Sunday, September 30, 2012

Moab Impressions II

After much consideration for my skills, navigation ability, familiarity with the Rocky Mountain Element 29er hire bike and chances of being eaten by a bear/mountain lion I bit the bullet and booked a shuttle to the top of Burro Pass for 7:30am. I was going to do The Whole Enchilada solo. I had a map and the trail on my GPS and decided "how hard can it be?" The La Sal mountains are only 11 500ft high and the trail starts at 11 200ft!?!

I was awoken at about 4am by a crisp, deafening crack of thunder right overhead! It was so loud that even in the comfort of the RV I was frightened! What would it be like at 11 200ft on the La Sal mountains? Over the next couple of hours I tossed and turned as storm after storm scraped over our roof. Did I mention that Moab is at 4200ft? High elevation storms always seem so much more ferocious, especially in the dark and especially when they are all headed toward the mountain that you are supposed to be standing on in a couple of hours.

I was torn with what to do and after much more consideration I took the boring, sensible step at 7am of cancelling my shuttle to the top of Lightning Rod Peak. I just wasn't comfortable with being at 11 200ft, hugging the ground in a thunderstorm, with the chance of being rodgered by a nasty bear thrown in to boot. No sir...thats just not cricket!

As the wife and kids were going rafting, I was a bit lost now, so I had to come up with a plan "B". I decided to ride out Sand Flats Rd to the head of the Porcupine Rim trail. If, when I got there I felt good, I would ride a bit further and join onto The Whole Enchilada trail a bit higher up.

Just as I was about to pedal off in the RV park, a guy asked me where I was heading. I mentioned how I had chickened out of the Whole Enchilada ride because of the storms. He said "yeah, it would be real nasty up there in that". It sure helped me feel better about my decision.

Did I mention earlier that Moab was surrounded by huge red hills? Any attempt to escape town requires a substantial uphill slog. So slogging it was to be, which I honestly don't mind. I have developed a strange kind of self hypnotism where I see any climbing as good exercise, not a form of punishment. This allows me to actually enjoy the climbs for what they offer. What they offer is a good close look at the scenery. There is plenty of time to take in the view, snap pictures, watch that ant crawl across the road, get passed by a butterfly etc, etc.

It was a warm, humid morning due to the rain overnight. . However, before I knew it I was at the entrance to the Moab SlickRock trails. I stopped here for a photo but kept on eastward toward Porcupine Rim.

While I was in good spirits the climb did seem tough and a bit unrelenting, with lots of false flats/downhills where I looked like I should be coasting but if I stopped turning the pedals the bike ground to a halt. That meant it was still uphill!

Arriving at the Porcupine Rim trail head I stopped for a bite to eat and to assess the chances of heading higher up into the hills. The altitude was getting to me a bit and the next trail head was about another 3-4 miles and 1500ft up the road, so I decided to get off the road here.

After a short downhill the trail again tilted up. But to make it so much harder it was lined with rock ledges. Anything from 5cm to 30cm high and at around 6000ft elevation this was sapping the energy from me. I was absolutely dripping with sweat and just had to take a break at one stage.

However, perseverence paid off as I came across this promising sign.

What lay beyond really did blow my mind! Holy cow! What a view!

