Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First Time for Everything

With three first place victories under my belt in the ICup series thus far, I was feelin' pretty good about myself heading into the Draper ICup race. I even preregistered for this event! I was THAT excited. Then reality (and the crappiest weather Utah has ever seen) hit me like a ton of bricks.

As I kept refreshing weather.com every five minutes during the week leading up to the race, I was confused as to the forecast: cold, rainy, and even SNOWY. 38 degrees Fahrenheit was the temperature at race time. In fact, had I not preregistered for this race, I wouldn't have even driven to the event. Ed's alluring tweets of 'great conditions' somehow convinced me to make the drive to Corner Canyon and see how things were looking.

As it turned out, aside from a few muddy bogs and cold temps at the beginning of the race, the overall conditions weren't too bad. Finally, something positive from the last week of hell's fury in the form of rain.

Leading the pack out of the start area--a first for me

As the Expert Men 19 - 29 lined up at the starting point, I looked around to evaluate my competition. A few familiar faces, one of which was Justin Griffin--the phenom 15 year old kid who led the entire St. George race except for the last few minutes when I passed him on the downhill for the victory. I pretty much knew there'd be some stiff competition for this race.

From the start, I felt surprisingly fresh (unlike at Soldier Hollow the week before), and jumped into the 'shakeout loop' in first place. Justin was on my wheel the entire time and as we entered the tunnel and began the climb into the main loop, there he was, stickin' on me like glue. If someone is sticking on your tire for that long, it usually means that they can ride faster than your current speed and are just waiting for an opportunity to pass. It turned out this was the case. Once the trail opened up to double track, he zipped past me. I kept him in sight pretty well for the remainder of the first lap, but he'd probably gotten ~20-30 seconds on me.

Have I mentioned before that I have never DNF'ed nor had a mechanical problem during a race? Well, as I was bombing downhill near the end of the first lap, I'd gotten in a great rhythm and I figured I was catching up to Justin. Well, as I upshifted to get up a quick climb, I heard a "SHKKDTTK" from my rear derailleur and knew something was amiss. A quick check confirmed that I had a problem: the rear derailleur cable had snapped and so I couldn't shift in the rear and I was stuck in the smallest cog in the back, essentially leaving me with a VERY hard gear--nay, an impossible gear--to use in the climbs.

After pushing my bike for a bit, I hopped on to see how ridable it was on the way back to the starting line

At this point, I figured my race was over so I started pushing my bike back to the start line. As I was walking, though, I thought to myself, "Well, you can't shift the rear, but you have 3 gears up front, maybe you could try to finish the race." So I jumped back on my bike and finished the first lap, but knew I couldn't do the rest of the race with the current gearing I had. So I pulled out my multi tool, tugged the remaining derailleur cable out as far as I could, manually pushed the rear derailleur up into the 2nd to highest cog (easier gearing for the climbs) and locked it into place. It worked! So I had three working gears (by shifting the front derailleur), but always struggled to get into the 'hardest' gear up front (largest chain ring) because my bike was all muddy and I was cross-chaining the bike (largest gear in front and rear). BUT--I could finish the race.

Deciding to finish the race, I turn around and head back to the trail

So, I hopped back on my bike and began the last 1.5 laps with a gear that would allow me to climb well, but completely spin out on the flats / downhill. The time I spent walking back to the start line and fixing my bike was probably ~5 minutes, but I didn't know how many people had passed me. I knew I wasn't going to win, but I wanted to have as strong as a finish as I could with my handicapped bike.

As it turned out, I had pretty good gearing for all of the climbs, but on the long flat road out north before the BST switchbacks, all I could really do is coast because I'd spin out otherwise. After knocking out lap #2, I realized that I'd passed a few of the people who had passed me in the interim. I was actually feeling VERY strong at this point in my riding and was somewhat frustrated that I couldn't go faster due to the bike.

Shooting downhill trying to keep momentum as pedaling yielded no results when I had speed

Anyhow, on the final 1/2 lap, I caught and passed another expert 19 - 29 racer--which meant that I wouldn't come in last. Nearing the end of the race on the final 'shakeout loop' I actually saw one of the other expert 19 - 29 racers no more than 30 seconds ahead of me. He saw me too. I sprinted through the next 1-2 miles as fast as I could, but without the appropriate gearing, I just couldn't bridge the gap. In the end, he finished eight seconds ahead of me. So close, yet so far away.

One of the flat sections where I continually would spin out in my attempt to catch the guy in front of me - harumph!

Looking at the results post race, I found out that I'd actually come in 3rd out of six (one guy DNF'ed due to a mechanical). I was ~8 minutes back from Justin in a 2+ hour race. In hindsight, if I hadn't wasted 1-2 minutes walking back to the start, and had worked on fixing my bike more quickly, I probably could have caught and passed the guy who beat me by eight seconds. I do wonder, though, whether I would have taken 2nd overall had my bike not had a mechanical. I know myself enough to recognize my strength comes after 45 minutes of riding--the way Justin was cruising though makes me think he would have been too tough to catch.

A couple firsts for me: first time I had a mechanical (no DNF though), and the first time this season I didn't take first. Seems like the perfect time to move up to Pro and get my butt handed to me, right?

