Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Company You Keep...

One goal for this trip was contact.  Contact with with our environment, with each other, and with our guides. That's why we avoided some interesting hotel based trips. The restaurants, bars, TVs, and cell phones would be an unwelcome distraction. This trip required FULL IMMERSION. meals around a campfire, showers under a tree. A sleeping bag and a tent.

The Hermosa trip format and in particular the guides ensured we got the full contact experience without having to compromise. Camp was setup and the fire lit when we arrived at camp each evening. Expert preparation and fresh ingredients meant our meals were first rate.  And helpings were healthy, we never went hungry.

But the guides were really the secret sauce.

Matt McFee is the mastermind of the operation and has assembled a winning format and a great team of guides. His navigational skills and lunchtime stories of the Continental Divide Race were eclipsed only by his performance in the Angelina Jolie game and his expert chamois cleaning tips.

We only had a few minutes with Peter Basinger as he shuttled us to the start on day one, but he had some great stories of racing in the Iditarodtrail invitational, a 24hr mountain bike race in Alaska where he found a racer who had been mauled by a grizzly (she survived), and the trip to NYC to be interviewed by one of the morning talk shows about the bear incident.

Apple Cobbler, yum!
Lisa Lieb ("Angie")added a high energy feminine touch to the adventure without upsetting the dynamics of eight guys on a "guys trip." At first I was dubious about the mixed gender dynamic, but she mixed it up expertly. She ran a fantastic kitchen, tended to some gnarly injuries, and put some guys in their place when they needed it. She walked the line expertly. Oh and she is a kick ass rider.

Glenn Shoemaker ("Glenn.P.R") was our cowboy poet. He was knowledgeable about everything from the lifecycle of the desert gnat and herbal remedies to chiropracty and fine whiskeys. He was a wealth of excellent advice, never preachy, gently offered in prosaic fashion. We learned to listen attentively when he offered wise advice about "building monuments" and being careful about places where "someone might get your stuff." And he was ALWAYS there if someone was suffering and falling off the back of the group, distracting them and keeping them positive.

And finally, Delila the black and tan coonhound and Arthur the newfoundland were a great touch. Originally they did not plan to be on the trip but we insisted that they join us because we think dogs are awesome.

"That bike chick sort of digs you but is not looking for a beginner"
      -- unknown

"RIDE HARD, live easy"
     -- unknown

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Size Doesn't Matter... least it didn't tonight.

I took the Turner Burner out for tonight's ride. First time since Colorado. This is a legendary XC bike but the 3.6" of travel didn't seem like much as I bounced on the bike in the driveway. Not after riding that big 5" RumbleFish  in Colorado. But it was just the ticket on the twisty buffed-out singletrack of MCSP.

Might be a different story at French Creek or Wissahickon...

...but tonight three point six inches was plenty.

"If the world were a logical place, men would ride side saddle."
     -- Rita Mae Brown


Our Groover had a view and a two drop maximum.

The view was of the snow-capped La Sal mountain range in the distance. Unobstructed by houses, trees, or even window glass. It was straight up. A big money view.

The two drop maximum meant you had a 50% chance of having to empty The Groover. Very high stakes. Add eight competitive guys, and you've got yourself a sideshow of epic proportions.  Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer type of stuff. "Who just went?" "Did he really go?" "Where is 'so-and-so'?" Head fakes. Guys sneaking to the Groover at four in the morning.

In the end I was 0 for 2.  I would have liked another go at it to improve my percentage, but on the last day we raised the maximum from two drops to three. In my mind the price of failure was too high, so I held out for modern facilities on night #4.

But (a small) part of me still misses that Groover and that money view.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Know Thy Route

Trip data from Andy's GPS unit (includes a map track) is available online. For guys who were on the trip, if you zoom in on the map track I swear you will remember every rock and switchback as if it were yesterday.

Total elevation gain for the trip was 17,732ft and total loss was 22,642ft. Don't interpret this to mean it was a downhill ride. We did a LOT of climbing on every day except #5 (see elevation graphic). It takes many hours of hard work to climb a few thousand feet, but only a few minutes of high speed descent to burn it all up. So even though we netted -4,910 ft of elevation this trip was totally dominated by climbing.

