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.

The butte that abuts Gateway Canyons Resort

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.



Powder and rocks! Fun!

If you’ve been following by non and mis-adventures you might be wondering why I’m not in Moab this weekend. The Moab trip had been in the works for a month and yet the night before fell apart owing to work obligations of one of our party. I was sad not to be visiting the homeland, but this now meant I was free to head down to Wolf Creek’s opening day as the first ski resort to really (more on this later) open in North America.

I’ll have more to write later, but I’ve got to get back to my road trip, which includes hiking and sandboarding and mountain biking Penitente Canyon.

Let me get back to my mini-vacation, but read about what made snowboarding at Wolf Creek yesterday so awesome.

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.

I do a lot of sports, and there a lot of sports I don’t do. The sport that I don’t do and don’t really ever plan on doing is climbing. ‘Fraid of heights and ‘fraid of dyin’. Other sports on my bucket list, which I have just not gotten around to yet, include downhill skiing, scuba diving, and now paddleboarding. Would that I had world enough and time, these coy mistresses would not continue to elude me. Carpe diem.

Then there are those sports I only get to do a few times a year–surfing, kayaking, cross-country skiing–because the weather and geography gods, hands wringing together gleefully, deem it so. The last time I went surfing was Christmas ’09 (it pains me to type that), and the surf rental and wave nymphs seem to be conspiring as well.

But kayaking I get to do at least once a year. Because at least once a year I head home to Little Rhody to see the fam, inhale some clam chowda, and hit the water. A high school friend of mine, an avid kayaker, is always up for an epic kayak adventure. Two summers ago we paddled to Greene Island from the Edgewood Yacht Club and collected shells on a shipwreck of an island. Last year we explored the nooks and crannies of the the Great Swamp.

This summer it was Point Judith Pond, a saltwater collection across the way from the Block Island Ferry. (Now in hi-speed! Only half an hour!)

We put in at the boat launch and paddled our way northward, hugging the middle-west of the pond after ducking underneath the bridge.

Picture-perfect briny day

We gave the quahoggers plenty of berth, as they were busy with their rakes, and floating buckets, digging up some bi-valve mollusks for dinner or sale. I wouldn’t know the difference.

The water was just a few inches deep, and we took our time, picking up shells with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for elementary school children, which we felt like, at that moment.

Booty full of beauty at the bottom of the boat

We were concerned, at the beginning of our shell-collecting adventure, with razor clam shells, so named for their elongated , somewhat elliptical shapes. After that we were digging with our fingers and coming up with scallop shells, mussel shells, and quahog shells. Almost all of them empty but pristine.

Then we headed for the shallow, wild blue yonder, with islands smattered here and there and boats passing on the western edge because by now the eastern edge was only inches deep.

Point Judith Pond opens up to adventure

We paddled past a family picnicking on pizza and a huge fruit tray, and they were kind enough to share in that special way only natives know how: “Come ova heyah and git sum pizza now.” We had packed a full lunch of oversized spring rolls from the farmer’s market in Pawtuxet and a special treat for when our journey was almost over: cheap champagne and cranberry juice, with which to drink poinsettias. Christmas drinking in July for all our hard work. More on that later.

So we paddled, paddled, paddled, fighting this current, sailing with that current, laughing giddily at the beauty of the day, the simplicity of it all. We

Wanna know how much? There's an app for that.

spotted the killer beach house we would never buy, all 500 square feet of it, with its own breakwater and dock. Asking price? Just over half a million. We snaked through some inlets, passing yachts and Donzis and killer homes, the kind where you could just wade out and dig for dinner. Sigh.

We zigged when the rest of the boats zagged and landed in a southerly cove, with nothing but a few houses and some egrets and osprey.

Skittish little things, these egrets

Osprey nest in the distance

Osprey were continually flying overhead, with their massive wingspans, and at one point we could see one bringing another prime stick to the nest. We put our ornithologist caps on and just watched the aviary dances around us. S took some photos and marveled, and not necessarily in that order.

Eye spy an osprey nest

We lally-gogged our way through the quiet cove, talking in old-school library whispers, and feeling very, very lucky. And then….mud and a dead end. The dead end marked the portage, which we knew was coming. S wanted to turn around and head back. But I knew such a move would spoil the magic of the day, the sense of discovery, and the challenge of getting a kayak, and a person and a very important cooler full of cheap champagne to the other side. Plus, there would be no Poinsettia Island if we turned back now.

Mud marks the end of the cove

There was no getting out of the kayak because the mud was feet deep and smelled strongly of sulfur–not very friendly. So I began pelvic lurching the kayak through the mud, arching the back forward and, using the pelvis as a fulcrum, forcing the kayak forward, about six inches at a time. Still, progress was being made. S looked on from twenty feet away, still convinced that turning around was the better option. But we could see and hear the cars passing on the road that marked our portage. I was not giving up Poinsettia Island.

Muddy mess

The pelvis lurching was a great ab workout, so I’m expecting that six-pack from my 30s to re-emerge from the fridge any second now.

The lurching also left a trail, better known as an imprint.

Gives new meaning to stuck in the mud

The only solid ground was reeds attached to mussels, and I faltered a bit heave-hoeing myself onto those marine hillocks. Suction almost stole one of my sandals, but stubborness prevailed and using the muddy paddle I coaxed the kayak up and onto the closest thing to land I’d seen in 20 minutes. S was motivated by my success and followed suit. We were on our way.

