Sunday, June 13, 2010

Miles of Smiles

He said “you won’t find a root or wet rock within a hundred miles of this place.” The crew at Las Vegas Cyclery were giving this east coast rider some local pointers and even hack-sawing an inch off a perfectly good Thompson seat post in order to fit me on the Ellsworth Epiphany rental. After nearly a week in the man-made-spectacle we call Las Vegas, I was heading to the mountains for my first ever desert ride. The drive into the mountains was breath taking. I had rented a convertible so the view was 360 degrees, the radio was cranked to 11, and the mountain air was clearing the casino fog from my head.

Everything I had read online pointed me toward the Late Night Trailhead and the trails south of route 160. The out-and-back route would include a view of Las Vegas at the turnaround point and an awesome return descent on "Three Mile Smile." Of course every good descent has an equally good ascent, so the first 5 miles or so was real work. It didn't look to me like much of a climb, and a couple of miles in I was wondering if I had gone all flabby after a week on the strip, but when speaking with the guys at the bike shop afterward, it turns out to be >1,000 foot climb (starting at >3,000 feet), which is more climbing than I would normally see in a week of riding in PA.

The climb up Dinosaur Teeth Trail was stunning in so many ways. On the macro scale, the mountains were so massive (by east coast standards) and the air so clear, it was hard to grasp their sheer size. On the close-in micro scale there was the crunch of the sand and gravel under my tires, the cactus and Joshua trees as far the eye could see, patches of wildflowers, and the occasional lizard or squirrel (?) scampering off the trail in front of my wheel. But the wildlife encounter I will never forget was with a lone wolf crossing the trail in front of me. When I first saw the motion out of the corner of my eye I thought it must be a deer (size, color) but
when I stopped I realized I was staring at a wolf the size of a large German Sheppard loping across the trail. He knew I was there but never broke stride, just kept moving up the side of the valley. By the time I had stopped, fumbled for the camera, and locked on him he was a hundred yards away (see if you can find him in the 3rd picture).

Thirty minutes later I was at the top of Dead Horse Trail with a commanding view of Las Vegas 25 miles in the distance. Sin City never looked so good. After a rest and some pictures it was time for the return trip and of course the descent. The middle section of the descent is called "Three Mile Smile." Enough said. The Epiphany was sooo sweet on the descent, eating up everything that came at me, including a couple of drops that I really had no business riding. In fact the three mile smile
was more like a SEVEN mile smile as I barely turned the cranks all the way back to the car. The big payoff for me on the descent was what I had always seen in pictures – that thin ribbon of twisting undulating single track stretching a mile or more into the distance. This is something I've never seen first hand even after 5 years of east coast riding.

Overall the trails were in great shape - well maintained and marked. The moderate difficulty trails were no problem. I think that east coast riding - with all the roots and wet rocks - develops solid technical skills that really paid off. After a week of 100 degree days, the temps had dropped to perfectly acceptable mid-80s. And another unexpected benefit of desert riding was no sweat. I mean if I had exerted myself like that at home, I would have been drenched. But in the dry desert air, and perspiration evaporates instantaneously so you never seem to get wet. Bonus (as long as you have ample water).

After two hours of riding it was back to the strip for a final night of debauchery (not). I will tell you that after those few hours in the desert, the return to the Venetian Hotel was a little jarring. The stroll through the Casino (all paths lead through the casino) to my over-the-top 18th-floor split-level suite with 3 flat-panel TVs, remote control curtains, and two-room marble bathroom overlooking the three hotel swimming pools left me a little disoriented. I will admit however that the marble shower felt great but even as a lay on the comfy 1000-count Egyptian cotton sheets, I was thinking about how to get back into those hills one more time before my plane departed at 2:30pm the next day. after another too-late night (10:30pm local - 1:30am biological) I arranged for a 4:30am wakeup call so I could get in one more ride before Mike and I would shoot out to Hoover Dam for some sightseeing. 4:30am came up on me pretty fast, but I made it out to the trailhead by 6:00am and was treated to more mind-boggling scenery, miles of wicked fast tight twisty single-track, and the occasional jackrabbit or lizard.

This time I rode "Mustang Trail" on the north side of the trailhead. The WOW factor had not diminished one bit, I still found myself having to stop occasionally to gawk and try to soak in the magnificence of the surrounding landscape. But this alternating gawking and riding was not very efficient, so I finally threw in the towel and just rode because I knew how to do that, and I think I could have gawked all day long and still not wrapped my head around that scenery. I rode the short loop because we had
laid out an ambitious schedule for this last day (ride from Late Night trail head, shower, return bike, drive to Hoover dam, return to airport in time for 2:30pm departure).

Now it is 4:30pm, I am sitting on the plane writing this blog entry, still digging the sand out of my ears, and scheming about how to get back out west for some more riding. Hmmmm, turning 50 next year. I wonder…

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Seizing Up (repost)

I am reposting this blog entry from 5/28 because I've been reflecting on it and have a few things to add (not the least of which is this picture)...

Well you all missed a good one this morning. I know this because I was the only one there. I was hurrying to meet a buddy, when it happened it was just me.

Racing down the Struble at 6am to meet Andy at the country store...full bore, head down, and I caught a 3" branch in my front wheel (was hiding in the brush next to the trail). It must have stuck in the spokes because it stopped the bike instantly, I flew over the bars landed on my back and rolled on the ground for a good minute or two assessing the damage. I was FULL ON and never saw the dang branch, I was on the ground before I knew what had happened (unlike the familiar slow-motion endos where you know what's happening as it's happening - sort of the slow-motion thing). Helmet visor ripped off, seat post twisted 45 degrees, water bottle ejected, knee and shoulder banged up.

I have to say that compared to crashing when you are riding in a group, crashing alone really sucks. Not just for the obvious safety reasons. No, it also sucks because there is just no glory. Nobody to witness the drama. No one to retell your story at the annual beer exchange and bonfire. No. You just have to pull yourself together, limp out of the woods, and apologize to your riding buddy for being late.

I actually felt OK during the ride but now that I've been sitting for a couple of hours things are starting to seize up pretty good.

Like the man said, "not all pain is gain."

Time to reset the crash counter and pay more attention.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Waddling to Safety

Solo night rides are usually a little creepy. Strange sounds in the trees and glowing eyes peering at you from the darkness. Tonight's was all that with plenty of deer, some sort of large animals in the canopy on the Bonus Loop (birds I presume), and June Bugs as big as grapes thumping off my helmet and chest down by the boat landing.

But this ride ended on a particularly humorous note when I stumbled upon an opossum on the Lakeside Connector. Once I satisfied myself that it wasn't a skunk, I closed the distance to about 5' as he tried to waddle down the trail to safety. He must have waddled along - brilliantly illuminated from above by my dual LED headlamps - for half a minute before he finally shuffled off the trail into the safety of the woods.

When riding I've had close encounters with a baby fox, been nearly run over by a herd of deer, hit in the head by an owl, and chased by coon-dogs, but this was my first opossum encounter. God I love this place.