Sunday, July 28, 2013

Belvedere and Cheap Hookers

It started with Belvedere and high brow discussion on the politics and pitfalls (potentially fatal) of trail building at Marsh Creek. We developed some cleverly double-talk regarding "Friday Evening Services" (a.k.a. the Friday Happy Hour Ride) and we even dabbled in the finer points of road riding tactics.

But alas the bikes in the driveway all had knobbies on them, the Belvedere was in a plastic water bottle, and the cheap hooker was 12% DEET and not interested in small talk so we around 9:00 we saddled up and she led us into the dark depths of Marsh Creek Madness.

The Gang of Eight. One is behind the camera.
Captain Belvedere is on the left.
Our first stop was the race marshals stationed midway up the rocky climb. They looked thirsty and they had a bird's eye view of a blind turn diving through loose sand into a 100 yard rock garden. We saked the marshal's thirst and cheered the racers before striking out for our final destination.

The ride to the ruins was generally relaxed pace, but occasionally punctuated by frenetic mad dashes to avoid interfering with racers on the course. We could hear the the music pumping and the crowd cheering in the distance.

At the ruins, the stonework was festooned with hundreds of Christmas tree lights. A temporary platform had been constructed 8' in the air between two trees straddling the trail. The trail dove under the platform before hitting a 1' drop into a 90 degree left hand turn. The entire area was bathed in a soft glow from the Christmas tree lights, and the trail was lined on both sides with revelers cheering on the riders. Two or three people stood on the platform waving what looked like flaming torches (and I hoped were actually glow sticks) whenever a biker dove under the platform. The scene was both bizarre, exhilarating, chaotic, festive, and a little bit dangerous (echoes of Belvedere and cheap hookers).
Racers descending lower Rocky Climb

Decending into this raucous scene as a spectator was amazing. The singletrack is downhill and very tight, like a glowing tunnel through the underbrush. But then we burst out into the clearing around the ruins and people were lining the trail, they were in the trees (platform), they are on the ruins, they were everywhere and they were cheering and the music was pumping.  For the racers who were spending over an hour on the course alone in their thoughts and their pain, rolling into this scene must have been like a bizarre hallucination before they dove back into the woods and the dark for the rest of the decent.

We ditched our bikes, settled in, and started passing a magnum of Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale. One of the racers got swept up in the moment and got some air off the drop. He wrecked in the turn. The crowd roared their approval and support and he was back on his bike and rolling in seconds. Another tried to make a pass around the trees. A couple riders skidded to a barely controlled stop next to a drink table and helped themselves to some complementary electrolytes before continuing their race.
Once a year, the ruins turn into a city of lights

A little after 11:00 pm the gap between racers started to grow. Our supplies were depleted and Rob's swimming pool was beckoning. We saddled up for another frenetic dash down the race course and then picked our way along the old railroad bed in the dark (ouch) back to the neighborhood and the coolers and the pool.

We ended the evening with a nice soft landing, floating in the pool under the stars, reveling in our shared appreciation for bicycles, swimming pools, and laughter.

Now it's just 364 days until Marsh Creek Madness 2014...

"I got drank"
     -- anonymous liberal arts college professor

Saturday, July 13, 2013

YNP Day Eight - A Tall One

Game Creek Sweetness
We are now retracing our steps back toward Jackson so we naturally begin reflecting on the trip. In particular, how six short days ago we were just starting off with no idea what lay ahead of us. We were struck by how we now felt so different from “those people” of just six days ago. That is how much the trip rocked our world emotionally, intellectually, physically, and I dare say spiritually. This is a very special place.

