Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cat Skiing the Ghee

In February of 2009, Jesper went to Grand Targhee in Wyoming with his Stick-it-to-the-Little-Man group of skiing buddies. The highlight of his trip was a day of Cat Skiiing the Ghee. Grand Targhee (the Ghee) is located west of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. They get a shitload of snow - over 500 inches - and the resort is off the beaten path, thus not crowded or skied out. The Cat Skiing operation is the gem of the Ghee.

For the uninitiated, Cat Skiing, or Snowcat Skiing, is like back county skiing without a chair lift and without the strenuous effort of skinning (not that we mind strenuous effort or skinning in particular - we love that stuff). The beauty of Cat Skiing is that you get to do run after run after run of unblemished powder all day long; many more than you could do skinning. The Cat is a special vehicle that rides on snow using tracks kind of like those on a bull dozer. Snow Cats are used for grooming ski runs; modified versions are also used for carrying passengers up to the good stuff. Grand Targhee resort dedicates an entire mountain - 600 acres - exclusively for guided Cat Skiing. No one else can go there and no lifts serve the area, although the resort blasts the area for avalanche control. The guides milk the powder so each group that is taken out is guaranteed fresh POW. Jesper had such an awesome day Cat Skiing with his buddies, he decided then and there he would take me one day.

Fast forward to the end of 2009. As an early Christmas gift, Jesper booked us a four day trip to the Ghee with 2 days of on-mountain skiing and one day of Cat Skiing. What a great present! However, as my Christmas gift trip approached, Jesper began to worry. Despite an early season jump, the Ghee received much less snow from October through early December than normal; they only had about a 4 foot base and much terrain was not open. In fact, the Cat was not running yet, a major disappointment to those folks who booked a day for early season Cat Skiing and a possible problem for us. A friend of ours who lives near Jackson, WY even called us to say we should try to reschedule. Unfortunately, we would only be credited with lodging or on-mountain skiing. Jesper looked at the forecast, which was predicting a massive snow storm right before we were scheduled to arrive. Banking on that forecast, we decided to go for it.

I think Jesper and I may be the luckiest people alive. We drove up through Colorado and then into and and west over Wyoming, with reports that the Ghee was finally getting dumped on. We arrived in a snowstorm that had already brought almost a foot of snow. It then proceeded to snow the entire night, dropping 9 more inches. Come Monday morning, our first day on the mountain at the Ghee, there was almost 2 feet of fresh powder!! We lucked out - the resort opened up the Cat Skiing that day.

We tried really hard our first day skiing to take it easy and save our legs for the next day when we would be Cat Skiing. We were not completely successful - it was just too much fun. It was also impossible to see anything! The entire mountain was engulfed in a cold snowy cloud. It was a complete whiteout up top until about midway down. You could barely see the chair ahead on the lift.

On the Dreamcatcher chair lift in a snowy fog

I could not see Jesper skiing down if he got more than 30 feet away. The fog was so thick, you couldn't tell if you were pointed up or down sometimes, creating a nauseous sensation of vertigo. We have since learned another nick name for the Ghee - Grand Foggy!

Jesper skiing fantastic powder in a whiteout

We skied some great powder, most of which we couldn't see, but the fog probably kept us from overdoing it more than anything else.

The fog dissipated lower on the mountain - Jesper floating through the trees

Me coming down in deep pow!

After a nice dinner in Driggs, ID, we hit the hay early to rest up, hoping the visibility would be improved for our day on the Cat. Jesper and I are lucky people! Tuesday dawned with better weather - perfect weather in fact. The clouds were much higher, well above anywhere we'd be skiing. We could see!

The Cat holds 12 customers, but ours was not fully booked and a couple people didn't show up (we have heard this is highly unusual). It was great only having 8 people, all of whom where good skiers/snow boarders. We were able to do a ton of runs, only limited by the speed of the Cat to come and get us.

Jesper and I posing in front of the Cat

The powder on each run was beyond incredible. As promised, we had freshies each time. The guides take care of everyone and also manage to make each person feel special, all the while keeping track of where to take us to guarantee fresh snow. I don't recall how many runs we did, but we started at 9, took a small snack break and then a short lunch break up in a patroller cabin and then skied until just after 4:00. It was a day I will not forget soon -I've never skied so many runs of pure powder! We didn't take many pictures, preferring to enjoy the experience without the distraction of taking the camera out. Jesper and I made it an early night, tired to the bone in a good way. But neither of us could sleep - we continued to have visions in our heads of skiing down deep, bottomless powder snow.

Jesper in the pow on a Cat run

Wednesday I woke up sore! I didn't realize the night before how hard I had worked the last two days. I guess we skied harder than I recalled through all that fun! Never-the-less, we hit the slopes almost as soon as the lifts opened to give our last day our best shot. Once again, thick clouds had rolled in, settling low on the mountain. We couldn't see shit. Then the temperatures rose and the snow turned to a fine misty rainish sort of thing. Rime began forming on our goggles, a double whammy with the fog! We were so glad we had had good visibility for our Cat Skiing the day before! We skied a couple runs, scrapping the rime off our lenses every few hundred feet, and decided to take an early lunch in hopes the conditions would improve. After lunch, it got a little colder and the rime turned to real snow, but the fog remained. The conditions after the rainy precip were challenging to say the least; a bit of crunch on top of everything. By 2:30, my legs were completely toast and Jesper was dizzy from the whiteout conditions. We decided to stop before we hurt ourselves, knowing that we had gotten plenty of great skiing in.

Jesper and I stayed one more night and then made the long drive home. We were so lucky to have just squeaked in on the start of the Ghee's Cat Skiing season and to have had the only day with any real visibility!

I can still feel the sensation of all that powder under my skis. I can't wait to go Cat Skiing again!

Monday, November 16, 2009

End of Summer

Summer has departed, letting both Autumn and Winter in at the same time. The so called "shoulder seasons" are highly variable here in Boulder. It seems that the Jet Stream bounces up and down high above us, resulting in an alternating weather pattern of warm days and snow storms. We have already had two such snow storms; nestled in between, we had balmy days with warm temps.

