30 December 2016

Resentment

I keep relocating farther from my job. First I walked to work, then I rode a mile and a half each way, then it became three. But I still commuted by bike, all year, regardless of conditions. I only drove if it was raining or if I had to run errands or as a special treat to myself.

Winter commuting sucked. It usually made me really sweaty and really grumpy, with numb toes and a protesting drivetrain. I postholed through thigh-deep snow on the "short cut," splattered my bike and posterior with a choice blend of salt, grit, and mud, ate shit on ice, and wore holes in the crotches of all my jeans.

And yet.

I kept my riding skills extant, if not honed, all winter. I was fit enough to crash fat bike group rides and races. I didn't have to scrape my stupid windshield every day or drive nervously on treacherous roads.

But now I live six miles away, which is just long enough to bail on riding. Especially when I stay at the office until dark, and it's really cold, and I have to go to the grocery store, and the ice is too bad, and twelve miles a days will ruin my jeans even faster, and you can let excuses pile up until you haven't ridden in a month. So I rode the other day, in eight degree temps, with a sinus infection, and it absolutely sucked.

And that's why I experience irrational resentment towards people who drive two blocks to work. You don't deserve to live so close if you're not going to take advantage of it! Go live in the countryside and I will take my rightful place as a townsperson. You love the rat race! 

If you are a person who drives two blocks to work, consider yourself chastised. This applies to all.

08 December 2016

In Praise of LDS Friends

I was recently moping that my fella doesn’t like the same kind of adventures that I do. A lot of couples function as each other’s primary backcountry partner, to varying degrees. The most extreme version of the outdoor couple speaks only in plural pronouns and is always posting summit selfies, arm in arm.

With more reflection I realized that I’ve never dated an adventure partner. My college boyfriend was the one I rode bikes with the most, but he was really into “training” and I openly mocked him for it. Before I moved west I dated a guy who was pretty good for a long trail ride, but he was so cold to me and so disaffected that the fun part, the bullshitting in parking lots and at intersections, was missing.

I could never date a boy that doesn’t do things, but I also don’t need a significant other for a backcountry experience. I’m kind of a hack but I’m self-sufficient enough to fix a flat, solve a problem, navigate, and keep myself warm and fed, without leaning on a person that is committed to supporting me because of some sort of relationship contract.

Tyler rides and he taught me how to ski and tour, but we have different priorities when we go outside and the breach seems to be widening. Thus the necessity of the “let’s do something” friend, or LDS friend, with apologies to Joseph Smith.

My father was my first LDS friend; he taught me how to ride, I taught him how to run, he taught me the importance of bringing a beer for after a run, and almost every Saturday at work, we’d have the conversation: “Do something this afternoon?” “Sure.”

I think that’s what makes a great LDS friend: say yes first, plan later. Spread a map out on the table and trace a potential route. Know that trying and failing is better than not getting out at all.

I had a lot of mountain bike adventure buddies, maybe because Pisgah breeds people who want to go lasso as much territory as possible into a brutal loop, and then drink novelty-sized Dos Equis afterwards. But running is more intimate and there’s less gratification, if you live for adrenaline.

I was overjoyed to find another LDS friend in Tahoe. Rebecca Duffy and I rode the whole South Lake trail system, her on an old beater Gary Fisher, not as confident on descents but just so down. We chased ideas across Desolation Wilderness. “We should create a Fallen Leaf Rim Trail, we should connect these peaks, OK I’ll steal some chips from the kitchen if you get a wilderness permit.”

The cliché is the boyfriend ditching his chick to get after it with his bros, but what if there’s a minor gender shift? I have a new LDS friend now but going off in the woods alone with a dude can be an awkward platonic proposition. Tyler totally gets it—he knows that since he’s unwilling to do the nonsense I want to do, he can’t be possessive and he can’t stop me from playing outside or I get all sad and bitchy and hard to be around.
Fortunately my roommate is also someone who is always down, even at dawn.
Pic courtesy of Cy
Yeah, I wish I had a great LDS lady right now, but I haven’t found one yet, someone who has a wide-open schedule and goes the same speed as I do and doesn’t already have a boyfriend who fulfills all her outdoor needs.

Maybe I’m just not the kind of person who gets that from a relationship. It makes me sad, but maybe it also sets me free.

02 December 2016

OMG Opening Day


We all sit restlessly, thumbs up asses, waiting for ski season to start in earnest, building dumb little snow features off the backyard deck and proving to ourselves how deeply uncool we are. I feed the rat with long slogging wet-footed runs and we indulge in smelly hot springs and big gatherings and too much beer.

We are creatures that play outside but we forget that our moods are so reliant on the seasons, wondering where this listless apathy is coming from. We live in an oblivious sad fog until, hello, suddenly It Is Winter and Targhee, after a two week delay, gets a massive storm and starts spinning lifts and it’s dumping all day and we are all the happiest sons of guns you’ve ever met.

Opening day is usually a party scene but we’re all skiing so hard that we don’t have time or patience for beers. We are reveling in sobriety, lap after lap, hunting down those moments of flotation, snow blasting our faces, each of us starring in our own ski film with songs playing in our heads as we slow-mo through knee deep powder and yes it is early season and our bases are cheese-grated by lurking rocks but we don’t care, it’s so worth it.

No one waits for each other but it doesn’t matter because there are enough of us that you always find yourself in the (nonexistent) lift line with a friend and everyone is covered in snow and beaming.

