I’m hoping I’ll have some cash left over for a set once the 429sl sells and I’ve purchased its replacement.

 

Vapor Trail 125

This is a long one- settle in with a snack.

I approached Vapor Trail 125 with an attitude of strategic indifference. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from racing it once and listening to the stories of others, it’s that if you set lofty expectations other than “do everything you can to ensure finishing strong” then you will often fail miserably. I held any other goals as well as the expectations of others at arms’ length, making my only goal an easy one- apply my improved fitness, experience, and elevation acclimatization to this year’s race and better my previous time of 17 hours, 36 minutes. That’s it- go faster than Memphis Me from 2014.

One thing that’s a bane to all racers is what to do on Saturday before the race other than lay around desperately trying to take a nap. Lucky me- the local farm-to-table had a field-gleaning day. They opened up the leftovers of the corn, broccoli, and cabbage harvest to the public to come in and take whatever they could find for free.

field1

broccoli

Matt and I picked for a couple of hours and then went home and took to processing it all. We blanched corn and broccoli for hours and ended up with a freezer full of veggies for the winter:

freezer

I had several gallons of broth in there prior to harvesting the veggies, so that went in the fridge to thaw. Yesterday, Matt turned the thawed broth and various veggie/potato additions in to nearly 8 gallons of soup. We’re pretty set for the winter now.

I digress…

So, most of my day was spent thinking about the vegetable blanching and freezing process. Around 5pm, we were winding down and cleaned up, so I ate dinner and got all of my stuff prepped for the 10pm race start. My plan was to sustain myself off of mostly Gu Roctane gel and blueberry pomegranate drink mix. I’d grab some solid food from the aid stations as needed and carry a Snickers bar in case I got hungry between (which I did, given that the time and effort between aids one and two is long and the most difficult portion of the course).

All of the black and white pictures coming up were shot by Jeff Kerkove as part of Ergon’s coverage/support of the race.

I’m not sure who came up with the number plate strategy of distributing them in alphabetical order, but they did, so I ended up with plate number one. I felt weird about it. That number is “supposed” to go to the previous year’s winner, and they handed it to me with Josh Tostado (said winner) in line behind me. I briefly begged letting us exchange numbers, but it was already set in race-stone.

absolute

number

map

That last one is my coffee table. The map of this area stays open there 24/7 as a permanent fixture.

I sat around drinking beet juice until the last possible minute before changing and rolling to the start a block from the house.

lineup2

lineup

start

The race begins with the most neutral rollout of any race in endurance racing history. We get a couple of miles out of town, stop for a pee/clothing adjustment break, then roll slow for a couple more miles until we get across highway 285 (safely crossing the highway as a group is the main priority for the neutral rollout). Not long after the crossing, the course turns up CR 250 towards the Colorado Trail, and the race is on.

I stayed at the very front of the group during the rollout for safety reasons, and as soon as the race started up the first road/climb, I settled into the pace I’d hold for the rest of the night and part of the next day. A lot of people passed me- according to Earl (VT125 Moto official and Manager at Absolute Bikes), who was recording numbers/times of racers as they entered the Colorado Trail, there were only 9 people behind me (out of 46 starters). I knew that there were a handful of women ahead of me, including Tracy Thelan (VT125 veteran and seasoned endurance racer). She’d taken off really fast at the start, and I knew that chasing at that time was a bad idea.

The Colorado Trail was in great shape. Afternoon rain showers meant hero dirt, so the traction was beautiful. I was feeling strong and really starting to warm up, but resisted the urge to burn any matches. I took it easy down the last CT descent (holy sketchballs) and rolled in to the first aid station. At that point, I was a little sleepy and the course ahead was daunting. However, at Aid 1, I saw a bunch of 92Fifty friends. It was a highly motivating and uplifting place to pass through at that time of night- exactly what I needed before riding off into the meat of the course.

The next few hours was more of the same. I paced myself, ate, drank, played songs in my head, and generally tried to think positive thoughts. The time flew by quickly, and, soon enough I was on the final hike-a-bike up Granite Mountain before dropping down Canyon Creek to Aid 2. I’d been only using my handlebar light on low for the anything that was non-technical climbing, and near the top of the hike, that battery finally died. It surprised me a little, and I exclaimed, “Oh, perfect timing!” The person hiking just ahead startled at my exclamation and took off up the trail. I then realized that I’d caught Tracy (for the first time).

I wasn’t in a hurry to chase at that point. It was <50 miles into the race, and the upcoming descent was really rowdy in some spots. I plugged in my backup battery, zipped my jacket, ate a snack, and generally made myself cozy before turning on the high beams and rallying down the mountain. I have some great lights (Light & Motion Seca 2000 on both handlebar and helmet), and I comfortably set a PR time down to the final bump in the trail before Aid 2.

At Aid 2, I saw Tom Purvis, and he let me know that Tracy had just left before I got there. I hit up the bathroom, refilled bottles, and ate a piece of breakfast sausage. I knew that the climb up Monarch Pass was the only thing between me and warm, dry socks and shoes. It’s also one of the parts of the course that poses the largest mental test to racers- you’ve been awake, pedaling all night, and the climb is a monotonous 9.25 miles of gravel road. The combination of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion can be overwhelming.

I didn’t feel good up the climb, but I expected that. The sun hadn’t risen over the top of the mountains, so my body was still wondering why TF it hadn’t slept all night, and, though my pacing/eating/hydration were good, my legs and stomach were whiny. My back hurt a lot from carrying a *pack and helmet light all night.

*The pack didn’t have water in it- just my light battery and my “Alpine Kit” that I always carry  when I’m going to be in the backcountry and up high for long enough to get hypothermic if I were to get caught in rain/thunder. It’s a waterproof jacket, rain pants, warm gloves, and a thin wool hat. I feel irresponsible carrying less for outings at Vapor Trail elevations. It’s saved me more than once.

