Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tour de Front Range 2010

 Almost exactly 24 hours ago, I was descending Green Mountain, Disturbed's "Indestructible" blaring on my iPod with the winter sun warm and bright. I was around Mile 35 of my solo Tour de Front Range. This ride connects nine different Jeffco Open Space Parks into one helluva day spent on dirt. Each park is totally different as far as its individual trail system goes, and combined there is over 8000 feet of climbing in 57 miles.

I began thinking of something epic to do on New Years Day and I remembered hearing of a ride that connected a bunch of trail systems. I have ridden the Chimney Gulch/Apex combo and the Falcon/Lair combo a ton of times, but never all on the same day....Hmmmmmm....I wondered what it would be like to connect them all?

I had to do it. I had to throw a challenge out to myself, take it directly on, and well, kick its ass. After some weather forecast investigation, I decided to do it yesterday in high 50 degree weather rather than on Saturday which was looking pretty chilly and snowy.

I Googled the route information and found out a lot more about the ride. I liked the informal nature of it and as I began learning more about it and reading blogs, I had no doubt in my mind what I would be doing the next day.

No one I knew was able to join, so I readied my gear and bike for the next morning. I was dropped off at the White Ranch lower parking lot at 7:30AM and treated to a gorgeous sunrise over Denver.

Mmmmmm, WOW!

Hey! How did that bike get in front of it?

AAAAAANNNND, the obligatory pre-ride posed picture :)

To the stem of my bike, I attached a post-it note of the parks and trails that made up the ride. Here's the next few hours of my day was going to be:

 The camera I was going to use to grab a few pictures throughout my ride was completely dead when I turned it on, so I regret to inform you there will be no photojournalistic evidence of my tour :-( All I have is my GPS and heart rate info that will most likely bore you.

So here are some thoughts on my ride and some things I learned:

1) Water bars will hurt you. They are slick and obnoxious on the downhill and caused a few soil samples to be taken descending Mustang Trail. Give me nasty rocks any day over these beasts.

2) Mustang Trail is the best trail in White Ranch. It has some intimidating, gnarly drops and some insanely fun downhill challenges. It was my first time riding it and I was a bit conservative, but, even as my sheer hatred for all the water bars grew while on it, I can't wait to ride it again. If you have a bike, go experience this trail. Really. Go. Do it.

3) My legs felt fresh and strong for 6 solid about 6:05 I found myself halfway up Mt. Falcon, hungry, searching for granny, and a bit fatigued. This was my fault and could have been avoided if I had stopped and eaten when I first started to feel hungry at the trailhead. Listen to your body, Jill. It knows. Give it what it needs when it needs it and don’t try to push through for another mile or two. You will pay for it.

6) This ride was not a sufferfest at all. In fact, I couldn’t stop the adrenaline high that rushed through my veins as I completed each park and headed for the next.

7) Pick an even day to do this ride due to the directionality of Apex. I was craving the Enchanted Forest downhill only to realize that I would be climbing Sluice Box instead and adding three more miles onto the ride. I have to admit, the devil horns appeared momentarily as I considered sneaking down EF….I said momentarily J

8) Laughing at the fact that, in the blink of an eye, I was down over the bank and in the creek descending Apex helped salvage my pride. I was riding a little recklessly due to some thrash metal that came on my iPod and the very last rock garden decided to teach me a lesson. I am finding some resulting bruises and cuts a day later.

9) Matthews Winters was a whole new experience. I had my only tiny mechanical issue here as I had to stop and adjust my brakes. The switchbacks on Morrison Slide are the tightest, steepest and rockiest I have seen on the Front Range. I have a few years (decades) of riding to do before I will make those…can you say “Hike-a-Bike?”

10) The paved roads I had to ride to get from park to park provided a TON of recovery time. I was very happy with the fact that I wasn’t needing nearly that much.
11) In 2007, 21 people started and only 9 finished. Not once did the thought of quitting ever enter my consciousness.
12) The last three miles are a wicked FAST descent on the road back into Morrison. When I passed the city limits sign, tears flooded my eyes. The feeling of setting a goal, planning for it and then absolutely conquering it was so intense that emotion overwhelmed me. I was so happy and had such a great day, my heart was full of inspiration, confidence and motivation to continue the pursuit of my dream of racing.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Singlespeed Christmas and a Look into 2011

I must admit I have been suffering from some epic writers block this past week. My mind is constantly pondering something but nothing (in my judgment) worthy of a post has been coming to me lately. I do hope this Christmas was relaxing and rejuvenating for all and you were able to spend it with family and friends.

Mine was spent bike packing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day consisted of riding from Loveland to Ft. Collins on trails that make up Devils Backbone, Horsetooth Mountain Park and Lory State Park. This area isn't necessarily scenic (except for the rocks that make up the "backbone" just outside of Loveland), but it provides some awesome riding. Especially on a singlespeed. The black diamond Laughing Horse trail straight kicks my butt everytime, but I keep going back for more because, slowly and sometimes painfully, it is making me a better rider.

I took my singlespeed on both days because I love the workout and challenge. My SS was a super cheap Craigslist find. It is a nice Bianchi frame that has been rattle-canned black (??) and has a sticker of a coffin with four wheels and one of a Gecko ( I have no idea and didn't ask the guy selling it). It has high quality components and a brand new Fox shock on the front. I love the simplicity of that bike and enjoyed the sore quads it gave me a couple days after the Christmas adventures.

I don't have a lot of pictures that turned out to be anything post-worthy, but this one is amazing:

Many of you have probably seen it on Facebook, but I am thinking it soon may have to be the banner picture for my blog. It represents, to me, the beginning of something awesome that is happening in my life right now. I am looking into 2011 with some huge goals and leaving a lot of things, both material and emotional, that no longer serve me, behind.

I only ask one selfish thing of 2011: CAN WE GET SOME DAMN SNOW ON THE FRONT RANGE?

Monday, December 20, 2010

How to Turn 31

Some hit the bars with a mission to score a free shot at each. Some spend their birthday at the spa. And some choose to completely ignore the day and work. Yah, not me. My birthdays generally include a trail, a mountain and a journey. For example, my 25th saw me, two labs and a good friend skinny dipping in an icy waterfall after a death march through the Trinity Wilderness of Northern California. The big 3-0 was a well planned adventure through New Zealand (this one really deserves its own post) and just this past May, #31 was spent in Chicago Basin chasing summits that were once again calling.
Chicago Basin is located between Silverton and Durango, CO and is graced by peaks that bring tears to my eyes. The three on my brain this time were Windom, Sunlight and Eolus. It was Memorial Day weekend so I was a little leery of all the people the long weekend would bring, but I convinced my chosen partner in crime to bust out the crampons and we were off.
After some debate between the Purgatory trail, a 30 mile approach over Columbine Pass and the narrow gauge railroad that runs up the Animas River, we opted for the train (largely for the experience of a whistle-stop that would leave us in the middle of nowhere). From the middle of nowhere, we picked up a seven mile trail that meandered along the Animas River to the head of Chicago Basin.

Getting ready to board the train with everything I need on my back

Not a high speed excursion along the Animas River

We were in shorts as we packed all our gear to camp for three nights. The weather was warm and there was virtually no snow until we entered the basin. The hike in was gorgeous. The Animas roared below and we were surrounded by noble, snow-covered kings on both sides.

Early in the afternoon we arrived at the perfect camping spot, set up and hung our food. Not able to resist what was directly in front of us, we opted for an exploratory day hike before the sun went down. The spring snow was starting to melt, but it still was getting cold enough at night to make weird looking snow sculptures.

Playing on the waterfalls

After climbing up some rocks to the top of a couple waterfalls, we returned to camp, anxious to get an early (3AM) start on Sunlight and Windom. Astonishingly enough, we only saw two others going into the basin. We met a couple hikers coming out, but I dozed off grinning at the solitude I was getting for my birthday.

Playing on waterfalls (contd)

Well, almost… I awoke sometime shortly after midnight to three really loud dudes who had no doubt escaped their wives for the weekend, chose to camp about 100 ft away and celebrate their escape with a few bottles of whiskey. In line with my laid-back social nature, we decided to befriend the whiskey-toting hombres. Their plan of attack was identical to ours and we would end up sharing both summits the next morning.

Early morning just above Twin Lakes

An early, chilly hike up to Twin Lakes from camp, gave me the first good view of Sunlight and Windom. With crampons and ice axes, we trudged up the long, snowy couloir to an absolutely exhilarating finish through icy, rock tunnels and up snow and ice-laden slabs of red rock. Each step sent adrenaline through my entire body. Time became still as I pulled myself up, through and around the route to the summit. Never before had I felt the strength in my arms and legs in such a poignant way…surreal, invigorating, enlivening. The route from the bottom at Twin Lakes was a long steady climb that steepened significantly right after the halfway point, but I never felt fatigued, winded or even noticed the physical demands. I was in a different realm completely focused on everything non-human around me.
The last jump to the very top of the summit block was too dangerous due to the ice and snow, so I kissed the gigantic slab and claimed my summit. We converged paths with the loud boys again and one guy actually did attempt the move and made it. Looking back, I probably could have made the leap, but my lack of confidence in my boots sticking to the slab and the GNARLY exposure that would have sent me to my end kept me from the final jump.  

From Sunlight looking east

Sweet view from the top of Sunlight with Sunlight Spire just behind me

A moment of reflection descending Sunlight en route to Windom
 Descending Sunlight was a fun glissade and my eyes fixated on the Widow Maker couloir which would deliver us at the top of Windom less than a quarter mile away. After a quick protein bar and some Propel in the basin between the two peaks, I was itching to begin the ascent. I started behind two of the guys but quickly found my groove and entered the same realm of exhilaration I felt on Sunlight just an hour before. I never stopped once I started my climb. I never felt tired and I was focused intently. It was steep and icy and each step required jamming the toe of my crampon into the mountain to make a “stairstep” of sorts for the guys behind me. The morning sun was warming everything and each breath I took filled my lungs with that light.
The top of the couloir brought me to an enormous and very unstable cornice. I had plenty of room to get around it and continue the short scramble to the true summit, but it was definitely a sight to respect. I spent 5 minutes alone waiting for everyone else, simply basking in the splendor of an unforgettable morning in the San Juans. At that moment, I realized I had been given more than I ever expected for my 31st birthday present.

A look at the cornice at the top of Widow Maker

One word: EPIC

Pictures, laughter, high-fives and some snacks kept us all on the summit for about 20 minutes. Our return trip included some high speed butt-slides (yes, a very technically correct term) and some rather annoying post-holing toward the bottom due to the mid-morning sun melt. We returned to camp just past 1 pm and caught up on some sleep and lounged around like lizards in the Colorado sunshine.
The next morning was REALLY cold. Eolus via the East Couloir was the goal for the day. We got a little later start, but soon caught up to our new friends. We climbed up to the summit of North Eolus and looked across at two of our cohorts who decided to tackle Eolus first. Simultaneous summits gave us the chance to wave across the basin below and the famous “catwalk” that joined the two peaks. The catwalk looks sketchy from above, but it is actually no more than a fun, easy Class 2 traverse to Eolus. After leaving the catwalk, we deemed the snow too dangerous and slick to continue on the route to the summit. Starting an hour later than the previous morning, proved to be a mistake as the sun had just began to melt the top layer of ice. The slope was too exposed and too dangerous to cross in the morning sun, so we did some epic butt-sliding back to camp, laughing and joking the whole way. I must say that I was disappointed at the time to have missed out on Eolus, but now I am rather glad. Why? Heh..because a return trip soon is inevitable.

An unbelievable sunrise on Eolus

North Eolus summit...In that realm

We broke camp and stayed along the Animas that evening, did some day hiking and childlike exploring and then flagged the narrow gauge down the next morning to get back to Durango.

Animas river near the whistle-stop

I have used nearly every adjective to describe this experience and, honestly, none can do justice to convey what I experienced on the anniversary of my 31st year…So I will leave you with this: THAT was one helluva a birthday bash. So much better than going to a bar trying to score free shots J

On the catwalk with the formidable Eolus looming above

Butt slide technique perfected

Friday, December 10, 2010

Team Need More Cowbell invades Moab

The idea came to me in late July. I wanted to ride 24 hours of Moab. I hit up the website and it sounded like a blast. Hmmmm, I wonder if I could actually get anyone I rode with to commit and do it.? In case you are wondering what the hell I am talking about, 24 hours of Moab is an endurance race for mountain bikers that lasts (you guessed it) for 24 hours. At "high noon" on Saturday the riders rack their bikes next to a huge white tent, line up, run around a tree about 1/4 mile away and back to their bikes where they start the beginning of a 14.9 mile loop. There are many different options on how to compete: one can race solo (yep, that's right, pedal for a day straight); or one can race as a team of two, four or five (and maybe more).

If you are wondering more about it:

I was happy to find three guys, Chris, Drew and Zack who wanted to do it. After a considerable email train finding the perfect name, we decided on "Need More Cowbell."

