Saturday, January 11, 2014

Coloradical Part 2 - Salida - Keystone Recon - The Firecracker 50

The middle of our Coloradical funwich was jam-packed with downhill riding, xc riding and racing, with a little r 'n r as well. It went something like this.

After the successful weekend in Crested Butte, we took that Monday off. The plan initially was to ride Monarch Pass but we were both pretty beat down and we still had a lot of pedaling to do in the coming days. Ryan and I do not rest easily - especially when we're outside. We made our way to Salida and decided to seek out some good camping before heading to Keystone. We had never been to Salida. It seemed like one of those places where settlers, tired of heading west, said F-it and decided to stay. It's a quaint little hippie town, bigger than I thought. Located at the Arkansas headwaters, one can literally put in from town and be canoeing or kayaking as easily as we can be on a bike path. It's historic main street is door to door art galleries and studios, hip outdoor clothing stores, gear shops and eclectic restaurants. We hit up a few and also had to make a stop at the famed bike shop, Absolute Bikes. The staff was extremely friendly and they had some really nice stuff.We spent lunch at The Laughing Ladies b/c Ryan liked their sign. The food was awesome and we were able to sit in a covered outdoor patio. It was perfect. After lunch we did a bit more walking, hit the store for the next round of provisions and headed to a camping spot up the highway from town. We drove through some high desert-like ranch land for a couple of miles, passing a rafting outfitter that was busy with folks wanting to escape the heat of the day on the Arkansas River. We finally located the small campground which was pretty far off main roads, right next to the river. (Yes, we were in a van, down by the river). It was well maintained and had a bathroom. We were greeted immediately by the ranger who was checking for permits. He was inquisitive of our plans, seeing that we had a huge van with 4 bikes hanging off of it. The nature of the job, I'm sure.

We quickly set up camp (parked) and had the idea of washing our very dirty riding gear that we had been sweating in for days. A little camp soap and a tub and we were good to go. Ryan took a "bath" first and it was pretty funny to watch. I guess whilst he was scrubbing, some rafters went by (I wasn't there) catching a glimpse at the Ginger in the wild. I'm just glad he had his board shorts on. Post wash up, I headed out for a hike to explore the area while the wild Ginger messed with his bike. I hiked up some rocky ledges to see if I could get a better view but I didn't want to venture too far and some storm clouds were starting to roll in and I didn't have any cover. I was gone for a good hour and shortly after I returned it started to rain. I had to take down all of the clothes that were hanging on the bike rack and hang them from a clothesline I rigged inside the van. As Colorado rain storms go, it didn't last too long. We made some dinner after the storm passed, watching the sky turn all kinds of colors as the sun did it's ritualistic descent. As we were sitting at the picnic table we saw an animal on the other side of the river. There was a grassy embankment that had been cleared of the trees and the grass was lush and green. The animal was a sheep! We were bummed Sweater wasn't there to see it. Quickly, another followed down the same path, then another and another. Soon there were about 5 or 6 sheep in the pasture. Then a man and a woman appeared from the treeline. The sheep seemed to be with the couple because they huddled around them as they prepared to fish. Over the next hour, the man at one end of the grassy shore and the woman on the other, the sheep would run back and forth between them, sometimes stopping to have a nice game of head butt. Ryan was enthralled, although later he admitted he was waiting to see if one of them would head-butt the woman into the water. They were there until sunset, just enjoying a Monday night in Arksansas River Valley. It was a strange site, not something we would have expected because we didn't recall seeing any farms nearby on the other side of the river. There was a very nice private home down a ways from the camp so it's possible there were domesticated animals on the property. We ended the night watching mother nature watercolor the sky. Being next to the river, we kept the van door cracked open and let the cool breeze and the rush of the water lull us to sleep.

