Friday, October 28, 2011

utah images, with more words

When we last left our story, I had completed a 5-day organized trip in the Canyonlands/Maze area of Utah. The last day is always the toughest as I hate for such adventures to end...

After the five-day organized trip ended, most of the group headed into town (Green River) to Ray's for a burger and a few pitchers of cold brew. Nothing like a bacon cheeseburger after a few days on the trail, not that the guys didn't feed us well. Believe me, we were never wanting for food or beverage. But sitting at a table after having showered and put on a dress to show off my new tan (it wasn't just dirt) made me feel pretty darn special.

The next day, Lori, Bev and I bid farewell to our friends, got a few items in Green River (including some luscious melons) and hit the road, heading south toward Moab. We made a side trip into Arches where a half-hour hike turned into a nearly two-hour adventure (I don't know how that happens) to Delicate Arch. We visited a few more arches before retreating to the car and driving to Moab to get food for the next few nights of camping out.

A rare moment when the arch isn't overwhelmed
with a bunch of tourists, Divas included!

Lori and I pose inside one formation with Delicate Arch in the background.

Heading south, we noticed some deer crossing signs and had our eyes peeled, but the first time I spotted one, standing sideways in the middle of the highway, I slammed on the brakes and we were all a bit stunned. After the deer left the roadway, I saw three or four more waiting in the ditch next to the guardrail. We would have to be vigilant. We'd spot a deer, slow down and hope for no collisions.

In Blanding, a closed visitor center had us a bit worried since we hadn't yet figured out where to camp, but outside the restroom Lori found a brochure with a list of sites. Could we make it before dark? Luckily we could and we did, watching for deer the entire time!

It took a long time for the sun to peek over the canyon wall.
Bev and Lori enjoy coffee at Comb Wash.

The next morning, after coffee and a little something to eat, we hit the road once again. Just a few miles onto a two-lane road through grazing land, we came up a rise and in front of us was the largest elk I've ever seen. (Come to think of it, I've only seen elk from far in the distance.) He stood sideways in the center of the road looking at us as I again slammed on the brakes and all our gear slid forward in the car. Now we were awake! He strolled off the road and I began to accelerate, but it took a few minutes before our adrenaline had settled down. Soon, we were at the switchbacks in the road that would lead to Mexican Hat and which provided vistas for miles to the south. We could see as far away as Monument Valley.

Not as narrow as it initially looked.

I chatted with a few geologists who were making sketches at one of the switchbacks. Students? Turns out they were working for an oil company studying the layers of the rock formation because it resembles a formation that is submerged in the ocean and is a prospect for drilling. Interesting.

Moving along, we skipped a canyon hike in Page in favor of getting closer to Zion so we could spend the next day there. We did stop in Kanab for camping information and to have dinner at Nedra's Too, a little Mexican place which had outdoor seating and wifi. My, how times have changed since Jon and I first rolled into that town over 10 years ago. Of course I wished we had more time to check out the town, but we needed to find our campsite.

When we reached the campground at Coral Pink Sand Dunes we learned it was full! Now what? I asked the ranger if there was anything else nearby. He gave directions and sure enough we had passed a small dry campground (no water available) on the way to that one. We quickly set up our tents in the fading light then Lori and Bev gathered enough wood for a small fire where we could toast our final night of camping.

The moon had yet to rise and the stars shone through the clear skies as the temperature dropped. We made plans for an early start and retired to our tents. I jotted down some notes, then read for awhile, but it seems I had a very good sleep that night, one of my best sleeps of the entire trip, but that's another story. The next day, we would drive the tunnel into Zion, spend the afternoon in the park then head south for our final night.

After driving through the tunnel into Zion, Lori & Bev snap photos.

The thing about Zion. Zion was crowded. Maybe not by summer or Lower-48 standards, but for me it was crowded. The shuttle buses taking us up the road to the short hiking trails were nearly full . We chose a hike to some pools. It was a rocky trail, a slightly challenging hike for people who don't hike at all, but pretty easy for us. But when we got to the pools, they were noisy with families and children yelling. I don't know what I expected, but our destination was not a peaceful respite.

Continuing our thru-hike, we stopped off the side of the trail for a little lunch then took a little side trip on a trail that soon dead-ended.

