Thursday, August 24, 2006

Weekend Adventures - Part 2

After our long day of being up before dawn and hiking to a lake at 11,000 feet, Jill & I were worn out. We grabbed some dinner in Grand Lake and headed back to the tent anxiously awaiting sunset so we could get some much needed sleep.

Things didn't go quite as planned as neither of us seemed to get much sleep for some reason. The funny part was every time that I woke up and looked over I thought Jill was sleeping soundly. And every time that Jill woke up she looked over and thought I was sleeping as well. I think we alternated tossing and turning at different times all night long.

Regardless, we got up just before sunrise. Our plan was to go hit Cascade Falls, which was about a 7 mile hike, but wasn't as severe of a climb. Unzipping the tent, we peered out to see a small group of elk about 30 yards from our tent. So we didn't sleep much, but waking up to the sites of RMNP was worth it after all.

The morning was cool and crisp, with fog in all the lower areas. We started down the hiking path and made it about a mile before Jill stopped and pointed out something in the field. About the same time she pointed the animal out, it noticed us and was on the move. We were about 1/8 mile from it, but it was quite clear that we had just seen a wolf. The animal was very large, much more so than a coyote, and it moved very quickly. I had no chance at getting a picture of this reclusive creature, which makes me appreciate how all these nature photographers can do it.

We had barely quit talking about how great it was to see a wolf before we stumbled upon our next wildlife find. Again, Jill pointed out a big black mass out in the field. As we neared and got a better angle, we realized it was a family of moose getting an early morning snack along a creek bed. They took note of use, but didn't seem to threatened as I got to within about 50 yards of them for some quick photos. Why didn't I bring my big lens again?

After the wolf and the moose encounter, I was sure that we'd finally see a black bear to complete the rarely seen animal trifecta. While we did stumble across a deer who barely moved until we got within 6 feet, but no bear was to be found. Perhaps they were still napping in the cool morning air.

We pushed on towards Cascade Falls cursing every small climb as we went. Our bodies were tired, but we could hear the falls so we knew we were near. Finally, we reached our destination and were very pleased to see Cascade Falls. Much bigger than I expected, especially this late in the season, we both agreed it was well worth the hike.

We spent an hour or so taking pictures, enjoying the views, and eating a snack before packing up and heading out. We passed a lot of hikers on the way back to the car, and we were both glad we had "traveled like old people" and hit the trails early. I've said it many times before, but to truly appreciate Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park, you've got to get out of the car and hike in to the sights, which is exactly what we've been doing.

We're entering the transition between Summer & Fall, which means the leaves will start to turn and the elk will start the bugling. And that means Jill & I will be up before dawn at RMNP again many more times in the coming months. When did I become a morning person?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Weekend Adventure - Part 1

I wasn't quite sure I punished my body enough by depriving it of oxygen and riding 35 miles in elevations topping out at nearly 12,000 feet, so Jill & I decided to head to Rocky Mountain National Park again to do some high elevation hiking. We've been all over the park and done numerous hikes, but this time we decided we would visit the West side of the park and do some hiking on the lesser traveled side.

We had originally planned to go Friday night, camp out and then get up at dawn and hit the trails. Well Friday looked rainy and cold in the mountains, so I altered our plans to Saturday morning.

At 4:30 a.m. the alarm was still 30 minutes away, but Jill & I were both up and moving for some strange reason. Our plan was to be on Trail Ridge Road (the one in Rocky, not the one we live on) for sunrise which meant we needed to leave by about 5:15. Leaving our house in the dark of night and driving towards Estes Park, I questioned my sanity a few times.

But as we neared Estes, we could see it would be a great day to be up and moving. We pulled up to the gates of Rocky Mountain, but no ranger on duty yet. You know you are early when you beat the park rangers up. We cruised along looking for the wildlife that was surely the only other moving thing at this hour in the park. As we started to crest Trail Ridge at around 12,000 feet we were treated to some incredible views as we sat just above the clouds as the sun slowly crept up in the east.

We stopped and took pics, but didn't stray too far from the car as the temperature was in the 30s, and was a quick reminder that life at elevation isn't easy. As we drove on across the park, we passed an eerily empty parking lot at the main visitor center on Trail Ridge. Normally the parking lot is jam packed with RVs, buses, and people from all over, it was interesting to see it totally void of cars.

