Monday, February 25, 2013

Fruitas and Enchiladas - Part 3

The final leg of our our adventure to the Great Wide Open put an exclamation point on the trip. We spent 5 days in the beautiful desert of Moab, Utah. Ryan and I love that town. We really get a kick out of bringing people there for the first time, watching their mouths drop open at the moment they comprehend what they are seeing. Our condo was in a great location, only a couple blocks from Main Street so we could walk or ride to the main part of town. It had a nice double garage for all of our toys, a grill and a nice patio although we usually ended up hanging out in the garage. The beds had feather top mattress covers, even the bunks! Swanky! 

Once we unloaded and figured out where to sleep, we kitted up and headed out. The rain followed us all morning but by ride time, it had stopped. The group decided to go ride the Slick Rock trail. Martin wanted to check it out. It's just a gorgeous ride, even though at times, it can be challenging. 

Right off the bat Wixon's rear break checked out. This was no place to have break issues, so he turned around and went back to the van. April soon followed, not feeling the flow that day. Again, not a place to ride if you're not up for it. So me, Gnarly, MB and Eyberg lit out for the long route, following the white striped bread crumbs that kept us from falling off the edge of the earth. 

Riding Slick Rock is not for the inexperienced rider. Trusting your bike is key as well as good handling and fitness. Some of those climbs were just incredible. It seemed as though they went straight up so riding them was exciting and scary. And usually once up on top the views rewarded us for the effort. The clouds really made for some beautiful scenery. There were very few people on the trail. Some hikers, bikers and one excited group of military guys having a ball in a rented dune buggy. We didn't do the entire route, opting to cut it short since we still had to ride back into town (which was mostly a screaming descent). 

Once back at the condo, Wixon was like a happy puppy scratching at the door. His bike was repaired and he could smell the single track. Even though we were tired, we were also there to ride our faces off. Carly and Martin were calling it a day so me and Eyberg replenished our Camelbaks and all 3 of us rode from the condo to a kick ass trail about a mile from the condo called Pipe Dream. It's a sweet, technical out and back trail that winds it's way around boulder fields at the base of the tall canyon walls that parallel the valley. We rode it last year as the first ride of the day. Today, I was fatigued and even though was having a blast, I was not riding very fast. By the time we made it to the other end, we all decided we'd just ride the gravel road that was directly under the power lines back to the house. That's where the real adventure started. The road was not flat by any stretch and we were having a blast bombing down the hills. Well, until we hit a barrier fence and no trespassing signs. We turned around thinking we must have missed a turn off. We could see and hear Main St. We weren't that far away. We followed a side road that then turned into single track. Yes, it also had no trespassing signs but it was getting dark and I didn't care. The trail ended up at the back of someone's property, full of junk and old tires, etc. Great, we're either gonna get shot or a dog is going to have me for dinner. Sure enough, the barking began. We were outta there. Luckily, we never saw the animal but never saw a way out neither. We rode back up to the gravel road, back up all of the steeps we bombed down. We came up on a woman walking her dog and she directed us down a road. It splintered off a few times and we ended up at the back of a construction business. Again, not caring, we rode through the lot to the main street. It was pretty dark by then. But the fun was not over. Being unfamiliar with the side roads (obviously) we kept riding down dead ends trying to get to the condo by what we thought would be shorter routes off the main drag. We finally got back to the condo and laughed at the whole thing while we told our tale to the rest of the group, who to our wonderment, were in the process of grilling dinner. In that moment I was in a state of post-ride bliss.

The next day was our big ride day. The plan was to recon The Whole Enchilada race route but not at race pace or anything near it actually. (We were on vacation after all.) Forecast was looking good however posts from race directors declaring marking the course in the snow had us feeling a bit uncertain about what we were getting ourselves into. Some of us had watched videos of Burro Pass and Hazard County and we looked at the elevation charts. There were just a lot of unknowns. But this was an epic trail, one that many people came to ride from all parts of the world so the fun factor had to be higher than the pucker factor, right? Right. That was my logic anyway.

It took a while to get up to the drop at Geyser Pass. Ryan, amped on coffee and his stoke meter in the red, made sure we got up there asap. The creepster van did just fine although if you asked those in the 3rd row seats, you may get a different version. Love them stutter bumps! 

After one pit stop we finally made it to the trail head. It was pretty chilly and there were snow patches, which pretty much affirmed there'd be snow up on Burro Pass. Just how much, we were about to find out. 

