Thursday, July 21, 2011

Triple D

One final update before we head up to the mountains tomorrow in advance of the Courage Classic this weekend!  First and foremost, the stats:  Celeste and I are now at $1,420 raised for Children’s Hospital, thank you all so very much for your generosity!  We are still reaching for that elusive goal of $2,000, so if you’re still considering making a donation on our behalf, you have another day.  Once again for your convenience, here are the links: 
After Sunday’s trail running adventure, my legs felt a bit tired, but I wanted to participate in one last crazy adventure before the ride.  Luckily Dan Porter and the good folks at Your Group Ride had just the thing; a bicycle time-trial up and around the horsetooth hills west of town.  They call it the "DDD TT".  The Triple D.  I know what you're thinking.  That's right.  The Triple Deuce.  the long-awaited follow-up to the cinematic masterpiece "Roadhouse", which takes place at the Double Deuce. 

"hey, mijo"

(note that I just found out that there was indeed a sequel to "Roadhouse".  Yikes.  Probably not as good as Godfather 2.)  But alas, DDD TT stands in this case for the "Double Damn Dams Time Trial".  The DDD TT is a 12 mile ride along the Horsetooth Reservoir road (hence the "Dams"), out and back (hence the "Double"), featuring lots of hills (hence the "Damn").  Perfect. 

Now mind you these are roughly the same people that hosted the team training ride the previous Wednesday, so I knew I’d be riding against some pretty talented riders.  I couldn't hang with them last week, so what the heck was I doing here?  But this ride had the advantage (for me) of only being 12 miles long, and being very hilly.  I like hills, it’s the flat stuff I have a problem with.  So I paid my $10 entry fee (bike racing fees are delightfully cheaper than running race fees!) and signed up.  There was a spot for “team name” on the entry form.  This was of course supposed to be for your bike team.  Lacking a proper bike team to call my own, I could have left the spot blank but I decided to give a shout-out to my courage classic team, so I filled in “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”.

For the rest of the day leading up to the race I was vaguely regretting my decision.  I participated in another of Jeanie’s insane boot-camp workouts that morning so my legs were not fresh at all.  I did not relish the thought of being dead last, I felt like I should try nonetheless.  Besides, I felt a little like an ambassador from the Trail Runners to the Bike Riders.  Again, it's important to go and do things outside of your comfort zone.  Mission accomplished.

Jimmy Dan was there, and showed me where to pin my re-usable number (they expect me to do more races, I presume?  Ok then!).  As usual these days, the sky was filled with thunderous, murderous intent, with bands of rain to the north, and a particularly malevolent looking storm approaching from the south.  This set me on edge as I awaited my start.  The route we were to race featured by my count 4 distinct steep climbs, each over 10% grade I think, and 3 harrowing descents.  One hill in particular unnerved me; the North Dam.  This hill is a straight shot down the east side of the north dam of Horsetooth.  I think some of the other hills actually have steeper sections, but none of them match the North Dam’s sustained difficulty and pitch.  Compounding this was the very real possibility that we might get rained on, and the road might be wet during the descent of this hill.
A wee bit blustry before the start, eh Jimmy?

But it wasn’t raining at the start, so off I went at my appointed time.  Since this was a time trial, riders went off at 30 second intervals.  I was placed about half-way through the field, so I had riders in front of me I could mark, and I knew that there would be riders behind me trying to catch up to me.  Both of these conditions I found to be quite motivating, and I really started to push it up the first two hills as a result.  Although I think this is not proper cycling form, I pretty much stood up out of the saddle for the entirety of all the significant climbs.  I figured that standing up would allow me to make better use of my trail running muscles, but I knew I would go anaerobic pretty quickly doing that.  Whatever, if I go down, I’m going down big.
I couldn’t believe how hard I was pushing my pace on the climbs, and even on the descents.  I guess paying $10 and being in a competition really brought out the best of effort in me.  I loved it.  At least until I reached the crest of North Dam hill.  The route was such that we went down North Dam, rode almost to Bellevue, and then went back up North Dam.  And North Dam was wet.  It wasn’t raining at the moment, but a squall had just passed through, and the road was freshly glossed with summer rain.  This set me completely on edge as I coasted down the hill, as a straight arrow probably approaching 40 miles per hour – and that with applying the brakes now and then.  I’m sure braver riders regularly hit 50 or more on this hill.  The bottom of the hill features a turn to the right, which I was dreading down to my now-wet shoes.  But before I could get too worked up in anticipation, I was upon the turn.  I tapped the brakes a few more times and cautiously banked into it.  The tires held.  Of course now I’d lost all my momentum and had to crank it up to get back up to speed, but I survived the hill.

After a fairly comical U-turn on the road (thank you Marcel for volunteering and directing traffic!), I turned around and started the gradual approach back to North Dam hill.  It was fun to see the other riders who had started after me coming down the same stretch of road, and we waved to each other and offered encouragement.  As I got back to the base of the North Dam hill proper I got passed by one of those riders.  I had already been passed by one or two others as well by this point, but that didn’t really bother me.  But after getting passed on the North Dam I decided to really put in the effort and try to mark this guy up the hill.  I was fairly successful, too, until I crested the hill and attempted to switch back to my big gear; then my chain fell off!  Oh what a bother.  I really need a tune-up.  So I stopped, got off, offered a few choice words to the ether, slipped the chain back on, and continued on.

After cresting North dam there was a long, gradual climb to the top of “monster” hill, then another steep descent featuring a sharp left-hand turn that exposed a precipitous drop over a guardrail into Horsetooth Reservior, and then one final climb up “maniac” hill.  The race didn’t finish down at the stadium where we started, it finished uphill, just like a real mountain stage!  It was pretty fun.  The clouds continued to build from the south, but the rain held off, and I gave all I had on the final climb.  I think I may have even drooled a little. 