I like the variation. The weather forecasters usually know when a change is coming, so you can usually prepare. Although freezing temps followed by warm weather can make for mucky trails, most of our trails dry pretty quick (I do not condone riding muddy trails). Due to the fast-changing weather, you can often get out and do a "summer" sport one day, followed by a "winter" sport the next.

After the first snow storm in October that dropped over a foot of the fluffy stuff (within which we snow shoed and snow hiked), sunshine, wind and warm temps melted the snow away in a couple days and dried out the trails. We put the snow shoes away and got out the mountain bikes again for some fun with good friends from North Carolina who just moved to Colorado. We wore shorts and short sleeves (OK - except for Suze, who didn't realize how much warmer it can get from night to day here!). Nothing beats riding dirt in November wearing summer riding clothes!!

The boyz (Jesper and Patrick) hanging out at the Nelson Loop

Patrick at Hall Ranch on his first mountain bike ride as a Colorado resident!

Suze over dressed a bit.....

... but she clearly still had FUN!

During this warm phase, I ran in shorts and Jesper and I got out on the single speeds. On Thursday, I was able to ride my road bike in 74 degrees, wearing shorts and a short sleeved jersey. The afternoon was sunny and the air, while breezy, felt comforting on my exposed skin. Nothing beats a warm sunny road ride in November!

Crappy iPhone pic of my road ride up Left Hand Canyon

The next day, as predicted by the weather forecasters, everything changed. We awoke Friday morning to clouds; gone were the sunny skies. The temperature dropped steadily during the day. By 3:00 when I was ready for my afternoon run, it was 35 degrees and a full-on snow storm! I ran decked in winter running clothes in a near white out. Nothing beats a trail run in a snow storm! (sorry - no pics!)

The snow kept coming, so Jesper and I decided to head up to the mountains on Saturday to get in our first day of skiing. This is the earliest we have hit the slopes of any season since we moved out here; we are anxious to get in ski shape early so we can maximize an upcoming cat skiing trip to Grand Targhee in mid-December. We knew the snow would not be great, very little terrain would be open and it would get crowded. However, we also knew we would not be skiing yet at our peak, possibly only having the legs for half a day anyway; might as well get our first day over with before the good snow comes!

Copper reported 5 inches of freshie, so that's where we headed. We arrived right about when the lifts were starting up. The snow was surprisingly good and at first, the slopes were not crowded. Other than Jesper's new boots causing him some foot pain, I thought we both skied really well especially for our first day! I had imagined that my legs would be quivering and shaking after a few runs, but they felt solid! We managed to ski until 2:00, when the combination of Jesper's painful feet and the increasing crowds rendered it, in actuality, beer-thirty. Nothing beats a 1554 after a day on the slopes!

Jesper making one of the first turns of the 2009/2010 season!

Jesper looking good!

We opted not to ski again on Sunday, deciding instead to take advantage of the snow to take Strelka out for a snow hike before it all melted. Hoping for some majestic views of the Flatirons, we planned a hike from Eldorado Canyon (South Mesa TH) up the Homestead Trail, across the Shadow Canyon Trail and back down the Mesa Trail. Although we only saw a few other people, the trail had been packed in enough that Gore-tex shoes were adequate. Jesper wanted to play around taking some video, so high mileage was not our goal; I think we only hiked about 3 miles. We started out under low lying clouds and diffuse snow fall - so much for the views - but the clouds began to lift toward the end of our hike. Sometimes the mountains are even more stunning when they are partially obscured by clouds. Nothing beats the beauty of the Rockies cloaked in snow and cloud!

Jesper and Strelka heading up the trail

Jesper is the teeny - tiny figure heading down the trail

The clouds began to lift, but still obscured the Flatirons

Jesper and Strelka on the snowy trail

The clouds dispersed to reveal the Flatirons sprinkled in snow

By the time we hopped in the hot tub Sunday night, the clouds had been replaced by clear skies. Monday morning dawned sunny and bright. According to the weather forecast, we will be back up in the mid 50s by tomorrow. Time to get the bikes out again, and maybe the skis too, this weekend. Nothing beats the variable weather of the Front Range!

Monday, September 28, 2009


This past Sunday, September 27th, was the long awaited Redstone Cyclery Big Fall Ride 4. This annual event began four years ago (duh!) and Jesper and I were fortunate enough to make the very first one. We had just moved out to Colorado and found out about the ride through mtbr. The Big Fall Ride (no numbers at that point) was billed as an all day epic ride in the national forest near Lyons. We didn't know a soul going on the ride, but it certainly sounded like our cup of tea! Although the ride organizer, Redstone owner Dave Chase, joked about making the participants use his name in vain before the ride was over, what Dave really likes is for people to be happy and smiling, even when they are tired, hurt, cold and hungry; no complainers! We smiled the whole day, even after I fell off an 8 foot scree field and jacked out my rear brake (had to ride Buchanan Pass with only a front brake)! We became huge fans of Redstone and good friends with Dave Chase.

Since that first ride, we have been on many a Dave's Death March Ride and numerous Tuesday Night Redstone Rides. We have also been regulars on the BFRs, although I ended up missing BFR2 when I lacerated my shin in 2007. For 2008, Dave made BFR3 even longer than the previous years. The weather was cold, with a little rain. Maybe I didn't eat enough (tough to eat when you are too cold to stop), maybe I wasn't in as good of shape as I should have been, I don't know, but BFR3 was hard on me. The ride ended with a climb up Heil and down Picture Rock. Those last 10 miles in 2008 were brutal - I was worn out. I was still smiling, but I was worn out, completely. I've been riding a lot this summer and also running, so I felt I was going into BFR4 in good shape. I was hoping that this year I would have more energy, even though the ride was going to be even longer, with more climbing.

Although the weather forecast for BFR4 was stellar (temps in the 60 and 70s with ZERO chance of rain), fewer riders showed up at the shop for this year's ride. This was probably due to Dave's cautionary disclaimer about the ride:

This is a BIG ASS RIDE. Seriously, it will be hard. Mileage will be 40-50, over 4,000' of climbing and around 7500' of descending. This is not a novice ride. Heck, this isn't really an intermediate/advanced ride either. We'll call this an experts only ride. Be prepared for anything and everything. There are NO BAILOUTS. Well, you can bail, but it means a long, long ride on the road back to anywhere important. If you're in doubt if this ride is for you or not, it probably is not.

