Sunday, July 29, 2012

Answering the Call of Colorado

Summer in the mountains always does something to me. I don't know if it's the lack of oxygen or the images of sunsets over alpine vistas burnt into my memory, but I always leave longing for more. Colorado has so much to offer. We've been to many parts, but usually the same parts, so this year the Hubs and I decided to break away from tradition and see some new stuff. Sort of.

We started in Breck, which isn't different. But we did do a different race than usual. For the past several years, we've competed in the Firecracker 50 over the 4th. Since many of our own team and others were competing in a much longer event a week later, we decided to skip the FC50 and compete in the Breck 100 race. Yes, that's 100 miles through Breck's high country. I opted for a much shorter version, a 32 miler and some others did the 68 mile version. Ryan and a few other brave souls attempted the hundy. A few finished. It's a big chunk to bite off, so merely attempting it is a feat in and of itself. No shame in not finishing. You can't mess around with ego when you're at 11,000 feet.

I had a pretty good race. There were a lot of ladies at the start line and like the FC50, we had to ride up Boreas Pass to spread us out. Riding up that thing is tedious when you're a flat lander. Everyone, even the guy on an old Trek 6000 with flat pedals wearing a Tshirt was going faster than me. It's such a punch is the psyche but I continued on. At the top of Boreas we veered left and onto dirt roads until we hit the dreaded Little F-ing French climb. The area was hit with a land slide last year and the rocks and shale seemed more loose than in the past. I had to dismount way earlier than I ever have and that didn't make me happy at all. I was determined to climb it since I was going to get to it with much fresher legs but it was not to be. Traffic and loose rock ended that notion. I did hop right back on and ride until I absolutely couldn't a couple of times. I made sure to ride over the "pass" and down through the rocky spring. After than it was single track heaven, albeit narrow and a steep grade if one were to fall. Believe me, I've been there.

The rest of the race went pretty smoothly. I did have to stop at one time to put on a rain layer. A cloud burst opened as I was approaching a fire road descent making it extra fun over the rocky covered road. As the sun came out the trail headed up so I had to stop again to take off the rain layer. After that, I was all about the finish line. I had ridden these trails last year with Ryan and Galinsky so it was all very familiar. And luckily, I warmed up on the roads that made up the last few miles of the race so when I got to them, my energy level shot straight up. I pounded up the roads until I could hear the music from the finish line.

After a few iterations of the results, I ended up with a 2nd place in my age group. Not bad for a flat lander, eh? All in all, I'm glad we did this event. There were about 18 of us from the flat lands so it was really fun to come into the finish area with a fan fare and then turn around and be the fan of those finishing later. We stuck around all day, squinting up the hill in anticipation of our friends coming in. And when we saw one, everyone got up and ran to the fence. Ryan snagged a bunch of brews from the beer tent and made sure to provide a beer hand ups so that finishers could cross the line in style! We got to meet our cycling coach, Jason Hillmire of Fascat Cycling. He almost won the 68!

Afterwards we cleaned up and met up at the brewery for some very well deserved carb heavy chow. It was a great day with great friends.
2nd place in age, 7th overall

Our coach, Jason Hillmire

Vacation, Day 1
Once racing ended, vacation began. Ryan and I stayed one last night in a very comfy bed at the Fireside Bed ad Breakfast. Interesting place, to say the least. Clean and quiet. The owners are British and there are British antiques and displays all over the place. Breakfast was super tasty and we met some pretty interesting folks staying there. Some just travelers and some cyclists.

We spent the day after the race driving to Crested Butte. We took our time, stopping at passes and a rest area to take in the views.

Arkansas River Valley

We arrived in CB under heavy storms. There was likely chance of rain each day in the area so it was nice to have everything in the van so we could stay dry and mobile. Since it was raining, we spent the afternoon paroozing the town of CB which is very cool, laid back and hippy-ish. There are more bikes than cars and folks ride straight down the middle of the street. If you had a car, you were likely a tourist. You'll be happy to know that Big Al's Bicycle Heaven is owned by an Omaha native and they gave us great advice on where to ride given the amount of time we had to spend in the area. They also were spot on as to where to get an awesome burrito. Be sure to leave room for a couple of margies to wash them down.

We killed some time in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, which is really just an exhibit in the town's local museum. It's cool how the town has adopted the mountain bike and the lifestyle. Townies rule in that town.

After the tour, we hit the local grocery and drove around. When we came back to the main part of the town, we were greeted by music. As we got closer, it was clear that right smack in the middle of the late afternoon people were gathering in a green space to hang out and listen to some live music, much like we would do at Jazz on the Green. We loved the spontaneity of the spectacle and decided to join in. When in Rome, I guess. We stuck around for an hour or so, but because we still needed to travel to get to our first camp site, we headed out as the sun was starting to get low. 

We drove a good 10 miles out of town into a large glacial valley. The views were breath taking. Once down in the valley, we hunted for camping sites. The only one we found was full so we back tracked to a dirt parking lot (that had porta potties). The sign said parking, so we parked. I unpacked the Cliff Bar wine pouch, our plastic camping wine glasses, and we toasted each other, "To us and so sweet single track" or something like that. 

