Monday, August 25, 2008

Kwasniewski (Carnes) Girls Visit Colorado

My sister Vicki and her two daughters just left after a wonderful six day visit from Ohio. It was so good to have them here, 'cause I feel a bit isolated from my family all the way out here in Colorado. I'm super fortunate that I get along with everyone in my family. More than that, I really like my family. I have come to realize that not everyone feels this way about their family members. Lot's of people dislike their siblings, parents and other relatives. I find this odd, because I can't imagine anything my father, one of my siblings or other close relative could do that would make me dislike them. Not that they are perfect and don't do things I wouldn't do (I'm sure they can say the same thing about me). And not that they aren't different from me. For example, Vicki is religious (southern Baptist) and Republican and I am adamantly non-religious and very liberal. But they're family and they are all smart and nice and fun to be around. So, I like them and I miss them now that I am so far away.

My sister Vicki, the oldest of the five of us Kwasniewski sibs, had visited me in Colorado once before. She came out in the winter with my younger sister Chris and our brother's wife Nanako. We had a fun, but short, girls visit and did winter things like snowshoe, spa visit to Gold Lake and shop. This time it was summer and Vicki came out with 20 year old Tasha and 16 year old Tara. OK - complete truth - Tasha will be 20 next month and Tara will be 16 in November, but they are so close. My nieces (or the Niecelettes as my friend Elizabeth referred to them), are turning into wonderful young ladies. They were such sports, along with their Mom, trying all kinds of activities, some outside their comfort zone.

What, you may ask, did I do to them to take them outside of their comfort zone?!?! Nothing they didn't want to do themselves!

All three of them joined me for the weekly Tuesday Night Gurlz Ride. I can't tell you how excited I was when they said they wanted to mountain bike during their visit! Mountain biking is my all time favorite thing to do (well, teleskiing too, but that's for the winter) and I was looking forward to having my family directly experience my passion firsthand. The ride took place at Marshall Mesa, the perfect place for beginners. Coming from Ohio at about 600 feet above sea level, Vicki and the girls definitely felt the effects of the altitude here in Boulder.

Vicki on the trail

Tasha coming down the hill

Tara riding in the glorious sunlight

Despite breathing hard, they all did great on the bikes, riding over rocky sections like pros! They had a blast riding, although they acknowledged that it was hard! It certainly gave them a more intimate appreciation for what I do.

It ain't mountain biking if you're not hiking! Carnes girls struggling up the hill

There were two little wipeouts, but no one sustained more than a few scratches and maybe a bruise or two. After the ride, all of us Kwasniewskis (they are still Kwasniewskis, despite the Carnes name) joined the rest of the Tuesday Night girls for dinner and drinks at Southern Sun.
Biking family - me (Jen), Tasha, Vicki and Tara after the ride

After all that hard riding, we spent the next day shopping and getting pedicures. It's a rough life....

Pretty toes!

After recuperating from the mountain bike ride, we made a trip up to Allenspark, near Rocky Mountain National Park, for a couple hours of horseback riding at Sombrero Ranches. We had an excellent time, just the four of us girls riding with our handsome cowpoke guide Todd. The views of Mount Meeker were spectacular. We wished we had opted for a longer ride when it was over..... (next time). Vicki said they were now ruined for riding anywhere but the wild west.

Tara on her horse Freckles - Mummy I want a pony

Todd, followed by Tasha and Vicki with Mount Meeker rising in the distance

Left to right - Tara, me (Jen), Vicki and Tasha, again with Mount Meeker

Later that same day, we grabbed Jesper and Strelka for a hike up to Green Mountain (8,144 feet). Green Mountain is one of the Boulder Front Range peaks right outside of town. It's close by and provides excellent views of Boulder and the plains as well as views of the Continental Divide and the Indian Peaks. We opted to start the trail a fair bit up the mountain, as opposed to down in Boulder. We were planning to do a bigger hike the next day and I didn't want to kill my guests! It was hot and the trail was steep, but the Carnes girls did great, all of them making it to the top. Vicki was quite the trooper, as she has one messed up foot that needs ligament surgery. By the end of the hike, her little piggies were sore!

