It’s a tough time for everyone right now, and athletes have the added layer of trying to keep themselves occupied and motivated while racing is mostly canceled. I’ve designed this route to be do-able in a totally unsupported, touch-free manner. The start/finish is at a BLM area with dispersed camping (there is no water there, so bring it with you), and the length of the route is short enough that you can carry all the food you need. As long as travel into and out of the area is legal, this is an excellent challenge for social distance (the bike path in Salida proper can get a little busy, but it’s ~1 mile of 83).
If you’re going to go for an FKT, let me know ahead of time. I’ll timekeep here, and I can post links to whatever ride report and/or photos you have. You can email me- andrea at brickhouseracing dot com. Standard FKT/Solo/Support rules apply (here’s a link on the Tour Divide site, but these are the commonly accepted ethics of these sorts of things)- you’re welcome to do this ride with other people, but your time will be recorded as so, and not eligible for individual men’s/women’s records.
Here is the public route page on Gaia: North Rainbow FKT Loop
About the Rainbow Trail:
This is a moto-legal trail. It is steep, loose, and rugged with ample hike-a-bike. How much? That depends heavily on rain and moto traffic within the past 24 hours. If you can time your ride within the 24 hours after a soaking rain, the trail is significantly more ride-able because the powdery dirt and gravel mixture that covers much of it becomes temporarily consolidated. In a “normal” snow year, the highest section of trail over Poncha Mountain melts off sometime after mid-May.
Water on Route:
In the Spring, anything labeled on the map as a creek will have flowing water, and most smaller drainages on the map will be flowing. As the melt-off progresses and tapers in the summer, the creeks will still flow, but the smaller springs and unnamed flows on the map will be dry. There are multiple creek crossings between Hayden Pass and Bear Creek. Once you get to Bear Creek, you should filter enough water at the Bear Creek trailhead to get you all the way to Silver Creek (there are a couple of small water crossings between Hwy 285 and Silver Creek, but Silver Creek at the end is going to be the year-round reliable source following Bear Creek).
This is a moto trail. It is maintained almost completely by the Central Colorado Mountain Riders. These are some of the nicest and most conscientious trail users you’ll encounter anywhere. They are extremely diligent with cutting fallen trees every Spring, and I didn’t have to dismount once to climb over deadfall. They will almost always yield the trail to other users when they’re able (most of the ones I encountered on my ride pulled over and turned off, too). That being said- there are a lot of blind corners out there, so keep an ear open for motos- you can almost always hear them before you see them. It makes everyone’s ride easier if you learn moto hand signals to indicate how many riders are following- they understand if you hold up a closed fist that you’re alone, and you’ll know how many motos to expect ahead when the lead rider of an oncoming group signals to you. Expect more trail users of all types in the area between Bear Creek and Silver Creek. While the descent off of Poncha Mountain to Hwy 285 is one of the best in the county, it’s also a popular hiking route (as an out & back from 285), so stay alert and in control. Be Nice. Say hi!
There are no bathrooms at trailheads along this trail. There is a vault toilet at the Shirley Site, a public bathroom at the boat ramp in Salida, and another vault on the BLM road between Swissvale and Howard. Otherwise, you’ll need to follow proper backcountry procedure for dealing with your waste. Some old-time locals blame cyclists for leaving all manners of trash on the trail- like beer cans, etc. We all know that this isn’t likely the case, but if you happen upon some litter while you’re out there, take it with you if you’ve got the room (I have a nice souvenir lip balm from my trip!)
The Rainbow trail passes through the 2019 Decker Fire burn scar. Flash flooding in this area can be deadly, and will violently remove parts of the trail when it happens. If you feel as if the weather in the area has the potential for a downpour/flash flood while you are in the burn scar, it is safest to abandon the trail and seek safety outside of the burn scar. There is no prize for getting the FKT here- don’t die trying to do it. Familiarize yourself with the location of roads 101 (Bear Creek) and 108. Those are the exits you’ll take in case of flooding emergency (I’d recommend against using the Columbine Trail unless you’re well ahead of approaching weather).