I had to really work to keep it together up that climb. The back pain was terrible, though the immense amount of discomfort was doing a good job of keeping me from falling asleep while riding. My legs kept trying to slow down, but I willed them on with the thought of dropping the pack and switching to a lightweight helmet at the next aid station. I finally made it up the pass and across the short, but seemingly endless section of Continental Divide Trail that connects Old Monarch Pass to (new) Monarch Pass.

At Aid 3, I caught up to Tracy again. She was about to leave as I rolled in. I felt bad, so I dumped my bike on the ground and immediately started the process of doing what I needed to do to feel better. Right then, I was only thinking about survival and finishing, but, in the back of my mind, I knew that the short break, lightening of my clothes, and sunlight above treeline were probably going to bring me out of my hole.

Also, they had bacon and peanut butter sandwiches, which magically sounded like the most delicious thing in the world, even though my body had been rejecting all thoughts of solid food prior to that moment.

DSC00773

DSC00774

Matt was there to help out and take photos of my exhaustion.

It’s easy to dwell too long at Monarch. Everyone is nice, there’s food, and the asphalt is warm to sit on.

The knowledge that it’s possible to emerge from the sort of hole I was in is something that you only gain through many races of experience. Very slowly, the pain lessened in my back, and the full sunlight brought some awareness back to my senses. My body started to come back online, and I was able to dig up the strategy I’d thought of the night before- go back to the same pace I’d started with and then start going harder after negotiating the Starvation Creek/Poncha Creek loop.

Crest

I can only assume that all of the people being shuttled up there were told that there’d be Vapor Trail 125 racers on the Monarch Crest trail, because everyone I passed seemed to let me by quickly.

The Marshall Pass aid station sits at the top of the Starvation/Poncha Creek loop, so you pass it twice. When I arrived there, my coworkers Leah and Roland were there and let me know that Tracy had JUST left. I drank some warm Coke and saw some sort of monstrosity of a creme-filled maple-glazed doughnut that looked like the best thing in the world, so I crammed half of it in my mouth and left the other half for my return trip.

The Starvation Creek jeep road that leads to the trail takes you up a mind-melting series of rollers that seem to get progressively steeper and longer. Every time you think you’re finished with them, another bigger/steeper one is in front of you. It was there that I caught Tracy. She was walking. I got off to walk a particularly steep pitch, passed her, and then got back on my bike to ride the last one. I didn’t look back… I just started riding as if she were going full-gas to chase me down.

Somehow, at that point, it was as if I hadn’t been riding all night. I set a PR time down the Starvation Creek singletrack, then, when I made the turn to go back up Poncha Creek road, I was able to settle right back in to climb it at a decent pace. I encountered Earl on his moto about halfway up the climb, and his enthusiasm of seeing me leading the race snowballed into my energy up the climb. I ended up with the Strava QOM for the loop, knocking it out in an hour and a half.

At the top, there was some thunder in the distance. I inhaled the other half of my magical doughnut, filled just one bottle, and took off as quickly as possible. The course from there is mostly downhill (except for the parts where it’s not), so I switched from endurance pace to cross-country pace (well, as close to XC pace as you can get at mile 90something). At the top of the Silver Creek trail, I paused briefly to slam some Roctane gel and some water in order to ensure a strong finishing pace on the Rainbow Trail at the bottom.

I miraculously felt like the remainder of the course flew by. I had no idea how far back Tracy was, but I kept riding as if she were closing in fast any time I’d let up. I rolled in to the parking lot of Absolute Bikes at 2:16pm- finishing time of 16 hours and 16 minutes, and 11th overall…

finish

As soon as I sat down, my backbone was the only thing providing my body with any structural integrity

finish2

Link to Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1178438336

Winning Vapor Trail is something I didn’t think I’d ever do. I’ve felt burnt out on endurance races for a hot minute now, so the fact that I wanted to push myself that hard was somewhat surprising (Cross Country is whole ‘nother thing that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying). I feel like this performance was a perfect last chapter to the previous 6 years of endurance-distance competitions. It feels a little conflicted, because I’ve finally gotten good at it. But, knowing how to race a 100 miler means nothing if you don’t have the motivation to do it.

The long races have always served me as a vehicle for seeing new trail and new adventure. Now, living in Salida in such close proximity to so many new trails and new adventures, I am ready to explore outside the confines of the race course.

Hoodrich Transients, Volume 3

Well, more accurately, Transient. I went solo on my latest trip.

I’ve got a grand scheme of sorts that I’ve stared at on various internet maps since I moved to the area. MyTopo.com is an addictive resource- I start there, then, when I see a route I want to check out, I use a combination of a paper map of the area, Strava Heatmaps, and Google Satellite view to see if the road on the aged topo map is actually still in existence and open to the public. I’ve come up with a grand loop of the area, and the trip with Levi along with my most recent one this weekend served as scouting journeys.

This weekend, I wanted to check out the route to Tincup Pass. It would only take a handful of hours to ride there from Salida, but I wanted to use the route I’d come up with for my big loop, which meant taking the long way up through Aspen Ridge and Buena Vista to Cottonwood Pass where I’d then split off down CR 344 to the Green Timber/Poplar Gulch trail to St. Elmo at the base of Tincup Pass. I knew I’d be camping somewhere between Buena Vista and St. Elmo, but not 100% sure as to where, and my plan was to ride Tincup Pass and loop back to Williams Pass and back home the next day.

I packed up, dropped Marley off at dog daycare, and started up to Aspen Ridge around 9am. The aspens are just starting to get patches of yellow, and the intermittent views of the Arkansas River Valley below were really cool, albeit smokey.

