Monday, March 31, 2014

Bikepacking Arizona's Black Canyon Trail

     I would like to start this blog posting by pointing out that my wife, Laurel, had never been bike packing, and she decided that it was time to confront her massive fear of desert reptiles on the BCT. I, for one, was a bit slow to the idea of bikepacking for pure pleasure, instead of training or racing. I am glad I warmed up to the idea, because it was a fantastic experience and quite nice to share some real time with Laurel in this busy, modern world. I will keep this posting much more brief than my wordy write up of the Tour Divide, but will make up for my lack of words with more photos.
     We started our trip from The Creekside Preserve Lodge in Mayer, Az, which is on the northern portion of the trail. The lodge proved a great starting point due to its close proximity to a trailhead, and also, because the staff allowed us to leave our car for the duration of our trip, even though we only spent one night in a cabin. The cabin was comfy and had a nice in room soaking tub, even if a bit tacky!
     The first day was a bit rough for us on the trail. For starters, the trailhead was quite undeveloped and had us bush-wacking through the desert, following a gpx track, until we finally found the ribbon of single track that would be home for the next four days. Secondly, and much more importantly, our spoiled, unadulterated Northern California skin was introduced to a beast so foul, so vicious, that a true horror story could be written around it. This beast, known as Cat's Claw, seemed to thrive on the northern portion of the trail, and was absolutely, painfully unavoidable. Between the Cat's Claw, the multitude of rocks and the long sections of exposure, our forward progress could only be described as pathetic (note to self; when an Arizona mountain biker says a trail is not technical, don't listen, because their scale is clearly different than the one used in California!).
Rocky exposure
Cat's Claw carnage
Cat's Claw

     Even with all of the challenges during the first day, the riding was fantastic, the scenery beautifully diverse and the primitive camping absolutely stunning.  

    The second day of riding proved to be equally technical as the first, but the trail was much more maintained, which meant less encroaching Cat's Claw to slow our progress. By this point, Laurel was mastering her crash technique, and was dazzling me with her ability to dismount her bike in mid air before headfirst plunges off of the trail. I, on the other hand, simply went for the headfirst approach, as I am far too prideful to admit that I am going to eat shit, therefore holding on well past the point of no return. I think that this would be a good place to interject that we were riding fully loaded hardtails, which, no doubt, compounded every small technical aspect into a large one...the old proverbial mountain out of a molehill scenario. Our incredibly slow progress eventually led us to Black Canyon City and a much needed respite at The Rock Springs Cafe. This was a fantastic place to sit in the shade, eat amazing pie and plan our next move. As we relaxed, we decided to roll across the highway and rent a Kozy Kabin at the Black Canyon City KOA. Not exactly a pillar of luxury, it was nice to take a shower and lick our wounds.
Mural in Black Canyon City
      Our third day of riding felt a lot more like a normal day ride. Don't get me wrong, we still struggled miserably with the terrain, but we spent much more time sightseeing and focused a little less on forward progress. Starting our day at the Black Canyon City trailhead, we quickly found ourselves riding the first real sections of exposure in our mountain biking lives. To say we actually rode those sections would be an outright lie. We actually walked every exposure section like the proper cowards that I guess we are. I now have a deep respect for all of the exposure riding videos I have watched, as it is a long way down with no positive outcome for the sucker who makes the wrong move!
     The rest of the day was full of fantastic riding, albeit loaded with little climbs. The great thing about this section was how quickly terrain would change, constantly keeping us on our toes. The long climbs would give way to fantastic, flowing single track descents that were a blast to ride. We also came across the first riders we had seen for the whole ride: three guys killing it on S-Works Epics (I'm not going to lie, I was a bit jealous of their bikes).
     As evening began to encroach, we started to look for a camping spot for the night. Unfortunately, we were smack in the middle of an area heavily used for shooting and moto riding, so we had to push on looking for a spot. At this point, Laurel was ready to stop and I just kept telling her that there was probably something better around the next corner, over the next hill. As it turned out, there was a nice little spot, it was just around and over the next thousand corners and fifty hills. We finally settled into a little spot on top of the hill and pitched camp. It was great to lie in the tent, watching the stars and listening to the desert come to life. What a time to reflect on the trip so far.


