Day 1 of spring break meant waking up in the fair city of Grand Junction, affectionately located along the Western Slope. For outdoor enthusiasts, Grand Junction offers easy access to snowboarding, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, and road and mountain biking. I find myself stopping in Grand Junction whenever I’m on my way to a mountain bike tryst in Moab or Fruita, when I’m road biking at Colorado National Monument, or when I’m riding the locals’ favorite, Lunch Loop Trails.
Because of the timing of my trip (the last week of March) and because of the lackluster snow season this winter, I pared down my available sports to four instead of the usual six or eight. This trip would be centered around mountain biking first, hiking second, golf third, and I brought along the snowshoes, just in case. I thoroughly researched the trails along the 50 most western miles in Colorado, which quite closely resemble Utah. I had planned for rides from the most southwesterly town in Colorado, Cortez, which also has some killer mountain biking, especially east of town at a little shooting range called Phil’s World.
As before all solo road trips, I studied my maps carefully, and this time I was including some serious BLM time on my trip. BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management, and BLM land is characterized by primitive camping that is usually free. BLM land would be less populated by bipeds this time of year, I surmised, and I was right. The tricky part would be finding appropriate and accessible camping sites for a low clearance 4WD vehicle.
The BLM office in Grand Junction is staffed by friendly folks who know their land and can talk to hunters, mountain bikers, and miners with equal ease. This BLM office has realized the need to educate folks on the proper ways to enjoy the natural beauty contained within its boundaries that it has produced quality maps for each of its areas, including highlighted hiking and biking trails. It was at the BLM office that I discovered the Uncompaghre Plateau was still snow-covered and/or muddy, and that recreating or even camping there at this time of year was not going to be fun. So I picked up a few brochures, one on camping sites in BLM land, and a much-coveted map of the Y-11 Fiasco trail, a mere 45 miles to the south of Grand Junction in a tiny little town called Gateway.
The road from Grand Junction to Gateway takes about an hour and a half. I had been on this road only once or twice before, but I remember the scenery quite well. In fact, when I have pleasant dreams I imaging myself driving alongside topography that looks just like that which abuts the Unaweep-Tabaguache Byway. Tabaguache is pronounced TAB-uh-watch.
Gateway is a town with no services save for the Gateway Canyons Resort, a new spa-gold course-hideaway whose scenery is incomparable. The following day I would ride the aptly named Y-11 Fiasco Trail. But I first had a date with the stars and scenery and solitude of John Brown Canyon.
Longer posts will follow but I just wanted to share my newfound love affair with BLM lands. I toyed with the idea of Moab again but all I
could hear was the obnoxious errr errr of dirt bikes and 4 x 4s. For spring break I needed something a little more serene and pristine. So I did my homework, located some killer mountain biking trails on the verge of Moab but still in Colorado. I spent a couple days luxuriating in the solitude, hitting wiffle golf balls with my 7 iron, and riding the Y-11 Fiasco trail in Gateway.
More pix to follow, but here’s a late afternoon easterly look into John Brown canyon, a staple of the hut-to-hut trips of the summer.
Two months since my last post. Damn. I got a new job, and although it’s awesome, it’s taking up some serious time.
Spring Break is next week, and I’ve got a solid 12 days off. Three to four of those days will be spent on schoolwork, and the other either finding some R & R relaxing and pounding my body back into shape. I’ve been watching weather patterns all season even though we’ve had an anemic snowseason here in Colorado, there are other awesome snowboarding destinations less than 10 hours away. To wit: Utah, New Mexico and yes, even northern Arizona. (OK, a little more than 10 hours away.)
I opened my season at Wolf Creek in October, and I very may well end my season there. On Wednesday, March 28, Wolf Creek is running its Local Appreciation Day and selling lift tickets for $33. If there’s new snow, I’m beelining my way down there. I’ll be watching powdermeister Joel Gratz’s OpenSnow for accurate forecasts.
If snow is not forthcoming to Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, or Wyoming (hello, Grand Targhee!), then I’m off to the Four Corners area for some mountain biking, hiking, and sleeping among the snakes and scorpions.