Day 2
The next day we got up with the sunrise. I was in charge of the food while Ryan prepared the bikes. We opted for flat pedals only because it was going to be a relatively short day and we wanted to test them out. Pedaling in flats wasn't that bad, actually. The shoes were a bit hot but other than that, they performed just fine. We killed the day riding to and down the famous 401 Trail, twice. It's not technical and the view was indescribable. I'll let the pictures tell the story...

We had to pass through town on our way to the next trail, so we decided we deserved a buritto (really we were too tired to cook) so we hit up the burrito joint in town and celebrated with football-sized 'ritos and strong margies. I really like vacation!

Before dark, we drove a solid 15 miles in the opposite direction. Following the advice of our buddies at Big Al's, we took a dirt road to the town of Almont. If you like fly fishing and river running, go there. That's all they have! As we passed through town, the mountains got closer together and soon we were in a canyon. We camped next to Spring Creek. The camp hosts were great and warned us of bears so we had to make sure we kept all of the food in the van.

Day 3
On tap for the day was Doctor's Park. After reviewing the topo, we opted for clipless pedals. There was going to be typical Colorado gravel grinding on this ride so the more efficient the better. We parked the van at end of the trail, which was in the camp site, and we headed up the road. We rode through heavy forested areas where lucky folks had set up homesteads. One had R&R on the fence, so we had to take a picture as a reminder that someday we could be so lucky.

Once we popped out of the canyon, we were in open hillsides. The map said we were going to have to cross a stream. It was pretty wide and deep, so we took off our shoes and tip toed across. My sensitive feet were not very happy about this.

Once across the water, we rode up, up and up some more. Had to walk in a couple spots.

As we got going again at the top of this god for saken road, we could hear a rumble in the distance. A blind corner was just ahead and we didn't want to be caught there with some 4WD thing coming at us so we hurried to get in a safer view of what was coming. Well, needless to say, we didn't expect what we saw. A real live cattle drive was coming down the road and we were in the way! Upon seeing us the cows scattered into the trees. Not knowing what to do, we stopped. The cows and their calves were mooing at us as if to say, "Get the hell out of the way"! I started making my way towards a grove of trees thinking that would be a safe place. Not that cows were agressive, I just wanted to be out of the way. Well, that wasn't the best idea since the trees were in the direction the cows were going. The cowboy driving the cattle gave us a stern talking to, telling us to stay put and they'll be on their way. He had a 10 yr old daughter helping him on her horse and it was touching to hear him teaching her what to do. He was calm and in control, despite how we felt at the moment. 

With the cows safely out of the way, we continued up the road until we finally hit single track. Well, it was single track. The cows made it more like muddy, motocross track. But our Remedy's handled it without a foot down. We popped out into a field with the option of taking a trail called Doctors Park Bonus. It wasn't all that, but the view I think was the bonus part.

The next section was the downhill and all I can say is there are no photos because it was just that fun and fast. All I can say is, the climb was totally worth it, although it is driveable, so if you have two vehicles, shuttle! The downhill is kinda technical. A couple of sections have drops and there are some rock gardens but for the most part it's pretty buff. Then, when you get more into the canyon, the end of the trail becomes a black diamond with streep switch backs and rocks. But I rode it, so that should tell ya that it wasn't too bad. 

After the ride, RF and myself took a much desired dip in the creek rushing by. But we had to hurry because the skies were getting dark by the minute. As we drove away, the rains came. We dodged another bullet. We were close to Gunnison, so we decided to go check out the town. Ryan was looking for a bike part, so we stopped into the local shop for that and also to find out where to get a burrito. We scored. And their margies were huge!

We headed back to Crested Butte in time to catch the local weekly FREE XC and Downill races. The ski mountain has this stuff for locals and vacationers so to bring folks to the resort in the summer. When we arrived it was packed with racers and fans. Live musicians were on stage and beer was flowing. I had to pinch myself. This was a Wednesday night!

But, before long we had to call it a night and head to our new vamping sight. We drove out of town again and into the hills just south of town. We found the end of our next adventure and parked in the "no camping" parking lot. But since we were parking and not camping, we figured we'd be ok.

Day 4
Our last ride in the Crested Butte area was Deadman Gulch. It was to be our longest day on the bike but not too much longer than the others. We got up pretty early and good thing because people were showing up, including some of the park staff. Seems there was some trail work being done that included hauling of cement blocks for anchoring. Their trail crew was of the 4-legged kind.

This ride was different from the others in that it had multiple ascents and descents on all kinds of terrain from service roads to double track and single track. The trails were open to motos and ATVs so the trail was pretty loose and tedious to climb. But of all of the trails, I felt the most remote and out there on this day. We did come across some ATV users and an older couple driving their off-road looking golf cart on the service roads but the single track was all ours! It went from tree-lined mountain scapes down through aspen forests. The very end lost elevation quickly with switchback after switchback until we it dumped us out at the creek where we had started. It was a fun day in the saddle and a great ending to our Crested Butte adventures.

