Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mother Nature has it out for me lately

For the second time in a 4 day span, I found myself caught out unprepared for the rapidly changing weather in Colorado's high country. Wednesday had me huddled up under a tree hiding from hail, and Saturday was an eerily similar situation. Jill and I headed up to the Wild Basin entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park for a training hike for our upcoming backcountry excursions in Glacier National Park.

Sandbeach Lake would be our destination, a 9+ mile round trip with well over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. We set off under blue skies, but knowing that the weather likely wouldn't hold for the entire trip. We made good time rarely stopping, and clipping out mile after mile as the skies turned a darker shade of gray with virtually every step.

As we neared a mile to go to the lake, the skies begin to spit. By the time we had gotten to the lake itself, the rain was coming down very quickly. Of course we had left in a hurry and neither of us had rain shells (READ: STUPID MISTAKE), and while we weren't suffering from being cold, there was still a lot of reason for concern.

We found a rock outcropping and huddled under it, using the emergency foil blanket to keep use dry and help us conserve some heat. We waited the storm out, grabbed a couple of quick (read: crappy) pictures and then headed down. We handled the trip back down in very business-like fashion, knocking out the miles quickly without a single stop.

Back at the car I was glad to be done, but a bit frustrated I had let myself get caught by surprise two times in such a short period. Its a seemingly harmless enough trip that I let my guard down, but have learned my lesson about that. Monday morning I marched down to REI at lunch and bought a proper, packable waterproof (not water resistant like I had) shell.

Look out Mother Nature, I'll be back with a vengeance.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Kenosha to Breckenridge big ride

How does one cope with the crushing reality that 5 days a week you have to get up and be a responsible adult and go to work? Well for me I cope by taking a random weekday off and going on a high alpine epic ride.

Three of us, John "Polka Dot Jersey" Perry, Jamie "Don't brake till you see God" Cutler and myself threw caution to the wind and headed to Summit County for some singletrack soul searching. We met up in Silverthorne, then proceeded to drop a car in Breckenridge before heading over Hoosier pass to Kenosha pass near Southpark, CO to begin our ride.

The ride starts around 10k feet, and rolls up and down for 6 miles before starting a grinding ascent towards the nearly 12,000 foot Georgia Pass. As we rolled off on the Colorado Trail, the hot day was upon us. Bright blue skies and mid 80 degree temps had us sweating like crazy as we knocked out the first 5 miles of ups and downs on some glorious tight singletrack.

John takes in the first overlook, notice the blue skies

And then the unexpected happened...

At about mile 6, the skies darkened rapidly, thunder was heard and then it unleashed. Regrouping on the climb, the three of us were forced to take refuge under trees as hail and rain fell in large quantities. The hail got to be near marble sized, bouncing off our helmets, bikes and bodies with rapid succession. Gone were the sunny warm temps, it was now dark, cold and despite our rain shells we were getting soaked in a hurry. The temps dropped rapidly, going from 85 degrees to a frigid 45 degrees in a matter of 30 minutes.

As we gazed at the trail, the ground was totally white from all the hail. Our thoughts of getting over Georgia Pass were severely dampened. When the hail finally let up, we started up again thinking we'd at least get to tree line and hope for the best.

When we finally got moving again, the trail was slippery and wet. Roots became treacherous instantly, but we pressed on. As we emerged from the tree line, things started looking up. John and I assessed the situation and deemed we had a small window of time to get up and over Georgia Pass before more storms and lightning moved in.

The final push above tree line was tough. Its deceiving how far the last stretch is, but I climbed steadily as John crested the peak first. I stopped to grab a couple pics, but not staying long as I didn't think it wise to be standing above the trees on an aluminum framed bike.

Once over the top, the fun began. The trail became super narrow, fast and flowy. I let it rip on the much anticipated descent, eagerly awaiting finding the spot where John had picked to stop for lunch. We regrouped, ate some lunch and then hit the downhill again. The pecking order was reversed for the climb with Jamie up front, me chasing behind and John following me. The downhill was too much fun for any pictures.

When we got to the bailout, we did the unthinkable and took the road back. The singletrack trail featured another monster climb, and not only where we pretty whooped but we were also behind schedule due to lost time from the storm.

We finished up with about 26 miles of trail and somewhere around 3600 feet of climbing. It was a pretty adventurous day, and at several times it looked like peril was near but we were rewarded for our perseverance. These high alpine rides are so unpredictable, but so gorgeous and fulfilling that they really define what mountain biking is to me.