IMG_1841

IMG_1842

IMG_1843

From the top of Aspen Ridge, the route generally descended down through the Castle Rock area towards Hwy 285 a few miles east of Buena Vista. At 285, I completed the scariest part of the journey- 3/4 of a mile on the highway with a narrow shoulder and a ton of holiday weekend traffic (on the map, I’d seen a connecting “road” that paralleled the highway between CR 315 and 305, but it was indistinguishable in the scrub). I turned on a really bright taillight, waited for traffic to clear, and had at it. It wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been, but it wasn’t fun. Luckily, it was short.

I arrived at the Midland Bike Trail ready for lunch.

IMG_1844

IMG_1845

IMG_1846

It’s a really cool trail- mostly singletrack on an old rail bed, punctuated by technical bypass dips where the old trestle is gone. I arrived in Buena Vista and refilled my water from the river instead of from a fountain- something I’d regret later, but preferred at the time, because filtered river water tastes way better than tap water from the trailhead fountain.

IMG_1847

The next portion of my route was some more road out Cottonwood Pass to CR 343. It was a little hot, and there was a little traffic, but the view was nice. I was pretty glad to be off pavement once I was there, though. Once I was on gravel again, I ate some more and continued up the climb towards the Green Timber Gulch trailhead. Somewhere along that part, the distance, elevation, and hours traveled started to get to me. I got tired and cranky, but the view and the temporary leveling off of the grade along Cottonwood Lake soothed me a bit. I was glad that I still had a few hours of daylight to get up higher on a trail, because the valley was full of weekend campers.

IMG_1848

I finally reached the trailhead just before 5pm, where my plan was to fill my water and head up to treeline to camp.

IMG_1849

I knew the trail would be rough, steep, and mostly hike-a-bike, especially with the loaded hardtail. I stopped to refill my water and found that my MSR Trailshot filter was clogged- something that I’d heard of, but not yet experienced (Chris Plesko nearly succumbed to dehydration during the Colorado Trail Race when his did the same thing, and Levi reported something similar. You’d think I’d learn to take a fresh filter with me when it really mattered). I removed and flushed the filter repeatedly in order to get at least a trickle of clean water out of it. Eventually, I nursed it back to semi-health and was able to refill my water, though I’d wasted about 30min of daylight in the process.

I started the hike-a-bike at around 5:20, and told myself that I’d begin looking for camp spots at 6. The combination of thick tree cover and the gulch I was traveling up meant that the light would fade slightly earlier, and I wanted to set up camp and get to cooking dinner before sunset. As far as hike-a-bike goes, this one was one of the hardest I’ve ever done- especially at hour nine of a long day of pedaling.

IMG_1851

It was pretty scenic, though.

IMG_1850

Sometime around 6:20, I passed a flat-ish spot in the trail. At first, I kept going, determined to find a spot closer to treeline that’d rival the Sargent’s Mesa spot I’d camped in with Levi. The sun peeking over a distant saddle drew me up like a siren, as its presence through the trees indicated that I was close to the elevation I desired. However, I stopped at the next really steep hike-a-bike, looked at my GPS, and realized that I was already at 11,600 feet and that the trail would not really level off again until almost 12,000 feet where it turned to make the final push to the summit. I decided to turn back to the small flat spot I’d passed a minute earlier.

Day 1 Map: https://www.strava.com/activities/1165270231

It was, admittedly, too close to the trail according to the ethics of backcountry travel (I was at least far from water, though). However, it is a seldom-traveled moto trail, and I was, as I’d find out while setting up camp, way more exhausted, cold, and low on calories than I realized when I was still moving upwards. Being a seasoned endurance athlete nearly got me into trouble, as I’d been ignoring all of those things in the pursuit forward motion.

I noticed the cold first, and, as I unpacked my warm camp clothes, immediately stripped off my damp cycling kit (I told you it was secluded), dried myself off, and bundled up. It took a huge mental effort to pitch my tent, including 4 tries at getting the correct side of my rainfly facing up. I’ve been that cold/tired/bonky before, though, so I kept it together and soon enough, I was sitting in my tent watching dinner cook.

IMG_1852

IMG_1853

The best part of that camping spot was that it was totally silent of all things human. I could hear the woodpeckers’ toenails on the trees around my tent. The result of warm food, lots of pedaling/pushing, and total silence was falling asleep before it was even dark. My tent was like a sensory deprivation chamber in the middle of the woods- the sort of quiet where your heartbeat and breath seem loud.

I never sleep great in a tent, especially at that elevation. So, I had weird dreams and woke up three or four times. Eventually, I woke up to creeping morning light. I made some instant coffee and oatmeal before packing up to continue my bike pushing adventures.

IMG_1856

My read on the topo lines of my GPS were spot on- I didn’t pass another place that would’ve been good for camp until I was well above treeline, which would’ve been another 20-30 minutes of pushing and another 500 feet higher/colder. Even the first view above treeline was a little too sloped & rocky. I would’ve been in the basin just below the summit.

IMG_1858

The summit was about another 50 minutes of pushing from my campsite, and was gorgeous (as always).

IMG_1860

IMG_1861

At the top, the name of the trail changes to Poplar Gulch. Despite the fact that I had to hike-a-bike 99% of the 3-ish miles of the Green Timber Gulch trail on the way up, I was glad I’d gone that direction, because the Poplar Gulch trail was slightly more moderate in grade and rockiness, meaning it was easier descending on a bike that’s a little sketchy at descending.

IMG_1862

It was nice to feel the air begin to warm as I dropped down to the trailhead.

IMG_1863

I rolled in to St. Elmo as the general store was waking up and ventured inside to buy a couple of bottles of water.