After our lunch we detoured onto a trail that dead-ended due to a
washout. Nobody was there. The pond drained
over the ledge...

...creating this waterfall.

I could have stayed there for some time. Returning to the main trail, we found that the second half of the route was paved! That would explain the baby strollers I'd seen! No wonder there were so many people - the route was set up to make it accessible to almost anyone. Which is actually a beautiful thing: families and elderly grandparents enjoying an outing; it was quite unexpected. But I could have gone for a less-traveled route where there would have been room to relax in quiet contemplation. Not something you'll get on the developed trails.

Into a canyon with lots of other hikers.

But I did enjoy the sun and the heat and sitting on a green lawn at the visitors' center. Another hike in a canyon followed by a bus ride back to the parking lot and we were ready again to hit the road, driving through Hurricane and hopping on the interstate, navigating through Las Vegas until finally we reached Boulder City. I'm a creature of habit: when I find something I like, I keep going back. Pulling into the parking lot at El Rancho was one step from being home.

The room at El Rancho had plenty of space to spread out. Before we did anything else, we packed our bikes back into their boxes for the next day's flight. I was tired and hungry and irritable. I didn't know what I wanted to do next: dip in the pool, eat dinner, crash? So I took a walk. I walked toward downtown where cafes have sidewalk seating. It's a town Jon and I have visited several times as we've begun or completed vacations in the southwest. I took a seat in front of a breakfast cafe, melting in the 90 degree heat even though it was after 8pm. I wasn't just tired and hungry; I missed Jon and I was ready to go home.

Back at the hotel, Bev and I ordered food from a local restaurant. When it arrived, I looked at it and wondered why I'd ordered so much. The kabobs and rice also came with a huge salad. Plus the woman at the restaurant had talked me into the key lime cheesecake. I'd set up my Thermarest on the floor near the unused tv and Bev and I ate while Lori hung out at the pool. Bev finished her meal and I was still at it. Lori came and went. I ate half the dessert, thinking maybe I'd share it with Lori. It was not to be. I devoured it!

I guess I sometimes forget how much I travel on my stomach, Jon never lets me go so long without eating. I'd better tell my friends that if they want to keep me from getting cranky, they'd better keep sending the food my way.

I've had over a week to reflect on this trip, to consider the bike riding, the hikes, the road-tripping. It's great fun to take a trip like this with the girls, but there's still nobody I'd rather travel with than Jon. Even though he drives me crazy in the same ways I probably drove my friends crazy (such as not knowing where we'd spend the night until we're pitching our tents). Guess I didn't realize how alike we've become in our travel styles. Or maybe I was like that all along.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

oh, sweet singletrack!

After the sun set last night and the sky grew clear and star-filled, the temperatures dropped below freezing. Before going to bed, I hoped that today would be a good day to ride the Kincaid Park singletracks. When I biked the new trails last Saturday, the ground was beginning to thaw creating slick spots where the moisture couldn't seep farther into the freezing ground. In a few places, ruts had begun to develop from all the tires hitting the trails during the recent wet days we've had here in Anchorage.

This morning, the temperatures across town had dropped from the 40s into the 20s, freeze-drying the muddy ground into a crunchy, crumbly surface. I brushed the dried dirt off my bike, lubed the chain and loaded the bike in the car to head out to the park.

 Ice next to the trail - ride those banked turns!

In the past few years, I hadn't done much riding at Kincaid. The park is across town and the trails hadn't been all that interesting to bike. We have great riding on the east side on trails that begin just two miles from my front door. No need to drive; just ride up the road and I'm on the trails. But I helped work on the new trails and I wanted to have a chance to ride every inch of them before the snow flies. I know the snow could land in town any day.

For today's ride, I rode the main loop counter-clockwise, the opposite direction from what I'd done the last couple times. I also rode for the first time a small loop that wasn't complete before I left on vacation earlier in the month. (It's the section on the bottom left of the network that looks like a little animal). On that loop, I criss-crossed or rode next to the wider ski trails a few times, probably causing a little puzzlement on the part of two walkers who I encountered at least four times.