The gang at the finish.  The gentleman in black competed on a fixed-gear single-speed.  Now that's crazy.

Yeah I've got a number on and everything.  It's legit.

Celeste makes fun of me for being so competitive, but it draws out the best in me.  I would never push it that hard on these hills if I wasn’t participating in some sort of competition on them.  I would never know what I was capable of.  I managed to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack on the ride, which I was very happy about.  I think I know my strengths, or strength; hills.  Bring ‘em on.

Now the courage classic is not a competition, it’s a charity ride.  I’ll try very hard not to treat it as a competition.  Quite frankly I find it to be bad form to treat a charity ride as a competition.  No one cares if you’re riding at the front of the pack on a charity ride, you kind of look like a jerk doing that, actually.  But I think I’m ready for the event, and I’m really looking forward to all the climbs that this event has to offer.  So once again and once and for all, thank you all for your support, and for reading along with the blog, and I’ll try to fire off an update this weekend while we’re up there riding and having fun.  Thanks!

Ziggy Played Guitaaaaaaah!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Towers

Or three towers, or four, aach, who’s counting.  We’ll get to the towers momentarily.  First, the much-anticipated update regarding our Courage Classic Children’s Hospital fund-raising:

Oh yes, we are now north of $1,000 raised for Children’s Hospital, checking in this afternoon at $1,255.  We have until this Friday, I believe, to try to raise the remainder.  So if you’re considering donating to our ride on our behalf, please click one of the links below, thank you! 
Last we left off, I was getting my shorts handed to me at the local Fort Collins Cycling Team weekly battle royale, which left me rather stunned and impressed.  As an aside, those of you who have seen my biking shorts lately will be happy to know that they have been retired and replaced.  I’ll say no more on that subject, other than to say that many of my trail running friends have been recently scarred by the sight of me bounding up hills in my far-too-old-and-baggy bike shorts.  You’re welcome, Fort Collins.  Where was I?  Oh yes, the team bike ride also took me within view of Towers, the Fort Collins Trail Runners bi-weekly group handicapped time trial excursion.  And lo and behold, the next day (last Thursday) was another Towers run, so just like two weeks ago, I found myself back on the bike and riding the same hills I rode the previous day, but in reverse direction, to get to towers after work.  My legs were plenty tired from the beating they took the previous night, but the weather looked good on a Thursday for once, and I wanted to get some more riding in but still run towers with my gang, so I did both activities once again (hence the sight of me running up towers in my bike shorts).  And I managed to stay dry, at least!
And I was rewarded with a golden sunset from the south dam on my ride home.  That's the "tooth" on the high point of the ridge there, and towers a bit to the right of that.

My legs felt fairly tired trudging up the hill but not overly so.  I have been wondering lately how much cross-over there is between running and cycling.  You know, does riding help one’s running and/or vice versa?  I’m certain that there are good cardiovascular benefits to doing both activities that translate across, but I can’t shake a suspicion that running only builds cycling strength to a point.  In fact in certain situations running may actually be counter-productive to cycling.  Situations like, I don’t know, running up towers.

But we wants towers!  I can’t live without my precious towers.  And I had signed myself up for the Barr Mountain trail run on Sunday at Pikes Peak so I needed some hill climbing practice.  I had entered this particular running race long before I committed to the courage classic.  The intent was to run Barr Mountain as preparation to running the Pikes Peak ascent in August, since it occurs on the same course.  Basically Barr Mountain is the lower half of the Pike Peak marathon course.  Barr sports about 3,600 feet of climbing – and descending -- in about 12.5 miles of running, round trip.  Our local Towers route, mind you, is about 1,650 feet and 6.8 miles.  So Barr Mountain can quite rightly be considered to be, wait for it, about Two Towers worth of running.  Barr trail even sports a tunnel with what I must assume to be a giant arachnid lurking in its darkest recesses.  Quite coincidentally, Celeste and I have been picking our way through the Two Towers DVD over the past week or so.  It’s all towers, all the time with me. 

But the affect of the Barr trail race, this weekend, aside from encouraging me to indulge in some of my favorite towers-related activities (luckily I had no access to mashed potatoes with which I could have made a giant replica of Devil’s tower), was to keep me off the bike all weekend.  Not good Courage Classic preparation, I know.  I got in some riding Friday, mostly my 10 mile work commute plus a few odd-additional miles around town, but no cycling at all on Saturday or Sunday.  No cycling Saturday because I knew I had the running race Sunday, and no riding Sunday because quite frankly I was altogether knackered after running Barr.

And I needed all the rest I could get, for after the twin virtual charley-horse of last Wednesday and Thursday my legs were sore!  On Friday my legs were completely shot.  On Saturday they were marginally better, but I didn’t like my chances for Sunday’s race one bit, even after I was informed by Nick that the field this year was “soft”, and that I was capable of a top-5 finish.  Jeez, no pressure.

Now earlier in this post I had speculated here that it is possible that running does not necessarily help one’s cycling, other than to a point.  But is the opposite true?  Does cycling help one’s running?  Again, noting the obvious cardio benefits, I think we may be on to something here.  For starters, cycling is far less damaging to the body than is running, even trail running.  Provided there are no accidents, obviously.  As I get older I may find that I need to cycle more just for that reason alone.  And while there’s nothing to replace experience gained by running, but I think maybe, just maybe, hill-climbing strength gained by climbing hills on a bicycle may translate better to running up hills.  In the past four weeks, since I ran my first 50 mile race in Wyoming in June, my weekly running totals have dropped noticeably, with the extra training time filled in by more cycling, of course.  In the past four weeks I’ve ran an average of about 27 miles per week.  This is lower than my average for the year so far by about 20 miles per week, so I’m running about 60% of my usual mileage this past month.  Believe me, it’s good that I’m getting a bit of a breather on the miles, actually.  I’ve been enjoying the bike riding and although clearly I’m not as accomplished on the bike as I am on foot, I still like doing it and I suspect I’ll improve if I stick with it some more.  Which I am happy to do if I find that it does not diminish my running ability, of course!