IMG_1864

It was also the time of day that at least 50 (not exaggerating) off road vehicles of various sorts were staging to climb Tincup Pass. Ugh. According to the clerk at the store, “Tincup pass is going to be an absolute zoo today.” Given that, along with my failed water filter, I felt like the responsible thing to do at that point was to go home instead of continuing on my planned route. It was a little disappointing, as my legs felt like they were up for it. I just didn’t feel like dealing with a zoo of off-road vehicles. So, yeah- poor planning on my part in both filter and route considerations. I’m not too upset, though. knocking out that mileage & gain the weekend before Vapor Trail 125 may have been a bit ambitious.

Day 2 Map: https://www.strava.com/activities/1165271847

Once I was home, I performed my favorite recovery rituals of eating and tubing.

IMG_1865

Afterwards, I picked up Marley from daycare. I’m not sure which one of us was more exhausted.

IMG_1875

I’m excited for Vapor Trail this weekend, and maybe even more excited to get out more more than an overnight on my big loop afterward. I might even have a different bike to utilize as my pack mule by then, but I’m hush-hush on the details for now because they’re still in the works.

 

Hoodrich Transients, Volume 2

A couple of weekends ago, I was torn between several different choices in 3-day-weekend adventure. The Breck Epic was happening, and I strongly considered driving up to spectate and hanging out a few days. I was waffling on that when the guy who does the Singletrack Sampler videos came through the shop. I chatted with him a bit, and we talked about going for a ride down Green’s Creek in the morning. Then, I got a text from friend Levi, who was out on the Colorado trail, riding from Denver towards Durango…

LEVI

He arrived just before I was off of work, had a beer, and we went to get some pizza. Lots and lots of pizza.

IMG_1702

Over dinner, it was decided that I’d pack up and ride with him the next day, spend a night out, then ride back to Salida in the morning. He didn’t much care to do the climb up Fooses Creek where he’d left off, so I suggested the long and gentle climb up Marshall Pass instead. It’d cut off some of the scenery of the Monarch Crest section of Colorado Trail, but it would allow us to go without using the car or doing more hike-a-bike than what we were already in for with Segment 16 of the CT.

With the requisite trips to WalMart and dropping Marley off at dog daycare, we weren’t trail-ready until around 11am. I packed up the One Nine since it’s the most packable bike I have right now (hoping to get an Oveja Negra bag made to fit a full suspension Pivot 429 this winter).

IMG_1705

The trip to and up Marshall Pass road was a long one. We took a break about halfway up to snack

IMG_1706

I warned Levi ahead of time that the last mile-ish at the top is always a headwind.

IMG_1707

Our last water stop for hours was near the pass, so we filled up and headed south.

IMG_1708

I’m really familiar with the CT from there to the Silver Creek trail that you turn off on if you’re riding the Monarch Crest route. After that, all I had to go off of was people’s reports of terrible moto-thrashed hike-a-bike. There was some of that, but there was also a lot of awesome.

IMG_1709

Segment 16 is burly as ufck. A loaded hardtail is not the ideal bike for the terrain, and I’d love to go back and ride it on the Switchblade. My front roll buzzed my tire at about half fork travel, so I ended up hiking down the gnarliest of the gnar. We reached Tank Seven creek after a few hours where we made our final water refill before venturing up Sargent’s Mesa.

IMG_1711

I’ve never actually experienced anything like Sargent’s Mesa. The view was totally unique to me.

IMG_1713

IMG_1715

IMG_1716

We found a spot to camp near the top right at treeline. I cooked my first camp dinner ever- ramen noodles with dehydrated veggies and a vacuum-sealed pack of salmon- one of my most memorable meals ever. It was also one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.

IMG_1727

IMG_1718

My sleep setup is dialed for the chilly weather at that elevation (somewhere over 11k feet). I can get all the way inside my sleeping bag and draw the top shut, which probably makes its 20 degree rating pretty accurate. It’s pretty hard to get out of in the morning except that I wanted to see if the sunrise was as awesome as the sunset. Close…

IMG_1720

IMG_1721

We had breakfast and headed on our ways… Levi kept trucking south and I went back down to the Tank Seven trail we’d passed before.

IMG_1722

No filter… the sky here is actually that color blue.

I took Tank Seven Trail back to the Sargent’s side of Marshall Pass Road and climbed back up to where we’d turned off the day before. I rolled in to town at about 24 hours on the nose to when we’d left.

Word of advice- don’t make another trip to WalMart your first interaction with the general public following 24 hours in the peace of the woods. I went in for one small thing, and I promptly became massively overstimulated and couldn’t remember what it was once I was there.

 “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” People become what they love and hate, because their mind focuses on it.”

This quote has always had a dark undertone to me. However, I feel like it’s more positive when applied to spending prolonged time in the mountains. I came home with a strong craving to go right back.

 

 

Breckenridge 68 Race Report

It’s been a rainy summer here in the mountains. Saturday’s Breck 68 was no exception. I haven’t raced on this exact course since 2010, when it was my first singlespeed 100 (I am glad I don’t have the same strong feelings about the bump in the road that is French Gulch, since that climb is in basically EVERY Breckenridge bike race). I was happy to come back and do it over again with way more experience/fitness/acclimatization and without the 6:00am first lap start up Wheeler Pass.

It rained a lot. I packed the car in the rain, drove in the rain, picked up my race packet in the rain, set up my pit cooler in the rain… you get the idea. Not sprinkles, not storming (yay!), just a constant, steady rain.

rain

There’s some variation of a quote about there never being bad conditions, just bad clothes. Saturday was no exception. The temperature in Breck was 50. However, on the drive to Breck, the temperature was 42 over Hoosier Pass- an elevation I’d be racing at more than once on course. It had also been raining all week in the mountains, so there was sure to be standing water and high creek crossings on course, even if the rain stopped.