We rolled out as a group down a service road and immediately we left tree cover to some of the most spectacular mountain scenery I've ever seen. The aspens up on the mountain sides were exploding and their groves stood out against the dark pines that surrounded them. Large rock outcroppings only added to the stark beauty. None of us said a word. We pedaled along looking up for the first few miles just trying to take it all in. 

We were brought back to our senses when the road started to go up. It was rideable and not too wet, although a bit tougher on the Remedy with that slack head angle. But, I knew I'd be rewarded soon enough for the effort. And speaking of effort, the single track was pretty greasy. At the base of the Burro Pass saddle, we could see a group of other riders walking. The trail was slightly off camber and very narrow. I put it in the granniest of gears, put my head down and just put dirt behind me one pedal stroke at a time. I had to clip out a few times here and there but overall, it wasn't too bad. The higher we climbed the muddier it became due to the snow melt. It was rideable until we hit a pretty steep switchback that didn't level out on the other side for a few yards. I didn't want to arrive at the pass on my feet so I jumped on the bike as soon as I could get enough momentum. Once up there, we weren't alone. Other riders were hanging out waiting for their group to get up to the pass. We hung out, took photos and refueled as we waited our turn to start down into the abyss.

I say abyss because it was on the dark side of the mountain. The heavy pine forest didn't allow for much light to penetrate onto the forest floor, which was black and mucky. The trail was steep. The switch backs were challenging to say the least. I was very happy to have a dropper post, which was slammed all the way down. I still had to clip out a couple of times on some switchbacks but not as much as I would have without it, I believe. It was cold and dark. All the boys were up front somewhere. Carly and I were taking our time, just wanting to get down safely. The steepness gradually leveled out some. And although I just wanted to rip it, I couldn't. There were enough roots and rocks around to keep me honest. I'm a pretty conservative rider and I've learned to feel the wheel, so to speak, letting the bike do it's thing. At camp, it's called Bike-Body Separation. The Remedy knew what to do. I just had to keep us upright. 

We did come across a group that had gone ahead of us. Unfortunately one of their party had face planted on the down side of a pretty gnarly drop. She had a pretty puffy black eye and later we found out a slight concussion and had to be picked up and taken into town. 

I'm not sure how much time went by before the trail finally leveled out. We followed a creek and at times had to cross it and it was COLD! At the first crossing, Carly stopped, and looked around for a place to hike across. I yelled back for her to ride on through. She looked at me with a WTF expression. I told her to get some momentum and just pedal across. It was fun to watch her do it and I was relieved that she didn't have to put a foot down. After that, she didn't even hesitate. The next couple of crossings were a piece of cake.

At this point the ride was already more than I imagined. We all had made it down the steep side of the mountain and were enjoying some well deserved flow. How could it get any better? Give it a mile. Suddenly, were were surrounded, engulfed, and ensconced in the most golden light I've ever seen. The trail had lead us to an aspen forest. The leaves were dropping all over the place like little lemon snow flakes. I was ready for a Centuar or woodland elf to pop out and welcome us to Narnia. We had definitely hit the peak of the autumn colors, referring to it as the "Yellow Canopy of Happiness". It not only looked incredible but it smelled amazing too. We stopped for a while for pictures but more importantly for a genuine acknowledgement and deep appreciation for the moment. Thinking of Ryan, I took a photo of myself because it was what we would have done had he been with us. Soon we remounted and slowly and reluctantly made our way onward. Others were coming up the trail so we had to keep moving. 

And just when our eyes thought we'd seen it all, we came to a special place that I could only describe has heavenly.

Warner Lake is a group camp site way up in the La Sal Mountains. It's accessible by vehicle but probably not for much of the winter. The lake is more like a pond. There wasn't much wind thanks to the high flanking mountains on one side and forest on the other. The water was like glass, reflecting the surrounding landscape in all of its autumn splendor. Once again we were blown away by the beauty before us. The high mountains were blanketed in pine forests. The aspen trees couldn't hide; their rich golden yellow leaves giving away their location. More pictures and more "I can't believe what I'm seeing" moments followed. We were truly lucky to be there. I was pretty certain that Bob Ross would have lived there given the chance.

