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!