Monday, August 27, 2007

Steamboat Springs

It rules! I can't believe I waited so long to go ride there. And since I wrote my current column about it, I'll paste it here with some photos.

____________________________________________________________________ Have you noticed that special sort of optimism that only mountain bikers possess?
It can never be underestimated, no matter how enhanced it may be by visions of sun-dappled trails lined with aspen and air-inducing water bars.
I witnessed the power of this Fat-Tire Thinking over three days in Steamboat Springs last weekend.
Day one was supposed to be an easy ride to warm up the legs, with a two-hour cruise to Long Lake and back.

But you know how it is. At the intersection to Long Lake, we decided instead to create a loop by riding the Lake PercyTrail and connecting it to a singletrack called Pleasant Rabbit. We were clearly deluded by the Alice-in-Wonderland name, as well as a by our map, which wasn’t entirely accurate in its depiction.
We ended up bushwhacking and backtracking, struggling to follow the faintest of trails. It lured us along hillsides, only to coyly disappear right when we got our groove on.
Quite some time passed as we rolled back and forth, eyed the map, pointed at landmarks, and rode some more.
Rob, my friend and guide, had never tried this loop. He began debating the merits of just riding/hiking cross-country until we hit a road we saw on the map.
“Should we be trusting this map?” I asked. It not only showed Pleasant Rabbit as an established singletrack, it idealistically called it a “sylvan lane.” Someone’s been hitting the hookah, I thought.
“Good point,” Rob replied. We stared around in silence. In the distance, we could see cars cruising along U.S. 40, but a huge chunk of land lay between.
Then Rob’s keen eyes spotted a light-colored smear on the hillside below. While I marked our current location, he rolled down the hill and found traces of the abandoned logging road that Pleasant Rabbit had sprung from.
Excitedly we cruised down it, hopping the endless fallen logs, and collapsed at the car six hours after leaving it. The legs were warmed up, all right.
Day two started on the South Fork trail, north of Steamboat. Again, optimism ruled as we ignored the storm clouds building overhead.
The rain hit us at about five miles in, as we huddled under trees at a trailhead. Mutely, we watched soaking wet hikers dash out of the woods and jump into their cars. The rain pulsed on and off, soaking us through.
Shivering, I began to have visions of the famed Strawberry Park Hot Springs. “ springs,” I said, hopefully.
Rob wasn’t buying it. “It’ll let up pretty soon,” he said.
Not only was he right, I was never so glad to be talked out of something. After making our way to Diamond Park, the return route along Scotts Run trail unfolded like a Steamboat Springs promotional video.
The sun came blazing out of the clouds, illuminated the drops of water hanging on the aspens, and made me wonder if that’s how Diamond Park got its name. The narrow trail twisted through the trees, and for another day, we didn’t see a single other person. Gotta love it.

Day three was slated for The Epic. We planned a huge, 30-mile jaunt over Buffalo Pass, along the Wyoming Trail, up the Mountain View trail, then down into the ski resort and back to town.
Even through this required an 11-mile slog up a dirt road to Buffalo Pass, Rob and I blithely figured it couldn’t be that bad.
It won’t surprise you to hear that it was only slightly more pleasant than being poked with a sharp stick. It was hot, steep and -- because of me -- slow. We were on target to spend two hours on the dirt road alone. And guess what? More storm clouds were building.
But we really wanted to do the whole ride. So we put our optimism to work again, willing the arrival of a pickup truck headed to the pass. And I kid you not, one showed up. Rob stuck out his thumb, but it passed us by.
Groaning, we bent over the handlebars again. Suddenly, the truck stopped just ahead, and a woman leaned out the passenger window. “Are you serious?” she called.
“Heck yeah!” Rob replied, and we practically sprinted up to the truck. She and her husband, also a mountain biker, welcomed us into the bed, where we gleefully watched the remaining eight miles roll by.
“I’ll be talking about this truck ride all week,” Rob said.
Although we got rained on yet again, the sun was shining by the time we stood atop the ski resort, huge grins on our faces.
I am now a firm believer in mountain-bike optimism: when you want something, you’ll make it happen.
Hmmm.... maybe we should write a self-help book. We could call it “Ride and You Shall Receive.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How's Your Aspen?

I just spent a whirlwind weekend in the hills, trying to combine a clinic and a race. It was fun, but I'm not sure I'll try doing that again.

Here's my buddy Zach White, after winning the expert level Super D race. We teased him mercilessly beforehand about his superhero skinsuit, but once someone wins wearing that, you shut up. :)

The weekend was fun in that weird way that running from one thing to another and not really sleeping can be kind of fun. I drove to Breck on Friday, and my car broke down two miles shy of the Eisenhower Tunnel. Lovely! So I called AAA and got towed to Silverthorne, where the tow truck driver actually helped me out, and then I limped on to Breck. (Got there four hours after leaving Boulder.) Rob joined me (in his own car) and we hit the town, but it took us forever to get any dinner. We went to bed late and then I got up at the ass-crack of dawn to teach my clinic. It went very well and the women were all cool, but one of them was light-years ahead of the others. When we get a skill-split like that, we usually call in another instructor, and previously my coworker Dave had said he was available. But come Saturday afternoon, when I realized I had a problem, he was suddenly too busy to help me out. So I spent a stressful afternoon trying to keep that one woman challenged while not scaring the pants off the other girls. Luckily it mostly worked, because their feedback forms gave me “stunning reviews,” my boss said. But that one woman did complain a bit that she felt she warranted some more advanced coaching -- and she really did. I felt bad.
So anyway. When the clinic finally wrapped up, I dragged my dehydrated, exhausted self into Dave’s loaner car and drove 2 1/2 hours to Snowmass. Found Rob (who had driven out that morning) and our friend Zach at the hotel, scarfed some pasta, and fell asleep while watching Saturday Night Fever. Had weird dreams with a soundtrack of “I’m gonna put on... My my my my my boogie shoes.”
Got up at the ass crack again, feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, and I hadn’t even done the freakin’ race yet. Dragging ass, I went to the venue and tried to warm up. I was astounded to find myself on the start line at a NORBA National Championship race with only FIVE other women. Lame!! What the hell?? I paid $50 to race five other girls? Well, regardless of the number of competitors, I certainly got my money’s worth anyway. That has to be the hardest race I’ve ever done. We experts rode the same distance as the pros: 19 miles with 7000 feet of climbing. OUCH!! My legs came actually around, but the aerobic system was just too blown out. It took everything I had just to finish. But I kept plugging away, partly because I had no idea where the hell I WAS out there, and partly because the trails were so gorgeous and fun and technical that I felt compelled to ride them. But sadly, I got passed by lots of really old chicks, and came in last. SIGH. It’s a good thing my ego isn’t hung up on this stuff. It’s hilarious that this situation still put me in 5th place (one women quit), and at a NORBA, that puts you on the podium. I took home this huge tacky medal for being marginally faster than the melting of the polar ice cap.
Then, I STILL had the Super D race to do. I changed into some clean clothes and we three got on the lift. The course was quite challenging, and I found in my second practice run that I was already checking out mentally and making stupid mistakes. My second sense was buzzing, telling me this was a dumb idea. I wisely went back to the car, got out of my chamois and settled at the finish line with a Gatorade. (Ding! There went another 40 bucks – ugh! Why do these race promoters put these races on the SAME DAY?? What about MY needs? But hey, it’s better than a broken collarbone.) Zach ripped in a win, and Rob took 6th. After taking Zach’s picture on the podium, I loaded up the car and dragged ass all the way back to Breck. Slept on Dave’s couch, then drove to Boulder with an hour to spare before work Monday morning.