19 June 2017

2017 Teton Ogre 8-Hour Adventure Race

Abby, the race director, emailed me late on Monday evening:

“There are still a few hours left to sign up for the Ogre. We extended registration through tonight. The course is full of adventure biking- you'd crush it. Just sayin'. Here's a code for 50% off for you and your teammate if you wanna do it.”

I had been waffling hard and had decided against it, but apparently I could be easily swayed by some ego-stroking and a discount code. I registered and bullied Cy into joining without too much trouble.

I wanted to go for a run on Wednesday and I wanted to cover some unfamiliar ground and increase our shot at knowing where the Ogre was. I suspected that the top of Pine Creek Pass could be the venue—on the map there was a tantalizing expanse of land criss-crossed by ATV and pack trails, and there was plenty of parking.

I traced out a little loop south of the pass and we ran it, steep powerline to undulating ridgeline to an incredible descent through balsamroot meadows and lodgepole groves, the Grand prominent far to our northeast. It would’ve been the ideal bike ride and I pledged to get back there ASAP to ride it, maybe the day after the race if I was feeling spicy. Abby and Jason had set the course earlier that week and I kept an eye out for the flags, hoping to get some confirmation of my suspicion, but didn’t see any.
The most important tool
When we checked in and got our maps on Friday, I unrolled it…saw the Teton-Bonneville county line snaking across the middle…let out a whoop. I was right! And, upon further inspection, I realized there were three bike checkpoints on the fun loop. I was utterly delighted. What were the chances?

Cy and I plotted the points and then spent the rest of the evening obsessing over route choice, debating the order, talking contingencies. Last year I had been surprised that all of the top teams cleared the course (found all the CPs) so I decided that was our only option. Plus we move pretty damn fast, running and biking, so I knew the navigation would be the crux.

It rained through the night and the morning was chilly and wet with heavy clouds that never released their burden. Twenty-six teams poured off the start line heading mostly in the opposite direction of our route, but some of the most experienced racers, including my future landlord, went the same way we did, which was a nice route validation.
Skeletons from last year's Tie Canyon fire
We rode a powerline track through tire sucking sandy mud and then dropped off-trail into the Tie Canyon drainage, catching the first CP. Cy got to experience the high of punching the passport, a better rush than doing a bump of coke. Then we traveled up marshy singletrack, grabbed another CP and dropped the other teams.

We got to the transition area and swapped into running gear. The trail was ankle deep in muck and thrashed by horses. We got the first trekking CP off a tree in a saddle, churning through thigh-high wet greenery. I was glad I decided to wear tights, protected from the burn of nettles and the slash of grass. 
Wet and green
We climbed a bump on the landscape, barely noteworthy on the map with its spacious contour lines that hid steep climbs, and got our fourth point. Then everything went sideways. We didn’t pay close attention to the oh so critical topo lines on the map and plunged into a drainage northeast of the ridge, convinced we’d hit a trail in the creek bottom. We stomped around down there for far too long, befuddled and frustrated, before reexamining the map and realizing our expensive error. We regained the ridge, cursing our stupidity, and swept up a couple points to placate our disappointment. Damn.

During each bushwack and hike-a-bike, we remembered some of the other thankless crap we’ve done recently. Turns out pushing through peanut-butter mud in the Caribous, exploring new trails during an endless spring of swollen creek crossings and bogs, getting lost on Teton Pass and skinning up 2000 feet at 7:00 pm, and running countless miles over stupid-deep snow was great training for the Ogre. 
Back on track after an hour of faffing about
The CPs were whimsically placed and it seemed like Abby and Jason were sharing with us these special little pieces of land. Cy climbed a dead tree, and we dropped a knife ridge and gained another mini slice of ridge, a place you would never have a reason to be if it weren’t for the Ogre. We then traversed overland to another bump on the map and were rewarded with the sight of a photographer up there with her dogs, and another flag flapping from a tree.