Back in Jackson the girls went shopping while I rented a Santa Cruz Tallboy from Hoback sports and hit the mountain trails. I was able to catch some single track from the edge of town (how cool it was following a gal on a Trek Fuel EX with a yoga mat in her Camelback across town). I rode Cache Creek Trail to Game Creek Trail (with a minor detour on Putt-Putt). It would be a 1,300 foot climb followed by a 1,300 foot decent (obviously). I was loaded with red corpuscles after 8 days at altitude and the climb felt pretty good. I was sweating plenty but because it was so dry, it evaporated almost immediately. The trails were spectacular, great flow and views and shoulder height wildflowers. 

At the top I took a breather while another rider joined to take in the view. We chatted for a bit and she gave me some advice on a modified descent route with “great flow” that would dump me about eight miles from town. The eight mile ride back would be a bit of a chore but she said it would be worth it. As she started down, she said to let her know if I wanted to pass. I thanked her but said that would be unlikely. 

The decent felt endless with expertly bermed turns, and breathtaking views that made it hard to concentrate on the trail. I could not believe I had actually done all that climbing, the descent felt like much more than 1,300 feet. Finally back in town I topped it off with a pile of pig from Bubba’s BBQ and a badly needed shower.


Friday, July 12, 2013

YNP Day Seven - Grizzled

Mom and cubs departing
I am eager to experience more of the Old Faithful Inn and Geyser Basin before we leave, so I sneak out of the room at 5:00am for a two mile stroll around the basin. I can see maybe half a dozen other walkers in the area. It is so peaceful and I enjoy taking in the springs and geysers in solitude.

Heading back toward the Inn I (barely) , it is a little after 6:00am and I am thinking about a warm coffee. I notice another walker stopped on the left side of the path. He is looking across the path. I look to the right and about 20 yards away is a mother grizzly and her two cubs. I freeze. I recall you are not supposed to retreat hastily if you encounter a grizzly. She knows I am here and doesn’t seem threatened, so I stand my ground. She is rotting under trees for food. She is no lumbering giant. She appears to be a very agile and quick giant. Occasionally she turns and stares at me directly, then returns to her business.

The other walker steps behind me while laughing nervously. I figure I can out run him so I pull out my camera and start shooting. We stay and watch for about ten minutes. I start wondering how I will ever get back to the Inn – it is 300 yards straight ahead but she has sealed off that route, I will have to back track about a mile to get to the Inn and my coffee. Eventually she heads off across the geyser field, moving quickly with her two cubs tagging along behind. The other walker and I lock eyes - we are both a little rattled and frankly there are no words to capture what we just witnessed – so we smile and part ways.

It’s about 6:30 and now I am pretty jacked up. I return to the Inn to see bleary eyed people shuffling to the dining room, sipping coffee, looking at smartphones. They seem (are) oblivious to what is happening outside. I want to yell at them. I want to grab them by the lapels and shout to them “WAKE UP! It is happening RIGHT OUT THERE RIGHT NOW!”

At Isa lake which drains into BOTH
sides of the continental divide.
I see a family gathered in the corner, preparing for a hike. The two little girls are sitting there, looking sleepy and a little bored. I stride over and start showing the girls the video. They are mesmerized. The parents are alarmed (who is this man and why is he talking to my daughters?) but as soon as they see the video, they are thrilled and so thankful.  Back to the room and I wake the girls and take them through the whole story. We bring the camera with the precious video to breakfast. I show it to our waiter. I show it to the father and son at the table next to us, and to the family by the door. They are all captivated and very thankful. As I am leaving the dining room I am chased down by a small group following me out of the dining room including the restaurant manager, some waitresses, and customers. “Sir! Sir! Are you the one with the grizzly pictures?”  I show the pictures as a small group forms around me.