Next to the lake was a group camp area was a small, white, one-room cabin and a pit fire area. A couple of out-houses were located next to a gravel parking area. We rode through the lot and onto the service road. We could see the pink tape marking the race course so we knew we were going the right way. This was the end of the line for this ecosystem. The road lead us up to another parking lot. A sign welcomed us to Hazard County.

From the lot we followed some single track that wound through a small wooded area. It was twisty and technical and soon went diagonally up the hillside. As we started our ascent, a very strong dead animal stench came out of nowhere. I turned a corner and next to the trail was the freshest, bloodiest deer carcass I had ever seen. It was literally still bleeding and figured we had interrupted something's lunch. The hillside was overtaken with scrub brush and thicket so dense you couldn't see anything past a foot. This was alarming. I started thinking about the bear or mountain lion that was probably sitting only a few yards away, waiting for us to pass by so it could finish its meal. I was creeped out! We quickly rode up the hillside. It got steeper and rockier for a short bit but I wasn't going to dilly-dally in some mountain lion's kitchen, so I made mince meat of that trail and got the hell away from there! Once out of the trees and on top of a hillside, we could look behind us and see where we had been only a few hours before, satisfied at the elevation loss so far and yet still so many miles to go. We were having so much fun. The valley was absolutely stunning. The light beaming out of the clouds lit up parts of the rainbow-colored mountainside, reflecting off every leaf, turning them all some shade of orange, red or yellow. Contrast that with the mix of deep blue sky and clouds and it just took our breaths away. I was glad to be doing the ride because I knew I would have missed all of it on race day.

At this point, we were at the Hazard trail head. From there it was nothing but down. We could see the red rock of the desert way far off in the distance. My chest ached with excitement. I couldn't have been more happy, but then I started riding.

Hazard is by far the best single track I have ridden. I've ridden many trails and this one, because it's on a down slope the whole way, requires pedaling only if you want to increase your speed. Riding it was like skiing. It went back and forth through the scrub brush, and because of the speed and terrain, every turn would hand us a surprise berm, rock garden, jump or dip. I think I yelled out loud more than once, rocking my bike up to speed after each corner so I could get ready in time for the next one. It was over in a flash, dumping us out on a gravel road where Ryan was waiting for us. Each of us popped out with the biggest shit-eating grin. I was shaking my head, not believing what I had just done. It's not often one comes out of a trail system feeling like that so we knew we had found the holy grail. And of course. We were in Moab. 

After everyone arrived at the road, we made a pit stop. Oh, I almost forgot! At the trail head at Hazard, Martin spotted World Champion XC racer Alison Dunlap. Hello! I didn't recognize her at first but after she said who she was, I was like wow! We saw her again at the road crossing. Pretty rad. She was leading a couple of guys down the same trail.

We soon followed. This time we were on the Kokepelli. We had a couple of short climbs that offered up some pretty spectacular views of the valley we were heading towards. But it was time to really focus on the trail as we entered UPS (Upper Porcupine Singletrack) the beginning of Porcupine Rim Trail. This is classic Moab mountain biking. The pounding was constant as we navigated technical rock after technical rock. Up and over slick rock boulders, around sand traps and down steps that went from hub high to seat high. Hucking and lifting and hucking and lifting. Some spots I had to unclip. I tried to make mental notes for race day. There was one particular step down that was too high for me and I stopped to clip out, only I clipped out mountain side down, lost my balance and literally flipped sideways and landed on my back, still clipped in. I flagged Carly to help get the bike off of me. It didn't hurt thanks to the good ol' camelbak but I did manage to tweak my new dropper post. I was so pissed. It wasn't tweaked too much but enough to be annoying since it was brand new. Grrr. Soon after we got to an area of the trail called The Notch. The Notch is what the name says: it's a crag barely the width of the handlebars and about 20 feet down with a 45 degree turn in the middle of it. We watched videos of folks who rode it and folks who tried. It was way beyond most human abilities and not easy to climb down either. The Todds were helping us down but I had to do it on my own since I would have to do it by myself anyway for the race. I was glad to be down that thing. It was something we all were very concerned about but since it was hikeable, I felt better about it. I've hiked my bike down some crazier stuff for sure.

Soon after The Notch, we made it to the popular look out point where most people stop to rest and take pictures of castle valley. The valley is enormous, miles and miles wide and even more long. So much so, that all of the colors are shades of pastels from the unfiltered haze of the sun. 