Vicki, Tasha and Tara coming up a steep section on the way to the top of Green Mountain

The Carnes girls take a break - Tasha, Vicki and Tara (showing some serious phone cleavage!)

Jesper, a thirsty pup and a thirsty niece at the summit

The next day Vicki, the nieces and I, along with Strelka, went up to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area for a scenic hike up to Blue Lake. The hike, an out-and-back, is about 5 miles total and gains about 1,000 feet in elevation. Jesper and I have done this hike a few times. It is a good one for visitors from lower altitudes, as the elevation gain is not too severe and the terrain is not too steep. Nevertheless, it starts at over 10,000 feet and climbs up to 11,300 feet, well above tree line.

Starting out in the trees, we hiked at an easy grade to Mitchell Lake, which is surrounded by Mount Audubon (13,222 feet) and the rugged Paiute Peak (13,088 feet). Then, the trail got a wee bit steeper and rockier as we pushed up through the Krumholz trees to the tundra. Once above tree line, the views from this trail were amazing all the way to Blue Lake, which is flanked by Mount Audubon and Paiute Peak as well as Mount Toll (12,979 feet), Pawnee Peak (12,943 feet) and Little Pawnee Peak (12,468 feet). We hung out at the lake and ate left over pizza while Vicki soaked her sore toes. Then, we turned around and made our way back down to the trailhead. We had perfect weather the whole day (no afternoon thunderstorms) and everyone enjoyed the hike!

The Carnes girls posing by a Cairn!

Vicki, Tara, Tasha and Strelka on a snowfield in late August (don't see that in Ohio)!!

Vicki soaking her sore tootsies in Blue Lake (it was cold!!!)

Tara, Tasha and Vicki making the hike back to the car - Bye Bye beautiful Indian Peaks!

On Saturday, Jesper was in charge of the outing (although he vetted his ideas with me). He picked a hike that would show Vicki and the girls a different aspect of Colorado. Something up high in the real mountains. Mount Bierstadt (14,060 feet) up near Guanella Pass. We got going Saturday morning as early as we could manage with two teenage girls and made the drive south and then west to Georgetown. We were not certain if we'd make it all the way up; we could be turned around by weather or physical limits of some pretty pooped flat landers. However, we were certain that the views would be spectacular even if we only made it partway.

Tasha and Strelka waiting for Vicki and Tara who were resting and chatting with this kooky Norwegian lady

Hiking UP a mountain is always hard, since you are going, well, UP pretty much all the time. Vicki's toes were bothering her, but she kept motoring on. We set an interim goal of making a ridgeline that would allow us to see a bit onto the other side. We arrived there to much cooler temps and wind, but also building clouds and one very tired Tara. So, we ate some of our subs and turned around.

Grabbing a quick lunch up on the ridgeline - brrrrr.....

Clouds building up as Tasha, Tara, Strelka and Jesper hustle down the mountain

The storm building up behind Vicki as we descend back to the car

We made it to the car only minutes before the rain came. Not bad timing! After the hike, we grabbed a snack and beers (well, Jesper and I had beers) in quaint downtown Georgetown, while an exhausted Strelka slept in the car.

My sister and her daughters had to leave the next morning. It was really sad to see them go. I like my family! I wish they would all move out here and join Jesper and I in paradise!

(I'll set up my Picasa album soon, so stay tuned for a link here.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pawnee Pass in the Summer (or was it Winter?)

After a long heat streak without any rain, the weather finally gave us a respite here in Colorado. Well, maybe not a respite...

It went from dry and in the 90's to rainy and in the low 50's, just like that. We enjoyed three blissful days of cool temps and rain. When I lived in Cleveland, this was not an unusual weather pattern, and I got tired of it. But here in sunny Colorado, it a nice change of pace.

On Sunday we had planned to take Strelka up to Johnny Park for a mountain bike ride, but with all the rain, the trails were going to be too wet and muddy. Not good for the trails. So, we made a Plan B and took her for a hike up in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. I love this area! It's a short drive from Boulder and the terrain is magnificent, as pretty as Rocky Mountain National Park, which it basically abuts. You can bring dogs to Brainard Lake, as opposed to RMNP, which does not allow dogs on the trails. So, I go there a fair bit.

