Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011: LT100?

Thinking about 2011.

Looking for a (singular) 100-miler.
WS lottery fail...and I would like a Hardrock qualifier, so I can at least begin the cycle of that lottery every year.

August timeframe works pretty well: I should have a better situation to train next spring and summer then I do now. Being within driving distance is another bonus.

That leaves Leadville. Some love it...some don't. I've been worried about it being overhyped (ironically, I've deeply bought into the WS100 hype), so I never thought too much about it, but I think a big part of that is the attention of the mt. bike race. If it's clearly a crowded, money-making endeavor, I could imagine being a bit bummed -- will it be worse this year, with more "Born to Run" hype, or better, with new sponsorship? I'm looking for a chill day in the mountains, with occasional calories and fresh water and llamas. Another criticism is there's a fair amount of jeep trail and roads in this trail marathon. Then again, I was perfectly pleased with the Silver Rush course...and also running near the highway, at times, in South Dakota. I kind of enjoy the variety.

So on the other hand, there's the camaraderie: there's always a large contingent of recognizable folks, sort of like a reunion atmosphere, as well as any family/friends that might make it out there. It's the home-state 100. Should be fun knowing some people, and some of the trail sections (CO trail, Hope Pass, Turquoise Lake) have historical meaning to me. And I read about epic stuff going on at night, and it starts to sound pretty interesting.

Wasatch sounds fantastic, but the travel and timing make it a bit tougher to swing. Same with Bighorn and Black Hills 100: both look awesome, but being in June conflicts with the end of my school schedule.

So that leaves Leadville -- should I pull the trigger?
What does anyone else think? Who's in, who's out, who's got a better idea?


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eldora is Swell-dora

Eldora Ski Area

I bought my first ski season pass since moving to Colorado -- at $150 for students, the Eldora Pass seems like a bargain. It's not as big as the other resorts, but much closer, being about 40 minutes or so from Boulder, and has bus service from Boulder. I haven't bused there yet, but I've gotten half a dozen weekday ski sessions in so far.

The Bad:
* Runs are short compared to Summit County, etc.
* Lifts are slow
* In combination, it takes twice as long (~11 minutes) to get up the mountain as it does to get down (~4-5 minutes) on anything that doesn't have bumps on it

On the other hand,
The Good:
* Runs are still much better than midwest garbage heaps
* Parking is free and very close
* My drive down the canyon is dialed in, unlike the I-70 weekend parking lot
* Lift lines outside of holidays/weekends are almost non-existent
* Nordic area, included in the season pass, is pretty good

So what I've been doing is bringing both my alpine skis and waxless backcountry skis. I'll do a few hours of downhill, where I can literally ski onto a lift chair without losing momentum. I'll do 8-10 runs in 1.5-2 hours before switching to the BC skis.

On the BC skis, I've been able to play on the greens a little bit and work on my tele "technique." My lack of plastic boots and wider skis and, frankly, lack of technique, has held me back a bit, but it's still a fun transition.

Then I'll head to the Nordic area for a few hours. Outside of the first 1 mile of trails or so, it's never been too busy, and many folks will nod and say "Hello." Good folks out there.

I've been on every open trail on the mountain so far, so here are my thoughts:
Favourite Downhill:
* Upper Ambush is bumpy but doesn't get much traffic, and enough sun that the snow has stayed soft.
* Corona is a fun black cruiser.
* Jolly Jug Glades: Didn't discover it until recently since it's on Challenger, but the trees are nicely spaced.

I hiked over to Westridge once, didn't find the cleared run so ended up in steep glades with bad visibility, some soft snow but also rocks poking out. Heard some guys, found them drinking Bud Light and they guided me back on a traverse to the lift. I was in over my head on that one.