I believe the dip around mile 65 was lunch on day #3, the steep climb out is the beginning of the infamous afternoon "shit show" grind-fest. I'm still studying topo maps to determine how steep was the climb-out for that afternoon sojourn.

Elevation over mileage
The 38.5mph max speed is from day#2 descent to the reservoir. If you've ever gone over 35 on a bike then you know 38.5mph is wicked fast. It can leave a pretty good rug burn if anything goes wrong. It focuses the mind in a hurry.

Some possible gaps in the data due to a battery issue on day #3.


"Know then thy route, presume not signs to scan; The proper study of mankind is maps."
     -- Albert Augustus Pope

Monday, June 27, 2011

Little Dots and Spots

These spots itch like crazy
That's the back of my heel/calf area. It itches like a SOB. Just about everyone who went on the D2M trip has them. And today I found out what they are.


Damn chiggers.

They are some sort of minuscule larvae that attach to you and liquefy your flesh so they can drink it. I thought my dog was disgusting when she ate horse manure. That's nothing compared to chiggers.

Damn chiggers.

"All I see is little dots, some are smeared and some are spots."
--David Byrne

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sleeping With Your Junk

My feet in the
White Clay parking lot
without cycling shoes
I slept with my junk all week in Colorado. Every time I woke up, it was right there. So I'd pack my tent and sleeping bag, put on my junk, climb on the bike, and ride. Day after day.


Except today at 6:00am when I had to load my junk in a car and drive an hour to White Clay...only to find I forgot some important junk. Like, my cycling shoes.

It was so pathetic even Mike and Andy didn't have the heart to abuse me.

So instead of riding the sweet flowy singletrack of White Clay I ran errands at Walmart and Home Depot.

"Go Big or Go Home"
     -- unknown

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Big Five Inch

Took the Rig for my first ride since Moab. Just to loosen up.

The big five inch...

  • Too many hikers. I don't think we saw anyone on the trails the first four days of riding in Colorado and Utah. I like that.
  • Really good air. There is 4x the oxygen (per volume) here than at the top of Bolam Pass. We were not acclimatized for Bolam Pass. Big difference.
  • Didn't miss the gears really, but did reach for the shifter out of habit.
  • Pucker factor. Didn't register at MCSP. 
  • No rear suspension was weird. Not much front either since I filled the Reba with too much oil. I got used to the RumbleFish with 5" of plush travel front and back. Not that I needed it today, but I missed it. I started hopping up and down on the Rig and nothing much happened. 

I really do miss that big five inch.

"29 and single"
     -- saw it on a t-shirt once

You Will Not Regret It If You Live

This was an adventure with all the commensurate risks and rewards. Mountainous terrain and excessive speed contributed to both crashes. With downhills measured in miles instead of yards and altitude drops measured in thousands of feet instead of hundreds, it is no surprise we were riding at excessive speeds for long periods of time. Speeds unheard of on our east coast trails.

Nurse Kitty cleaning up Sebastian.
He'll have some good bacon from
that one!
Sebastian's crash occurred after a particularly gnarly section of downhill where the trail smoothed out. From behind, it looked like his front wheel had hit a large rock - the bike stopped and he flew a good ten yards down the trail, sustaining a couple of nasty scrapes but thankfully no structural damage.  Luckily he was thrown forward and not sideways where there was no trail, only air (you get the picture). Oddly we could not find any obstructions on the trail - final analysis concluded that the rear wheel was off the ground approaching turn when both brakes were applied, resulting in instantaneous endo. Possible contributing factor was that brakes on Sebastian's own bike at home were soft (needed to be bled).
Conclusions: On descents keep weight back and use front brake judiciously. Switching from soft to firm brakes may contribute to misjudging stopping power.
Nurse Kitty checking
Dave before granting
him access to the cooler
Dave's birthday crash had speed and some additional complicating factors. It was at the end of a very very long day, and we were nearing camp and a cooler full of beer.  We were about 3 miles into an 8 mile descent.  It was a similar stretch of trail, very fast, flat, and smooth when Dave just inexplicably disappeared in a tangle of bike, legs, and dust.
Tangent: It was strange seeing the crash from about 100 yards back. The violence of the crash was apparent. Legs and bike tumbling down the trail. Arms flopping. Dust flying. I've been there, I know. But from where I was sitting it was utterly silent. No noise, no pain. A strangely detached and frankly disturbing perspective.
I was first on the scene and as is customary asked him if he was ok. He said "no." David never says "no." A quick assessment turned up a cracked helmet and a left shoulder that hung considerably lower than his right...because his arm had been wrenched out of the shoulder socket. Nurse Kitty promptly got busy assessing the patient and trying to work the arm back into place. In the end, Dave was able to work it back in and elected to ride the remainder of the descent (albeit a little slower). That my friends is one tough customer.
Conclusions: On descents keep weight back and use front brake judiciously. Increase the margin for error (slow down) if you are on the back end of a grueling ride.
Jim after tangling with
a barb-wire fence and
"cleaning" the wound.
Jim's mishap was not so much a crash as it was a miscalculation.  Treat barb-wire with utmost respect. Get your tetanus shot. And please please do not fill your mouth with water and spit on your open wound in a vain attempt to "clean" the injury. Your mouth is one of the most bacteria infested parts of your body. You are actually better off urinating on it than spitting on it (urine is sterile). You get the picture.