Which finally brings us to the Barr Mountain trail race.  Noting that my weekly running mileage had been dropping, I was a little concerned that I would have some difficulty on the race.  I mean, there’s always difficulty on a mountain trail race, it’s a freaking mountain after all.  I suppose I was concerned about abnormal or extraordinary difficulties on the race.

So I was a little more amped up than usual waiting around the starting line with Celeste and Brian, with whom I had carpooled from the Fort that morning.  Adding to my sense of apprehension was the fact that my gps watch had lost all of its battery charge, so I was flying blind today.  Not that it mattered all that much, because I had as usual failed to study the course or determine any time goals whatsoever.  Nick suggested I try to beat his time up the hill (64 minutes), which seemed like a good plan, but other than that I was just going to try to put in a hard effort and see what happened.

I am the little speck of green on the far far right

The Barr trail race is a funny sort of race.  Like the Pikes Peak marathon, it starts on the pavement of Manitou Springs, and then attains the actual Barr trail a mile or so into the race.  The first section of the Barr trail, called the “W’s”, is rather steep and narrow, and it is difficult to pass slower runners on this section of the trail.  My legs felt a bit heavy and sluggish on the first mile leading up to the “W’s”, but they started to come around and I felt pretty good after that.  I was able to pass a few other runners who had perhaps been a little too aggressive at the start, but I really had no idea how I was doing relative to the field as a whole.  Since the race is an out-and-back, as I approached the turnaround point I was able to count runners as they came at me in the other direction.  I was happily surprised to discover that I was in 15th place at the turn-around point.  Not 5th, mind you, but it had a 5 in it! 

I am a better uphill runner than downhill runner, but I tried to hold on to my position on the downhill by really extending my stride and keeping the effort honest.  I find that I tend to relax too much on downhill grades and this always costs me in races.  And today was no exception!  I thought I was pushing the downhill, but I got passed rather quickly by a gentleman who was shorter than I, but somehow appeared to have a stride that was three times the span of mine.  Then I was passed by a younger guy, who looked familiar to me, and turned out was Nick’s second favorite pacer, the remarkably talented Brendan Trimboli.  Who is Nick's favorite pacer, you might ask? Why it's Scott, of course; Scott Jamie, that is.

I was then passed by another gentleman, Brad Poppele (2:42 marathoner), who as it happened was in my age group, and by passing me beat me out of a free pair of shoes, and $50!  Big props to Brad, and note to self, run faster next time!  Also near the end I was passed by the 3rd place female runner, Brandy Erholtz, who unknown to me at the time was the two time defending Women's champ and course record holder for this race, and two-time U.S. Mountain Runner of the Year (2008, 2009), and all around general bad-ass.  Note that one of the unwritten rules for running this race is that you must have a blog.  Anyway, Brandy passed me at the last aid station with about 1.5 miles to go, but I marked her pretty well after that until the final three blocks, which featured a very nasty and steep uphill slog to the finish line.  Finally, some uphill. 

Noting that I’m a better uphill runner than downhill runner, I found myself quickly catching up to, and then passing Brandy.  I felt rather like a jerk, passing her back, so I tried to be a gentleman about it and urged her to pick it up and finish with me.  What I think I said as I passed her was “Come on, let’s do this”, but those of you who have heard me “speaking” at the end of a race know that what came out of my mouth was more along the lines of “sghheoeor wraauuah ruuuurha”.  Likely for that reason she declined to come with me up and around the corner to the finish.  I crossed the line in 1:56:15, arms in the air and all that, happy to come in under 2 hours just because that sounds cool.  I ended up 18th place overall, and 2nd in my age group.  Looking back at the results I had almost reeled in Brad as well, finishing a scant 7 seconds behind him, although I don't really recall seeing him after he passed me and Brandy on the downhill pavement stretch.

Overall the legs felt pretty good, so I was pleased about that, and pleased that all the extra biking and diminished amounts of running do not seem to have taken too much off my running results.  Come to think of it, I think I was a gentlmanly 18th at the Vail hill climb two weeks ago, and a rakishly handsome 14th at the Bighorn race two weeks prior to that, so I think I have a rough target to shoot for at the Pikes Peak ascent in August.

But before that there is the little matter of the Courage Classic, which starts this Saturday.  I may only run once or twice this week, and I have one more special ride planned for Tuesday, but if I’m not ready now than I won’t be ready on Saturday.  I think I’m ready, it will be a lot of fun regardless.  Thanks again for following along and donating, we really appreciate it.  I will probably post one more time between now and this weekend, and I’ll try to post something during the ride itself.  Once and finally, the links to donate are here, thank you! 

If you blew it, don't reject it Just sit drawing up the plans and re-erect it

Thursday, July 14, 2011

House of Pain

First an update on our fund-raising efforts for the Courage Classic:  Thanks to you all, Celeste and I have now raised $930 for Denver's Children's Hospital!  Our goal is $2,000, so if you're still considering donating, please feel free to click one of our links below and give a little something to Children's Hospital on our behalf: 

Eat a big lunch, I told myself yesterday, you’re going to have to put your big-boy pants on today.  So I horfed down my usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and supplemented that with Monday’s leftover coconut curry stir fry (one of four or five “go to” dinners I can make with some competence, incidentally), hoping the extra calories would help see me through the Pro Velo Fort Collins Cycling Team weekly group ride.

