Friday, October 31, 2008

just look

We explored this slot canyon just outside Page, AZ. (The first pic is Jon at the entrance.) We were there at the same time as a photography group, carrying their tripods and much fancier digital cameras and even light meters.

At one point, a man said, disappointedly to one of the leaders, “I’m just not finding anything.” Before I had a chance to say anything, the leader told him he would take this man to an area where he would find something he liked.

What I wanted to tell him was this: put down your camera, stand in one place and just look. Look at and experience all that is around you. The shapes, the colors, the light. The layers upon ancient layers of sandstone. Just look.

Since Jon wielded the camera most of the time we were in the canyon, that’s what I was doing, experiencing the canyon without the filter of a framed lens. It was refreshing not worrying about how a shot would turn out. And maybe it helped me notice things just a little bit more.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Have you had one of those moments? You approach an obstacle on the trail. You think, “I can ride that.” You roll closer... “yeah, I can ride that.” Then, when you’re upon it, (when, if you analize afterward you know you’d already passed that critical moment when the decision should have been made) the “NO” voice screams from your inner self.

In that moment on the Hurricane Rim trail, when I hesitated and hit the brakes instead of going for it, the bike reared up, tossing me forward. I let go of the bar and landed on my hands and right forearm, the bike tumbled down the sideslope and a scream which I didn’t know I was capable of making left my throat.

I scurried down to fetch my bike, saw cactus thorns embedded in the rear tire, a few scrapes in my saddle. I apologized to my bike as I inspected it, then hauled it back up to the trail to look at the rock, admonishing myself for making such a bad decision. But, fewer than seven miles into what turned into a 25-mile loop, I wasn’t about to give up. I walked a few technical stretches after that, but once we connected to the next section of trail, I was able to reclaim my groove for the day. Mostly.

The bruises appeared quickly on my arm and on my right leg (which I think made contact with the handlebar). But it’s tough to recover that sense of oneness with the bike after having such a disagreement with what it can do. When people say their bike is better than they deserve, what they really mean is that the bike can better handle challenging terrain than they can. While some people have the confidence to believe they can ride just about anything on a trail, many of us are just not all that sure of our handling skills until we’ve been put to the test. Then it’s a matter of incrementally pushing ourselves from one hurdle to the next, seeing just what we can do. Committing to the line.

Then, the vacation’s over and we have to relearn it next time.

And that’s where we are this evening, holed up at the El Rancho in Boulder City, NV. Jon packed the bikes while I read him the headlines from the Anchorage Daily News. By this time tomorrow, we’ll be back in Anchorage. Back in our own home. Remembering trailrides, starry nights, last night’s campfire and miles of trail.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

return to thunder mountain

According to notes in our guidebook, we first pedaled Thunder Mountain back in 2002. We’d been told it was a great ride on IMBA-designed singletrack. We couldn’t pass it up during our first biking trip to southern Utah. I remember the challenge of the ride and the cool temperatures as we biked it that morning. Now we were back, getting the bikes ready at the trailhead, hoping to win the race with darkness.

The day had started early in Page, AZ, with the drive into Utah to see some rock formations known as the Toadstools. Ten miles on a dirt road in a minivan takes awhile, but we were rewarded with up-close views of dozens of these sandstone pillars, many topped with conglomerate rock. After the drive out and lunch, we headed for Thunder Mountain.

Funny how little I remembered of that ride six years ago. I remembered that it was singletrack with lots of climbing; I remembered the hoodoo rock formations, similar to what one would see in Bryce Canyon. What I didn’t remember was how the trail sweeps into the drainages in banked turns, then sweeps out again in a series of descents and climbs. I forgot the tight switchbacks we had to negotiate to return to the canyon floor, and I forgot the buffed out last mile or so that eased us out of the canyon as daylight was fading. No wonder the guys we met at the trailhead were grinning so much when they came off the trail.

Just a few more days left in our Southwest biking vacation. We have a few more days of riding in the sun before heading north and getting ready for the Alaskan winter. I’m almost ready.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

don't go off the trail

All this, and more!
Notice the first aide kit...

Leonard called over his shoulder this recommendation as we started on a new loop in the Fantasy Island trail system in Tucson. Soon, I knew why: if I didn't keep my speed down, I'd go barreling into one of the hundreds of cacti that lined the singletrack. The trail twisted left, then right and left again.
Prickly pear, barrels and others whose names I don't yet know were just feet apart.

Despite the feeling of emptiness in the desert, we encountered a few of these rabbits.

When we finished riding all the loops we wanted, I looked at my odometer: 24 miles! How the trail designers made a system this extensive on a piece of desert said to be less three square miles gives me hope for the potential mileage we can tease out of the project on the Anchorage Hillside.

Of course this trail has little elevation change except where it dips in and out of the rock-filled washes or rises to a low viewpoint. I think I could ride this trail system many times and not get bored. But a guide to cacti would be helpful, along with some Slime for my tubes.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

be careful what you ask for

Jon, finds some slickrock in Sedona.

Just outside Phoenix.

We came for the heat, and heat we have. This evening, sitting outside a cafe in Tucson, AZ, I looked up the temperatures in Anchorage. In the mid-thirties around much of the city. I'm adjusting to the combination of darkness and warmth here. Because in Alaska, if it's warm, it's not dark. I associate dark, starry nights with bundling up in a down jacket and Uggs. On this trip, we take every opportunity to eat outdoors. In tank tops or short-sleeve shirts.

But I've also had to remember to hydrate: I think, therefore I take a sip from my hydration pack. That's the only way to deal with the temperatures as we make our way south. The biking continues to be challenging and fun, but the biggest challenge is the heat. I take my time pedaling. Take my breaks under sparse, shady trees or cacti. Try to eat. Reapply sunblock.

