11 June 2018


During ORATB last year when we were riding long stretches of gravel roads on fat tires, I got it in my head that if one were so inclined one could gravelpack a big loop, combining the two local favorites of Around the Rock and Around the Block into one aesthetic circle of the Tetons and Palisades.
ORATB and RockBlock both included the lovely Fall Creek Road.
It was an unusual thing for me to want to do because I’d already traveled every inch of the loop but the novelty was in squishing them together. I hadn’t heard from anyone who had done it before and that appealed to me too.

I looked back over previous ride stats for both loops and felt pretty okay about it. Around the Rock is a big ride, half gravel, half pavement, that cuts through the northern foothills of the Tetons then follows the entirety of the range through Grand Teton National Park. It customarily ends with a climb up Teton Pass after the rider is already good and shelled. Around the Block is a 107-mile paved road ride, although there are a couple of gravel alternatives one can seek out. When I rode it in 2014 we started the loop by climbing Teton Pass. Ironically, by combining the two routes I was able to avoid the pass altogether, which I joked was the entire point.

Frequent restock points meant we could travel pretty light; we just brought basic sleep set-ups and enough snacks to keep bonking at bay.
And so it begins. 
We set out north from Driggs at dawn on Saturday. As we meandered the back roads of Teton County I compared the experience to my 2015 Around the Rock ride. The fact that we were riding two weeks earlier than the annual group ride meant everything was much greener, there were more wildflowers, the peaks held more snow, it was a little cooler, and barely anyone was driving Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road, which can be dusty and hectic in the high season. 

Those first 70 miles to the park entrance were fine, kind of boring. We didn’t talk much and the lyrics to annoying songs eddied through my brain. I picked a lupine stalk and threaded it into my handlebar bag. We were moving more slowly than the last time I’d ridden it, but I wasn’t too worried about that, assuming we’d pick up the pace in the park by drafting. Last time I was alone without anyone to help me face the wind.
The road into GTNP was closed from one direction but not the other, and a car managed to strand itself on a big snow patch. I followed suit.
We made it to Flagg Ranch in good spirits. The resort there is interesting because it’s a hub for several long distance bike routes. We met a couple that was touring from New Orleans and a man racing cross country from Oregon to Virginia, and if we had waited a week we’d encounter Tour Divide riders heading south down the spine of the continent. At Flagg Ranch, we were strange not because we were riding loaded bikes, but because we were out for such a short jaunt.

Around the Rock, which has only a paltry amount of total elevation gain, is really not a hard route. The things that make it suck are the ever-present wind and the cumulative discomfort from so many hours on the bike. There was a light headwind through the park and we were definitely feeling it as we motored around Jackson Lake and past the Cathedral Group. I remembered why I pledged to only do ATR once: it's monotonous and uncomfortable. 
Real pretty though, if you're into big mountains, I guess.
We hid from the sun in Moose for a while and watched the stream of tourists in heavy hiking boots or yoga pants, taking selfies and talking about bears and bison. National parks are kind of the worst.

The Moose-Wilson Road wasn’t as bad as I expected, because Cy pulled my grumpy ass most of the way. We made it to the Stagecoach with little ado, ordered beer and street food, and flopped down on the grass. Fooster and Sean, who were riding downhill laps on the pass, joined us.
Perfect campsite, right next to the road but completely unbothered.
After eating we were happy not to have to face a 2,300 foot climb and instead puttered down Fall Creek Road, looking for a camping spot. All the firmly worded “Private Property—No Trespassing” signs pushed us further south until, after an unexpected long climb, we set up camp behind a gravel pile in the Munger Mountain parking lot. It was a perfect site and I slept harder than I ever have outside. I woke up after ten hours to the buzz of hummingbirds and the distant drum of grouse wings.

Traveling down Fall Creek Road in the midmorning light was lovely, albeit cold. We saw a big badger hovercraft across the road and watched him flatten his body and hiss at us from the creek bank below. Any closer and I would have been nervous of his aggressive bulk.
There was a firm headwind in the Snake River Canyon that meant instead of the fast effortless miles I expected, we were toiling on the slight downhill and I was too cold to take off my jacket. When we discovered that the gas station in Alpine was under construction I had a meltdown, convinced that the rest of the day was going to be much harder than anticipated. 

"The only guarantee on every trip is that if I say something will be easy or short or downhill, it's fucking hard," I fumed, low on blood sugar. 

Then we found a little fireworks store where I drank a restorative iced coffee and immediately felt like I could crank through the miles around Palisades Reservoir. Also the headwind mellowed, because Idaho is better than Wyoming. I was feeling good about Pine Creek Pass. Cy was falling apart because he doesn't have old lady strength, so I kept pace with him. We only wanted to present one target for the deranged drivers on the pass. I want to give a word of thanks to people in cars who see two cyclists death-hugging the shoulder and slow slightly instead of trying to thread the needle, full speed, between the riders and an oncoming RV. To everyone else: fuck you.