We opted to head up toward Pawnee Pass. The trailhead starts out at about 10,000 feet and goes to well over 12,000 feet. At this elevation, we fully expected to encounter snow from the previous days of cool temps and precip. Fresh snow you ask, in mid-August. You betcha!

The trail first travels through the trees along side the South Saint Vrain Creek, Long Lake and then Lake Isabelle. Then it heads up to the pass between Pawnee Peak and Shoshoni Peak, snaking steeply up rocky switchbacks. Our goal was to make it to the pass and a little beyond it to see the views down to Pawnee Lake. Jesper and I have gone down the other side (a camping trip with Mushka a couple years ago), and we knew it to be simply stunning.

I ran up this trail with Strelka on July 6th. While there was no fresh snow then on the peaks, there were many large snowfields that still overlapped the trail. That was before the afore-mentioned heat streak. This time around, a month and a half later, most of the snow fields were gone, but there was a fresh dusting of new snow. Up near the pass, the dusting was almost 6 inches deep!

However, the clouds were also starting to look ominous. Jesper and I began to wonder if we should continue all the way up and to the other side of the pass. It was very pretty where we were, but we knew the other side was also beautiful. Jesper stopped to take some pictures, since he had brought the big camera along.

Then, probably about a quarter mile from our goal, we rook one final look at the building clouds and turned back.

We were bummed to have to turn back, but we desperately wanted to make it back to the trailhead without getting drenched. Not to mention if the storms turned electrical.

The hike down took longer than we expected, probably because we were hungry! All we could think about was BBQ at the Smokehouse Grill and Brewery in Nederland. However, Strelka was still interetsed in exploring and checking out the sounds and smells.

We finally made it back down to the lakes, through the forest and then to the car, where we had one tired pup!

Check out more of my pics here.

Check out Jesper's write up and pics here (warning - stunning photographs!!!)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Jesper's Birthday Celebration!

August 9th was Jesper's 38th birthday. Happy Birthday Sweetie!

Jesper and I have taken a cue from my brother Jeff's play book; we always take our birthdays off and play. This year, Jesper's birthday fell on a Saturday. That's no fun taking off a Saturday! So, we took off Friday and made the affair a three day weekend!

Prior to the big day, Jesper thought and thought about what he wanted to do. Mine is easy - we ski! Finally, Jesper decided that we should head down to Salida and ride the Monarch Crest Trail. For those readers who are not avid mountain bikers, the Monarch Crest Trail is one of mountain biking's epic, must do rides. It has been on our list for quite awhile.

The ride is about 35 miles long and is supposed to take riders from 4-6 hours, depending on skill. It is possible to do the Crest from Boulder as a day trip, but it's a very long day. The drive to Salida is over 3 hours and you need to start the ride early to beat the summer afternoon thunderstorms. We wanted to enjoy the birthday experience, so, we opted to drive down Thursday night and get a room. It was nice to get to bed early and get a good night's sleep.

We awoke Friday morning to low clouds, almost fog-like near the mountains and valleys. Pretty, but not what we wanted to see. We wanted clear blue skies in the morning, knowing that clouds would likely build up during the day.

Funky, but unwanted clouds shrouding the mountains

Oh well, it was what it was. We grabbed breakfast and headed over to meet the Shuttle van that would take us up to Monarch Pass. The ride, a point-to-point, goes from the pass back to US 285 pretty close to the where we would leave our car. Although Jesper and I like to climb, we both agreed that doing the ride as a loop just looked stupid, since the entire climb up to the pass would be miles and miles of paved road. By shuttling the ride, we would ascend some 2500 feet and descend almost 6000 feet.

At 8:00 am, the shuttle guys got our bikes on the trailer, along with 5 other guys' bikes.

We brought the right bikes - FS Titus Loco-Moto for me and FS Intense Spider 29-er for Jesper

A group of three guys was a mixed bag: one guy on a singlespeed from Albuquerque, New Mexico; an Anglo from Venezuela; and some other skinny, nerdy guy. The other group of two guys was from Missouri. They looked pretty fit, but we knew with the trail hitting close to 12,000 feet, they would find the ride challenging.

As we drove up to the pass, it got foggier and foggier. It wasn't raining, but it was clear that we would be starting out in a cloud. The Crest sports some of the most impressive views of any ride, so we were hoping the sun would burn the coulds off.