And it sure as hell (or should that be hail?) beats a day at the office...

The obligatory elevation graph

Monday, July 23, 2007

Pimp our ride

Well nearly 8 years since I purchased ol' blue, she's been coldly left on a lot in Boulder, CO as we finally decided enough with winters and 2WD. After looking at a lot of different SUVs, we gave in to our wants and bought a new Acura MDX. 300 horsepower, all-wheel drive and tons and tons of electronics and gadgets.

Our Billet Silver MDX with Tech Package rolled straight out of the showroom, with all of 6 miles on it when we picked it up. After about 45 minutes of gadget introduction, we rolled off the lot with big grins bidding adieu to ol' blue.

More pics and details to follow, just a quick "We finally got a new car!" post for now.

Jill is a happy girl

We've got a thing for silver cars evidently

Friday, July 20, 2007

The rest of the happenings

Its been scorching hot here for the last week or so, with only a couple of sporadic days in the 80s to ease the heat. We've been getting out early, getting out late or heading to the high country to avoid the heat. Its such a nice thing to be able to head to the high country and drop 20 degrees this time of year.

Last week I rode a couple nights, then switched it up for a ride with the Punisher one morning. An easy road ride where we gabbed more than we pushed the pace, kind of what I needed.

Last Saturday, I got up early (too early!) and headed up to Loveland to meet up with some of the Mountain High Cyclery groupies for a ride. We were supposed to ride some new trail in Lory State Park, but ended up riding Horsetooth Mountain Park as there was some sort of run going on in Lory that we wanted to avoid.

Horsetooth means big climbing, and big pain. This ride has really killed me a couple of times, as its 5 very, very steep miles to the top. The first time I rode there, I finished the ride and promptly threw up in the parking lot, that's how tough it is. While the up is grueling, the down is fun but tough in its own right. Rocks, roots and sudden drops keep you on your toes, or at least the should.

I was chasing MTBR.com's infamous The Squeaky Wheel on his shiny new 29" dual suspension Turner Sultan, when I came around an off-camber rocky drop and I was setup all wrong. I caught a big rock and endoed straight into the ground.

I picked myself up and dusted myself off. Everything was in pretty good order, but the palm of my hand hurt really bad. I had landed forcefully on a rock with my hand exposed trying to break my fall. I had some minor bleeding on the knee, but all the damage was minor. From that point on, I took it really easy the rest of the way down after that scare. The really good news is that I've either gotten better at falling or my shoulders have finally healed up enough to take some small impacts.

And its been too long since I posted a beloved elevation graph, so here is the elevation graph from Saturday's hard climb at HTMP...

Sunday Jill and I detoured from the usual course and headed to Sol Vista (north of Winter Park) for some downhilling. They are offering free lift rides this season as an attempt to garner some buzz and get their new trails packed in. They have some serious stuff, like 20 foot road gaps, but we stayed off those trails. We did a variety of blue/black trails, some of which were better than others. The big problem they have is sandy, loose corners and switchbacks that are so tight they kill momentum completely (especially with the loose conditions). But you can't beat free right? We save about $45 on lift tickets for the day, so we stopped in Grand Lake and grabbed some BBQ (which we remembered being better than it was).

The nice aspect of Sunday's drive is that we cut across Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park to get to Sol Vista. On the way out we headed up Fall River Rd to the Visitor Center then took Trail Ridge down. The highlight of the drive (other than the ridiculous scenery) was getting to see a moose and her calf on the western side of the park. Its amazing how the moose stay just west of the divide. We've never seen one east of the divide, but have seen many on the western side of the park. I've got some really terrible pictures of these two somewhere that I'll try and post up.

Other than that, just road riding at night after dinner when the temps come up. Had my 2nd flat ever on my road bike last night about 1 mile from the house. I'd say its pretty good to be on flat #2 after some 2500 miles on the road bike, I can live with a flat every 1200 or so miles...

And finally some pics from Great Sand Dunes

I don't know what the holdup has been, I've had these pics uploaded and ready to post for the majority of the week but for some reason I've avoided blogging this week. Anyway, here are some pics from our recent visit the the final National Park in Colorado that we had not visited.

14k foot peaks, sand dunes and grassy prairie make for some interesting contrasts.

Seeing the people in the bottom of this photo gives some idea just how big these dunes really are.