So, I dressed for a day of 40s and rain. It’s really easy to cool off if you overdress and get hot. It’s wayyyyy harder to warm up in those conditions if you get too cold. I saw a lot of people dressed for an hour of 50 and rain. I also saw a lot of people DNF because they were hypothermic. I wore normal summer kit, waterproof socks, rain pants, a real rain jacket, and mid weight gloves. The gloves were my weak point. I don’t own an waterproof gloves. Later I was given the advice to put latex gloves under my normal gloves. That definitely would have been an improvement, given my issues with poor circulation. I also put a few extra things (cap, arm/leg warmers, warm gloves) in plastic bags inside my pack (my Osprey Rev pack with no reservoir) in case the isht really hit the fan, weather-wise. I don’t usually race with a pack, but in this case, it was important to carry the rain clothes if it got warmer and to carry the other stuff if it got colder. It’s a super light piece, so without water in it, it’s hardly noticeable.

I entered the Pro Women’s category because there wasn’t a women’s singlespeed category available at registration. Also, I have been turning course times similar to Pro women, and there’s usually money available for placing. Once the race started, though, I didn’t really pay attention to who was ahead/behind me. I figured it was going to be a long day, and that things would just shake out however as long as I was keeping a good pace.

First order of the course was to climb up to/over French Gulch. I swear that climb is smoother/easier since the first time I did it back in 2010. We descended American Gulch on the other side, where I had flashbacks from Breck Epic 2015 when Sara Sheets and I battled up that climb after trying to kill each other over two other mountain passes. At the bottom, I stopped at the aid station to refill a bottle and swap to dry gloves (the aforementioned bad circulation was biting me in the ass). It took some effort to get the dry gloves on because the muscles controlling my right fingers had basically stopped working, so it was like trying to cram wet noodles into a glove. One of the aid station workers rubbed my hand between hers to get the circulation back, and I was able to manage getting the glove on. It was a bad chunk of time to lose on course, but I feel like it was necessary for my hands to be functional in order for me to continue racing.

The next climb up the Colorado Trail is a tough one with an awesome downhill reward. The toughness level was increased by the number of wet roots on the steep parts. I walked a good bit. That was also the warmest part of my time on course. I removed my rain gear and stuffed it into my pack. At the bottom of an really awesome descent, I filled another bottle and headed out over the last hump of that loop (Tiger Road) before rolling back in to Carter Park and starting loop #2.

At the park, I grabbed my windbreaker out of my stuff. The rain had started alternating on/off, and it was a little windy and chilly, so it felt like the right clothing for the rest of the day. I kept my rain jacket & pants in my pack, because, even though the weather seemed to be improving, it could potentially turn to downpours at any time. I don’t screw around when it comes to weather in the backcountry.

The 2nd loop started with a hard climb up Indiana Creek to Boreas Pass. Again, I had some flashbacks from Breck Epic. Once at the top of Boreas Pass, the course goes down the Gold Dust Trail. It was there, that I had my only wreck of the day on a wet, sketchy, high-speed, off-camber bridge. If you want to hear the details, you have to listen to the latest episode of Just Riding Along. It’s funny in a self-deprecating way.

The Gold Dust Trail seems to go on forever, but I eventually made it to Como, where I fueled up in order to start the long climb back up Boreas Pass. I gathered all of my mental energy and made it my goal to have empty shells of legs at the top of the pass. That worked out really well, because I suddenly found myself approaching the aid station before I was expecting it. I could smell the barn from there, so I hauled ass over the top without stopping.

Somewhere on the last singletrack, another singlespeeder caught up to me. I asked if he wanted to get by, and he mentioned that we were racing each other. I told him that even though I was singlespeed, I was definitely entered in the Pro category. Fun fact of the race I figured out later- I ended up finishing a little less than 1 min behind him. If I had turned on “ludicrous speed” for the last downhill and beaten him instead of staying “conservative” and letting him by, I would have been 2nd singlespeeder of the day behind Dan Durland.

Looking at the results page for just the 68 mile race (not the 100 or the 32), here are your rain/cold Did Not Finish/Start (DNF/DNS) stats:

43 Finishers
4 DNFs during the 1st lap (started the course and quit before the end of the 1st lap)
26 DNFs who finished a 1st lap and didn’t start a 2nd
16 DNSs (people who looked out the window that morning and were like, “Nah”)

Hopefully some of those 46 people can read this and take it as advice on dealing with the weather. I’ve been hypothermic more than once in the middle of summer in Colorado, so I’m coming from a place of lots of personal experiences in doing it wrong.

I ended up 2nd overall woman by about 14 minutes.

podum

Carbon Drive is really awesome in those conditions. The only complaint about my drivetrain was the freehub on the Stan’s Neo Ultimate rear hub. It was popping/creaking during the race, and making me feel like it was going to catastrophically fail at any point. When I took it apart on Monday, I found that the rubber seal between the hub shell and freehub body had failed to keep mud out. The low points of the drive ring were filled with mud, and the lubricating grease had become mud-fouled as well. I cleaned/re-lubed everything, but I don’t know if it caused permanent damage. After years of Industry Nine reliability, I’m not at all impressed with the performance or reliability of the Neo Ultimate hub.

I’m still pretty shelled from the effort. It was a really nice hard day of training for Vapor Trail 125, though.

Journey into the Clouds

Since I first looked at a Salida regional trail map, I’d lusted over the idea of following the Continental Divide Trail north from Monarch Pass (the well-known “Monarch Crest” route goes south and follows the CDT until you reach the Silver Creek trail). Most CDT rides involve extended hike-a-bike, cairn-finding, rugged/steep alpine terrain, and occasionally unpredictable weather. They also involve a sense of awe and scenery that’s unlike anything you can find from the safety and comfort of your couch or car.

This ride was all of those things.

The shop is busy enough this summer that getting a spot on a shuttle to the Monarch Crest can be difficult. I talked to one of the shop guides, and she informed me that there’d be a 5am shuttle on one of my days off… some people from Pearl Izumi were doing a photo shoot up there, and wanted to get the “good” light. I jumped on the opportunity- especially since earlier is better when going on a trip that’s above treeline for an extended period of time (afternoon weather can get hairy).

