New Things and Wild Places

One of my favorite things about aging in the mountains is the constant opportunity to experience new things. This winter, I’ve been learning how to ski. I decided (as usual?) to go with whatever is most difficult first (downhill/resort skiing is not an option on my budget). So, I went to the Nordic Center near Leadville and took a skate skiing lesson.



I absolutely loved it. The only hangup I have with it is the need for a groomed track. If I lived in Leadville or Crested Butte, I’d be all over it. I just can’t imagine driving 1-2 hours to recreate if I don’t have to. So, next I tried my second choice- classic skiing, not on a groomed track… attractive because it can be done anywhere up until you start getting into steeper terrain, which, for now, I avoid because I know just enough about avalanches to know that I don’t know nearly enough about avalanches to venture into their territory. I rented a set from Salida Mountain Sports a couple of times and then took the plunge with a set of my own.


They’re a slightly wider (for an XC ski), metal edge, waxless ski. With the help of the experts at Salida Mountain Sports, we settled on these because I’ve got more than enough fitness to haul them around, they’re better for non-groomed places than narrower skis (we all know how I am about non-groomed places), and the width/edge will help with my current lack of handling skills. I had a couple of fun adventures up Hancock Road (of Vapor Trail 125 infamy) right off the bat-





Of course, I had to start mixing things up almost immediately.



You can watch a little video of that one over on the Mountain Bike Radio YouTube Channel:

I plan on skiing somewhere else tomorrow morning, though I’m not sure exactly where yet. The weather is currently “socked in.” Salida has a magical property about its weather. When storms move through, the surrounding mountains will be invisible with snow clouds. More often than not, we get wind and sun… occasionally a few inches of snow, but the donut hole of fair weather corrals the city more often than not.

Such was the case this morning. I decided I’d ride my newest bike- the Ibis Hakka MX, on a road loop I’ve dubbed the Dirty Shavano Loop (mostly because of the fantastic views of Mt. Shavano you get on the way up).

The wind was blustery on the way out (as I expected), but the sun was shining and made 38 degrees feel more like 50. I stopped and took a bunch of pictures on the way up.




Once you’re at the FS252/250 split in the last pic (also Vapor trail 125 infamy), you cruise through several extremely peaceful meadows right under the watch of the Angel of Shavano. The meadow is about as close as you can get to the mountains and still get a sense of how large and vast they are before you’re close enough to just be “on” the mountain itself. Once you turn at the split, there are a few north-facing areas to navigate. They’re starting to hold a good bit of snow (finally).



Eventually, you hit Droney Gulch (where CR250 turns right and becomes CR251-1 on the Strava map) and start descending quickly back towards Highway 285. It was there that the sun disappeared completely, and the wind went from “just there” to “holy s**t.” As I plummeted from ~9k feet to 7something, the temperature went down just as quickly. I had to stop several times and warm my hands up inside my gloves, and, as I reached the highway crossing, the wind and snow became suddenly blinding.

Within a couple of miles of crossing the highway, the sun was out, and the valley air was warm again. I looked behind me (towards the mountains I’d just been in) for the first time since I started my descent, and they were engulfed in a snow cloud.

Just missed it.

So, for the first time in my 36.5ish years of living, I was chased by a snow storm.

I’ll never forget, back when I was in Salida to race VT125 when I was chased down Chalk Creek by a thunderstorm for the first time. I had no idea that it was the first of many. Getting chased out of the mountains by bad weather seems like a basic rite of passage. I’m quickly learning that there’s something about an approaching storm that you don’t have to see to know that you need to GTFO RIGHT NOW.
I first noticed it when I ignored it (once, and only once) when I lived in Blackhawk and got pounded by hail on Rollins Pass. The next time I felt uneasy when headed upwards, I listened and turned around. The storm I avoided produced lightning that struck 15 hikers on a nearby 14er (and killed a dog). Today, I didn’t consciously register that the sun was gone and the wind speed had doubled… I just knew that I needed to be down lower, faster. It wasn’t a super gnarly storm or anything, but it hit that part of my subconsciousness that’s like, “yo… you need to be someplace besides where you are, and you should go there quickly.”