I had asked my friend Dan if there were any “spirited group rides” I could do to get in a tough cycling workout in advance of the Courage Classic, which is how I found myself leaning against my trusty Novara Strada (oh, yes, with a name like “Novara”, it has to be Italian, right?  Right??) with 29 other spandex-clad bean-poles Wednesday after work.  Quite a few of the riders were wearing the local Echelon Energy team  riding kit (expertly modeled by Dan on the web page there), and several others sporting other local bike team apparel.  These were like, real riders, on real bikes.  These guys (and ladies, of which there were 3 I think) actually train and compete on these things.  Oh yes, I was solidly out of my league.

I felt like I was 13 years old again, trying out for my junior high school baseball team (I made the team, backup outfielder, emphasis on the backup part).  Quite frankly I had no business being there, but it was too late to turn back now, and besides, what’s the worst that could happen?  Well seeing as though there were no other 13-year old kids standing around and waiting to point fingers at me and laugh and make fun of my sub-standard hand-eye coordination (what’s the use of being able to run to the ball if you can’t catch the darn thing?), the worst that could happen is that I could get “dropped”.  You see, group biking isn’t like group running.  There’s a huge incentive to stay bunched together in a group, or dare I say, peleton, in order to minimize the affects of wind-resistance.  At running speeds this affect is far less pronounced, so runners don’t typically feel the need to run in a tight-knit group.  Group cycling, on the other hand, is all about the group.  And if you’re not fit enough to hang on to the group, well, you may want to consider going on a solo ride.  I had no idea if I could hang on to this group, advertised as an “opportunity to ride with some of Fort Collins fastest”, but I was going to give it a try all the same.

I think the Decemberists say it best...

I looked around and went through various scenarios of shame and glory in my head.  Worst case; some peroxide-blonde 80s villain jerk takes one look at me and my $750 bike (“but it’s Italian, I swear!” (it's not) ), and declares that I am unfit for the ride, and I slink back to my running friends with tears in my eyes and malice in my heart.  Clearly I’m still stuck on the 1983 team sports memories here.  Only slightly less humiliating; I am allowed to ride with the group, but am quickly dropped by all 29 other riders as they fly away from me in a monolithic fascist peleton, leaving me as the only person who can not keep up.  Somewhat acceptable; I am able to hang on to the back of the pack and actually ride with someone.  Maybe not the lead group, but I am actually involved in the ride.  Better still; I am in the lead group, I am mixing it up, I even take a turn pulling the front of the peleton.  And best of all; I find out that I am the strongest rider of the group, a cycling savant as it were, and they ask me to be their king, and buy me beers and peroxide.

So the ride starts out; so far so good.  We are riding through town, heading towards Loveland via Shields, and there are plenty of stoplights so the group stays together.  I am in the middle of the pack and feeling guardedly optimistic that I won’t get completely dropped.  Mostly I am enjoying doing the cool “watch out for this stuff on the road” hand signals and getting used to riding in close proximity to other cyclists.  South of Harmony there is a 2-mile stretch of road uninterrupted by stoplights and featuring a small hill.  I find that I have to put in a tough effort to keep up, and I’m getting passed by a couple of cyclists, but I make it back to the pack at the light at Trilby.

Then it happens.  The light turns green, and the real ride begins.  Oh.  My. Goodness.  The main group charges out ahead and I am quickly gapped, although I am not last.  We are riding into a headwind and I know that it is critical to find some people to ride with in order to take advantage of drafting.  I start to put in a huge effort, and I manage to catch up to a couple of other cyclists who have also been spit out of the main group.  We take turns pulling each other along and try to make up ground on the lead group, but it’s hopeless.  But I keep trying all the same.  I’m not going to give up without a fight, so I keep pushing.  It’s hot out, I’m sweating like an African zebra being chased by a Tasmanian Devil, my thighs are screaming at me (and this on a relatively flat stretch of road), and I am having trouble keeping up even with my little pack of five.  One of the riders, Ryan, notices my distress and offers that maybe I should “hang on the back” for a bit, meaning I should stop taking turns leading the group.  He’s being nice, and he’s right, but I want to feel like I’m contributing and not just hanging on, so mainly I ignore him.  I’m going down in a blaze of glory, baby.

Our chase group splinters into two groups of 2 and a single rider off the back.  I’m in the middle group of two.  We’re taking turns pulling each other along Highway 34 west of Loveland and glade road.  I can see the lead group of two and I decide I want to try to catch up to them, so I max out my effort once more and reach them where Glade road meets the main Masonville road.  Ryan goes right, towards Masonville, and the other cyclist left, back towards Highway 34.  I follow Ryan to the right, although I later find out the group route was supposed to go left here.  I catch up to Ryan and we catch another rider.  “I’m trashed,” I say as I latch on to this new group of three.  “No problem,” he says, “we’ll catch our breath a bit and then do some short pulls.”  You know, these cyclists are really nice.  Very few of them are even blonde.  It’s encouraging.  It’s all I can do to keep up with my little group of three, but I take my turns leading the pack all the same.  If I’m going to participate in the ride I am going to work my share.

Our little group makes it to Masonville and as we begin the climb to Horsetooth Mountain Park I realize that I am completely shot.  I have no energy for this relatively minor climb, having spent all of my strength trying to keep up with these spandex-clad crazies on the flats.  My two partners quickly leave me behind, and finally, 24 miles into what turned out to me a 38 mile ride, I let them go and start to ride at my own pace.

Now at this point I actually had managed to keep several of the other riders behind me, but now several of them start to reel me in on the hill.  And some of the “big dogs” catch me as well, even though I took a 4 mile shortcut to Masonville.  Heck, I’m sure some of the really fast riders beat me to Masonville even though they took the longer route.

Up and over Horesetooth mountain park I went, where I could see the top of towers, and I wistfully thought of my bi-weekly group trail run up to that shining landmark.  For you see on towers I feel like a hero.  Out here on the bike getting passed, I feel more like a zero.  But it’s ok.  I realize that it’s good to be humbled, to stick out your neck, to try and fail.  Fail big, in full color.  I got a lyric from Prince stuck in my head, “Whenever you say that you can’t, that’s when you need to be trying”, and that brightened my mood as I separated completely from the group ride at the South dam of Horsetooth reservoir and took a crack at maniac hill, before dropping down to Hughes stadium and thence directly back home.