It was just getting light when we reached the top of the pass. I grabbed my bike off the trailer and was halfway up the first hill before the van was fully unloaded of its passengers:

IMG_1477

The first couple of miles was all pretty rideable. The singletrack traverses the hillside until you reach Old Monarch Pass. I had to stop and take a selfie, mainly because my most “fond” memory of that exact spot was from 2014 when I was pre-riding the Vapor Trail 125 course. The ride was huge (especially given my lack of acclimatization), and the weather was spotty until I reached the lower pitches of my final climb of the day- Old Monarch Pass. At that point, it started to rain. Heavy, cold, saturating rain. I reached the top, and- no exaggeration- was standing in said rain looking at sun on the road just ahead of me on the other side of the pass. I took this photo to commemorate my ride:

IMG_5194

Please, go ahead and laugh. I do, every time I see it.

This time, I was a lot happier, for lots and lots of reasons:

IMG_1478

From there, you soon get to Monarch Ski Area. The riding stays relatively easy until you get back on singletrack and start climbing again. It’s at about that time that the views start to get indescribably beautiful.

IMG_1479

At one point, I was in a cloud. It was chilly and kind of windy, but the angle of the sunrise kept everything oddly bright.

IMG_1480

IMG_1481

IMG_1482

IMG_1483

Wildflowers and hike-a-bike:

IMG_1484

I made it over the final hump before descending into a huge basin on an occasionally-unrideable trail to Boss Lake.

IMG_1487

IMG_1486

IMG_1485

I know the pano shots kinda suck, but sometimes I don’t know how else to try and capture what I’m seeing.

I got a little lost trying to find where the CDT leaves the Boss Lake area. It took getting my phone out and using MTB project to figure out where to go. The next section of CDT looked new-ish, but was in bad shape. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were about 20 trees down in a couple of miles of trail.

That section was soon over and I made my way up a jeep road towards Chalk Creek Pass. The CDT eventually split off and ran parallel to the road. It was mostly rideable except where there were more trees down. Eventually, though, it became hike-a-bike once again.

IMG_1489

IMG_1490

As the terrain became steeper, the trail became less obvious. It crossed a couple of big snow fields as well as a big scree field. The rock cairns were clutch.

IMG_1491

IMG_1492

Just before I reached the top, there was one more snow field. It was steep enough that I had to kick my toes into the snow with every step in order to not slide back down.

IMG_1494

It’d be nice if I had the upper body strength to be able to hold a phone level for more than 4 seconds.

The top of Chalk Creek Pass was just on the other side. From up there, I could watch the valley on both sides of me filling in with clouds along the edges.

IMG_1497

IMG_1495

The cloud cover didn’t look much better towards Hancock Lake:

IMG_1496

As I descended to Hancock, the clouds grew thicker and more threatening. I made the decision there to continue going down the road instead of staying on the Alpine Tunnel section of the CDT. The downpour chased me with occasional raindrops and gusts of wind most of the way down the valley.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1083462849

I’m slowly filling in the gaps of places to explore around the area.

Monarch Crest- No Shuttle

The weekend of the Mt. Antero adventure didn’t stop with said adventure. Though, I did take Friday as a recovery day. I ran errands all morning then went tubing for the first time in the afternoon. Tubing may be my next favorite recovery day activity. I grabbed a tube and some advice from SUPDVK (only a block from the shop), and headed to a popular put-in spot a few miles west of town.

IMG_1454

Then, I put forth no effort other than to float down the river and occasionally flap my arms for the next couple of hours. I did manage to go full send into the water on one of the rapids, which was more fun and exciting than it was scary. As I neared the boat ramp by the shop, shop-owner Shawn happened to be near the river and caught it on camera:

tube

To make sure it was a full-blown recovery day, I took the shop errand bike back to my car-

IMG_1455

Because I went full send on recovering, I had the legs for another big adventure on Saturday. I really wanted to ride either north or further south on the Continental Divide Trail than the traditional Monarch Crest section. However, the shop shuttle to Monarch Pass was full. So, I decided I’d ride up to the Crest via North Fooses Creek (N Fooses is all doubletrack access road and takes you up close to the start of the Crest Route, and South Fooses is the Colorado Trail section that connects to the Crest Route a few more miles south of Monarch Pass).

I decided I’d once again tack on a little extra Colorado Trail to the beginning of my ride and then explore one of the trails other than Silver Creek off of the Crest Route.

The Route:
https://www.strava.com/activities/1074173637

The section of Colorado Trail from Blank’s Cabin to Highway 50 is excellent. It includes a flowy aspen tunnel, a steep techy descent, and a very rideable climb out of Shavano Campground. Once across Highway 50, the climb up to the Continental Divide is long and one of the less interesting, more character building efforts in the area. It’s a little Jekyll & Hyde- once you pass the split where the Colorado Trail goes up South Fooses Creek, North Fooses turns more doubletrack-y and rough, but never incredibly steep… until it goes all the way steep a few miles up.

IMG_1460

Of course, in photos, it looks pretty rideable. In real life, it’s basically a wall of loose rock.

As I was pushing up, I could see rain/thunder clouds passing over the area I was headed to. Just like with Antero two days before, I made the decision to keep pushing and watch the storm path. I eventually made it to the top behind the storm.

IMG_1461

Once I was on Monarch Crest, I rode pretty hard. There were no storms right then, but they were definitely in the area. I decided on checking out the Green’s Creek Trail. As I found the top of it, the rain started (pretty sure that black cloud in the background of the above photo is what I was under). Thankfully, I was well under treeline by then, and there really wasn’t any hail or lightning.