After serving the ride up this way, 14 brave souls turned up Sunday morning ready to ride; me and 13 guys, some Redstone regulars and some new faces.

Bikes loaded up and ready for a BIG day! (photo cred Matt Saunders)

We started the ride off Peak-to-Peak Highway, ascending Bunce School Road, a gradual mostly uphill jeep road that served to get us warmed up. After about 5 miles, we arrived at Peaceful Valley, home to some of the best technical trails in the Front Range. That's when the real climbing began. Up, up, up we went on Sourdough, a rocky trail with baby heads galore that weaves through the pine forest.

Me on a bridge on Sourdough (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

We topped out at just shy of 10,000 feet in the meadow at the intersection of Sourdough and South Saint Vrain (SSV).

The group at the high point of the day, taking a food break (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

Me and my honey (photo cred Matt Saunders - with my camera before I broke it!)

After a picturesque lunch break overlooking the Indian peaks and golden aspens, we headed off on SSV. This is one technical trail! We were about 11 miles in and I was feeling really good at this point. I was looking forward to a very technical downhill segment on SSV I had been trying to clean all year; the part that dumps onto the short dirt road section. I had been able to ride all of it, just not all of it at one time. I wasn't even wearing my armor, but I felt in the groove. I hit the section and the bike just flowed under me all the way down. When I got to the bottom I couldn't believe I rolled through that section like it was easy peasey! Maybe all the downhilling has helped me on the super technical descents! Needless to say, I was spaztically excited for quite awhile. That is until I kissed a tree.

Like I mentioned, SSV is one technical trail. I was rocking through droppy, rooty, switchbacky section after section. Then I arrived at tough part and as my front tire went over a rooty, droppy switchback, I went over the bars. Smack dab, teeth first into an aspen. After I figured out that my chompers were intact, I was surprised to hear the back log of guys behind me go, "ooooohhh that doesn't look so good." What didn't look so good?!!?! I couldn't tell! I was then informed that my chin was scratched up a little. Come to think of it, my chin did hurt, as did my arms and my legs (bruises surely to come). Feeling that nothing was hurt too bad, I hopped on my bike and continued all the way down SSV to the trailhead off of Peak-to-Peak Highway. I arrived to see this:

My scraped up chinny-chin-chin (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

It was just a scrape, but it looked rather bass ass, I must say (now it just looks like a scabbed over, oozing goatee). My close encounter with the aspen somewhat dimmed my enthusiasm for aggressively attacking the downhills that day, but I still rode everything, just a tad slower than usual. Worse than my scrapes, bruises and diminished mojo was that I broke my camera : (

After SSV, our group headed across Peak-to-Peak and began climbing again on gravel roads toward Gold Lake. Atop a rocky outcropping overlooking the lake, we dined on lunch number 2 and enjoyed the spectacular views. I recalled that at this spot last year, we were surrounded by black, nasty clouds, but this year it was crystal clear as far as the eye could see. We were about 20 miles in, almost halfway, and I still felt energized and fairly fresh.

Another beautiful place to dine! (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

I knew the remainder of the ride would be predominantly downhill, although there were a couple of climbs toward the end that could suck the life out of me. I vowed to continue eating on a regular basis at every regrouping. We made our way from Gold Lake to Jamestown on some fun trails and jeep roads.

View from the trails near Jamestown (photo cred Matt Saunders)

I hit the ground again a few times and felt like my technical skills were out the window, probably due to too much caution post tree-kissing, but my energy remained high. I ate again in Jamestown while we hung out by the Merc for awhile. Then the group headed down Left Hand Canyon Drive, one of the few sections of the day that we would ride pavement. After a few miles on the road, we tucked onto the Left Hand OHV trails, first on a bluff above the road and then getting in deeper.

We ascended up FR 286, one of the last big climbs of the day, and decided to come down Carnage Canyon. I had never been on this trail, which had recently been closed to motorized vehicles. Since we had just climbed a fair bit and we needed to get back down to Left Hand Canyon Drive, a descent down Carnage Canyon sounded like it had potential to be some ripping fun. NOT! The Forest Service had been out in force with what must have been some honking big machinery. They dug up the entire canyon, rendering it soft and rocky in a decidedly unrideable way, apparently intending for this area to be restored to a creek bed. We pushed our bikes down for almost 2 miles, trying hard not to twist an ankle. We got the message loud and clear from the Forest Service - this is no longer a trail! We won't be back.

Despite the bust that Carnage Canyon was, no one complained. I for one was grateful for the opportunity to stretch out my back and use different muscles for a bit. Carnage Canyon dumped us back on the road, which we took for about 2.5 miles to the entrance to Heil Valley Ranch. We were about 38 miles in, with 10 more still to go, but it felt like we were almost done because we were back on very familiar territory.

This is were I started feeling really wonked last year. Not so this year; my legs still felt remarkably fresh. I ascended up Wapiti at a good clip, passing a couple guys in our group and chit chatting with Dave for awhile. Then Dave pulled away, everyone seemed to find their own pace and I was left to myself. Once the Wapiti climb terminated into the Wild Turkey Trail, I dialed it back a bit. Wild Turkey is super chunky and rocky and after over 40 miles in the tank, in my head I knew I should be just a bit cautious, lest I end up a casualty on the rocks. I focused on riding clean and smooth, and I maintained this tactic when I got on the top, techy part of the Picture Rock Trail. I had so much fun as I ascended in the golden, waning sunlight. Once past the silo and on the swooppy flat part of the trail, I increased the speed again, enjoying the flow of the trail. I arrived back at Dave's shop after being out on the bike for about 9 and a half hours. That's a long day in the saddle, but I finished feeling like I had the energy to keep going for more!