Next post will be of a much more humbled rider.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Pain Cave

After two good races in Southern Utah, the next ICup race for me ended up being over a month and a half later (I spent two weeks in Europe with The Wife for her college graduation present during the Five Mile Pass Race, and surprise surprise, I got sick the weekend of the 'Sundance' race (held at Soldier Hollow)). I just used parenthesis within parenthesis. Is that taboo?

Though the week leading up to the Soldier Hollow race was absolutely NOTHING but rain, I was still hoping that the race would occur. Sure enough, Ed Chauner (race organizer) used his magic tweets to convince me the course would be dry enough and the race was on.

My rear tire is completely spinning out in mud / water. Yeah, the course conditions were FANTASTIC!

Having spent two weeks in Europe eating too much bread, cheese, fatty sausages, and chocolate, not to mention not getting in too many bike rides, I wasn't feeling too optimistic for this race. Regardless, I'd show up and give it my best.

I reviewed last year's times for the expert class and the winners came in ~1 hour 30 minutes. I'd forgotten, though, that Ed shortened the course last year due to--wait for it--rain. So my expectations for race duration were seriously screwed up. Total race time ended up being ~2 hours 10 minutes.

I have participated in the Soldier Hollow weekly race series many times, so I know the course fairly well, but I never expected the Pain Cave to hit me as hard as it did on this race. We took off from the start (Expert men 19 - 29) and began cranking it on the pavement before the first singletrack. A Kuhl racer got ahead of me and was the first to enter the singletrack, I was the 2nd. I figured I could stick on his wheel for the first little while then try to pass him, but as it turned out, the distance between the two of us kept increasing. The Lindt factory chocolates in Switzerland had gotten to me and I was now slow again!

Trying to catch up to the Kuhl rider early on

The Kuhl racer continued to gap me as we did the initial climbs and descents right around the Soldier Hollow complex, but as we hit the long switchbacks heading up to the top of the loop, I noticed I was making ground on him. Eventually, we got to a short pitch where he spun out in the mud and I was able to pass him. As I passed he said, "Dude, you rock," or something like that. My only response was, "You.reamsdimaldf." I meant to say, "You're an animal." I was red lining it too much to provide a coherent response.

Later on in the race, making the downhill turns in style

My feeble attempt to jump the little stream going across the trail (I made it I think)

Needless to say, that was the last time I saw anyone from my category for the rest of the race. As the race continued and the Pain Cave became more Painful, I'd pretty much passed every Expert 30 - 39 (they started before us) by the end of the 2nd lap. I don't know if it was the mud, the race duration expectations, or the 'interval-esque' type course, but that race immediately threw me in the Pain Cave and kept me there the entire time. Even though I usually finish stronger than I start, I really had to dig deep to keep my pace up for the last lap of that race.

The Pain Cave

Near the end, I found that I'd gotten within 15 seconds of the last Pro rider, so that made me happy that I'd caught up to the tail end of the Pros (I never ended up passing him as he started his final 1/2 lap).

Ultimately, the race ended quite positively for me. I took first place out of all expert men by about 2 - 3 minutes, so I'm feeling that I'll probably do one more expert race at Draper, then move up to Pro so I can get my butt kicked week in, week out. Sounds like fun, eh?

A MUCH more reasonable length of post, was it not?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Long gone were the glorious moments of victory I held in the Desert Rampage ICUP race held about a month ago. I had accomplished what I'd set out to do throughout the winter--beat myself down hard enough on the trainer to start the season off strong. It had paid off, but now came challenge #2--Cholla Challenge, that is.

The second ICUP race of the season--Cholla Challenge--was down in Hurricane, UT (read: Hurr-i-CUN, yeah, I know, it's weird). Since the weather up here in Northern Utah has only been so-so, I was very excited to get back down to the warmth of the St. George area. I had kept a fairly strong training regimen to prepare for race #2 of the season. The only thing that saved me during those crappy-weather days in which I had to ride the trainer were the NCAA basketball tournament games. I'm not a huge sports buff, but while watching college basketball, I can just zone out and ride for a couple hours.

I had pretty moderate expectations entering this next race. I wasn't anticipating a victory or anything, but I wanted to have a good showing. I got down to Hurricane on Friday evening to do a quick pre-ride of the course and found it to have short downhills, not a lot of climbing, and plenty of rocks to roll over on the flats. The course essentially played to my weaknesses (especially on the rocky flats since I'm still sporting a 26" bike--the horror!). Regardless, I completed a lap of the course at an easy pace and told myself, "Do what you can chucklehead, cause you're going to get your butt kicked tomorrow." Oh, did I mention race-time temperatures were expected to be ~80 degrees with wind gusts 10 - 20 MPH++? Should be fun.

Woke up the next morning in Virgin, UT (where I was staying), downed some oatmeal with The Wife's homemade peach jam, packed up my stuff and headed to the course. I arrived early enough to have plenty of time to not only warm up, but also warm up again. And again. And again. One benefit, though, of arriving too early is that I didn't have a long wait in line to make my pre-race deposit in the porta-potties (and there was still TP available).

Unlike the Desert Rampage, the expert men 19 - 29 started 3rd (Pros went first, then expert men 30 - 39). Now comes the clarification point as to why this post is titled 'Carrots.' Starting AFTER the expert men 30 - 39 was actually a very strong motivating factor to race hard and catch fellow racers up ahead. Essentially, I had a pack of 'carrots' (my driving factor / incentive) that I was working to catch / pass the entire race. I think that it actually translates into a faster race time.