This place has an amazing wildness about it. I feel like I’ve only just begun to find all of its corners and edges.


Visiting Memphis, a Realization

In the midst of trying to figure out how to make something interesting out of the #longestoffseasonever, I’ve taken a trip to Memphis to visit my parents. Now I’m sitting around the cabin drinking a Delerium Tremens (thanks, Aunt Leslie), and trying to figure out how to put all of my last week feelings out through the keyboard. I don’t want this post to sound totally negative, but the last week has brought up a lot of emotions, and this is my way of hashing through it all.

This is the first time I’ve come back to Memphis since I moved to Salida, and the second since I moved to Colorado back in March of 2015. I don’t really feel like Memphis is “home” anymore… on several levels. Sure, my parents are there. Also, John, the dude who coached me into my MMA adventures is there, and even though I’ve got some more experience from ATOS Denver, he still whoops my ass pretty hard. Other than that, I don’t really have a draw to it. When I let social media know I was visiting, the only contact I got was a dude I sort of knew from working at Outdoors letting me know he’d like to meet for a drink (ew). Not that I’m basing all of the upcoming text on a single post on social media… that was just a little kindling to the fire I’ve felt about Memphis ever since the last bit of time before I moved.

Riding trails there was less fun than I remember. All of the old issues I used to fight when I lived there are still there- go-arounds to anything barely difficult, and all of the “usual” muddy spots and low spots are 10 feet wide and/or extremely rutted. The difference now is that I can just roll my eyes and be glad that it’s no longer my problem rather than be subjected to what could verge on bullying because I have the gall to tell someone that they’re doing it wrong when they ride a partially wet trail or build a (really, really terrible) new trail, in a protected natural area, when there are a shit-ton of trail drainage/erosion problems just a half mile away from where they’re spending the time to build a (really, really terrible) new trail that’s 100% bandit/illegal (but un-enforced, because “Memphis”)

I digress…

I have my parents in Memphis. I have a really friendly place where I can play Jiu Jitsu/MMA any time I visit. I have very few people I can call friends in Memphis (you all are probably reading this, and know who you are). I had people I’d hang out with by proxy to my previous relationship. I don’t think many of them would have anything to do with me now.

I wasn’t just friendships, either. I spent most of my cycling life looking for a sliver of recognition that I was doing pretty damn well at bikes. Even though I was arguably the most successful cyclist in The City (road, mountain, and cyclocross), no one really gave a fuck.
Maybe it was because my successes were under the veil of being female (once the Commercial Appeal printed a story congratulating the second male cyclist in town on getting a cat 1 upgrade as being the ‘2nd Cat 1 cyclist in the city’ after the first dude. Problem was, I’d already had a Cat 1 designation for at least a year, which technically made him the 3rd Cat 1 in town). People just shrugged when corrected on this.
Maybe it played on others’ insecurities that, once I felt like a big fish in a small pond, I went straight out to the damn ocean.
Maybe I just wasn’t “womanly” enough for anyone to even want to notice the shit I was doing. I’ll never forget when I heard about a local dude who referred to me as “Mandrea” and said that I didn’t count as part of the female population of cyclists in town. I guess my hair was too short, I was too outspoken, too confident, too intimidating, too… whatever.
Forget the fish… I was a large black sheep in a small pasture.

(My parents have all of the state/national/world championship medals hung up at their Syllamo cabin)

I’m genuinely happy in Colorado and in Salida, especially.
During the Vapor Trail 125 race, Aid Station 1 was basically a collection of all of the amazing people I’ve met since I’ve moved here. I rolled in feeling somewhat burnt out, and left there feeling like I could destroy anything the race course could possibly present to me. They literally turned my race around with their support. I feel appreciated, included, and like I might actually have a friend or two.
It’s hard to have a relationship with a city for 30something years of your life and then figure out, “You know what? You’re dead to me.” I’m OK with that- It’s like removing a toxic person from your life, but on the scale of an entire city. I’ve found a really good place where I feel like I’ve integrated into the community, and where I’m genuinely enjoying life. Nowhere is all the way perfect, but here, I’m not utilizing any of my mental energy to convince myself that I’m happy. I sort of knew it before I visited, and the visit just solidified my feelings of “home” for my mountain town.