Favourite Nordic:
* Antelope Creek Loop: This just opened recently, great views and a relatively screaming downhill return (on XC skis) from the creek. I also poked around on the mountain above the creek and found some awesome powder, but had no idea where I was. Eventually found myself on Rollins Pass Road, followed that around for a bit and then turned around. Then saw "Private Property" signs on the way back, whoops, need to scout out on a map more.
* Zarlego Loop: Even if you didn't do Antelope, Zarlego and Jenny Creek is still great. Not many people go that way for some reason and stick really close to the base.
* Sawmill to Woodcutter: Fun swooping curves
* Mountain hut trail: Narrow and consistent hilly grade. Great views on top. Wasn't sure about going downhill on packed snow, but had to try it once -- just barely enough room to snowplow. Shared with snowshoers so careful on the downhill. Luckily, only encountered one skier, who took off her skis and walked because of the narrowness/steepness.

Anyway, it's a great alternative, and a great place for nordic skiing. The Jenny Creek trail, in fact, is free, so it's still worth checking out if you don't have or want a pass.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Baker's Tank Snowshoe/Ski

Baker's Tank (map), Breckenridge
5.5 Mile snowshoe/ski loop
10,300' - 11,000', ~3.5 hours with breaks

Stayed up in Summit County with J, Neil, and DJ for Xmas weekend. After a nice sunny day of downhill at Copper (if you're going to ski on a weekend, I really like Xmas and Super Bowl Sunday!), we did a leisurely snowshoe/ski loop up above Breckenridge.

For one thing, Summit County/Dillon Ranger District has a fabulous selection of free trail beta online. Looking for something moderate in the ~3 hour ranger, Baker's Tank seemed to fit the bill.

Baker's Tank is a restoration of a 125+ year-old water tank used to reply steam engines traveling along a railroad line over "Breckenridge Pass", later and currently named "Boreas Pass", between Como and Breckenridge, which was originally "Breckinridge" before being re-spelled during the Civil War. This railway was abandoned in 1937, and repurposed as a road. That is, Boreas Pass Road used to be a railway over Boreas Pass, which used to be Breckenridge Pass, which used to be spelled Breckinridge (the town, at least)...and did anybody ask the Utes about all this? I digress.

Anyway, Boreas Pass road itself is a scenic route worthy of a summer mountain/cross-bike ride, or winter excursion. Along with some parallel single-track, there are some great loop options as well. The trailhead is 3.5 miles east up Boreas Pass Rd (CR-10), from the (currently) southernmost stoplight in the town of Breckenridge. I've driven past this road dozens of times, but didn't register it, as we ended up passing it by a few miles. The road is switchbacked but graded well enough to be passable by passenger cars if it hasn't snowed very recently, and there was ample parking a the top.

We took the Baker's tank trail (Trail #40) as it steadily climbed through the trees, eventually winding through hardwoods and then descending slightly to the tank. This really opened up the views towards Hoosier Pass, Quandary, and Breckenridge Ski Area. We then descended along the sunny, gradual Boreas Pass Rd. itself.

This area has some great views and options, either making a loop, sticking to the trees on a windy day, or a scenic out-and-back on the road itself. Supposedly, the road allows snowmobile traffic, but we encountered none -- just mostly-friendly dogs (including an owner-less but also cask-less Burnese mountain dog roaming the slopes), though this includes a fair number of dog messes in close proximity to the trailhead, as it's also a popular locals spot. In general, though, this area would also be a great option for a trail run with light traction (Yak trax or microspikes) or even a winter mountain bike ride, depending on your tastes.

And, it's warmer and less windy than Hoosier Pass!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Big South Trail

Big South Trail Snowshoe/Ski
~4 miles roundtrip

After a trail run on Saturday, headed up with J, Caleb, and DJ for a snowshoe up in Cameron Pass. This was my first trip to CP this year, as I've been drooling over early season snow totals but unable to do anything about it.

On the way up, Caleb suggested the Big South trail, which is the closest trail that usually has semi-reliable snow. It's also one of the only trails I hadn't been on before, so it was an excellent suggestion.