      The last day of riding, as always, is a little bittersweet. It is always nice to get back to the world, get cleaned up and eat and drink to the heart's content, but it also means the inevitable return to worldly responsibility and its faithful companion, stress. As we packed up our last campsite, I couldn't help but look around and really admire the beauty of my surroundings. The mountain bikers of Phoenix are really incredibly lucky to have such an amazing trail system at their very door. As we rode during our last day, the trail began to level out, and the riding became very flowy and fun. We swooped through saguaro, had our first and only flat tire ( Thank you WTB!), tangoed with a Tarantula, crossed a very pronounced threshold from dirt to the pavement and rode into Anthem, Az, concluding our first husband and wife bikepacking adventure.

The End

Monday, March 24, 2014


     Well, as it turns out, time flies when your having fun. Maybe a better way to put that is time flies when your working two jobs, balancing a marriage and training full time for ultra endurance racing! It has been far too long since my last post, and I wanted to give a quick heads up to the few people who may be paying attention and let you that I have been busy with a little bikepacking and 24 hour racing and plan on putting up some post with pictures in the very near future. Thanks for your patience and hold tight, a write up of my bikepacking trip with my wife on Arizona's Black Canyon Trail to follow shortly..........

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2013 Tour Divide Gear List

                         2013 Tour Divide Bike in Cuba, NM

-Frame: 2013 Litespeed Cohutta
-Wheels: Enve xc 29, 32 hole DT Swiss 240 Hubs 
-Tires: WTB TCS Nano
-Fork: Niner Rigid Carbon with QR
-Headset: Chris King In-Set 5
-Shifters: Shimano XT
-Rear Der: Shimano XT
-Front Der: Shimano XT
-Crankset: Shimano XTR M985  172.5 Arm Length    40/28
-BB: Raceface BB 30
-Cassette: Shimano XT 11-36
-Pedal: Shimano XTR
-Chain: Shimano XT
-Brake Lever: Avid
-Brake Caliper: Avid BB7
-Brake Rotor: Shimano RT-86 Ice Tech 160mm
-Brake Pad: Avid BB7 Sintered
-Cables: Sram Slickwire
-Handlebar: Jones H-BAr Aluminium
-Grips: ESI Chunky
-Stem: Easton Ea 50
-Seatpost: Thomson Masterpiece Setback 31.6
-Saddle: WTB Silverado SLT
-Frame Bag: Revelate Designs
-Saddle Bag: Revelate Pika
-Handlebar Bag: Revelate Sling
-Water Bottle Bag: Revelate Feed Bag (x 2)
-Map Case: OTB Map Case
-Bottle Cage: King Cage Titanium
-Headlight: Exsposure Diablo
-Tail Light: Exsposure Red Eye
-Computer: VDO X2 and Garmin 800
-Tools: Lezyne Pressure Drive Pump, Topeak Ratchet Rocket, Leatherman Squirt PS4
Spares: Enve Nipples, Spokes, Pads, Cable, Cleat Bolt, Duct Tape, Zip Ties,       ---Patches, Boots, 2 ultralight tubes
-Sleeping Kit Dry Bag: Sea To Summit 13L E-Vent
-Sleeping Bag: Western Mountaineering Highlite
-Sleeping Pad: Klymit Inertia X PAd
-Bivy Sack: Montbell Breeze Dry Tec
-Rain Jacket: Montbell Versalite
-Jacket: Montbell UL
-Bibs: Endura FS260 Pro (x 2)
-Jersey: Louis Garneau Team
-Arm Warmers: Specialized Therminal
-Leg Warmers: Specialized Therminal
-Gloves: Endura Rapido Mitt
-Cold Weather Gloves: Endura Nemo
-Socks: REI Medium Weight Hiking Wool 
-Shoes: Specialized S-Works Evo
-Helmet: Rudy Project Sterling
-Glasses: Rudy Project Noyz
-Medical Kit: Tums, Ibuprofen, Nexcare Tegaderm
-Water Bottles: 3 21 oz. bottles and 1 Platypus 2 liter Reservoir
-Water Purifier: Steripen Adventurer
-Bear Mace: Counter Assault With Holster
-Bear Whistle: REI
-Tracker: Spot
- Maps: ACA Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Maps
-Cues: ACA Printable Cues, Modified and Printed On National Geographic Adventure Paper
-Food Storage: LokSak Odor Proof Bags  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013 Tour Divide race report: New Mexico