My legs usually cry early season but the slogging runs have worked wonders and I can power through the day and ski so much stronger than I’m used to this time of year. A lot of people have quit by lunchtime to retire their noodle legs but the snow is still accumulating so on we charge.

In front of the fire at home we are all buzzing and glowing and drowsy, tempers realigned, souls rejuvenated, purpose rediscovered. Oh yes, we remember, we live here for this. We voluntarily give up stability and creature comforts and wealth for this and my god it’s so worth it.

Only took one lame picture all day because...powder

06 November 2016

These Are the Days of Miracle and Wonder

On Halloween everyone went to the Knotty and a local band performed all of Paul Simon's Graceland. It's the kind of album I forget about until I hear it and sink back into its wonderfulness. Today a line from "Boy in the Bubble" scrolled on repeat through my brain while I was running.

The November sunshine and warmth tricked me and Tyler into attempting a trail ride but the freeze-thaw resulted in greasy thick mud. It was nice enough to run though, so I rallied Cy and Patrick for a run up Taylor with the option of continuing on to Moose Creek.

The morning was cold and the ground was hardened in the shape of hikers' boots braving yesterday's mud. We pushed up to the ridge, reaching snowline and stomping steps into the suncrust. At the summit the Tetons jutted up to our north, the Palisades spread to the south, the Gros Ventre loomed impressive across Jackson Hole, the Big Holes rippled brown over Teton Valley.
Stoked dogs and snow on the Taylor ridge
Pic courtesy of Patrick
We plunged down the west face of Taylor in deep sugary snow, skiing on the soles of our feet, eating shit and laughing. Sophie and Mya porpoised through the snow, mocking our lack of grace. For those couple of miles skis would have been the weapon of choice, but then we got back to tromping through sagebrush and ankle-deep snow, with wet feet, scraped shins, and an awkward gait from all the slippery sidehill.

I kept us moving toward the idea of a trail and we finally (sort of) found it, a worn-in ribbon through the trees, primitive and plagued by blowdowns. At the bottom of the drainage it got willow-thick and moosey, then we abruptly popped out on the horses' muddy highway, Moose Creek Trail, and ran back to the shuttle car.

I am now happy to store my shoes away. I have done some really incredible runs this season and was fortunate to find a running buddy who does not appear to have the word "No" in his vocabulary. I ran through and over mountains, more for experience than exercise. I chased sunlight down the slopes of the Village, looked at the Grand from every angle, posed for pictures on summits, flushed moose from meadows, bushwhacked through bullshit, glided on ridgelines, stood in alpine lakes, and absorbed the unbelievable beauty of this range.

Days of miracle and wonder, indeed.

04 November 2016

Impressions After the First Week

On my first day at the paper we were sending the weekly paper to print. Then in the afternoon we got assignments for the next week. My workload was mellow and pretty fluffy, since I was the newbie. Community events, Teton Valley history. I churned through them, turned my articles in, dawdled on the Internet. This Wednesday it started all over again. Groundhog week.

I really like it. The novelty of being a paid writer hasn’t worn off…or even sunk in. The hardest adjustment is working in an office…eight hour days seem like such an artificial construct when I can do all my work in four hours…fortunately the editor isn’t breathing down my neck for not “working” from 9 to 5. I can leave the office whenever I want to walk around in the sunshine, get coffee, buy groceries. So strange.

The writing part is so good. Headphones on. Scrawl out the first draft in my notebook. Type. Fiddle. Cut and paste. I am good at this. I am not a procrastinator.

The challenging part is reaching out to people. I sit for twenty minutes steeling myself to make a phone call. I have to write out my questions before I talk on the phone or my mind shuts off. I feel so self-conscious having conversations in front of other people. I know it will get easier with practice.

The advantage of this office job is that as a Serious Journalist I am not required to answer the phone. The editorial department is protected from phone calls by a buffer of competent women who deal with all the administrative stuff. They make me feel safe.

I am so neurotic sometimes.

Seeing my byline feels amazing though. Regardless of the content.

24 October 2016

Doing the Desert (Briefly)

I've always been a poor and reluctant camper, mostly because I sleep like shit and I'm really picky about breakfast, but this year I slept outside more times than I had previously in my whole life, and in really cool places: Helena, Salmon, Galena, the Winds, the Caribous, Vernal. I have discovered the keys to my happiness when luxury camping, namely: throw down as much bedding as possible, buy a really nice sleeping bag, and figure out how to use a Jetboil. These all seem like obvious fixes but it took me forever. Now I sleep...better...and have grown to love the routine of pottering around in the morning, fixing my coffee and copious amounts of oatmeal while waiting for the sun to emerge and thaw my fingers. 

I still haven't figured out the desert though. 

I realized I was growing resentful as everyone in the valley planned their annual escape and asked if I was doing the same. The desert requires a healthy time commitment because it's too far away for a long weekend. I suck at taking time off work and Tyler is even worse at it. I haven't ridden any of the classic trails and I still want to, but I don't quite see the appeal, although to voice that sentiment draws scorn from all.  