Standing there enjoying our break, we find out that Ryan's van has a flat tire. He had called me and Eyberg while we were riding. He was probably within riding distance but it would be a solid hour to get to him and we weren't exactly sure where he was in relation to us. I called him. He was in no mood to talk. I suggested calling a tow service. They probably dealt with this all of the time, but he wasn't having it. By some miracle, in a sling, he managed to take off the spare, remove the flat tire and mount the good tire. (He was so going to be doing yard work when we got home!) I told him to at least get to town and have a shop lock those lug nuts down tight. I guess on the way down, he saved about 4 riders who were walking their bikes the wrong way, giving them a lift in the van. Karma!

Ok, back to the trail. Seems flat tires was the theme of the afternoon. Down on lower Porcupine, Eyberg flatted after slamming the back tire up against a rock ledge. The first tube didn't take so he had to use one of our tubes to get the job done. About 30 minutes later we were off again, bombing the wide open craggy, rocky, gnarly, and sandy surface that is Porcupine Rim. Not long after Todd's flat, we arrived at the perimeter fence that marked the single track that would take us down, finally, to the valley floor. Carly and I picked our way down. I wasn't there to witness it but Eyberg rode some sick stuff only to biff at the very bottom. Luckily nothing too serious. About 100 yards out from the bottom, all the guys waited for us to catch up. They wanted us all to finish it together. We asked Carly to lead us home. Ryan and April were waiting with open arms. And cold beers. 

Hard to say if our smiles were from the 6-7 hours on the mother of all trails or getting a beer hand up just as our wheels came to a stop. The long and memorable day in the saddle left me with a real sense of satisfaction. I felt I could go into the race on Saturday with full knowledge of what I was getting into. That confidence would help me sleep better the next couple of nights. Needless to say many high fives were exchanged. We had just ridden thousands of vertical feet from the mountain tops to the desert floor, something I had never done in one run. And I was going to race it in a couple of days? Wooh to the F-ing Hoo!

We capped off the night with a meal at newish restaurant near the condo. The food was OK but sitting on the deck made for extra points. So did the fact that April, upon returning from a quick run back to the condo for her wallet, got a cat call from a dude driving by in a muscle car. Married ten years and still got it! :) Later, Wixon and I drove to the store for an emergency ice cream run. Since the local place by the condo was closed we were forced to buy package but it still went down all the same. Needless to say we all went to bed with visions of sugar plums and single track and whiskey dancing in our heads.

The next day, a Friday, was an open ride day. We were pretty beat down from the previous long day in the saddle. But we had a van and a mountain, so why even pedal? Hazard was such a hit we wanted April to have a chance to ride it. Plus, I wanted to show Ryan the beauty of Warner Lake and the La Sal Mountains in their moment of autumnal glory. And they didn't disappoint. RF and I got in our traditional head shot after a short walk by ourselves as the group unpacked the gear. I wanted him to know that he was on my mind and appreciated for his contribution to the trip and a nice little walk together was just the thing.

Soon we were off and after the short climb up to the Hazard drop in (carcass was still there although much more stinky) and a moment to take in the 360 degree view, we wished each other a great ride and we went off at our own pace, to have our own ride. It was just as good the 2nd time. And seeing the smile on April's face was totally worth the effort.

But, it was clear to most of us that we were pretty tired. We didn't want to waist any daylight so we told April to find us a place where we could all ride. We lit out for Bar M trails, which is sorta like Moab's beginner trail system. In all of the years going to Moab, we had never been to Bar M and I think it'll be a stop next time. It consisted of open service roads that outlined the edge of the network of slick rock and crevices. It wasn't all that until we came to some single track spurs like Bar B (the trail marker had an actual Barbie doll attached to it, although I don't recall which one). The trail turned out to be really, really fun. Very technical, slow riding type stuff, much like Pipe Dream a few days earlier. We even got to ride downhill on the paved path that parallels the highway (another first) where we would meet Ryan at the entrance to Arch's National Park. Martin had lead most of the way after not being able to let a roadie whiz by without a chase. He let up maybe 100 yards from the end. Carly and I decided to see if we could catch and pass him before the end. We did with barely room to spare. Our reward: Olympia beer that Ryan had on ice for us. It went down easily. 