Riding some of the trail along here was heart in mouth stuff. As well as the rock drops the trail actually touched the very edge of the cliff! There was a several thousand foot drop just 2 feet to your right!! It was only brief but it really made you pay attention to your riding!
Looking back toward the La Sal mountains and the storms had cleared to the east. Perhaps it would have been ok up there this morning? (the next morning after another stormy night they were covered in snow)
From here the Porcupine Rim Trail followed some double track with lots of sand and ledge drop-offs. With the overnight rain there were only two sets of tyre prints on the ground this morning, meaning I was the third rider up here (late morning) and the sand was nice and firm to ride on.
The speed picked up through this section despite the rock and I must say the sandy, bermy corners were my favourite as was the odd larger drop-off that I managed to time right. "Plushing" up the rear shock a lot certainly helped with the ride comfort through this section, but I would have loved another 60mm of travel to help smooth things out.
The final section of the trail is the single track and it did not disappoint! Rocky ledges that you had to ride along the length of before dropping off the end, a mad drop into the river about 1 foot off the edge of the trail for a few minutes and some super technical rock gardens that were 2-3 foot high in places and mega techy winding downhill rock gardens that I am not ashamed to say that I walked...just! In the photo below the trail enteres that dell just below my right ear!! Suffice to say I rode to the edge of the drop, then walked around the lip of rock to the right (behind my head). That is a 15ft drop into the creek line. There was plenty of pedal/chainring strike evidence on the rock to suggest that people can actually ride this! WTF!!
I have some good video footage that I will have to edit when I get home as I have no editing software with me on the laptop.
After a short section of more fun single track the trail ended at the Colorado River, 5 miles north east of Moab.
I stopped for a bite to eat in the shade, then pedalled back into town. I was turning over in my mind what I had just ridden. There was lung burning, high altitude ascents. Rocky, jarring doubletrack. Slick flowing, momentum-required-singletrack-heaven that led into f#cking terrifying rock gardens, almost certain death drop-offs into chasms/rivers/desert!!  Take your pick!
Oh, and if you are wondering about all the self portraits this post, well, I just wanted to give the landscape some scale. It is just so vast that it has no meaning in a photo without something to compare it to. Shame I didn't have Brad Pitt with me....
In the end I did 5 hours(3:40 moving) and almost almost exactly 50km(32mi) with 1100m (3400ft) of elevation gain, but at this altitude, combined with the rough trails surface, I was pretty sore from it. A bit more than the Whole Enchilada distance, but nowhere near as tough I am guessing. The only time I wasn't grinning like an idiot was when my heart was trying to beat it's way out of my chest.
And the smile still lingers........

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Moab Impressions

We arrived into Moab at about 10pm due to a mechanical issue delaying our departure from the Grand Canyon until midday, so I was actually excited to see what Moab would look like in the light of day.

Waking at 6:30 I wandered down to the RV park laundry to earn some brownie points by putting on a couple of loads of washing. It was still dark as sunrise wasn't until 7:20am so the mystique continued.

Once the sun did rise I was greeted by the sight of a huge red massiff overlooking the town. On both sides. I felt like I was on another planet and in fact if you were making a movie about Mars you would come to Moab to film it.

Day one saw us picking up our(the kids as well) bikes from Poison Spider Cycles. The guy helping us out wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed and all of my pre arranged details had to be thrashed out again. These mainly included having the brakes switched from side to side as the Yanks run their rear brake on the right, not the left. Having the front brake on the left was a recipe for eating through a straw for a long time so I was keen to get this item sorted. I am pleased to say that dealing with other staff members at Poison Spider was very pleasant. I just picked the wrong guy when I walked in!

That afternoon we headed out to the Moab Brands Trails just 7 miles north of town. These trails consisted of beginner as well as technical, advanced trail.

The kids were amped for the ride. It was quite warm once we got out into the sun but they were loving the new single track. It was interesting to watch the ebb and flow of their confidence as they alternately railed trail, then having a minor off due to over confidence, wobbled like rank beginners.

We took a wrong turn at one point and ended up on an advanced trail where much pushing ensued. I personally would have been pushing on about 25% of the features even if it wasn't for the kids walking in front of me. It was quite humbling and had me wondering would I be able to handle The Whole Enchilada trails in the morning?

Finding our way back onto the EZ loop we were humming again until Lucy had a nasty off on a nothing right hander. I was sure she had broken an arm again from the height of the fall as it was into a slight creek line onto rock. However, after a Dr Dave diagnosis, it turned out to be just some scratches and badly dented self confidence so we decided that was enough riding for today and headed for the car.

The kids still covered 12km(7.5mi) of totally unfamiliar trail with about 3km being very technical and requiring pushing up over huge rocks in pretty opressive heat. Well done to both of them!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Holy Mother of Mountain Biking!!

I managed to sneak out for a pedal today. Nothing special really.

Yes, that is about 2000ft straight down...

It is hot, dry work requiring suitable lubrication, this riding in the desert. 

Luckily, I found some neck oil that might be up to the task.

Stand by for more once I am suitably lubricated......and I piece my tiny mind back together, for it is bloowwn.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Not Just A Big Hole In The Ground

No, it isn't.

It is THE biggest hole in the ground.

The last few days have seen some traipsing around the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.

The day started with a bit of a surprise as I opened the door of the RV to "check the plumbing". I was literally at arms length away was this little fella! Two little kids were totally blown away and I haven't seen them get out of bed so fast before. Ever!

