Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rehash/reboot

So, my last post was pretty much a killer. I didn't want to come to this space anymore as I'd have to look directly at what I posted. I didn't really come out and say exactly why I posted the eulogy, though I suspect many of you deduced what happened or know me personally and were already aware. My dad passed away unexpectedly on August 28th this year. I won't lie; it has kicked my ass mentally, emotionally, and physically. I don't know that I can do justice with words to say what he meant to me. There are very few people in your life that you honestly can't picture how your life would be without them in it. My dad was one of those people.



Growing up, I'd have nightmares about him dying suddenly and trying to figure out how I'd go on. Its one of those things, you never really tell people. I mean, who likes to admit what really and truly carves out a space in their bank of absolute nightmares. That's why the song I chose to go with his eulogy was so poignant and telling for me. It captured the very essence of what frightened me. For some reason I regularly have felt even as an adult that I'm just pretending not to be a big frightened kid. With dad still alive, it gave me that security that I was indeed going to be ok and it didn't matter as much whether I knew what path I should take as he'd be there to back me up. With him gone, it's like walking out into the dark night and knowing for once that it's really just me and the wild outdoors. And it scares me. Its strange to actually put all this down as its been floating around in my head for years.

Even now, 3 months removed, I have a hard time dealing with the thought of it. Something will hit me and my brain almost refuses to process the fact that I'll never see, hear, or talk to him again. It goes so far that I have a physically sick feeling wash over me. The gal I saw a few weeks after he was gone suggested it might be cathartic to help write this stuff down. I don't know about that, but I do know that I've always turned to writing when stuff is bothering me. Other than this being all for me, I guess maybe I hope that sharing my feelings might one day help one single person to understand that there's a lot of crap, both emotional, and physical that comes right along with losing someone in that inner circle. I've dealt with death of 3 grandparents, co-workers, acquaintances, other relatives, and the like. Nothing comes close to this.

I've been trying really hard to suck it up and put one foot in front of the other on a daily basis. I'm trying to move forward with life as close to how it was before all of this happened. Some days it works and some days, not so much. I do seem to be able to string more and more days together as time goes by so I guess there is some truth to time healing all things. I am scared of losing his memories or having them dulled as time goes by. It seems to be such a double edged sword that the pain of losing him has to go hand in hand with allowing yourself to not think about him as well. I know that shortly after it happened, I did what I could to escape those thoughts for at least a few hours at a time. I'm really thankful for my friends that were there to help me pass those hours. Hell, I got this far before getting teary eyed, I guess that's pretty good. Right?

If I had to pinpoint the one thing that is the most likely to cut me to the bone and send me into tears, its thinking of my dad and my girls. Them growing up not having a grandpa and more-so not having him as a grandpa just destroys me. I had 35 years with the man and felt like it wasn't enough. They've barely known him. Knowing how much he loved them, there is so much that they're going to miss. It's falling square on my shoulders to make sure that  they get to know who he was and get to experience those things that he would have loved to share with them.


My girls understand that he's gone and that daddy is really sad, but I wonder when it will sink in that they are actually missing something from their lives. My wife has been a rockstar through this and helping me just to cope as much as she can. I've been bouncing between being nearly inconsolable, to mad, to lost, to just frozen with no direction. Helping my mom trudge through the paperwork and processes required by law hasn't been any treat, but with deadlines attached it keeps me motivated to doing something, anything. Its hard for me to even go to our farm right now. Everything there is dad. Just being down there brings me closer to him, but right now its pain and hurt, not comfort, that feeling closer to him is causing.

One of the things the gal I talked to helped me work out was answering the question of "why". Or maybe not so much answering the question, but helping me focus on finding a point of light in such a dark situation. What we came up with is that dad's passing should help instill that I need to focus more on those things that truly make a difference in my life. When you pare all the bullshit away, it boils down to that I need to be a lot more thankful of my family and friends. I need to cut the crap of making excuses of how various superfluous things make a better life for me, because its not just about me. Its about the people I truly care about and those actions that make our lives together well lived.

In the end, I guess this is me taking another step forward and trying to find that new path. I really want to get back to retelling my Colorado Trail experience and sharing the other things that have fulfilled my life. Maybe I'll even try to put some stories together of my dad and I.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Dad (Everything I do)

Here's the eulogy I wrote and delivered at my dad's funeral. The song led into my reading.

 
That’s my job.  That’s what I do. Everything I do is because of you, to keep you safe with me.  Dad loved us even if it was hard for him to express that love in words.  It wasn’t until later in my life that I could actually say, “I love you” to him.  Even then, there wasn’t always a direct return.  But those times when it was said and when it was spoken back to me were special beyond words.  Dad loved his family more than we will ever know.

If I had to describe dad in a single word, it would be proud.  He wouldn’t necessarily show pride in his own achievements--it was a pride that showed in how he spoke about his family and his friends. It was rare for my brother and me to directly hear praise from dad but later we’d learn from others how Dad never stopped bragging on our accomplishments.  From us being embarrassed by listening to Dad recite Mikeal’s and my achievements to near strangers to those he’d harangue with stories and pictures of his granddaughters, dad was proud of his family.  In return, I’d hear story after story of his hunting and fishing adventures with friends and neighbors.