Guidebooks talk about picking your way through rocks (depending on snow cover), and the trail being narrow in spots, but we found it to be excellent. It's not a smooth freeway like Zimmerman or Michigan Ditch, but has more of a topographical flavor of RMNP trails. No wonder: it follows a fork of the Poudre ultimately into and through the park. This makes for a great summertime option for a long loop into the park (although there is supposedly a washed-out bridge 7 or so miles in, so you may not make it through with all of your oxen intact).

The new snow from the recent storms coming out of California was more of a wet "Sierra cement" that stuck to my skis, but I would not hesitate to recommend this for skis as well. Only a couple of corners with downed logs and rocks were a little tricky, but most of it was fun rolling hills.

One spot with a big field of talus looked like it would be fun scrambling in the summer as well. Definitely an all-season trail to check out, and we didn't see any other folks on this trail on a weekend.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chubby Cheeks 50k: Just what the Doctor Ordered

~32 miles, ~7800 ft climbing

Photo courtesy of Nick Clark

Awesome day on the trails in Ft. Collins, courtesy of Nick Clark.

Nick had been talking all year about creating a Fort Collins version of a Fat Ass self-supported winter run. He came through with flying colours (and flying pigs) with the inaugural "El Chubbo Grande", in which he sketched out a 50k route, along with a marathon and some lesser distance. Unfortunately, for all this work, Nick was unable to run due to circumstances out of his control, but he remained the consummate host and put on quite a show of Fort Collins best trails.

The ran began with staggered starts from Chez Clark in the morning. More than 50 folks showed up for running and/or socializing afterward. In his best Barkley impression, Nick drew an unimaginative course which essentially added every hill in Horsetooth Mountain Park and Lory State Park, before looping back and repeating the same in a slightly different conflagaration. Seriously, though, the nearly 8000 feet of gain included prominent scrambling summits of Horsetooth and Arthur's Rock, which are both postcard-worthy perches which many folks are satisfied to obtain even once in a year or in a lifetime.

I was happy to join Alex for a fabulous 7-hour jaunt. We had a chance to catch up since Lean Horse, and he was prepared enough to have trail knowledge as well as bring a camera:

Photo courtesy of Alex May

By running with Alex, the time flew by incredibly quickly. I've run 20+ miles exactly twice since August, so I didn't know how this was going to feel, mentally and physically. Happily, the ultra (-psychotic) mental training seems to last long enough such that the time went by in manageable chunks, one hour at a time. I also enjoyed catching up (metaphorically, not literally) with Rob and Pete, both who put up some fantastic times on their hometown course to set themselves up for a fantastic 2011 (including Pete's very impressive FKT and victory), and enjoyed seeing JT at the aid station. I also met a few new runners on the course, namely Kiwi Rob and Towers QotM Jenn Malberg, both who were full of running talent as well as friendliness, and enjoyed talking with other runners afterward at the party.

I had a blast on this course, and savored every minute. Alex kept me on track without having to look at the map or getting lost, but the course markings (courtesy of Nick, Pete, and Rob) were also fantastic -- better than paid races! I conservatively chose to hit the Lory visitor center for some extra water and a bathroom break, but the aid station, courtesy of Chris, was also a welcome addition with a surprising smorgasbord of calories.

This run, at the end of 2010, had some important personal psychological meaning as well. I had a brutal but expected return to school along with a move to Denver, which severely cut down on running miles as well as accessibility to trails. In fitting symmetry, I ended a 100-mile run the day before school, and enjoyed a 32-mile run the day after, on basically all of the classic showcase trails above Fort Collins (Bobcat and Coyote Ridge notwithstanding, my other local favorites). This was something I was looking forward to for weeks and was the perfect opportunity to clear my head and start the new year with fresh optimism. In addition, I had set a goal of more social running in 2010, which I wouldn't have been able to do without the strong and growing FCTR group. Finally, this run was a test for a lingering abdominal/groin injury, which has been a big unknown since October. While I'll need one more track run to claim victory, I was ecstatic to survive 7+ hours of running without any hint of recurring pain.

