Saturday, May 25, 2013

Trail Ridge

It's a week out from Dirty Kanza and it just so happens to be opening day of Trail Ridge road, going across alpine tundra in RMNP, climbing above 12,000'. I had to get a "if I can do this, I can do that" ride in to tell my head and legs that 200miles of gravel roads in Kansas won't be impossible next Saturday. A 70mile out and back with 9'000'+ climbing was what I ended up with. If anything, I'll surely have more red blood cells when I pedal myself around the Flint Hills. Here's some photos from the day. I went out to Milner Pass (the Continental Divide) and back.
getting higher, the lodgepoles get smaller and the snow gets...

Alpine Visitor center not quite ready to open
Thank you John Deere and the park service. closed.
taking a leak at 12'000ft
there was a bit of a drop on some stretches
Two years ago
Same place. Today.

Monday, May 6, 2013

In good, albeit relaxed hands

I've been mountain bike racing for about 7 years now, really getting into the sport when I moved to State College, to go to... you guessed it, college. It wasn't until last weekend that I got proper skills coaching. Sure, there has been many a conversation, often strained on my end, about "flow" or how "technical" a trail was, or what line is best, but never much about how I should be riding. All subjective, not much underlying truth to any of it. The shop team I used to race for was backed by some pretty damn solipsistic dudes, so there was no way I was getting any feedback from them (not that they were the ones that had the know-how to be giving). The common philosophy among the riding scene I was in was that the more you rode, the better you got. Never mind if you're doing things all wrong. Just keep beating your body up, throw that bike around that may or may not fit you, pedal and contort yourself in awkward ways until you get to the end of the ride in a faster time.

To be honest, it worked. To a certain extent. I've certainly become a better rider over the years and can tackle some pretty gnarly stuff, so I suppose I figured some skills out on my own.

What this past weekend did for me was confirm what I've been doing right, bring in best-practices from other exercises I already knew, and demystified a sport that pretty much gets on because of it's mystification.

I showed up to the last day of a two-and-half-day NICA coaches summit as a prospective coach without a team really. I'm hoping to have some involvement with the local high schools team here in Estes (not my school), but who knows how things will unfold this summer. The summit was a bit chaotic but when Lee McCormack was making a point it all made sense.

It's all just physics after all.

And poof. There goes the shroud of mystery.

Fancy that. You should keep your weight on the pedals and should match that thing that is meant to roll to the angle of the terrain. Keep loose hands and eyes where you want to go. And with these and other simplifications NICA is creating a whole new generation of mountain bikers. Hell, a whole new crop of cyclists. Ones that better know how to use that beautiful machine known as the bicycle and better interact with the world they ride.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

steep pitches

My girlfriend, her son Sergio and I were driving on the Northeast extension of the PA turnpike last week. As we approached the Lehigh Tunnel I asked the 5yr old in the backseat if he thought we'd go over, around or through that mountain we were approaching. Not one to be easily fooled, he guessed correctly that we'd be going through it. It became a game as we drove around Pennsylvania that week.

It's not unlike my past few weeks. I've come across several steep pitches in my life and had to figure out if I'd be going over, around, or through them. Often case I didn't have a choice.

On March 4th I lost my 90yr old grandfather Frank, patriarch of a far reaching family, and apogee of human life. Well into his eighties he was playing tennis and maintaining the grounds of the house he built and raised his nine children in. He's missed and it is a loss that I'm still navigating. It seems that this is one climb worth going up and over. There is no short cut, like a tunnel, to cut through loss like this. Frank certainly wouldn't take a short cut, and so, we figure out day by day how to move on and up.
2,100 miles of the AT was no challenge compared to Frank's tough handshakes
I flew home that week to be with family and find much needed support. Any weekend travel away from this school I work and live at is stressful. It affects the rhythm of your week, both preceding and following, it wears you down, and stresses you out. At least it does for me. So when I got back to Estes at 2am Monday morning, I wasn't looking forward to the ten hour drive I'd be making that Friday to race in Utah.
Long hours of travel require a lot of shifting
True Grit was on the docket. A race neither my body or my bike were prepared for. An inconsistent winter limited any sort of technical trail riding, my cumulative sleep was less than optimal, oh yea, and my rear brake looked like this:
Did I mention that I haven't been riding this bike? Hence the major oversight just before my first big race of the year. I lacked the time or bleed kit to fix it so Thursday night I went to bed telling myself "it'll be fine. it'll work after it's pumped some". Little did I know, there was enough air in the hydraulic system to create an atmosphere around the moon. No amount of pumping was going to firm up this brake. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
2.4 up front/2.25 in the back
On the positive side, wheels were trued and a fresh and trusty Maxxis Ardent was put on the rear Stan's wheel. 
Rothrock, I miss you. 
Ten hours later via a rental car I could barely get out of Ft Collins (Thanks Bill!), I was sweating in the incredible desert landscape of southwest Utah. St. George was bigger than I expected, the trails were harder than I anticipated, and the rear brake functioned, but just barely. This weekend was full of surprises. Money was spent and hundreds of lonely miles were driven: I was committed. This steep pitch had no way around or through. Or so I thought. Get a quick ride in, go eat some Mexican food, set out your drop bags, and try to get some sleep in the back of the car. 
cozy accommodations for two nights
We had a delayed start for the race, because apparently the rising of the sun hasn't yet become an exact science in Utah and the intended start time was in the dark. Those first few hours of dawn were far too short and all my previously mentioned sources of whining were soon combined with desert heat.
Lines are set for 2013
Ok, enough with the excuses. I brought a gift horse to a knife fight, or whatever the saying is. I got 60 painful miles in, came to an aid station ten minutes from the car that I needed to sit in another ten hours to drive back that night, and bailed.
at days end but long before driving was done
Some steep pitches are simply worth going around. 

The drive back was perhaps tougher than the race. Darkness so dense that I imagined myself driving through east coast forests dropped before I could get out of Utah. I grabbed some energy in Grand Junction and kept pushing, deciding to sleep a few hours once I got into Glenwood Canyon. Driving though the dark on the other side of three hours of sleep wasn't the safest thing I could've been doing. Getting through the fresh snow that fell on Loveland Pass wasn't easy either. 

Fast forward a month and even more snow on those slopes. I was back in PA digging in my grandparents garden with Sergio when I learned about Rick. My neighbor, my friend, my riding buddy, and the guy who only months before taught me all about the volatility of Colorado snow has been killed by it. When I got back to Estes this past weekend I hugged a young widow and a mother who has outlived her son and have woke up every morning unable to make sense of it.
  looking back
These have been some steep pitches. Physical and emotional. They make it hard to justify riding my bike for most of the day or find the motivation to want to. I think they also come during a time of transition for me. Similar to what Geronimo wrote recently in Dirt Rag. I'm moving away from the intensity of racing and need to find enjoyment in simply riding again. I don't have the emotional reserves to put into it this year. Dirty Kanza is less than a month away. Hopefully I can build some back up by then.