Lining up at the start, it looked as though there would be nine of us in the exp. 19 - 29 category (one more than in St. George, even though only four finished that race). A few familiar faces from the last race, but a couple of 'Cole Sports' jerseys stood out--one guy had long, scraggly enough hair and a couple days of facial hair growth to come off as intimidating; and since I am generally a wimp, I knew I'd be in for a big beat down.

5-4-3-2-1. Go! We were off. Sure enough, the two teammates from Cole Sports jumped out quickly ahead in the initial shakeout. I've been working on starting a bit faster so as to not lose the lead group, and I did a good job of trailing these two guys for the first minute or so. Once we got to a moderately long stretch of double track, I felt the pace was light enough that I could pull out in front, so I quickly passed one of the guys, then caught up to and passed the other (scraggly hair dude). Out in front now, I was leading the pace for our group and found out rather quickly that the predicted wind gusts were very strong. Needless to say, the guys who I just passed took the opportunity to draft off me for the next little bit until we hit the technical slickrock section of the course.

An aside: I love mountain bike racing for many reasons, one of which is the fact that it's generally you vs. the mountain. You don't sit in a peloton letting everyone else do the work and then sprint at the last minute to claim victory. In mountain bike racing, victory is achieved nearly 100% through your own merits. Thus, I hate drafting--getting a free ride while someone else pulls.

Me, leading the pack of expert men 19 - 29 on the slickrock--look at scraggly hair guy! He's gonna kill me if he catches me!

Kudos to scraggly hair guy though, cause he stuck on my wheel like glue through the windy doubletrack, the slickrock section, and for about the next ~5 minutes, there he was, keepin' up. At one point, we were about to enter a section of singletrack and the fastest riders of the expert 19 - 29 group were already catching up to and passing some of the expert 30 - 39 men. I saw a fellow UMB rider whom I was about to pass, so as I passed him and jumped onto the singletrack I quietly mentioned "block this guy behind me." If scraggly hair guy was gonna draft, I was gonna use a teammate to hopefully slow him down on a section of singletrack that required much more effort to get a pass in. Apparently it didn't work though, because he also zipped by the UMB teammate and kept on my wheel for the next bit. So much for my attempts at strategy. Looks like my legs and lungs are going to have to carry the day.

Look at the face I'm making. Sometimes I amaze myself at how much of a doofus I am.

It gets even better! Now I'm sticking my tongue out the side of my mouth. Why do I even try to pretend I'm normal...

The next 10 minutes or so of the first lap included a lot of suffering as the racers were pushing it hard to hold position, and in my case, continuing to see those 'carrots' up ahead and keep on passing them. I also began to notice that scraggly hair guy wasn't right on my wheel anymore. I was beginning to gap him and that made me very happy.

At one point, I passed two expert 30 - 39 racers on a section of sandy singletrack, only to have them blast by me once we hit some doubletrack. I was amazed--I felt like I wasn't even moving with how quickly they shot past me. Well, they must have really been red lining it because I actually caught and passed both of them within the next few minutes.

Lap one finished with one expert 30 - 39 guy on my wheel. As we entered the stretch of windy doubletrack on lap two with him still following closely, I jokingly shouted back to him, "Next lap, you pull!" He responded, "Don't worry, you'll drop me on the slickrock up ahead." He was good at prognosticating--I didn't see him again after that.

Midway through lap two, I downed a Gu (Vanilla Bean is the only edible flavor during a race) and kept my race pace up fairly high. In addition to downing the Gu, I found myself munching on carrot after carrot as I continued to catch / pass riders in the 30 - 39 category. I've found that during rides / races, I really get my 'motor' running at a good pace at the 45 min - 1 hour mark. This point came midway through lap two and I just kept pushing it. The temperatures were high, the wind was fairly brutal at times, but I had hit my cadence and I was just cranking it.

Here's the money shot that makes up for how stupid I look in the other pictures: shooting around a turn, cloud of dust in my wake--I'm cruisin', and looking good doing it (ok, ok, looking ok doing it)

By lap three, I had a couple more leaders of the exp. men 30 - 39 group passed, and I'd figured that I had gapped them all 1/2 way through the lap. As I neared the finish line, I cranked it up the last hill and sped across the line. As I rode back to check on my time / pull tag, I noticed that one 30 - 39 racer had come in ~20 seconds before me. But due to the fact that he started a minute before me, my overall time was 40 seconds faster than him. (Though I was told he wasn't pushing it very hard on the first lap and just sped away at lap two. Thus, he probably could have gotten a faster time. But he didn't, so I'll relish in this.) I'd gotten first out of all expert men. Last race, I took fifth overall. All of those nights of riding the trainer / Lambert Park are still paying dividends!

Don't know what my next steps are. I plan on keeping the training regimen up and doing my best, but The Wife and I have a two week trip to Europe planned at the end of April, so I'm hoping I don't lose too much fitness out there (I plan on riding as much as I can--Tour of Tuscany, around Lake Zurich, etc.).