It’s November 1, which means it’s the height of cyclocross season. I had a chance this past week, in my stint as a the Cycling/Mountain Biking editor at TrailsEdge, to catch up with hot-shot cyclist and queen of the dirt and mud, Georgia Gould.
Neat lady! All the humility of a sage but with the fierceness of the champ she is.
Do ya like watchin’ the boob tube and that reality TV stuff? Last fall’s cyclist extraordinaire, Jeremy Vanschoonhoven, who made bouncing around on his back tire and rolling up on cars and taking huge jumps look easy, took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about competing on America’s Got Talent, bike trials, and his mesmerizing video that was shot in the Utah desert outside of Moab.
The pictures are cool, the link to video (all by Devin Graham) even cooler, and I put some words in there to tie it all together. The video has garnered 135K views, and counting. Join the crowd, readers.
Normally Day 2 would follow Day 1 of a road trip, so here goes: On Day 2 SheSpoke awoke in a dank and dark smoke-stained room of an overpriced motel In Monte Vista, Colorado. (It was the only room available for miles.) She had spent more than a few hours of the previous evening researching the weather and camping options at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. Cold and rainy. And by cold I mean sub-freezing and by rain I mean occasionally hardened into little sleetovals or even hail.
Now, SheSpoke is hardcore. She has camped out in single digits, blizzards, and really un-awesome conditions. But SheSpoke turned 40 last year and even though she’s got an extra coating (thanks to hormones and a slowing metabolism), camping out alone in weather that makes driving dicey is no longer her idea of a good time.
So as she drove east toward the Great Sand Dunes with dreams of sandboarding, she spied the familiar sheet of white in the sky, touching not-so-daintily down to the ground. This forced her to look west, which were boasting clear skies.
The southern end of the San Luis Valleydidn’t look much better and SheSpoke knew the northern end led to a mountain pass, so west it was. When in doubt, it seems, head west.
SheSpoke had spent all of her morning and some of her afternoon recounting the amazing powder day she had at Wolf Creek Ski Area the previous day, so she was feeling more indoors than outdoors, on this particular day.
But outdoors was what was in store, so she turned the Subaru around and headed west to drier but certainly not warmer climes.
A few hours of daylight lay ahead, which meant setting up camp in Penitente Canyon, across the valley to the west, would be done with relative ease.
Alas, although SheSpoke has lived for many years with just a fireplace or a wood stove as the only means of not-central heating, she had trouble getting the campfire going and missed the brilliant luminescence that the San Luis Valley usually provides as it ducks under the western horizon. Still, she snapped a phone picture before sunset and was glad the clouds were moving quickly east.
After a tenacious half-hour, the fire got going and the pierogies got hot and the tea got started. SheSpoke ate about 3 meals in one that day in anticipation of a cold night and a physically demanding day on Day 3 of the road trip.
Some time after sundown as SheSpoke was poring over maps of the San Luis Valley the coyotes started some eerie karaoke. SheSpoke drifted off until 8AM the next morning. A good 12 hours of camping sleep.
The next morning was prep time for a bike ride she had been anticipating since the prior spring on her last trip to Wolf Creek. She had heard about this trail years before from some blokes riding about on the trails in Durango. It was time to see what mountain biking Penitente Canyon was all about.
At the main trailhead I met up with Justin, who worked in the Forest Service in the nearby town of Sagauche (pronounced sa-watch). SheSpoke has been to Sagauche many times, as it is the gateway to beautiful Crested Butte, if one is into driving the backroad of Colorado Highway 114 and mountain biking the Continental Divide along the way. Buffalo Pass Campground is a cheap ($5) option for an overnight stay on 114. Driving into Sagauche one encounters some super cool topography:
On to the ride. Justin told me the way to go, as detailed trail maps can only be gotten from the Forest Service office in Sagauche, which was closed on this Columbus Day. The Loop A trail is north of the climbing trailhead and Grand Central of this particular outdoorsy playground. You ride for a mile or two on dirt road and just as you begin to wonder if you’re going the right way, a singletrack appears to your left.
Flecks of white appeared 50 yards away and even though my horror film warning light went off, I abandoned the trail, drawn to the out-of-place colors in the earth-tone palette of Penitente Canyon:
Horrifyingly, this little ball of fur was just a few yards away:
Folks overuse the word haunted quite a bit. But that’s how my ride started that day, until I came across more petrified bone, this one all eaten up and holey:
But rides are made to be ridden, so I set off with the kind of singlemindedness that hedge-fund managers would envy. I wanted to ride.