The Green’s Creek trail is, however, very rooty and rocky… and, in this instance, very wet. It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden wet roots. Honestly, I don’t know when I learned to do so, but somehow, I’m guessing just through instinct, I was able to do it. You basically have to point your bike in a general direction and not touch the brakes until your braking tire is not touching a wet root…

badtime

It takes nerves of feckin’ steel. I found the limits of the cross country bike in both rear wheel travel and lightweight brakes. You either go really fast because you can only brake where it’s not wet/rocky/rooty, or you walk. Somewhere in the middle isn’t an option… I know, because as I got tired, I tried to slow down, and it resulted in slipping/falling more than once.

Somewhere before the bottom, the rain stopped, and it was warm and sunny. I stopped at the trailhead to refill my water bottles and let the last few miles of riding soak in before rolling back down to town. Unlike my previous adventure, the wind was pointed towards town, and I rolled back in with a grin on my face.

The Circumnavigation of Mt. Antero

The weekend following Firecracker 50, I was jonesing for big rides. I need some soul-crushing adventures in order to prep for Vapor Trail 125 in September. It’s a race that’s equally demanding mentally as it is physically.

Inspired by Jeff Kerkove’s route up/around Mt. Antero using the jeep road and Brown’s Creek trail, I talked to a few people with more trail knowledge than myself and planned a similar route that included more Colorado Trail as well as Little Brown’s Creek instead. I came up with this: https://www.strava.com/activities/1071335857 . Riding from town adds a good dose of steady pedaling as well as at least 1k ft of elevation gain. I also enjoy staring at the mountains as I approach them and trying to discern what my passage is going to be from a distance.
In this picture, Antero is the tallest peak with Mt. White just to its left. My route traversed across the base of Antero into the valley on the right, then up the back and across the saddle between Antero and White before traversing south to the base of Shavano off to the left of the picture.

antero

The first part of the Colorado trail was rough. The connector to the Colorado Trail from the Brown’s Creek trailhead on FS272 has been torn up and heavily shat upon by equestrian traffic. There was a trailer load of 10-20 horses at the trailhead. They’ve widened and pulverized the tread of several miles of trail into several inches of powder that’s a mix of what used to be trail combined with urine and feces. You can literally smell the trail when riding/hiking on it. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I’ve ridden miles of ATV and moto trails out here, and those vehicles don’t cause nearly the tread damage that horse traffic has caused.

I digress.

I eventually made it to the Antero Jeep Road. It’s gnarly and steep the entire way up. There’s no rest unless you just stop.

277

anterotrails

I heard thunder as I was starting to climb. My first instinct was to turn and go home, but I told myself that it was going to be a solid hour or more before I was near treeline, so I should make the decision there since the storm would likely move on by then. I talked to a couple of downward-bound hikers, and they said it’d just stormed like mad, but it seemed to have moved off for now. Once I was up high and the hike-a-bike was becoming more sustained, the skies looked grey, but not too foreboding. There were piles of pea-sized hail all over the place. I pushed on up some pretty tough pitches- in several places, the road bed is just loose-ish softball-to-basketball sized rocks.

IMG_1439

Once the road starts to switchback, it becomes slightly more rideable. The grade isn’t terrible, but, at the 12-13k elevation span, the watts available to get up small rocky punches and loose spots are greatly diminished.

IMG_1440

IMG_1441

Above treeline is one of my favorite places, ever. I could’ve stayed up there a long time, but, after a snack and getting my windbreaker zipped up, I headed down into that saddle where the trails look like they converge:

IMG_1443

IMG_1444

The view at that spot looks like the trail drops off into the sky:

IMG_1446

Once I was on the trail, it was standard Alpine rugged-as-ufck with a big snowfield at the top.

IMG_1448

IMG_1449

It was really tough riding until the trail ducked into the treeline. Then, it was a mixture of flowy and techy rocks until the last mile or so when it began including intermittent punchy climbs before t-ing in to the Colorado Trail.

IMG_1450

The ride back home was the soul-crushing nail in the coffin. The CT traverse back to south to Blank’s Cabin rolls up and down/in and out of drainages for what seems like an endless number of miles before arriving to the Blank’s Cabin trailhead. The ride back in to town from there is almost all downhill. It was also almost all into a 20 mph headwind. Even though the elevation loss from the trailhead to town is around 2000ft, I was tucked behind my bars, pedaling at 200 watts, and only doing 12mph for the last 7-ish miles back in to town. It was the type of effort that can break people… though, the whole ride itself could be categorized as such, so it was really just another difficult patch to accept and work through…

Santosha

In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, the word for contentment is Santosha, described as one of the key components to success on the path of self-realization.  It is the prerequisite to experiencing peace.

TKV Desikachar, a world-renowned yoga master, describes the meaning of Santosha as accepting what happens.  Simply accepting whatever life offers you and learning from it.  It is also accepting ourselves just as we are.  There’s no need for me to be different than I am, and there’s no need for my life to be any different in this moment.

…applicable both acutely to bike rides and chronically to everything else.

Adventure Dump #2- Matt Visits Salida

Before we get started, I just want to mention that the deer in Salida are pretty out of control. They aren’t afraid of people, and sometimes even act aggressively towards pets. They also poop everywhere.

IMG_1348

Now that’s over, time for Adventure Dump #2. Matt came to visit, and since he has been living at sea level since mid-may, I made the riding plans sub-epic (I don’t GAF, I’m taking that word back). It was perfect timing for more reasonable adventure, because I was racing on a duo team for Firecracker 50 the Tuesday following Matt’s visit.

Day 1, we rode Marshall Pass up to the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail to Starvation Creek. Afterwards, we hung out at the river and visited the local shooting range. I’ve shot plenty of shotguns and a rifle or two, but it was my first time shooting a handgun. It’s definitely a little harder to aim.