Moose have been seen on the Silver Creek section of Rainbow trail. Black bears and mountain lions also roam all parts of the route, though they are rarely a danger to cyclists.
What if I just want to shuttle and only ride the trail?
Hayden Pass Road to the Rainbow Trail is drive-able by any passenger vehicle. The same passenger vehicle could pick you up from the Shirley Site trailhead a few miles down from where the trail ends at the Silver Creek trailhead. Silver Creek road does turn to a high-clearance/4×4 road for several miles between the Shirley Site and the Rainbow Trail. There is dispersed camping available at both ends of the trail. I made a segment on Strava if you want to compare times: North Rainbow Trail- Hayden Pass to Silver Creek
My personal FKT report: North Rainbow Loop FKT Report
I know there are a few of you out there who still visit this page, so I wanted to let you know, I’ve started a youtube channel to document the next adventure- Andrea’s YouTube Channel
Finally… I can’t go on without some structure and goals.
My year-long Longest Offseason Ever break has evolved (devolved?) in to feeling uncomfortably unstructured in my everyday life (other than work). As of late, I’ve literally felt envious when I’ve seen other athletes talk anything training related. I can’t stand it much longer. I’d wanted to do a better job at making the break something fun and exciting to follow along with, but it turns out, I needed a break from that as well. I’m all breaked out now, though.
The hard truth is, I take shit care of myself when I don’t feel the need to recover and maximize my training efforts. It’s like, “well, my body is useless now, so why bother?” I eat too much junk food, I stay up looking at dumb memes on the internet instead of reading a book so that I sleep better, I drink too much alcohol, I don’t exercise very often, and I haven’t done yoga more than a handful of times for a long time. My body feels like a tent rather than a temple.
It’s a hard thing to accept because bike racing doesn’t always make me happy (I wouldn’t have taken a year off if it did). However, it feels like having that external motivation is the only way I can be motivated to not treat myself like a garbage dump. When “normal” people look at an athlete and wonder, “what internal demons is he/she running from?” well… there you go. Future me will have to face this demon again at some point, but for now, I’m going to keep running.
So, its time to come up with a plan for next year. When I lived in Denver, it was easy to hop over to Winter Park on a Saturday and bang out a 2 hour race, then come home in time to have a beer and relax for the afternoon. I love that about cross country, but since I don’t have that within a reasonable distance of my house any more, I’ve got to look elsewhere.
This is where y’all come in. I don’t have many good ideas for races that are new and exciting (to me) other than The Lake City Alpine 50 (a new event for 2019 that looks absolutely gorgeous), and whatever Vapor Trail 125 evolves into. Both of those are late-ish in the season, so I’m looking to add to the front end. There’s always the early June Vail GoPro games as well… as much as I hate Vail, it’s got a wicked singlespeed payout.
Once I’ve got a season plan, I’ve been toying with the idea of a coach. For me, having someone to be accountable to is a huge motivation. I don’t know if it’s in my budget, though. If I can’t figure that part out, I have TrainerRoad, which is a great training program that I’ve experienced good results with. It’s a great “plan B,” but it’s just not the same as having a live human put forth the effort to hand over a program and me dutifully destroy it (in a good way).
The Boone is an awesome, light, bike, but I had the opportunity to get something that’s a little better suited for the riding that I do now (lots of jeep roads and no cyclocross racing). I wish I’d had a bike like this when I first started racing cyclocross, because I paid almost as much for the singlespeed Surly I did my first races on as what I’m selling this for…
It’s rim brake (with Tektro mini-v brakes), SRAM Red 10 speed (11-26 cassette) with a Force carbon crank (50/34), Industry Nine road tubeless wheels, Kenda Slant Six tubeless tires, FSA Carbon compact-bend bars (40cm wide at the hoods). It’s got a couple of little scratches and dings, but it’s in really nice shape overall. I hope I get to see it slay some races with someone else, because I never got back in to racing cyclocross after moving to CO.