With all the twists and turns, the rolling climbs and descents, the mountain views and the intimate feeling while riding among stands of birch, I couldn't help but smile. I thought about all the people who came out to volunteer to build the trails; people who sacrificed their own riding to help bring  better riding to everyone in Anchorage. The numbers are impressive. We had 241 different people volunteer - many of them more than once - for 20 work sessions. Kids, adults, cyclists, runners. People from organized clubs (including the Dirt Divas) and people who just felt like they wanted to be a part of making this happen. Pretty cool people making some sweet trails! I'm glad I can be a part of it.

Here's a map I got from Lee Bolling, one of the idea guys behind 
this project. It'll give you an idea of what we have. The new trails 
are in light yellowish-tan.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

adventures past

The photo caption woke something in me. A memory; something familiar but I wasn't sure. I was browsing through old issues of the local newspaper when I saw images of workers cleaning a beach fouled by an oil spill in New Zealand. Jon had his laptop out so I asked if he'd bring it up on a map. Sure enough, we'd been there.

Not only had we been by Papamoa Beach when we cycle toured in NZ back in 2004 (so long ago), but we were so struck by the beautiful setting that we stopped riding after only 13 kilometers so we could spend the day on the ocean before heading inland.

We were one week into our four-week trip and the previous day's ride had been long and hilly and fraught with stress as we entered Tauranga in the company of double-trailer semis and logging trucks. With relief we'd found a campsite at Mt Maunganui and a great restaurant just a block away. Across the road was the ocean - or more accurately, the Bay of Plenty.

The next day, we pedaled down the coast not sure how far we would ride, but keeping our eyes open for the next place to stay. The pine trees and the water lured us in. As we rolled into the Papamoa Beach holiday park, the wind was picking up. While checking in, we debated a tent site or a room. That's when the rain started. We took a room in a cabin that had a view of the water. The rain subsided as we walked a few blocks for lunch and groceries, a bottle of wine. Later we spent time walking on the beach watching the big waves come in with the storm. Jon went for a run.

Reading over our notes brought me back to that trip, the high dunes we crossed between our cabin and the ocean, the ferocity of the storms which originate in the Antarctic to pound the coastline, drench the inland and provide winds to power you or demoralize you, depending on your direction of travel.

Now the coastline has been fouled. It's not that I care more about a place just because I've visited it, but this disaster hits the part of me that loves visiting new places and learning about different parts of the world. I feel more connected as I recall that the young woman who checked us in told us that her grandfather had planted the pine trees we were admiring. How much will her livelihood and that of so many other Kiwis be impacted? What about the wildlife; the penguins and other sea life? My heart goes out to them.

The clean-up has been in progress for a couple weeks now, but Alaskans know that initial clean-ups often only take care of the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Messes are quick to make; but sometimes they take a generation to clean up. That oil is going to be in the Bay of Plenty for a long time. What a shame.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

utah images, part two

A bunch of the Dirt Divas did a five-day organized trip with the same guides as last year. I wasn't quite sure where we were or where we were going, but the company's motto "Go with the flow" suited my mindset. My goal was to ride my bike, see some sights and hang out with friends. Oh, and to maybe drink a little. Let them handle the details.

We began on the upper left (off the map) and finished
at the "You are here." Because of our group size, we were
limited to camping outside the National Park, but the
guides found great campsites with canyon views.

First day. Our campsite is just around the corner.

Canyon hike after riding to our second camp on Day 2.

A potty with a view. Tough to tell, but this is pretty close to the edge.

Day 3, on our way to Hans Flat and the Flint Trail.
Sunblock, anyone?

The gang. Thanks to Lily who works at the ranger station for taking this photo.

An we thought our house needed some structural work!

Guide Ben, looking into the canyon; that's where we'll
be after descending the switchbacks in the morning.

Still life with bicycle. I still love riding my Giant Trance Advanced.

Miner cabin near the Flint Trail.

Flint Switchbacks. Click the photo to see the van. Brin had to do five-point
turns to maneuver the corners. Glad I had new brake pads! I learned last
year, it wouldn't be a canyon ride without switchbacks!

End of Day 4. Long day of riding, some steep descents, a short hike
and our
first campsite attempt thwarted. Home is where the tent is,
though without Jon this year. There was more room in the tent but
I'd rather he had been there. Just not the same
without him.
Even the guides missed him.

Early morning on Day 5. Brin gets the coffee started as we wake up.

