Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon* 2014 (* An Ultratriathlon)

 Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon
"The Ultimate Challenge"
Road Bike 13M
Run 5M
Ski 2M
Snowshoe 1M
to Mt. Taylor summit (11,306')
Turn-around and then go back down

The Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon is in its 31st year, and is truly a one-of-a-kind event.  Biking, running, skiing, and snowshoeing, in February -- all to the glorious summit of an extinct volcano.
My friend Ben did this a couple years ago and had a great time, despite a bike crash and some whiteout conditions, and highly recommended it.  New New Mexico residents Stephanie and Chris signed up for it, and convinced Alex and I to do the same.  So we all had a date with the volcano.

The course layout was very natural and unique: imagine a big, obvious mountain looming in the distance above town, and taking a natural human-powered path to the top.   With the support of the race coordination and logistics -- hundreds of volunteers on the mountain -- merely signing up enables a fun adventure.  As for racing, I'd never actually done a triathlon, so a multi-sport event had some intrigue and novelty to me.  Skiing promised to be way more rewarding than swimming, but there were plenty of transition issues and challenges to deal with.  As a novice, it was fun to line up with a big deal of uncertainty that I no longer get during running races.

Looking at previous results, I thought some sort of goal between 4 (highly-unlikely)-5 hours was reasonable.  As expected, that puts it in the realm of (roughly) a 50k easy-trail effort for many, albeit using a variety of muscles.  I failed to break 5 hours but had fun in the process, so I'll tell you a bit about the course, the mistakes I made, and the fun I had.


I love biking, I've done numerous group rides and tours and many more solo rides, but I've never raced before.  I've always been intimidated and frustrated by the performance and equipment dependency of the sport, but also used it as a mental block for even attempting it.  In running, you can't really buy much performance, but in bike racing, intermediate-level wheelsets cost more money than I've ever paid for a bike.

However, courtesy of my good friend Neil, I had quite the steed at my disposal: a gorgeous titanium Moots Vamoots decked out in Campy, which he has so graciously let me borrow and ride, and over time I've gotten the bike dialed into my fit and comfort.  "I'm not worthy!"  What I wouldn't give to be able to take a long rambling ride with him now, and thoughts of many of our previous rides, runs, and general shenanigans certainly passed through my ride during hours out on the course.

But I digress.

We lined up, with some aero helmets and dished wheels near the front.  I was shivering and in the minority while wearing shorts and no jacket, but gambled that climbing on the bike would add sufficient warmth, and even hoped to wear the same clothes all day.

Two minutes before the start of the race, I realized that my bike pump (such a noob, but in >50k miles of riding I've still never used CO2 on my own bike) had fallen out of my jersey pocket somehow.  Whoops.  Don't do that.  I was at the mercy of the course.

We started out through a few turns in the flat part of town, before heading more gradually up and out of town.  Based on previous results, my rough idea was to hang onto the chase pack and try to break around an hour.  Unlike many triathlons, there aren't any written rules about drafting, so we were bunched pretty close together.  Despite some solid speed, we were bunched closely with a few sloppy lines up to 4 or even 5 across, with a few jerky and shaky wheels as people continued to jostle for position and pass a bit unnecessarily early.  It was hard to know who to trust.  It was unnerving but exhilarating at the same time.  Finally, after about 5 miles or so, we stretched out a bit more and assembled into a legitimate peloton, with the leaders well within view but gaining slightly.

Now I had a chance to chat a bit and get to know some of the fellow riders, and it was good to be a bit social while still working.  I met the women's leader, so it seemed to be a good position to be in.  It was still everyone for themselves, but as far as drafting I at least made sure to pull as much as I sucked.  The steeper pitches, as we climbed higher, separated things a bit more.

I was warm enough and some of the guys were commenting on the balmy temps as we headed up the exposed canyon.
The miles clicked quickly and we were nearing the 13M mark.  I felt that I had reserved enough to push the final bit (about another half mile) thinking that I would recuperate enough during the transition.

A volunteer met me at the transition, where I took a drink and a gel, and fumbled with shoelaces and shoes (going with my lightweight, beat-up Peregrine trail shoes) while keeping my gloves on.  I thought I moved pretty quickly on the transition, only to recognize 4 or 5 people who were about a minute behind me on the bike that were now a minute or more ahead of me on the run.

After being out for only an hour, my quads had an unfamiliar, dull feeling of fatigue as I headed out on the run.  It took a bit to clear out lactate but I was still able to gain a bit. I was arrogant in thinking that I would catch everyone who passed me on the transition, but luckily I was right about this.  What I learned, though, was that running 20 or 30 seconds faster per mile is worthless if you blow it all on a slow transition.

As it took me over 3 miles to catch up to one of the guys I recognized from the bike, I asked him, "Dude, did you even stop, or did you hop off the bike and keep running?"  He laughed and said he guessed he had a bit of experience in it, then noting that he noticed my (mountain) bike shoes had laces.  "Yeah, you don't want to deal with laces at all."

Laces are out, Dan.

Anyway, with a net uphill, I kept it conservative at around 8-min miles.  But otherwise having no idea how much energy and effort to conserve for the rest of the day, I now realize why x-athlon is such a place-based (instead of time-based) sport, as it's sensible to monitor the people around you. I was doing better than expected, and seeing Nora at the ski transition, she told me I was in the Top 10.


And the uphill ski is where it all went downhill.

A volunteer got my ski gear out for me as I took off my shoes.  They forgot my snowshoes (which we had to carry up with us) and quickly retrieved those as well.  I scarfed a banana and stuffed into my ski boots (laces, again)
I stuck with my plan of staying in shorts, and this was still working out well, because it was as warm as expected.

Now, numerous people had suggested that skins were "necessary" for the uphill ski.  I debated this and could have easily gone with my tele skis and skins.  That would have also necessitated heavier plastic boots.  But I've taken my skinnier, waxless skis up longer and steeper stuff.  Worst-case, I don't mind herring-boning up when necessary.

Plus, it hadn't snowed for a week (and the previous week just barely snuck in a storm that gave decent coverage), and it had been in the 50s and 60s the previous few days, with plenty of sun.  So I expected the snow to be wet and sticky.  That sort of soft snow can be easy to climb, and in fact the worst part of dealing with snow like that is heavy clumping underneath skis.  And I hate that.
So before we left town, I glide-waxed my skis, including the fish scales.

And that ended up being a terrible decision.

Because of lack of snow, they cut a trail that weaved through the trees (where snow was deeper), doing a great job in giving a course that stayed on top of sufficient snow.  The whole course was groomed by snowmobiles and cats just before the race, but at this elevation and with some shading in the trees, the snow really wasn't sticky at all.  In fact, it was slippery and icy.  Immediately, I found myself floundering around in the trees as I couldn't get any purchase, and then I routinely pulled off to the side so as not to block other racers.  I fell a couple times and dropped my water bottle a few more, feeling like a total rookie.  I recognized and got encouragement from a dozen or so passerby's, many of whom I had met earlier on the bike and run.  To a (wo)man, they all had skins.

I slipped onward and upward.  I had visions and ideas about sacrificing bits of clothing to make ghetto kicker skins.  (I still am thinking about this a bit).  About halfway up, I decided to try something brilliantly mad: to put my skis through my snowshoes, fashioning some sort of ski crampon underneath my foot.  I tried this in both directions and wasted a good 6 or 7 minutes, before realizing it wasn't working.  Onward.

I could have walked and carried my skis faster, but didn't know if that was against the rules, even though my snowshoe-crampon idea was arguably more questionable.  In any case, it felt wrong: I made my poor decision and was going to stick with it.  Finally, I saw the course veer around what would normally be the final summit push up "Heartbreak Hill," but lack of coverage (due to wind) meant we took an alternate, slightly longer course.  Honestly, busting straight up an open hill would have been easier, as I could have side-stepped and herringboned, but instead I picked my way through occasional rocks and narrower trail, and finally got near the top, which took a full hour, well behind my expectations but somewhere in the average/middle of the day's climbing times.

I never imagined I'd be grateful to ditch skis for snowshoes, but here I was: strapped into my wife's 21", feminine yellow shoes.  Another gamble based on cheapness.  I kept my soft ski boots on (another planned reason for going with the skinnier skis), as well as my poles.  And my helmet, which got some laughs and good-natured comments (it's light, somewhat warm and I didn't see a reason to ditch it).  This was the gear gamble I was most worried about -- but it worked out just fine.  I should have been able to run faster, but focused on recovery from the brutal ski and just maintained position in a shuffling jog.  The final push to the summit still had sufficient snow, and the clear day gave us great views to the valley below.  Race or no race, this part of the course gave a true sense of vertical accomplishment.

I made it to the summit turnaround, just a yard or two from the true summit, but I took a few extra steps and seconds to hit the summit and enjoy the view before bounding downward.  I hit the summit at 3:09, whereas my rough swag at a 5-hour goal had me hoping for 3-up, 2 down (or faster).  This ended up being unfortunately dead-on.

The snow was packed enough that the snowshoes weren't necessary, unfortunately, but I shuffled down without tripping.  My lackadaisical treatment of the bindings caught up to me as a shoe slipped off.  I carried it briefly, able to run faster without them, but again didn't want to mess with the spirit of the race, so I put them back on.

Highest Bar
I forgot to tell you about the highlight of the race, besides the summit: a few dudes that set up a full bar just below the summit.  I was happy to see these guys, a New Mexico mixture of white and Native men decked out in leather and turquoise.  I think it was early in the race as the "serious" people hadn't been stopping, as most of the bottles weren't opened up yet, so I got first shot (or two) of blackberry brandy.  Warmed and satisfied, I continued shuffling back to my skis.

Ski Down
For most people, the ski down was even more infamous than the ski up.  Again, the usual course had to be modified, this time from a sweeping, forest road, into a steeper, more direct route.  People were warned/suggested to keep skins on for the descent.  Again, no decision here.  The steepness was manageable, but tight switchbacks and some off-camber, bouncy, rollercoaster terrain made things more difficult.

Basically, you'd hit a switchback, turn, and make sure I could manage speed to the top of the next visible "hump," where I'd snowplow if necessary, with burning thighs, to bleed off speed.  Basically, making sure there was always enough room to slow down.  Others were doing the same, mostly more conservatively.  In skinny skis, it was exhilarating, and I passed 4 people on the way down.  I was passed twice by full AT gear -- this would have just been a narrow Blue run at a Western ski resort -- so it was another suggestion that I should have gone with beefier gear.   But I "lost" less time than I thought on the way down.  And the concentration required of "don't-tear-an-ACL-or-break-a-bone" made the time go by quickly, as I wasn't thinking at all about the upcoming run or bike.

Run Down

I was happy to see Alex at the bottom of the ski hill, and he accompanied me to the transition.  He, and a sheriff, helped me untangle knots in my beat-up shoes.  As I moved around and ditched gear, I had laughable muscle pulls and cramps from unusual locations.  Eventually we got my shoes ready and I headed down the hill, where I shouted to Alex a few times to make sure I was going the right way -- despite having come up that way, earlier, I was paranoid about a wrong turn.

Opening up the legs felt good after a bit of stiff jogging.  My energy was up and I was motivated to catch up to the people that, irrationally, I felt shouldn't be ahead of me because of my uphill ski debacle.  Of course, this makes no sense because we all had equal opportunities on our strengths and weaknesses, but it was good motivation.  Sure enough, I rolled up on a half dozen or so folks, and put up several minutes as a gap.  Without anyone really running as hard next to me, though, I put in just enough effort to gain time and didn't run as hard as I might have in a pure running race.  Again, though, my wasteful transitions countered this effort a bit.

Now I was back on the bike.  The tires weren't flat, so that was good.  I was right at 4:30.  30 minutes to ride 13.5 miles was a tall order, but I figured I'd see how long I could hold the pace.  The top pitch had us spinning out of gears and hitting the mid-40's already.  Unfortunately, a guy who I had passed solidly on the run blew past me without pedaling.  He weighed a good two-stone more than me, and I (irrationally) again figured this wasn't fair (despite my previous "unfair" advantage of only having to carry a lightweight skeletal frame up the mountain in the morning), but there was nothing I could do until we pedaled some more.  But he had gained a good 90-120 seconds on me in the gravity-assisted section.  Again, my energy was still good, and on a couple bumps of hills, I pushed it, getting within 30-45 seconds, but couldn't close the gap.  Oh, I forgot to mention the annoying headwind, which sucked off some of our speed and made the 5-hour goal insurmountable.  I didn't really care about catching anyone so much as trying to get close and then draft/work together.  I made occasional checks behind me but nobody was in sight, so as it turns out, the focus on keeping pace with the guy ahead of me was helpful for both of us putting in a gob of time on the folks behind.

El fin
I weaved my way through the last few neighbourhood turns, with one family clapping as I passed, but otherwise little fanfare.  I was glad to find the way back, as I hadn't paid attention on the way out, and finished in 5:09.  I felt like I could have chopped quite a bit out by being smarter, having a mix of nonchalance about my gear and approach juxtaposed with a desire to go faster, but otherwise had a great time in terms of experience in my first -athlon race.  Without any dreaded swimming.

I met J and then enjoyed a sample or three of Santa Fe beers, enjoying a good chat with those guys as well as some folks who organize the race.  I enjoyed hearing about the history of the race, and it was bittersweet to hear about how the race had almost twice as many participants in its heyday in the '90s.  We shared similar observations that cross-country skiing has, unfortunately, dropped off in popularity in favour of (slower, easier, and more boring) snowshoeing.  Perhaps a bump in the popularity and availability of AT and telemark gear will help.  This is such a unique event that it's definitely worth checking out and supporting.  I can't even think of many other places where such an event and a "natural" course up a mountain -- which has both reliable snow and relatively safe/low-angle avy conditions -- could exist. SLC? Mt. Bachelor above Bend, OR?  Somewhere in Idaho or Montana?  In Colorado, most candidates I can think of either have roads that are too busy/unsafe to be dedicated to a winter race (e.g., Loveland or Berthoud Pass), access, or snowpack issues.

I enjoyed a new challenge that combined several of my interests, and it was really fun to line up in an event with completely unknown expectations, and a bit of "first-time" anxiety that many of us don't get when we do the same type of events repeatedly.  At the same time, the -xathlon culture both exceeded and met my expectations, with a combination of friendly banter and socialization, as well as some serious-level gearhead competitiveness.  I have no idea what place I finished in because it was listed in "Age Group" categories, and the Rambler staff here does not believe in Age Groups.

Anyway, after musing on this a bit, we were pleased to see Alex cruise in on his finish, ending up in 3rd-place in the pairs division.  He was able to celebrate with a beer in the sunshine, having left his bride-to-be Nora halfway up the mountain, where she had done the gloriously satisfying yet dangerous work of summiting (and descending) the top of the mountain for his team.  Friends Chris and Steph made it safely down, together, having the additional challenge of riding mountain bikes, and taking turns lugging a new diamond ring up and down the mountain, respectively.  Cheers to them!  We missed their arrival as we headed to Santa Fe, where (in addition to several nice meals, as usual), J indulged me in letting me search a couple places, in vain, for Forrest Fenn's treasure.  But that's another story.

Check out the Quadrathlon!
Remember, "Skins On, Wax Off!"

Friday, February 7, 2014

Legault Mountain: Winter Ski and Snowshoe at Meyer Ranch

Legault Mountain (9074')
~6M roundtrip, 1200' gain
Ski and Snowshoe


With a solid, multi-day snowfall blanketing the Denver region, some of the close-by Jeffco and Denver Mountain parks take on a new dimension of interest.  I decided to check out Meyer Ranch Park for the first time -- very popular in winter, due to its north-facing aspect right off of Hwy 285, where kids of all ages enjoy sledding.  But the winter history of Meyer Ranch goes back for decades, as an old rope-tow was used pre-WWII when the area was known as "Mt. Lugo."

So, this lost ski-area held promise for good snow, and it delivered.  Several smaller loops circle groves of aspen and pine on the lower parts of the hill, eventually zig-zagging upward to the "Old Ski Run Trail."

These gentle but steady loops provide a decent ski workout and fun glide down, but end several hundred feet below the summit of Legault Mountain.  A light bushwhack can finish this up.  In winter, with powdery snow overlaying rock and downed trees, some sort of flotation can be helpful.  So I brought my wife's snowshoes with me.

This was my first time with snowshoes on my feet in Colorado, and second time ever I think.  Normally I'll do anything I can to figure out ways not to use snowshoes, by running or skiing instead, but it actually worked out pretty well.  And gave me good practice for an upcoming race that uses them.

On a clear day, the summit rock is easily visible through the trees upon reaching the saddle at the far edge of the Old Ski Trail loop.  A sign with an arrow pointing to the trail is located at a good spot to leave the trail to the east -- to the south is a cattle crossing and private property sign.

It looked like there was a climber's trail along the way, but otherwise it was a short, fun trek up.

The summit opens up with views toward downtown Denver:

But you can just as easily turn from that, and look southward toward Pikes:

The snow was powdery enough, and the woods opened up for short periods of time, to be able to run a bit on the snowshoes.  Not bad.  But I was happy to get back to my skis for more speed on less effort.  The occasional visible rock or two slows down the flow in a few spots, but otherwise it's a great glide.
It might even be an enjoyable snowshoe the whole way.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Flying J Ranch: XC Skiing on New Snow

Flying J Ranch: 3-mile ski loop (Shadow Pine Loop)
Conifer/Evergreen, CO

With several (4-5) inches of new snow on the ground in Golden, J and I looked for a quick, accessible ski with a shorter drive.  Having snow in town means it's a great time to check out new, nearby options.  Ironically, for all of the great trails in the Golden area, many of them are too rocky, steep, narrow, and/or windblown to be considered excellent skiing (I've tried to force the issue for some OK rock-skiing).  But, just a couple thousand feet higher are some fantastic options, and I-70 can be avoided.

We decided to go South on 285, and drove past Meyer Ranch Park, which itself is a popular sledding hill and would be a good but steeper option for skiing and snowshoeing, in favour of Flying J Ranch Park.  Although it looks straightforward on the map, it was a bit tricky to figure out how to get from 285 to Barkley Road and then 73 toward Evergreen (there isn't good signage right off of 285)...but everyone else in the world uses GPS so you'll probably figure it out just fine.

The road into the park had tire tracks but wasn't plowed, so luckily there was a balance of great new snow that wasn't too much for the ground clearance of my Civic.  Momentum was our friend as we made it up the hill into the lot that was replete with SUVs and trucks.

There's only one signed trail in the park: a 3 mile loop.  We were immediately surrounded by newly-frosted trees and fantastic snow, great for gliding, with some previous tracks and snowshoes.
We watched a coyote bound across a field, before posing underneath a large pine.

And pine trees were the rest of the story, including tight, narrow trails through lodgepole forest, as well as big, thick conifers that I didn't see as much in the northern part of the state, because 8000+ feet was usually found only on slanted, diagonal terrain in or near canyons.

Near the end of our counterclockwise loop, we took a short detour up (rightside of the trail) into a sunny meadow, where we made a quick extra loop before heading back down.  We only skied about 80 minutes total, but it was nice to be in the woods to enjoy the snow after a pleasant and quick drive.  With more time, it would have been just as fun to do a second loop.
Going clockwise puts most of the climbing in the beginning, with a more fun descent in tight trees right in the middle; counterclockwise rolls, with a moderate descent saved for the very end.

It's a bit short for a single-loop run or hike, but is pretty fun on skis.  Or, apparently, fatbikes as well.

Peru Creek Road, Montezuma Ski Tour

Peru Creek Road is a popular ski and snowshoe tour, with minimal gain, a wide path, and great views.
Located between Keystone and Montezuma, we had a chance to check it out last month.

The road was packed smooth with snow, and has interesting mine remnants just after the first mile.

Some of our views were obscured by clouds and heavy winds up high, although the trail itself is nicely sheltered from wind.  After nearly 3 miles, staying straight on a few previous junctions, we reached an open, windy, and swampy area covered in deep snow.  Close to our halfway-mileage goal anyway, and not wanting to break more trail, we turned around.

On the way back, we saw several other parties -- a mixture of skiers and snowshoers -- but it wasn't overly crowded and there was plenty of room for all.  We decided to take a short tour up in Chihauhau Gulch, which I knew ultimately led toward Gray's Peak, where it had a higher avalanche risk above treeline, but we just decided to poke around a bit.

It didn't hurt that someone had recently broken trail, and the sun was now shining.

This short addition was worthy and recommended, as it passed directly through aspen groves, and quickly (after a stream crossing) provided superb views.  And deep powder!

We met the couple that had just broken trail and decided not to go further, and we all had a short but satisfying glide back to Peru Creek Road, made better by a tighter trail through the aspens.

In the final mile, I coaxed J into trying another option, of a trail that forked to the left on the return.  My map (heavily "zoomed out" to show several counties) and the topography suggested that it was a parallel trail that would bring us back near our car, as we were paralleling the creek, so we gave it a go.

Of course, the trail (actually a dirt road called "Webster Street" on the map) kept climbing slightly but steadily, as Peru Creek dropped farther and farther below us.  "Let's just see where this ends up" won out slightly over "Maybe we should turn around now," but it was a great trail that again put us into aspen groves.

We began to see buildings, and it became evident that we were on our way to the town of Montezuma itself, which was secretly something I wanted to check out anyway, so it worked out.  After passing some mining/construction equipment, there was a neat little shelter on the side of the trail.

And then we were in Montezuma, which was pretty much just a collection of houses and buildings.

This left us about 3/4 mile past our parking spot.  I asked J if she wanted to ski, or if I should go get the car; and then the couple we met earlier went by in their truck (he drove down just to check out Montezuma quickly!) and offered us a ride, which would have been easy and quick in the back of the truck.

But J was content to finish up our tour on the edge of the road.  Despite finding myself doing it several times per season, I rarely see evidence of anyone else chopping across roadside ditch slop, so I was quite pleased that my wife was willing to do so!  What a gal.

In short, Peru Creek is certainly an easy suggestion for winter touring, while some side options lead to scenic aspen groves and nicer downhills.  If Montezuma is on the agenda for some reason, or if you're staying there, Webster St./2nd Street is a more fun option when going from Montezuma back down to Peru Creek.
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Sunday, January 26, 2014

January Denver Ride Tour: Lookout, Deer Creek, Downtown

60 degrees in January.  It's not necessarily novel for Colorado, but it feels like it's been awhile.  
I started going for a jog on Friday, and then did some mental math: Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon, which had always been coming up in a "month or two," was now only 3 weeks away.  And I hadn't really been riding the bike much at all, other than a few short errands.  Riding the bike is what I used to do instead of running, so I became accustomed to always having some sort of bike fitness.  Yet I was a bit worried.
The trails were still a bit muddy anyway.  I turned around and hopped on the bike for a quick spin.

Rolling around, I felt a bit out of sorts, but I rekindled some of that old interest.  I could see that the roads were dry enough, even in shady areas, and extrapolated that it would be even better the next day.
Having already saturated most of the interesting runs that leave from my doorstep, hopping in the bike brought up the old fun of figuring out how far away I can get away under my own power.

I figured hitting a century would be a nice way to kick off the new year, as I could work on a modest goal of a self-powered century at least once a month.  (In running terms, it's not that hard, probably equivalent to 25-30M depending on terrain).  In Fort Collins, I had hit all of the classic 100-mile radius several years ago, so it was exciting to pore over maps and find new routes.

Always overthinking on these things, I went with a route that put the climbs in the beginning, with the busier roads in the earlier afternoon (so as to get more melting as well as visibility), and then ending with a bit more mindless bike paths and bike routes as the sun got lower.

So I started with the classic climb up Lookout Mountain in Golden under perfect blue skies:

The summit (well, Buffalo Bill's gravesite) is 11 miles from my apartment, and it's above 7300': about a 1600' climb, or almost double what I used to get riding to Horsetooth Mountain Park.  It's a steady, rideable grade with great views, with good bike traffic on a nice Saturday and relatively light but aware car traffic.

Continuing westward, the road rolls and climbs a bit more.  I didn't make the exquisite, pine-tree climb up Colorow Road this time, but instead continued on Lookout until hitting Mt. Vernon Country Club, which is a minor thoroughfare into a quiet community.  I enjoyed pastoral views and empty roads (albeit with liberal use of sand/gravel, so caveat biker), although hadn't really prepared for several hundred more feet of climbing.

I finally made my way back down, with a slow average speed/time due to all the climbing.  Now I reached my next goal for the day: riding on I-70 for a bit.

2 miles, to be precise.  Cycling enthusiasts, especially cross-country riders, know this well, but the legalities of riding on freeway shoulders are a patchwork of interstate and intrastate laws.  Some states allow it everywhere, some allow it nowhere, but in Colorado, it's allowed in certain sections where there are no easy and sensible nearby alternatives.  I've previously ridden part of I-5 in San Diego (through Camp Pendleton, and the short Torrey Pines/La Jolla deathtrap!) and I-80 in Wyoming, but this would be my first time on I-70.

It was nice to make quick progress on a generous shoulder, and to advertise the lifestyle to tourists and native-stickered skiers alike.  Just as soon, I was off, where navigating Evergreen Pkwy/74 was trickier than the interstate itself.

I made a few wrong turns, but righted myself back onto a short jaunt on 74 before peeling off into Kerr Gulch.  
Finally, some descent, with a bit of technicality (for road biking) on tight, 15mph turns, in a quiet, narrow and shaded canyon.  No real ice or snow to deal with, though.  A final descent leading to Bear Creek had about a mile or so of degraded road conditions, so was on the brakes a bit more than if it had been smooth.  And again cutting in to rapid forward progress!

Soon enough, Myers Gulch to Parmalee Gulch didn't disappoint, with rolling uphills followed by speedy downhills.  Great visibility makes up for lack of shoulder.

This dropped me down to Hwy 285 quicker than I expected, and I had to make a quick choice, looking for Turkey Creek but getting confused on the options.  I made the wrong one, which led me on a long ramp that dropped me onto 285 North.  No problem, except for I needed to make a U-turn on that infamous spot of S-curves (I notice it when driving) with a barrier median.  And the thin shoulder was shaded and icy, so things were a bit nerve-wracking here.

After 3/4 of a mile or so, a break in the median allowed for a left turn, so I waited for a suitable gap among speeders before reversing course.  Much better on the other side, and I was now headed south on Turkey Creek.

I've always been intrigued by the "Tiny Town" sign here...and was glad to finally see it in person!
Definitely need to bring niece Hannah out here when it's open.

Turkey Creek was otherwise a pleasant road, and my last canyon road was soon coming up: Deer Creek Canyon.

I've only been there a few times for mountain biking and running the park, but the road biking is also really popular.  It's also contentious, with some problems between cyclists and drivers during busy summer weekends.  I was curious as to what to expect.

The shoulders are indeed narrow, but I was able to keep a decent speed in the short and rare sections where cars didn't have room to pass; otherwise, they were able to pass with plenty of room.  The slower riding sections actually had a bit of ice and snow in the shade, which was surprising to me because it felt lower than the other areas I had been riding.  But a clear advantage of riding solo is how much easier it is for a car to pass one rider at a time than a group of 3 or 4, let alone a longer peloton.  So I "get" that frustration of drivers, and not only do I make a point to single up on group rides any time a car is approaching, but also keep pack sizes small so car traffic doesn't back up.  Everybody wins.

Although not overwhelming, I saw more riders here, mostly in the other (climbing) direction.  By the end of the canyon, it was starting to feel like summer, and the pink sandstone gave it a desert feel.

At the very bottom, I saw all the cars parked with bikes and bike racks on them.
Mixed feelings here, and mostly a matter of style, mixed with chagrin and liberal parts of my own hypocrisy, but it's interesting to me to think of road bike riding as something that needs driving.  I get that some, or maybe many -- or even all, what do I know -- of the parked cars are from faraway lands checking out this ride or that by driving to this ride this one time.  But I suspect that many "do" road biking by popping the bike onto rack and driving to the Beginning of a Popular Ride, as I've seen the same thing at the bottom of other classic canyon rides.  (Check out St. Vrain and Lefthand to see guys in team kits crushing it, fresh from a 7-mile drive from home.  For example).  My road ride experience started with meeting at my house, or Neil's house, or John's house -- or we met somewhere in the middle.  If we had to ride some crappy and repetitive roads to get to the Good Stuff, so be it.  That's the way it was...and we liked it!
Anyway, there's something to be said for the riding and exploring that comes from not starting where everyone else does.  It's not skiing or snowmobiling: you can do it from your house, I promise!
But I digress.

Now onto the C-470 bike path.  A bit of interesting scenery in Chatfield, and then functional, flat miles.  Easier to be more social here by seeing more riders -- by the way, most riders I encountered were of the friendly nod-type I was used to in Larimer Co. -- but the seemingly flat stretch was slowed down a bit with solid patches of ice on some shaded ramps and curves, as well as short climbs up to major intersections and waiting for stoplights.    

Parker was the southeast quadrant of my ride, so now time to go North.  I went with Jordan Road and was pleased to cruise along with a zippy tailwind, and quickly made it into Cherry Creek State Park.

This was all familiar territory now, so I enjoyed a leisurely cruise on the inner trails and roads.  Fair amount of cycling and walking traffic out.

I didn't really pay attention to the map here as I'd run and biked there to Cherry Creek Trail more than a dozen times when we lived in Aurora, but of course I got a bit turned around/confused looking for the Highline/Cherry Creek junction.  I abandoned that and headed in the generally direction on busier roads, before taking Holly straight up to Cherry Creek.

I always enjoy the urban feel of Cherry Creek, a nice spot in the city that actually feels like a big city.
Quite an interesting juxtaposition with the morning's canyon rides.

The confluence of Cherry Creek and Platte is a natural center of the city...

...a city wrapped up in Bronco-mania.

And finally back on 20th for a loop around Sloans Lake, and back in time to beat the setting sun.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 Runs

Updated race plans/thoughts on the right.
It feels self-indulgent to talk about it, esp. as a non top-tier runner, but I appreciate the support and encouragement from others, and enjoy reading others' plans.

The big race is Bighorn, and although it's a "backup" to not getting into Hardrock, it really isn't a backup at all.  I'm calm and patient with getting into Hardrock eventually, and every year that goes by makes me feel stronger and more ready for it, so I'm happy to experience other courses in the meantime.  We drove through the Bighorn Mountains once, in June a dozen years ago, as we were moving from Minnesota to California, when I was excited to get to Yellowstone as quickly as possible.  I had no idea about the Bighorn Mountains, but found the scenery to be a stunning drive; in many ways, more pristine and inspiring than Yellowstone itself.  And I'm positively stoked to participate in a Bighorn race for the first time -- I've never been to any of the races!  It sounds positively beautiful and has the vibe and appreciation for outdoors and the race itself, which began in part as a response to planned development projects.  A fellow runner this past weekend told me the wildflowers were more amazing there than anywhere she had seen (including the Four-Pass loop, San Juans, etc.)
And check out this old NYTimes article:
"And it all ends in a park in downtown Dayton that feels like small-town summer Saturday night distilled to its essence of lawn chairs and barbecue smoke."
Sounds like my kind of race! 

I know several friends planning on running it, so it'll be great to see each other and push each other.  
I'd love to have a pacer or two as well!  I know lots of people have their own races or commitments already.
Similarly for Hardrock: I'd love to pace out there if anyone wants it or knows somebody that does.

Quad Rock is of course always a great time and stellar race: looking forward to seeing everyone up there.  I'm apprehensive about not training on the course anymore, but it'll be a fun reunion.  Hopefully the excitement of being back "home" will make up for the lack of familiarity.  FC folks, can you be kind and pretend I'm still one of you?  That support is immensely helpful!

Most of the same can be said for Salida, although it's still early and kind of a training-race itself.
Along the way, J is doing a couple half marathons on the roads, so I'll be joining her for Platte River in April, and OKC 3 weeks later (marathon for me).  We'll see what happens there, I now have more trails to run on from my front door but less flat roads.

So mostly interested in any/all advice for Bighorn.  I've read a detailed report from a baggy-shortsed Fort Collins runner back in 2009, in which he had a simple plan:
About half way up the climb, I decided to put my pre-race plan to work and eased into the lead, running a little deeper into the climbs than Karl was prepared to. The plan was fairly simple: build an early lead and try to hold it.

Brilliant as that plan was, I'm not qualified to be so ambitious, but the "Rusty Spurs" 24-Hour goal is clearly an aggressive focus for me.  That would require my best 100M trail performance to have a shot at it, which means both a smarter race and training.  There will be a fun bubble of folks right around that goal as long as possible --  a big challenge any year, and we have no idea on course conditions or weather.  So given the course layout, late start time, etc. -- anybody have a good set of splits or other suggestions?

Otherwise, looking for long weekend days in new places on bike and foot (and combinations of both).
Good luck in 2014 and see you out there!

Bryce Canyon: Quiet Ski to Fairyland Point

Fairyland Canyon
~2M ski roundtrip, flat road

On our way back from Kanab, we took a quick drive out to Bryce Canyon NP.  The scenic red rocks were great, and we took some photos by the easily-accessible viewpoints of Sunrise and Sunset Point.  However, those areas were also crowded, with several tourist buses in the parking lot.

The elevation was higher, and I heard about some snow, so I asked a ranger about snow conditions.  We had brought XC skis but hadn't used them on the trip.
"People have been skiing on Fairyland Point Road, they don't plow it in the winter.  I don't know why -- it's a really great viewpoint."

Perfect.  The gate and lack of plowing is a winter blessing for quick solitude.  As it turned out, even though the snow wasn't fresh, it was nicely packed and slippery for a quick tour.