These incidents and numerous other minor bumps and scrapes confirmed that indeed this was an adventure not a video game, that that the human body is glorious and capable of many amazing things, and most importantly it may be the mind that is the real wildcard in all this.  Who would have thought?

"All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast."
     -- unknown

"Get a bicycle.  You will not regret it if you live." 
     – Mark Twain

“Pain is temporary, glory is forever”
      -- unknown

Friday, June 24, 2011

Colorado Chronology

D2M Team on way to Geyser Pass.
It would be a very long day.
Technically D2M is history.  A few scrapes and bruises linger as friendly but fading reminders of our recent adventure.  But other effects will reverberate for a lifetime – rugged and remote countryside conquered, extreme conditions endured, perceived physical and mental limits sorely tested and exceeded – and best of all we experienced it as a group.

Now, how to immortalize the epic adventure in words and pictures without overwhelming the writers or the readers?  We divide and conquer...the same way we bagged Bolam switchback at a time. We will start with the requisite chronological treatment to baseline the scope of the trip. But there many non-linear themes that colored the entire adventure.  Rather than muddy the chronology, we will follow up with posts exploring these various themes - some very practical like field repair, what happens when rodents and insects come calling, the numbers , bikes, and gear. Other topics more ethereal like the difference between pain (bad) and suffering (good), friends and acquaintances, and heeding nature's call.

The possibilities are endless, so let's get started with the all important chronology...

One of a shitload of switchbacks
heading up to Bolam Pass
Distance: 26 mi
Climbing: 4,300 ft
Max altitude: 11,425 ft
Pedaling time: 4.5 hrs
Crashes: 0
Mechanicals: 0

Dinner: Coconut curry chicken, steamed rice, fresh spring rolls, chocolate fondue
Lunch then a nap
Day one started at the Durango Mountain Resort where we fit our bikes, got our 2 minute briefing on bike safety and satellite transponders, and then promptly began what would be a long warm-up climb climb of 2.8 miles.  After a short break on some "Secret Single track" and lunch in the flower-filled Hermosa Creek Valley we began the final assault on Bolam Pass.  The first 3 miles of the 9 mile uphill assault were a teaser, the last 6 miles were for real - loose, rocky, and extremely steep. A short break at Celebration Lake near the top of our climb was sorely needed, as the last 2+ miles to the pass was hike-a-bike through knee-deep snow and ankle-deep melt-water.  The payoff was considerable as the pass offered a breathtaking 180° vista of Lizard Head Valley with Hermosa Peak and SlideRock Ridge in the background.  A Pull off Glenn's flask (Eagle Rare Bourbon) didn't hurt either.

After a short nap, we descended the other side of the pass into the San Juan National Forest. The descent down a sometimes gnarly double-track dirt road was loaded with washed-out ruts and rocks the size of bowling balls. When we rolled into camp the kitchen was setup, chairs were arranged around the campfire, beers were iced, and a large tray of appetizers was ready and waiting for our crew of  exhausted and hungry bikers.