We dragged the kayaks through ten-foot high reeds and eventually onto the asphalt. I have never been so happy to see asphalt in my life, except for that one time on cross-country skis. We scoped out the other side, noted the poison ivy growing everywhere except where we had been (how lucky!) and made a plan to portage the boats over to the rocky section of beach instead of plunging once again into the mud. The second half of the portage was downright cushy as compared to the first.

Deceptively calm

After re-entering the water, we returned to that blissful state we had known while collecting shells. And Poinsetta Island was just ahead. We paddled with our legs out of the water so the mud would dry.

Sorry about the mess

We shorelined for Poinsettia Island, being careful not to alert the neighbors (probably landowners) to our arrival. We attacked the champagne and spring rolls, and laughed at our good fortune. Then we went for a swim in the warm, quahog-filled waters, enjoying the sunshine and full bellies and slight light-headedness.

We were six miles into our eight-mile journey by then, and during that long rest period someone had hung barbells onto my arms. Drag. Actually, we dragged our fingers through the shallow water, and listened to the feedback: unnnhhhh, nnnnvvvv, ththththuh, nuhhhhh.

Stupid English phonology. None of those is right. Think dull roar meets trickle. Back at the boat launch, we were sad and glad the journey was over. But! Still friends:

The disheveled ponytail braids tell the real story

And it was over, six hours later. Favorite quote of the day, directed to me during the portage: “I can’t hear what you’re saying over your big brass balls clanging together.” Not brass balls. Just determination.

It’s been just over two years since the car accident and a year since the incident at Coors Field where a drunk fan fell on my head from two rows up. Alcohol maims, even when you’re not the one drinking.

So it is always with trepidation that I return to the sports I love–mountain biking, snowboarding, surfing, trailrunning, cross-country skiing, and kayaking. I can last a few hours snowboarding, but I’m always wondering what kind of back pain punishment awaits me the next day, what kind of pain bill will I have to pay for a few hours of playing in the mountains or the ocean. Getting out of bed the next day can be a challenge.

But I’ve been feeling incredibly strong lately (even with the 10 extra pounds I’ve been carrying around) and have been able to swim, hike, bike, and even run without the dreaded lower back trouble that I’ve unfortunately become accustomed to in the past two years.

The Devil's backbone

But Friday was different. I could feel it as I drove to Devil’s Backbone in Loveland (the town, not the ski area) with my Yeti on the roof, all pretty and ready to go. I got that Christmas feeling of happy anticipation in my stomach, the kind I used to get when heading off into the wild asphalt wonder for days on end in search of new or thrilling (or both) singletrack.

I ran into the park ranger and inquired about the trail. When he asked me whether I was an “avid rider,” I confidently replied “yes” and meant it for the first time in years. It felt good. I could handle the rocky sections, he told me.

The trail, the ranger informed me, is pretty crowded on the weekends, and I could see why. Great, rocky double and singletrack leads all the way to Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins, a recreational paradise.

The ride starts out easy, and trail/park organizers were smart enough to put mountain bikers on one side of the loops and other trail riders on the other. It’s roly-poly in the beginning with few technical or aerobic challenges. A nice warm-up.

Wee bit o' rock on the doubletrack

At a few points one rides a nice, smooth singletrack, flanked by cattails on either side.

It’s pretty scenic, although there is absolutely no coverage, save for these two trees, which provide the only shade in the first 5 miles and mark the midway point of the Blue Sky Trail.

Lone shade along an exposed route

It was here where I ate some lunch (orange, Odwalla bar) and the insects ate me. Two hearty benches and a fallen tree make for excellent sitting in the shade. Lunch and heat and a dwindling water supply intimated that this, indeed was the turning point. I would miss out on the fun of the Indian Summer Trail, but wisdom beat out hubris for once and I turned around.

I knew I had done a fair amount of climbing (elevation stats were not available, but my lungs knew). Hence it would be downhill fun and a chance to float over rocks on the way back as long as I didn’t run into any rattlesnakes.

Thanks for the warning

The view from the top is excellent, and the snow-covered Rockies are peaking out in the distance.

The foothills' scenery can rival that of the mountains themselves, sometimes

And then the real fun began…

Real fun

More real fun in the rattlesnakes’ territory…

Rocks, rocks, and more rocks!

The key to sailing over terrain like this is to do the following:

1. Get enough speed up

2. Look 12 feet ahead, pick a line, and stick with it, regardless of what it looks like up close

3. Sit way back over the seat

4. Release your death grip on the handlebars and just sail over

5. Ignore the flying rocks denting your rims

6. Do not stop. Once you do, you’re dead in the water. Pictures of the super-technical sections are missing from this blog post is because I would rather ride over the demanding sections than take pictures of them.

That clunking and clinking sound is the cost of new rims

The eight miles took just over two hours, but length and time don’t matter. In riding this short, technical trail I overcome rocky, physical, emotional, and psychological obstacles. At ride’s end, I knew that what I’d told the ranger was true: I can ride.

SheSpoke is back on the spokes.

If you go: Avoid the weekends, if possible. Twill be crowded. Set out early in the day, as there is almost no shade. Turn down the iPod so you can hear rattlesnakes should you need to.

Check out the trails for mountain biking at Devil’s Backbone.

Papelbon’s on the mound in extra innings, and the Twins are caught looking, third strike. Thanks to undergroundbastard for the shot.

Papelbon, doing what he does best

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