Twenty-three plus miles later, a view of Lake Powell. The van and
lunch are just around the corner. As is a cold beer and my cotton
skirt. Someone said I'm always the first one to change out of
my cycling shorts. Kind of a no-brainer.

utah images

Just a few images from the first few days of the trip:

Lori on Hurricane Rim, being chased by a thunder storm.

Bev on Hurricane Rim.

Cactus on Bev's shifter. Not a good landing, but we made it
back to the car and had our picnic before the thunderstorm.

Lori, Bev and me with Fixie Dave at Little Creek Mesa.
Let the slickrock riding begin!

Fixing a shifter with a bungee. One hook inserted into the
top, the other into the bottom where the pin was missing.
It held and the brake worked great. Ride salvaged!

Lori on slickrock at Klondike Bluffs; steeper than it looks.

Dinasaur track at Klondike Bluffs, north of Moab.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

equipment check, part two

Fate, coincidence, serendipity. Call it whatever you wish, but the beginning of this trip has been all that.

It's hard to make a long story short and maybe that's not the kind of storyteller I am, but this story begins last fall on the last day of a trip Jon and I took to the Southwest. Maybe it starts the day before when we were riding at Gooseberry Mesa and my riding was all off. I was crashing into ledges instead of going up them. I was bailing out of things I should have been riding. It was not a good day. But we camped on the mesa that night, since it's once of our favorite places to camp. In the morning Jon suggested that I should have a better ride to end the trip; a good ride; a ride on the JEM Trail, just below the mesa. My spirits lifted, I got my gear together. Jon dropped me at the southern trailhead. As he was doing this, we came across another rider. A guy on a fixie. Named Dave. He was posting signs for an upcoming bike race & said he worked at the local shop, Over the Edge. Off we both went on our rides and when I returned to Anchorage, I looked him up and made a facebook friend request.

It wasn't that he was a total stranger in my mind, for he is one of the few riders to even attempt to race the Great Divide - the Continental Divide trail from Canada to Mexico. So, he knew at least one person I knew.

A year later, earlier this week, my friends and I were in Hurricane. We stopped at the shop to get information on what was good after the recent rains. After a short ride that included one tumbling friend and a jumping cactus, we headed back to town. Not before a thunderstorm rolled in delivering a deluge of rain and booming thunder. The local cafe had just closed for the day and we were looking for a place to get a hot coffee and some free internet. So, we stopped in the shop. "Hey, aren't you Dave? We met last year...." I mentioned facebook. I asked where we could get wifi while we figured out what to do. "Where are you staying tonight?" he asked. "We were going to camp, but with this, I don't know." Soon he was typing at the computer and pulled out a map and directions to his place away from the town center.

It's rare to get this sort of offer, I think. But not all that rare among people I know. Jon and I love hosting people at our place when we can. We love the story sharing and just having someone else around once in awhile. So my two friends were pretty excited about the offer, though reasonably skeptical at first. When we found the house, though, we were pretty excited at what felt like expansive surroundings - especially since the previous night we had all assembled our bikes in a small hotel room, squeezing ourselves between the beds and even into the bathroom to find space.

We had just begun making ourselves comfortable when Dave arrived. We shared a meal and beers as rain blew against the dining room window. After a bit of discussion, Dave offered to take us on a ride I've been wanting to do for a couple years: the trails at Little Creek Mesa. Little Creek is the mesa just south of Gooseberry but word was you need to go with a local/guide to really have a good time without getting turned around and helplessly lost. We headed out for the ride and spent the afternoon riding, learning a few tips and wearing ourselves out. But I had one little issue.

My front brake had too much throw in the lever, almost touching the grip before the brake fully engaged. I'd noticed it earlier in the season but forgot to mention it to Jon before the tip. Dave looked at it and recommended new pads. After the ride, we swung by the shop and picked up pads which Dave installed back at the house. He made a little adjustment on the reach and I took the bike for a test ride. It felt better and the levers felt even. The next morning, Dave headed off for work and the three of us were on the road by 8:30, headed for Green River but hoping for a ride just north of Moab before driving back to Green River.

