23 June 2015

Around the Rock

I toed the start line for a local race on Wednesday evening but I was already thinking ahead to Saturday. Ten mile XC race? Nothing new. 155 mile road/dirt ride? Something else entirely.

The race was fine. I got third, same as last year, but managed to shave almost two minutes off my previous time, without going completely anaerobic, on the Stag, a bike six pounds heavier and with two more inches of squish than Lisa. Fitness is a cool thing.

With that race over I could direct my attention to this looming event, Around the Rock: a solstice ride that circumnavigates the Grand Teton. Figure out how to prepare for eighty miles of gravel with literally no amenities (unless you bring iodine tablets). Borrow a bike--a cheap commuter cyclocross bike from Fitzgerald's--with less aggressive geometry and a gentler gear ratio than the Deutschbike. Better to go with possible comfort than definite discomfort, I guess.
Together for the last time
Pic courtesy of Fitzy
At six-thirty we met at the shop, eleven antsy participants. Fitzy said, "I don't like to call this a 'group ride'. Think of it as more of a 'shared experience'." His words proved to be so true.

We took backroads to the hinterlands of the northern valley. The first 45 miles of navigation were tricky and while I had written a little cue sheet, I was very motivated to hang on the leaders' wheels until at least the Jackass Meadows road. We were going hard and the groups had already broken apart, but I stayed cranking in the big ring up and down rutted farm roads. The pace was unsustainable but I had a strategy: I will blow up and slow down at some point (soon) so get as far as possible with the help of others.

I was right, of course. As soon as we hit forest service roads with tough climbs and technical descents the lead pack splintered. I ate and drank pretty well but my whole body was already sending out distress signals as I jolted over the washboarded rocky dusty hot road.

On the final technical descent I felt the front tire slam the rim with a sense of finality, and then all the air was gone. I sat down on the side of the road and fixed the flat as mosquitoes dined on my sunscreen-flavored skin and all the other riders passed me by.

I tried to give chase but knew I had lost something essential in those eight minutes. Finally I reached Flagg Ranch, the end of dirt, the beginning of concessions and tourists. Some of the group was still there and I was thankful for their presence. Cyclists with heavier baggage milled around and after eavesdropping I realized we were on the Tour Divide route. Those absolutely crazy people! They do back-to-back rides like the one I was on...for weeks.

I chugged water and ate my salami sandwich and fruit leather and got on the bike again. Everyone who trickled out alone made noises about accruing a peloton and crushing the miles once we hit the park roads. I kept waiting as I struggled through the headwind, but we were too spread out--the promised peloton never materialized. Thus I spent miles 45-145 riding completely by myself, which was so, so hard.

Riding through Grand Teton National Park was crowded, but the shoulder was ample and the feeling of smooth tarmac orgasmic. Of course the park is a scenic marvel but I felt a compulsion not to stop or take pictures, and besides, a cursory Google search will yield much more beautiful images than my shitty camera can.
Seriously, it's really pretty
So I took one picture
Cletus the Crossrip in front of some big rocks
Many hours of pain later I was in Wilson, facing down the demon I had been dreading all day, all week, ever since I decided to ride Around the Rock. Teton Pass. It's not too long (six miles), it's pretty steep (2,500 feet gained), and my god it's daunting after 135 miles. I sat outside the convenience store, ate a Snickers bar and a cucumber of all things, drank a Red Bull, hid my Garmin so I wouldn't have to stare at its devastating readout of "3.5mph...3.2mph...2.9mph...", and saddled up.

Yeah, it sucked.

Then at the halfway point an angel floated up next to me with a cheerful greeting. Matthew was a friend of Fitzy who met up with us at Flagg Ranch to do a long ride and pull along anyone who was struggling. I gasped with happiness just to see someone else, and pedaled a little harder to keep him in sight. And survived! We regrouped at the top, we bombed the descent, and then he gave me the kindest gift ever: he pulled me at high speeds across the eight or so flat windy Idaho miles to the brewery. There are a couple little rollers at the end; he stomped the pedals and I, to my utter shock, answered the intensity in kind and finished 155 miles by blazing into town like it was Tuesday Night Worlds. Earlier finishers and friends crowded the lawn and cheered for newcomers. After I laid on the ground for a minute one of the shop guys handed me a pint and I sat with a bunch of friends who were full of kind words. Best part of the day.

Days later I'm still dehydrated, covered in mosquito bites, sore, and I get ravenously hungry once every three hours. I did not get sunburned, which I am inordinately stoked about. White armwarmers look nerdy on a hot day, but after using them for twelve hours of exposed high-altitude solstice sunshine, I am a convert. I also fueled and drank well; seems like I'm finally figuring that one out. I don't feel any need to embark on that particular adventure again but I'm glad I did it. All the way Around the Rock.