BFR4 ended up being one of the BEST rides ever; impressive among a long list of pretty awesome rides I have done! The group of riders was great; we stuck together well, everyone was super cool and there were no whiners! This was the longest ride for a few of the guys and it was so fun to see them crank it out! We hit some fantastic trails and saw some beautiful scenery. Most importantly, there were no serious injuries (my face plant aside), somewhat amazing considering the technical nature of some of the trails we rode!

Final stats:
  • 48 miles of riding
  • 5,400 feet of climbing and something like 7,000 feet of descending
  • Highest point about 9,900 feet
  • Out there about 9 1/2 hours, in the saddle for about 6 of them
  • 3,200 calories burned
  • Endless smiles
  • Zero complaining!
Thanks Dave - I'll be back for BFR5!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

DH Learning Curve

My education in DH skills continued over the long Labor Day Weekend. On Saturday, Jesper and I met up with our friend Dave for a day of fun at Keystone. We love riding with Dave! Jesper and I had talked about trying the smaller Fuzzy Bunny drop feature (I think on TNT or Motorhead). Dave had done Little Fuzzy Bunny for the first time a couple week's prior. I was so stoked for him! His success and encouragement that I could do it made me really, really want to try it, despite being terrified of doing it!

The Bunnies: Allow me to describe these features. They sit side-by-side, about four feet apart from each other, on the top of a steep slope. Here's a pic of some anonymous guy on the approach:

As you can see, the features start as wooden ramps that rise up above the ground. Out of view of the photo, just as the slope of the ground begins to go sharply down, the wooden ramps abruptly end. Little Fuzzy Bunny (the closer one in the pic that the guy is riding) rises to over 3 feet above the ground before its mid-air terminus. Big Fuzzy Bunny continues up almost 3 more feet to over 6 feet in the air. The idea is that you ride up the ramp, getting as much speed as you can, and then sail off the end of it, landing partway down the steep slope. Yeah right.....

The last time at Keystone, I followed Dave all the way to the end of the Little Fuzzy Bunny and FROZE. I couldn't do it; I chickened out. However, after doing the little drop on BeAllUCanBe at Winter Park last week, I was thinking about trying Little Fuzzy Bunny again. Maybe...

As Dave, Jesper and I headed toward the Fuzzy Bunnies, I got it into my head that I would check the feature out once and then ride it, following Dave off the end to make sure I had enough speed. I waited for Dave to go. All of a sudden, Jesper came flying off Little Fuzzy Bunny!!! WTF?!?!? Apparently, he had decided to just GO FOR IT! And he did it! He didn't even have a huge amount of speed, which erased one of my fears - that I would crash because I didn't go fast enough. Bolstered by Jesper's success, I was ready to try it myself, so I asked Dave to lead me off. Maybe...

As we walked back up the trail to ensure we could get enough speed, my heart was racing, my breath was labored. I was scared. I forced myself to slow my breathing. I cleaned my goggles. And then I had nothing else to do but either do it or chicken out (again). I swallowed hard and then told Dave that I was ready. He informed me that he wouldn't go too fast, lest he send me off the ramp with more air than I would be comfortable with. I followed him down the trail, keeping about 25 feet of space between just in case he had trouble (wouldn't want to ride over him if he somehow crashed!!). I got to the end of the ramp, the point at which I had balked the last time, and I didn't hit the brakes. I went off the edge and felt oddly calm as I sailed through the air. The landing felt much more smooth than I was expecting. It was EASY!!! I let out an excited hoot and holler - I had done it!! I rode the Little Fuzzy Bunny 2 more times, each time going faster with better and better form, getting my front wheel higher and landing further down on the transition.

Here I am coming off the lip of Little Fuzzy Bunny. No turning back at this point - I was committed! As you can see, the feature places your body, sitting on your bike, pretty high in the air. You can also see the Big Fuzzy Bunny next to the little one I'm dropping. Amazingly, my crazy Jesper tried the Big Fuzzy Bunny all on his own. I was behind him, getting ready to come down the little one, so I didn't even see it! My guy has some Cajones, although he decided after one run on the Big Bunny that he would stick to the little one until his form was more dialed in, and his form on the Little Bunny got very good, IMO. I for one KNOW my form is not good enough yet for the Big Bunny, so I will stick to the little guy for a while! I'm super proud that Jesper did both the Bunnies! I'm super proud that I did the Little Bunny! Yay for us!

First REAL Crash: After my success on Little Fuzzy Bunny, I had my first real down hill wipe out. I went over the bars on a section of Jam Rock, a very hard double black run. I had made it past what I consider the hardest part of Jam Rock, the big rock roller that dumps you out under the lift, and was going down a steep, rocky section before the TP Tree. I believe the TP Tree is there for those riders who $hit their pants coming down this difficult run.

I don't know what I did wrong, but before I knew it, I was slammed over my bike onto a big rock, which I hit with my face and my right hand. The bars of my bike hit the rock so hard I took a chink out of the rock (and scratched up my brake levers pretty good). Had I not been wearing a full face helmet, I would not have any front teeth; I have a big ding in the mouth guard of my helmet to prove this. I know my body armor prevented me from ripping open or deeply bruising my chest, arms and legs. I walked away with a very sore right hand, which I had bruised, but otherwise no real injuries. The crash ended my day - my hand hurt too much for me to feel confident holding onto the bars - but I am so impressed with and thankful for my armor. Although I only rode half a day, I was completely satisfied having slayed the Bunny!

More Fun and Crashing at Winter Park: On Monday (Labor Day), Jesper and I met up with some friends (Kim, Dan, Carey, Craig and their friends Josh and Jason) for a day of down hilling at Winter Park. It was a great group to ride with. Dan is a very talented rider who can go FAST and get big AIR. Kim is also fantastic and inspires me as to what a good female rider can do. Yes - she has done the Big Fuzzy Bunny! I like following her. Carey is also a really strong rider with awesome technical skills, as is her husband Craig. Craig's enthusiasm for trying stuff sight-unseen was unbelievable. They both rode their AM/FR bikes and absolutely slayed it! Winter Park also slayed them and they both went home with matching, but opposing side abrasions on their bums.

With a large group, we didn't take too many pics that day. Jesper snapped some of us riding the Big Wall Ride. This is the feature Carey wiped out on going FAST. Here I am doing it much better than a couple weeks prior, getting up higher on the wall.

I took a digger on a chunky, chundery fast section. I'm working on going faster on this kind of terrain, letting bike just GO under me (I was very slow at this at first). When I slid out on a loose dusty, rocky curve going fast (for me at least), I was able to bail off the bike without getting injured at all, thanks to riding platforms. I simply jumped away from the bike. Had I been clipped in, I would have gone down hard. The armor probably helped too. That was a confidence building crash!

Ultimately we did six runs, including a final, 2nd run on Trestle, on which I flailed a bit due to being tired and went OTB again. I know, who does Trestle, the DH Race Course, on their sixth run when they are tired?!?!? It is one demanding run, and we had already done it once. Yet again, my armor did it's job when I crashed and I walked away unscathed (as soon as I got my bike off me!). Another confidence building crash.

Two more days of down hilling are under my belt, and there are still three more weekends left this season at Winter Park! I've learned to get AIR, I've learned to let it GO on the chunder and I've learned I can crash hard and come away OK! Like I said, learning new things is FUN!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Learning to Fly!

At the youthful age of 45, summer 2009 has finally been my year to take up Down Hill Mountain Biking! By this I don't mean riding a bike down hill. I do that all the time, sometimes on pretty gnarly terrain. No, I mean the kind of riding where you put on body armor (arms, legs, chest, back) and a full face helmet, take the chair lift up with your heavy Down Hill (DH) bike and then rip down super gnarly trails made especially for such bikes; sometimes riding special elevated rock or wooden features, some of which require you to fly through the air to exit them.

I had wanted to get into this discipline of mountain biking for quite some time; it looked super fun and I felt it would help me bring my riding to another level. My GFs out in AZ gained skills through their DH'ing that I could clearly see in their XC riding. They were faster on the descents and they could ride some super techy sections that I wouldn't even try, and I try a LOT of stuff, even when it's beyond my abilities! I wanted to be able to ride the way they did, and I felt DH would help me.

I held back for a couple reasons. Firstly, I was adventure racing the last couple of years and, out of concern for my teammates who had invested a lot of time and money in racing with me, I didn't want to get injured (not that I ever want to get injured...).

Second was that I didn't have the right kind of bike; a burly bike with the lots of suspension and the right, slack geometry for DH. I even had the specific bike in mind that I wanted - a Transition Syren. I had been lusting over this bike for quite awhile. The Syren is a sweet woman's specific Down Hill-Free Ride bike made by a small, rider owned company. The bike, designed with the input of lots of female riders, has received rave reviews for the 2 or 3 years it's been on the market.

This year, I managed to eliminate both obstacles that had kept me from Down Hilling. I decided not to race purposefully so I could do more things with Jesper and maybe so I could try Down Hilling if I could scrape up enough money to buy a bike. Good quality mountain bikes are expensive and I have a personal rule against buying bikes on credit, so I would need a fair bit of cash in hand to buy a Syren. Finally, in late July, I had the dough so I ordered the bike. She is beautiful (and no one will confuse me on the trail for a guy!)!!

My pretty pink bikey (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

Yay - I had a DH bike! Now I needed to go ride it. My friend Kim graciously took me out for my first day at Keystone and showed me the ropes. I had a BLAST! Once I started getting used to riding with flat pedals, the bike took me over and through stuff I couldn't believe!

There was only one problem now. My honey didn't have a DH bike and he's my all time favorite person to ride with. I wasn't even sure if he was interested in Down Hilling. Nevertheless, I arranged for Jesper to borrow a friend's bike and gear and I dragged Jesper to Keystone with another friend, Dave. Jesper did great - riding with speed that I envy. But I wasn't sure if he LIKED it; he was an uncharacteristically unreadable. I was worried that I would be doing this Down Hill thing without my favorite riding partner.

I needn't have worried! The next Thursday night when I returned home from my weekly Gurlz Ride, there in the garage was a shiny new Boyz DH bike next to my shiny new Gurlz DH bike! Jesper had found a brand new Specialized Demo 7 at a great price. He also picked up a Full Face helmet, some armor and Five Ten shoes. Yay - we were now a DH'ing couple!

Jesper's Demo 7 (photo cred Jepser Kristensen)

We have been up to either Keystone or Winter Park every weekend for the last month, having a BLAST!!! Each time out, we get better and better. We are getting accustomed to not being clipped in. We are learning to trust the bikes on super steep chunky stuff. Jesper started out fast, but I am getting faster on the chunky chunder; switching to braking with my index finger alone, vs. my middle finger alone, oddly enough helped me feel more comfortable with speed, as did getting better tires (thanks Jason!).

We are also learning to get air! Winter Park in particular has several groupings of progressive features - table tops, dirt kickers and wooden ramps - that gradually allow you to get comfortable being in the air. Finally, yesterday at Winter Park after getting more and more air on these progressive features, we did our first hucking drop! It's a brand new feature on BAllYouCanB; a 3+ footer made so it can be rolled, but we drummed up the nerve to launch off it into the air.

Jesper did it first. He was so calm about it, soaring through the air with a perfect landing.

I was so proud of him! But yikes, now I had to do it!! I was very nervous, worried I would screw up the landing and wreck. But I pushed that feeling aside and dropped in. And then I flew through the air and landed just fine! I didn't get as high as Jesper, but I was flying! My second effort was even better.

Look - I'm flying! (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

I know hucking off something this high is considered easy by many DH riders, but for us, it was a first start to getting comfortable with air. I was stoked for the whole rest of the day. I know we will be going bigger and bigger!

It's so fun learning something new with my honey! We are learning to FLY!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jesper's Birthday Ride

Jesper's birthday came shortly after we returned from a LONG vacation traveling around Colorado to sample some of the finest mountain bike trails in the world. I kind of feel like his special day got swallowed up by the vacation. Plus, when I went back to look at the pics from that ride, I was blown away by how beautiful it was!!! So, here's a short post to celebrate my honey's 39th birthday ride!

We have adopted a practice my brother Jeff follows - never to work on his birthday. Jesper's actual day fell on a Sunday, so we took Monday, August 10th, off. On Sunday, we chilled and did basically nothing, very unusual for us! Monday we awoke even earlier than we do to go to work and loaded up the car with bikes (the Safire and the Spider). I know, you must be thinking we were nuts to go on yet another mountain bike ride after riding for our entire vacation! I guess we like to ride our bikes!

We headed up I-70 to Copper Ski Resort, which the Colorado Trail snakes across on its way to Kokomo Pass and beyond. Kokomo was our goal as an out-and-back, although we had as an option a loop coming down Kokomo to Camp Hale. I had ridden a portion of this part of the Colorado Trail last year up to Searle Pass and was looking forward to taking it all the way to Kokomo!

Like most Colorado rides, this one started by going up, and up, and up. After about 8 miles of up, we made it to Searle Pass, then rode up and and down above the treeline until we hit the high point of 12,390 feet before Kokomo Pass. Jesper and I both LOVE being above tree line. The tundra is so ruggedly beautiful!

Kokomo Pass was COLD and windy and the clouds were building up, so we passed on the Camp Hale loop and headed back down. What took over three hours to ascend took just over an hour and a half to go down, and that included a 15 minute lunch stop! That downhill was a lot of fun!

After 22 miles and over 5,000 feet of climbing, we ended the day with a beer at the bar we frequent many a day after skiing. It was kinda strange to be there without snow, skiers and all the other wintry things we usually associate Copper Resort with!

Here are some pictures of the ride:

The birthday boy coming out of the forest above tree line

Abundant flowers in August!!!

Muted colors of the tundra and the numbered peaks in the distance

Kokomo Pass (~12,000 feet) was cold and windy!

Jesper taking off on the descent - wheee!!!

More of my pics here! Happy Birthday Sweetie!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mountain Town Hopping Vacation - Summer 2009

Jesper and I had so much fun in 2008 doing a driving vacation wherein we rode our mountain bikes EVERY DAY for a week+, we decided to do it again this year! Last year, we hit Grand Junction, Park City and Steamboat. This year's menu of tasty trails included Crested Butte, Telluride and Durango.

We left Boulder on Friday, July 24th right after work (OK - a little before the end of the work day) and drove to Crested Butte. Neither of us had been there, so we were super excited! We booked lodging in a swank hotel up in Mt. Crested Butte through Tuesday, allowing us four days of riding in this summer mountain biking mecca.

For Saturday, morning we had made plans to meet up with some friends from Boulder who were camping in CB for the weekend. We rode about a quarter mile from our hotel to the trail head of the Upper Loop Trail and rode that (and Upper Upper Loop) to Brush Creek Road, which we rode to the Strand Hill area where our friends Andria, Jason, Nicole and Tarka were camping. Upper/Upper Upper Loop and Brush Creek Road put about 9 miles of some nice riding under our belts before our combined group continued up West Brush Creek Road to the Teocalli Ridge Trail. Teocalli Ridge, billed as 'Very Difficult', was super duper fun, especial once we hit the LONG downhill section. There were some fun techy and tricky sections and we sessioned a few of them. I even got air on a rock ledge jump!!!

Nicole sitting at the top of the Teocalli Ridge ascent, ready for some awesome descending!

After finishing Teocalli, Jesper and I still had 9 miles of mostly uphill to ride back to our hotel. Thirty hot sunny miles later, we were back at our room, hungry and tired! We found a great restaurant in CB with delish food, yummy wine/beer and the last real day of the TdF on the TV, which we watched as we ate at the bar. All-in-all, a dandy first day!

On Sunday we drove down to CB to supposedly do a really big adventurous ride with Andria, Jason and Tarka. Problem was the weather. It had rained all night and we were worried that the trails would be a sloppy mess. After consulting with some locals at a bike shop, we modified our ride location plans and headed back up past Mt. CB to the Snodgrass trail head. We rode the Snodgrass Trail down to Washington Gulch Road. Snodgrass was an absolute BLAST; fun swoopy trails through an amazing ancient aspen forest. I think there was an entire mile through the woods where I didn't pedal or brake! Then began the long climb up Washington Gulch Road. These roads I refer to riding are gravel roads, not paved and, although not as interesting as single track trail, often provided magnificent views.

Nice views from Washington Gulch Road summit (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

We finally arrived at the single track and the 403 Trail and headed for more uphill. What goes up must come down and as we circumnavigated Gothic Mountain, we ultimately reached the top of our ride.

Unfortunately, the weather had moved back in and it began to rain as we descended. We had been forewarned that the CB soils could turn to a gluey cement when wet. Sure enough, the soils on 403 did just that. At first, we rode through pine forests with enough needle duff to keep the trails rideable. But then we got out to the open and the trail conditions deteriorated rapidly. I ended up behind a couple girls from another group who were having too much fun on what had now become a slip and slide. Andria and Jesper were both frustrated by the design of their Intense bikes, which clogged up mud and plant debris such that the rear wheel would not spin. Although my wheels remained free to roll, my bike was a mud-packed mess at the bottom. We all took the time to wash our bikes off in a creek, as well as our shorts and jackets.

Jesper un-clumping his bike in the creek after the descent down the 403 Trail

We had planned to ride up Gothic Road to descend the infamous 401 Trail, but the weather up that way looked SCARY. So, we pointed the bikes down the road and made it back to the cars just before all holy hell broke loose - hail, lightening and wind! Our friends headed back to their camp site to tear down and Jesper and I headed to our posh hotel room to freshen up before dinner at a nice little Italian place in CB.

Monday morning dawned with sunny skies! Yay! On our own now, Jesper and I decided to ride the 401 Trail (the full meal deal with no shuttle and the extra bonus miles at the end). We climbed up Gothic Road to the start of the 401. The trail initially trended uphill, taking us through high alpine meadows. Near the top of the trail, we stopped for Jesper to do some maintenance on his front brake.

Not a bad place to stop for bike maintenance!

It was a pretty place to stop. Crested Butte is renowned for its wildflowers, which were especially spectacular this year due to all the rain we've had in Colorado. When Jesper was done fiddling with his brake, I rode ahead a bit and crouched down off the trial to take pictures of him with some chiming blue bells in the foreground.