But I was annoyed at everyone's travel plans, and the snow up high wasn't great and the trails down low were muddy, so I picked a spot: Vernal, UT, three hours closer than Moab and with enough riding for a couple days. 
Riding bikes where it's dry and warm
On either route, 191 or 89, the drive crosses hours of empty Wyoming nothingness and plunging canyons in the remote northeast corner of Utah. We saw pronghorns and coyotes crossing the Great Divide Basin, birds of prey watchful above rivers, obscure points of interest like the Flaming Gorge and Fossil Butte. 

We camped on a bluff above McCoy Flats. The dogs ran amok. We rode over thirty miles, covering most of the worthwhile trails in the system. They were flat and pedally with some noteworthy scenery and the occasional horizon line, the kind of rock shelf you roll up to and decide in a split second whether to brave the unknown drop or stop and walk, cursing your timidity. 
McCoy Flats: it's pretty good
On the way back north we stopped at Red Fleet State Park and were caught off guard by its awesomeness. Here the rock formations were more striking, more southern Utah'esque, evoking frozen wind-swept sand dunes or piles of whipped potatoes or (as the name indicated) red battleships and U-boats breaching the calm water of the reservoir. 
Red ships
The riding was great too, with more elevation gain yielding playful sculpted red rock and dirt trails, and even a couple jump lines. Afterwards we sat on the beach, an unexpected bonus. 
The Red Fleet State Park was devoid of people
More than anything I crave novelty so I'll keep poking around in this corner of the world, and inevitably will experience enough good desert riding to be able to form a more educated opinion.

Sophie got worked this weekend

14 October 2016

Cyclocross, Why Can't I Quit You?

I ask myself this every year.

My kids had their last race in Boise with several podiums and a couple overall state champions. Through the season we had a perfect finish rate and we saw massive progression from every team member. It was enough to warm even my misanthropic little heart.
The whole team: 400% bigger than last year
And then there was a cyclocross race five minutes down the road, and I can never say no. I've always been pretty mediocre but I keep coming back. Here is a picture of chubby Julia at her first cx race ten years ago, dismounted on the spiky side of the bike:
Throwback
In a strange burst of hubris, I registered for the Cat 1/2 race instead of Cat 3 where I belong. We all started together so it didn't matter, except that I was hyper-aware of everyone's number plate, which differentiated categories. The course was awesome, as fine as cx can be in dry hot weather: off-camber, slippery grass, awkward turns and chicanes, sharp gut-punch climbs, and tons of nasty sand. I clung to the back of the pro train for a couple minutes until I hit the deck hard around a corner. I couldn't calm down and just ride my bike for the first lap. I kept eating shit and making dumb mistakes. The leaders were long gone and half the field passed me. I got my flow back eventually and clawed back up to the front of the 3s, feeling much better and enjoying myself despite the heat and the sand and the goose egg forming on my knee. Forty-five minutes of intensity is my happy place.
Flattering ass shot: the rarest of cx photos
PC @ Matt Green
The Warbird, whose name has not yet revealed itself to me, is a wonderful cx steed, maneuverable and shock-absorbing and smooth. Such an improvement over the Deutschbike. 

I finished fourth, which was a last place in the pro field and a first in the 3s. I was a little annoyed with myself but pleased that I'm still in fighting shape.

It was fun luxuriating in the cx scene with all its dumb quirks. There were waffles and beer and hecklers and mustaches and singlespeeds, and there were also doughy men poured into skinsuits and smooth-legged men still in chamois two hours after their Cat 4/5 race, spouting their litany of excuses because it didn't go the way they wanted. The pomposity and humorlessness of cross racers is a special thing to behold.

This weekend is Moosecross, the local race and obviously the most important race of my annual cyclocross dabbling.

02 October 2016

Redemption: Gravel Pursuit 2016

People kept on asking if I was going back to the Gravel Pursuit to "defend my 90 mile title" and I kept on sheepishly saying no. There was a high school MTB race in Twin Falls that weekend. But the longing to race it again wormed into my psyche and finally (after...coincidentally?...buying a new gravel whip) I opted to race instead of watching kids race. And then the kids' race was canceled because of torrential rain, which assuaged my guilt.
This is not a picture of my new toy, but you get the idea...Salsa Warbird...she's a sweet ride.
I rode up early Saturday morning with the Smithhammers and Don. We watched the rain beat against the windshield in the dark. It subsided in Island Park, leaving only the cold and the damp.

After the controlled chaos of the first miles, sprinting and braking and dodging deep rocky puddles that spanned the width of the road, I caught the leader, Ami, who was on a full suspension mountain bike. I'm always envious of people on mountain bikes when I'm riding drop bars, regardless of utility.

The road turned up for my favorite part of the course, the long mellow climb. My pack of riders melted away, leaving just Nate and a Jackson guy. Nate organized us into a little uphill peloton, which I didn't have any strong opinions about either way. As usual, I was under the mistaken belief that the race had been decided...twelve miles into a sixty mile race. I laughed at myself for my perpetual chicken-counting.

Of course Ami and Shae caught me on the descent, blasting by with a string of fellas in pursuit. I grabbed on and we blazed through the aid station. The group disintegrated and I latched onto Ami's wheel for the second long climb, but quickly imploded. Fingers stiff from cold, I wrestled with energy food packaging, hyper-aware of not dropping trash on the course.

I pedaled ever forward in no-man's land. I glimpsed Shae's jersey behind me and knew she'd close the gap any second. It motivated me to keep a steady pace, even as cramps perched atop my quads, waiting to attack. I fended them off with a hasty banana and a handful of pretzels at the aid station, still feeling the panic of pursuit. My fellow coach Kris caught me and let me know that Shae was in the throes of vicious cramps.