Price: $1400 shipped anywhere in the lower 48 states
Email Andrea at brickhouseracing dot com if you’re interested
Weighs 15.9 as pictured
The best thing about Longest Offseason Ever is that it’s a malleable, flexible thing. My original thoughts and plans involved a lot of running and no real training plan. Then, I came down with raging plantar faciitis. It’s a lot better now, but I’ve scaled that part of my summer down to a lot of hiking later in the summer (more on that in a minute).
Pretty quickly after I decided that I wanted a year-long offseason, I also figured out that without a goal to work towards and train for, I am not a happy person. So, I’ve made a June FKT (fastest known time) ride on the Rainbow Trail my goal. The timing is just right so that I can train really hard for it and then coast with amazing fitness though the high-country-big-ride-season that starts sometime in July. The FKT ride isn’t a super high-pressure thing, either. There is currently no FKT for a mountain bike passage on the Rainbow Trail (at least non that I can find on the internet). I literally just have to finish and accurately record my time and a GPS track. I want to do well, of course, but I also don’t have a time goal with which to pressure myself. From what I’ve gathered, a good moto rider can do it in 10-12 hours, and I’ve found a report from a runner that did it in 31ish hours.
As for the hiking part, that will be in the form of scouting for elk (I hope). I’ve applied for the elk draw to hunt this fall for a cow elk in Game Unit 56. It’s the most rugged one in the area, which I’m banking on for my success. I plan on systematically wandering the mountains a couple of days at a time to elk-watch and then hopefully put food in my freezer come fall. I find out if I got a tag in June, so I should be able to start the scouting soon after my FKT ride. If you want an idea of just *how* rugged, go to yer Googler, search for “Colorado Game Unit Map” and look at 56. Then, take a look at CalTopo.com and check out the contours (that link should hopefully take you to a map of the area). Spoiler alert- there are two 14ers in there, and the westernmost boundary is the Continental Divide.
I’ve hunted since I was a kid… personally, I believe that if you’re going to eat meat, it’s the most ethical and healthy way to do so.
Other than a continually evolving plan, Salida life goes on… Episode 2 of Longest Offseason Ever is up on MBR YouTube if you want to see how that goes.
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: https://youtu.be/vA0lYCYL9q4
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.
While I feel lighter after getting all of my feelings out in my last post, I do feel the need to balance it by expressing thanks to the people/companies who helped me during the years that I bike raced out of Memphis.
Like I said- there are definitely a handful of people who weren’t bullies or jerks, and those people are still sticking around reading and watching my adventures to this day. Y’all know who you are. I do, too. I really appreciate your kindness. No, really… Those last few years in Memphis, I was having a hard time with depression, anxiety, and PTSD from getting hit by a car at Rouge Roubaix, and seeing a wave on the road/trail or having a friendly face in the bike shop sometimes felt like all that was keeping me going.
I had some really good local sponsors, too.
Outdoors Inc. stuck with me while I was trying to hustle sponsors from all over to support my endurance and cyclocross racing campaigns, and they support other local athletes as well. They’re a good employer and one of Memphis’ only outdoor-knowledgeable places to shop.
Nimblewear Clothing is another excellent company. I’ve worn my kits from them until they’ve become embarrassingly thin in the shorts. Not only are their clothes and designs awesome, but they were willing to flow me a couple of special one-ofs, like the short sleeve Interbike CX-Vegas skinsuit. I still wear that one on occasion.
Urban Fitness Kickboxing is also one, not necessarily cycling-related. I’ve explained my past curiosity of MMA here before, and Jon Trent at UFK was willing to take me under his wing and show me how to fight. Sure, it ended up with me having an extra broken nose, but, well, you don’t always win. I learned that long before I ever tried fighting off of two wheels. When he sold the gym to new owner Eric Ingram, Eric was happy to let me keep coming in to train Jiu Jitsu with him. When I got to The Training Camp in Denver, the comment I got from the first roll with an instructor was, “someone put a lot of time in to you.” Jon and Eric are good people. Coaching someone takes so much mental and physical energy that I don’t know if I can ever do enough to repay them for their help.