21 June 2015


A lot of women sense themselves turning into their mothers, experiencing that amused wince when a phrase escapes their lips and directly evokes mom. I more often find myself acting out Billisms, sometimes with delight and sometimes chagrin. The other day I was extolling to Tyler the virtues of our new barmaker (finally!), raving about her efficiency and attention to detail and that specific sort of intelligence that fits the job so well. Without looking up from his magazine he said, "It's like I'm listening to Bill talk."

My parents impressed upon me very salient lessons about quality of life, about worshiping at the altar of nature, about generosity of spirit and living with passion. They've never pressured me with bloated expectations of A Good Education, A Real Job, Grandchildren. When Bill and I used to go on our weekly long runs in the muggy rainforest of Pisgah, we'd end by soaking in a creek, him with a beer cracked, me perched on a rock because my body temperature had already plummeted. That's when we'd talk about everything and the subject of happiness came up often; he let me know they respected me for living in joy and contentment.

Bill was creating me in the image of himself very early on, giving me mountain bike lessons with utmost patience, bringing me to trail work days and participating as a mentor in youth sports (both of which I can do now in the Valley; trail work days happen all the time and the Tetons now have a high school mountain bike team). He taught me to never settle for a long bullshit commute to work, to listen to podcast compulsively (I've finally figured out how to stay informed on current events! And yes, Emily Bazelon is great.), to obsess over fine food and drink, how to work your ass off for no greater reward than personal fulfillment. In the year and a half at my job, I've battled small flare-ups of carpal tunnel syndrome, eczema, and plantar fasciitis. I found methods to beat each issue but it gave me new respect for (and incredulity of) his lifetime of manual labor.

I went through a pretty monstrous phase when I was younger. Bill sat me down once and told me what empathy was, and how it enables us to function as decent human beings in this world. I went on my wretched way but that conversation stuck with me and when I outgrew terrible tweendom, I embraced it and tried to exhibit empathy as much as possible.

Bill, I cannot adequately express your influence on me. Happy Father's Day.

06 June 2015

Ride All the Rides

May was moldering, melting, melancholic. The daily dirge of bike shop and bar small talk was always, the rain, the rain, the rain. Never torrential but perfectly timed to usurp motivation and slicken singletrack.

Tyler and I escaped to Sun Valley where it was a touch drier, a hair warmer. Busy trailheads greeted us but the usual maxim held true: half a mile in, you're all alone. The inner networks are well-signed and designed to be sustainable crowd-pleasers, but up a little higher, in a little deeper, you reach intersections where the wrong turn* has a whiff of backcountry, the essence of isolation, and you know you could pursue adventure indefinitely over ridges and into coves, on beaten-up ATV trails and through groves of blackened tree carcasses. Such is this magnificent state. The realization came that a map would be a worthy purchase, and I spread it out on the counter and drooled over it for hours.

*Wrong only in that you have a dog, a limited water supply, and a boyfriend who is anti-death march. Wisdom dictates you stick with the predetermined route.
In the burn
Back in the Tetons yet another week of rain struck us dumb and unpleasant. Then Friday brought sun. I went to work beaming, knocked out production fast, hurried home, dragged out the Stag and the boy and the dog. Backyard trails! Pass laps! The next day: hard old school trails with my boss leading and a new shop friend happily tagging along, muggy greenery and unending climbs, log obstacles and rip-roaring descents. More Pass laps in the p.m., narrowly avoiding a violent cloud burst that pressure-washed the mud off our bikes in the parking lot. Sunday: gathering a posse to ride the most beloved trail in the Valley. We all moved slowly up the climb, but after reaching the relatively low-snow resort we turned around and blasted down, scaring ourselves with daring and speed, then relaxed into the creek barefoot with beers, watching the dogs play.

Under the radar, on top of it all
The Pass
Tuesday: a group adventure ride, the organizers trying hard to shake off any recreational riders with the online ride description: "If you don't like hike-a-bike, this ride is not for you. Bring your sense of humor, rain wear, and bug dope." We loaded vans and trucks and drove way up north and east, not far as a crow flies from the northern terminus of the Teton range. Mosquitos swarmed and branches slapped our faces and only the GPS saved us (eventually) from several forays off track, but we satisfactorily navigated the undulating ribbon of old overgrown singletrack from car to car.

Successful navigation through the wilds
Today I had planned to attend a trail work day but felt some umbrage that it was on a trail within wilderness that saw no bikes and plenty of careless, destructive horse traffic. A friend invited me to go ride elsewhere and do some more meaningful maintenance by helping to clear downed trees. He strapped a Husqvarna to his back and still kept up. At two intriguing intersections we did casual reconnaissance up drainages, riding sidehill and shouting at phantom bears in the bushy creek bottoms. On the drive home I queried him about the backyard trails and in a "why the f*ck not" moment, we rode them too, to clear some more trees and so I could get a better handle on the game paths that snake through the hills behind my apartment.

The backyard
I crave novelty and variety and I feel a little envious and petulant when I encounter a blog like the wonderful revelation that is Zen on Dirt, but then I get a good reminder that this valley and this state and this region have a lifetime's worth of adventures and I feel ok about it again.