Relieved, I pushed onward, just wanting to get off my bike and drink beer with my friends. I thought about how predictable and inevitable my three-hour bonk is, regardless of the activity. I always feel invincible, fast, and strong for the first two hours and without fail I fall apart. It's a result of my inability to eat and drink adequately during races and my lack of intense endurance training, but I still soldier on, hoping I'll somehow outgrow this nonsense.

So I got second, smoked by Ami and with Shae hot on my heels. I didn't flat, I didn't take a wrong turn. I was more stoked on my friends' victories than my own, which is perhaps the reason why this race is so delightful; I'm not in love with the course but the feeling of community is unparalleled.
If there's not a podium shot, did it really happen?
Pic courtesy of JayP
The Petervarys put on another stellar event. Eric showed a ton of goodwill and patience by doing the timing again. Gary won the 120 mile, surprising himself more than the rest of us, and his narrative of the tough race proved he really did deserve the win. Nate put thirty minutes on me after we climbed together and got a top ten finish, despite having dedicated his summer to the kids' team. The rest of my friends and teammates all had strong finishes and spirits were high at the Pond's Lodge on Saturday night. 
The sun came out and we had a solid tailgate session while awaiting Gary's finish.
Pic courtesy of Nate

08 September 2016

The Magic Loop: My Introduction to Bikepacking

The only time I've ever gone quasi-backpacking, my then-boyfriend chided me for walking too fast. He said it defeated the purpose. The only time I've ever gone quasi-bikepacking, I ran out of water and lay awake all night plagued by biting flies.

Bikepacking is very trendy in Teton Valley. Schedules finally align so that I can tag along for a weekend trip with Bruce and Kat, experienced outdoorsfolk who promise to be patient with my incompetence. Nan and Erica outfit me with all the necessary gear. The southern Big Holes are beset by fire so I pick a different mountain range and the Smithhammers, with some fine map-reading and a little social media stalking, create the Magic Loop.
Our playground: Caribou National Forest and the Palisades Reservoir
We disembark and I immediately have to fiddle with my entire set-up--this is rubbing that, this is cumbersome, that is rattling. Bruce says that every bikepacking ride starts this way: "derping and dicking around." It becomes a theme of the trip.

I am tentative on the heavy Krampus at first, but it feels so content fully-loaded. In its natural state. It works well all weekend, except when shifting from the big to little ring. That requires five minutes of murmured incantation to the drivetrain gods. We pedal for awhile and then turn up a seasonal road and begin climbing. Roadie Julia could happily climb on this road forever: butter smooth surface, perfect grade, big views.
Cruising through deciduous trees=eternal happiness
All pictures kindly provided by Bruce
We descend the other side and pass parked RV behemoths, fat people and children in ATVs, the little metal trailers where shepherds sleep. We pass a riverbank flooded with naked sheep and a watchful Great Pyrenees assesses our threat, bays once, remains at rest.

After reaching our goal for the day, we convince ourselves somehow that there is a marina down the road, perhaps with a shop that sells beer to thirsty boaters. Kat and I decide to investigate while Bruce moseys up Bear Creek to fish. We pedal farther than expected and find a boat ramp and a campground but no other amenities. Foiled! We go down to the beach, eat snacks, touch the moist sand where the reservoir has receded during the season. Maybe we can pedal the tiered shoreline around to a shortcut and skip some of the road. It is surreal riding, choosing the widest and most stable tier, the sand crumbling under our tires, the smooth pebbles rainbow colored. No one has ever ridden bikes here. The shore steepens and we decide to be smart instead of adventurous. My IT band begins to hurt on the ride back to camp, but a few minutes of singletrack soothes it.
Camp and a pile of calories
We eat food out of little cups and talk about that which sustains us: love, careers, adventure. After dark I hear smashing through branches. I'm frozen under my tarp, ears perked, wondering if a bear has found our food cache strung up in a tree. In the morning Kat says it must have been a moose--too loud and clumsy to be a bear.

We spend all morning making slow progress up the Bear Creek drainage. Infinite redundant creek crossings and beaver dam navigation. Thwacking through claustrophobic willow and cottonwood groves calling, "Hey bear!". Climbing and descending narrow slate shelves above the creek, sometimes tripod-ing on the unreliable slope. Every time we begin to doubt our path, a signpost appears to give comfort. We consume enough calories to maintain a positive outlook.
Bear Creek
At the source of Bear Creek, the Loop, sensing our fatigue with rough travel, bestows upon us fast miles of perfect gravel through a vast basin. It is a playground for motoheads, criss-crossed by dirt tracks and surrounded by mountains. Big and little raptors coast on thermals and fly mating dances and swoop into the brush.

We climb out of the basin, growing concerned that we might have to dry camp, worrying about the dark clouds hurrying in from the west. Then the Loop provides a sheltered campsite next to a brook. At night it pours rain and I scooch around under my shelter, waiting to get wet. I never do. In the morning I examine the tarp--soaked and plastered in pine needles. Little piles of hail dot our campsite. I marvel at modern camping gear.