Moving on to the regional level, I want to shoutout to Industry Nine and Cysco Cycles. While they weren’t in Memphis, they were close enough to have a local-regional feel to them. I still love I9 hubs more than other hubs. Way more. I just can’t always afford to build wheels with them when a stock bike comes with something that’s “OK enough” to not bother me. Cysco built me two amazing custom titanium bikes, but, now that I’ve searched the interwebs, I realize that they are not around anymore. Kinda sucky. The unicorn of a road bike was extra-amazing.
Finally, even though they aren’t at all regional to the South, I have to send one last extra shoutout to Gu Energy Labs. They have literally sponsored me, in some way, shape, or form, since the beginning… like, used to have to fill out a paper order form and fax it in beginning. I’ve gone to races I wouldn’t have been able to go to with their help. This year is no different- I’m in the 2018 Salty’s Squad, which gives me some extra stoke to train for my upcoming adventures.
Thanks to everyone who has helped me. I appreciate each and every one of you, whether it was through sponsorship or just the act of “being nice,” you’ve all helped me more than you probably realized.
As Winter is (very) slowly starting to take a hold on the mountains, my plans for the next year are starting to gel. First order of business- learning how to ski. I’m still holding fast on part of my original plan of “winging it” on some of the local railroad grade and trail for classic-style Nordic skiing. However, I’m slightly modifying that with taking some skate skiing lessons at Tennessee Pass first. I’ll likely be on rental skis until I really figure out what I like and how far I’m willing to travel for the sake of exercise. Leadville is about an hour and half away, but considering I used to commute 45 minutes each way (on low traffic days), 5 days per week in Denver/Boulder, I don’t think one day a week of driving to Leadville is a big deal. There’s hardly any traffic, and the scenery is, well… effing amazing. Skate skiing seems like a pretty amazing way to build some Winter fitness, but it takes some groomed trails. Classic skiing is closer, but I’m not sure if I’ll enjoy it quite as much. Time and experience will tell.
My main 2018 objectives are set on three specific feats of strength- the 200something mile bikepacking route I’ve plotted (and failed to complete because of cold/weather/Raynaud’s), Rainbow Trail in a Day (on bike), and a traverse of the north half of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range (on foot). Rainbow Trail on foot is still in the back of my mind for sure, but the other two are top priority at the moment.
I’d likely take on the Sangre traverse with my newly found friend Liz, who I met at the group runs out of 7000 Feet Running Company (the “LRS” of Salida). Liz and I have already tackled some pretty rad day hikes in the Sangres- Like the one where we tried to go to Electric Peak, but there were 40-50ish mph winds at the saddle we’d aimed for prior to traversing the ridgeline to the peak. So, we took this pic and went back from where we’d come from.
The process involved with prepping for those goals over the winter is equally as demanding as prepping for a race season (if not moreso). Rainbow Trail in a day is no easy task. It’s likely going to take longer than any other 100-mile race I’ve ever faced. At the same time, I need to maintain an ability to travel quickly on foot to keep the North Sangres Traverse in mind.
I’ve been basically JRA (R=riding/running) since Vapor Trail. I’m going to visit Memphis and Arkansas sometime after New Year’s. Following that, I plan on increasing my running distance while simultaneously beginning some trainer workouts and adding in Nordic Skiing to get me prepped for another strenuous bout of early season riding. It worked out well for racing last season, so I’m hoping to get the same killer legs for next summer.
While I’m back Southeast, I might do this:
I did it once back in the day. Depending on how I’m feeling, I might give it another go. It’s billed as the most difficult trail marathon east of the Rockies. Honestly, after being out here for a few years now, I’d say it’s on par, short of the high elevation. I’ve had a touch of plantar faciitis, but I feel like I’ve got it well-controlled by switching from Altra shoes to La Sportivas and adding some custom insoles to the shoes I stand in at work every day.
I always try to keep an open mind for whatever comes up, but it’s nice to have at least a vague direction to travel in to.
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.