As we descended the west side, we came upon Poudre Lake near Milner Pass where the Continental Divide passes. As we approached, we spied a group of elk grazing in the crisp morning air near Poudre Lake. We stopped the car and walked over to them, and they started to give us a show. They were just playfully fighting, but the two elk danced around and locked horns. They took note of us, but didn't seem threatened and continued on as if we weren't there, even moving closer to us as they played around.

We decided to cruise by Timber Lake campground and see if we could fall into a campsite for the night. Much to our surprise, the campsite was barely half full. We snapped up a campsite, threw up the tent and headed out for our first hike. We picked a big, strenuous hike for Day 1. Timber Lake would be a 10.5 mile hike with well over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, but as we've learned the alpine lakes are usually worth the effort.

We started down the Timber Lake trail, and immediately were pleased with our decision. The trail was a gorgeous, lush green trail the meandered through dense forest that were such a deep shade of green they didn't even look real.

Upon our first creek crossing, we spotted some more wildlife. A playful deer was out for its morning stroll and a quick drink from the creek as we passed. Again, she was obviously very used to the humans on her turf as she barely bothered to take note of us as we snapped pics and moved through.

As we walked up the trail, it seemed that every corner we came around had a gorgeous mountain stream cascading down the rocks. We must have stopped at 15 different waterfalls to take pics and/or just take in the view. The early morning light made for great slow shutter pics.

We pounded out mile after mile, with the last two being especially steep. Finally we rounded a corner and got our first glimpse of the mountain faces that sat as the backdrop for Timber Lake. After another 1/2 mile of weaving through the trees, we emerged to yet another breathtaking high elevation lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. This lake would serve as our lunchroom today, as we found a spot to sit and enjoy our sandwiches.

We sat and took in the surroundings for the next 30-45 minutes, but started noticing the skies darkening north of us. As in all high altitude situations, the storms develop quickly and move even more quickly. Before we knew it, the sounds of thunder were upon us as we packed up and started heading back down.

We managed to get about a mile from the lake before the skies finally opened up, but it was a gentle rain. We pushed onward towards the car, making great time as we dropped from over 11,000 feet back to 8,500. Once back to the car, we were quite tired and ready to have a rest after 10.5 miles and a lot of climbing. A quick rest and clothes change before heading to Grand Lake for some BBQ, then back to the camp for some sleep before Day #2 of our adventure.

Friday, August 18, 2006

I have seen the Crest

...and it was good. Very, very good.

I took a needed day off work and headed to Poncha Springs with two other Boulder locals for a day on the Monarch Crest trail. The ride is a 35+ mile adventure, with few bail out points and a significant amount of climbing above the 10,000 feet elevation mark. When people talk about high country epic rides, this one is at the top of the list. Mountain bikers live for rides like this, and after two years of desperately wanting to ride this trail, I got the opportunity.

I had my doubts if I was really ready for this, but even lugging a Camelbak that had to weigh over 30lbs, I finished and didn't feel like I was 100% tapped out like some other long, hard rides I've done.

Letting the Yeti pose at the touristy spot before the start of the ride

You start out climbing immediately, which hurts under normal circumstances, and hurts that much more when you are starting above 11,000 feet. Blue lips are in this year right?

Even though your mind is oxygen deprived, the views still register as incredible. I can take all the pictures in the world, but they'll never match what my eyes saw. The green alpine tundra contrasting with the blue skies provide scenic views uncomparable to anything I've seen on a bike ride before.

As you break through the tree line, you spy "the Crest" that you will soon be upon. I can't explain the feeling I had when I was spinning my way up the trail towards the apex, but "giddy like a school girl" is probably close. Pain was quickly forgotten as we neared the top.

After our first big descent of the day, we stopped and had some much needed lunch. We still had about 2/3rds of the mileage in front of us, but I knew the last section, The Rainbow Trail, would require some energy that wouldn't be there unless I got some food.

The bad part was shortly after consuming a big roast beef & swiss sandwich with a couple of GU packets as chasers, we started climbing again. The food was weighing on me and the elevation (11,300 feet at that point) was making me wonder if I was going to be able to finish what I had started.