We pedal to Caribou City, an abandoned mining town, then hit singletrack, alternating between fun descents and wallowy, horse-stomped climbs out of muddy drainages. We snack and admire the views and then start a trudging hike-a-bike (the Krampus growing heavier with each step) but then Bruce and Kat double check the Loop so we backtrack and descend instead, forever and ever, down an open, mellow drainage with deeply saturated fall colors under an indecisive sky.
Delightful downhill
We agree it is one of the finest days ever spent on a bike. But we are miles from the truck, and want to avoid riding the busy highway back to Alpine. The Loop again provides, with dirt roads that turn to powerline cuts that turn to cow paths meandering along the Salt River, finally delivering us into an empty subdivision a quarter mile from our desired turn-off. We change at the truck and hightail it to the closest bar. I wash my face in the bathroom and try to absorb the weekend.
A solid crew
It is loud in my house but I go lay in the grass outside, feeling like I'm underwater. Bikepacking wiped my slate clean, pressed refresh in some essential way. The dull roar of my thoughts relented to a quiet whirring in the background. It is so thrilling to know you can travel out in the woods, carrying all you need, and just exist. You can't pack along your job worries or money troubles or crushes or grievances because you need to leave room for your headlamp and instant coffee and trowel. It feels primal and simple and good.

I am about to spout my revelations to my roommates when I realize: everyone who has ever gone backpacking already knows this. I'm just late to the game.

I am already hunting through gear websites for my own set-up.

29 August 2016

Endurbro: So Fun It Should Be Illegal

I felt really good on Day Two. Relaxed, calm...not exactly resigned to failure, but accepting of it. There were only two stages: Rock Garden to Otter Slide, then a quickie down Chutes and Ladders.
Tram Bar Gun Show
Rock Garden is steep, rutted, chunky, chossy, dusty. It's not very technical but it's ferociously rough, gobbling up brake pads and tires and turning your hands into stiffened claws. The other two trails are straightforward flow trails with tiny tabletops and fun berms.

I had my best run ever down Rock Garden. Digging deep and pushing hard distracted me from the harshness and the leg burn. Somewhere up there I fell completely under the sway of the Fuel, front derailleur and all. Sure, it climbs like a sullen camel and chatters like a sorority girl on Adderol, but it devours bumps and sings on switchbacks. Those chubby tires made me feel fast and confident.
Exhibiting good-ish form for the first time in my life
I finished the first stage, rode the quick transition, and sent it down the final track. I had wings. I had a perfect race. Everything went right.
I was smiling this hard the whole time
And I placed fourth. But I couldn't even muster up a bit of resentment. I rode as fast as I could. Those ladies were just way faster.

I checked on friends' results. Two of my kids from the team placed high in the junior categories, Gene got fifth in a stacked field, and Derrick smashed his way down the mountain and won the pro race off the couch.

I ended the day riding a party wave downhill with a bunch of boys, sprinting to keep up with them, cornering recklessly, blinded by dust, whooping and beaming. We finished in a train in view of the awards ceremony, just as Derrick was accepting his medal. We made a huge ruckus, to the amusement of the spectators.
Hanging with Team Junkshow and Sick Nick
I rediscovered my mojo this weekend. Sometimes all it takes is a profoundly mediocre finish.

27 August 2016

Last Minute Racing, Part 23

My downhilling mojo got lost somewhere in the garage and my running stoke has been unquenchable, so I wasn't going to race the Targhee Enduro this year. And then I was like, "Maybe." And then I was like, "Definitely not."

On Tuesday I pretended I was a competent bike mechanic. I successfully greased my pivots and unsuccessfully modified my rear suspension. Changed a flat. Gave up on the Stag and felt morose.

On Wednesday the course was released. It was very pedally and featured some choice descents. I made yet another 180 and registered. A cheap entry from Kate's Real Food made the decision easier.

I didn't want to deal with the minor hassle of getting the Stag race ready. I reached out to Fitzy's in hopes of borrowing a 27.5+ bike and Derrick graciously set me up with a Trek Fuel. Given my hot and steamy love affair with plus bikes (Salsa Pony Rustler and Rocky Mountain Pipeline) I figured the Fuel would get me jazzed and keep me upright on the dusty, blown-out corners of Targhee.

I did a couple pre-rides and the persnickety voice in my head wouldn't shut up. These hubs are pitiful. The drivetrain is so loud. My calves are rubbing the swing arm. Why would a dropper post only have 125mil of travel? WHAT THE FUCK IS A FRONT DERAILLEUR?!?! 
It looks pretty dang good though.
I was spoiled rotten with a sturdy, quiet, low-frills, high-end sexy beast of a bike. But I fiddled some more with the squish and reminded myself to stop riding like an asshat and then the Fuel and I started getting along.

The enduro start was much cooler than last year and the women's field bunched together under blankets at the top of the lift as we awaited our start. I was so glad to have a decent-sized field. We laughed and jumped up and down and spouted out the cheerful self-deprecation one always hears on a ladies' start line.

On Sticks and Stones I cleaned a line I've never attempted before, a techy root drop that wouldn't give me pause on a normal trail but for some reason gets me clenched at the resort. Because, you know, people with full faces and double crowns ride here. I let out a quiet exultation and finished the stage. smooth and fast.

We went straight to the climb this year. I felt wonderful. I wore a shark's grin as I chomped down Skittle-colored boys climbing slowly. Another ripping, flawless descent down 38 Special, my legs crying as I punched it out of every awkward switchback.