     New Mexico. The end. The last of five states and two countries. I couldn't believe I had finally crossed my last state line of the Tour Divide and was barreling towards Mexico. I was elated, but my riding partners didn't have the same enthusiasm, and I knew at that moment that my time riding with Markley was over. He was muttering about taking a nap in his bivy to escape the looming storm, and all I wanted was to outrun it. As I had learned, storms seemed to move in the same direction and at the same speed as a Divide racer, so if you slow enough to get caught in a storm's grips, you will remain there for quite some time. I didn't want to get rained on any longer, so I decided to run like hell from it and in the process, chase down the Swiss, who I knew were only about an hour ahead. The  forest road I was on was lonely and wind-whipped, and had two distinct tire tracks running along its lengths. I followed those tracks, knowing they belonged to the Swiss, and then there was a lone set of footprints. "Who could these prints belong to?," I thought to myself. Here I was, in the middle of nowhere and there seemed to be a hiker in my midst. I soon came across a lone hiker, true to the ultralight discipline. He was, as it turned out, on mile 3,000 of a hiking odyssey. I was utterly impressed by the magnitude of his undertaking and once again gained valuable perspective of the struggle I was engaged in. I shared one of my fresh made Amish fruit pies with the hiker and charged after the Swiss, who, according to the hiker, were merely 20 minutes ahead.
     I raced. I hammered. I took risks on descents and I generally pushed myself harder than I had at any other time during the Divide in an effort to pull back the Swiss and regain a 7th place position. As night came upon me at the base of Burnt Mountain, I could taste the dust in the air that the Swiss were stirring up during their descents. I pushed until exhaustion got the better of me and I stopped to peacefully slumber in the warm, cocoon-like embrace of a campground pit toilet outhouse. Before I laid down to sleep for four hours, I had a quick dig in the campground trash cans for a little midnight snack, and came up victorious with a Ziploc bag full of Lays potato chips. This behavior was made easy for me by the fact that I had spent a number of my teenage years homeless, and was no stranger to a trashcan meal plan. With my belly full, I slept soundly until I was startled awake at 4 am by someone trying to get into the outhouse. I sternly stated that I was trying to sleep, and then heard a voice with a thick Swiss accent say, "Oh sorry, sorry, it is Saemi." SAEMI! I thought to myself. I had chased the Swiss for hours the previous day, seemingly in vain, and as it turned out, they were sleeping right next to me in the campground. The race was on! They ran and I chased. And chased. And chased. I chased their elusive tire tracks over Burnt Mountain, and past the vicious Vallecitos dogs, and straight into Abiquiu, where I finally made contact with them and learned of our fire re-routes. I stopped to restock and they ran towards Cuba. They ran and I chased.
     It was a long, paved road to Cuba. I think it would have been a nice ride if it wasn't for the ominous storm that was chasing and gaining on me despite my fastest riding yet. As I rode into Cuba, the storm intensified and I decided to pull into McDonalds for a break and an attempt to get a game plan together. As I pulled up, I saw the Swiss' bikes against the wall and knew I was going to have to push on to Grants to create a gap. The Swiss had decided to get a motel room and rest a couple of hours, so now was the time to dig deep. I pushed hard. I had arrived in Cuba at 5 pm and I arrived in Grants at 3 am after spending 23 hours and 250 miles in the saddle. A motel room never felt so nice!
      The next day found me heading to Pie Town and now running from the Swiss, instead of chasing them. It felt good to be a rabbit for a change, it gave me motivation to ride a little harder and stop a little less. A quick pie break and I was on my way towards the big Gila re-route, which was going to prove to be way more difficult than I could have ever anticipated.