Also, for the first time while riding my bike, I enjoyed a head wind. With the temperatures so hot, when we had a tail wind, it felt as if the air were standing still, so the heat became almost overwhelming. The headwind was cooling and nice. Now, I'll never state that I enjoy a headwind again.

Are these posts getting longer? I need to find a way to shorten them.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Red Rock Rampage - Let the Races Begin

Prologue to the prologue: Well, it's been awhile since I have decided to jump on the ol' blog and provide a few minutes of reading to the two people who actually read this (my wife and my dad), and since the mountain biking season officially kicked off last weekend with the Red Rock Rampage, I guess it's time to let the blogging commence again!

Prologue: Highly depressing winter. I could never imagine that I'd hate going downstairs to ride the trainer as much as I have. The only thing keeping me going was the knowledge that if I didn't train regularly, I'd get all pudgy again and have to work that off--no thank you. So somewhat religiously (haha, the only religion I claim to have now) I would suit up, head down to the trainer and let Bruce of UMB.com beat me down with the "Utah Mountain Biking Power DVD." It is quite the workout. Thankfully, three to four months of winter pass and the signs of ICup racing are starting to poke out from under the snow, and I'm starting to get excited. I have been training pretty well all winter, I'm feeling strong in my riding, I'm going to move up to the expert racing category--life is good! (Yeah, like it's going to turn out that easy.)

The weekend before the Red Rock Rampage I was actually planning on heading down to St. George with a friend / co-worker to do the "Zion Early Spring Century." As the date approached, the weather down there seemed to be getting worse and worse, so I opted to not go since riding 100 miles in 35 - 45 degree rainy weather was not my idea of fun. It's a good thing I opted out because starting on Friday I starting coming down with a little cold. "Not to worry," I thought. "I get over little sicknesses in a jiffy." Well, this one (given to me by my kid with a double ear infection) wasn't so tiny--I was completely knocked out for the entire weekend and Monday. Great. One week before the first ICup race and I'm completely laid out, suffering in solitude since The Wife was taking care of The Kid (and doing all of her school work simultaneously).

Ensue more depression. Blech. Well, Tuesday comes and I'm feeling a bit better--not phenomenal, but I can get by. At this point, I'm thinking I won't do the race, but just head down to enjoy the nice weather and spend time with the fam. As Wednesday and Thursday come, though, I start feeling much better (my Wolverine powers kicked in), and I was able to get ~1 hour on the trainer each night--no hacking cough, not too difficult to breathe. I was feeling pretty good! The race was on.

The Pre-race: Saturday started off quite nicely--breakfast at the hotel, packed up everything in the car and headed to the Green Valley Race Loop for the event. Once there, I did a quick review of my bike to make sure everything was good. Uh oh--I'd failed to check my disc brakes the night before, and my front pads were nearly worn out. I ran over to the UMB tent to see if they had any available and thankfully, they did. I grabbed a pair, ran back to the bike, replaced the pads, and thought everything was good to go. Well, as I pumped by brake lever to make sure the pads were braking properly, the lever stuck. What. The. Crap. I'd never experienced this.

So I ran like a little girl in a pretty little dress over to the UMB tent where I asked Mike (the UMB fix-it guy) if he'd ever seen this. He'd never seen it, but he got to work trying to bleed the brakes thinking some air / pressure might be causing the lever to stick. It wasn't that since he couldn't get any oil to flow through the brakes, so we were now down to taking apart the entire brake lever (and the multitude of tiny little pieces involved) to solve the problem. To make an already long story somewhat shorter, Mike ultimately got the lever piston up top unstuck (I helped a little bit!) and my brakes worked flawlessly for the race. A MAJOR thank you to Mike for that (he told me that I'd need to bring a blue ribbon for payment, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. OR was it?!?!? Forebode.)

The Race: With my brakes fixed, I was ready to go. Having decided to race Expert Men 19-29 now, I was hoping to come in middle of the category and somewhat middle of the pack for all experts. Truthfully, I didn't exactly know how I'd do. As we lined up, I did recognize a couple of those phenom younger kids (aged like 15 - 18) in my category who would definitely kick my butt since they are like national champions in their age category. Oh well! I'm out here to have fun, right?

After the Pro Men took off, our category was up next. Side note: expert men racers are so much more friendly / congenial on the trail during passing situations than sport men racers, and a benefit of starting right after the pro men is not having to pass expert / pro women who REFUSE to move over because you are a lowly 'sport' racer. --End rant--. Lining up, it looked like there would be eight guys in the 19-29 category. "Ok--shoot for 3rd or 4th," were my thoughts as I prepared to take off. 5-4-3-2-1-Go! We were off. The start was actually not too intense, but we all kept a pretty good clip from the get-go. The two phenom kids led the way out and I was close behind in 3rd.

As we continued up the first long climb of the loop (a total of 3 loops for expert), the two younger phenom kids were beginning to gap me and a couple of the guys who were behind me had covered some ground, one of which was right on my tail. After the first long climb, there is a relatively long descent before the 2nd major climb of the loop. As I started bombing down the descent, I could see one of the phenom kids not too far ahead of me, but one of the kids had experienced a mechanical and was off on the side of the trail presumably looking for a part of his bike (sucks). So I was back in 2nd! Didn't last long though. On the 2nd major climb of the 1st loop, the guy behind me in my category (as well as two guys from the expert men 30-39 group) passed me. Nuts.