We hopped on the bikes, the trail starting out as an ascent ,and soon passed the group of three guys.

Jesper heading off into the fog on the skinny, perfect singletrack

At first we could barely see 50 feet ahead. It was cool and spooky.

Jesper riding through the quartz "hail"

At one point, the trail ran through white quartz rock that was weathered. It looked like snow or hail had fallen everywhere. Fortunately, the precipitation held off, even though we stayed up in the cloud as we approached what should have been the most impressive views.

Jesper searching in vain for the impressive views

There were no views to be had. We were firmly established within a large cloud and it wasn't going anywhere. I kept reminding Jesper that at least it wasn't raining.

Jesper emerging through the fog

We arrived at Marshall Pass to find the 2 guys from Missouri trying to figure out which way to go. The route finding gets a bit confusing at Marshall Pass, since there are several trail options one can take. We let them know where we were supposed to go, but they seemed dubious about Jesper's route finding. We last saw them as we climbed up from Marshall Pass toward Starvation Creek (yikes - don't get lost there!!!!). I wonder which way they ultimately decided to go and when they finished the ride!

We descended and got below the clouds, riding through pine forests and crossing scree fields.

Jesper crossing a scree field just below the cloud line

We climbd up over a saddle and topped out, entering a lush green valley.

Nice skinny Single Track!

Finally, we started to see little bits of blue sky, although we both knew we had missed the really good views in the first half of the ride.

See - there's little bits of blue sky!!!

We were getting hungry and decided to stop and eat our sandwiches. We found a nice log overlooking the meandering Silver Creek as it passed through a marsh-like valley.

Happy bikes resting at our lunch spot

Food always tastes so good when you've worked hard for it!

We thought for sure the Missouri guys would catch us now, since we sat there for quite awhile enjoying our italian subs. But no such thing. I really wonder where they ended up going!!!

We rode along Sliver Creek for awhile and then lost the trail. I recalled hearing something about there being a place where the trail gets faint. Faint?!?! It disappeared! We tromped along next to the creek and finally came to the trail again. It appeared that the trail usually follows the creek itself, but with all the recent rain, the creek was pretty full. We wondered how the 2 guys from Missouri would fair along this section, since they seemed so puzzled by the much-less confusing section near Marshall Pass.

We arrived at the intersection of the Rainbow Trail, which we were beginning to fear we had missed. At this point some 20 miles in, riders can opt to take the jeep/gravel road down to US 285 or ride about 10 miles on the single track Rainbow Trail. We, of course, opted for more single track! I am so glad we did. That trail was magical. Although there was some climbing, the trail mostly snaked up and down through drainages. It had such flow and the vegetation made me think hobbits would pop out from behind trees or rocks. magical. So magical that neither Jesper nor I got the cameras out during the whole 10 miles. No worries, I will keep the memories forever in my head.

The trail finally came to a stupid steep downhill, which we appreciated not having to go UP. And then, we were at the road. The ride was over, unless we decided to take the eastern half of the Rainbow Trail across US 285 to Salida. The shuttle guys said it was not a good mountain biking trail, but we weren't sure what that meant. Jesper and I ride lots of stuff most people wouldn't like to ride. We debated but finally decided that it was late enough we should just ride back to the car. Good Thing! We later read that it would have been a miserable 2 hour hike-a-bike. That would have been a nasty buzz kill to our spectacular ride.

The ride was fantastic. We had four and a half hours of beautiful single track almost all to ourselves. Although we didn't get the amazing views we had hoped for, the fog and clouds made for a special, spooky ride. We capped off the ride by grabbing a beer and a snack at a Salida restaurant.

Beer is good after a long ride!

But wait - Jesper's birthday hadn't even begun! We drove back home and slept in on the actual day. Then we picked up Strelka from the kennel and took her swimming at the Boulder Res. We got in with her and she clearly thought that was super fun. Sorry no pics of that either.

Later that night, I took Jesper out for dinner at Jill's, one of Boulder's finest restuarants. We know the head chef there (he's a fellow mountain biker) and were looking forward to a yummy meal. Jill's did not disappoint. Dinner, the wine and the service was great. I managed to surprise Jesper with a gift he never expected but loved.