After the ride, we drove back to the condo. We were on a schedule because we wanted to drive up to Delicate Arch for sunset. Instead of making food, we decided we'd find something on the way. And that something was a food truck that made quesadillas. They were delicious! Probably not the smartest thing to eat when you were going to be hiking uphill 3 miles. I felt the after affect, hiking pretty slowly. But once up at the arch, I was fine. It was fun to watch April and Todd walk down to it for a photo. There was another girl who's father wouldn't stop taking her picture at the bottom of the arch and many of the photographers were booing and yelling for them to move out of the way. The arch was on full display, proudly showing off its colors: a reward for all of us who had made the pilgrimage once again. And if it were not beautiful enough, there was a full moon rising behind it and by the time we were half way down to the car, the light reflecting off of the slickrock, was all we needed to make our way back down. The drive out of Arch's is always enjoyable. The last bit of sun dropping behind the formations made for some amazing silhouettes but then to have the moon light up the landscape like a giant street light was pretty amazing too.

Once back in town, we decided to hit up some place that would have drinks and eats. We hit the local fave, Eddie McStiffs to clink our glasses in celebration of yet another killer day in the desert.

After many full days of riding, Saturday, the day before the race, was to be a rest day. We checked out main street and hit a couple bike shops. We said good bye to the Eybergs after lunch. They needed to be home in time to work on Monday and not have vacation hang over. We were sad to see them go but later we got a text saying they rode PBR one more time at 18 Road in Fruita. That, my friends, is what's known as daylight management. 

Finally, Race Day had arrived. Martin and I had to be at the shuttle pick up no later than 5:45 a.m. for a 6 a.m. departure. It was an amazing sight. Every shuttle vehicle in town was there as well as 150 sleepy yet giddy racers and their bikes and gear. The shuttle drivers were probably on their 3rd coffee by the time we were driving away. Ours was amped and excited for what lay ahead. It was pitch black in the valley and pretty cold. Everyone was in their winter layers from hats to coats to gloves. (The promoters would later collect everyone's warm layers and take them back to the post party). The ride up was fun. Most people were quiet but there was one couple from New York talking everyone's ear off but in a good way. They were excited. They had been there a few days, camping  and riding the course a few times, in the snow and rain, hopeful that it would be dry. I stopped drinking coffee after we left the house for fear of having to go on the way up (it was an hour drive at least) so I was a bit sleepy but too amped to close my eyes, not wanting to miss a single detail. We had the crystal grey moon hanging full over Moab Valley behind us while the sun started to make its appearance over the La Sals. I had to pinch myself. I felt like I was on an epic journey. Sharing it with 150 like-minded adventure junkies took it up a notch. You could sense the anticipation. This was the first race on this course ever. Though many had probably ridden it or parts of it like we had, racing it was a whole new ball of wax. And having pro-level racers there gave it some serious race cred. And it wasn't like the pros were in the pro van, far from their fans. Nope, they shared seats on whatever van had room, right next to the likes of Martin and I, weekend warriors, trying to put a notch in our baggy pant-racing belts. 

But I had to pee like a race horse.

So, as we were driving up to the trail head, which only had one outhouse for 150 racers needing to pee and other things, I had an idea. There was a bathroom on the way that we stopped at on our recon ride. I knew we were coming up to it so I told Martin my idea. As we turned the bend there was not only the bathroom but also two more porta potties. I had to go even more now. I asked the driver if he could stop. I must have woken him out of a driving daze b/c at first he was like "Do you really have to go now? " I turned around and asked if anyone else preferred that we stop? I got a few hands up. We were probably the 4th or 5th van up there so there'd be a very long line for sure. I said yes, let's stop. And as soon as we pulled into the large gravel parking area, the van that was ahead of us stopped and then all the other vans followed us. Suddenly it was a race to the bathrooms. Now everyone was screaming to hurry up and get the door open.We all jumped out like the van was on fire, laughing and sprinting to the portas. It was pretty hysterical. Even after we all were done, the driver took advantage of the stop. Once back in our seats, everyone was wide awake and super excited. It was only a mile or so to the drop off and sure enough everyone was in line for the bathroom. Everyone, except us. That left plenty of time to for us to stand in line for bacon and to sign ourselves in.

My race wasn't scheduled to leave the start line until around 8:30 am. It was around 7am when our van pulled in. 