Later I am stopped outside the Inn, a fellow gives me his email address (“would you mind emailing me some of those pictures”). Checking out, the gal at the front deck pulls her fellow employees over to see the pictures I am sharing with her. Bottom line is I was incredibly lucky to have that encounter and take those pictures (and by some accounts lucky to have made it back to the Inn).
Tangent: On reflection this is also a real tribute to the job done by the National Park Service. The fact that these three bears were digging for berries under a log just a few hundred yards from a large hotel and restaurant is amazing. They weren’t sniffing around dumpsters. They were still wild. That is the magic of this park. We saw evidence of this many times during our trip.
Jackson Lake
We leave for our cabin at Colter Bay and dinner at the exclusive Jackson Lake Lodge Mural Room. But before dinner we slip into our bathing suits and head to Jackson Lake for a swim. The weather had been sunny, dry, mid 80s for days now. The water was refreshing but remarkably warm (my opinion, not the girls) given we were in the shadows of the snow capped Grant Tetons.

Dinner was outstanding. The girls donned dresses. I put on long pants (first time in eight days). The Southwest Molasses Spiced Elk Loin with Poblano cheddar grits, braised red cabbage, juniper berry-gin sauce and huckleberry gastrique washed down nicely with half a bottle of Clos Du Val Cabernet. The Huckleberry Crisp and espresso were the crowning touch to a fine day with two of my favorite people.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

YNP Day Six - On the Brink

Girls Gone Wild (on "The Brink")
We head to the Yellowstone Grand Canyon for our hike to “The Brink”. This trail leads down 600 feet to the very edge of the Lower Falls (twice as high as Niagara Falls). Standing that close to so much power and violence is both scary and beautiful. Sara tests her altitude acclimated lungs and sprints the 600’ vertical back to the trailhead. Ruth and I walk.

Driving to Old Faithful Inn, the weather is spectacular (80s, blue sky, low humidity). We stop for a while at the quiet Ned Perce Creek to watch the cuthroat trout feed and jump from the water. Entering geyser basin we stop to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. We are walking up a slight hill and the spring is still above eye level, but already we could see the colors reflected in the steam rising over head – vivid yellows, oranges, reds, blues, and greens. It is a massive boiling tie-dye design flowing up and out of the bowels of the earth. We just gawk for the next 20 minutes.
Grand Prismatic

We arrive at the Old Faithful Inn and are bowled over upon entering the main lobby. It is impossible to describe but I will try. It is massive, all rough hewn post and beam construction – a wide open space six stories high with landings and staircases hanging in mid-air 60 feet over the lobby floor. A massive stone fireplace rises from the floor all the way through the roof. It is grand, classy, and woodsy at the same time. It feels like you are in a massive forest. This is classic American architecture making a powerful statement.

Relaxing on the huge outdoor porch overlooking Old Faithful before dinner, we play cards (manipulation, Oma would be proud) and sip cocktails while Old Faithful puts on a show in the background.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

YNP Day Five - Boiling River

We wake up for an early morning hike to the beaver ponds (we’ve seen bear and bison, now we’re on a moose hunt). We don't see any moose but it's a beautiful hike with lots of bird life and some great views of Montana.

Before leaving Mammoth we stop at the Boiling River near the Wyoming-Montana border for a quick dip. The Boiling River is the confluence of the Gardiner River (very cold) and a boiling hot creek that springs from the ground a few yards from the river. The two merge and the result is a most bizarre swimming hole. The water has not really mixed - it is flowing rivulets of freezing cold water and rivulets of scalding hot water. It’s not homogenized; you are both hot and cold at the same time. Totally freakishly awesome.

We end the day at Canyon Lodge in a quiet backside room with the sounds of the wind a water wafting in through our open window.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

YNP Day Four - Tutunka

This is where the buffalo roam
We wake up to drizzle and temperatures in the 50s, actually a nice break from the sun. We continue northward. It one point Ruth asks “who tooted?” That’s code in our family for “who farted?” Turns out it was the sulfur from the Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Breath hot springs just around the bend. These would be the first of our many geothermal feature sightings. How bizarre to see the ground literally boiling, a column of steam rising into the sky, and a lone bison grazing calmly a few yards away.