Hoping to keep ahead of the bros, I immediately started the Mill Creek descent and entered into full-on flow mode, reacting to obstacles and hauling ass with clear vision. The Fuel grabbed the trail in a vice grip and refused to let go.

I finished Day One exuberant but knew better than to count any chickens, given my abrupt and thorough humbling last year. The results popped up on the screen--I managed a last place on Sticks and Stones, a first place on 38 Special (such an XC geek), and a third on Mill Creek. Solid mid-pack. Upon further perusal, I realized that all of the pro women finished within a minute of each other, which got me all fired up again. It's so thrilling to be in the mix in such a strong, competitive field!

Tomorrow is a short day with a rough, purely downhill stage, so I know I'm not going to beat any of these ladies in their domain, but I raced my absolute best today and have no regrets.

11 August 2016

Oh, Brevard

I took one of my older notebooks to Asheville, and I flipped back through it while sitting in the human warehouse that is the Atlanta airport. I found this paragraph, written probably six months before I moved to Tahoe:

I want to flee, I want to devour this place in massive gulps. It's on the brink of something big, a tipping point. As people and companies gravitate here, I am moving in the opposite direction, fighting the tide of naysayers. Sometimes I go for runs and it's the most beautiful heartbreaking thing, and sometimes I just sit in the house, sulking and lonely.

The restlessness and sadness that I felt in my last year in Brevard came rushing back as we drove down 280. This is the land where clothes never dry, where condensation frosts the windows all day, where cicadas sing, where my hair poofs into an unmanageable greasy halo, where the air folds you into its hot wet embrace. It is the land where effete hipsters and rabid cyclists coexist with tenth-generation southerners, high school dropouts smoking cigarettes inside their battered cars, walrus people waddling through the grocery store, tiny seniors driving erratically as they peer through the slots in their steering wheels.

My every molecule has been imbued with the smells and sounds of Brevard and Pisgah. I ran and rode some of my favorite trails and the toxic emotions ebbed when I was in the woods. It rained off and on the whole time and even when the sun was out, pushing through wet rhodo tunnels left me sodden, and the roots and rocks had a patina of grease, but I remembered the body English necessary to stay upright.

I was in town for Gaskin's wedding. I haven't attended enough weddings to be jaded, and I knew hers would be full of sincere love and good people. The-Bill-Formerly-Known-As-Baker was in New Hampshire visiting my grandparents and I missed our rambling conversations. Other than that I touched bases with just about everyone I wanted to see, and more remarkably didn't see anyone I didn't want to see, which is nearly impossible in Brevard. It seemed that all my best friends were thrashing around in their own deep ruts, similar to the one I had climbed out of. They've outgrown Brevard and Asheville, are questioning their trajectory, are losing touch with old friends. But they each inspired me with their pursuits: Morgan is leaving to get a masters at NYU; Alexis is running an amazing non-profit; Joh is being the world's best mother; Ella is travelling extensively; Cortney is taking ownership of her own happiness.
A wonderful wedding
This place, these mountains, were crack to me for so long. It pulsed through my veins and dragged me back from college, from trips, from ambition. I finally drove west four years ago and it was a clean break. I still love Brevard but I'm no longer addicted. I stepped off the plane in Idaho and it was dry and windy and beginning to smell like fall. Here is home.

11 July 2016

Sophie Goes For A Run

Plans have been hatched to run the mythically beautiful Paintbrush to Cascade Canyon but the forecast is grim. Sunday morning dawns with a cloudburst so the plans are scrapped in favor of a loop closer to home: Devil's Staircase to Alaska Basin, from Teton Canyon. This loop, despite entering the heart of the Tetons, does not cross into GTNP, so Sophie is invited along.

She whines with excitement at the trailhead where she usually gets to go on bike rides, but the car keeps going, to end of the road. The rain has dispersed into mist. She runs in front of the people, through vegetation that towers over her head and showers condensation on her. They climb the Devil's Staircase and it looks like some Scandinavian brochure porn--gloomy skies and miles of exposed granite and tiny brilliant wildflowers.

The Teton Shelf is high and lonely and bare except for low-growing grasses. The rain begins in earnest. Sophie trots along to the cadence of cold wet, cold wet. She hates rain and darts under boulders, which offer little shelter. Her sullen ears are pressed against her head. The people stop at what must be a lightning strike: a deep scar in the earth, rocks charred. Just then the thunder rumbles. Spooked, they run faster. Sophie, who mostly depends on sight, sees brown lumps in the distance that make her uneasy. Bear or rock? She cagily approaches. The people laugh at her.

They leave the shelf and descend hewn rock switchbacks into Alaska Basin. Sophie spots a fat marmot and chases it over a horizon line. She finds herself on a ledge with six feet of cliff above and below her. She barks a little and roots around in the hole into which her prey darted. The people have to rescue her, to their annoyance.

They stop in a little cove and eat food and complain about how cold their hands are. Sophie's person feeds her kibble. Alaska Basin is all green green green and granite slabs and rushing water. The descent is long and rough and wet. Sophie has to cross more cold streams than she would prefer.

They enter dark woods and she senses something. Around a switchback a bull moose appears and she chases it as her person screams at her. It runs away instead of stomping her face. Lucky dog indeed.

The loop is longer than a quick map estimate implied, and it's raining harder. The people run stiffly, hoods up and fists clenched, but Sophie maintains her light, smooth trot. She sees hoof prints in the mud and hopes to encounter the moose again.

