Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pulverization Complete

Sometime back in summer, I mentioned to John and Jeff that we needed a replacement for the AES BCT race.  John had done some riding out at Picket Post exploring the AZT north of the highway, so I had mentioned that maybe we could cook up a couple loops, short and long to incorporate some of that trail as well as the great stuff south of Picket Post.  John delivered…and did a ton of work putting together GPX tracks and scouting the area with Jeff and Nancy a few times to identify water sources and connector trails.  So, thankfully, WE HAD A RACE; the Picket Post Punisher!
The morning of 11/2, 6 of us idiots gathered shortly before 5AM for the long loop…81 miles of fun.  We rolled out of the parking lot a few minutes after 5AM and made our way north, under Hwy 60, to the formal start point.  There, with few words said, we began the grind north up Montana Mountain.  Hunter and Neil led the charge and I slotted in a distant 3rd.  At several points in the climb, I got within about 100 yards of Neil, but resigned to the fact that he was faster and chasing him would just burn those precious matches I’d need later in the day.  From that point mid-climb, I’d never see any of them, in front or behind me other than Neil’s lights a few switchbacks up.

The climb was tough…windy, and always seeming to be in your face.  I walked several of the steeper sections to conserve energy.  At what I thought was the peak, the road began to descend but unfortunately there was still ample climbing left.  At the AZT turnoff, I stopped to eat and took in the incredible views.  At this point, Picket Post Mountain was incredibly far away to the south and I knew the Gila River, my furthest point south was even another 20 miles trail beyond that.   So, I got after it, descending the sketchy, narrow switchbacks of the AZT off the mountain.  Literally, I felt as though I cheated death on a few of them with plenty of carnage awaiting should you crash.  Finally, the trail turned flatter and followed  a drainage out till it crossed the road we’d climbed.  There I saw several of the 50 milers as they ground their way up the mountain.  Continuing down the rough and rubly singletrack, I finally reached the LOST trail and took that over to the med clinic to refill water.  There, I filled up on some nasty, plastic garden hose like water (I really should have tasted it then removed the hose from the spigot).  

South from Superior, and up FR4, I passed by some dudes unloading their automatic weapons into the hillside, then along the slow, crappy road to the junction with the AZT.  This was decision point; I’d made it here by a few minutes before noon, and figured if I didn’t fall completely apart, I should be able to finish by 6pm.  (I was so wrong).  So I continued, generally west along FR4 and finally south towards the river.  This entire section was simply brutal.  The ups were super tough and steep; the downs where techy, steep and took every bit of attention and strength to avoid a crash.  Just before the Gila River, you make a final, sketchy rubly descent down a 4wd road covered in baby heads that wants you off your bike in a bad way…no way baby, at this point, I almost to the Gila and back to trail I know.

At the river, I attempted to access the water and fell in up to both knees. Shit.  Gotta find a better spot.  John had told me just before the trail turned north was better access.  Sure enough, at the rocky bank I used my Sawyer filter to filter a few quarts of water…good tasting water too…

It was 3pm on the nose, as I HAB’d up the first rocky section of jeep road to the singletrack.  At this point, I was totally blasted, stomach a mess, and hardly able to get any food down.  I set small goals for myself; get to the next ridge, once there, get to the next one.  I was literally walking almost anything with an upward slope.  Finally, while in the canyon section, I got a bit of a 2nd wind and just kept telling myself, “you got this, you got this”.  (as if I had a choice!).  I stopped, put on my lights and my clear glasses and continued the grind out of the canyon.

Mentally, I knew once I got to this point, it was generally level or downhill so I rode more, powering up the small inclines.  Night riding for me isn’t something I do much except on these long trail races or bikepacking, but once you find that comfort zone, it’s actually quite enjoyable.  The trail was covered with this small spiders that had a very shiny spot, almost like a diamond.  I stopped a few times in amazement to look at them and used that thought to distract myself.  The night hawks along the trail are also a weird AZ thing.  The damn things sit on the trail and take flight when you are nearly on top of them.  I walked up on one and was amazed with such large eyes(and probably great night vision) they don’t take off sooner.