Killpacker Flats
Breakfast: Starbucks coffee, OJ, blueberry pancakes, bacon, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit
Distance: 30 mi
Climbing: 4,000 ft
Max altitude: 10,100 ft
Pedaling time: 4.0 hours
Crashes: 0
Mechanicals: 0
Dinner: Grilled steaks, parmesan risotto, asparagus, apple cobbler
Snacks at the cabin
This day started with a 3 mile climb from camp to Killpacker Flats and some more killer scenery (a Colorado "flat" is roughly equivalent to a Pennsylvania "Mountain").  We took a break at a rustic log cabin right out of a John Wayne movie, and then started another very long climb up Black Mesa Road to top out at 10,100 feet.  More rest and refueling, and we launched into an 8 mile descent to Ground Hog Reservoir in the shadow of Lone Cone (clocked at 38 mph).  After some snacks and a dip in the reservoir (snow melt was refreshing at 40°), we headed to camp in the desert.
The desert

This was our first truly primitive camp (no facilities, no people, no nothing).  The scene was other-worldly, like something out of a sci-fi movie. The snow-covered La Salle Mountains were visible in the distance (Moab on the OTHER side).  It was an early night with everyone thinking about another big day ahead of us.

Breakfast: Starbucks coffee, OJ, fritata, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit
Distance: 40 mi
Climbing: 5,000
Max altitude: 10,678 ft
Elapsed time: 7.5 hrs
Crashes: 1
Mechanicals: 5 flats
Dinner: Custom burritos including fresh cilantro and guacamole, s,mores
Moab is on the OTHER side of those!
Today's ride was broken up into two stages.  Before lunch we rode some long rolling desert flats where I experienced an explosive flat next to a Uranium Superfund Site.  6" gash along the tire bead, seemed to be a show stopper, but Matt managed to fix it with some superglue, duct tape, and scraps of plastic from a spiral notebook.  Amazingly it held fast for remainder of the morning stage including a "short punchy" 1500 ft climb to ride some awesome Colorado rollers. Red dirt then green dirt. Diving turns on an abandoned mining road. Fast and technical. After a long descent into the Dolores Canyon through some rocky gnarl, we had our first truly violent crash of the trip. Sebastian was lucky to walk away with some bruises and a bloody elbow and knee (not sure he would agree he was lucky though).

Whiskey and a Shit Show
The after lunch stage started with a steep punishing 200 yard climb through loose dirt and rocks directly into a rain storm.  We geared up for the weather and then began what would be a sustained and difficult 14 mile climb.  Kirk set his stop watch and we were pushing pedals for 2.5 hours before we were able to coast for just a few feet before recommencing climbing.  The unrelenting climb did have some spectacular views of Paradox Valley and an impromptu "Shit Show" when Oates and Riley got tangled up midway through the climb.  Ride finished with the La Sal Mountains noticeably closer and a short descent to camp at Buckeye Reservoir.  

Crossing the line
Breakfast: Starbucks coffee, OJ, blueberry pancakes, bacon, fruit and granola
Distance: 28 mi
Climbing: 4,200 ft
Max altitude: 10,200 ft
Pedaling time: 4.5 hrs
Crashes: 1
Dinner: Fresh salad, chicken pancetta, pasta, and red sauce, fresh baked chocolate/raspberry cake
Woke up to the sound of rushing water in the creek 25' from my tent.  After breakfast we struck out for the CO/UT border and started what would be a mentally and physically challenging odyssey to Geyser Pass. The day would include some backtracking (500' of the climb done 2x for good measure), a portage around a beaver pond, and another 1+ mile hike-a-bike through the snow in Geyser Pass.  The views were spectacular as we climbed the shoulders of the La Sal Mountains toward the pass.
Hike a bike at the beaver pond

We crested Geyser Pass around mid-afternoon, and once we regained rideable trails we began a high speed eight mile descent down some wide-open single track toward camp east of Moab.  Given our fatigue and the speed potential, it is probably a miracle we had only one crash on the descent.  Unfortunately it was another bad one, resulting in a dislocated shoulder for one rider.  But with some manipulation by Lisa (our guide) and some grit from the patient, Dave was able to "relocate" his own shoulder and finish the ride to the bottom of the hill.