Jesper happy and surprised to get the Evos!

661 Evo elbow and knee guards! They were hard to find, being back ordered almost everywhere, so I was happy to be able to get them in time for his birthday! Now he can really tackle some rocks on that Spider of his!!!

We will head back down to Salida to ride the Crest on a sunny day. We've got some views owed to us!

More pictures and Jesper's short write up here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Team Tinker Bell Races the Short Track

I am not a sprinter. I never was and, as I get older, my sprinting gets slower and slower. Instead, I shine in long, endurance events. I start to feel warmed up after about 5 hours and the first 30 minutes of any event are awful for me. So, why on earth would I agree to do a short track race? Short track is a mountain bike race on, well, a short track. Racers do a handful of these short laps for a 20 to 30 minute race. Since the race is so short, it's balls-to-the-walls from the very beginning to the very end.

My good friend Cynthia has been racing the Short Track series at CSU this year and many previous years. I've read her blog posts about these races and nothing she has written has ever made me want to do one. On the contrary, they sounded hard and they sounded like they would not play at all to my strengths. So, for some reason at Rios with a bunch of my mountain biking girlfriends, and before I even touched my margarita, I was agreeing to race the final short track event. Tracy, who does not race, was planning to compete wearing downhill gear; full faced helmet, armor and flak jacket. To add to that, she was planning to wear a silly outfit. That sounded fun! I'm so easily roped in.

After dinner, Tracy and I went to Target where we found silly pink, plaid, pleated skirts in the little girl's department and pink Tinker Bell T-shirts. Team Tinker Bell was born. We got an extra outfit just in case we would rope another girlfriend in.

Race day came and Tracy was experiencing stomach issues - nerves perhaps!?!?!?!

Team Tinker Bell

When we arrived at the race venue, it was sunny and hot and Tracy began waivering about wearing the helmet and the armor. Soon, we ran into Megan, who also does not race, and she agreed to wear the extra outfit. OK - now we had three girls in the same outfit. I finally gave in on the helmet and armor, although I did put my pink elbow guards on.

We looked kinda cute. Not the bizarre look I was going for when I agreed to wear the armor and the full faced helmet. I knew what this meant - I would actually kinda have to race.

We lined up to the start but it all seemed very informal. Before I expected anything, the announcer said "GO", and some 30 women were off. Right off the bat, there was a crash and several racers went down in front of me and I slowed to a stop to avoid them.

Tracy cranking up a hill

Needless to say, I did not get out front on the start as I should have if I was really on the ball. That's what happens when you get used to the starts at 24 hour races, where it's not so critical to be first off the line.

I got my shit together and hit it hard, passing a few racers who had a better start but weren't as fast as I am or as skilled on the turns.

Megan was right behind me as we worked our way past several racers, including Cynthia who was on her Single Speed.

Cynthia also dressed up

I was probably in something like 10th place and I lead Team Tinker Bell hard for four laps. The course had several turns that slowed down many of the racers. With our superiour handling skills, Megan and I were able to sneak in on the inside and pass them, sometimes to be passed again by these girls on the flats (those darn roadies on mountain bikes!).

I was redlining from about 30 seconds into the race and it never let up, so I started to fade a bit. After four laps, Megan passed me and took over for Team Tinker Bell, setting a tough pace which I could not quite maintain anymore.

Megan takes the lead for Team Tinker Bell

I got passed again twice as I rode over the log skinny instead of the faster route up a short steep hill; style counts way more than speed!

Me going for style points on every lap (now I need to learn to jump it like the big boys!)

I was pretty happy when I saw the "1 Lap" sign, although Iwas just starting to feel warmed up. I managed to not get pased anymore and got some stylie points by catching air on the little jump before the finish line.

I finished 13th, Megan 9th and Tracy came in right after me in 15th. Most importantly, we had fun!

Team Tinker Bell happy to be done (Sasha in blue helmet and Tinker Bell riders Tracy, Megan and Me)

After the races, we headed over to Cynthia's Annual Dirt Crit Party, which was super fun, despite the rain.

Thanks to Jesper for coming out and taking pictures of Team Tinker Bell! More pictures here.