This weekend I had some fun picking and choosing which technical terms I was going to write about for my weekly columns over at TrailsEdge. I decided upon the technical terms that show up so often in my life, due to my inability to go uphill and around corners without looking like The Hulk. SheSpoke smashes corners!
My recent foray into road cycling is changing the way I think about all kinds of biking. Mountain biking is such a grind: climb up over rocks and roots and hope the dusty, rutted-out trail is forgiving when it turns steep so you don’t lose all your momentum. When climbing on a mountain bike, it’s not unusual to have hikers passing you. It’s a tad demoralizing.
But slow and steady finishes the ride in mountain biking, and it’s a mantra so many mountain bikers need to adopt if they are to succeed in the mountain biking life. Seven uphill and technical miles on a mountain bike can take up to two hours, especially if you stop for food and rest. Think about it: most anyone can walk faster than that.
But mountain biking, except when you’re racing or blowin’ out, is not a speedy sport. It’s a sport with lots of work and little reward, and enjoying the scenery rarely happens, except during those much-needed breaks.(Note: there are people who do not stop for breaks during a ride and honestly, I don’t know what kind of VO2 max these folks have or what kind of macho trip they’re on, but riding with them is not really all that fun.)
Enter road biking, the opposite of mountain biking. You can road bike for 15 miles and not even break a sweat. You can ride for 30 flat miles, pedaling almost the entire time, and not pass out at the end. In fact, any reasonably fit mountain biker can put in 50 miles on the road bike (as long as they’re not mountainous) with relative ease. The biggest obstacle is the butt-numbing that happens somewhere around hour three in those hard saddles.
Adjusting to a hard saddle is one transition hiccup; handling a squirrely, ridiculously lightweight bike is another. Mountain bikers with competent technical skills in the way of balance and the ability to change directions while doing a trackstand and on rocks adjust with a little practice. That mountain biking skill allows fat tire folks to handle tight turns on a road bike while descending.
And there’s the rub, readers. When you work hard while you can (i.e., when you’re young and able), then challenges that you take on later in life will feel less like challenges and more like new, cool things that you do. This is true of sports, studying in school, and succeeding in the workplace and job market. Work hard as much as you can and while you can so, like a road biker who’s reached the top of a tough hill or mountain, you have earned the right to coast.
SheSpoke has also written about life lessons learned on the mountain biking trail for TrailsEdge.
Twas a good week for ol’ SheSpoke, whatwith her post on road biking Colorado National Monument being Freshly Pressed last Tuesday, September 27th. It was eerie watching my firstname.lastname@example.org inbox fill up with comments, subscriptions, and likes. My first clue that my blog had been picked up and featured somewhere came with the comment from PCC Advantage, who congratulated me for being Freshly Pressed. The afternoon was punctuated by a series of low bells emanating from my Smartphone (not that smart, really), announcing the latest like, subscription, and comment, and sometimes all three.
But ya know, I kinda promised my editor a story on the very same topic, Colorado National Monument. That post went up today where I write about cycling for TrailsEdge, and what I’ve done is digitally remaster my memories and the facts I picked up along the way to come up with basically the same conclusion:
After a decade and a half of strictly mountain biking, I’ve made the transition over to the dark side. A friend of mine lent me her neon yellow Trek from the 1980s, and I’ve been commuting and playing around the urban trails of Denver for a few months now, excited at how light and fast it is. I’ve been a spectating fan of road biking since the early days of Lance, marveling at how anyone can pedal for six hours up and over mountains for well over 100 miles. I’m now starting to get it.
These bikes are light, and the pedaling is continuous uphill and you’re coasting downhill. In fact, on the downhill all you’re really worried about is running over a frightened rodent who will then send you flying through the air like the Greatest American Hero(ine).
When I started riding 30+ miles on the road bike, (akin to riding 10+ intermediate miles on the mountain bike), I was looking for pain. I wanted to experience what Phil Liggett and Bob Roll and Paul Sherwen are always yapping about: the pain that comes with long hours in the saddle.