They finally reach the car and her person towels her off. At home she deigns to play with her roommate Kaha for a bit, but when he gets too amorous she goes in her room and curls up in bed, a warm and tired little dog.

06 July 2016

A Painstakingly Thorough Cataloging of All Emotions Experienced During a Static Peak Run

Excitement
I was buzzing at the Death Canyon trailhead, hopping up and down after the long drive. We had a solid crew of six, friends from both sides of Wydaho. Everyone was tying shoes and buckling packs and smearing on sunscreen and I wanted to RUN! 

Pics courtesy of Erin and Cy
Nostalgia
The miles passed in a blur. The smell of shale and serviceberry and pine needles and the feeling of sweating and running and power walking up loose pitches was so evocative of Tahoe, but the landscape was so unlike Tahoe, thick with rampant greenery, forested to 10,000 feet, ice cold melt feeding the stream that rushed through the canyon. 

Impatience
Our group had varied paces and I waited a lot. Somehow it was not too terrible, lying on a rock in the sun over some incredible vista, eating Oreos, unconcerned by the usual worries of temperature, time, or daylight. 

Hubris
Patrick, a freelance marketer for cool companies, commented that I could net a lot of free gear with my athleticism, my blog, and some more effort on the social media front. My ego puffed up like an airbag but quickly deflated. I have such conflicted feelings about social media and smartphones and the commodification of image. On one hand, I'm as much of a narcissist as anyone and would love the constant validation of having a real following, and the pleasure of possessing some good images of myself doing quasi-cool things. On the other hand, I feel like enough of a compliment-fishing dork sharing my blog, and feel uneasy with the emptiness of documenting every experience to further promote yourself instead of existing in the moment. I could write a treatise of indecision on the topic. 

Awe
I couldn't go five minutes without stopping and, with a manic grin, throwing my arms wide to absorb every bit of beauty. What an amazing world we live in. 

Joy
Cy and I were moving faster than the rest of the group so we opted to summit Static before the questionable clouds to the west shut us down. The views from 11300ft prompted from me a string of joyous profanities. After luxuriating in the panorama and taking pictures with American flags (that social media thing...) we picked our way back down to the saddle to hide from the wind. Our gang caught up and the skies cleared so we decided to rally for a second summit. Just as wonderful. 

Pride
I was peeing the whole day. This denotes unprecedented levels of hydration, even after I dug myself into a hole racing bikes and drinking in the sun the day before. 

Smugness
The final homeward stretch was clogged with couples and families going out for a holiday weekend hike. I sprinted past, uttering pleasant "Howdy!"'s and less pleasant "Scuz me!"'s when the groups blocked the trail like oblivious cattle. I felt so much cooler than them, dusty limbs and stripped down gear instead of wicking polos, Crossfit attire, and hulking overnight packs. But pausing at the gorgeous Phelps Lake overlook, I had to adjust my stupid localler-than-thou attitude. 

Gratitude
Hundreds of thousands of people come here to this sacred and breathtakingly beautiful place, traveling long distances in cars and planes to spend time in the stoney embrace of the Tetons. I live forty minutes away...ten as the crow flies...and I take it for granted too often. I can't wait to spend more days in the park, getting slapped in the face with majesty. 

27 June 2016

Adventure is the Correct Nomenclature

I'm a broken record. I again toed the line at Cache Creek and again got third and again my thoughts were on the weekend. As a sponsor of the Teton Ogre Adventure Race, Kate's Real Food got a free eight-hour entry so I signed up on a whim, without a plan or a partner. J9, also in need of a partner, called me up with two weeks to go and we were in.
Claiming my customary third place at Cache
Pic courtesy of JHCyclng
During the Cache race I distracted myself from choking on fast ladies' dust by listing all the bike racing genres I've participated in, with varying degrees of success (and consent): XC, DH, enduro, super-D, short track, 4X, dual slalom, road, criterium, ITT, TTT, alley cat, cyclocross, gravel, six hour, twelve hour, twenty-four hour...but never an adventure race.

Sam and Jordan from The Hub were in town and their talk of PMBAR was a good reminder of why I never did that. Too scared. Eighty miles of Pisgah, Eric Wever's special brand of sadism, and the occasional wooden nickel were a surefire recipe for an emotional breakdown. But I wasn't too worried about the Ogre. We learned on Thursday that the venue was Grand Targhee so the biking would be straightforward and the trekking would be improved by less than horrendous bushwhacking and plenty of big obvious points of reference.