Prince knows what I'm talking about

So I’d say that the experience fell somewhere between “hanging on to the back of the pack”, and “getting dropped completely”.  I’m no king, but I didn’t get laughed at either.  I’m happy that I tried to ride with the big boys and girls, happy, even, to have been dropped and humbled by the experience.  And I’ll try it again in a few weeks, absolutely. 

And once again, the links for our courage classic fund-raising: 

Monday, July 11, 2011


How has the training for the Courage Classic been going, you ask?  Great, if climbing a 14er is appropriate training for a 200 mile bike ride.  If not, well, at least we ate a lot of cheese, so the weekend was still a success.

First an update on our fund-raising efforts:  Thanks to you all, Celeste and I have now raised $880 for Denver's Childrens Hospital!  Our goal is $2,000, so if you're still considering donating, please feel free to click one of our links below and give a little something to Children's Hospital on our behalf: 

In what is now pretty much an annual Summer tradition, Celeste and I packed up the car and met our cousins from Santa Fe, Tim and Michaela, for a jaunt up to the top of one of Colorado's many "14ers", or 14,000 foot peaks.  We've done trips to Handies, Elbert and Massive, Quandary and Democrat, and now this year, Shavano, Tabeguache (pronounced "tab-uh-wash," with the accent on the first syllable, I just found out, although I would prefer to pronounce it "ta-wash", so I could sing "ta-wash, ta-wash, ta-wash you want?"), and Antero.  In fact last year we were going to climb Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross (and don't forget Cameron!), but as is our style we got started too late and did not feel like we could summit all of those peaks early enough in the day to avoid the temperamental Colorado high-alpine Summer weather.  So the original plan this year was to take care of "unfinished business" and climb all of those aforementioned peaks.  But the Spring was snowy in and around that area this year, and reports indicated that some of the peaks further South, namely Shavano and Antero, were snow-free and rather more climb-able this particular year.  So we changed our plan at the last minute and agreed to meet at the Shavano trail head Friday night to camp.

Celeste and I rolled into the trail head just at dark, where Tim and Michaela had already set up camp near the trail head at the edge of a meadow ringed at all sides by a grove of aspen trees, and dotted with old-growth ponderosa pines, and sporting a close-up view of Shavano.  Rather lovely, all told.  The weather during the 4-hour drive to the trail head was choppy.  We drove through two major rainstorms, one just outside Fort Collins, and another on the way to Buena Vista.  The weather lately has been very unsettled, and we all knew that there was a pretty good chance of getting rained upon during our hike the next day, so we agreed that we should get up early and hit the trail before 6:00 am Saturday in order to minimize our risk of getting caught above timberline in a thunderstorm.

So we set our alarms for 5:00 am and settled into bed.  Since we were car-camping I brought pillows and our old coleman sleeping bag to sleep on for extra comfort.  It was all rather plush and I slept well, until just before 5:00 when I heard the unmistakable sound of ice sloshing violently against plastic; that sound made manifest by an unseen entity dragging our cooler around our campsite.  Oh yes, my friends, a bear was trying to abscond with our precious cheese and bud light!  First skunks, now this.  I'm just glad we decided to leave Ziggy at home this weekend.

I must be the lightest sleeper of the bunch, because I woke up first and said "bear", which although said softly by yours truly, instantly awoke the others into a state of wide-eyed alarm.  We all sat in the the tent in silent nervous expectancy (of what?  the bear cracking open a beer?  or cracking open our tent??) and listened to the sound of the cooler being dragged away.  Then the noise abruptly stopped.  Tim and I grabbed flashlights and headed out into the dim light of the early morning to assess the situation.  We found the cooler on its side, about 30 feet from where we had left it the night before.  We didn't see a bear or any other creature, human or otherwise, but we both figured that the cooler was probably too heavy to be dragged 30 feet by a raccoon or lynx or marmot.  It didn't appear as though the bear actually took anything, either, but later we did notice that our swiss cheese was missing, although the white cheddar was still intact.  So it must have been a Swiss bear.  And yes, I know, we made a very stupid mistake in leaving out the cooler, one we managed not to repeat for the rest of the trip.  And our tent was a good 25 feet away from the area where we ate and prepared our meals.  We actually do know the rules, we just don't always follow them.

Well that was better than any traditional wake-up call, and after a quick breakfast of coffee and cereal, we packed up and headed off towards Mount Shavano.  Shavano is the southern-most 14er in the Sawatch range, and is an impressive peak when viewed from the highway leading from Buena Vista to Poncha Springs.  And it was an impressive climb as well, featuring 4,400 feet of climbing from our campsite at 9,800 feet to the summit at 14,200 feet in a span of 4.5 miles.  The climb was fairly typical for most 14ers: a steep cool ascent through a forest of thin Lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce, then breaking out of the forest at timberline to a wind-swept tundra of lichen-covered stones and traces of winter's snow, and finally a scramble up the final summit cone, guarded by sharp stones, and finally the summit, already populated by gore-tex laden hikers eating trail mix and enjoying the view.

The Angels of Shavano

Although Shavano was my 14th successful unique 14er summit (a nice bit of symmatry there!), I do not consider myself a "peak-bagger", obsessed with summitting all 50+ 14ers in the state.   Not that there's anything wrong with that; I admire the Will that drives people to want to accomplish such things.  I think I'm just a little too lazy to seek out all of the far-flung peaks, and find myself climbing the ones closer to home over and over again.  For example, I think I've climbed Mount Quandary four times, simply because it is so easy to get to from the highway!  But I do enjoy the novelty of each mountain, and I particularly enjoy the unique vistas provided by each mountain in turn.  The view from Shavano is similar to the view from Quandary, you know, lots of other mountains and what not, but at the same time the view is wholly unique and special in its own way.  For the views, I suppose, I would attempt to climb all of the 14ers.  We'll see if I get there.
Ah yes, the views.  And the clouds.