I wasn't too worried though as I was feeling pretty strong and was enjoying the race. On the major descent back to the starting line, I actually caught up to the guy in my category and passed him, following one of the guys in the 30-39 group closely for the rest of the descent. I was back in 2nd and feeling good as I began the 2nd lap.

One of the few pictures where I don't look too much like a doofus hyperventilating

The 2nd lap flew by without much happening. No one in my category passed me, and only one guy from the 30-39 group passed me (and I believe I caught up to a Pro racer or two as well!).

As I began the 3rd lap, I was feeling a bit of the fatigue I was expecting, so I downed a Gu and sloppily drank from the water cup that the volunteers were passing out. As I motored through the first half of the 3rd lap on both the ascent and the descent, I didn't see anyone close on my tail. I was still riding strong, and I figured I could finish in 2nd. On the final climb of the 3rd lap, I switched positions with a Pro rider a couple times who ultimately passed me before the finish, but he was off to do his final lap (boy was I glad I only had three to do rather than four).

On the top of the last climb, I looked back and didn't see anyone I could recognize (by now I was passing a lot of sport riders so it was difficult to know with whom I was competing anyway). On the final descent I knew I wouldn't get passed because I was handling this downhill extremely well, and I was just BOMBING down the trail. Concentrating on getting the 2nd place finish, I was enjoying this quick descent. But wait! Who is that up ahead? The 15 year old phenom kid (Justin Griffin is his name) isn't that far ahead of me!?! I decided to let off the brakes a bit more and rocket down the trail as fast as I could. As I caught his wheel, I waited for one second for the trail to open up and shouted "PASS!" (quite breathlessly I might add) and zipped by him. I couldn't believe that I'd caught up to him no more than two minutes until the end of the race.

After the long downhill, there is a short 'flatish' section right before the end. I motored my way to the finish line and crossed with a time of 1:24:33. Wow. I was glad I was done. I was also quite pleased with how my bike performed during the race. And I'd taken 1st place. Not bad.

Yay, look at me! I can hold my arms up.

Net net, I took 5th out of all ~70 expert men (3 30-39 men, and 1 40+ had better overall times than me), so I'm feeling pretty good right now, especially after having come back from a sickness. Ironically, doing well only makes me want to train harder (I have probably done the Suncrest loop 3 times since then just to keep my climbing legs going).

Oh, as an aside: the following morning, I did the Zen trail and my rear derailleur somehow got ripped off as I descended some rocks. So there's another $200 repair I'll have to take care of. But I went on an awesome hike with The Wife and The Kid, so I didn't really care about damaging the bike.

Man I am wordy. Hope you enjoyed.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Snow, Mud, and Downed Trees

Bah--let the snow come. It won't stop ME from going mountain biking. But I did find out that it will greatly slow me down.

Although we'd seen a good amount of snow the previous week, the relatively warm weather and clear skies for the past several days meant that I was itching to get up to American Fork Canyon to see how the trails were faring. I knew that sections of trail would likely be a bit goopy, but nothing too terrible. Well, I was proven wrong for the last 1.5 miles of climbing I had to do for the day...

I started my ride at ~9 AM at the Pine Hollow trail head (the gate allowing access to the rest of the canyon past PH is now closed). It has actually been about 4 months since I had ridden Pine Hollow because as a trail, it is only so-so. BUT, as I came to realize with Tibble Fork, the stronger you become as a climber, the more enjoyable the steep trails are. Paradigm shift. The temperatures were in the low 40s as I began the climb, and I was thoroughly enjoying the morning--practically no trail users meant I could sing the song playing on my iPhone out loud and make a fool of myself to the trees. Bliss.

Not a bad view with the snow capped mountains, eh?

Because it was still very cold from the previous night's freeze, the trails were great; some snow, a little ice, but overall great riding conditions. I made it to Ridge Trail and continued my climb, realizing that Ridge was nearly dry the entire portion I rode. It was marvelous. I encountered a little mud at Mud Springs (d u h) and made it up to AF overlook. An aside: Don't ride all the way up to the end of AF overlook unless you really want to see the view; the last 1/2 mile is extremely rocky and technical and greatly hinders a good cadence. Stop once the rocks begin and enjoy the bomb back down to Mud Springs.

Ridge 157 - dry, fast, and practically no trail users. Awesome.

AF Overlook point - looking down into boring Utah Valley--those people don't know what they're missing

The little version of "Puke hill" on the Ridge 157 was actually muddy, so I hiked up that quickly and got to the four way. I plead with the universe to make SFLDC dry as I hadn't ridden the trail in quite awhile and I wanted to enjoy it one last time for the season. The dirt gods obliged--I had an amazingly fast and furious (like the movie) descent down SFLDC, grinning ear to ear with small amounts of dirt / mud flipping up into my teeth and face. But I didn't care.

"Well," I thought to myself, "a little more climbing up to the summit then I'll bomb back to the car to complete one of the best November rides I'd ever done." The dirt gods were tricky that day, for they evolved into mud gods and decided to pour on the goop from the bottom of SFLDC up to the summit. Nuts.

Since the weather had been warming up quite a bit, the normally frozen ground metamorphatised (those of you who don't believe this to be a word shouldn't look it up, because you'll likely not find any dictionary that provides the definition) into a muddy swamp. Not only that, but I encountered a plethora of downed trees along the trail. Double nuts.