At Klondike Bluffs, I pulled the bikes out of the car - just two of us were going to ride - and put my wheel on. The brake felt good until we started to ride and I pulled it a few more times. It was't working. I had no front brake (I thought). Upon closer examination, I found that the pin the lever pivots on was missing! Oh crap. I showed Lori who said that's happened to her before and someone told her to find something, anything, to put in to keep the lever in place. I suggested going back to the car and looking for the part. Lori suggested a bolt, but my pin had no threads. We ended up grabbing a mini bungee cord putting one hook in the top, wrapping the cord around so it was snug, then putting the other hook in through the bottom. Worked like a charm and the brake actually felt better than it has for the last few months thanks to the new pads.

But I needed to fix the lever before this five-day trip that starts Sunday. So after finishing the ride and feeling certain the shops farther down the road, in Moab, would be open, we packed up and drove south, something I didn't want to do. I was tired, sweaty and had friends to meet for dinner. Upon arriving at Poison Spider, we saw the parking lot was roped off and there was a party going on. It was part of a celebration for Outerbike, a public bike demo event held in the Moab area.

After getting the parts from the service guy, Randy, I asked about a couple people I knew. Yes, he told me, the one guy still works there but is at the 24-hour race. The other guy, he didn't know, so he asked another person. "Sure, he's around. He's on the floor." Someone else chimed in: "he's outside, there." Finally I saw our friend Pete. I snuck up behind him and gave him a big hug. He turned around: "Rose! Is Jon here?" I told him why I was there. We laughed and I shared my stories and plans. Then he kept pointing out or reintroducing me to people I'd met before. In fewer than five minutes, I had talked briefly with a handful of guys I know from Anchorage or other parts of Alaska.

Small world, yes? And I was thinking to myself, had I fixed that in Anchorage, I wouldn't have done it here. Had I not had Dave make a little lever adjustment on my brakes, the pin may not have fallen out and I would have never taken that detour to Moab. But life works that way. It seems that so often for me, people, events converge in the most extraordinary ways, that I can only think that forces around me do conspire to make things happen. Usually in a good way. And the energy it creates is a happy buzz that can be contagious.

Dear readers, having a little tech issue getting pics posted. I'll get some up here after I figure it out or when I return home to my usual equipment. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

equipment check

We've had several beautiful days this past week, with sunshine on gold-yellow leaves and the smell of decaying leaves in the air. Snow has begun creeping down the mountains. Despite the perfect conditions, I hadn't been on a bike since last Sunday. Instead, I've been resting a sore shoulder that has endured a busy summer of riding, shoveling and miscellaneous trail work.

This evening after the shop closed, I planned to meet a couple friends there so Jon could help them box their bikes for a mountain bike trip a bunch of us girls are taking to Utah. I figured I'd box my bike as well.

Before meeting them to talk about the trip & do the boxing, I decided to head over to Kincaid to ride on the new singletracks and see how the shoulder responded to trail riding. I didn't give myself much time and the new trails twist and turn so much that it was easy to lose my sense of where I was on the trail system. Occasionally I'd cross one of the wider trails that were designed for cross-country skiing and take note of where I was, or I'd take a turn and end up on one of the long-used social trails. What I really wanted to do was to not worry about where I was but to just enjoy that experience of exploring new trails while the leaves were beginning to cover them in their bright mosaic.
picture yourself on a trail in a forest...

Eventually, I looked at my watch and realized I was to meet my friends in about 10 minutes, yet I was on a section of trail that was new to me, so I wasn't quite sure where I was relative to the parking lot. I rode past an old VW, long ago abandoned in the woods. At an intersection, I turned right but still wasn't sure. Then I met another rider and decided to backtrack and take the other option. Soon I was on the Jodhpur Trail, recalibrating my brain for a quick ride back to the trailhead.

I could have been out there all afternoon. Had I started earlier, I could have biked those trails one way, then the other, exploring every spur. I didn't want to box up my bike. The riding was perfect. But there's always a hitch. My front shifting was getting ever worse as my ride went on. I had to turn my shifter one click extra to move up from my granny to my middle ring. Then two clicks extra. I made a mental note to have Jon look at my shifting before I boxed the bike.

Good thing I went on that ride, for more than just my mental health, too. Turns out, the cable had frayed where it was attached to the derailleur. By the time my ride ended, only a single strand was left.
connected with one thin strand...

glad I caught this!

Once again, timing was everything; I was relieved I'd done the ride - and that I stopped riding when I did. And since I never did get around to boxing my own bike, maybe I have time for one more ride before we leave. You know, to stretch that new cable.