About oh, three or so in the morning, I was awakened by a noise. We had left some of our cooking gear and bins under the van so we could have room to get in and out. It sounded like something was rummaging through the bins underneath. Then I thought I heard something up on the bike rack or the bumper. I quickly closed the back door (which was by our heads) and laid back down. I heard the animal again. Now I was awake, staring at the ceiling of the van, wishing the animal to go away! Then I heard the corn chip bag crinkle INSIDE THE VAN! I sat up immediately. There was ambient light coming from a lamp on the bathroom but I couldn't see much. I put my hand on Ryan's back as I listened. The bag crinkled again. I shook Ryan awake.

"Ryan, there's something IN the van!" 

Silence. Crinkle. 

"Yep. Sure is.It's probably a ground squirrel. Think we should open up all of the doors?"

"And let more in? No. I'll just open the back door again and hopefully it will leave"

We lay down again. Ryan is back asleep. I am wide awake! "What the hell! How can you sleep?" 

"It's not going hurt us. Do you want me to pull everything out of the van?" 

"No." I said. I was sitting up by this time, listening. I could hear it's little paws running around under the van. I couldn't take it. I opened the doors and turned on lights. I didn't see it but I did see a bunch of torn up paper towel all over the place and our paper towel roll shredded. Huh? There was a bag of food not all the way zipped closed and this thing was sitting on top of it (hence the crinkling of the chip bag) gnawing away at freaking paper towels? I put them away and sealed up the food bag and put it inside an empty cooler. Then I waited. After several minutes of silence, I believed it had exited the van. I shut the doors and turned off the lights. I laid there for a few minutes more and I finally fell asleep.

The next morning, with the sunrise shedding light on our little camp site, we could see the shredded paper all over the van floor. We got up and decided, to be sure it was gone, we'd take everything out of the van. Just as Ryan opened the van door to get out, we both saw a little ground squirrel run away from the van. We couldn't tell if it ran out of the van or if it had been sitting there waiting for a chance to get back in. Either way, and fearing a moment like in Tommy Boy when the deer awakens in the back seat, we made sure no critters would be scurrying across the dashboard doing 80 mph down the highway. So around 6:30 a.m., we hauled all of our gear out of the van and onto the ground. Everything under the seats and under the sleeping platform came out. Satisfied that it was indeed gone, we put it all back in. All of that work so early had us pretty hungry so we got the coffee going and ate a bit of food. We had a long day of travel and biking ahead of us. I'm pretty sure I had a few cups more than usual. 

We made our way up to Breck and then Frisco. It was still early so we decided to hit up our favorite cafe for breakfast, the Log Cabin Cafe. I had the special: blueberry waffles! And bacon. Double freakin bacon. It was great. 

KEYSTONE QUANDRY Our first order of the day was to find a camp site that was somewhere between Breck and Keystone. Unlucky for us, everything around Lake Dillon was reserved, which was surprising since it was only just Tuesday. We didn't want to camp somewhere only to have to move again. We drove around for about two hours and found not ONE campsite. Frustrated for already missing precious hours of practice runs, we drove to Keystone as fast as possible. We only had a few hours to find out if we were cut out for the next race in the BME Series. 

From the bottom, the mountain looked twice the size as Crested Butte. 

The lift took almost 20 minutes to get us to the top, compared to the 8-10 at CB. The same question that popped into my head in CB bubbled up again: What was up there that wanted to fling us off the mountain? 

Only one way to find out! 

We studied the map of the mountain on the way up. (The race routes were not released yet). We had heard from many sources that race was going to use as much of the mountain as possible. Hmmm, there are several black and double black diamonds on this hill. Needless to say I was a bit unnerved. 