     I made the mistake to think that I was solidly in the desert for the remainder of the ride, but as night came upon me, I found myself climbing back into the mountains, engulfed in a storm, surrounded by lightning and followed by eyes. Low, stealthy eyes that would not part ways no matter what I tried. I finally jumped off of my bike and charged into the darkness after the eyes that had followed me for close to a mile. They would not retreat, but they finally gave up the chase. Once again, I rode steadily up, up and up until exhaustion took over. The great limiter in the Tour Divide is not the willingness to continue, it's the inability to stay awake. That inability is what finally decides where one will slumber for the night. As it turned out, I slept in a makeshift log phone booth at the turnoff for the Gila Hotshots fire base (just a quick note on the subject of fire stations; Firemen love water, which should be no surprise, and I have never been let down looking for a water spigot at a fire station. The Gila Hotshots station was no exception). Before I laid down to sleep, I drew a line across the dirt road with a stick so I would know if the Swiss passed me in the night. Three hours later I awoke, packed and checked my line, which remained uncrossed. I was still in 7th place and I intended to keep it that way.
       My summary of the rest of my ride to Silver City would come down to one word: BRUTAL! I clawed, and bit, and scratched, and fought with every bit of my being to get to Silver City. Now I know why the Tour Of the Gila Road Race is known for being so gnarly. If the hills don't kill you, the heat and wind are sure to put you in your grave. I arrived in Silver City during the late afternoon, and decided to get a motel room for a few hours to patch up my saddle sores, which at this point were unbearable, and to sleep for two hours. I think a detailed description of this affliction is in order. I had developed two saddle sores, one on each sit bone, that defied my understanding of a typical saddle sore. These were more like pressure ulcers that were two inches across and about half an inch raised and split wide open. These sores had to be covered with padded bandages to be even remotely tolerable, and of course, they required no less than 1200 mg of Advil a day to keep me from succumbing to the intense pain.
     I awoke at 11 pm, packed up and hit the road for Antelope Wells. I had 120 miles left, and I was raring to go. As I rode out of town into the darkness, I was in awe of the apocalyptic lighting storms that were all around me. Soon, I came to my turn for Separ Road and I decided to up my pace and ride this section as hard as I could. Separ Road is a 30 mile stretch of sand/dirt road that leads to I-10. I highly recommend riding this road at night, full tilt, so one can enjoy the thrill of hitting a patch of deep sand at 25 mph while half asleep. There's nothing quite like it. As dawn broke, I crossed I-10 and began heading south on the paved road to Antelope Wells. Trying to reach Antelope Wells, the finish of the Tour Divide, was much like watching a pot of water, waiting for it to boil: you know the end result is coming, but it seems like an eternity before it actually happens. I knew at this point that I was going to finish, even if my bike disintegrated beneath me and I had to walk. Soon, I was only ten miles from the finish, and that is when my wife came across me on her way to the border to pick me up. I was so happy to see her, I thought I would burst. We just looked at each other, unable to stop smiling and then she drove ahead to let me finish alone. I rode as hard as I could to get to her. The entire race behind me like a vast ocean of pain, bliss, joy and sorrow. And then the end, and an embrace from my wife and a priceless treasure of memories secured. That is the Tour Divide, a priceless treasure of memories.