Need More Cowbell

I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy the 13 year-old humor that pervades all of our rides prior to and since Moab. These guys always keep me in stitches and I love the fast pace and challenging obstacles they push through.

We got into Moab on Friday and began to set up our camp. The race is held just south of the town of Moab in an area called "Behind the Rocks." This area becomes tent city for the weekend.

We pre-rode the course Friday afternoon, built a fire, ate and headed to bed, eagerly anticipating the next day. I was elected to ride the first lap (only because no one had ANY desire to run) which meant I had to be a part of the Lemans style start (think run around tree, jump on bike).

Here I am in the middle of the chaos that was about to ensue...notice the elbow pads that came in handy as I was rounding the tree between two huge dudes. Ugh....threw a little elbow in the ribs and I held my ground..kind of. It was more like a last ditch effort to stay on two feet.

My first lap was 1:30 I think. The first 3 miles were utter chaos. I took off at a quick pace, hoping to avoid all the bottlenecks I could foresee getting up the first part of the rocky climb. There were people spinning out, pushing their bikes, falling over and there was even kind of a line forming up a common line onto the top of one rock. I found the fastest guy I could, put my front wheel about 12 inches behind his back wheel and prayed he didn't stall out. I have no idea who he was, but he found some awesome lines through the mess of bikers and I stayed with him for a long time. He lost me on the flatter, fast sections as all my power was seeping into the ground due to a crappy rear shock and I couldn't begin to catch him. The next part was the infamous "nose dive." It definitely earns its name as I saw no one attempt to ride the steep rocky drop. (I watched some great Youtube videos of some colossal wrecks prior to the race, however).

The bottom of the nose dive is kind of a sandy flat spot and then you again pack your bike straight up some slick rock for another 20 or 30 ft. From there, I was able to ride up to what resembled a trail again. The rest of the loop was not too technical but had some fun rocks and hills to rail down.

My second lap was pretty close to my 1st lap and I remember watching a gorgeous sunset. I was feeling good, but frustrated as I just couldn't find the speed I needed on the long, flat roads. All the people I had passed on the hills, and the downhills were now passing me. Around mile 13, I fumbled for my hand held Motorola radio..."This is Mary Swanson to Lloyd Christmas...I am at mile 13." Yah, we all picked our radio names from "Dumb and Dumber" which is pretty much par for the course with Chris, Drew and Zack.

My third lap started great. My legs felt good and I was making good time until my head lamp started to dim about mile 7...GRRR!! It was fully charged and should have burned bright for the entire lap, but it was starting to really dim and I was having trouble seeing. I only had the helmet light and no light on my handlebars (which will NOT be the case in Tuscon). My pace slowed considerably. At mile 11 I had to stop for a second and grab my little Petzel hiking light that was a total joke. My "good" light had completely gone dead and I was using the light from other riders to negotiate my way through some thick sand. There is one line through the last 2 to 3 miles and if you don't stay on it, life becomes hell trying to slog through the sand.
My time was 20 minutes longer than my previous two laps and I was frustrated and feeling my legs from all the sand pedalling I had to grunt through.

Lap 4 was an awesome sunrise lap...WOW, the sun coming up over the LaSalle mountains in the east will forever be etched in my mind. I was a little slower on my final lap. I think it was due to not eating enough when I got up from sleeping. I felt a little hungry about half way through.

Our team was in the "Just For Fun" class because it was cheaper to register that way. And we had an awesome time. No one brought any sort of cookware, but Drew made the BEST homemade breakfast burritos that we warmed in a shovel over the campfire. Chris rode his heart out and finished a minute short of Zack being able to ride his fourth lap. A noble effort after him mentioning his legs were toast by then. Drew rode the quickest laps and I hand-delivered a beer which he dumped half over his head and shotgunned the rest.

Free mullet cuts, shots and PBRs were amongst the highlights on Sunday morning...I would venture to say, only in Moab, but I did grow up in John Day, OR.

This was my first race. I haven't even ridden a mountain bike for a year. I rode 60 miles during that race and had a lot of time to think. I loved every second of it. I could feel something starting in my soul, a passion for this that will haunt me, motivate me and drive me until I take my last breath. I thrive on a bike.

There were times my hands were freezing and could not feel my toes. There was the "thrill" of packing a 34 lb bike out of the nose-dive at 3AM. There was the frustration of trying to find the line through the god-awful sand when my headlamp quit. But, during that 60 miles, I came to this conclusion:   in exactly one year, I WILL be on a different bike, riding it solo.

Mark my words.

I wish I had some pics of us actually riding, but I haven't gotten them from the guys yet. Zack made a cool video of his first lap, added some sweet songs and made an indoor spin class out of it. We even had the cowbells and burritos afterwards. I am getting that from him as well and will post it to give you more of an idea of what the ride was like....In the meantime, here are some more pics of Team Need More Cowbell:

Drew and Zack

Chris and his Enduro Pro which can climb and descend every gnarly obstacle I have seen him try (so jealous)

And my post race celebration..Uh huh, Crown Royal at 7AM....

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


In my heart, I will always be a little girl on a horse. I used to daydream while sitting in my desk at school about my horse Mac. The first thing I was going to do was run as fast as I could up the driveway to the barn after I got off the bus. I had forts and secret "gold" stashes all over the acres of hayfields I grew up riding. And in my third grade mind, these forts could possibly be breached and the gold stashes stolen. Mac was my trusty steed, and along with my other best friend, Sammie the Airedale, we would "patrol" the meadows and check the gold stashes (which really were old, broken, glass powerline insulators, but for purposes of this blog--they were GOLD).

My mom used to tell me that it wasn't good to run your horse all the time because that would be all they would want to do. So, like any normal kid, as soon as I could see mom not standing at the window, away we went, as fast as I could make old Mac go. I can't remember anything that felt as good as racing across the fields. I quickly became a jockey winnning the Kentucky Derby, a world champion barrel racer and when Mac would scale the ditches and creeks, we were winning the steeplechase in record time. I would always make sure I cooled Mac out (so it didn't look like I ran him the whole time). Ha, but my mom knew exactly what I had been doing because the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Mac was no youngster after a few years and I got a horse named Page when I was in junior high. I had a burning desire and a dream to be a world champion barrel racer but lacked the suitcases full of cash to pursue this past high school rodeo. I loved the high intensity and speed (of course) of team roping, breakaway and barrel racing. God, I miss those days sometimes.

My other intense, hardcore fix was basketball. I lived for Friday night games. I pushed hard every second in every practice. I wanted to be the fastest when coach yelled "On the line!" I never let up on myself...push...go...move..faster. I knew how many points, rebounds and assists every person on the Portland Trailblazers had the night before. Big games made my adrenaline surge. I lived and breathed basketball in my teens...

Many, many nights I would wake up at 3AM in the corner of my room, crouched into position to shoot a free throw and have to get back in bed. Then about 15 minutes later, I was down in defensive position trying to take a charge...sound asleep until I would wake myself up by running into the wall. Um, yah, I would call that slightly intense :-P (I could coyly slip the word “epically” in, but I will spare you all—THIS TIME).
Now, after being in Colorado for 5 years, my intensity and passion has not lessened an ounce. In fact, I think it has increased (hehe..exponentially) with age. My 14er completion quest is in full swing and the number I have summitted almost triples the number I have left. I am completely in love with the San Juans and Ouray will be my home someday. Backcountry trips into the Canadian Rockies bring me to my knees in awe and cause random snow angels in the shape of a 31 year-old female to appear at the base of glaciers. Some of my New Zealand treks exceeded 20 miles in a day and the view from the Cascade Saddle on the Reese/Dart track brought tears to my eyes.
I have repeatedly heard “You are crazy” and “I like the mountains and hiking but just not to the level of intensity that you go.” I just smile and look to the west. How can I ever explain in English to someone what I feel when I am in the mountains? I can equate it to how I feel when I was riding Mac through the hayfields or hitting a clutch jump shot—I thrive on this feeling. I am vibrant, alive, alert and clarity prevails…On the flip, I feel that I perish and age while sitting in traffic or standing in line or watching people scream at each other on TV.
2010 brought me an additional delivery method for this intense fix I crave—mountain biking. I found a duo partner for 24 Hours of Old Pueblo in February a couple days ago. And, not surprisingly, I woke up last night (standing in the corner of my room) from a dream. Shooting a free throw? Nope. I was blazing down Chimney Gulch…on a bike.
The first half of my life centered on big games and fast horses. My twenties ushered in the transition to what I focus on now, barely into my thirties…big mountains and fast bikes.
In epic proportions...of course