Well, if I wasn't going to be riding my bike, I might as well get some trail work in. Every downed tree I came across, I made my best effort to move. Out of the five trees I encountered, I only couldn't move one (but that tree weighed 2,000 pounds, so I forgive myself). I'd give myself ~500 brownie points for the effort I put forth: clearing out those trees, removing branches, and trying to cover up sections of the trail that mountain bikers / motos had newly created to get around the trees. Kudos to me!

"Eek! A big bad tree in the way of the trail! Whatever shall I do?"

Boom. I backhanded that tree back into the stone age. For those of you who know how weak I am, this was a major accomplishment.

This tree was the biggest baddie of the day. It was still attached to its roots a bit so it took some genius on my part (use a fulcrum / leverage dummy!) to get it out. Mission accomplished.

All in all, by the time I'd cleared all the trees I could and hiked up to the summit (with some intermittent riding thrown in) my bike was completely gunked up. The rear wheel wouldn't spin at all and my bike weighed more than a DH rig. I was able to find some snow to clean it off as best as possible and get it moving again. From the summit it was a see-how-much-mud-I-can-flip-up-on-myself-from-my-tires as I shot downhill. Regardless, I was happy to be moving faster than 2 mph again.

Pobre bike. Covered in Utah mud (aka, cement). This isn't even the dirtiest she got...

Yeah, I complain about the mud, but have you ever tried to pick >100 little burrs out of spandex? NOT FUN.

The rest of the ride was quite uneventful--a quick blast down Pine Hollow (which includes one of the funnest sections of trail ever created--wide trail, tree roots making natural ledge jumps, and plenty of runway to really open up) and I was back to the car.

I was muddy, tired, and covered in burrs, but I was definitely happy to have been riding AF Canyon in November.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Park That Is Lambert

With inclement weather already moving in, the mountain biking season is quickly coming to an end (several inches of snow up at the summit of AF Canyon already--barf). Amidst the doom and gloom of the coming winter, there stands a beacon of hope and joy. And that beacon is Lambert Park.

Full disclosure: Lambert Park is not a place where you'd want to do an epic ride. Nor is it a location that is chock full of super steep climbs, technical downhill, and breathtaking vistas. That is not the purpose of Lambert Park. Lambert Park is nestled in the foothills of Alpine, providing nearly year round mountain biking that is perfect for a quick ride after work or when all the other trails are too muddy (or snowy). Yesterday, during a brief lull in the rain and wind, I was getting stir crazy in the house and decided to see how Lambert had fared with the weather. It. Was. Perfect. (It also doesn't hurt that I can ride my bike to the trail head from my house quite conveniently.)

I geared up with my jersey, arm and leg warmers, and a beanie and headed out to Lambert. I'd chosen the perfect time of day to head out as the sun was actually coming through the clouds and it was warming up nicely--so nice, in fact, that the arm warmers and beanie became unnecessary half way through the ride.

I always choose to start my ride at 300 N / Bald Mountain Drive--there is a nice little parking spot for two vehicles and a trail starts there and dumps you right at the bottom of Corkscrew (a good warm up climb that takes you to the main network of Lambert's trails). After dodging the five different piles of horse poop that are ALWAYS on this section of the trail, I made it to Corkscrew and began my climb. Because it's so short, I generally stay in my middle chain ring in the front and the fourth from the top in the back--strong enough gearing that means I'm standing for the entire climb. As I have gotten stronger this season, though, I find that I really enjoy getting out of the saddle and just powering through those climbs. Perhaps I see the possibility of having a singlespeed in my inventory in the future (don't tell The Wife, though).

After a quick climb up Corkscrew, I always drop down Ziggy, then hook up with Poppy which then connects to Lambert's Luge, then Spring. I don't know why I love the climbing at Lambert so much, but I do. It's most likely the fact that the grade is mellow enough that I can always be in my 4th, 5th, or 6th gear in the back and just power through the climbs the entire time. The climbs are relatively short (as are the descents), but are long enough to provide a good workout. Wow, I got completely off track there. Back to the ride: once I'd climbed to the top of Spring, I decided to change up my route a bit and dropped down Rodeo rather than continue on around Spring. It is at this location (part way down Rodeo) where I decided I had to pull out the trusty iPhone and take some pictures. I have to say, Lambert (LIKE EVERY OTHER TRAIL IN UTAH), is best in the Fall. I mean, seriously, crap-your-pants so good that I actually have to stop mid way through my descents and take a picture so I can show The Wife 'what I actually see out there.' Behold:

Right near the top of Rodeo--I really like to take pictures of bridges for some reason?

Honestly, no seriously, honestly, can riding a bike get any better?

My trusty steed is saying to me, "Please oh please ride me through the beautiful red leaves. I won't give you any mechanicals for at least a month if you do!" Weird, right? What sort of bike barters?

Actually, right before I took this picture, I had a sudden urge to pee, and since no one else seemed to be out on the trail, I took the liberty of relieving myself. Quite pleasant. Good thing I'm a shameful pee-er (peer? peeer?) and like to finish up quickly because within a few seconds, some guy came zipping down, and I had to quickly move out of the way (I normally hate people who just rest on the trail, but I figured I wouldn't see another soul--my bad!).