Further on we take a detour through the Lamar Valley, renowned for its spectacular scenery and wildlife. The huge expanses are mind boggling, you can see for dozens of miles in every direction. There is no sign of humans, just lush valleys, snow capped mountains, lodgepole pine forests, miles of wildflowers sprinkled with herds of bison, pronghorns, and elk, and a distant storm dropping rain in the distance. As we continue, we stumble into a bison herd that decides to cross the road in front of and behind us. All of a sudden we find ourselves driving (slowly) in the midst of a moving bison herd. We are surrounded in all sides by the herd which is moving up the valley at something between a trot and a gallop. We are so close we can hear them snorting and chortling. We are literally INSIDE a buffalo stampede!

Our "Mammoth" Bungalow
A few miles later we run into a Yellowstone traffic jam – cars and RVs pulled over on both sides of the road, people with cameras, binoculars, and spotting scopes lining the side of the road, all pointed in the same direction. Turns out it was a bear cub rooting around on a hillside about 300 yards away. No sign of mom, and too far to tell if it was grizzly or black. But pretty cool.

Around mid-afternoon we arrive at the old Army outpost of Mammoth, and we settle into our cozy little bungalow.


Monday, July 8, 2013

YNP Day Three - Those Mormons

We back track a little to Mormon Row, an abandoned community of picturesque farmsteads that have been featured in many famous photographs and movies. This spot is so peaceful with the old weathered barns, water still trickling through the hand dug irrigation streams, and bison wandering in the fields.

After an hour of exploring Sara decides bison may be the coolest animal ever (she may be right) and we head north to Yellowstone and the Lake Hotel.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

YNP Day Two - Two Miles

Lunch spot at Phelps Lake. Not to shabby.
Day two starts with the “best breakfast ever” (Sara). That would be pan fried trout, eggs over easy, and hash browns at Norah’s Fishcreek Inn in Wilson Wyoming (population 35).

Two miles high and
about 20 degrees cooler
With bellies full we head north to Grand Teton National Park. Along the way we stop at Teton Village to take the Jackson Hole Tram to 10,450 feet for a snowball fight and to watch parasailors throw themselves off a perfectly good mountain top.

After a spectacular hike to Phelps Lake we settle down in our log cabin at Togwatee Mountain Resort and enjoy a well deserved hot tub soak.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

YNP Day One - Rodeo Clowns

We arrive Jackson Wyoming. Hands down this airport has the best view ever. I think that’s why they don’t use jetways. They obviously have the money, but there is nothing like that fresh air and that view of the Tetons when you step out of the airplane. We get ourselves a $4 styrofoam cooler and stock up on supplies (beer, wine, coffee, etc). After a dinner at Snake River Brewery we settle into our cabin (complete with queen size bunkbed) at Cowboy Village. We drift off into a deep sleep with the sounds of the announcer at the adjacent rodeo grounds. 

We have no clue what an awesome adventure we have just launched ourselves into...


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Yellowstone National Parkapalooza

My Girls in The Grand Tetons
Eight nights in eight locations. Jackson Wyoming, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and a quick jaunt into Montana just so we could say we went to Montana.  Accommodations would range from one room log cabins to the iconic Old Faithful Inn. This was our great American national park adventure.

I was concerned that nine days might be too much, that we’d be geyser’d and buffalo’d out by day three. It turned out that nine days was not nearly enough. There were so many distractions; it took 4-5 hours to drive just 50 miles a day. And best of all is that after spending 24x9 hours together as a family we were still laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

Highlights included a buffalo (bison) stampede experienced FROM THE INSIDE, swimming in the boiling river (yes it was freezing cold and it was boiling hot at the same time), an awesome mountain bike adventure outside of Jackson, and a couple of bear encounters one of which made me quite a celebrity at the Old Faithful Inn.

I’ll be posting stories and photos in the next few weeks, it is just taking a while to collect my thoughts and dig out from the backlog at work.


"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." 
     -- John Muir