And in order to climb all of the 14ers, Shavano guards the approach to another 14er, Mount Tabeguache(-chu want!?!).  Tabeguache is only assessable (by normal people) via a high ridge that separates it from the summit of Shavano.  So in order to climb Tabeguache one has to summit Shavano, then hike the exposed ridge between Shavano and Tabeguache, climb Tabeguache, and then return via the same connecting ridge to Shavano.  It's fairly exposed, but not technically difficult, and the round-trip takes about 1.8 miles.  The general rule for 14ers is that one really should be off the summit before noon.  After noon, the weather on the peaks gets rather dicey, and there is literally no place to run or hide in the event of a thunderstorm.  We had decided that if we attained the summit of Shavano by 10:00 am, that we would allow ourselves to hike the ridge to Tabeguache and summit that peak as well.  An in fact we did summit Shavano by 10:00, but since the weather had been so unsettled, we noticed far more clouds than usual on the summit at this time of day.  We decided that even though we had made our time goal, that the weather was just too sketchy today, and decided not to try for Tabeguache.  In my opinion, a big part of being a good mountaineer is knowing when to turn around.  I'm as bad as anyone when it comes to contracting a case of "summit fever", but I know when it's time to pack it in and live to climb another day.  So we bid Tabeguache a farewell from afar, with a promise to return someday, and made our way back down the windy summit of Shavano, and back to camp.  Not one hour after we made it back we got hit by a short and fierce little rainstorm, which seemed to reinforce our decision.

After a dinner which consisted of an appetizer of cheddar cheese on triscuits,  another appetizer of cheddar cheese quesadillas, an entree of cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches, and for dessert, more cheddar cheese on triscuits, we thoroughly secured the campsite and went to bed.  The next morning we were originally going to climb either Mount Antero or Mount Princeton, or the high-13er Mount Ouray, but in the end we opted to sleep in and hike the Colorado Trail, which intersected the Mount Shavano trail very near our campsite.  Also the weather played a factor in our decision; we got another rainstorm at 2:00 am that night, and woke up to a sky filled with heavy clouds.  I'm sure we would have been fine, climbing another 14er on Sunday, but ultimately we decided on the easier and more convenient option of the Colorado trail, since it meant we would not have to drive anywhere or break camp.

That's how you ford a stream!

We enjoyed a delightful 11 mile hike on the famed trail, passing by several groups of people that were "through-hiking" the entire 470+ mile span of the trail from Denver to Durango.  We plotted and planned our own through-hike adventure (someday!) and enjoyed several vistas of my new favorite mountain, Mount Ouray.  Mount Ouray is not a 14er, but it's darn close (13,961 feet), and it enjoys a prominence that give it an impressive air that many of its taller and more-often-climbed neighbors lack.  It is, in short, a beautiful mountain and I intend to climb it; partly because it comes so close to being a 14er and I assume simply by dint of lacking a mere 39 feet of prestige, is almost completely ignored even though it is undeniably more impressive and beautiful than many other peaks that by some accident of commercial standards sit above a  completely arbitrary numerical threshold of elevation.  What if the length of a "foot" was only 0.3% shorter?  Then Ouray would also be a 14er, and would be undoubtedly be one of the more popular ones, to boot.  I understand the desire to climb the tallest peaks in the state, for the adventure and sense of accomplishment (and the views!), but I get the feeling there is a significant drop-off between the number of people who climb, say, the 10 least tall 14ers, and the number of people who climb the 10 tallest 13ers.  I'm guilty of that as well; I think I've summitted 3 or 4 13ers, and as mentioned, 14 14ers.  Maybe it's time to even the score.

Mount Ouray 

Well enough prattling on about mountains, I could go on all day.  As you can see we spent not a second on our bikes this weekend, but we did "scout out" Freemont pass via automobile, so I guess you could say we did some recon work for Courage Classic.  Today, we ride.  Hills.  I promise.

Many more pictures:

And if you're interested in donating, here are the links once again, thank you! 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Je t'aime, Ziggy, Je t'aime

Time for an update!  I am very pleased to report that we have raised just over $700 for our courage classic ride!   You all are most excellent and generous friends, and I will reward you with a story of grand excitement and odors.

Well the big plan for the 4th of July was to volunteer at our local 5K race in the morning, the Firecracker 5, then ride Rist canyon, then take the dogs up into the mountains so as to avoid the noisy, scary fireworks display.  One out of three isn’t bad, right?

The 5K race was a lot of fun and we saw a bunch of our running friends volunteering and racing.  Our super hero Nicole won the women’s race and set a course record to boot!  Celeste and I were put in charge of the bike storage area, which seemed appropriate considering the courage classic.  The race was encouraging participants to ride to the event and provided a secure storage area for bikes, and even a special raffle prize drawing courtesy of REI for bikers only.

Celeste and Lincoln, keeping out the riff-raff

Our plan was to get out of there by 8:30 so we could go on our own ride, but we were not able to escape until after 10:00 am!  By then it was getting pretty hot, and we had to drag ourselves out of the house to go for our Rist canyon ride.  About oh, two blocks into our ride we decided to scrap the Rist idea, and we rode out only to Bellvue and back, via Bingham Hill on the way out, and “the barrens” on the way back.  My local running peeps will know what I’m talking about.  It turned into a leisurely 14 mile ride in the heat instead of the 40+ mile epic suffer-fest we’d promised ourselves.  Well hey, it was hot, what do you want from us!  More suffering and blood, I know.  Just wait, you’ll get what you came for.