We turned off Highway 31 onto 9500S and moaned with relief: no more scary highway riding. The psychological repercussion of riding 130 miles at the mercy of bad drivers was even more exhausting than the physical toll of the effort.
It is just so aesthetically pleasing though.
Threading our way through quiet valley roads as the cold wind whipped at our backs for the first time all day, we were grateful to be back on the good side of the Tetons, only a little worse for wear.

05 June 2018

Polishing a Turd: Adventures in Basement Renovation

My upstairs roommate moved out in April and the pleasure of not sharing our living space made us hyper aware of the empty rooms beneath our feet, 1200 square feet of potential income separate from my pleasant upstairs existence. That’s why we started working on the basement only a couple months after finishing the upstairs. The five-year plan turned into five months.

We laid out lines of gold spray paint on the floor to evoke walls, but I couldn’t see the shape of the final product through the detritus and weird layout. I could see, however, the potential for an airy open space, with big windows that let in a surprising amount of sunlight.

The upstairs renovation made us cocky and overconfident. A couple grand, a couple weekends of twelve-hour days should be sufficient.
Cy is really good at demolition and making piles and being ruthless, so that happened quickly—sketchy walls knocked down, fetid carpet torn up, rotting drywall hauled out.

The ancient oil furnace promptly broke, of course, in the first few days of basement tinkering. It had to be replaced before we started any meaningful construction, so there went another couple grand. Electric will be way cheaper than oil, and it’s hydroelectric here, so I guess sacrificing the health of waterways is better than burning dead dinosaurs.
The job grew in complexity. Cy laid out a day-by-day plan but each task on the list took double or triple the estimated time. Carve up a cast iron tub and an absurd old wood-fired range, carry the heavy pieces out, fix all the questionable wiring the previous owner had recklessly slapped together, and then framing, and then drywalling (oh god, drywalling) and taping and mudding and texturing, activities that no sane person with a disposable income would ever take on herself rather than hiring a drywaller, but the only thing we had was time and four hands. 

So there I was, trying to help lift grotesquely heavy, brittle sheetrock over my head, or freehand cut it into appropriately sized squares to patch holes, and Cy was carrying 80 sheets one by one down the narrow stairs.

Then we were zealously mudding the ugly holes left between untidy sheets. It wasn’t pretty, none of it, but the thing about sad drywall is that once a space is painted and filled with furniture and the walls have art on them and the deep windowsills are lush with potted succulents, it doesn’t really matter. It’s insulated and fire resistant and clean.
Then Cy went to work tiling the bathroom and installing ingenious metal siding in the shower. Metal was way cheaper than plastic shower lining; frugality was the top priority in this endeavor. We recycled drywall (terrible idea), bits of lumber, leftover particleboard, faux wood paneling, paint—it was amazing.
My boss, a notorious procrastinator, was renovating her kitchen and promised me for two months that I could have her old kitchen cabinets, but with a June 1 deadline bearing down on us and no sign that she was anywhere near coming through for me, we decided to build our own out of a thrift store desk and upper cabinets and more bits of old wood. We poured another batch of concrete countertops (much smoother this time around) and Cy wrestled with the plumbing (always the plumbing).
I hope it’s obvious from the staggering laundry list of renovations that Cy did everything and had all the skills. I was there merely as a willing accomplice and a cleaner. So much cleaning, sawdust and metal dust and drywall dust and concrete dust. I lived in dust.

After the final clean we painted the floors, leftover beige in the bedrooms and a rich gray-teal in the common areas. Suddenly it looked habitable, and then Cy trimmed it out with cedar fencing (cheap) and it smelled like California after a rainstorm.
We finished on a Wednesday morning and my friend (and tenant, whoa) Carolyn was moving belongings in by the evening. The basement is a quirky space without enough storage and the light switches are in weird places and there wasn’t enough dedicated electricity to install a full range and it’s really cold, but it’s also an enormous apartment with a ton of sunlight. And it’s mine.

15 May 2018

The Inconvenience of Weight Gain

It’s finally warm here and I’m trying on summer clothes, jorts and riding shorts, sports bras, bathing suits, and everything is tight, cutting into the flesh of my back, refusing to slide past my thighs. I jiggle my arms in the mirror and study the new mottling of cellulite over my ribs. So this is what it’s like.

I have enough self-confidence to not measure my whole worth based on my weight, but it stings. After staying the same size for almost a decade, my body has rebelled in the last six months.

Why? My metabolism is probably slowing down—that’s a thing, right? My mom always said it happened at 25 so I figured I had dodged that bullet until now.