Edit to add: Here’s my theme song for watching Memphis disappear in my rearview mirror…

Longest Offseason Ever

I can’t tell you the number of racing years that I’ve reached the middle of the race season and thought, “I’d really love to go do _________, but I have to stay ready for ________ bike race.” I have quelled that thought countless number of times- my heart lies in both adventure and in competition, so I’ve let the competition side win every time.

Next year will be something different.

In the world of training periodization, the post-season (what I talked about in my previous blog entry) would be considered taking a break. The Off-season is when you lay the foundation for pre-season and in-season training. Off-season training is often less specific (at least in the early phases). It often includes strength training and other sports that can build similar fitness to the demands of your sport (for example- if you’re a road cyclist, you probably wouldn’t make gymnastics or table tennis  your off-season sport for training, but you might mountain bike, run, hike, play soccer, or XC ski… things that require cardiovascular endurance that aren’t necessarily riding a road bike).

So, in the spirit of Phil Gaimon’s “Worst Retirement Ever,” I’m taking on the “Longest Off-Season Ever.” I have no plans other than to take on whatever the mountains call me into.

Ok, well, that’s sort of a lie. I have several things I want to do but that I’m leaving myself open to not doing if they just don’t work out:

-Bikepack my big regional loop that I failed on in September
-Summit all of the peaks >13k feet within that loop (human-powered only for the approach to them would be a bonus)
-Rainbow Trail in a day on bike (on or around the summer solstice, most likely)
-Rainbow Trail on foot in <30 hours

I’m not saying I won’t go to any bike races, running races, burro races, or the like. I’m just saying that my focus is going to be taking a year off from planning my outdoor activities around the goal of bike racing. I feel like I’ve always bike raced not just in the spirit of competition, but also in search of new trails and challenges. For me, that latter aspect of bike racing has died off. While there’s lots I haven’t done, I feel like my sample of racing successes are representative of some of the most challenging events in the sport. The first few that come to mind:
– Three seasons of NUE 100s, the middle season being totally singlespeed and still finishing 5th overall in the series for Pro Women (also finishing 5th overall in the 3rd season, but with a geared bike).
– Breck Epic 3x singlespeed, with 2x 2nd place finishes and 1 win.
– Dirty Kanza 200, 3rd overall woman
– Vapor Trail 125 win and “new” course record.

Races, no matter how difficult, technical, etc, are still required to stay within the confines of permits, emergency access, course marking/sweeping, aid station support, and general safety for their participants. I’m looking to take on feats of endurance that are outside of those confines.


Now, for the “audience participation” part of the show. How do you want to watch this? Should I keep doing like I have with spotty blog posts and most frequent pictures on social media? Or, should I move forward into the increasing popularity of the YouTube Channel? All of those? At some point, Time becomes a factor (the infrequency of blog posts being example #1). I kinda feel like uploading a video blog might be easier. I’ve definitely videoed my thoughts while out on previous adventures only to delete them later for one reason or another.

Hit me up.  I’m here to entertain. You let me know the vehicle.

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.



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…




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.



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:


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.




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.




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.



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.


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…


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


Link to Strava:

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 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…


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


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).


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


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


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


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.


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.


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




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.



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…



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.


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.



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:


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:


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:


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.


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.





Wildflowers and hike-a-bike:


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




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.



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.



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.


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.



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


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.

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.


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:


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


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:

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.


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.


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…


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: . 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.


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.



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.


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.



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:



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


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



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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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).





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


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.


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.