Luckily, that climb was pretty shortlived and we then were treated to a high speed, brake burning descent towards Silver Creek. This descent was fast and loose with the trail barely wide enough for your tire. As we ripped through the alpine meadows I thought "it doesn't get much better".

The ride flattened out a bit at the bottom of the Silver Creek trail, and we made our way to the Rainbow Trail, a 9 mile long, up and down trail that would be the final leg of our journey.

As it wound its way slowly down, we had lots of steep but short climbs that would pop up unexpectedly from around a corner. Grinding out these steep climbs wasn't easy on tired legs, but I kept turning the pedals and only had to walk one or two of the steepest sections on the ride.

The one problem we had on the ride happened just about the middle of the Rainbow Trail. As I rode along on a thin, gravely track I heard a huge bang that made my already tired heart jump about 15 beats per minute. As I checked myself for gunshot wounds, I realized that it was just a blow out on my tire. No big deal, I've got two extra tubes.

"Well this is interesing..."

Under closer inspection I realized it wasn't just a tube that had blown out, but I had actually blown out the sidewall of my tire. Not so good. With a little help from Sean, we managed to use some duct tape on the inside of the tire to improvise a boot that would hopefully keep the sidewall from separating anymore and keep the tube from pushing out the sidewall.

We threw in a new tube, pumped it up and gave it the thumbs up. Not sure that it would hold for the next 6 miles, but willing to try to make it as far as we could, we set off down the trail again.

I had Sean go in front of me so I could "take it easy through the rocks" and try to save my tire. Well that lasted about 50 yards before I let go of the brakes and started ripping the downhill like I normally would. Hey if I'm going to have to walk, I might as well have fun up to that point right?

The next 5 miles is pretty much a blur as we descended quickly towards Highway 285, with the final section being very steep and loose. Before we knew it, we hit the highway which signified the end of our ride. A quick couple miles of downhill on 285 back in Poncha and we were at the car again.

Such a great ride, and perfect weather and trail conditions really made this a tremendous experience. No blood, no serious mechanical problems, and no torrential downpours or lighting on the high ridges. You really can't ask for a better day to get out and ride what a lot of people consider to be the best ride in Colorado. What a ride...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Attempt on the Crest

(Photo by Marcel Sloother -

Well after spending last summer on injured reserve and not being able to do any of the high altitude epic rides in Colorado, I am finally getting my chance. Now I hope I'm ready for it. The ride is often dubbed "Monarch Crest", although the actual Monarch Crest trail is only about 1/3rd of the total 35+ miles.

The ride starts with a shuttle from Poncha Springs up to the top of Monarch Pass. Yes that Monarch Pass, near Monarch ski resort. Yes, the one at 11,300 feet. The good news is that despite starting at 11,300 feet of elevation, you get to climb immediately out of the parking lot topping out near 12k feet. The air will be thin, the heart will be pumping and my mind will be filled with gorgeous sights that I've never gotten to experience. Good trade in my opinion.

We're booked on the 10a.m. shuttle, which means we should be on the trail by about 10:30 and hopefully off the peaks a little after noon to avoid lightning (a serious concern when you're riding the tallest ridge around on an aluminum lightning rod bike). This is technically a shuttle, and while we get 6k downhill we'll pedal some 2k uphill and most of it at over 10,000 feet in elevation. We'll see how that goes...

I'm going to be dragging along my DSLR and a couple of lenses, plus enough food/water/supplies to get myself back home. I'm sure its going to be a long, grueling day in the saddle but I can't wait.

Full report and pics will be up sometime Friday I'm sure.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sundays with "The Punisher"

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." - Benjamin Franklin.

Well I am officially insane. Last Sunday, John "The Punisher" Perry called me up and said he was going out for "an easy, laid back road ride". So I decided, against better judgement and Jill's warnings, that I was going to go out for an "easy" ride with John. The late start, temps over 100 degrees and not eating anything on the ride all added up to me cracking badly on the way back home of the 60 mile ride. After getting some food in my body, I recovered quickly but I was still cooked when I got done.

So yesterday I'm sitting around the house, being a lazy slug watching the X-Games when the phone rings. The phone says "John Perry - Home".

Uh oh.