I’m always more sedentary in winter than summer, but I’m sure it didn’t help that winter started in September last year. And I was doing home renovations. Now I can finally get back to long runs and hard rides, my lifeblood and the outlet for all those accumulated calories.  

And then there was the pregnancy, I guess. I hate to blame that brief and dangerous incident, an ectopic emergency that I finally went to the ER for after waiting way too long. My stomach is sloppier now and twin scars mark the spots where my pelvic bones used to show under my skin, before the surgeon made little incisions to send a scope through my abdominal muscles and scrape out my uterus.

I still feel pretty sometimes and athletic usually. And every time I try to mentally work through how to lose the weight, I realize that’s not really my style. I hate the thought of going to any kind of exercise class or doing joyless workouts in the quest for self-improvement, instead of exercising because it satisfies and sustains me. I already have healthy eating habits. I always eat breakfast, I cook veggie-heavy meals most nights, I don’t drink soda or eat salad dressing or any of the other high-fructose Trojan horses. The unhealthy decisions I make—candy binges and two or three or five beers a night—are consciously made and improve my quality of life.

So I guess, since I don’t want to change anything, I’m stuck with weight gain. And have to find new clothes. Or just run and ride farther and faster this summer to escape the pounds. That sounds like more fun anyway.

04 April 2018

Super Gully

The other night at the bar, I got good and sandbagged by a local character who loves to climb and ski remote peaks. We were talking about Super Gully on Lost River Peak. It's a straightforward line and not difficult, per se, but the way he described it was a little facile: “You walk uphill on an obvious trail for a bit and then skin and then you boot pack, you can’t miss the line, and I’m sure you can ski all the way back to the car. It’s really popular, there will probably be tons of people at the campsite.”
That was a stretch. Bones, Dapper, Cy and I set out from Driggs, drove through Mackay, and spotted Super Gully. It was very obvious, as promised: a long wide path of snow that swept down from tall rock buttresses into a drainage out of sight. But the ascent looked dry, and steep, and long, and where there was snow it looked thin.
We turned onto a dirt road and followed it until it dead-ended at a clearing with a fire ring. Not another soul in sight. The ground was too slanted to get a good night’s sleep.
The weather the next morning was pretty ideal for a safe ascent of the southwest face: overcast, not too warm, and not too windy. We started out in running shoes and I was happy clambering up the slope despite a heavy pack. When we hit the snow line we switched to skinning and then inevitably started bootpacking at the bottom of the gully. I kind of hate bootpacking.
Instead of booting straight up we opted to thread up and around it from the south, which was maybe a little slower but certainly more interesting. It was pretty easy to kick steps in the firm snow although I was sometimes forced to wallow through unconsolidated sugar.
The pitch steepened further and I was glad I had borrowed both a whippet and an ice axe. If I fell, I wouldn’t stop sliding for a couple thousand feet. The sun teased us and the wind blew cold.
Our roundabout route did require that we traverse a shale field and it scared the shit out of me. I didn’t trust my foothold and fell a couple times, skittering down the slope and clawing my way back up, pissed off and shaking. The guys waited for me to cross. I wanted to descend from there but we decided it would be more feasible to keep going and fortunately the final push was much easier.
We quickly topped out on the false summit and gaped at the panorama of peaks before us. The Lost River Range, mostly hidden from the road, was a wide spread of towering mountains with that signature layer cake geology. To the west the Pioneers sprawled across the horizon and the Lemhi rippled on the eastern front. I love Idaho.
We didn’t sit on the snowy little landing for long. Both of my pairs of gloves were wet from ascending on all fours and I was worried about getting too cold. The drop from the top was steep, firm, and precipitously rocky to the north. The surface was chattery and my legs quaked with 5,000 feet of climbing but the snow provided plenty of grip for my ski edges.
Back in the sun at the apron of the gully, we chose a return route, knowing the skiing would be questionable. We picked our way through some north-facing trees in snow that was rotten to its core and so touchy that it kept collapsing in broad patches, plunging us under the isothermal layers. Not necessarily dangerous but certainly spooky.
Snow turned to runnels of mud and I again fell repeatedly, coating myself with mud. I cursed and removed my ski boots in a fit of pique. Once I put my running shoes on I was much happier, billy-goating down the bushy hill, following trails dotted with elk droppings, until, knees aching, we were back at the truck.
The chances of mishap on a ski tour increase exponentially with every additional group member, but the four of us made it up and down without incident. At the end I was dirty, inexplicably sunburned, and dehydrated, but gratified.
We stopped in a bar in town for margarita pitchers and burgers. The bartender asked us what the hell we had come to Mackay for, and she looked nonplussed when we said skiing. On the drive home rain began to beat on the windshield and then turned to snow in Tetonia, thick wet snow that coated the ground and caused us to groan about the never-ending winter. My gear is still muddy in the garage and I am escaping Idaho to go mountain biking this weekend. Such is life.