After an awesome descent down Rodeo, I hooked up with Rodeo Up (original, I know) and climbed back up to Middle Spring where I chose to continue on around Spring. Quick aside: Middle Spring is the coolest part of Lambert; and by cool, I mean the most vegetation. The little stream runs right by Middle and there are a good number of maples and other trees on the first part of the climb that almost make you forget where you are. Also, when Fall comes, you end up riding on a bed of bright yellow leaves on the trail. Painful, I know!

After awhile, all of the leaves sort of get boring. Oh wait, that's not right. What I meant to say was: after awhile, the leaves just keep making a great ride even better. Yeah, that's right.

In addition to the beautiful foliage (I really sound like a Nancy-boy in this post, but it really is that amazing to be out there), Lambert was also sporting awesome trail conditions. The rain had given Lambert's trails 'hero dirt' status. Usually, the downhill on Spring is only 'meh' because speed control is a necessity as you'll washout if you go too quickly. But the rain had firmed up the trails and it was a blast carving the edges and zipping around the corners.

After the quick descent down Spring, I hooked back up with Rodeo, climbed a bit to reach the Rodeo Up / Down split, dropped down Rodeo again (awesome), hooked up with Middle, transitioned to Ruin, then reconnected with Poppy / Middle (I can never remember where it spits me out), then climbed up Black Dog which connected back up with Corkscrew and took me back to where I started. If all of these trail names / locations are confusing to you, they are just as confusing to me. I have spent hours and hours at Lambert--and though the signage is great--I still get lost. Well, I'm terrible with directions too.

Forebode: ominous clouds above the mountains right south of Lambert

As I was finishing up my ride home, I could definitely tell that the weather was changing. The sun was gone, the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped significantly. Right when I pulled into my driveway it began to lightly rain. I quickly hosed off my bike (a little muddy of course) and got inside. I had timed that ride perfectly. And to be perfectly honest, I don't think I could have enjoyed a better 1.5 hour ride if I'd tried. Thank you Lambert for all of your trail-y goodness (sans horse poop).

Last view before I hit the road and get home. Not bad, eh?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pole Line Pass, Part II: Retribution

Part I: I get beat down hard

A few years ago I figured I would venture beyond my 'comfort zone' trails up AF Canyon (SFLDC, Salamander Flat, south section of Ridge 157) and check out what the north had to offer. Since riding Ridge Trail 157 in the 'northern-ly' direction is a lot of hike-a-bike (re: not fun), I figured I'd take the dirt road up to Pole Line Pass then come down Ridge, and end up at Tibble Fork. It was in the Fall (late September-ish) and I was actually going to be meeting some friends at "Hell's Cave" that evening--why not get in a ride first?!?. (Hell's Cave is a little rock climbing area just a mile or so past the Timpanogos Cave visitor's center up the canyon.)

I started my ride at Tibble Fork and began the arduous journey up the North Fork AF dirt road (it is only a road in the loosest sense of the word). As my climb continued, the temperature began to drop rapidly and the clouds began to move in. "No worries," I thought to myself. "I'll make it to the top here in a bit and bomb quickly down to my car!" Curse my bike-related hubris!

Never in my mind would have I thought that the torrential rain that began to fall upon me as I passed Dutchman Flat would turn to--yes, wait for it--snow. It was only late September for crying out loud. Interesting aside: the entire climb, I came across one other person who was driving a truck up to Dutchman--it was this solitude that made me realize that climbing my bike during an early snowstorm at 8000+ elevation in nothing but my Nancy-boy lycra shorts and jersey could turn into a serious problem.

The one thing I knew then was I didn't make it up to Pole Line Pass. What I didn't know, though, was WHERE I'd made it. The snow sent me back down the road faster than an old man sending back soup in a deli (analogy lifted without permission from Seinfeld).

As the snow / sleet / rain / wrath of God pounded me on the descent, the only thing I could think of was getting back to my trusty WRX and eat whatever food I had left in the car. Another interesting aside: riding through heavy rain and snow going downhill without glasses becomes increasingly difficult as your eyes somehow cease functioning. What fun!

At long last, I made it back to Tibble Fork--freezing, miserable, and completely soaked through. I chucked my trusted Enduro onto the roof rack, jumped in the car and wrapped myself in a towel that for some reason I had put in the car (first time I'd ever been prepared for something).

If I recall correctly, I had a banana and a Clif Bar (don't remember which kind, though they all taste like cardboard anyway) and wolfed those down while blasting the heat in my car. I dried off as much as possible, changed into non-cycling clothes and proceeded down the canyon a ways to meet up with my friends for a 'fun filled' evening at Hell's Cave (remember, it had rained / snowed earlier?!?!).

What drives me to do such reckless biking? Pole Line Pass: 1. Me: 0.

Part II: Retribution

Having recalled that painful memory now brings me to the present day: I wanted to try the climb to Pole Line Pass again and redeem myself. Let's also not forget the fact that it is Fall here in Utah and the colors and riding conditions of AF Canyon are spectacular.

Thus, I set out from Tibble Fork on my bike (now on a Specialized Epic as I have put my Enduro in semi-retirement) and began the climb up to Pole Line Pass. The conditions, surprisingly, were somewhat warm for this time of year, due in part to the fact that I had started my ride around noon. Regardless, I was definitely enjoying the climb--not too steep, somewhat technical in places, and not too many motorists were zipping by me. Oh, did I mention the colors?