So, many thanks to Nick and all of the FCTR for a great event. Let's hope it's the beginning of a new tradition!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Winter Bike to Work....

...Day, in Fort Collins.

Last year, I ran around town for a good 20ish miles, got a breakfast burrito from my wife's work, then headed to work.
The year before, I rode, and had my picture in the paper in the Coloradoan the next day, having breakfast at New Belgium.
Good times.

This year, I didn't need to leave the house in Auroraghetto, since I didn't have class today, though it was relatively nice out this morning.

My last day of the semester is tomorrow, when I'll have the privilege of riding through at least a few inches of slop. Looking forward to it!

Since I didn't commute today, I thought of some back-of-the-envelope stats:
* Non-motorized commutes this year: 200ish
* Non-motorized commutes in Colorado (since April, 2006): 1100+
* Longest streak of days in a row driving to work when I had to go to the airport afterward, carry something large, etc.: 1
* Longest streak of days in a row driving to work because the weather was crappy: 0
* Total non-motorized miles in Colorado for some sort of purpose (commute, errands, haircut, etc.) since April 2006: ~8000+
* Total dollar value of commuting miles using government reimbursement rate: ~$800/year
* How much of that saved money I would (or already did) waste on something stupid: 100%
* Percent of commute miles instead travelled somewhere else frivolous in a car, like skiing or hiking for a day, such that I can't make any serious claim to responsible environmentalism nor righteousness without provable hypocrisy: 200%, at least
* What this means I'm telling *you* to do: Nothing
* Most common bike used to commute this year: rusty Schwinn with one brake that I found on the side of the road in Mankato, Minnesota

There you have it. Happy Bike to Work Day*!

(*PS: That's every day!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Snowmass: Return to Aspen

Getting crushed by the end of the school semester -- hence the less frequent posts -- but enjoyed a great conference out in Snowmass.

J came out as well, working remotely during the day, and we had a great time skiing and hanging out with friends at night. (Pictures on friend's camera, so I'll have to post later).

The only other time we were in Snowmass Village was a previous Fall visit, where Caleb and I rode the fabulous Government Trail on mountain bikes. It was fun to see the same mountains covered in snow -- and much easier to ride the lift up rather than pedal up!

Had a few excellent meals in Snowmass at Mountain Dragon and Il Poggio. Besides that, we also took the bus one night down to Aspen, a town which I've been openly ambivalent about in the past. This time, however, we were able to find some great and affordable(!) hangouts:

* New York Pizza, which had delicious, affordably pizza, beer/wine, and great service. It's small, but worth going out of your way and eating later if you don't want to spend a fortune.
* Zane's Tavern, which was a fun and sufficiently laid-back bar

So, I have softened a bit on Aspen, having enjoyed some good places with good friends, and don't necessarily need to go out of the way to avoid it. (Still prefer that other town on the other side of the Elks, though).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Milwaukee's New Summerfest Half Marathon and 10k

Pretty cool new race out of Wisconsin, the Summerfest Half Marathon and 10k in July (July 10, 2011). Both routes include I-794 on the Hoan Bridge, and the half marathon entry of $60 (early) includes Summerfest entry tickets. $20,000+ in prize money offered as well. The late 10AM start in July and running across the bridge aren't perfect conditions for the fastest times, but it looks like a promising course and well-planned new race, especially with the start times moved closer to 8AM. At best, it may get some local folks inspired to be more active; and either way, I imagine many sweaty runners wearing their technical shirts the rest of the day, with self-righteous talk off a "PR" while waiting in line for a bratwurst. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

For those that don't know, Summerfest is "The World's Largest Music Festival", attracting around a million people in 11 days. I was never a huge fan but probably didn't go as much as I should have, it can be a fun time. Mostly crowds, fried food, and expensive cheap beer, but I imagine it being more fun after a race, being comfortably exhausted and legitimately hungry enough to eat fried cheese curds and legitimately thirsty enough to swill Miller Lite.