At the top, Keystone was kinda cool. Much more scenic and developed than CB. It had a couple of look-out areas, a large building with a restaurant, bathrooms, deck, chairs. Aaah, chairs! At least we'd have more of a place to hang out between runs instead of sitting on the ground. Before hitting the green run, Ryan hit up the bathroom. As I was waiting for him, I chatted up a couple of maintenance guys. They were like the Keystone Welcoming Committee, saying how happy they were that we came to Keystone, wishing us a nice stay, etc. A lot of pride in their place of employment for sure. "You don't do it for the money" one guy said. One of them demanded that we let him take our picture, claiming he had gotten pretty good at it. Since they were so friendly, I decided to ask about any secret camping spots, telling our story of bad luck trying to find anything around the lake. They gave us some intel about a road on the backside of the resort, which I had read about on MTBR. It was National Forest so we could camp anywhere just as long as we packed out. He mentioned some possible bathrooms up the road a ways in case of emergency. We agreed to check it out after our test rides. We thanked our new friends and redirected our focus of scouting out the hill. 

We started down the green run to get our legs under us. I think it was Girl Scout. Not far into the run, we came upon an older couple out for a ride. Older, as in 50 at least, all kitted out in pads and the whole nine yards. Pops was on a big hit, double crown rig. They were from Texas and offered up some good advice about what to avoid, what might not be open, etc. I don't recall exactly the route but that first descent wasn't too bad. The terrain was better than CB. In that I mean there were less machine-built trails out in the wide open and more single track trails made of natural terrain in the trees. In other words, we felt like we were more in the back-country instead of a bike park.

The next run Ryan was eager to get to some of the tougher stuff. I was fine waiting as long as I could. We got onto a trail called Cowboy Up and it was a bitch of a rock garden. Garden, hell it was a rock cemetery, where giant boulders had gone to rest for eternity. It looked like the park had raked every rock from the mountain to that very spot and then told people to ride there. The approach was a long open double track run through a field to get the speed up. This was key. Speed was the ONLY way to get through it. I tried a couple of times but I just didn't have the speed to get very far. I kept getting hung up at a spot that had a deep step down with a tree stump on one side. Ryan bounced around it like he was in a washing machine but he made it and was zooming down the trail as I hiked my way down. Ok, I'll definitely need to come back and practice this again. The funny thing is, as I look back at that section, I don't look back with fear. I look back mad that I didn't clear it. A sign of improvement for sure! We got in a few more runs and it was two trails in particular that made us start to think twice about what we had gotten ourselves into: Wild Thing and Even Flow. Wild Thing has some pretty famous step downs in succession that are steep. Walking them is even hard but that's what I had to do. I lacked the skill and the guts to push myself that far. Then on Even Flow, the trail was straight out of North Shore, with an elevated, twisty trail. I thought I was going to vomit. I had to walk it and when it was too steep to walk, I bush-wacked, walking alongside of it. NO FUCKING WAY was I going to be able to race down this. I was starting to really question my decision to race here. Ryan felt the same after he crashed pretty bad on another run down Cowboy Up. He had to walk some of the trails after that, trying to keep the demons quiet. This was, in our minds, the real deal and there we were on our "little bikes" trying to ride them without losing our teeth in the process. We ended the day wondering if we should attempt to race at all. We had much more summer ahead of us and jeopardizing it and our health was something we had to really consider. Were we in over our heads? We decided we'd think about it over the next few days. 

We left the resort so we could find the camping spots we were told about. Following the directions the park guys gave us, we drove through a small condo development and up a dirt road that, looking at the signage on the gate, had just been opened to traffic. We saw a few turn-outs that we could have pulled into but our natural curiosities forced us to keep looking. About 20 minutes later, we came to the back side of the resort. There were a couple of lifts and a restaurant that was closed for the season (darn!). But to our joy, we found the bathrooms were unlocked, with only cold running water, flushing toilets and the heat was on! Oh, happy day! This was a five-star resort as far as we were concerned. We found a flat spot near the entrance and pulled in for the night. A few cars went by but we had the place to ourselves.