Approaching Geyser Pass
and still smiling
This was to be the last night of the trip, so after dinner we parked ourselves around the campfire at Warner Lake and got started on a fresh bottle of Sheep Dip blended scotch. Being the rennaisance men that we were (and are), we did not stoop to merely passing the bottle.  Instead we engaged in high-brow drinking games like "new names for interesting body parts", "new names for interesting body functions", and the always classic "Angelina Jolie game."    We wrapped around midnight with the Taj team absorbing the brunt of the punishment (and the scotch).  Long live Glenn Armstrong and Claus Van Troubt.

At the top of UPS
Breakfast: Starbucks coffee, OJ, EggsMcHermosa, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit
Distance: 25 mi
Descent: 6,200 ft
Max altitude: 9,520 ft
Pedaling time: 2.5 hrs
Crashes: 1
Mechanicals: 2 flats
After four days of climbing, we would finish the trip with a full day descending some of the best single track anywhere. We started with a very short (and the only) climb from camp to the Hazard Country Trails.  This was wicked fast swooping singltrack through meadows, scrub forest, and the occasional rock garden. This was a lesson in gravity, as releasing the brakes for just a second or two could accelerate you instantly to crazy-stupid speeds. These trails alone were worth the trip, but after a short spin on the Kokopelli trail (double track) we picked up UPS (Upper Porcupine Singletrack).

On top of the world, but not
getting too close to the edge...
While Hazard County was a rocket sled ride, UPS was relatively slow but technical single track over slick rock and finely packed red sand.  It dodged and weaved along the canyon edge, occasionally swooping within a could of feet of the edge to ensure we kept focused.  The slick rock has amazing gripping qualities, enabling us to ride some mind-bending stuff, one of them an impossibly steep 45° descent down a 40' stretch of slick rock. Into a cactus patch.  Adrenaline pumping now!

Lunch with a view
Next was LPS (Lower Porcupine Singletrack) which again was completely different from the previous stretch of trail.  LPS was large slabs of slickrock protruding from the ground, with tire swallowing gaps and large drops (inches to feet) between slabs.  While UPS was all about flow, LPS was all about balance and picking a careful line through this maze which continued for miles.

Overlooking the Colorado River
Eventually, LPS emptied out into Porcupine Trail proper where we took a minute to collect ourselves.  Glenn advised us to pay attention on this last stretch.  Glenn is a master of giving very good advice in a very subtle fashion. When asked about level of difficulty for Porcupine Trail he said "well on a scale of 1 to 10, you've ridden some 4s and 5s.  We'll see some 6s and 7s.  And a few places where if you're not careful 'someone will get your stuff.'"  We must have looked puzzled.  Glenn said "you know, like your family...because you won't need it anymore."  Message received.  Time to pay attention.  And he was not kidding. This lower section which ended at the Colorado River was some of the most scenic trail we had ridden yet, and with a serious pucker factor as parts of the trail passed within INCHES (not feet) of the edge.  The kind of edge where if you catch a pedal, "someone will get your stuff."  I doubt I will ever again regain the focused zen-like state I experienced when riding, dabbing, or walking some of these sections.
It's good to be alive
We finished at the bottom of the canyon next to the mighty Colorado River, exhausted by five days of hard riding, an adrenaline laced last day, and the knowledge that together we had all pushed ourselves far beyond our perceived physical and mental limits. And had fun doing it.

The trip of a lifetime.

"If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you're lucky enough."
  -- unknown

Click HERE for all the MO7S blogposts regarding this adventure.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

36 Hours

Tent, sleeping bag, and pad
are already in Durango.
I am having trouble concentrating.  In 37 hours I will be boarding a plane to Durango Colorado for a week of mountain biking bliss.

I have pre-shipped my tent, sleeping bag, pad, and a big honkin' tube of chamois butt'r to Durango.  I have charged three cameras and wiped ten memory cards.
These are the parts
where my body
touches the bike

I have taken my last ride.

I have packed my favorite bike seat, grips, and pedals.  You see these are the parts where my body will be touching the bike.  My body doesn't have the time or the inclination to "get acquainted" with new contact points.  Not when riding singletrack seven hours per day for five days.

I have packed all my gear and tonight will unpack and pack it again (my roll-on is over the size limit, so I am preparing to have roll-on confiscated).

I pickup SF at 4:30am Tuesday morning and we roll into our next big adventure.

I am stoked.