Then we dropped, a long and precipitous descent to a rushing creek, tripping over the wealth of downed trees, pushing through alder and baby aspens, slipping on the layer of organic matter on the group.

We occasionally followed the trail of others, leaves and stems left bruised and muddied, a subtle confirmation that even if we were off-route, someone else had already made the same mistake. We called these invisible predecessors the herd of cats, and eventually just the cat herd, as in “Oh, here’s the cat herd again.”

I promptly fell in the creek when we reached it but was already so wet it didn’t matter. We bushwhacked downstream hunting fruitlessly for the next CP, until we saw a gang of girls clustered around…the wrong CP. We had blown by one somehow. We punched the passport and decided to backtrack for the missed one because…no regrets, right?

It was hung high above us on a steep embankment. So worth it. We hauled ass back down the stream, trekking portion of the course complete with a comfortable margin of time to finish the bike leg. We jogged back to the transition area and remounted our bikes to start climbing.

Ouch. I was more shelled than I’d thought, and somehow the anticipated fun bike loop was way harder than it seemed when it was a mellow after-work run. We scored two more CPs and rode the descent, which was as flowy and awesome as anticipated. A real gigglefest.
The beginning of the most fun rarely-ridden descent in the valley
Then we put our heads down for the final brutal powerline climb from the bottom of the pass to the top. We happened upon another team that gave us a heads-up about the last CP, and Cy backtracked and found it hiding down a hollow. We were really pushing it on time so the only thing to do was keep slogging, gasping in pain. And then we emerged on the mellow road at the top and booked it to the finish line.

Jason greeted us. We were three minutes late, which meant nine points docked from our score. He saw our passport, raised his eyebrows, seemed impressed. Everyone else was clean and relaxed at the finish line and I convinced myself that we’d been crushed, hadn’t even scratched the top five. I cursed that mistake again, knowing we could’ve been there at least forty-five minutes earlier.

But we discovered at the after party, reclining in the grass drinking beer in the sun, that we were one of the few teams to clear the course, and we took second in co-ed behind seasoned Ogres Maura and Shane, and we were fourth overall. And got a big cookie as a prize. My stoke immediately returned because I’m terribly addicted to podiums.

We ruminated over the experience and analyzed the good and the bad. I was really pleased at how smoothly (ish) it had gone relative to how unpleasant it could’ve been. Another incredible Ogre in the books, eight hours of getting lost in beautiful country.

08 June 2017

Bike Nerdery

I rode the Stag through a similar landscape yesterday and the difference in bikes is so interesting. Obviously the Half Chub was loaded for camping, is fully rigid, and has mechanical disc brakes and a double ring. Even besides that, they’re wildly different creatures.

It was clear that I sit “inside” the Krampus with its gargantuan wheels and itty bitty frame, while I sit “on top” of the Bronson, making it more maneuverable but less of a steamroller.

It was also a good reminder, as I dragged the Bronson through mud pits, into stream beds, and over downed trees, that twenty or so pounds makes a helluva difference. The Bronson has never felt so light. 

The Krampus is a brilliant bicycle though, stripped down, extremely capable, great at point and shoot chunder riding, rock crawling up steep pitches, somehow forgiving me over and over for running ~8 PSI and slamming my rims into root and rocks. It definitely prefers finesse but doesn’t hold it against me if I get a little sendy. The only upgrades I need are new tires (add traction and shave over a pound from each wheel? Yes please) and a different drivetrain. I love having a 2x9 on a bikepacking rig but I don’t love the temperamental, finicky, rhythm-crushing shifting I have going on. Friction shifting: plenty of hipster cachet but far too precious for what I’m trying to do with it.

Compact bike, compact camp.
It’s really exciting to own a set-up now, for the most part, and for minimal investment. Instead of getting crazy with the credit card I slowly accumulated pieces through the winter.

The essentials: 

Revelate Designs Pica seat bag: my most expensive piece of gear because it’s the only non-custom bag on the market that fits with my minuscule tire-seat clearance.

SealLine 10L dry bag with custom doodles and big ole Voile straps: this thing is cheap, unobtrusive, and doesn’t bounce too much when it’s lashed to my handlebars.

My dry bag is the coolest.
Patagonia Hybrid sleeping bag: what a revelation! It packs so dang small and combines perfectly with my lightweight puffy. And now that I finally have a sleeping pad with decent R value, my bag is warm enough for me in the summer, even though I was convinced I could only survive nights in my zero degree bag.

Aqua Mira: the most awesomest water purification system. I have the luxury of only riding through mountains full of babbling brooks that don’t have weird bugs and cow shit in them, so these little bottles of chemicals are all I need.

Spacious, perfectly worn-in Salsa framebag: I was at the pub talking about trying to gather together the missing pieces of my set-up and JayP, the OG bikepacker himself, said he had ten years’ worth of framebags I could dig through. Pretty dang cool.

The status of the sleeping bag is sort of a permanent borrow, and I don’t have my own stove or shelter yet. But other than that I’m jazzed on strapping shit to my bike and pedaling until it’s bed time.

So ladylike, as usual.

05 June 2017

Skeeters and Smiles

The first practice of the year is on Saturday morning. We all stand in a circle and I gape at the number of kids. Unmanageable, amazing. Fortunately we have enough coaches to break into small groups. Instead of getting to know new kids, I just want to ride with the fast gang, the veterans that I’ve watched progress over the last two years. I take the lead on the singletrack and they doggedly hold my wheel as their noisy drivetrains grind out a cadence.
This gang of speed demons made me work hard to stay in front.
After practice Cy and I pack up, marveling at the absence of stuff. Bikepacking requires so much less than car camping.

It is hot, finally, blessedly hot. I coat myself in sunscreen. Not bug spray though, unfortunately. My skin is now a patchwork of red bumps that I’m trying so hard to resist.
That's a one-of-a-kind dry bag right there.
I have only a vague idea of the trails I want to hit, no map, only an untrustworthy phone app. We have a day and a half to poke around the Caribous and no plan.
Wet feet, wet chain, wet butt.
Start on gravel, turn off on two track, mellow climb through greenest meadows under a heavy sun, sit in a creek, purify water, start a smooth singletrack climb off the edge of the mental map, relish having a granny ring and a bulldozer of a bike, gain a ridge, make a decision knowing that to drop into another unknown drainage means inevitably climbing back out, navigate erosion ditches and moto ruts, meander along a creek on a brown ribbon of dirt through overpowering greenery, encounter a familiar trail, recall with little fondness its swamps and bushwhacking, find a grassy flat spot next to a stream unadulterated by beavers, perform little camp tasks, drink a single warm beer, eat Indian food, burn sage and stand directly in the smoke to hide from mosquitoes, retreat to the safety of the tent before the sun sets.
Oh, Bear Creek, I didn't miss you.
Wake up, do camp chores, eat oatmeal, attend to mud encrusted chains, don used chamois, pack up quickly, the systems already growing rote, mentally prepare for the climb out of the Bear Creek drainage, pedal and push slowly, pouring sweat, wiping away the minor irritants of cobwebs, hair, mosquitoes, and sunscreen, muddy gloves leaving streaks, then summit, surprised at the ease, see other mountain bikers for the first time and they are valley friends, descend smooth trail through the woods, entirely content, seatbag only occasionally buzzing tire, sit in the same creek, polish off the last of the salami, purify water, climb more doubletrack, clean steep sections only because the surface is dry and tacky, watch butterflies glance off hands and leaves and bags, top out on a beautiful ridge with views and wildflowers, prepare to go downhill, swoop down roller coaster doubletrack with wall rides and whoops, and finish on gravel.
Gratuitous posing with the extremely capable Half Chub.
Remove wet socks, gloves. Leave piles of detritus around car.

Dangle feet in the Snake River. 

Reflect. Bask.