Leonard above Sedona.

Today, after riding for five days straight, we took a rest day, which means we slept in, then did a short hike in the Suguaro National Park before heading into Tucson for dinner and a stroll around the University area.
That's a tall one!

Tomorrow, we ride again. I'll do my best to be ready.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

we'll follow the sun

...In this case, we'll follow the warmth. As we prepared to leave Moab on Monday morning (thanks to Fred & Susan for putting us up), Jon pulled a water bottle from the car... frozen! Using "head south" as our rallying cry, we hit the road.

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation. If you've seen any
John Wayne westerns, you've seen some of the sights in the valley.

South, toward Arizona where we drove through Monument Valley, then pulled into Flagstaff as darkness was settling in. Next day, we rode some trails on Mount Elden. The ride started at about 7,000 feet, then climbed from there - we figure to about 9,100 feet. My legs were willing, but the lungs burned. It's a tough reminder to us sea-level people - the mountains are beautiful but they can be tough.
Jon lands after a small jump.

Of course, the climbing was rewarded with some sweet, twisting, flowing, singletrack descents on trails that were sometimes rocky, but also sometimes covered with pine needles.

This is what we do.

We camped out that night just south of Flagstaff in calm, somewhat warmer conditions. It was good to be bundled into my sleeping bag without all that dust flying around.

Today, we met our friend Leonard for a ride in Sedona. Lower elevations and hotter conditions. Riding with someone who knows his way around made it fun... even when I was pushing. I split from the guys when they wanted to do another longer loop. A wise idea - by the time they met me at the Bike & Bean, they were both spent, while I was lounging outside with my iced latte talking to a cyclist who is biking her way to Central America to do volunteer work.

Tomorrow, we ride again with Leonard. Funny, he lives in Anchorage. We've known him for years and I volunteer on the STA steering committee with him, but I can only recall riding with him once before. How is it that we have to come all the way to Arizona to ride with him and enjoy dinner together? Well, here's to bikes, to travel, to good food and friends with whom to share them.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

twenty-four hours of dust

Jon waits for me to catch up.

Just days before we left for our vacation, Pete called to tell us he would be racing in the 24 Hours of Moab the next weekend. After little hesitation, we figured we'd head to Moab, Utah, to join him and check out this popular event.

We arrived on Thursday and checked in with his friend at Poison Spider bikes, got a few provisions and headed out to Behind the Rocks to camp. Other people had already started to arrive, so we found Pete's spot (reserved by a friend) and pitched our tent. The wind had already begun, but we weren't too concerned.

Next day, we biked the 15-mile course to see what the racers were in for. It wasn't bad on the trail, but at the camping area the wind continued. Back in town, we met Pete for dinner, then it was back to the race course where the wind quieted, then resumed with full force in the night. In the morning, it wasn't letting up. Tents were flapping, the wind forcing them to tug at their stakes. Bandanas and Buffs covered faces. Dust settled on our teeth. Trucks sprayed water on the ground.
The wind did die down now and then, but it didn't stay calm for long...

Pete after the first lap.

Cullen (Pete's friend) biked to the race pulling all his equipment,
including a back-up bike, in a BOB trailer.
He's doing the race as self-supported as possible.

Which is worse: the wind or the rain? Even considering my whining about the rain this past summer, I guess I'd take the cool rain over the hot, dust-filled wind. A soaked tent or a tent filled with dust? Don't try to tell me one is worse than the other - they both are miserable, just in different ways. Tonight, we decided to not suffer - we found one of the few vacancies in town. I'm not eating dust tonight.

on the trails

On Wednesday, just a day after hitting the ground in Las Vegas, Jon and I were riding singletrack in the 90-degree sun at Bootleg Canyon, just outside Boulder City, Nev. It always takes time for me to acclimate to the heat on a vacation. Even more this year. As I slowly made some hills, or chickened out on some minor rock sections, I reminded myself that the first ride in the desert is always the toughest.

There are a few things to remember - like the fact that the rocks and roots won't be slippery, and that riding in sand is much like biking in snow. And that just because you don't perceive that you're sweating doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to hydrate.

I was done riding after a few hours, but Jon opted for one more loop while I strolled around checking out the terrain. Within an hour he returned, telling me I had to get back on my bike to do a section he'd just pedaled. "There's another parking lot," he told me. "I'll pick you up at the bottom."

So, back on with the shorts, and with map and pump in my water pack, I took off. After a bit of climbing, the trail started to descend. The singletrack curved and rolled through the dry terrain. The afternoon heat had picked up, but I was cooled by my descent. Eventually, I saw the car and Jon greeted me with music and an open beer. Next stop: Lake Mead for a swim. What a way to finish the first ride!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

the secret to a long life

We stopped at the farmers' market on Saturday before work. Leaves were dropping to the ground.
On Sunday afternoon a snowstorm reached west from the mountains into the city. After the storm, our east-side yard was covered in more than a dusting of snow while water dripped from the roof and the trees, still shedding their leaves.

the piggies are migrating

Jon and I fly out Monday night, in time to miss this early winter and catch the early autumn mountain biking in Utah, Arizona and who knows where else. I thought about a song by Michelle Shocked that has followed me for years. It fits many occasions.

While we're away, I'll do a few postings, but I can't promise much. I have a stack of books to read and miles of trail to explore. I may not set aside much time to write. Plus, there's no wifi where we're camping...

Hopefully Kitty will be happy with the housesitters - the other night she sprawled over both their laps. I think that's a good sign.