And the journey to the top begins, lets see how long that smile lasts

Morning light casting cool shadows on the razorbacks

Walk this way

Jill still trudging along

It looks close, but we're still a long way away

Looking back at Jill making the final push

Jill summits the peak

Geometric patterns are abundant

Jill tried to get the cardboard sled action going, but it just didn't work much to her chagrin

Jill showing off the peak that we conquered

And perhaps the most telling story, this is the amount of sand we poured of out our shoes in the parking lot. My pile is on the left, Jill's on the right.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Couple more from Black Canyon

In my overzealousness to get my blogs posted up, I missed out on a couple of my favorite pics from the Black Canyon. Jill and I drove up to the west rim of the canyon as the sunset, and luckily enough we found the park nearly deserted.

As the sun dropped below the horizon slowly, the colors of the park came alive and we were rewarded with some great shots. So here are two shots of some cool trees illuminated by the sinking sun and then a final shot of the "Painted Wall".

The Painted Wall.
If you look close, you can see what most people describe as "two dragons" in the lighter colors. This wall is the signature of the canyon.

Still working on picking out my favorite pics from the Great Sand Dunes, they should be up soon.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Mesa Verde

We got up early Friday morning, packed up camp and motored over to Mesa Verde for some more views of the cliff dwellings. We had been here before about 2 years ago, but we didn't get to see the Balcony House as it hadn't opened for the season. So this time, we'd check out the Mesa Verde signature dwelling, Cliff Palace, and then head on to the more adventurous Balcony House tour.

Cliff Palace, as seen from above

Jill cheeses for the camera

The tour trickles down towards the ruins

Jill called this the "Jill and Joel wall". She said the left side looked like her work (fast and furious) while the right side looked like my work (slow and meticulous).

The native Americans invented the photo frame many years ago.

The second part of our tour would take us to Balcony House. This dwelling isn't nearly as easily accessed as Cliff Palace. For this dwelling, you have to scale a 35 foot ladder, then squeeze through some narrow rocks for about 10 feet all to later have to crawl through two very small holes to exit. To us, it just added to the fun of it all.

In real estate its location, location, location. The Native Americans knew how to pick em.

After Mesa Verde, we found some showers (hooray!) and then headed into Durango for some lunch. As we ate lunch, a huge thunderstorm blew in which pretty much put a damper on any hiking/biking/rafting things for the afternoon so we hopped in the car and headed east towards Alamosa for the 3rd National Park in a 4 day span. Loads of pics from the Great Sand Dune National Park to come...

On to Durango

After a good night's sleep in Black Canyon National Park, we hit the road first thing headed to Durango via the Million Dollar Highway. The drive is gorgeous, albeit a bit dangerous given the heavy traffic, falling rock and huge exposure.

They don't believe in guardrails here

We ambled along, stopping anywhere we saw fit. The first major stop was Box Canyon waterfall in Ridgeway, CO. Its a unique place as the waterfall literally goes through the mountain, not over it. It was seemingly impossible to shoot with the low light, water mist and narrow slot, but I tried anyway.

We continued on past Ouray and up and over more and more mountain passes. We stopped and took pics of the various sights, which included mining operations, roadside creeks and of course, mountains.

We were now in Durango, and headed towards Mesa Verde to find a camping spot for the night. Once we got that out of the way, it was a quick hike on the Colorado Trail at Junction Creek and then dinner at Jill's favorite Steamworks. The cajun broil was as good as we remembered, leaving us with full bellies as we headed back to camp to get some sleep before rising early and heading west to Mesa Verde.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Durango or bust

We started out on a meandering path towards Durango last night. Our first stop would be a campground near Aspen. We off-roaded the Accord and somehow lucked into a spot where we could throw up the tent long enough to grab a few hours sleep.

This morning, our first stop would be the over photographed Maroon Bells area (seen above). This has to be the most popular photographic area in Colorado, and this is the first time we've ever made it there. We hit it at 6:45 a.m., just missing the really good light but still managing a couple good shots.

Then we headed off to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park which is our destination for this evening. We did a quick 2 mile hike, then headed to Montrose to grab some supplies and beat the 97 degree heat for a bit. Tomorrow morning we're headed to Durango via the Million Dollar Highway, more pics to follow. For now, here are a couple from our hike today.

Jill is always smiling when she is on vacation

Who ya got? Asthmatic girl versus worlds largest dandelion?

A view down the 2000 foot canyon to the river