He looks more at home in this photo, but it was still in the middle of the trailer park.

Today we were going to check out a small portion of the South Kaibab Trail which snakes down into the Canyon. We planned on hiking down to Cedar Ridge which is a 4.8km walk with 300m(950ft) down and 300m back up. Not too strenuous until you consider that the trail starts at 7260ft and the low point is still over 6100ft!

The trail quickly got serious with a very impressive series of switchbacks dropping us down below the rim. Impressive from a trail building standpoint that is. I found myself mentally calculating the hours that went into building this section of trail.

From here the grade eased somewhat and it was a very pleasant and shady walk. Something like 5 million people visit the Canyon each year and the thick dust on the trail stood testament to the number of feet it sees during the "season".

Around every turn was another breathtaking view.

On the bus to the trail head Lucy was talking about how she would like to be a Ranger. She was almost speechless (yay) when this friendly Ranger stopped to chat. He seemed truly excited about his job. 

I guess when it is your job to walk around here all day, then I can see what motivates him.

Dropping down to Cedar Ridge had been an easy stroll, but the sun beating down on the back of our necks was a warning of what we faced on the climb out.

A sign at Cedar Ridge was very telling. It said "Remember, walking down is optional but walking back up is mandatory!" 

Yup. Warm, 6000ft air is we took a few rest stops on the way back out.

This is the way to do it though.

We took around 3 hours to complete the walk and were finished in time for lunch, which disapeared in short order.

The afternoon consisted of more gazing into this big hole, all washed down with a $1.49 Corona(well, for the grown-ups anyway).

Next stop.....Moab........

Friday, September 21, 2012

Las Vegas For Beginners

Well we made it!

Taking two small children on a long flight where they miss out on a nights sleep wasn't the most fun thing I have ever done, but we survived and after a marathon sleep by all involved we were ready to roll.

Initial impressions of Vegas is how much like the Gold Coast it is.  The bit around Cavill Avenue that is. But on a grander scale. Except without beach and with a whole lotta desert. But just as much class.

Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike the Gold Coast? Especially the bit around Cavill Avenue?

We stayed in the MGM Grand for a couple of nights. The room was fine and the view pretty amazing. The hotel/casino itself was mind-blowingly massive. It was like a shopping centre/casino/hotel/water park all in one that took about 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other!

While out for a walk along the strip we spied these Aussie bikes leaning against the wall at FatBurger (how appropriate). While snapping these picks a guy rushed out and in an American drawl said "so you like the electric bikes?". I said "I sure do. They are Australian made" He replied "yep" and seeing no further opportunity to flog one to me retreated to his burger again.

While not my cup of tea, Vegas is nonetheless an experience and an eye opener to see what can be done when you throw a whole shipload of money at a barren piece of desert.

Apart from the food, the kids are loving it so far. They have blown lots on souvenirs and stuff. Next we pick up the RV and try to remember which side of the road to drive on.

Edit: I almost forgot this photo which says it all really....

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Epic Fun

This year's Epic had to be somewhat truncated for me due to bugger-all training and the fact that I would be sitting in an aeroplane for 13 hours while still in a state of um...disrepair the following day. I figured that the 50km(32mi) race would have to suffice. When I saw the profile for the full 87km(55mi) race I knew I had made the right decision!

Having attended the kids races the previous day, I already had my race kit, so that a leisurely arrival was on the cards. No getting up at stupid o'clock just to get to the start line today!

Speaking of the kids races, both kids had a ball with Lucy even picking up a 3rd place in her race. She was very chuffed to say the least! Willy did really well in the under 8 boys, but with a field of 36 starters it was always going to be hard. The best thing to come out of the race was to learn that they could do it by themselves. Even though I was supposed to be riding around with them, due to the traffic I couldn't actually catch them during the race! Well not without using little kids for traction ;) It turned out to be a great learning experience for them both.

Anyway. Arriving, I lobbed up to the start line just as the Elite men were starting and boy, did they haul arse off the line. I simply can't go that quick even when I don't have 87km staring me in the face! I watched as the other categories of the 87k started out but I couldn't see anyone I knew in the sea of helmets.

Keeping with my low key approach, I accidentally snapped a picture of my GPS. I obviously wasn't overly nervous as that is about my normal resting heart rate. A bit of a change to previous years when I have been keen to do well and my heart is buzzing on the line.