The next morning, we got up early and headed to Breckenridge to ride and to meet the elder Eybergs to pick up or beloved Sweater. We rode Peak's Trail, which is always a favorite, to shake down the race bikes. It was time to switch back into XC race mode. Not an easy thing to do after the week we'd had. Now it was time to race UP the mountain as well as down. After how many years of racing, we finally understood those factions that believed riding up is dumb. Nah, it's not really. It's just not as fun.

We arranged to meet the Eybergs at their condo, which happened to be at the finish line of the Firecracker 50 race that we were doing as a duo. It was nice to have Sweater back with his people although I think he was going to miss all the attention he got from their two granddaughters and their stuffed friends. After hanging out, we registered for the race and went for a stroll around town before heading back to "camp" to prepare for the race.

For the last several years, we have spent July 4th in Breckenridge, racing the Firecracker 50. This was the first time as a duo team. I was going first. We parked in a parking lot just north of town at the ice skating rink. I kitted up about an hour prior to the race and hit the road to warm up. By the time I made my way to the start line, it was so packed, I couldn't get to it. I had to ride on a street parallel to it but to my frustration, when I found where my group was (way in back), there were barrier fences along the sidewalk. The sidewalks were packed with fans and those waiting for us to get out of the way so the parade could start. It was a pain in the butt, but I finally got myself where I needed to be. Per usual, we had a neutral roll-out down main street. Once our lead-out team peeled off, the race was on. Which for me meant it was time to watch the rest of the fields go by me. Quite frustrating, but nothing new. This is always how it is. When the start line is at 9500 feet and the first single track isn't until 11,00 feet, you just gotta grind it out. This is when I began wishing I had big wheels. 

The race wasn't one of my better attempts but I knew I wouldn't be fresh going into it. We were really just killing time between BME races. The ride up Little French pretty much sucked. There was so much traffic and it was pretty wet from the late snow that everybody was walking. I HATE WALKING! Especially on Little French. But there wasn't anything I could do so I trudged up the hill with all of the other pack mules. At the top, a banjo player stood, belting out some jolly blue grass to cheer us up after the long hike. I love Colorado! After that, my race was pretty much just survival. I didn't anticipate some new trail that was used in place of a long, soul-crushing gravel climb. It was, on a normal day, a down-hill run. So needless to say, it was a bit taxing but it made time go by way better than if we were on the gravel for sure! Once at the top, it was downhill the rest of the way to the finish line. When I got there, I had no idea how I was going to find Ryan. There was a wall of riders lined up next to the race course. There was no official hand-off or check-in so it was pretty much on the honor system. Somehow he made his way to the front and was ready when I came across the line. I tried yelling at him to save some for the new single track but there was music and madness so I didn't know if he heard me. He'd figure it out. 

After my race, I grabbed some food and a beer that was free to racers. I hobbled back to the van where I cleaned up (I had hung up the solar shower on the rack) and got into some freshies. I made my way back to the finish line and waited for Ryan to show up. He had a great race, probably one of his best lap times at that event. I think we ended up like, 16th out of sixty. At first I thought we were dead last but not all of the results were posted when I had looked. We hung out for a bit. We found our coach, Jason, and we bumped into a few other folks that we knew. It was a good time but I was glad it was over. So much stress! 

After the race, we met up with a couple who came up from Denver to hang out for the 4th. We shared a hotel room since camping was impossible and to be honest, I really wanted to be able to lay in a bed and have a hot shower. When we got up to the room, which was just a studio-size, on the wall above the bed was a giant photo of a ground squirrel! Aaaaaah! We had told our friends about our experience with one back in Salida so when we got to the room and saw the picture, we all had a good laugh! The rest of the night was spent eating (again at Fatty's) and then off to another joint that had an awesome deck where we could watch the fireworks and drink. It was so great! We had a blast! 

The next morning we got up early so we could get a table at our favorite eatery The Blue Moose. Our friends had plans to hang out until they needed to check out from the hotel. Ryan and I said goodbye to our friends and Breckenridge. It was time to decide if we were going to race at Keystone.