Starting my ride at Tibble Fork. Literally 15 minutes from my front door to the lake. Yes, I made a conscious decision where I would live.

This is on the road up to PLP right after the fork in the road that I would have taken me to Mineral Basin (I'll be heading up that way some time in the future)

Pleasant weather, beautiful views, solitude up the canyon--rough, I know

After riding for about an hour and 15 minutes, I reached Pole Line Pass. To be honest, it was somewhat anticlimactic seeing as it really isn't THAT difficult of a climb and it's just a spot in the AF Canyon network. But the views were still nice. Oh, and it wasn't snowing this time. Bonus! Pole Line Pass: 1. Me: 1.


Look, a TREE!

Not wanting to end my climb there, I continued on to Ant Knolls. A very nice rolling climb that eventually terminates at a fork where I could drop down to Midway (it's amazing to me where mountain biking takes me to). The views from Ant Knolls were awesome, the trail was in great shape and I was having a blast. I'm definitely glad my first ride to Pole Line Pass didn't sour my whole opinion of the area because this type of riding is simply epic.

Looking over to Mineral Basin--you can see Snowbird's lifts up on the ridge line in the middle of the picture

I know, I know, it IS rough riding up in the pines with perfect weather

Looking down into Midway from the end of Ant Knolls

After a quick downhill back to PLP from Ant Knolls, I knocked down my PB&J and some craisins. I was ready to roll! After my miles and miles of climbing, I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my labor! Little did I know, I was sorely mistaken as I still had plenty more climbing to get out of the way first. Bah!

I understood Pole Line Pass to be essentially the apex of my climb. Pole Line my butt. More like, 'You're-Up-High, But-Not-High-Enough Pass.' So my climb up Ridge Trail 157 to Forest Lake ensued.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love climbing, but this next section is chock full of hike a bike sections--loose, torn up trail, boulders, UBER steep climbs, etc. I was still enjoying the ride, but was definitely looking forward to getting to the top of the climb so I could enjoy some much deserved downhill. At one point, I crossed paths with a moto and he told me that up ahead were a couple other mountain bikers. (Somewhat interesting as not too many bikes actually venture out to this section of AF Canyon.)

As I kept pushing along to the trail above Forest Lake, I eventually came upon the two mountain bikers (a husband and wife, presumably). I had actually passed these two just a few minutes outside of Tibble Fork on the climb up the North Fork AF Canyon road. They had passed me at the Ant Knolls detour because they went straight from Pole Line Pass to Ridge 157. They started their ride in the Cascade Springs area--definitely an epic ride. Anyhow, we chatted for a bit as we were pushing our bikes up to the top pass area above Forest Lake and once reaching there, I bid them adieu and took off down Ridge. (Well, I took off for 50 yards, then stopped because the trail forked and I wasn't sure which part was Ridge 157--thankfully the guy pointed me in the right direction and I was back on my way. Thanks dood!)
Panoramic view above Forest Lake

I thought about taking a dip in the lake, but realized that I'd have to climb back out of the valley--no thanks!

The next section of Ridge Trail is VERY loose, VERY rocky, and VERY steep. Impossible to climb on a mountain bike and just as painful to descend. I simply threw my butt off the back of my seat, lightly feathered my brakes, and tried to choose lines that wouldn't have me launching over my handlebars. Although the Epic is a full suspension bike, it is XC at its core--both in geometry as well as travel. So I was definitely happy to make it to Mill Canyon springs as my hands were aching and my back was definitely feeling the bumps.

At Mill Canyon Springs, the grade of Ridge Trail becomes much more reasonable and the trail isn't nearly as technical; read: cruising downhill with great flow. As I continued on Ridge, I was seriously questioning whether I'd throw in a SFLDC loop to my ride since I was feeling tired by this point and I'd been out for ~3 hours. Once I made it to the 4 way (Ridge Trail, SFLDC, and Tibble Fork), I made an executive decision to add a bit of the Mud Springs Loop onto my ride and fore-go the SFLDC loop (don't worry my favorite trail, I'd be back!).

I must confess: I wasn't really looking forward to the Tibble Fork downhill. I had taken it once before several months ago and actually STOPPED half way down and climbed up Mud Springs because I wasn't having fun. I don't mind technical, steep downhill, but I just wasn't enjoying it. But I was willing to give it another chance.

After climbing up Mud Springs I began my descent which eventually hooks up with Tibble. As I continued my descent I realized a couple things: 1. I was having a blast. 2. I missed the best part of the descent when I turned around last time. I immediately prayed to the mountain biking gods to forgive me my trespasses against them and continued down to my car. It. Was. Awesome. Tibble Fork is top notch in the Fall with the leaves changing. Don't believe me? Look.

Crap-your-pants delicious trail riding; I now love Tibble Fork

I made it to the car exhausted, but thoroughly happy with my day. I had conquered Pole Line Pass and had a great ride, exploring several trails I had never ridden before. Definitely a great day.

Ride statistics: Riding time - 3:31; Distance - ~26 miles; Climbing - ~4200. Fun factor - extreme.

I'll definitely be doing these trails again.