We left Crested Butte after the ride and one last burrito. We didn't want to spend all morning driving to Winter Park (our next stop on our Colorado tour) so we decided to go part way and camp. Ryan asked about a gravel service road that would take us a litte out of the way but it was totally worth it. The views were spectacular. We drove through miles of Aspen forests that opened up with views of the "back side" of Crested Butte. I could only imagine its magnificence in the fall with all of the colors. 

I saw this guy as we were driving. But he pulled a Far Side and wouldn't pose for me!

We stopped for the night at a great little campsite just off the interstate outside of Vail. We couldn't even hear the traffic and the sites were nicely spaced apart so you didn't feel like you were invading. Good times. We hadn't taken out pet sheep with us so I took a shot of him in his element. We capped the night and the week with some Cliff Bar wine and our books.

Our next adventure took place, at least for me, at Winter Park Resort's Trestle Bike Park. Ryan was there only a day before he had to head to Steam Boat Springs for an enduro race. My adventure was with the Trek Dirt Series Skills Camp. It was just for ladies and my goal was to learn how to better jump, drop and descend technical terrain. I've been racing for several years, but I still have so much to learn and I figured I could learn a lot from the rad chicks that run the series. 

Carly Thomsen and Jen Deep joined me in my quest for mad skillz. (Photos courtesy of Jen). Ryan and I (along with our dear ol' friend Mike "Rusty" Resetar) took them on the mountain to give them a taste of what was to come. 

We, of course, capped off the night stuffing our face at a family Mexican joint in Fraser, just down the road. (I think RF was jealous of my dinner choice). 

During the camp, went through similar sessions, going back to the basics of balancing, turning, weight distribution, and moving into more advance sessions using stunt equipment to simulate jumps and drops. There was even a small pump track that totally kicked my ass. I could see how just having one of those around could improve how one performs on a trail. (Photos courtesy of Jen).

I don't have any images of me up on the mountain, but I was in one of two "advanced" groups that went down a jump trail called Rain Maker. (Check out this video of dudes sessioning it). After a morning of rushed skills sessions, I wasn't convinced that I had the mojo to catch air, even though our coach, Canada's National Downhill Champion, Casey Brown, drove it into our heads that we had what it took. It's one thing to session a ramp made of wood where you can see where you're landing. It's a totally different thing to approach a 5 foot jump going fast where you can't see what's on the other side. Oh and knowing you're on a mountain and that endless streams of adrenaline filled dudes are boring down on the same trail didn't help. 

Yes, I was terrified. Leaving the earth just doesn't sit well with my control-freak nature.

Believe me, I was in the safest place I could be to learn how to do this. The trails are beautifully made without a rock in site of the landings. For me it was 90% mental. They gave me the knowledge, I just had to believe I could do it. The first time down, I rolled everything. The wall rides and the berms were the most fun because I could do them at speed and remain connected to the ground. These berms were like 20 feet high and the faster you went, the higher up you go on the wall. Intense! Just don't break or look down! Total blast and a feeling of relief and accomplishment was shared among our group. We went up for another run. The second time we rolled through a bit faster and less stopping. I really focused on what I was doing. Knees bent, arms bent and out, roll to the lip and explode over the top! There are so many jumps on this run that it was impossible not to get air on at least one. I can proudly say, I probably got air on a few but I chickened out on most. I think I just need more practice! 

After the day on the mountain, we had time to clean up and meet at a local Tex Mex place on the resort. Our first drink and chips n salsa were on the house, thanks to the manager of the bike park. While Carly and Jen hit up the mechanics session, I hung out with a couple of chicks from Vermont, who I just yesterday I noticed were written up in Dirt Rag magazine. They have a yoga/mtb retreat business and they contributed to a column about yoga for mountain bikers. Such a small world!!!

The next day was more of the same. We got longer sessions on skills of our choice and then after a delay getting on the mountain due to heavy rain and lightening, we had time for one, maybe two runs. I opted for one. After seeing an unfortunate endo gone bad and hitting the deck myself, I lost my mojo and decided to call it a day. Ryan was at the bottom waiting for me and when he saw me all kitted up in my hardcore armor and full face helmet, he was all smiles. I told him that I had gone down Rain Maker a few times and he took a step back, "Woah"! I agreed. And even though I didn't come away with confidentially getting air all of the time, I did come away with the knowledge to do it and to keep practicing. I also came away with bits of riding advice that I never knew that will totally help me in my XC riding and racing. All in all I recommend the Dirt Series camp. It's a great way to learn and be in a safe environment where mistakes are expected and improved upon. The instructors were top of the line; women who have riddin and raced in World Cups and all over British Columbia. Ladies came from as far away as Vermont and California. With partnering sponsors like Trek, Bell, Crank Brothers, and Five10, we had top of the line opportunities to test some great equipment. They really did it right.

The day ended with Carly and Jen bidding me farewell as they had to get on the road. Our good friend Sarah Viamonte came up from Denver to hang out and catch up. We returned to Fraser to again have some homestyle Mexican food at the same restaurant but that just seems like the thing to do after a day, hell, a week of riding bikes in the mountains.

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