Jesper near the top of 401

As I crouched down to take the pictures, I felt something strange tweak in my lower back. Hmm.... that was odd. It continued to feel a little bit odd as I rode the wonderful, swoopy single track down through fields of flowers so tall they were hitting us in the face!

Famous Crested Butte wildflowers!

The 401 Trail is as amazing as its reputation portrays. Wildflowers out the wazoo, fantastic mountain views and tight single track racing along the ridge line. After an almost endless buff downhill, we arrived at Rustlers Gulch and stayed on 401 as it climbed back up again. Now my back did not feel so good. I was relieved when we finally reached the car.

We cleaned up at our hotel and headed back down to town on the free shuttle bus. After walking up and down the main drag a little, we opted to have dinner at a Mexican place. My back hurt from the walking and I was hoping sitting would feel better. No go. I was on the verge of pain and discomfort through my entire meal.

Worse yet was lying down. No position was pain free and moving from one position to another was excruciating! I did not sleep much that night. I awoke Tuesday morning in pain. I could not bend over or twist my back. I pretty much decided I had pinched a nerve; a big one. It was a beautiful day; a perfect day for a mountain bike ride. I could barely walk.

We had planned a big honking ride, but we scaled our plans back, more so if Jesper did the ride by himself, I would not be sitting by the car alone all day; not so much so that I could possibly do the ride. We opted for the Dyke Trail, out and back starting at the Horse Park trail head. We got to the trail head and I decided to try riding the bike, just to see what it felt like. Oddly enough, being on the bike felt better than sitting, standing or lying down. Hmmm.... would riding really easy make it worse or better? I decided to try the ride. I was in constant discomfort interspersed with flashes of pain, but the pain and discomfort were worse off the bike. I warned Jesper that I might be grumpy and we set off.

Jesper on the ride up through the aspen forest on the Dyke Trail

The ride goes out mostly climbing, first through a stunning aspen forest. I took the ascending really slow, in my granny gear, and stopped to walk anything that would make me pull a power move. It was a bit frustrating, walking stuff I normally could ride with ease, but I was just happy to be riding! We got to the end of the trail and debated our next step. Jesper wanted to make sure I had it in me to ride back the on the trail; the other options were for us to ride the road back (would be faster and less jarring) or have Jesper go back on the road and get the car for me. Amazingly, my back felt even better than it had when I started the ride, so down we went on the trail. Downhill was easier than uphill, but I road cautiously, so as not to get myself in a position where I had to juke a move or god forbid, come off the bike! Coming down through the steep single track through the aspens was fun and beautiful!

It wasn't a long ride, but I highly recommend the Dyke Trail - very fun! After our ride, we sort of cleaned up with Wet Ones and pointed the car south to our next destination - Telluride! I was happy when the drive was over, since sitting was not remotely comfortable. We had lodging in another swank resort hotel, this time in the Mountain Village above Telluride at the Mountain Lodge. We checked in and took showers to get clean for real. By then it was getting late. We hopped on the free gondola that takes you down the mountain, hoping we would find some restaurants open after 8:00 on a Tuesday. Having our first view of Telluride coming down from Mountain Village on the gondola highlighted the fantasy land beauty of this place! It is truly a magical place, so pretty it almost seems fake.

View of Telluride from the gondola at dusk

To our good fortune, we found a nice place, 221 South Oak, which had a pretty expensive menu but offered two-for-one entrees on Tuesdays!!! We had to sit at the bar, but that turned out to be more good fortune - the bar tender/waiter was an avid mountain biker who, once he determined we were strong riders, filled us in on some places to ride that are not on the maps. Great dinner, great price and great trail beta - not a bad evening. We rode back up the gondola and hit the hay. My back was feeling better (bar stools were more comfortable than the car seats, I guess) and I actually slept that night!

The next morning (Wednesday) we did one of the rides suggested by our bartender friend - Prospect Trail across the ski resort and then beyond into unmarked forest service land with awesome single track through meadows, aspen and pine forests connected together by bursts of forest service road. The ride started with a lift from the gondola; bikes and all! We encountered a few people while still on the ski resort property, but then pretty much had the trails to ourselves (and one very lost man we found riding by himself). Jesper especially loved the fast swoopy downhills through the pine forests; soft pine needle duff infused with a smattering of roots and rocks. The weather began to turn and we got rained on a tad, the clouds making for poor picture taking in the dark, spooky forests. The day turned sunny again and we finished up the loop on the Galloping Goose back to town.

Jesper on a nice flat and groomed scree field on the Prospect Trail (not all scree fields are this nice!)

My back felt even better on this ride! I wasn't near 100%, especially on the climbing, but my mobility was improving and my descending was getting more confident accordingly. At times I was in discomfort but not really in pain. Yay! Post ride, we headed straight for a local establishment that served beer and food - we were hungry and thirsty! There we met up with some other Boulder friends - Tina and Charlie, who joined us for a drink and an appy.

My back did not feel too hot that night - not sure why - but the next day we had grand plans anyway to ride some other trail recommended by our bartender friend. We checked out of our room and found a cafe in town. The egg, ham, cheese, tomato and basil sandwich we had was the most delicious breakfast we had the whole trip, but the service at that place was abysmal. Nevertheless, I'd still go back for that sandwich!

Our ride started out from town and headed northwest of town. We had barely left the road when -SNAP! Jesper's derailleur completely sheared off. A little rock had gotten lodged in the pulley. I rode and Jesper pushed and strode his bike back to the car. By the time we got back there, due to our very slow breakfast (that was part of the bad service), we decided to just head off to our next destination - Durango! So, we kinda rode that day, but not much....

We opted to drive from T-ride to Dgo over Ophir Pass. It was a more direct way than going back up north to Ridgeway and then down to Dgo. We knew Ophir was a gravel road and recommended only for 4-wheel drive with high clearance, but our bartender friend was adamant that our Durango would be fine. The man must have been smoking crack cocaine! The 'road' started out as a gravel road and then became rockier and rockier, with those rocks getting bigger and bigger. The need for high clearance soon became evident. Jesper did a great job of maneuvering the car, with only one chunky hit to the underside of the car.