Finally! After a summer of commuting 15+ miles a day and a once-a-week 30+ ride, I finally got my pain at the Colorado National Monument.
The Colorado National Monument is located just south of the not-so-secret anymore mountain biking mecca of Fruita. Because Moab is being overrun by beer bellies inside monster trucks, the riding is getting less awesome there and those in the know are flocking to the pristine singletrack of Fruita.
This is my third trip to the national monument, whose entrance fees ($10 for 7 days) and camping fees ($20 night) have doubled in the past few years. These are your tax dollars not at work. (In other words, this is what happens when National Park budgets get cut.)
A little more than we wanted to spend, of course, but the promise of road biking up 1,500 feet in 4 miles and cycling along spectacular instances of erosion–well, the promise of that–along with 80-degree weather in late September–was too good to pass up. So we went for it.
And we ended up camping here–overlooking Fruita canyon and the west entrance of Rim Rock Drive. After a night of star watching and using Google Sky Map to locate Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune (so cool!), we headed to bed against all odds and the beer-noise that was coming from our scooter-riding neighbors across the street. I guess riding two wheels along Rim Rock Drive is cool, but I’d rather work for it and pedal any day. As with most things, the rewards are that much greater when you work toward something.
And although the views are spectacular from our camping niche, it’s just as stunning to see where we were sleeping from across the canyon.
Camping here was like having our very own juniper and red rock estate, with little red ants for peasants (who honestly, did not seem to be contributing to the fiefdom at all. But we let them be.)
On day 1 we changed a flat tire, fiddled with the brakes a little, and thought about nicknames for our bikes. I decided upon Old Yeller. After a short hike to Window Rock and some excellent scenery, coffee in hand, we headed to the Visitor Center for some advice and Gatorade–well worth the $2 for its electrolytes.
The speed limit along Rim Rock Drive hovers around 35 mph, although along some of the switchback it gets down to 10 mph.
We headed east from the Visitor’s Center, about four miles into the 23-mile long Rim Rock Drive. We joked about racing an older couple, who took off and whom we never saw again. They showed us I guess. Along the way we were wowed by the sandstone monoliths and laughing at the bright blue sky and perfect array of reds, browns, blacks, and awesomeness that surrounded us.
The temps crept perhaps into the mid 80s, and we were exposed the entire time, but it’s nothing that liberally applied sunblock can’t protect you from.
We rode and rode and rode mostly uphill until we reached the highest point of the ride, at which point we were feeling pretty frisky. An elevation of 6640 feet is not a problem for a couple of Denverites, who on a regular basis are frolicking above 7000 feet. But I’ve been on enough jaunts to know that when you’re only halfway there you’d better have a gas tank that is more than half full. Because even if the second half of the ride is mostly downhill (which it was), there’s always a chance that a little uphill will turn your legs into lead and break your spirit. So we played it safe after about 12 miles of riding, and turned around.
The ride back was picture-taking time! MC had the camera and we proceeded capturing awesome moments from the ride.
We finished up Day 1 with just over 25 miles, our vitamin D fix, a feeling one only gets when communing with nature while working your butt off. We headed into Fruita for supplies, and came across the little ranching town’s fall festival. We pondered a shower but knew that our visit to the Glenwood Hot Springs the following day would feel that much more baptismal if we let the sweat salts accumulate. So we ditched the shower and headed to bed.
The next morning we had thought about hiking, but realized we did not do the most fun and exhilarating and scary of all the ribbons of road along Rim Rock Drive–the first four miles. So we ate a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and spinach with fresh tomatoes and peppers from my garden, and suited up again for another epic day.
We were going to ride the somewhat steep but completely rideable intro section of Rim Rock Road. I underpedaled, saving my energy for who knows what. MC beat me to the top by about 15 minutes. It was a pretty easy 45-50 minute pedal upward, and I found myself gearing up in the last mile. But during the last quarter mile, I felt that pain that the three sages of the Tour de France are always talking about–the cramping pain, the sore pain (egad, saddle, why you gotta hate so much?), and the pleading for the ride to be over. We reconvened at the Visitor Center and decided we had at least another ten miles in us before we screamed back down the drive. So we cruised along some of the same route we took yesterday, but the scenery never got old.