More good news in Wisconsin, but maybe at the opposite end of the spectrum: Dunkin Donuts is planning a big expansion in SE Wisconsin.

(They don't really need it, but I do). I didn't know that Milwaukee only has 2 locations currently, as we always hit up at least the one near the airport. Now if we could just get one in Denver or Northern Colorado, since the nearest ones are otherwise in the Springs...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Favorite Intersection of All-Time

Fort Collins to Denver: Best Bike Route

With some housing business to take care of in Fort Collins, and my sister-in-law's birthday, we needed to be up in the Fort for the weekend. But, J and our car were already up there, so the choices were either to have her come back to pick me up; rent a car; find a rideshare; or ride the (darn) bike (RTDB).

Luckily, the temps were in the 50s for a decent December day. Unluckily, wind gusts were in the 20s/30s. I did get blown off the road for a brief moment when I wasn't crouched enough in the correct position, but other than that it was fairly manageable.

I've ridden this route 5 or 6 times for various reasons (including meeting J at a flea market, and riding to the Great American Beer Festival), and I'm now forming some more informed opinions (and vehement disagreement with Google Maps) on the "best" route. Some people have asked about this route, so that's the purpose of this post.

The worst part of the route is what I call the "Death Triangle" formed by the major freeways just north of Denver:

There is no real good way through here. I've tried the West side (relative to I-25) through Arvada/Broomfield/Westminster; the East side through Thornton; as well as some of both, crossing over in Thornton/Northglenn. There is no really good route, as it is a big time suck of stop lights and dangerous traffic.

Interestingly, the default Google Map Bicycling route suggests taking Huron St., which has a narrow shoulder and many stoplights and isn't any better than routes on the East, before suggesting Co Rd 3, which is a washboarded dirt road. (If you're looking for a Roubaix-style adventure, that one's for you). In short, the Google map option is a poor one.

In general, I suggest the following for the experienced distance rider who is looking for an efficient route:
* Use the extensive bike paths when you're south of the Death Triangle, where you can get to downtown Denver or Aurora. They're twisty and a bit longer, but both faster (lack of stoplights) and much safer.
* To get through the Death Triangle, I suggest staying East of I-25 and using Grant and Washington street. These roads are crowded, shoulderless, and unsafe, but so are most alternatives. I prefer these roads, however, because much of it is 3 lanes, so there is more room for cars to give you the whole lane if necessary; there are sidewalks or occasional parallel streets for the most part if traffic is really bad; the worst parts of the road are rolling hills, which I content are safer, because you have increased visibility going uphill and better speed matching going downhill.
* The quickest, most straightforward route to continue North is staying on the Frontage road. It is less scenic and has the drawback of being near the freeway, but it is easier to cruise, has a decent shoulder, and you don't have to look at a map to find out where the Weld County dirt roads are/aren't.
* If you want better scenery, I'd stay East of I-25 closer to Denver, and West near Dacono or further North. But be sure to stay sufficiently West to avoid dirt roads.
* Alternatively, Hwy 85 has been suggested to the East due to a wider shoulder, but certainly adds miles if you want to get between Denver and Fort Collins.
* Finally, if you're from out of town and just kind of want to ride across this part of the state but don't really -need- to go to between the towns by direct route, ride to Estes first and then take Peak-to-Peak highway towards Golden instead!

Anyway, those are my observations. Please share any that you may have if you ride this route. The most important observation is that the top suggestion for bicycling from Google maps is highly sub-optimal (Huron Street isn't that good unless you use the sidewalk only), and the biggest piece missing from a good bike route is a 4-5 mile N-S section south of I-470, so your concerns for timing should take into consideration of trying to avoid rush hour or lighting/visibility issues near Denver, as well as the slowed pace.