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:
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