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.