Finally, I was nearing the end…and thank God.  I rolled into the trail head at 8pm and was greeted by Jeff, Nancy, John, Chad, Neil and some of the other finishers.  Not feeling very well at all, I walked to the truck and laid in the passenger seat.  Finally, I decided to make the drive home…probably the longest 1 hour drive of my life.

Turns out, of the 6 that started the 81 miler, only 3 of us finished...

Looking back on that day, it truly ranked up there as one of my top three toughest days on a bike.  Both physically and mentally, this course beat me down.  It beat me down bad.  It made me dig deep and question why I put myself through these sufferfests.  Riding bikes is fun…lots of fun.  Suffering like a dog, not so much.

…and to think this was my idea.  

Anyway, thanks again to all who did it and special thanks to John for turning my race idea into reality. It was his gpx wizardry and scouting trips that gave life to the idea.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Stomach and Mind Fail

Fail…hmmm, yet another story of an uncompleted challenge I took on…

Last October, I successfully completed and won the Coco250 stage race thanks to the fact that no one fast or in a racing mindset rode the race(and I felt really great and had no mechanicals!).  So this year comes along and I figured, OK, let’s do an ITT of the loop and gun for the recently set SS record of 36 hours and change set by Bobby Treadwell last week.  My cumulative stage race time was roughly 32 hours for the stage race leaving me about 4 hours of time for sleep and sections of the course not “on the clock” for the stage race.

I arrived at our cabin in Munds Friday afternoon and while organizing gear I realized I’d forgotten my battery packs for my lights….Sh*t. A few calls, several 4 letter words later, my wifes friend from PHX was on her way up and dropped them off Friday night.  During that time, my emotions went from “crap, I’m done” to “I’m still in!”…  (many thanks to her!)

So, after a few hours of sleep, I woke up Saturday AM at 4, and got ready to head out.  Unfortunately, there were still some doubts in my head about the next 36 hours.  Putting those aside, I left in the cold and dark at about 5:30, rolled south on the interstate a few miles, and joined the route at I-17 and Schnebly Hill Rd at about 5:50AM. 

As I began the descent down Munds Wagon Trail, I passed Caroline who had stopped to take a picture and remove a layer.  Pressing on, I dropped into Sedona, made my way around Chicken Point and then down by Oak Creek where I had a near miss with a big Cottonwood tree. 

Onward to Lime Kiln, I did the ugly HAB up the first ridge, then happily nailed all the switchbacks off the west side.  I battled epic wheel sucking sand and goat heads across the valley floor and finally arrived in Cottonwood where I stopped at Hog Wild for a BBQ Sandwhich…oh, and 3 root beers…. Which may have led to my eventual demise. 

You see, for some reason, my 48 year old body has decided that when doing endurance races, it doesn’t like excessive sugar…but oh, that root beer tasted so good!

Onward up Mingus, I kept looking up at the towers and yelling at the top of my lungs…”It’s not that far!...  Finally hitting the single track,  I did my usual fast HAB pace, up the loose, rocky trail.  I felt much better than last year, but like Mingus usually does, it handed me my a$S in a big way.  I even tromped through snow on the last couple rocky switchbacks to the summit.

At the top, I put layers back on in preparation for the descent.  As I reached the last smooth switchbacks on the descent(that are so damn much fun!), I came up upon a kid, maybe 20 or so, who was off his bike taking pictures.  He moved his bike off the trail then asked me, “Where did you park?”, I said, “Just south of Flagstaff in Munds”…his eyes got very big and he said, “DAMN!  You’re crazy! You’re a champion!”….lol…so funny.

Rolling north on the west side of Mingus, my mind began to get the best of me.  I started thinking about the task ahead.  Fighting to keep focused, I pressed on feeling really good and making good time.  I worked my way around the north side of Mingus, putting on my lights as darkness fell, and kept thinking about my plan.  “just get to the river, refill water, and climb for at least 3 hours before a short nap”…then at about 6:30pm, my stomach flipped…ughhh…sh*t…  Then the mind got weak…I’ve had stomach issue before…if it comes on bad, I’m worthless.  And given the fact that once I descend to the Verde, I’ve got to dig myself out of that hole….either going north to Williams, or south to Jerome.  So I stopped at that intersection on the north end of Mingus and called my wife.  Talked to her about things…she gave me great advice…just rest a bit and see how you feel.