Shortly after this I bumped into Steve and had a chat for a while. We eventually lined up for our age group start and filtered across the line. With a transponder start it didn't matter if you got a good start or not. Your time started from when you actually crossed the line, taking out all of the argey-bargey that can take place at these massive races. Good move. 

The start came around and I dawdled across the timing mats to the warbling sound of the transponder registering. Then it was a gentle climb up past the registration room  and into out across the property. I took it pretty easy, taking photos and chatting to Steve.

In fact, pretty much everyone was taking it easy. Life at the back of the pack sure is cruisy!

About 5 km of double track led us to the first real climb, the aptly named Grinder trail. Steve mentioned not to hang around on his account and as I was being passed by a young lad and his dad, I decided to hang onto them. It was interesting to note that as we passed riders they were all puffing hard. By being conservative at the start I hadn't even raised a sweat yet. Hmmm..interesting.

Up and over the hill we were quickly into the Epic track and having a blast. That was until we came upon the conga line that was stuck behind a very slow rider. This always happens in these big events and it pays just to keep your cool and pass when you can. 

We were soon past, then the trail pointed down for a few km of fast doubletrack that was fun. Dropping out onto the sealed road we began the haul to the little town of Mulgowie. Unfortunately there is a nasty big climb in between and by the time I had crested this one I definitely had a sweat up.

Once over this hill it is a quick ride and road riding tactics come into play. I smashed myself along here last year with a strong headwind and no one to hide behind. This year I used my head and leapfrogged from rider to rider, maximising the slipstream. Eventually a train of riders sped past, being led by a guy wearing a roady jersey, so I tacked on the back and we were suddenly ploughing along at about 40km/h with minimal expenditure from my legs. Gold!

Turning off the seal again and it was time to point the bike uphill for a while. 

During this climb I caught up to Nick, who I rode NZ last year with. He was tackling his 10th Epic and has the pro jersey to prove it now. We chatted for a bit then I decided that I had better put some effort in as this was only a 50km race and the GPS was already showing 25km.

Somewhere along this climb I had to face reality and take to shanks pony. The grade was just too steep to make riding a worthwhile proposition and it is often better to use some different muscles for a minute or three.

This happened with more regularity as we rode/walked the knarly section that I hated last year. The downhills were particularly viscious. While following one guy down an ugly steep hill he got it all wrong, fishtailing violently until he lost it and was spat over the trailside with a thud. It was all I could do to miss his bike and I could only shout "are you OK?", but by this time I was well down the hill. Even if there was a pot of gold in the middle of the trail we could not have stopped, such was the grade, so I hope he was OK!

At the 36km mark I was partaking in a spot of walking again when my legs decided to go all spastic on me. They spasmed and jumped around and I was rooted to the spot in pain. After some judicious rubbing and some more photo taking to hide my predicament I found that they were ok if they remained bent, but spasmed like crazy if I tried to straighten them, as is required to walk. OK, so no more walking then. Gulp!

Almost immediately we were into some new singletrack that took the focus off my legs and put it on the fun, flowiness of the trail. Well done Haydz!! Linking onto this was the Epic track again and I found that if I just sat and spun the pedals, with no out of the saddle efforts I could still hammer along. I managed to not be passed by another rider for the entire race through here. In fact, I managed to get by about 100 riders through the Epic singletrack and across the paddock toward the finish. It is funny how single track will take your mind off the many aches and pains that develop as each rider pushes themselves deeper into the cave and I was pleasantly surprised not to have any recurrence of the cramps.

I got stuck behind someone on the Escalator climb, but quickly dispatched him as the trail opened out and actually passed about eight more riders on the "sprint" to the line. 

Awesome!! Legend in my own lunchtime!! Even though I was caked in dust, hot and sweaty I felt pretty good. Sure, I was physically drained, but it wasn't that totally "shagged" feeling you get when you do the full Epic. I actually enjoyed the race rather than just survived it!

A massive thanks to Flight Centre for sponsoring the race these ten years. Hats off to Hayden for the awesome trails and the whole crew for a slick, super well run event. You have done well guys. 

Now to start my recovery....


Edit: The results are up and it looks like I came in 18th out of 184 in my category! Got to be pretty happy with that.