As we approached the pass itself, we came upon the scree field. For those not familiar with a scree field, it is basically a loose and steep pile of loose rocks that are falling off a mountain. On this particular scree field, some road service folks had flattened out about a ten foot wide platform for cars to drive over; okay, for one car at a time to drive over, because there was barely enough room for one vehicle, let alone another to pass! To the left, the loose rocks went up steeply. Down to the right, loose rocks continued for a couple hundred steep feet before running out. A couple mangled cars lay at the bottom (I kid you not). Our adrenaline started pumping!

The "road" on the scree field over Ophir Pass; loose rocks up to the right and a couple hundred foot drop off to the left, with not much room for the Durango in between

Then we arrived at a rock slide and we stopped the car. Since the rocks on a scree field are not attached to anything, they continue to fall, courtesy of gravity. A section of them had done so and were now covering the place where the driver's side wheels of our car needed to be. We got out of the car to assess the situation. The slide would compel us to drive over an 18 to 24 inch higher section on the driver's side. This is not a huge height to go over, but it would tip the car toward the abyss, which made us understandably uncomfortable. I recommended getting the shovel out and digging the rock slide away, but Jesper felt that would take too long and another car might start coming our way. Rationally, we knew the car's suspension should be able to suck up the difference in the height of the 'road' surface; other cars had clearly done it based on the tire imprints. So, upon Jesper's suggestion, I stayed out of the car and went ahead to watch and let Jesper know if things looked sketchy as he prepared to drive over the rock slide.

View looking back toward the 'road' perched on the side of the scree field - the abyss down from the 'road' continues well below the bottom of the picture!

I don't think either of us breathed as Jesper drove over the rock slide. The car sucked it up and went over with barely a tilt. Schwew! I got back in the car and we continued a bit further until we hit the pass at 11,789 feet! I can't believe we drove our Durango up to almost 12,000 feet!

The sign says "OPHIR PASS - 11,789 FEET"

The other side of the pass, although clearly requiring 4-wheel drive, was nothing like the west side. Holy crap - I still can't believe we drove that 'road' in our car, and neither could a bunch of our friends (who had all done something similar once). I think we'll stick to hurling ourselves down mountain on our bikes!

We arrived in Dgo and found our hotel, the Iron Horse Inn. Decidedly NOT as swank as our first two accommodations, we kind of liked it better. Both swanky resort places had mandatory Valet parking, which was a PITA with our bikes and gear all being on/in the car. At the Iron Horse, the car was right outside our room, with lots of space to work on bikes. Came in handy since Jesper needed to put a new derailleur on his bike! Plus we had so much room; a full suite downstairs and then another complete room upstairs!

We headed into town and walked up the main drag, stopping finally at the ice cream place. We so rarely eat ice cream - YUM! We grabbed dinner at a decent Chinese place (I was craving veggies and that place delivered), and then when to our hotel suite for an early night in bed. All that poor sleeping was catching up to me!

The next morning we made plans to meet up with Tina and Charlie again (they were following us one day behind it seems) to ride Molas Pass to Coal Bank Pass. We opted not to shuttle, so the ride started out with an 8 mile ascent up Highway 550 from Coal Bank Pass to the start at Molas Pass. The shoulder on the highway was wide and I honestly think this ended up being as fast as a shuttle would have been, even with me riding a bit slow due to my back.

After the ride up Highway 550, we were treated to 18 miles of luscious single track that wove through forest and up into the tundra, my favorite terrain. The weather gods treated us to a wide variety of conditions - sun, hail, rain, lightening, sun and then more rain. Weather when you are up that high is pretty spectacular.

Tina and Charlie coming up through the flowers!

Jesper descending with Engineer Mountain in the background

Tina beneath Engineer Mountain and some ominous clouds

I felt great on the downhills and pretty good on the climbs. We finished on a section of trail that clearly sees a lot of horse traffic, creating a poop, rain, mud mixture - YUCK! Otherwise, an simply stellar ride with great friends!!!

Dirty Girls! (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

Why is my tush dirtier than Tina's?!?!?! (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

On Saturday morning, it was just me and Jesper (my all time favorite riding partner) so we were limited to rides that could be done sans shuttle. We opted to do a long single track ride that would sample part of the Hermosa Creek Trail, first ascending the Jones Creek Trail, then climbing more up the Pinkerton-Flagstaff Trail before BOMBING down the Dutch Creek Trail, which merged onto the Hermosa Creek Trail. Something like 20 miles and a whole lotta of climbing. Pinkerton-Flagstaff in particular was a heinous climb, frequently a hike-a-bike. We were rewarded with one of the most fun downhills I have ridden with the rocky Dutch Creek trail.

Cool aspens at the beginning of the incredible Dutch Creek Trail descent

I took absolutely ZERO pictures on the Dutch Creek and Hermosa Creek descents! Way too fun to stop.

The next day, Sunday, August 2nd, we slept in a little bit before hitting the road back to Boulder. We had debated getting in one more ride, but felt after 8 days straight on our bikes, we could use a day off. Plus, we wanted to get home, relax, hot tub it and get to bed early. We arrived back in Boulder officially still on vacation through Wednesday. We took Monday off from riding again, but we both did some much needed yoga. We also picked up our happy woogie from the kennel.

On Tuesday, we packed up the bikes once again and pointed the car west toward Summit County for another final vacation ride in the high country. Our salutatory ride was another piece of the Colorado Trail, this time near Breckenridge. We met up with friend Craig McNiel for part of this ride. We started up Tiger Road and headed out past the Dredge Ship trail head to the Colorado Trail, which we climbed all the way up to Georgia Pass.

Craig, me and Jesper at Georgia Pass (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

Coming back down was a blast and so much faster than the ascent up! At this point, about 22 miles in, Craig bid us farewell and headed back to his car; Jesper and I continued on the Colorado Trail over the West Ridge section. After some initial climbing, we were treated to probably the best descent on the entire Colorado Trail! Final stats for this last vacation ride were 35 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing.

My smile shows how much fun the West Ridge descent was!!! (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

And on our final day of vacation, we rested.