All around from Pros to Nos, bikers were hanging out together, trying to stay warm and just generally enjoying the moment of being part of the first annual event. It was pretty special. The drivers hauled bike after bike off the vans' rooftops. Most of the rigs were of the 5" - 6" flavor so I felt right at home with my Trek Remedy. In fact, I felt like I belonged there. Yes, there were national and Olympic champions there but it was a way more relaxed atmosphere. No banners, so flags. No start line for that matter. The pro women, while they waited for their turn, piled into a van and turned up the music. Many of us stood in slivers of sunlight that came through the trees, "Lizard Beach" Martin called it. 

The men Categories, starting with the Pros, went off in heats around 7:30. After a couple of trips to the bacon station, Martin was ready to go. He was smiling ear to ear despite suffering from a slight cold. Several minutes after the Pro men left, the promoter called for the Pro women. About a dozen or so piled out of the van, all dancing around. It was pretty festive. Some had fun accessories on their helmets, or fun socks. One of the instructors from the Dirt Camp was racing (she's a Moab local). 

Once they reached the start of the timed race at the saddle, the amateur men were called up. The promoter gave them a lecture on how to not be a dick if they come up on any of the pro women. It was pretty funny. I snapped off some picks of Martin as he lined up towards the back. The gun went off and I yelled words of encouragement as the group disappeared. 

The only ones left were us amateur women. Everyone looked solid, like they knew what was about to go down. It felt good to be among them. Very empowering. Very encouraging. Very inspiring. Like I had found my sisters, a brigade of beauties, geared out in body armor and big hit bikes. I stood there on the start line, confident; not wanting to be anywhere else but right there.

The promoter gave us our pep talk. Telling us to be sensitive to the men we would come up on because they'll already be deflated, knowing they're about to be "chicked". It got a giggle out of us. Then we were off. It was a moderate pace, but it didn't matter because it was a neutral start up to the saddle but you know how bike races go. I was top five or so for most of the start and as we got closer I made it as far as top 2. We did overtake a few of the guys just before the saddle. Where the trail was a mushy, wet mess a few days before, was now a delightfully, tacky ribbon of high country goodness. I wasn't about to walk this shit. I called out to the walkers who got out of the way as best they could. I made it farther up than on the recon ride but then it got super steep and rocky. I walked a bit it to catch my breath but wanted to ride onto the saddle. When I got there, the men were still waiting their turn to start so we had a few minutes to grab some food, go pee and add layers if needed. 

I felt great. I think I had surprised some folks, being a flat lander and all. I surprised myself,too, hoping I didn't burn too much energy on the climb. So I took in some good calories knowing I wouldn't be breathing too hard for a while and waited for my turn. There was some discussion as to whether or not we should wait for the rest of the guys to walk up the trail and get in line or just go. A few went but most of us stayed back, mostly to just keep things organized. As the ladies started down the chute, many words of encouragement followed them. I rolled up to the line and as the timer gave me my 30-second warning I turned and wished the rest a good, safe ride. Then I disappeared into my zone.

I don't need to go into too much detail about the terrain, as you can read about it in the recon ride but what I do need to mention is that most of the mud had dried into velcro ribbons of hero dirt. I didn't have to slide around the switchbacks. White knuckles were replaced by a relaxed grip, one finger on the breaks. With the saddle dropped, I was in complete control of me and my ride. It was cold. The sun had not yet made it to that side of the mountain but I was comfortable. My gear choice was spot on. My suspension was a bit rough. I had changed it up just a smidge the night before and I should've just left it alone. I'd pay for it later. Once I made it down the switchbacks without incident, I knew what remained, barring any technicals, would be fine. I did get past once in that section but I claimed back my position not too much later. She had a pretty big bike, more DH than trail and the Remedy, once we hit more climby terrain just rolled on by her. 