IMG_1388

Day 2, we rode some Colorado Trail from Blank’s Cabin. The section from Blank’s to the Angel of Shavano Campground is one of my favorites because of the Aspens.

IMG_1386

Day 3 was definitely the raddest. We caught the first shuttle of the year up to the Monarch Crest Trail. I had only ridden the full trail twice- once on my first-ever trip to Salida and once during Vapor Trail 125 (I honestly don’t remember much of the VT125 passage because I’d been riding all night).

IMG_1390

IMG_1391

IMG_1394

IMG_1395

There were still a couple of large snowdrifts to hike over.

IMG_1396

It’s a lot of fun to play around above treeline for a handful of miles on a clear/sunny day.

We stopped at my favorite water refill spot on Marshall Pass. I’ve been using an MSR Trailshot filter and loving it.

filter

You might notice from the photos that I put the RS1 fork on the 429sl. If you haven’t already heard me talk about it on Just Riding Along, I will say it again here- the RS1 is the cross-country Pike that I’ve always dreamt about. It’s not SID-WC light (weighs in between 1600-1700g), but it’s stiff, plush, and freaking awesome. If you have the $$, and you’re on the fence about it, I say go for it.

The three days of “normal person” adventures was a perfect lead-in to the Firecracker 50 race. I teamed up with Brad Berger- one of my other new-this-season Gates Carbon Drive teammates. He hammered a 2:12 lap, which put me someplace in the top 10 of 65 teams. I managed to reel in some of the ladies ahead of me, but also got passed by Cody (who turned a 2:02 lap)- the dude half of the eventual winners. My lap time was 2:27- fastest of any of the women who were on teams, and comparable to the mid-pack pro times. We ended up in 3rd place… not shabby, considering we were the only SS team on the podium.

F50 podium

The short/hard effort of XC-distance racing is a good blast of intensity to keep the watts topped off while I’m exploring for hours otherwise. With a couple of days of hard rest, I was ready for the hike-a-bike extravaganza that was my next weekend off/next blog post.

Adventure Dump #1

Re-occurring three day weekends are one of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced. You’d think with all that time, I’d be able to post here more regularly, but the opposite happens- I venture out into the backcountry and make more adventures than I could ever describe in the small amount of time that I make to sit down and stop moving for a few minutes.

The month of June is a micro-shoulder season around Salida. The low trails are hot and dusty, but the high country is still snowy and wet. I spent a lot of time scouting up Marshall Pass and riding “backwards” on the Monarch Crest Trail as far as the snow drifts would allow.

IMG_1188

Sometimes I have a hard time stopping to take photos because the iphone will never, ever really capture how amazing the scenery I’m looking at really is. If you look at any of these, just imagine them being 10x more awesome in person than how they appear on your screen.

June is also Tour Divide and American Trail Race season at the shop. The two cross-country routes meet up just north of Salida and share a path through town, staying together until they’re over Marshall Pass. The leaders of both races rode through town within about two hours of each other. If you follow my instagram account, you’ve seen the multiple drivetrain replacements I’ve performed for riders on both courses.

Pro tip- if you’re racing across country, start with a new drivetrain, brake pads, and tires.

One of our Just Riding Along show listeners is a member of a group of gravel riders in Kansas. They have a friend on the Divide route, and wanted to send him a beer via the shop. In keeping with the ethics of self supported racing, if they wanted to do that, then all riders had to have access to a beer at the shop. So, he paypal-ed me a few bucks for beer, and we’ve been offering it to every rider that comes through the shop. I also spent a day on the route up the north side of town offering beers to racers I found on course.

This was my “waiting” spot on the last hill that racers climbed before descending into Salida. Soon after I set up there, I met a couple who were northbound Divide riders. They passed on the beer, but stopped to chat a few minutes before heading off.

IMG_1285

Looking at the Trackleaders site, I could tell I had at least an hour or more before the next rider was through, so I went off in search of a forest road I’d seen on a map that looked like it’d connect to make a loop back to my beer spot. I found the road…

IMG_1286

I also found out that the Everett Cattle Company effs up everything in that area…

IMG_1287

Basically every secondary numbered forest road north of Salida has one of these signs on it. Highly disappointing.

I went back up the hill to wait on the next rider. He showed up after a while and was pleasantly surprised for the beer handup.

IMG_1290

That same weekend, I decided to explore a 4×4 road I’d seen on a map (basically how most of my adventures start). County/Forest road 240 goes into the mountains from Maysville (on highway 50) and ends at Billings Lake. I took the Colorado Trail to 240 in order to skip riding up Highway 50 (though I did end up riding down it to get home)

Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/1052441531

The section of Colorado Trail from Blanks Cabin to 240 is gorgeous and flowy (with a slightly hairy descent at the end). On the way to the trail, I could see my destination in the distance- the low spot in the mountain horizon just to the left of the cow’s head.

IMG_1303

The CT:

IMG_1304

The climb up 240 was tough- about 7 miles of mostly steep and rocky jeep road. However, the scenery at the end was as gorgeous as the climb was difficult.

Along the way, you pass an old trail that goes up the backside of Shavano. Gonna have to explore that one.

IMG_1305

Stay right for maximum mountain enjoyment:

IMG_1306

The area at the end of the road is covered in old mine remains. I’d love to find out more about the history of that spot. You can see the road I came in on to the left of the lake in the first pic-

 

IMG_1307

IMG_1308

IMG_1314

IMG_1315

IMG_1318

IMG_1319

The opportunities to explore the mountains around here are nearly endless. I spend literal hours looking at a topographical map, then cross-referencing it to strava heatmaps and local trail maps to try and determine if what I’m looking at actually exists as a road or trail. I want to refer to the resulting rides as “Epic,” but that term has become pretty watered down by people whose idea of adventure is a zipline tour or ski resort.

In my next installment, I go higher.