2013 Tour Divide race report: Colorado

     Crossing the Wyoming/Colorado line was a bit like seeing an old friend for me. I had lived in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado during my late teens and early twenties, and that made this the first familiar state I had been in since my start in Banff. The elation of entering Colorado was soon replaced by pure, hard riding because the road quickly kicks upward on the way to Steamboat Springs. Along this road however, is a Tour Divide staple, The Brush Mountain Lodge, which is a fantastic place to stock up on food, get hydrated and even ice aching joints!
     I entered Steamboat Springs at night, which meant I rode right on past the Post Office that was holding a general delivery package containing my various re-supply items, good thing I didn't need them. Steamboat is known as a bit of a Tour Divide time suck, so I was happy to slip past unnoticed in the nighttime hours, and sleep along the roadside near Lake Catamount.
      Waking at dawn, I was presented with a glorious Colorado sunrise, and I knew it was going to be a good morning. One of my first human sightings of the day was a roadie descending full bore down a dirt forest road on a Cervelo R5 carbon road bike; I guess Colorado produces a hardier breed of cyclist than I am used to seeing. It was nice to be around recreational cyclists again, it made me feel a little less lonely for some reason. The rest of the ride was a beast. The climbs were very difficult, and the heat and wind worked in conjunction with my growing saddle sores to try and bring me to my knees. The pain made the rest of the day a bit of a blur, but I endured and found myself in a Silverthorne motel cleaning up, eating pizza and patching saddle sores.
     Perspective is important, especially in undertakings as intense as the Tour Divide. For me, riding the bike path from Silverthorne to Breckenridge was a moment of great perspective. It was a brilliantly sunny morning, and I was surrounded by bike commuters on their way to work. There I was, feeling a bit sorry for myself due to my ailments, and then I realized that most of the cyclists passing me on their way to work were probably envious of my adventure and I am sure every one of them would have traded their short, daily commute for an epic life-changing adventure. The day found me waking in a Silverthorne motel, having a profound perspective change entering Breckenridge, climbing majestic Boreas pass, descending a flowing Gold Dust flume trail, getting a bike tune at Absolute bikes in Salida, climbing huge Marshall Pass at midnight and sleeping in a warm little roadside cottage in Sergeants. Not too shabby for a humble day's work.
     The section between Sergeants and Del Norte was just hard work that found 5 of the top 11 riders playing leap frog all day, which for me added a bit of pressure to ride hard and rest little to maintain my constant top ten position. We rode through diverse terrain with big, hot climbs and long, windy sections. My favorite moment of the day was sitting along a dirt forest road at the base of Carnero Pass, completely out of water and trying desperately to convince myself not to drink the brown stream water running through a cow pasture. "In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty"( This was the Bob Marley lyric that ran through my head). I opted to fill my bottles with the Giardia laden water and at least use it to cool myself during the long climb upwards. Unluckily for me, the anticpated water pump at the StormKing Campground was missing its handle, which meant another 15 miles of dehydrated riding until the small La Garita store where my life was surely saved by Gatorade and ice cream. After sufficient re-hydration, I headed on to Del Norte, which upon arrival was completely choked by smoke from the forest fires afflicting the surrounding mountains. After a dinner in a local cafe with Markley and the Swiss, Markley and I headed out of town and part way up Indiana Pass, where we decided to sleep in a roadside ditch to try to get below the smoke. Apparentley, sleeping low in a ditch is a great tactic when confronted with thick smoke, as we woke the following morning fresh with lungs intact.
     The last stretch of Colorado found Markley and me riding through rain and lightning on severely washboarded roads from Platoro to Horca until the last climb of the state, which was a paved beast called La Manga pass. I knew we were getting ready to cross into New Mexico, and I also knew our time riding together was coming to an end. Markley was an incredible riding partner, and I will be forever grateful for his guidance during the race.
    Farewell Colorado, hello imperceptible New Mexico state line!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