J9 and I dispensed with the ride quickly after only a couple of small missteps on my part. It was really easy terrain and we both know the Rick's Basin network well enough to fly through intersections. At two hours in, I thought we were being so fast and clever that we might take the win. Typical me. Counting every possible chicken. At the transition area we saw the bikes of Evan and Becca, leggy goddesses, which meant they had crushed us on the ride, and Erin and Jen, adept navigators, finished right after us. My expectations immediately righted themselves. We swapped gear and started walking up, and up, and up. We climbed from the base to the top of the resort and it was the finest piece of earth I've ever traveled on, a narrow path through wildflowers then up onto shale ledges with a precipice on one side, climbing a knife edge with the Tetons looming. I was dying to run but J9 was feeling some back pain and isn't a runner anyway.
Stoke levels were sky high all day long
Pic courtesy of J9
We dropped to Mary's saddle, catching a couple of fortuitous checkpoints, and climbed back up steep chunk to the summit of Peaked. We grabbed another checkpoint on the slushy remains of Burton's halfpipe, then stopped for lunch and a powwow. We were making good time and feeling way better than expected but we still decided to skip three points that seemed out of the way, instead plotting a route to chase five points in the direction of the base. I wish we had pushed for a couple more but we played it conservatively.
The halfpipe checkpoint...eighty degrees and a thirty foot wall of snow
Pic courtesy of Jen
The rest of the checkpoints required much more off-trail travel and use of J9's altimeter as well as a little luck and a sharp eye. We followed innocuous-looking contour lines down into creek beds and up thickly treed slopes. It reminded me of tromping around Desolation Wilderness with Rebecca Duffy, peering quizzically at the map, debating the merits of drainages versus ridgelines, and forsaking the trail, but in Desolation our reward was usually a crystalline lake cupped high in stone buttresses instead of blaze orange squares flapping provocatively in the shadows of yet another fir or aspen. It felt zen at times, moving slowly through undergrowth and steep off-camber choss, staring ahead trying to catch sight of a flag based only on vague hints ("downed tree" "bush on side of spur") and map coordinates.

A sight that brought so much joy
Pic courtesy of Jen
I would have liked to move a lot faster and run whenever possible but it was nice having plenty of energy and mental acuity at the end, when I could have been a stumbling basketcase incapable of reading a map. We finished with a generous time margin and discovered that our friends had grabbed all the points. We still got third in the women's duo category, but we're already planning our 2017 attempt, where we want to combine what was already good teamwork with better fitness and navigation. The entire event was flawlessly organized. (I won't even go into the daunting logistics of the 24-hour sufferfest but suffice to say: heroic.) Abby and Jason are world class adventure racers who want to expose more people to their passion and they created an eight hour course that was both challenging and accessible.

The view from Peaked
Pic courtesy of Jen
My main take away from the Ogre, as I unlaced my beloved Inov-8s and rubbed the dirt off my calves, was an intense longing for the big days on foot that I used to enjoy: the Shut-In, the Art Loeb, Heptapeak. Fortunately I live in the perfect place to pick up a map and get deep into the wild. Next weekend's plans are already being hatched.

23 May 2016

Twelve Hours of Disco, Give or Take Ten

I've been craving novelty all year so I got a wild hair to do a new event, Twelve Hours of Disco in Salmon. I was lucky to find three guys who agreed to join my team with minimal arm-twisting: my always-intrepid housemate Alex, friend and pub regular Eric, and random kid I met skiing, Cy.

The forecast was dismal so we crammed the Subi with as much precipitation prophylaxis as possible and rolled out Friday afternoon. The venue is a pit surrounded by sagebrush hills and moto tracks. I slept warm and dry under a rainfly and canopy but the outlook was grim in the morning. Bike tires packed up with gritty mud on the trip to and from the johns and big mean storm clouds threatened. The start was postponed and postponed again. It finally got underway at 9:30 and Cy with his jammy pack and seven inch bike fought his way off the start line. I warmed up and waited. A lot of guys went off course and showed up twenty minutes early. Bummer. Cy came in late because he'd backtracked instead of cutting the course. 
At least my fender game was on point
All pics courtesy of Vivian, awesome team cheerleader and photographer
I took off and mashed as hard as possible. Fastest lap time was on the line and I really wanted it. The course was nondescript, a ribbon of dirt meandering up and down. I was wary of letting loose on the smooth descents because the trail was hemmed in by tiny cacti with vicious quills. 

The wind roared and rain fell as I finished. When Alex wasn't astride his bike in the transition zone I knew the race was on hold. While I was changing out of my wet muddy gear the skies opened and the officials made the call--no more Disco this year. 
Thanks to GTBC for keeping us dry AND well-lubricated
We had a decision to make--pack up our sodden belongings in the rain or start drinking and hope for the best. Fortunately the Teton Tailgaters opted for the latter. Alex and Eric were good sports about not getting to ride. It was a long pleasant day of draining kegs, playing dress-up, standing around the fire, hiding from cloud bursts, and eating food cooked by the Pocatello crew (the hardiest partiers of all). 
Teton Valley's finest 
When the sun came out, the costumes did too
 The next morning showed much more promise. The local shop owner gave us a guide book and directed us to a fast-drying ride north of town. We climbed out of the drainage on a mellow mining road and contoured the velveteen hills on a half track covered in elk droppings and balsamroot. The descent was a dream, alternating between alpine choss and forested loam.

Riding bikes in Salmon does not suck
Pic cred: Cy, who takes beautiful pictures for a living
The radiator on the Subi was leaking and gave off an artificial maple syrup smell so we loaded her up with goop and coolant and headed south to find a much-ballyhooed hot spring. We hiked up a canyon to reach the cascading warm pools overlooking the rocky landscape. An hour of soaking made me sluggish and happy but time waits for no man; we had to get back to "real life" at some point. The drive home was fueled by sour candy and punctuated by radiator checks.

Goldbug Hot Springs: not your usual riverbank cow puddle
I love exploring the playgrounds of Idaho and driving through its vast empty country beneath unfathomable skies. We chased huge curtains of rain into the valley and the Tetons glowed pink and azure. What did I do to be so lucky, going out to play with people who are down for adventure and then coming home to this arresting place.