I could spend hours describing dad’s vast and varied interests, but that would only be slightly shorter than one of his legendary phone calls.  I always remember looking at my phone, seeing his number and wondering, hoping, I had enough time to listen to whatever was going on in his world.  It never seemed to fail that there wasn’t enough time to talk about everything that was on his mind.  And that’s just the way it was.  Maybe it was for the best that we kept running out of time.  I always knew we could start again and that there would always be something to talk about.

I’m not sure I’ll ever fully grasp how dad seemed so simple, but could know so many things.  No matter the questions I had, I could always go to him.  He paid attention, learned, researched, and apparently, never forgot a damn thing.  Dad had a quest for knowledge that we should all learn from. Sharing that acquired knowledge and passing it on was important to dad. He never came right out and said it, but his actions spoke volumes. He didn’t stop his teachings with Mikeal and I, he continued on after we had left to lead our own lives. He’d dole out liberal doses of his knowledge to his farm hands and close friends that spent any amount of time with him.

Whether it be learning and dreaming about fish farming (do you know how many ponds our farm has…), to planning out a cruise to Alaska, or wanting to hot rod an old truck with his son; dad loved to plan out his dreams and stockpile them for when they could become reality. He was never short on plans for the future. I think that’s why it’s so hard to believe he’s gone. How can a man who still had so many big ideas, plans, and dreams leave so suddenly?

Dad was living his biggest dream. Being on the farm with mom was his not only his reality, but his dream turned true. He loved the land and all that came with it. Fishing, hunting, farming, and just being in the country; that’s where dad belonged. Dad’s physical abilities altered how he had to enjoy the farm, but he lived every day to do what he could with what he had. With mom by his side, he wasn’t about to slow down or dwell on the limitations he’d been dealt.

From all the people who knew dad, I think we could fill a book with his one-liners, puns, and crazy stories that he’d concoct. Over the years we’ve heard it all from Put-offs, Sasquatch’s dog, cats with bobcat disguises, zombie possums, or lines about cows being Moo-rooned when the river would flood. Our dad had a joke for every occasion. Seeing his granddaughters roll their eyes whenever one of us busts out with a silly saying or corny joke may end up being dad’s best joke of all.

My brother and I are reflections of dad. The lessons he taught and instilled in us are present in our everyday lives. We’ve each taken parts of him and used those in becoming who we are. With each of our accomplishments, whether big or small, I know dad will still be proud.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bikepacking attempt on the Colorado Trail part 4- and now for something different

For as tired as I was, you'd think I'd fall into a coma as soon as I crawled into my tent. In yet another little cruel twist, I managed to toss and turn most of the night before finally finding 1 position that I could catch a few Z's in. I'm guessing it was a combination of not being used to my air pad and being overtired giving me a 1-2 combo. I've had long days in the saddle cause sleeplessness before, but I was hoping this level of tiredness would play out differently.

The heat broke overnight and we were treated to a calm and slightly cool morning at elevation as we woke, ate, and broke camp. Not in any hurry today with the van nearby, we started tossing out some plans. I proposed we ride the remaining segment 3 of the trail and then return via the fire road the sheriff had pointed out last night. My quick guesstimate put us at 3ish hours of ride time. Shoot, we'd be back at the van in time for lunch. Then we could drive to Breckenridge and still have time to get a nice afternoon ride in there as well. I believe this is when I lost all credibility on my ability to plan rides.

Not giving in to the notion of being completely untrue to our original plans, I suggested we still roll with our full load of gear even though dropping it at the van would have made a considerably lighter load. In hindsight, this was both a blessing and a curse.

We rolled off into the Buffalo Creek area of the trail. Beta from friends who had ridden this area earlier in the year had this pegged as a great section of trail with a lot of flowing trail and not many steep climbs. As we launched headlong into the trail, we were definitely treated with much more flow and fun than the previous day. Our gear didn't seem to be as much a hindrance now that we were able to actually ride the trail versus pushing. We even found some spots to stop and session little pieces of challenging trail.

Check it:

Roll it:


Cool rocks:


Again, we were treated to some spectacular views. And then the bottom dropped out. As we rolled along the trail, the day's weather started to move in on us. We went from a comfortable and sunny upper 60's to overcast and dropping temperatures. As we passed the next fire road at Buffalo Creek, there was a sign pointing to Wellington lake fire road being the next crossing. I suggested we keep going and then turn at that point vaguely remembering that's where we'd be able to turn back and would also be the end of our segment of trail. This particular section hit hard though. It was a nearly continuous grade gaining just over 900' in the next 4.5 miles. The weather continued to deteriorate with the temps dropping further, the wind picking up, and a nice heavy sprinkle starting to work on us. An hour later and we were descending to the fire road in a nice steady rain and pretty much chilled and wet through to the core.

Rain rolling down the hillside:

Back to the fire road, we still had a decent amount of miles to get back to the van. It was late enough now that lunch and waiting out the rain seemed like a good idea. As we all rummaged through our gear to grab jackets and whatever else we could find to keep warm, the hail started coming down. At one point it was enough to start showing up as white patches on the ground, but then it would stop for a bit and restart later. The temperature bottom out at 53 degrees with the rain and hail. Nothing like a 50 degree turn from the day before. We killed an hour hiding under whatever dry patches we could find and hoping the rain would finally slack off a bit. Finally, we decided the rain was a light as it was going to get, so we struck out in what we hoped was the right direction on the fire road.

This is fun, right?

I'd been studying the trailhead map and looking at my garmin trying to ascertain whether we needed to go up the hill or down. I opted for us to go down given that most of the traffic we'd seen came from that direction, it looked to be the right way, and it was down the hill. Well, I screwed that choice. Looking at the map after we got back, about 1/2 mile up the hill was the road we were looking for. By heading down the hill, we added at least a couple miles and probably a bit of climbing as well. We ended up rolling down to Wellington lake and stopping to ask directions at the campground as the road split just after their entrance. We were pointed in the right direction finally, but still weren't completely sure how far we had to go.

Just after we left the lake, we were treated to a fast and fun downhill. Just after we started, who did we run into again, but our friend the sheriff. I believe Taylor was begging him to put him out of his misery once again and we were all laughing at the absurdity of it all. Additionally, we were following a SUV down the hill that we succeeded in making sufficiently nervous enough that he pulled over to let us rip the rest of the downhill. He would later pass us again as the road flattened out, but that didn't stop me from giving chase for a bit until he finally hit the gas leaving me behind.

The rain had turned the fire road to a mixed surface. We'd have hardpack in some areas and alternately hit areas of sand where we'd sponge an inch or two into the surface. We only had 6 miles back to the van, but still had almost 1000' of climbing in between. The climbing on this road definitely broke our spirit for riding any more the rest of the day. Somehow the climbs here seemed nearly as tough and interminable as the singletrack climbing we'd done the day before. Just over 5 hours after we left, we finally made it back to the van.

It was like that:

Once we changed and loaded everything back into the van, we pointed ourselves towards Breckenridge in search of food. During the ride, we all agreed that if we could find cheap lodging for the night, we'd take the opportunity to grab it, get cleaned up, do laundry, and hopefully scrub some of the last two days of riding off of us. In an attempt to redeem myself from the ride decision, I was able to secure some cheap lodging thanks to the wonders of the internet. We hit Backcountry Brewery for burgers the size of your head and a killer view of the mountains.

Mmm, burgers and beer:
 

Dinner and a view:

Cheap lodging:

Really cheap:

Being back in familiar territory and with a good nights rest laying in wait, we planned out something really challenging for the next day. I'll give you a hint, last time I did this route, I ended up losing a good amount of skin and hiking shoeless back to Breckenridge.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bikepacking attempt on the Colorado Trail part 3- Reality of Day 1

We pointed the van due west towards higher elevations and adventure. The jovial start to the trip slowly wore on with each of us taking a stint at driving and attempting to sleep. I probably got the most sleep at a generous estimate of 3-4 hours, but also had the last leg of driving the wee hours as we headed into a still sleeping Denver at 5 in the morning. We did a quick recon of our parking area before heading off in an attempt to find some solid food that would be our last solid meal for a few days.

Smart phones and google maps ablaze, we took no less than 3 attempts and several miles of scenic detouring only to end up less than a mile from where we started at a Waffle House. Given our road weary yet wired up sense of adventure, we were all ready to get this show on the road as soon as it was light enough to make our grand depart. Back at our generous host parking, we unloaded the van and finalized all our gear placement, checked pressures, emptied bladders, and got ready to roll. Finally, we were off.

The morning was crisp and sunny. but you could feel the heat building quickly. I for one was glad we would be escaping the Denver metro quickly and heading for higher elevations and cooler weather in the surrounding mountains. Not quite having learned our lessons from attempting to find something as simple as a Waffle House, we again turned to technology and Google routing to get us from our parking spot to the trail head at Waterton Canyon. Less than 1/2 mile from the house we found ourselves riding in circles trying to find the non-existent bike trail that would lead us out of our suburban sprawl. Finally we flagged down a lady walking her dog who pointed us to a small sidewalk running between two houses that led us to the main path. Disaster averted, we were on our way!

Lost in suburbia:


Our adventure would begin much sooner than we anticipated. We were routed forwards, backwards, down non-existent trails and finally to a closed private road. We could see where we wanted to go, but not wanting to blatantly cross a gate that was marked No Trespassing, we ended up riding along the railroad right of way paralleling the private road and heading as much in the same general direction of the trail head as we could. As the road veered off, we realized that following the rail line was now taking us away from where we needed to be. We backtracked a short bit to a drainage ditch/dry creek bed that appeared to at least have recently been cleared of all its debris leaving a nice sandy base to ride. After a few minutes though we were greeted with the end of the drainage and an non-passable gorge of rocks and riprap where it dumped into another channel.

Found the bike path to start:

Kyle bushwhacked his way up the edge of the ravine and declared it was at least rideable in the general direction we needed to go. It was also in the direction of some type of high security satellite array installation. It appeared we could skirt around the outside of the razor wired and fenced enclosure to make it to their access road that hopefully made its way back to the highway. Sweet freedom as we got done with blazing our own trail and hit the access road. Wait, what the?! At the end of the access road was another gate with fencing and wire stretching both directions along with call boxes and a video camera. To the left, the fencing ran clear back to the satellite compound and to the right, it died off at the edge of a steep ditch that was the back end of some type of storage business. Having no real choice at this point and not wanting to take our chances with whatever person might be on the other end of the call box, we snuck our way to the right side of the fence balancing along the edge of the ditch and rolling our bikes into the back of the storage lot.

Finally, luck would have it that the next gate was only latched as we hastily made our way through the storage area and onto the exit that would lead us to an actual road. Having given up on smart phone technology, I had turned on my Garmin and was navigating by general sense of direction since I didn't have a route plugged in other than that of our actual CT adventure. 90 minutes and a scant 14 miles later, we finally made our way to the CT trailhead at Waterton Canyon. A quick stop for a few pictures and we rolled onto the wide gravel path/road that comprises the first 6 or so miles of the trail.

Obligatory trailhead shot:


Not long after we started, we rolled past a snake sunning himself mid path. Taking a double look, I noticed it was a nice sized rattlesnake just begging for a picture. There was a stiff headwind coming up the canyon, but the road was relatively flat. I looked at our speed and tried to shake off the idea that I felt like I was working, but still only rolling 10-12 mph on a nice flat gravel path. We were out there for adventure and enjoyment, not trying to blaze the trail as fast as we could. As the sun kept baking us in the canyon, I was eager to get onto the trail proper and into some shade.

Hiss:


As soon as the path ended and transitioned to trail, we immediately started gaining elevation. Also nearly immediately, I punctured my front tire on a sharp rock. Seriously, less than 1/4 mile into the trail and I'm suddenly faced with sealant spewing out of the center of my tread. I quickly rolled it to the bottom and luckily the magic of tublessness worked itself out and sealed up tight without so much as even having to add air. The trail kept heading up in earnest and it wasn't long before we found ourselves digging deep into our lower gears. All in all, the grades and switchbacks weren't overly technical nor steep, but given an extra 30+ pounds of gear weighing down our bikes, the trail took on a life of its own.

Going up:

Even small or relatively simple technical sections became a quick game of seeing who would be able to clear it. Loaded as we were, hike-a-bike became a quick go to option. Of course, then there were sections that really didn't appear to be rideable even if we hadn't been laden with gear.

Rockfalls:

We kept working our way to the top of this section and were finally rewarded with some great views and an opportunity to point our bikes downhill. By this point, we'd made a few breaks for food and to chat with a couple hikers we'd passed. We also realized our handy all knowing (except for bike routing) trail guide was lazily sitting back in the van. I was doubly glad now that I'd taken the time to put our route into my Garmin as it would be our only source for navigation. We'd still be on our own for determining water sources, elevation gain, and miles between various waypoints along the trail.

Overlook:

From the overlook, we dropped like stones descending to South Platte river where we were more than ready for a lunch stop and water resupply. The balmy weather of the morning had chased us over the ridge and had turned the blast furnace on high as we headed down the hill. Our first major setback happened here. Somewhere on this descent, I overheated my front brake and the lever started going to the bar. I had very little stopping power from the front now and was relying heavily on my rear brake to keep me from flying off into the abyss. Without a good way to scrub speed at will, I had to resort to what felt like a snail's pace down the hill.

Shade and water:

Filtering for the next section:

Having been on the move for closing in on 6 hours, it was time for an extended break. My original lunch plans were to use my Kate's Real Food meal replacement bars with added snack food as my food source. The call was made to instead cook up some Ramen to keep the calorie deficit low and hopefully keep our energy up for the next section of trail. It felt nice to hang out by the river for a while as we cooked and reloaded on water. According to the trail head map, our next source of water would be 14 miles away at a fire station just before we'd enter segment 3. It was looking like a solid uphill push from our current location followed up by some contour riding.

After lunch we headed back out into a HOT afternoon. My hotshot homemade heavy on the dark chocolate trail mix had now turned into chocolate trail soup in a bag. I gave up on eating it at this point as it became too messy to eat without literally stopping and squeezing it out of the bag which in turned smeared it all over the bag before transferring to the rest of the gear. No thanks. We rolled out of our lunch oasis and headed up once more.

The next section of trail was yet another eye opener. I've ridden on a bunch of trail surfaces before, but never on kitty litter. Literally, the trail was very fine crushed red granite with the consistency of non-clumping cat litter. It had a base to it, but you still sunk in and when you needed to make any evasive or technical moves, it was an extra layer of effort to not wash out or spin your tires. The initial climb out of the valley was littered with loose switchbacks that were (for me at least) unrideable meaning we'd alternate riding 100 yards at a shot with hopping off to push the switchback. Ultimately I got tired of that game and just stayed off to trudge and push the bike as we wound our way into a blistering afternoon sun. Kyle would later tell me his Garmin read a high of 103 in this section.

We also managed to ride into a burn area in this section leaving us completely exposed to bake under the clear skies and blistering sun. A good portion of this climb was rideable, but at a decidedly Colorado pace turning over our granny gears. Riding ahead, I could turn back and get some spectacular shots of the moonscape we were traversing.

Kyle and Taylor in miniature:

Hayman burn area moonscape:

As we finally summited this climb, we rolled the undulating terrain in search of any form of shade. The heat combined with the effort was really unravelling us at this point. In an attempt to clear a loose bit of trail, Kyle got an up close and personal introduction to one of the extra spiny and thorny plants lining the side of the trail. Slowly picking his bike off of him and then easing his way out of the bush, we found a large number of spines now embedded everywhere from his hands to his back side. Dire situations call for dire actions, one of us had to remove said spins from places unreachable by Kyle. I won't say who got that lucky job, but my gloves may never be the same again...

Shortly we found a resting spot in a tiny patch of shade. If we were burgers, I think our temp range would have been from charcoal briquette to medium well. At least rolling on we were treated to less severe terrain and some actual flowing trail sections. Still fighting my front brake being gone, I had to lag off the back and couldn't even fully enjoy the speed of the trail. At least we were back off the face of the moon.

Friendlier trails:

We finally made our way to the end of the segement and found the fire station with the water resupply and best of all; shade. Time, mood, mechanicals, and energy levels being what they were, new plans started to formulate. A deputy sherrif was loading up his water as well before heading out on a back country patrol. We talked and joked with him for a bit and he showed us a map with a fire road option to skip the next trail section and how to make it to Bailey if we wanted to stop short and camp. The guy was a great source of help to us and a fellow mountain biker as well.

After he left, we started weighing all our options. We knew pushing on to the original planned mileage wasnt going to happen. Do we ride away from the water source and camp further down the road, do we ride to Bailey, or do we set up camp here and re-assess in the morning? Additionally, what were we going to do with my front brake and the looming descent off Georgia pass that had to happen before we could get to Breckenridge? All good questions.

We started calling people we knew in the area and trying to find out if there were any options with one of them giving us some help. Andy Lueck ended up being our saving grace driving out from Denver with a BB-7 stripped from his fiancee's bike and he brought beer as well! In the meantime, giving our situation and how the first day had treated us, we decided along with camping overnight near the fire station, one of us would ride back with Andy to pick up our van from Denver and then we'd just make decisions on the rest of the trip from there.

Mmm dinner time:

Sleeping accomodations:

Once this was decided, it effectively ended our original plan, but we also now had a whole new experience waiting to unfold as it would all be off script. As we finished the bike repair at the fire station, the sherrif returned from his patrol and bs'ed with us a while longer. He gave us a "free parking" car so we could stash the van overnight at the fire station without fear of getting it towed off. So, after our repairs and beers, it was time to call it a night for Taylor and I while Kyle was elected to go get the van.

Day 1 route
Colorado Trail: 1, Us: 0

Monday, August 05, 2013

Bikepacking attempt on the Colorado Trail part 2- An ambitious plan?

Having made all our plans, gathered our "necessities", and weighed down our bikes with a plethora of gear, it was nearly time to hit the road. The week prior to our departure seemed something of a scramble with not only the usual final preparations and running hither and yon gathering items that suddenly become an absolute necessity, but also dealing with a few additional revelations about the trail routing itself.

I'm clueless and smiling:


Being a fan of the Colorado Trail Race, I was following various posts and and stories about their preparations for departure just a couple days before we were to leave. They'd be running south to north this year, the opposite of us, so I knew running into at least some of the front runners, was a good possibility. I ran across some tidbit that mentioned a "southern detour" route. Digging deeper into it, I found that our route had a significant bike route detour around a section of wilderness smack dab in the middle of section 4. As biking and even possession of a bike in national wilderness areas is forbidden (and punishable by a hefty fine), there is a road route around the affected portions of trail. The chatter on the CTR sites was that the normal route using Highway 285 was not really enjoyable due to the traffic volume and lack of shoulder on most of the road while you're climbing for 2 hours solid. The new reroute to the south utilized mostly fire roads and a lower traffic highway, but was also 50 miles longer.

In retrospect, while we had a trail guide for planning, it was an older edition that was missing all of the biking reroute information. Definitely a bit of an oversight on our part. After a fair bit of back and forth, between Kyle, Taylor, and I, and me downloading both versions of the route onto my GPS, we finally decided that the normal 285 route wasn't going to be that bad. We'd just deal with the highway and traffic versus adding 50+ miles each direction to a route that already seemed like it was ambitious. That hiccup being settled, we got down to finalizing our escape plan from town and figuring out some benchmark distances for the ride.

Final routing- 200ish mile roundtrip with 26,000'+ climbing.

Our basic plan was to leave town at 8pm Monday, drive overnight arriving early Tuesday, grab some breakfast, park at a friend's place in Littleton, gear up our bikes, and ride to the trailhead. For the first day, we were shooting for 70 miles on the CT (Colorado Trail) plus the 10-15 miles it was going to take us to ride to the trailhead. Basically, that was the distance on the CTR that would put us at the end of the 285 reroute and back on the CT with water available at that location. Our 2nd day would be much shorter, but a big push over Georgia pass before descending upon Breckenridge. I figured it would be pretty ambitious to hit 70 miles on day 1, but it also gave us a lot of leeway in being able to stop at a shorter distance and still being able to make it up the next day and getting to Breckenridge for a resupply and hopefully a hot meal and shower as well.

We'd camp overnight in/around Breckenridge on night 2 and if we were there early and feeling ambitious, we thought we might be able to catch a short ride sans our gear on some of the more fun trails we're familiar with having ridden numerous times in the area. Day 3 would have us turning tail for home with a familiar route now in front of us and a downward trend towards are riding that would hopefully help with a couple solid days already in our legs. We figured the distance on day 3 would be dictated by how we felt and just how taxing the climb back over Georgia pass would be. After the pass its a pretty solid downhill effort for quite some time as we'd again hit highway 285 back to the end of segment 3 of the CT. From there, we'd hopefully hit a solid but again downward trending day back to the trailhead and then onto our waiting vehicle on Friday. We arranged for a friend's floor to sleep on for Friday night followed up with some local front range riding on Saturday morning before beginning the trudge back to reality.

Something we definitely were thinking about was the somewhat unpredictable mountain weather. All signs pointed to overall decent conditions temperature wise and most likely some rain to deal with. Mid 80's/low 60's in Denver to mid 70's/low 50's in Breckenridge were the temperature ranges. Afternoon rain showers are almost a certainty this time of year in the mountains as well so we were anticipating that we'd find at least one wet day on the trail. For our gear, I think we all were packed anticipating possibly cold and wet weather being a much higher probability than sun and heat. After all, it's summer in Iowa, we're much more acclimated to being hot and sweating than having cold rain pouring down our backs. Little did we know...

Bluebird start:

Friday, August 02, 2013

Bikepacking attempt on the Colorado Trail part 1- gear and setup

The story of this trip actually starts well over a year ago as a plan was hatched for a small group of friends to head off into the wilds for a few days on bikes with full camping gear and hopefully emerging on the other side alive and with some cool experiences etched in our minds. Talk of various locales included Montana sections of the Great Divide route, Colorado Trail, and even some more local gravel loops. Eventually it whittled down to Colorado trail and more specifically riding from the eastern trailhead at Waterton Canyon to Breckenridge and back.

I was low man on the food chain when it came to having any bikepacking experience and gear. Basically I had no bikepacking experience and very little gear beyond my bike that I owned that would be applicable to the task at hand. Shooting for a manageable setup based on my friends' gear choices that have more experience than I do, I still needed to source the following: frame bag, handlebar gear mount/rack, extended seatpost bag, packable sleeping bag, tent/shelter, sleeping pad, cook kit, shoes suitable for extended hike a bike sections, and some drybags of varying sizes.

Being on a budget, I purchased minimal amounts of the gear and borrowed what I could. Once nice thing is with the gear I did buy, Rasmussen's Bike Shop was able to order a majority of it in for me. While they carry a minimal amount of this gear on hand, they have access to pretty much all of it (tents, bags, cooking gear, pads, etc) available within just a day or two of ordering.

The 3 of us going planned to split duty on some of the gear so as to hopefully not be quite so redundant in our setups. We split carrying 2 full cannisters of fuel (Optimus), a pair of pedals (we were all riding Crank Brothers), and water filtration kit (Platypus). We also talked about sharing some things like multi-tools, matches, first aid kit, pump, etc, but we mostly had at least 2 of all those type items. In retrospect, we could have probably knocked a pound plus off each our setups had we gone all out with splitting our gear up to only having 1 item of each.

In the end, I ended up with a setup that converted my sub 18lb singlespeed El Mariachi Ti build into a 55ish pound rolling armageddon setup.


My final bike setup was- 2013 El Mariachi Ti, Fox F29 80mm fork with G2 offset, 3x9 SRAM X0 shifty bits with 11x32 cassette, Thomson Masterpiece post, Specialized Romin Evo Expert saddle, 2.4 Racing Ralph on Stan's Crest front wheel (tubeless), 2.0 Specialized S-works Captain on Stan's crest rear wheel (tubeless), Ashima 180mm front/160mm rear brakes, Ergon GS2 grips, Race face Carbon bar,  Salsa/Revelate frame bag, Porcelain Rocket seatpost bag, Revelate mountain feedbags (x2), Revelate handlebar harness and front pocket. With a full load of gear, water, food, etc the weight was a bit staggering at 55ish pounds.

I had two specific battles I had to deal in gear setup after a few test rides showed shortcomings due to my limited experience. One was moving weight out of the rear bag and into the frame bag due to excessive sway causing the bike to rock back and forth. I juggled the load around swapping as much large lightweight oddly shaped stuff to the rear bag as possible and filling the frame bag with heavy/dense items. The other issue was cinching and packing the front roll enough that it didn't rub the front tire under fork compression. I fixed this issue using a couple of additional straps wrapped at the outer portion of the roll around the bars and adding more air to the front shock to help offset the addtional weight. I was still about 10-15mm short of having full travel, but I really can't recall any major rubbing once I got these two items adjusted. A smaller diameter front roll (mine was 15L) would also have made a big difference, but only swapping to more packable (more $) camping gear would have allowed that to happen.

One notable item is that I had nothing on my back unless I put something in my jersey pocket for quick access. I was very glad to not need to wear a backpack of any type. Even with as much weight and muscling around that was required of the bike, it still was a better choice for me than having weight pulling on my shoulders and back all day.

Camp kit in a 15L dry bag:


Eureka solo tent, North Face Cat's Meow sleeping bag, and Thermarest Neoair X-lite pad. 6.5ish lbs total.

For the total gear geeks, here's a full on list of everything that started the ride with me:
Food/Water:
8 assorted Kate's real food bars (approx 2400 cals)
2 chicken/2 Beef instant Ramen (approx 1500 cals)
1 quart ziplock homemade trail mix (cashews, craisins, almonds, dark chocolate chips, chocolate covered espresso beans) (approx 1500 cals)
1 pack dried/sugared mango slices (approx 900 cals)
3 Salted nut rolls (approx 720 cals)
2 Blueberry instant oatmeal
70 oz generic water bladder
Sleep gear:
Cat's Meow 20 deg synthetic bag
Eureka solo tent
Neo air X-lite sleep pad
Clothing (stored on bike):
Zip off leg midweight nylon pants
Heavyweight wool long sleeve jersey
150 weight long sleeve merino base
7" Swiftwick merino wool socks
Arm warmers
Knee warmers
Polar fleece hat
cotton boxer briefs
1 pair cycling bibs
Full zip cycling rain jacket
2 leg straps
1 pair midweight full finger MTB gloves
Riding Kit:
Pearl Izumi X-alp Launch shoes
4" Swiftwick merino wool socks
Road ID
Rasmussen MTB team bibs/short sleeve jersey
Short sleeve windfront base
Cycleops powercal HR monitor
Long finger gloves
Oakley Jawbones w/ clear to dark transition lenses
Specialized S3 helmet
Gear/tools:
1 tube
1 glueless patch kit
1 glue type patch kit
1 plug kit
quicklink
40g Big air
20g CO2 cartridge
mountain pipe pump
Full size leatherman
multi tool with chain break tool
shift cable
4 misc screws and chainring bolt
6 zip ties
2-3' electrical tape
1 crank brothers candy pedal
1 set brake pads
3 misc nylon/plastic gears straps
Pair of tire levers
Chain/misc wiping rag
Pot/pan/spork cook kit
1 cannister cook fuel for optimus stove (8oz net weight)
3-4 Sandwich/Snack zip ziplocks
Personal care:
Adventure medical kit wallet with added knife, misc ibuprofen, matches, and lighter
Emergency blanket
16 baby wipes
travel toothbrush, 2oz Bronners soap
4oz SPF 30 spray on sunscreen
6 single use chamois cream packets
Misc electronics:
Garmin 705
4 AA usb charging pack w/mini usb cord
Cell phone
4 AA lithiums
4 AAA lithiums
Spot tracker
Point and shoot camera
AAA headlamp
Storage gear:
Porcelain Rocket large seat bag
Misc dry bags: 15L, 5L, 2L, 1L
Salsa/Revelate frame bag
Revelate mountain feed bag (x2)
Revelate handlebar harness
Revelate front pocket

Monday, June 10, 2013

Boone 3, 6, 9 MTB party and mudfest

Race Data

So I added the mudfest to the name, but all told, I don't think it could be considered anything less. The weeks since my pulling the plug at The Royal have had me hammering the training in prep for my next A race of the season Chequamegon 100. Smack at the end of a 3 week training block this was going to be a good race for a number of reasons- test my fitness when not fully charged, check pacing, and most important get some hours on the dirt which have been severely lacking this year. I figured 6 hours would be plenty to get my goals and not destroy the fitness I've been building for my bigger goal at Cheq 100.

The forecast leading into the weekend went from great to ominous as the race day drew closer. Finally on Friday it was pretty much a lock that we were going to get wet at some point during the race. I've ridden this course with tacky and slimy spots before and was having a hard time wrapping my head around how bad it could possibly get if/when the rain started falling. No matter, in for a penny, in for a pound.

I was a bit lax in getting my gear and bike prepped the week prior so Friday night found me doing a lot of things that I'm not usually fond of right before a race. Granted, I was planning on this being as much about training as racing, but it doesn't mean that I wasn't going up to vie for a top spot. I ended up mounting a new back tire deciding not to trust the sidewall patched tubeless tire that I'd been running and could now feel the sidewall/tread bulging on every time it went around. I also had to swap on my gear of choice (34x20) for the race along with a longer chain. I tweaked my brake calipers to alleviate 1 little squeak I was having and on race day I ended up pulling my chainkeeper as it was rubbing every slow slightly and annoying the hell out of me.

The biggest thing was that I'd been putting off replacing my cleats since even before the Royal and now I was up against a wall in getting that done as I didn't trust them to hold up for serious work, let alone if we got rain and mud. Luckily, I bought one of the Ergon TP-1 cleat placement tools. It made decidedly easier work of maintaining my cleat placement while swapping them out.

TP-1 tool

Once all that was out of the way, I was packed and finally hit bed after midnight. Up early for no particular reason other than being eager to get to the race and be able to be ready to roll early, I checked the radar one last time. A giant green blob was rolling towards us from Omaha and looked like there was no chance of it missing us. I loaded a spare wheelset geared towards mud riding and wondered if I'd really need or use them. Better safe than sorry.

I was a couple hours early for my race start at 1 so I had some time to kill. I checked on trail conditions only to here it was still a bit tacky with a few slick corners in spots. We watched Trevor roll through on his first lap with a sizable gap over Tom and Jason who were chasing and looking like they were trying to find a good groove to settle in for the next 9 or so hours. The overcast sky matched my optimism about riding, but I tried to shove that thought out of my head.

Fast forward to 1 and it was game on and amazingly still dry out. We had a nice group of 20+ riders including 6 women rolling for the 6 hour race. I think only 1 other person in the 6hr was rolling on a singlespeed. We jetted down the long gravel road for the opening portion with a nice high pace, but it wasn't until Squirrel decided to jump on it that we really picked it up as we headed across the ski hill towards the drop into the singletrack. With my light gearing and hoping to keep from blowing up, I tucked my self into 4th wheel just as we got to the first set of drops.

The turn into the singletrack caught one of the leaders by surprise and we all had to hit the brakes hard to avoid a pile up at the top turn in into the first steep downhill pitch. After that it was Squirrel looking effortless and just floating through the singletrack like he does so well. I knew we weren't hammering it by any means, but the pace was good enough to get the top 5 or so of us to open a small gap that would slowly increase over the lap. Being on the single, I was having a hard time matching the slower climbing pace of the geared guys and really wanted around. I asked to get by Andy about mid lap and he obliged. After that I was sitting on Ryan's wheel until he bobbled a tight and slick uphill switchback so I hopped off and ran past him.

As we started the climb out of the bottom section, I pulled back to Squirrel's wheel. Once we hit the upper loop, I knew it was time to open things up and Squirrel told me to go whenever I wanted. I pulled around him and picked up my pace to start hitting the hills faster and using momentum to carry me over. Ryan wasn't long in jumping around and giving chase. I was pretty sure he and Squirrel would be giving me a hard run throughout the day so it was time to put my head down and keep after it.

I rolled through lap 1 right around 35 minutes and kept rolling right past my pit. Lap 2 the tread was still pretty tacky in spots and some of the climbs were getting a little more torn up with the additional traffic. I tried to keep myself from running too hard, but at the same time, I knew my gap over Ryan was pretty minimal and I wanted to try and stretch it a little. I rolled through lap 2 and think I was at roughly a minute or less gap over Ryan. I would gain in a few spots on the course and he would reel me in on others. I think mostly I was gaining in the climbing sections, but I'd go back to steady pacing on the flats and he'd pick the time back up there.

On the start of lap 3 I stopped for about 10 seconds to grab some food and take off again. I didn't know my gap, but early in the lap there is a good out and back section that confirmed it was still a minute or less. I was already starting to feel the effects of not having much time on the dirt this year as my back, arms, hands, and shoulders were taking a beating from the tread and all the muscling of the bike required by the terrain. I put in another decent lap and headed out for 4 beginning to wonder how many laps would be required for the day. I had an idea that 9 would be possible if things were to stay dry. Another quick stop for food and a bottle and I was out again.

Lap 4 started the sprinkling on and off for most of the lap. Things that were relatively good before started to get tacky and areas that were tacky or slick started becoming slowly non-rideable. I hopped off and walked a few spots on this lap. The sprinkling became a bit closer to drizzle as the lap progressed and I wondered just how nasty it would get. Every once in a while, the sun would peak through the clouds though and tease us. As I rolled out on lap 5 though, it was pretty obvious that the trail was now thoroughly wet and would give us all a run for our money in handling skills.

I passed Ryan on the out and back section and commented that it was about to get really unfun. He concurred and set right back to chasing me. As I got to the top of the singletrack drop, I noted the skids and slide marks on the dirt. I started in and just as I got onto the track, my bike went one direction and I hopped over the front of the bars to avoid going down with it. Luckily I managed to not tumble down the ravine, but it definitely set the mood for the remainder of the race. It became an effort of riding where I could stay upright and alternating skidding slowly down some hills while trudging up the rest. The clay was slick enough that many of the hills it was hard to even stay on my feet while walking and pushing the bike.

As lap 5 wore on I was pretty beat down. I passed Ryan on another out and back section and asked if he was ready to throw in the towel yet. I had maybe 2 minutes on him at that point. He said he was thinking about it and asked about me. I said I was seriously considering it too. Near the top end of lap 5, I ran across Dave Mable from Go Sports Foto capturing the misery in all its digital glory. He chided me for not cracking a smile, but I was getting pretty worked at that point.

Hollowed out:

By the end of lap 5, the rain had set in full force and we were getting soaked. I thought about tossing in the towel, I thought about swapping to my mud wheels, and I thought about how bad I felt. Asked at the start/finish line how I was doing I told them just how much the race sucked at that point. For their part, they did say I was free to stop racing whenever I felt like it. Given that the 3hr racers had just started and that the 9hr guys had pretty much all bagged it, there was a mix of feelings on my part.

Not knowing if Ryan was serious about bagging the race, I decided to do 1 more lap and see how it went. I was filled with dread as I headed out knowing that conditions which already sucked the previous lap would only be worse this lap. The trail was torn up from everyone slipping, sliding, and walking. I still rode a surprising amount of the trail, but now there were sections where I'd literally churn my wheels without making any forward progress. I had to walk more. Hills became nearly impossible to climb on foot. I had to resort to pushing my bike ahead of me and using it as a lever to pull myself up in spots.

By the end of the lap I was completely spent. I had no clue who, if anyone, was still chasing me, but at that point, it didn't matter a whole lot. I'd given pretty much everything I had and really didn't think I could make another lap. As I rolled across the finish line I pulled the plug. As luck would have it, my determination of going out for another lap had given my closest chasers enough reason to call it at 5 laps. I wasn't 100% sure I had things in the bag at that point, but the scorers were pretty sure it was all done as they thought everyone had called it.

Just to show you that determination pays off though, 1 guy who had been almost an hour back of me had gone out for a 6th lap as well without anyone really realizing it. He rolled in and by virtue of that last lap, moved himself into 2nd spot. As luck would have it though, there wasn't enough time for him to go out for a 7th lap otherwise, I'm not sure how that would have turned out...

Rolling to the finish:

Not able to even force a smile:

Ya, it was like that:

I hung on for the win in the 6hr class. It was definitely one of the harder rides I've done especially given that I was only moving for just over 4 hours. The slick conditions were very much like snow riding except that I usually avoid any technical or off camber stuff when riding in the snow. All in all, it was a good trial by fire to get my handling skills in check and get me in the mindset that it can almost always suck worse when I hit some of those dark spots deep in a race. Thanks to Kyle and crew for putting on a great race and hopefully the weather will work out for them one of these years!

Photo credit:
Dave Mable/Go Sports Foto