2013 Tour Divide race report: Wyoming

     Wyoming is big. I could stop there and that would sum up the foundation of riding in that state, but then, I wouldn't be able to tell of its incredible geographic diversity.  A Divide racer's first experience with Wyoming is a rather majestic brushing with the Tetons, and I surely wish I would have had the eyes for the scenery during my passing.  As my luck would have it, my saddle sores, achilles tendonitis and knee pain came together in such a savage way that I literally rode through one of the most spectacular sections of the course with my head down, crying my eyes out due to the pain and absolutely sure I was on the brink of failure. As I rode past beautiful Teton vistas, all I could see were my dreams and goals of the past year beginning to fall away from me. The pain I was experiencing was the most severe of my entire life, and I was starting to play out the scenario of quitting. I was heartbroken, and all I could do was weep. Then, I thought of all the people supporting me emotionally during this race: all of my family and friends and my beautiful wife, who had sacrificed so much to help me get to that point. The thought of letting all of those people down became even more unbearable than my pain. The truth is, the Tour Divide had become so important to me that it was worth the risk of permanent bodily injury. Period. End of story. No more crying. No more self pity. It was time to swallow hard and suffer through it, and suffer I did, until I reached a nice motel and restaurant near the base of Union Pass. I decided to call it a day after only 130 miles of riding to try to put my failing body back together. After a bowl of elk stew, a nice round of stretching, a soak in an ice filled bath tub and six hours of sleep, I was raring to go and felt like a new man!
      The Great Divide Basin is one seriously intense place, and I knew that heading into it. The Basin crossing basically entails a long stretch of barren, dry desert, devoid of any water or services between the towns of Atlantic City and Rawlins, which roughly equals about 140 miles. I started my basin assault from a teepee that is located in front of the town bar. Unfortunately, for the teepee's inhabitants that night, which included Markley Anderson, Cjell Money, and me, the bar let out after a loud and debaucherous juke box festival. As it turned out, they forgot to shut off the juke box, so it played random classic country songs all night long! The "crossing" was long and hard. The road was severely washboarded and the wind was absolutely relentless! A fun fact of the Basin is that we had to carry all of our water for the entire trip to Rawlins, which meant I had to make four liters last nearly fourteen hours! Needless to say, I was pretty wrecked by the time Markley and I reached Rawlins, but we were soon revived by massive meals and milkshakes at Penny's Diner.
     The road out of Rawlins is no joke. It starts with casual rollers on a paved road that soon turns to a dirt road so packed down, it's hard to tell it apart from its paved cousin. Soon, however, a climb appears and then a series of rollers that are incredibly steep, which, in my case, pointed me directly into a brutal head wind. There is not much to look at in this part of Wyoming, just endless rollers covered in scrub, but there is a glimpse of hope in the form of distant mountains that hint at the Colorado state line, and the leaving behind of Wyoming, a state that is responsible for a huge percentage of the Tour Divide's attrition rate.
     Wyoming was a diverse state comprised of soaring mountains and windy, burning plains. The people I met were wonderful and the hospitality I experienced was humbling. I was truly touched by the natural beauty, the broad expanses and, of course, the kindness of its inhabitants.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

2013 Tour Divide race report: Idaho

     Idaho represents a relatively small part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, but what it lacks in distance, it certainly makes up for in brutality! Unfortunately for Idaho, the primary memory I have is  30 miles of rail trail.  When a racer looks at a map of Idaho, the rail trail looks pretty inviting due to the flat profile and multi-use concept. In reality, the rail trail is more like a 30 mile swath of kitty litter moguls that certainly leads straight into the bowels of hell. I had no idea heading into this section that I would face some of my most desperate moments of the entire race. The severity of my saddle sores was becoming evident, but the washboarded texture of the rail trail not only hammered home this reality, it worsened it to a point that would nearly remove me from the race the very next day. There were many moments on the infamous rail trail that I truly believed I would never escape, and at least one emotional break down shared with a fellow racer, Brian Pal, that included full on tears. I did in fact escape its devilish clutches, but in no way un-scathed.
     The best part of southern Montana, leading into Idaho, was that I was finally getting out of grizzly country, or so I mistakenly thought. In Lima, Montana, I handed my bear spray over to a gas station clerk, who was willing to give it to a northbound racer heading into grizzly country, as I no longer needed it. Now, I was bedding down in Idaho for a night's sleep, realizing that I was right on the edge of Yellowstone National Park, and heading right into the west Yellowstone corridor the following day, on my way to Wyoming. Now, I don't know much (apparently), but I do know that area is grizzly central and would be a good place for bear spray. As luck would have it, Brian Pal and I ran into our first grizzly the following morning and I continued to hear it follow us through the woods during our long climb towards Flagg Ranch.  I guess we smelled just a bit too bad to be considered food, even by grizzly standards.
     After a long ride through some wild country in West Yellowstone, the road begins to become more civilized and then becomes pavement. The pavement runs into Flagg Ranch Resort, which is a gateway to Yellowstone Park, but more importantly to a Divide racer, it is a lodge with a bustling restaurant. I was feeling like I was on my last legs due to the extreme pain from my saddle sores and also just pure exhaustion, and the restaurant proved to be a life saver. Let's just say that waffles never tasted so good!
Although technically, Flagg Ranch is in Wyoming, I am including it in my Idaho experience because the transition between states can sometimes be seamless during the race, and this was one of those times.