I don't know how others approached the longer climbs, but I just took them nice and steady. The course did get pretty steep and rocky right before the Hazard descent but I just focused on the top and spun my way up. Once up there though, I knew these hard core DH and all-mouintain riders would be breathing down my neck so I got after it as only a flatlander would. I met up with Martin and it was such a delight to ride this section again with my friend, despite my suspension bouncing me around like a pinball. Because I was so focused on figuring out the why it was so stiff, I made some dumb mistakes up there and had to dismount a couple of times. I didn't get passed until I reached upper Porcupine. Obviously my stiffer suspension kept me from being as nimble as I wanted to be. It wasn't the worst thing in the world. It was just a little harsher of a ride. I did get passed quite a few times in this section which sucked but I was still having a blast. I saw Ryan just before I got to the Notch. He was snapping pictures just as I had to dismount, once again, b/c of a bad line choice. GRRRR! I got down the chute easily enough and decided that I needed to take off my liner gloves. That was a huge mistake. I couldn't for the life of me get the damn things in my back jacket pocket. It took like a minute. I was ready to throw them off the cliff. Then I had trouble getting into my pedals. It was just a disaster at that point. When I finally got clipped in I told myself to calm down and focus. The gnarly had only just begun. I love slow technical riding. Racing it is fun too and more exciting because obviously you have to pick your lines quicker, scanning the landscape for the route and then hoping you make the right one. And the further you get down Porcupine, the faster it gets. But luckily for us back-o-packers, the line was clearly warn in. I pushed myself. With a little extra dose of confidence from camp as well as having ridden there many years in a row, I felt I could really focus on the terrain and just have fun. It's been a hope of mine ever since coming to Moab to ride this trail non-stop. And to be able to race it...get outta town! I was on cloud nine! I didn't get passed as often as I thought I would on LPS. I thought for sure it'd be like a super highway as I picked my way down. I did get caught towards the end when I chose to walk down a drop instead of using The Force. But what did it really matter? 

The finish line was set up in the middle of nowhere. One single strip of tape tide to a scrub bush marked the finish. Previous riders were all hanging out. High fives were in abundance and the chatter was non stop. "Rad!" "Awesome" "Sweet" "F-bomb Best Ride Ever" was pretty much repeated by everyone. I found a spot where I could set down the Remedy and take in just what I had done. I didn't know anyone so I silently basked in my own adrenaline lined bliss. I missed Ryan and wished so much that he could have been there to greet me and share with me his version of the ride. I looked down trail, past the boundary fence, down to the Colorado that pointed towards where Ryan would be waiting at the end of this famous trail. Suddenly Martin came in, guns a'blazin, looking like he had seen Santa Claus. We both were so amazed and truthfully kinda sad that it only took a bit over two hours. I don't think we were the only ones who felt that way and if there would've been a van there to go up again, I would've done it without a second thought. 

Soon we got back on our bikes and headed the rest of the way down to meet the our crew to celebrate. It was still a good 5-6 miles down so we took our time, being careful not to let fatigue force us into making a dumb mistake. That, and well, we didn't really want it to end. But end it did and we were greeted by Ryan in the parking lot. He rushed us back to the condo so we could clean up and get back to the hotel for post race food and festivities. By the time we arrived, much of the food had been eaten. They had burritos from a local joint. It was too spicy and hot for me so I gave it to Ryan. As we hung out in the grass under a shady tree, the scene was much like every other post race. Everyone was sitting around telling their story of the race or other adventures. The only difference: the story tellers were the folks that we read about in the mags. Needless to say, people watching was entertaining. Right before they handed out awards, a woman recognized me from the Dirt Series Camp in Winter Park. We had been in the same group many times. She had just moved to the front range and had to do this race. She didn't know anyone, so she sat with us. The raffle was pretty sweet: tons of wheels, forks, camel backs. They still threw out the extra large Tshirts and water bottles but there was some pretty sweet swag. The awards were trophies, hand made by one of the BLM employees. Seriously? Goes to show how much they support what we were doing.

Once we made it back to the house, Wixon and Carly joined us. They had gone out on a ride earlier that day to take advantage of one last time to ride. Seems they were both pretty spent from the trip but still enjoyed themselves. 

The last night in Moab was spent eating out and finishing up that last of the liquor. And packing not only our gear but the van so that we could simply roll out of bed and roll out of town. We drove to Fruita to drop off Martin's rental bike and to get one last cup of coffee from the local shop. Next we drove to the airport to bid farewell to Martin. It was short and sweet, complete with bear hugs and quick getaways before the tears welled up. It was such great timing that his schedule allowed him to make the memorable trek. A huge effort on his part, but I think he'd agree it was all worth it.

For me, the high desert is life-confirming. Even now, after many trips, I still can't believe it. The formations and the vastness seem impossible, yet so inviting. For adventure seekers like us, it is the ultimate playground. Every time I go there and re-experience its magnanimity, I always leave with a tremendous sense of accomplishment and calm. Danger is around every corner in the desert. Even the very stillness seems to want to swallow you, yet, we go anyway. We go to test ourselves, to grow, to see something new. And ultimately to remind ourselves what life is really all about.