I answer, and John again tells me he is going for an "easy ride" but this time on the mountain bike. Well this is exactly the kick I need to get off my rear and do something, so I hop to it and head towards John's place for a spin around Hall Ranch. Upon arrival John tells me he's already done a 50+ mile route with over 4k feet of climbing that morning, but he needs some mountain bike miles. Surely I can keep pace with him on his "easy" ride after he's put in a big effort already today, right? Yeah just like last week....

John is always strong, but he's 6 days away from the Leadville Trail 100 race (a 100 mile race at over 9k feet elevation and having somewhere around 15k feet of climbing) and is in ridiculous form right now, but for some reason I keep thinking its a good idea to ride with him. He does take it easy on me and I enjoy riding with John, so I guess that is why I keep showing up.

As I am standing in John's garage while we are loading up, I am looking around at his various bikes hanging neatly in his garage. I start to notice a common theme, they are all in the big ring. I don't even have a big ring, literally and figuratively. "The Punisher" is all about the big ring.

So we head to Lyons, where we park in town, and head towards Hall Ranch from town. The first real climb it was evident that I am clearly insane. Somehow I thought my form would have magically transformed in the cou
Add Imagerse of the week and I'd be able to hang on to The Punisher's rear wheel on a climb. No such luck. And Ben Franklin might as well just put my picture next to his definition.

John left me standing still as he rocketed up the climb. I settled into a comfortable pace (i.e. I was suffereing like crazy but was out of gears), and kept climbing. We regrouped at the first junction, and again The Punisher rode me right off his wheel. We hit the loop, and repeated that process again where John quickly disappeared into the distance in front of my sweat drenched eyes.

The one highlight of the day was the fact that I was able to absolutely close in or reel out John on the downhill sections. So at least if nothing else, I've got the gravity aspect on my side. I felt great on the downhill portions, really never riding the edge but just flowing and having a good time. I did have one section where I tried to double uphill (clear two jumps at once going uphill), and cased it pretty good using up about 95% of my 5.75 inches of travel. The good part was that will all that travel, it was a pretty cushy landing regardless. I think I can make that double with a little more speed and pop off the jump. Of course, I also thought I could hang on to The Punisher's speedy wheel for 2 straight Sunday rides and that didn't exactly work out either...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

You call this a consolation prize?

So close. In my new office, I've got a receiver setup to play music and I have been listening to the radio in the mornings to avoid burning myself out on my Ipod playlist. Well this morning on the KBCO morning show they had a contest to win a trip to the Austin City Limits music festival in Austin. Basically they played a quick snippet of 5 songs all strung together and you had to be the first person to identify the artist of each song in order.

Well I don't ever get through, but I dialed the number anyway. Much to my shock, the line is ringing and before I can collect my thoughts about the potential answer Brett Saunders is answering the phone.

Uh oh.....

I know 4 of the 5 instantly, but the 5th is eluding me. I have no idea. I plead with Brett to play the clip one more time, but he says he really can't do that over the phone. So I say I know 4, and I'll take a shot.

I rattle off 4 of the 5, but miss the 5th. A song by Ben Harper (at least is was a song I didn't know) ultimately cost Jill & I flights to Austin, hotel and tickets to what looks to be an amazing series of concerts. I was sickened by the fact I was so close, and that I typically know all 5 of the songs but can't ever actually get through in time to answer the question.

So what about this consolation prize? Well later in the day, they were playing "10 at 10" where they feature 10 songs from a year gone by. Today happened to be 1987. As I sat at my desk coding away thinking about how I blew my shot to win a cool trip, they played a clip from Lethal Weapon, which I immediately recognized. About 10 minutes passes and the DJ annoucnes the first person to identify the movie the clip was from would win tickets to a concert featuring Los Lobos, Jackie Greene and Augustana at the Fox Theater tomorrow night.

I pick up the phone and dial, and strangely enough I get through immediately. That never happens. OK, that never happens unless I'm about to answer a question that I don't know the full answer too. Well the DJ asks me if I can identify the clip, which I surely can, so I pick up a pair of tickets. Not exactly a trip for two to Austin like I should have had, but how can you complain about winning?

So tomorrow I'll patiently await my next chance to win some cool prize or trip, and hopefully this time I won't choke when given the chance.