A leisurely ride to Bellvue and back.

We spent the bulk of the afternoon staying out of the heat and watching the neighborhood fill up with people and cars in anticipation of the fireworks display at city park.  We found it amusing that many of our neighbors were putting out chairs and sawhorses and large buckets in front of their houses in order to prevent strangers from parking there.  It reminded us both of the North End in Boston, where there are unofficial reserved parking spaces for local men of dubious repute.  Since we are new to this neighborhood we didn’t realize how crowded things were going to get, but we didn’t really care because we were planning on vacating the area for the evening.

For you see Ziggy, our newest dog and the namesake of our Courage Classic team, is terrified of loud noises, and we figured it would be smart for all of us if we were nowhere near city park for the thunderous fireworks display that evening.  So about 5:00 pm we bundled Ziggy and Duke into the pickup, and headed up the Poudre canyon with Cat and Sarah for a nice evening hike up Hewlett’s Gulch trail.

The trailhead was almost completely deserted by the time we got up there, which was great.  We were able to let both dogs off leash (it is allowed there) and let them roam up and down the trail without fear of confrontations with any other dogs.  The mosquitoes were rather voracious at that time of the evening, and none of us brought bug spray, but other than that it was a wonderful cool quiet hike up the gulch through cool green forests and meadows, and featuring numerous stream crossings. 

At one point some dark clouds rolled over and threatened to rain, and Ziggy got frightened and actually started to turn back to the trailhead.  I called for him to return but he was having none of that, so I had to chase him down the trail for a good half of a mile until I could convince him to let me leash him back up and return to the others.  After the clouds rolled past Ziggy seemed in good spirits once again so I let him off leash once more.  In retrospect that was a big error.

Hewlett’s Gulch trail opens up into a lovely meadow near it’s far point, and we were in the clearing and almost to the high point when we noticed that both Duke and Ziggy were rooting around quite enthusiastically at the base of a bush some 10 feet of the trail and 20 or so feet ahead of us.  I started calling the dogs back to us, and Duke came cruising back, licking his mouth like he just ate peanut butter.  But I don’t think there was a jar of Skippy under that bush, and anyway I then caught the unmistakable scent of skunk.  Crap.

Ziggy came running out of the bush, chasing a small and very irritated skunk.  At this point the skunk fluffed up its bushy tail, turned away from Ziggy, and we all got to witness a skunk spray.  Ziggy took a shot point-blank to his face.  Which deterred him not in the least.  Duke clearly had more common sense, having come back to us at the first attack.  Ziggy was either too stubborn or too stupid to stop harassing the skunk, for he continued to chase this poor animal across the trail onto the other side of the meadow, proceeding to get sprayed about 3 or 4 more times while we all screamed his name but kept our distance from the fray. 

Finally Ziggy decided he’d had enough, and disengaged from the fracas and headed towards us, his normally white head literally stained yellow by the skunk’s spray.  And the skunk was so enraged that it was actually chasing Ziggy towards us!  Luckily the skunk decided that it didn’t want to spray everyone in the vicinity.  Maybe it was bluffing; do skunks have an unlimited supply of spray?  We were not going to find out.  It was time to high-tail it back down the trail to the truck. 

The poor dogs spent a fair amount of time rolling in the dirt, trying desperately to rub that foul stinging odor off of their faces.  We tried splashing water on them at the stream crossings, but it was difficult for us to stop because as soon as we did, hoards of mosquitoes descended upon us and proceeded to turn our skin into a reasonable facsimile of bubble wrap.  We were concerned that they may have gotten sprayed in the eyes but they seemed ok from that perspective.  All we could really do was get them back to home so we could subject them to a tomato juice bath (yes, that actually works pretty well).

The crew, post-skunk-attack

There was no way we were going to let them sit in the cab of the truck so Celeste and I rode in the bed of the truck with the two dogs while Cat drove our truck back down the canyon.  I’m reasonably certain it was illegal and I know it was dangerous, but luckily for us the traffic was quite sparse, because everyone was heading to city park for the fireworks, a fact we discovered when we arrived back at our house, just in time for the fireworks display.  You know, the thing we were trying to avoid in the first place!

So Celeste took the dogs inside while I drove around my neighborhood looking for a parking spot, and considered that some well-placed chairs in front of my house may not have been such a stupid idea after all.  So the dogs got subjected to a triple-horror of skunk, bath, and loud noises.  They really haven’t been the same since!  In fact Ziggy didn’t even want to leave the house this morning, four days after the fact.  It’s a dangerous world out there, isn’t it.  And even after the tomato juice bath, which stained their white fur the color of Thai iced tea, I can still detect a hint of skunk in the air.  It will just take time to fully dissipate.  But the dogs will be fine, and hopefully they will think twice before taking on another skunk.  And I will most certainly think three times before letting them off leash in the forest again, particularly at that time of the evening.  What a mess.

But this blog is supposed to be about training for the courage classic, is it not?  Well you know, a skunk attack is far more entertaining then more accounts of me riding my bicycle.  But I will fill you in on my progress nonetheless.  It’s Friday today, and the 4th was Monday, which featured 14 miles of riding between the 5K race volunteering and the skunk incident.  On Tuesday I managed my normal 10 miles of commuting, and the same on Wednesday.  I was able to ride more miles on Thursday (yesterday), to the sum of 20 or so miles, 5 of which were done in a torrential rainstorm.  What is it with getting soaked on Thursdays?  So quite frankly I’m not putting in the biking miles I’d like, but I’m probably doing enough to get by.  I’m thankful that I got to ride Vail pass last weekend, that gives me some measure of confidence as I approach two weeks until the start of my ride.