So I jumped in my bivy and rested… and slept…all the while my stomach gurgled…

In my head, I felt done…but at the same time felt like the record may still be within reach but it would take at least 18 hours straight of riding…

This is that moment where your drive and desire is in competition with your body and mind…for me and my conservative mindset, I convinced myself I was done.  I slept till 6AM then called my wife and met her at 9:30 in the Verde Valley.

There are some interesting things for me in this…every one of these, especially the failures, teaches me more about myself…
1. ITT’s are not only a test of your body, but moreso your mind.  Riding with others on multi-day trips are SO MUCH EASIER.
2.  Prior to the ride, you have to have NO DOUBTS in your mind…all in, no excuses.
3.  My body (other than my stomach) is up to the task…Training your body is easy.  Just ride a lot and mix in some intensity.
4.  Keep sugar to a minimum…I should know better…my last several multi-day trips have taught me this.

So, there you have it…That’s my story….
And I’m stickin’ to it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why your infatuation with single track is limiting you...

OK, so we love great singletrack…narrow, flowy, exposure, techy…all great stuff.  We live for it… Gives us a spandex chubby, right?
But, there just isn’t enough of it.  Worse yet, it can take miles of driving to get to it, travel time where we could have been riding,  be in tough shape due to weather, or get ridden so much by you that you can almost ride it in the dark without a light.

Well guess what…

You actually CAN take a mountain bike on dirt that does not have a 8” path worn in it…it actually does work!

You see young grasshopper, not all beautiful places on this rock we call earth have a nice buff ribbon of singletrack through them or leading to them.

So get off your high horse…And start to explore all the forest roads, 2 track jeep roads, and cattle track around you….it’s just not that bad… it leads you to beautiful places rich with history.

Digressing a bit… I feel super fortunate to enjoy a cabin in Munds Park that enables me to get away from the oppressive summer heat of Phoenix.   Munds is a great little “cabiny” community far away from Flagstaff enough to feel remote, yet close enough by car to enable a run into town for another 12 pack or growler refill when "supplies" get low. 

But Munds isn’t known for oodles of singletrack.  It is known for a funky little 4th of July Parade, the Lone Pine Bar, and a bunch of old retired f*cks that look at me as I do hill repeats up Pinewood Blvd as their 3 lb chihuahua barks at me like I’m a pound of hamburger. 

Luckily, there are some really great maps of the forest roads in the Coconino National Forest.  That combined with a bunch of gpx files ripped off of strava, and some super-secret beta from friends has enabled me to explore this wonderful graben on the coco all accessible from Munds…  Miles and miles of forest road that might get a car or ATV on them a few times a day.

As it turns out, some cool geological sh*t happened a long time ago that lifted the northern half of Arizona.  Then a whole lot of erosion and other events that I don’t entirely pretend to understand caused some interesting rocks to be uncovered…Those rocks are what we love to ride…Sedona, Granite Dells, etc… That whole section of land south of Flag between 89A and lake Mary road that dropped in elevation a long time ago (a graben).  That ridge of land on the east side of lake Mary is where the escarpment is… for those that ride the you ride south of Fisher Point then climb that rubly trail up out of the canyon, you are climbing up that escarpment!

Just north of Munds lies what I like to refer to as the Munds Divide… from about Mountainaire southeast to Mormon Mountain lies a small ridge that divides the watershed…rainfall north of there makes its way to the little Colorado, rainfall south of there flows down into Oak Creek and then into the Verde.  In that same area, accessible by forest roads, are a number of old railroad beds that were build back in the early 1900's to transport timber to Flagstaff for processing.  These railroad beds are simply amazing rock structures that are still existing today although the rails have long been removed.  Many of these cool things accessible only by forest road!

Railroad bed just north of munds off of FR700

Different view of the same built up RR bed

As I continued to explore the maze of forest roads around Munds, I found all kinds of cool stuff... again, only accessible by 2 track...

Funky, mind blowing graffiti
Captain Nemo must have been here
 As you travel west from Munds, there are some very cool things to see...all accessible by forest road.
big meadow full of flowers SW of Flagstaff, on the west side of Hwy89
Me overlooking Sycamore Canyon Wilderness on a narrow strip of land that bisects it and the Red Rock Wilderness.  This is part of the old Casner Dirty Century route.
Mark on the narrow 2 track that separates two beautiful sections of AZ wilderness...again, part of the Casner route

Finally, one of the classic views you get after riding a bunch of forest road...Point Sublime on the north rim...
So when you wondering what to ride next, and want to see some new stuff, pull up a map or Topofusion, and get creative...sketch out a route and let the adventure begin.  Fun trips aren't all on singletrack.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Big Friggen Sufferfest

Mark: Hey man, you wanna carpool over to Santa Fe and ride in the New Mexico Endurance Series Big Friggen Loop Race?  I DNF’d last year and need redemption.
Ray: Uh, maybe… How does it compare to the Gila100 in terms of suffering?
Mark: It’s no Gila100
Ray: OK, I’m in.

Now, silly me, I was figuring he meant the SFBFL race was gonna be “easier” than the Gila100.

I could never have been so wrong. 

I should have known given that the race takes place between 7000 ft and 12,000 ft, and in the first 30 miles, you’ve already climbed over 8,000 ft.  Heck, I even threw on a 22t cog with a 32t chainring…that oughta be plenty, right? 

Wrong again.

The fun started Saturday morning at 6:30AM in downtown Santa Fe where we listened to Lenny Goodell give us the pre-ride info then rolled out to the east.  Immediately after hitting the dirt, you had to HAB up a set of stairs to begin an assault on Atalaya Mountain.  This gem of a climb is rideable at first, then a pushfest to the summit.  After reaching the summit, the descent is loose, sketchy, and difficult.  Switchbacks w/ major exposure and trees lining the trail just waiting to grab a bar end making you exit stage left.  I however did not let the trees stop me, but a loose left handed switchback introduced me to terra firma in a very rude way.  Luckily,  I escaped with only a few scrapes and bruises.

After cheating death on the descent, we proceeded northward along the Dale Ball trail network until turning east to begin the next climb.  This climb gradually made its way up the mountain towards 12,000 ft.  All single track until 10,200ft, then an unrelenting evil doubletrack to the cell phone towers at 12,024ft.

Despite what people say, there is no oxygen at 12,024 ft. 
Nor sane people on bikes. 
Nor single speeders running 32x22t.
Except me. 

Top of Tesuque Peak, 12,024 ft

After snapping the only pic of the trip, I proceeded down the mountain.  The track followed a rutted out ski run littered with large rocks…straight down the fall line of the mountain.  Finally, it entered an aspen grove with some of the best, flowy singletrack I’ve ridden…

Now at this point, roughly half way through the ride, I was worked over.  I worried if I’d have enough to finish.  I thought about bailing but kept telling myself that after driving over 400 miles to get here, bailing would be epically stupid… So I pressed on and luckily was riding at that time with 3 other guys. 

Peer pressure works.
You don’t want to be the guy who wusses out.
Onward then, to the farthest extent of the course…about as far from civilization as you could get…point of no return.

From that point on , the ride never got any easier.  You would think that after climbing a 12,000 ft mountain that the rest would be downhill… 

Wrong yet again.

Not only was it not all downhill, but the downhills made you work…technical, tricky, steep.  The uphills from that point were brutal HAB-fests.  I think I may have clocked 5 miles in my PI x-alps on that ride.

New Mexico trail builders are evil people.  I suspect they don’t like mountain bikers and most likely have a keen disdain for single speeders.  They run trails straight up creek beds.  They build 6” wide switchbacked trails on side slopes.  They put trails so far from civilization that neither tires nor feet see them regularly.

Finally, to make a long story short, I finished…14 hours of riding.

And Mark is not my friend anymore.  Bastard.