Once again, thank you for your continued support, and here are the links you can click to donate to our ride:

Je t'aime, Ziggy, Je t'aime

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


My training for the Courage Classic in 2+ weeks continues, with many detours along the way.  First of all, let’s review our progress towards our goal of raising $2,000 dollars for Childrens Hospital:

Celeste and I have raised $580 so far, thank you all so very much!  We are over one quarter of the way there!  If you are considering making a tax-deductible donation to Childrens Hospital on our behalf, I encourage you to do so by clicking one of the links below:
And for those of you who have donated, a heart-felt thank you!  Your support means a lot to me.

So how has the training been going, you ask?  Well, you know, some good, some bad.  Last we left off last Thursday I had decided to bike to Towers and then run towers through a dangerous storm, and then bike home through the rain.

Friday was far more sedate, probably too sedate, as I only logged about 13 miles of city riding, much of that during my normal work commute.  And Saturday was even worse; housework beckoned so I spent no time on the bike at all, and did fun things like trim the trees and drain the hot tub.

But I made up for my slothfulness on Sunday.  Sunday I got up very early and drove to beautiful Vail, Colorado, for the 300th annual La Sportiva Vail Hill Climb race.  Or 30th annual, I don’t remember.  Point being, people have been lacing up their running shoes and climbing the cat trails up the side of Vail mountain long before I even contemplated doing something this nutty.  Yes this was not a biking event, so I’m still not really on the ball here.  Regardless, it is a good workout; the race climbs over 2,000 feet from the covered bridge in Vail Village to the top of the Lionshead gondola at Eagle’s Nest.  There were about 400 competitors lined up at the start, including me and my friends Sarah and Ellen.  Thankfully for all involved, the course did not go straight up the ski slopes, but rather chose a twisty route up the service roads, which double in the winter as the “easiest way down” trails with such names as “Cub’s Way”, and “Getalong Road”, and “Eternal Peril” Wait, I must have misread that last one, that doesn't sound right. 

No matter, I like to climb hills, and I thought I would be relatively competitive in this event, so I lined up right at the front of the pack like a big boy.  I realized quite quickly that I would not be winning this event right after the race started and the leaders blasted out to a 5-minute mile in the first, flat mile through town.  I knew what effort felt good for me and let them go, and tried to maintain a hard but sustainable pace.  Happily I was able to reel in quite a few runners who may have been a little over-eager at the start, and by about mile 4 or 5 everyone was pretty much settled in to their slots.  The road kept climbing up the side of the ski hill, and we crossed under numerous chairlifts, and across bare ski slopes, and through shady groves of trees as the views of the surrounding mountains got more and more impressive.  But the more impressive the view got, the less interested I was in enjoying it, as the climb, as climbs are want to do, got more and more difficult.  By mile 6 (out of 7.3 miles total) my legs and lungs were at the breaking point.  My only thought was not to let those people whom I passed pass me back.  A point of pride, I suppose.  There were two racers just ahead of me but I could not close the gap on them, no matter my effort.

Ellen cranking it out on the final climb
Sarah looking strong in a picture that is in no way staged whatsoever

I was trying to climb the hill in under one hour, and as I rounded the final switchback and the finish line came in to view, I saw the race clock at the side of the finishing arch, and it read ”59:59”, and quickly rolled over to “1:00:00” before I could muster the strength to cross under the banner.  Alas, I came in just over one hour at 1:00:04, finishing a gentleman’s 19th place overall, and a, uh, gentleman’s 4th place in my age group.

The weather was beautiful at the top of the mountain, and we enjoyed a nice cool down run on the trails and then took the gondola back down to Vail.  Then I ate lunch at the Red Lion bar in Vail Village with Sarah’s family, and then started part two of my Vail adventure.

You may be wondering why all this running, and writing about the same, when I should actually be riding in preparation for the Courage Classic.  Fair enough.  That’s why I packed my road bike with me on my trip to Vail.  I decided that after the run, if I felt up to it, I would ride my bike from Vail Village to the top of Vail Pass and back down.  What was I thinking?  And of course I had to open my big mouth and tell everyone I was doing that so now here I was, at 1 pm, clipped into my bike and trying to navigate the Vail Village parking garage in order to strike out for mountain adventure number two for the day.  Finally, some biking to write about!

Vail pass is a lovely mountain climb that is made even better by the fact that it is a car-free climb.  The route uses what I must assume is the old Vail pass road, and then a purpose-built bike trail that parallels the interstate up to the top of the pass.  It is also the centerpiece climb of the first day of the Courage Classic ride, so I figured it would be good to know if I could handle this climb on tired legs.  I changed from running to biking gear and washed my face of salt and trail grime in the public restroom of the Vail parking garage (how glamorous is my life!), applied another round of sunscreen and thought that any day that required multiple applications of sunscreen is a good day, and as mentioned, wound my way out of the parking structure and pointed my bike towards the hill.

I'll be back here in a few weeks!

And you know what, ultimately it really wasn’t that bad.  Indeed I took my time, I think it took me about 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the top of the pass, but other than being fairly stiff at the beginning of the ride I felt better than I thought I would feel.  Of course a large part of this may have been do to the fact that there was a spectacular tail-wind pushing me up the pass, but let us not obsess over minute atmospheric details, shall we?  Also I must mention that although Vail pass is significantly higher than Rist canyon in Fort Collins, I think Rist is more difficult.

Having successfully attained summit number two on the day I pointed the bike back down to Vail, and then drove back to the Fort for a well-earned dinner at Enzio’s with the Speights, where we were expertly-waited-upon by super-nice Nicole, runner-extraordinaire and apparent inspiration for many dashed adjectives.

For the 4th of July the plan was to ride Rist canyon with Celeste, after we volunteered at the local Firecracker 5k.  And then take the dogs up into the mountains so they would be out of earshot from the loud and scary city fireworks display, which happens to be staged right in our neighborhood.  But nothing went to plan and everything fell apart.  But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to read about that because I have to go to work!

Again, thanks for donating, and once more here are the links: