Wednesday, April 10, 2019

2018 Single Speed World Championships: let the good times roll!!

    Even if not many people read this, I had to re-live it just one more time, so here's the best I can come up with almost 6 months after the fact.

   There are, in my opinion, two kinds of mountain bikers: those who think single speed mountain biking sounds ridiculous and/or awful and would never try it, and those who think it looks like a good time or are already hooked on it. The second group is what brought me to partake in the 2018 Single Speed World Championship, a legendary unsanctioned event which pokes fun at organized bicycle racing, while still having some fierce competition at the front of the pack, and inspiring camaraderie and also a little bit of competition among us "beer league" racers as well. The awards are simple: first place for men and women get a tattoo, and dead last gets some special prize determined by the race organizers.

Entry form art.
   While SSWC is widely thought of as just another excuse to party and drink ridiculous amounts of beer (let's face it, that is part of the thing), 2018's edition promised to be a bike experience that will not be soon forgotten. As soon as I heard that it would be held in Bend, Oregon, I made a note of it on my calendar and promised to get us both to the starting line. Bend is home to an incredible network of mountain bike trails, and a similarly large number of breweries, so I had an inclination that it was going to be an event of epic proportions.

   Since Kit and I are usually the first ones to bail and go home to bed while attempting to "party," but we do both enjoy a cold beverage after a long bike ride, it sounded like an ideal combination: turned loose to pedal on a mystery race course crossing terrain that is rarely touched by mountain bikes, and meeting so many like-minded folks from around the nation and world. Also, having a pint or two with new friends after crushing the longest single speed ride of our lives...

   The only part in question: when some vague details about the course were announced, it would be 40+ miles in length and consist of around 4,000 feet of climbing. Ack! That's a big ride even on a comfy, squishy bike with gears!! How would my neck hold up to such a long time on a bike, having just graduated from physical therapy in the spring? I knew one thing was for certain, and that's if I could finish this race, I could do just about anything else on a bike after that!

   The extra-fun-added entry method was participating in a coloring contest to send in with the entry fee, and not only did I spend an inordinate amount of time letting my inner child have fun with it, I made Kit sit down with the colored pencil set and make his own rendition. Neither of us expected to see our artwork on display at the race headquarters, but we picked ours out on a big board behind the table upon arriving to pick up our numbers and goodie bags. Pretty neat!

   Along with the artwork, an array of bicycles was strewn about the courtyard, from slick carbon fiber machines to fatbikes, custom steel frames, to something cobbled together from the late 1990's-early 2000's like Kits bike and mine. It's this diversity in attitudes that makes single speeds so much fun--not that mountain biking in general isn't fun--but it's become so serious with nearly everyone riding carbon full suspension wonder bikes and wearing the latest enduro-specific fanny packs while checking the Strava times on the last segment... SSWC is 99% not serious, and that's what makes it such a ridiculously good time!

Ready to roll.
   We missed the pub crawl with Bend native and 2008 SSWC winner Carl Decker, but tagged along with another group ride that led us through Bend's rolling singletrack right out of town up to a dirt jump park and an impromptu hillclimb contest. The bike-ability of the town was one of the perks of the event, being within pedaling distance of just about all the fun. That night was the hosting competition to decide where next year's race would be held; it consisted of drinking games with all of the contestants, and then the two finalists building and paddling a raft from cardboard bike boxes and duct tape across the Deschutes river. Brrrrrr!! New York actually made it across the river so they beat out Durango for the win, but then awarded hosting privileges to Slovenia because they put in such a good effort and everyone wanted them to win anyway.

   Hopefully you didn't get too intoxicated the night before, because the race started bright and early at 10AM the next day. Our lovely Bend host dropped us off in an industrial parking lot amid an enormous, milling crowd of bikers dressed in everything from spandex race kits to unicorn onesies, and we wandered around a bit until we found some friends from the previous day's ride. First, Carl Decker gave a quick talk about the course and the heinous torture we were in for, and then a "neutral roll-out" (aka chaotic stampede of close to 700 people) to the dirt road and actual race start ensued. Kit and I decided we'd see how we felt at the short course bailout point, but it seemed silly to come so far for the experience and then only ride half the distance.

   The stampede thinned out as faster riders rode away from the pack and slower riders fell back. We were somewhere in the middle but too far back to hear the starter's gun as the leaders passed by. I was passed by a shark mashing on the pedals, tagged along behind a couple on a tandem for a few minutes and then passed a guy in a black and white houndstooth suit spinning out on a unicycle. It looked brutal, I wonder how he ended up feeling?

   4 miles ticked by and then we were on the dirt road and engulfed in a giant dust cloud. There was a pit of moondust that claimed many victims, but I stayed upright and pedaled onward chasing Kit's quickly disappearing back wheel. The first aid station had a line about a quarter mile long--apparently everyone was thirsty at this point and had their commemorative silicone pint glasses in hand to be filled from a keg. Probably destined for the short course, I guessed. I passed on the early race beer, squeezed by the crowd and pedaled onward and upward. And upward... I rejoined Kit after the aid station, following the relentlessly climbing fire road.

   Finally hearing cowbells and rounding a bend, we stared incredulously at a line of people pushing or shouldering bikes up a steep slope of volcanic scree. We soon joined the line trudging slowly to the top of the hill, and within five minutes were nearing the top where the racket of cowbells and yelling grew louder and beers were handed out trailside at a convenient mountaintop aid station. A sign announced "Hospital Hill" which explained everything about the racket. Spectators love carnage... Many riders either chose to walk from the top, or decided partway down that it was a better idea (occasionally it was decided for them). Kit dove in on two wheels and I followed, cursing my bike's late-1990's geometry and very short travel fork. At least I had disc brakes, those help! Despite gravity's best efforts I avoided wrecking, dragging a foot now and then and reached the bottom of the steep pitch with great relief. Continuing onto singletrack and the occasional fire road, the descent continued at a much more relaxed pace, until we reached the point of decision. Turn right and head 10 miles to the finish, beers, and real food, or turn left into 30 more miles of the unknown.

   Into the unknown it was. Absolutely the right decision, as well, following old school MTB legend Jacquie Phelan for a few minutes before passing her. We settled into another long grinding and very dusty fire road climb, sometimes having to get off and hike. There was so much walking that it probably gave the pedal pushing muscles a nice rest, for a change. Somewhere in there, Carl Decker's dad was playing jazz trombone with a drummer, absolutely out in the middle of nowhere. After another unknown number of miles we came upon a mountain top aid station, complete with freshly blended smoothies and margaritas, hot dogs on a grill, and a living room hookah lounge. Because mountain tops are the best places to snack, we spent a little more time here hanging out and enjoying the views and of course, watching the many colorful characters that rolled through.
A course profile.

   Tired legs were thrown over bicycles again before they got too comfortable, and we descended into a solid chunk of motorcycle singletrack with some fun sections, miles of whoops, interspersed with spectacular volcanic views. Kit's front wheel found a random log in the trail and he endoed out of nowhere as we were chasing down a small group of riders up ahead. All was well and he continued on, maybe a slight bit more dusty than before. At last, and feeling ready to be done pretty soon, we rolled into the final aid station and gobbled down some gummy bears to get us to the finish, an indeterminate number of miles away but definitely closer than it had been before. Not knowing how far we still had to go, or how my legs were still turning the pedals, we were at least distracted by descending for a few miles through a gully that was an absolute hoot. Winding downhill while swooping back and forth got us grinning again through the tired haze. Then, I wrecked trying to get a little too sideways on a loose downhill and wound up with some tiny little rock souvenirs in my elbow, to be later removed by our gracious hosts as I tried my hardest to avoid looking at it and throwing up.

   At long last a road appeared, with cars parked alongside. Shortly after, we were launching off some small rocks to cowbells and cheering, presumably close to the finish, but then the course tape went back uphill and through some tight switchbacks. So, not the finish yet... After the freshly-cut trail crossed through some manzanita, it dropped steeply into a box canyon. Easily the highlight of the entire course, this last tiny chunk of trail was a work of art: taking a roller coaster line back and forth across the canyon, under a tunnel of rock, and down some steep pitches and finally up a short climb and out to the finish.

   As I rolled through the finish, there was still room for my name on the super official piece of plywood used to post results, and it was written on in Sharpie next to a time of 4:52. Yes, that's right, 4 hours and 52 minutes of pedaling. I did it! We did it!! Unfortunately, also as we crossed the finish the announcer says "you heard that right, folks... we're now officially out of beer..." Bummer. Oh well. Those short course bums had their priorities, I guess. At least there were still burrito fixings in abundance, so we made those, rolled them up into foil and stuffed into our packs to be eaten with a proper celebratory beverage. I didn't feel very hungry just yet, but the 6 miles of cool down ride back into town helped with that. While we were chowing down burritos back in town at the race headquarters, the women's race winner Rachel Lloyd sat down and chatted with us for a few minutes. That was rad!!

   Surprisingly, I don't remember being miserable for most of the race, despite my worst fears. It just goes to show that you never know until you try something for the first time. There were probably some riders who suffered a lot more, but our pace felt fine . I was immersed in a dust cloud quite often though--I suspect I inhaled more of it in that race than any other time in my entire mountain biking career. Sure wish I had somebody get a photo of Kit and I at the finish, but everybody was more or less similarly caked in a thick layer. SSWC I think is the essence of what mountain biking has always been from the beginning: sure, it gets a little competitive from time to time, but is mostly about sharing good times on two wheels with a bunch of rad people. And nobody cares what kind of bike you're riding.

   Because I was too busy relishing the experience to take photos, here is an excellent gallery that gives a taste of how dusty and ridiculous the whole thing was:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Part 2: Fears, Tears, and Beers Mountain Bike Enduro

A noteworthy event happened in early June: I got Kit to enter a mountain bike race! The Fears, Tears, and Beers in Ely, NV is claimed to be the longest-running mountain bike enduro race in the country, started by a couple of moto guys in 2006. You might ask, what kind of mountain biking could there possibly be in eastern Nevada? As it turns out, the trails of Ely are extensive and ridable right from town. I sold him on the fact that it was supposed to be a simple grassroots event to showcase the local trails--welcoming to all levels of racers and without the usual hardcore race attitude, it serves as a fundraiser for the local trail building group the Great Basin Trails Alliance. After participating once, I'd say it is the ultimate non-racer's race: you can be as competitive as you want, or just enjoy the company and the grand tour of Ely's local trails.

Given the low-key atmosphere, and the horrific thought of doing back to back 30-mile days this early in the season, pre-riding seemed out of the question so Kit squeezed in a half day at work and we rolled into Ely the evening before the race. I had signed up for the Pro class which consisted of 6 stages throughout a 33-mile day and about 5,400' of elevation gain. Not having entered very many enduro races, this was going to be the biggest day I've ever had on a mountain bike, and it was also going to be a major test of how strong my neck had gotten with 6 months of physical therapy following the fall's whiplash injury. Kit signed up for the Sport class but ended up doing the Expert race and the same stages as me aside from the last bonus shuttle for the Pros--one of the neat parts about this race is that you can change categories during the race depending on how you feel. 

At the start of the race, the entire field rolled through the Jailhouse casino, a race tradition, before pedaling out of town and up to the first stage. It was a long climb and I started to doubt myself being able to finish such a long day only partway up, having to get off and push my bike far more than expected. The first stage was short, turny, and pedally, and I wasn't fully in race mode so my time was pretty pathetic. Stage 2 was longer and faster and felt much better, but in the transfer to stage 3 my left leg cramped up. I had almost finished a bottle of electrolyte mix, sharing some with Kit, but I stretched and downed the rest, and ate a few dried banana slices for good measure. I was able to keep pedaling without further incident. The next stage was really fun, and I managed  to come really close to the eventual winner's time for the women, who had pre-ridden the entire course.

Following stage 3 we went back to the camper for some more snacks and hydration, and a little break in the shade before heading out on the second (and more difficult) part of the course. The temperature was heating up, and given that I had already cramped once, I hoped it would not happen again! It was at this point that Kit decided to continue racing with me instead of stopping after the shorter Sport course--a decision he may have regretted for a little while later on.

We climbed up past the railroad tracks and to the start of stage 4, as the historic steam train chugged past and whistled, a reminder to check out the Ely Railroad Museum the next day. Stage 4 was the worst, partly because the timer's clock had a temperature reading and I noticed that it was getting up in the 90's--very warm for a bike race--and partly because it was a mostly flat powerline access road with short descents followed by short climbs to sprint up. So much hard pedaling that I sort of gave up toward the end, feeling annoyed that the stage kept going and going, and not having adequately trained for those kind of efforts. Backcountry ski touring doesn't usually involve such things... It wasn't the most fun stage, but it sort of made sense to throw in another timed section to make it more interesting.

Before stage 4, I was under the impression that we climbed to the top of a small mountain (hill) just above town for stage 5, the Whorehouse Hill descent, until the finish timer pointed to the top of a larger mountain behind it and said to follow the road to the top. Thus began the next hour plus of suffering as we sometimes pedaled but mostly pushed our bikes up a steep jeep road, in the blazing sun. We'd pedal when it was possible until it got too hard, then get off and push until the walking muscles were tired and the grade mellowed out enough to pedal again. It was pretty brutal and miserable, and I was glad to have Kit's company even though he was probably having second thoughts about racing bikes by now. Finally the radio towers were in sight with the start of stage 5 just below. Reaching the top, I ate some food and found a place to lay down in the shade, feeling incredibly un-motivated about getting back on the bike, even for all downhill. Riding down in the truck with the volunteers sounded much more appealing. It took a solid half hour for both of us to feel like starting the stage!

As reluctant as I was to start, once I was rolling down the trail I started having fun again. It might have been nice to pre-ride this trail since it was quite a bit more steep and technical than the previous stages we'd raced. A narrow little wooden ramp over a log caught me by surprise but I rode it successfully; then lower down I was on the wrong line into a little rock garden, wasn't sure my little bike could roll it so I freaked out and hopped off to carry my bike down it. Aside from that, it went well, including the lower section dropping into town that was so steep and loose that everybody had been talking about it beforehand.

With stage 5 done, Kit's day was finished, but I still had one more to go. The Pro riders had shuttles waiting to bring us all to the top of the very first climb we had done in the morning so we could race all the way down that trail. My butt was sore, my neck was tired, and in general my whole body was so toast by this point, but I was obligated to go since my legs still sort of worked to turn the pedals. As it turned out, this was also the most rad stage of the day, with some excitement in the form of small drops and a few jumps, and so many enjoyable corners. I remembered riding up it in the morning and thinking how much fun this trail looked, hoping we'd be heading back down it at some point. I did get a little lost in the flow and forgot to pedal as hard as I should have, and also almost took a wrong turn toward the bottom. Aside from those minor details it was a great way to finish off the day of racing!

Being the dirtbags that we are, we had not considered booking a hotel room for the night after the race, so we rinsed off at the camper and headed to the awards dinner slightly cleaner and incredibly hungry. Sipping on our complementary racer beers and wondering what kind of food we would be served all the way out in Ely, our worries were quickly put to rest by some amazing tacos and enchiladas, and whatever else there was I don't remember but I ate all of it!!

Second place trophy!

Soon we were all stuffed, and the awards began. With the low-tech timing system the results had to be worked out using the times written on our number plates, so results could not be posted right after the race and nobody knew for certain where they had ended up. I didn't really know what to expect, guessing that I probably didn't win, but they called me up for second place and that was quite a surprise! Mostly, I was excited to make it through such a grueling day on the bike as well as I did. I had done quite a bit of riding leading up to the race and was feeling reasonably fit and prepared, but it was a breakthrough mentally just to know that I could push myself to do something like that again, after the handful of years I had spent being injured and being afraid to go out and do something a little bit crazy.

A raffle followed the awards, and we stuck around on principle even though neither of us seems to have any luck in raffles these days. When almost all of the prizes had been handed out, a free night at the Jailhouse Casino was up... and guess who won? I did!!! We immediately went across the street to find out if we could get the free room that night. As luck would have it, there was one room available, and it was a pet friendly room so Larry could sleep in there with us! After a long, hot, dusty day in the saddle a shower had never felt so good, and knowing that we might as well just book a room ahead of time for next year's race.

Me and my trusty Ripley... such a good bike, for most things.
This was also the first big test of the -1 degree Works Components Angleset I had installed on my 2014 Ibis Ripley to slack it out and make it a little bit happier on steep trails. It does add a fair amount of confidence in the steep and techy stuff, and doesn't seem to affect climbing or the quick handling of the bike at all. I'm probably due for a longer travel bike if I'm going to keep racing and jumping off things like I tend to do now that I'm feeling confident again, but I LOVE the Ripley so much for everything except that 5% of the time when I'm terrified facing down a super steep slab or nasty rock garden!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 in review... part 1, skiing the Mt. Humphreys north couloir

Somewhere near Mt. Baker, 1/1/2018.
The year of 2018 has gone by in a flash, filled with new friends and new experiences, along with plenty of great times in familiar places with favorite people. It began with a lovely bluebird day ski tour near Mt. Baker in Washington, and ended rather inauspiciously in Tahoe, Kit with two broken arms from a motorcycle incident and me working too many hours over the holidays. In between was jammed with so much goodness, from long ski tours and summiting new peaks, stretching the limits of my comfort zone in a few bike races, and an interesting new career direction, to feeling much more confident on a mountain bike than I've been in recent years after wrecking in 2013.

I had to include more skiing photos: gratuitous powder turns in early spring 2018.
I'm also averaging 2-3 blog posts a year--not exactly breaking records here. Oh well. It has been a ridiculously busy year! Since I've failed at describing all of the fun things I/we got into directly after they happened (besides the Downieville Classic), I'm going to start a recap here... most of these things are worthy of their own story, so maybe I will just catch up in a series while waiting for Kit to heal up so we can go on some more adventures!

Before I started work for the summer, Kit and I took a week vacation to camp in the Bishop area and ski some classic lines in the eastern Sierra. The northeast couloir of Mt. Humphreys was another one that stood out in the peaks to the west of Bishop, and was at a high enough elevation that it still held plenty of snow. Although we had heard reports of an ice layer on everything, we decided to go for it anyway since everything in the sun would be nice corn snow, and if we hit ice in the couloir we'd be turning around.
Mt. Locke in the early morning
The hiking part of the approach wasn't too terrible and we were able to start skinning in under an hour. Most of the ascent time was spent getting across and up the valley to the couloir; it was definitely farther away than it looked. The bottom of the couloir had a small avalanche crown and some debris from a slide that looked to have happened in the last storm about a week prior, but everything was well settled by the time we were on it.
Getting closer to the couloir
At this point we put skis back on our packs and pulled out crampons and ice axes to ascend the couloir; there was a hard icy layer but it was under 6-8" of nicely bonded snow which made for good climbing conditions--aside from clumping up on the crampons every few steps. The rock walls echoed with the sounds of my ice axe banging on a crampon every few steps to knock the snowballs off... for some reason Kit didn't seem to have the same issue.

Climbing conditions were a mix of "hot pow" in the sun and cold chalky powder in the shade.
There's nothing like eating snacks with a view!

Nice enough that I hadn't considered how *ahem* exciting it would be to drop into this 50-degree couloir on skis after a couple of seasons devoid of riding lifts and skiing mostly mellow things in the backcountry. Although the ice layer was buried, the top few inches of snow had a weird, sugary quality that made for a very disconcerting feeling of continuing to slide down after every turn, unable to create a stable platform to start the next turn from.

Captain Kit-astrophe sending it on his vintage K2 Ascents
After Kit disappeared down the couloir on his skinny telemark skis, I gaped my way down slipping and sliding on AT gear, making a resolution to ski some steeper things and scare myself a little bit the next winter.
Definitely wondering how I will avoid tumbling down the entire length of this lovely couloir...

We both made it down successfully without any cartwheels or faceplants, and enjoyed another thousand feet or so of nice  but borderline gloppy corn turns before having to pick our way carefully through rocks and finally shoulder the skis on packs again for the final hike down to the truck.
Some nice corn skiing to relax on the way down the mountain.

Almost time to de-ski

Mt. Humphreys from the Buttermilks.

Two days later we headed up the next drainage to the south for an attempt on the Kindergarten Chute, and to peer up the Checkered Demon. Although we passed right below Mt. Locke and the Wahoo Gullies, also excellent skiing, we decided to push farther up for some recon and perhaps if conditions were right we would be able to ski another fun couloir.
Kindergarten Chute to the left, Checkered Demon to the right.

Alas, the Kindergarten Chute turned to ice just over halfway up, and neither of us wanted anything to do with that. It was a lovely day for a nice ski-hike in the mountains anyway, and we got some not altogether terrible turns on the way down, once the precarious act of switching to ski down on an icy slope covered in several inches of snow was completed.
Kit making turns down the Kindergarten Chute.

Classic California spring ski touring look: shorts and T-shirt.

Bonus turns down toward the Owens Valley.
Even though we didn't reach the top of the Kindergarten Chute, we got much more familiar with the terrain and navigating the approach. This area would be another nice one to access via dirt bikes, but definitely a longer and more exhausting ride. We had ridden this approach the previous year while scouting before skiing Basin Mountain, and it was a good amount of riding! Perhaps in the coming spring we will saddle up again for a Mt. Locke or Emerson attempt.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Midsummer update/the Robynator does Downieville

   This summer has been full of good times, adventures, and learning so much, both at work and outside of work. I haven't had much time to sit down and organize my thoughts lately, but a well deserved post-race rest day is a perfect opportunity to sit down and write for a few minutes in between unpacking and cleaning the house. Being away from home and camping out in the desert for 8 days at a time is a big change, following years of planning my life around daily bike rides and swimming in the lake. It feels amazing to be filling my brain with so much knowledge about plants and the rangeland environment, building skills that will continue to open up new opportunities for better employment and further learning.

   On the other hand, it seems that my best intentions to continue some semblance of race training have fallen off the wagon. I religiously bring my running shoes and yoga mat to work in the field, hoping to keep on schedule with cardio and stability workouts. But with most work days lasting 8+ hours in the desert sun plus driving to and from sampling locations, I'm generally drained enough that I only manage to work out once or twice during my work week. When I come back home for my 6 days off, the last thing I feel like doing is hopping on the road bike for an interval workout, instead opting to pedal in the woods on a mountain bike as many days as possible. In prioritizing career development over bike racing, I fully expected this. But it's still a rude awakening to think you're in pretty good shape, and then... 

   Enter the Downieville Classic: legendary mountain bike race of the Lost Sierra, and one that has been on my to-do list for quite some time now. The last time I think I would have been physically able to complete the cross country course was probably in 2005 or 2006, when I was competing in XC and in top form for going uphill. In fact, my 2006 self would probably have destroyed my 2018 self on the climbs with no trouble at all, but for some reason it had not occurred to me to try racing it at the time. 

   2018 Robyn decided that signing up for Downieville was a brilliant idea, coming off of a winter filled with early mornings hiking laps for powder and weekend all-day ski tours, Nordic skate skiing, and several large peak ascents in the Eastern Sierra. I had also started in on the MTB Strong program by Yeti pro team coach Dee Tidwell, a home-based training plan that fit my budget nicely and provided at least some framework to work with. It seemed to keep me together pretty well for the Fears, Tears, and Beers Enduro in early June, but I also had not really started working out in the field yet and was able to stay on somewhat of a consistent schedule. I waffled between the Expert and Pro class for a minute, but when the registration went live in March, I decided to go big and jump in with the Pro class. If I had a great race, I would be really happy. If it didn't go so well, I could hopefully still be somewhere close enough to the rest of the field to not feel like a total loser. 

   I dragged Kit on a pre-ride of the full cross country course two weeks prior to the race, and at a leisurely pace the climbing was not altogether terrible. There was a new singletrack section added at the top of the fire road climb which added a fair amount of climbing and technical rocky descent, and I found it rather fun to ride although I heard it eliminated a nice long rest on a dirt road. After this I knew I could at least make it through the whole thing, if not at the fastest pace. 

   Race weekend came around and smoke from fires all around California filled the air. Some racers opted not to participate, but I optimistically decided that it wouldn't be that bad and I would just do it. Too much built up anticipation to bail on it at this point! I weighed in my bike (29 lbs--I totally thought it was lighter!) and lined up at the start with the rest of the field. Immediately upon starting, they all proceeded to ride away from me like I was standing still; although I was able to keep a couple of the other women in sight for a while, I was quickly overtaken by the Expert men and soon a handful of women. Even a single speed crusher girl passed me and disappeared at the first aid station! Ugh... I let so many people pass me on the last bit of singletrack climbing in the new trail section, only to be stuck behind and trying to pass them almost all the way to the top of the infamous "baby heads" and Pauley Creek. On top of that, the first leg cramp twinges started up, which continued to plague me (and just about everybody else I spoke with after the race) until the finish line. At one point, I was caught behind somebody who bungled a root section; I had to put both feet down, and after that my right leg wouldn't bend to put it back on the pedal because my quad cramped so badly! I finally wrestled both feet back onto pedals and vowed to keep my legs moving at all cost until the finish, because that seemed like the only way to avoid them completely freezing up with cramps. At least one more time I was unable to avoid stopping, and I fell over into the bushes trying to climb back onto my bike. Good for a laugh from myself and others who I had to let pass at that point! I at least had a fun time on most of the downhill parts, including Third Divide, catching and passing a few folks who had probably dropped me like a rock on the climbs.

   By the time I reached the First Divide trail, my legs and I were about done with the whole racing nonsense, and I just struck up conversations with whomever was behind me, including a photographer towards the very end. I finished in 3:24, not exactly under the coveted 3-hour mark, but including the new section of trail which supposedly added an extra 35-45 minutes onto the average time, I suppose it was all right. Truly impressive was the number of women who still ended up under 3 hours--animals, all of them!! Also, I hate to be so full of excuses, but how many of them work 80 hours back to back, away from their bicycles for a week straight? I don't know if it is humanly possible to be that strong while in my particular work situation, but I think I can make some changes to do better next time around. 

   I wobbled off my bike and found a shady spot to lie down for a while; after a few minutes of aimlessly wandering it seemed like the best idea. My stomach couldn't stand the thought of food or beer for some time, even though that was all I wanted. When I finally connected with some friends several hours later, my appetite had returned and I chowed down nearly half of a large pizza. How on earth am I going to do an hour long downhill (mostly) run tomorrow, I thought to myself? We watched the river jump contest for a while, and I finally had a beer, topped off with a second dinner of delicious BBQ pork tacos before heading up to camp at Packer Saddle with friends Lindsay Beth Currier and Josh Bender. 

   After a good night's sleep, I was slightly more refreshed but still feeling sore all over. My legs would have a hard time forgiving me for the second day in a row. There was a long wait for my 12 PM start time, but I managed a decent warmup and some last minute bike repairs before lining up. Finally it was time to drop in. I actually passed one girl not very far into the race, and managed to stay ahead of the others a good distance down the course. I even held off the legendary Katerina Nash, who started probably 5 minutes behind me, until the climb to Third Divide. Then I was back and forth with another girl who started before me. I first caught and passed her on the descent, but then she passed me back on the Third Divide climb, and when I caught her again near the bottom of the descent in the technical rocky stuff, she wasn't into letting me pass another time. I didn't make a fuss about it knowing that she'd definitely be passing me back again at some point and it was more trouble than was probably worth. It was a bummer though, I know I probably could have made up a good chunk of time on that downhill section, plus being right behind her going up the rock slab distracted me, and I bobbled and fell over in the roots losing more time. Oh well. The lesson learned: it's time to get faster at pedaling so I can pass people and stay in front of them!!

   Despite more or less having my ass handed to me by the course and the competition, I'm still quite satisfied with how things went. Considering where I was at this time 3, 4, or even 5 years ago, I've come back such a long way in terms of fitness, strength, and confidence. No mechanicals or flat tires and kept the rubber side down, even through some really sketchy moments. Overall I think I rode the technical parts really well, even in the XC when I was totally worked and cramping all the way down. I even almost cleaned the rock slab on lower Third Divide in the XC race better than I've ever done before! In the DH I just need to be better at sprinting and pedaling, although I was impressed with what came out of my legs following the previous day's beatdown. Now that I know what I can do without that much training (story of my life), I think I can convince myself to do it again, and do it better next time with some more directed training!

   Many, many thanks go to: Lindsay Currier and Josh Bender for helping me out with the XC bottle feed, driving my truck to the bottom after the DH, and generally being awesome and supportive all weekend! Also, to Sierra Ski & Cycle Works for keeping my bike running happily; to Dave and the Vanderkitten crew for always providing support and encouragement; and as always to Kit for putting up with my loony ideas of fun and bicycle addiction.
Lindsay and I just before my Downieville DH start.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A few more reflections on 2017, and looking ahead...

   Well dang, that went by in a hurry! Another year went whooshing past in spectacular fashion and it's already April 2018. Somebody stop the train and let me off!! Although 2016 had its better moments, 2017 thankfully finally felt more up to speed in athletic endeavors of all kinds. Despite the resurfacing of the 2013 neck injury that likes to come back and haunt me, my body has remained amazingly cooperative in all other ways, coaxed along by copious amounts of stretching, foam rolling and physical therapy. The Tahoe Forest Hospital has some excellent PTs, and they have gotten my neck feeling mostly back to normal although it has been a long process; with numerous setbacks it had been almost 7 months before they deemed me healed enough to stop coming in!

   It also feels great to have started up a yoga practice again in the fall after finding an inspiring teacher at a local studio: Deborah at the Yoga Room teaches an alignment-based Iyengar class that leaves me feeling like no other class I've been to before. There's just no substitute for having someone fix your alignment and hold you in poses for longer than you thought possible (even the easier ones start getting more and more difficult) and in the months I've been going to class, it has NEVER gotten any easier, holy cow!! Definitely giving yoga some of the credit for neck rehab and correcting my posture!

   In addition, I can't forget the life-changing experience of having laser surgery to fix my horribly nearsighted eyes, freeing me from wearing awkwardly thick glasses or dry, falling-out contact lenses day in and day out, and through every ridiculous adventure. That has been something that I give thanks for every time I think about it!!

Kit skis down Basin Mountain
   Last year we managed to ski every month of the year (a first for both of us), figuring it was the year to do so following "Snowmageddon." Up through August was relatively easy, including a day of riding lifts at Mammoth, then September and October got a little bit silly hunting for patches of snow in Mt. Rose Wilderness and Carson Pass. We did our first longer ski descents since Shasta in 2011: Basin Mountain in early May, and Mt. Lassen in July. Both have been on our tick list for a while, and besides being great ski trips, it just plain felt awesome to get out and climb to the top of something big. Lassen was especially ridiculous because we somehow forgot to pack ski poles: marginally sketchy for descending, and skinning up a mountain without poles is awkward at best. We ended up each using one stick found along the approach and then switching to ice axe and crampons when terrain steepened enough. Had lovely weather for a snack and nap on the summit, and then had some nice snow to ski down, just little gloppy at the top.

Taking a break on the northeast side of Mt. Lassen

   We even bought a new climbing rope, after an animated discussion about safety with a good climbing friend, and went rock climbing more than twice for the first time in several years. Then, we made a climbing trip out of Thanksgiving weekend and got re-inspired to explore more in the high Sierra in the summer. I don't know if we'll be able to climb enough to get really strong again, but it would be great to be able to get out on some more moderate high alpine routes this year.

   In addition to getting back to some of my old favorite outdoor pursuits I tried a few new things, including downhill fat biking on the snow. Click here to see how that went! Yes, I'd do it again, but definitely would be more wary of holes hiding behind trees... Also, about a year ago, I entered my first ever desert motorcycle race, which has an entire post dedicated to that adventure. I managed to finish my second race, and although I didn't race again for the rest of the season for various reasons, I'm ready to give it another few tries this year and see what happens.

   Wanting to motivate Kit to do some of his own sports, we joined a local pond hockey group of all ages and abilities and it was awesome! My skating got so much better (although I still can't actually hockey stop) and I really enjoyed watching Kit play one on one with some of the better guys out there. Looking forward to next winter already to get back out on the ice and work on my balance and coordination some more. And in the spirit of having way too many hobbies/sports to juggle, I decided to try a biathlon this spring after watching the Olympics and thinking that I could probably do that... I wasn't dead last, and it was a good time with awesome people! Now, do I want to add yet another thing to the already ridiculous list of sports I'm involved in to some degree? I've got some time to ponder, but it's toward the top of the list. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy skate skiing???

   As for what's on the agenda in 2018? A few changes. Some bike racing, but only a select handful of events that have been on my list for a while. A new job; while commercial sewing has been a great learning experience with decent pay, it seemed to be a major contributor to the return of my neck problems last summer. I don't need to do that kind of work full time ever again, but I've got some useful new skills in case I want to start a side business doing gear repairs or making fancy bags.

   This summer I've gotten a seasonal position as a field survey technician for wildlife habitat with the Nevada Department of Wildlife: a first step back into the science field--which I quite enjoyed in college--but went off on a tangent trying to become a ski instructor/bike racer/ski bum. As it turns out, that is a rather poor living especially when winter comes only once or twice every 5 years in Tahoe. I'll be mostly out in the field exploring random parts of outback Nevada, and it's going to be a radical change from the usual routine, but I've been feeling a bit stuck in a rut for several years and needing to do something like this. Hopefully it will lead to more challenging, interesting employment where I can do something useful for the environment as well... or at least have some benefits so that I'm not paying for my dentist's Hawaii vacation every time something falls apart...

   As for bike racing, first up is Fears, Tears, and Beers in Ely, NV, a grassroots enduro race and quite possibly the first race of its kind held here in the US. It's long, with a ton of climbing, and so early in the season that I'm not usually feeling fit enough to tackle the long course (where's the fun in racing less than 30 miles?) but things seem to be coming together to make it happen this year. Then I got a highly coveted registration in the Downieville Classic All-Mountain, which requires riders to complete a long, burly cross country race the day before the downhill--which is still only MOSTLY downhill. I didn't really know much about it back when I raced XC and was super fit, and then when I turned into a lazy downhiller they changed the rules so you couldn't race the DH without doing the XC. Now I'm coming back around and wanting to try some events with a little more of an endurance aspect to them again. For the rest of the summer I may add in another enduro race or two if CES events line up with my work schedule, but I am most definitely looking forward to late October when the Single Speed World Championship is taking place in Bend, OR. This event travels around the world every year, so having it within a day's drive makes it something I've got to try! I have a decent single speed mountain bike and rode it quite a bit last year; it's a real torture machine but I'm feeling ready to spend more time in suffer mode than in the past several years. Another one of those ideas that seems great until I'm halfway through the race... haha...

   When not on a bicycle, I'm making plans to climb/ski a a few more mountains on the eastern Sierra, and hopefully make a trip up to ski Shasta or another Cascade volcano as well. Also on the list is another trip for us up to Montana to visit the family cabin and fish, mountain bike, perhaps even dirt bike to explore some new trails up there. So much to do, and so little time, as usual!

Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 season in review: well, I made it to a couple of bike races!

   I'm still way behind here and have missed writing about a whole bunch of rad things that have happened this summer. At least I haven't missed out on actually doing them--it's finally been a good year for getting out and climbing a few mountains, skiing every month, and mountain biking any time I can squeeze in a ride. I even made it to a couple of races, although the Mammoth Kamikaze enduro still eluded my best efforts.

   Back in early June I attended the El Dorado Benduro outside of Georgetown, CA, right in the backyard of my good friend Lindsay Currier and put on by her and her dude Josh Bender (the Bender Sender, pioneer of early freeride mountain biking). A great location, free camping, rocky and steep motorcycle trails far out in the woods, live music, and tons of free beer made this race a complete adventure. My legs especially weren't too sure about two 17 mile days in a row, each with 2,500 feet of climbing, this early in the season. Although we had an epic winter and I ski toured nearly every day, mountain biking is a completely different animal and it takes a little while to adjust to using different muscles, not to mention the whole avoiding wrecking while flying down loose, sketchy trails.
Stage 3 on day2 of the El Dorado Benduro. Photo: Pat Branch/PBmedia
   I wasn't the fastest, but I made it to the finish with myself and bicycle all in one piece, and not too terribly far behind the rest of the competitors. As it turned out, I was the only female, and not having raced in several years my main goals were to not crash and not be embarrassingly slow. I'll admit to being annoyed at not being able to beat any of the guys this time but I guess I have to live with it. Next year, it's on... gonna catch a few boys! The Benduro was an excellent adventure of a race and a great party in the woods on top of that, I highly recommend it!

   Fast forward three months to mid-August was the Sturdy Dirty, an all-women's race series that I thought sounded like a blast, the second event of which was held up in the green jungle of Oakridge, Oregon. Oakridge had been on the list to check out for a while now, and I was also bound to run into an old friend who had moved up to Oregon right around when I disappeared from mountain bike racing. I had put in a lot of miles, tons of climbing, and a good amount of time on the single speed while my Ibis Ripley was having a shock rebuild and was feeling fairly fit. I put myself in the Pro class, just hoping that I would be somewhere other than dead last among the 20 other names on that list, most of whom I recognized as veteran enduro racers. Driving solo and leaving on Thursday after work left me with only Friday afternoon to catch the last practice shuttle and see some of the race course. I ended up opting not to scout the first two stages which were supposedly the least technical; having no idea how long it would take, I really didn't want to get caught in the dark only partway down.
Somewhere in the middle of the Sturdy Dirty. Photo: Patrick M/PSPLLC
   In contrast with the technical, raw Benduro course, the trails were a relative cakewalk so long as no steering mistakes were made; smooth and flowy, with one or two rocks that I can remember. Some areas had a high consequence if one was to miss a corner and go flying off the trail tumbling down a steep mountainside, but as long as wheels stayed on trail there was little to be concerned about. I managed to not crash riding blind on the first 2 stages, though later finding out that my time on stage 1 was pretty horrendous. I'm pretty sure I forgot to pedal... Still not good enough to get into the top 10, but 12th was far better than last so I'll take it. Aside from being a putz on stage 1, I was pretty consistently mid-pack throughout, with my best finish 9th on stage 4. My rear shock also blew up again during the first stage of the race... not super helpful at all! I guess I wasn't really expecting much but at the same time hoping I could pull off something crazy. It was still a super fun time, I made a few new friends, and got a chance to catch up with my old friend Andrea from DH racing. I'd definitely do it again and recommend it to ladies of any level who are looking for an awesome all-women's race experience!

   Race number 3 that I signed up for this year was the Mammoth Kamikaze Games enduro. Having signed up for this race the previous two years in a row and been unable to race for one reason or another, I have felt at odds with the universe just trying to make it happen... even ONCE!! At this point I sort of didn't even care what happened during the race, I just wanted to get to the Mammoth parking lot, put a number plate on my bike, and roll off from the starting line. Well, I got closer than ever this year, but still no race.

   I actually made it down to Mammoth this time, but a lot later than I planned. Ideally I'd have taken most of the week off to have plenty of time to adapt to the dirt and learn the course, but had too much to get done at work that week and of course needed the money.  After a late arrival on Friday night, and second thoughts about my little Ripley and the gnarly pro-line trails, I had the brilliant idea to ask the friend about using his spare bike for the race, a much longer travel machine that might be more appropriate for the gnarly course and mostly lift-assisted transfers. Never mind that it was an X-large and the fork also really needed a rebuild as I later discovered.

   I grabbed the bike first thing in the morning for 7:30 AM practice, put the number on it, and went up the lift to take a lap on the last, and perhaps nastiest stage. I had ridden that bike once before, at night with a light, and everything felt funny then. It still felt weird, though I could tell it was slacker and I could roll down steep things a little less terrified. All of that was beside the point after I had a slo-mo-wreck where my foot jammed directly between two spokes and broke the valve stem completely off. Walking down the lower 1/3 of the trail was not on my list of things to do that morning, nor was changing out a flat tubeless tire, especially with a limited time to practice trails before the Sport/Beginner class race started. I ran back to grab the Ripley and rode up to see as many more stages as I could fit in. I had to run back into registration to get the proper sticker on my number before they would let me on the lift again, so while I was having a nervous breakdown and feeling hopelessly inadequate, I asked them to move me out of the Pro class and into Expert. I didn't think I could even podium in Expert at this point, and I would feel much better about not having any of the really fast pro girls get caught behind me waiting for me to get the heck out of the way. The reality is, I'm learning I am not nearly as fast as I was 4 years ago, and not taking the same kind of risks, so there's no point in ruining someone else's race because I faceplanted right in front of them.

   Having already seen most of Bullet and knowing I'd likely be walking a few sections anyhow, I continued on to see the next most technical stage. It was just one short steep section with awkward rocks, but here I decided again that I'd rather walk than wreck trying to send the gnar on a wholly unsuitable bike. While walking down to look at lines and watch some other riders hit the section I made friends with some rad folks from Redding that I stuck with for the rest of the morning. We even managed a run all the way from the top of the mountain down Stage 4. Good times! And at the bottom of this, I then realized looking at the dust on the shaft that my rear shock had way too much air in it. Hadn't bothered to mess with it since having a second rebuild done after Sturdy Dirty... oops again. Amateur hour bike racing here. Should maybe have put myself in the Sport class at this point!

   Back at the camper Kit was getting ready to go out for some riding, so I grabbed my DH bike to join him, figuring my Ripley was better off not getting beat up before the race. Even on the big bike I cursed and struggled through the rocky sections like a complete newbie, failing to comprehend how I'd fairly easily followed a friend through most of these back in 2009 on my old clunker DH bike. Knowing the right lines does help... I haven't spent much time on the DH bike this year and it was pretty obvious because I didn't trust it to do what it can do to eat up those rock gardens. And wow, that's really bad for one's self confidence before a race! After a handful of laps on Velocity I finally got the right line through one rock garden and felt a little bit better about riding bikes, starting to de-stress and have fun again. We got on a fun jump trail to go back over to the other base to eat some food and catch the last of the downhill race, but I hadn't hit more than a handful when one takeoff caused a weird, disturbing sensation in my neck, very hard to describe but the end result was that it felt like I had hit the ground very hard and it started to spasm and seize up. This freaked me out and I rode slowly the rest of the way down to the bottom.

   Even though I hadn't actually crashed it worried me enough that I decided to bail on the race. Normal necks don't get whiplash like that, I'm definitely sure of it. That was such a disappointment--even with all the emotional drama I put myself through, I ended up being pretty pumped to get out and race no matter what class or bike I was on.  My neck had been feeling rather strange for a couple of months prior to this but I had just kept on going, had a little bit of bodywork and saw my physical therapist, and mainly was told to do some stretches and take more frequent breaks at work. Now I've been to the doctor and had some imaging done (all normal, thankfully, aside from a loss of cervical curve) and am back doing therapy, trying to unravel the latest piece of the puzzle that my neck has become over the last several years.

   I was going to wait until after the Zion Benduro in November to finish this post, since it is kind of a race report/season summary, but it's not looking like I will make it to the race. Almost 2 months past the Mammoth race and my neck is still not feeling completely normal, but I think I may now be closer to solving the puzzle and having a relatively more normally behaving neck than I've had since the fall of 2013 when I originally wrecked it. Since then, I have basically had to deal with some degree of a whiplash injury nearly every time I hit the ground at any speed, even relatively slowly, and that makes many activities far more stressful all the way down to cross country skiing or walking around in the dark. A combination of factors seems to have contributed: the headplant incident itself, which led to chronic poor posture and weak supporting muscles, and then add in my current employment as a commercial seamstress spending a fair amount of time sitting at a sewing machine or leaning over a table to mark, measure, and cut large quantities of fabric. While I have made a habit of taking frequent breaks to stretch and move around at work if I'm doing a heavy sewing day, my physical therapist and chiropractor both agree that it is not an ideal job for somebody with my history of neck injury because it encourages it back into the wrong position. I have enjoyed working there and have learned so much, but I'm exploring my other options right now, more on that later perhaps...

   Although I haven't been able to comfortably ride since mid-September, progress is being made with restoring the cervical curve and strengthening the stabilizers, thanks especially to an excellent sports chiropractor who was highly recommended to me. I don't particularly enjoy having things go crack, but nothing else I've tried up until now has managed to resolve the root of this issue. So far it has been well worth it since he describes in detail the mechanics of what is going on, feels for movement of joints and for muscle tone, and also gives me many exercises to do which seem to be working well. However, some days my neck just feels confused and sore from all of the changes and wanting to go back to where it has been for the past few years. This generally gives me a headache, a grumpy attitude, and a bad outlook on life as relating to riding bicycles again, but I have to remind myself that the quick fixes which in the past have made the pain go away sooner also didn't seem to do much for the underlying problem.
   The PT and chiro both have told me I am on the right track and that I should avoid babying it too much, telling me to try some easy riding again, which I have yet to try with the shortening daylight hours and much to be done around the house before winter. I made a point of finding a convenient yoga studio and trying out a variety of classes, initially only the restorative ones but I've been adding in some more active alignment-focused classes and a faster moving vinyasa class as well with good results. If I need more time off the bike to let my body adapt to the changes, I think I can hang in there with the additional challenge of getting back into yoga with far less flexibility than I had when I was previously practicing and going to classes regularly some years ago.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Hillbilly Hippies ski Basin Mountain

   Indeed, this happened several months ago in the spring, but cut me some slack--I got a new job (or 2), have an actual commute that I'm still getting used to, and am scrambling to try and fit in as much play time as possible. Being busy kind of stinks, it makes summer go by way too fast!
Basin Mountain in the early morning light, the East Couloir visible to the left side of the peak
   Kit and I had been planning all along to go down to Bishop for Mule Days over Memorial weekend, bringing dirt bikes and skis and not much of a plan aside from doing both of those things at some point figuring it out as we went along. Arriving at the Poleta Canyon OHV staging area on Friday night in the dark, we hoped to wake up and scrutinize the expansive view of the eastern Sierra from across the Owens Valley and see where decent skiing might be found. I looked through binoculars while eating breakfast the next morning, scanning Mt. Locke & Humphreys; Mt. Tom looked a little burned out and too far to hike to snow. What about Basin? Looks like the East Couloir has decent coverage and the snow doesn't start too far from the access road. We've talked about that one quite a lot and been magnetized by its commanding presence on the Bishop skyline, and it even sounded like a great idea to use dirt bikes for the approach.
Kit checking out Mt. Humphreys and the Wahoo Gullies on Mt. Locke
  Instead of riding Poleta, we decided to head across the valley and up to the Buttermilk boulders to do some approach scouting on motorcycles. While sort of a novelty, riding a dirt bike to the base of this climb seemed brilliant since we had that ability. Although Horton Lakes road (access to Basin) is drivable with a higher clearance vehicle, it sounded as though it was incredibly rough and rocky and would be slow going in the big truck, not to mention parking and turning around at the trailhead might be an issue. We found an excellent flat spot to park with the trailer and unload, then examined the map for a few minutes and took off for the Horton Lakes trailhead.
   The turn off of Buttermilk Road was easy to find and we quickly blasted up to the gate--so much more fun than creeping in the truck up a steep bumpy road. It looked like a couple hundred feet of vertical to hike to the first skin-able patches of snow, not bad at all. The lower snow field looked pretty terrible though, all covered in dirt and sticks, runnels and small suncups. In all it looked good to go, and there was still much time left in the day, so we decided to continue riding around the Buttermilk loop and do some exploration for future backcountry missions.

   The road was badly washed out just past the Horton Lakes turnoff but we were able to cross the ruts a couple of times and get beyond the worst parts. Once past there, at point where it appeared nobody had been through yet this season, we came upon a couple of creek crossings that looked a little high but we both scooted through without incident. The next turn we took followed a creek drainage toward Mt. Humphreys, which gained a ton of elevation and eventually we hit some snow patches and had to turn around. A couple of decent flat spots for camping around here, a creek, and nice views. We'll have to go back for that one.
How to ride a motorcycle with a ski mountaineering pack
   Continuing around the Buttermilk loop, we took a few more turns off the main road to explore, and then popped out back on the highway and back to the beginning of Buttermilk Road and our truck. Content with all we had seen and with a solid plan for the next day's climb, we packed up and went back down towards Bishop to take a few afternoon laps at the motocross track, before setting up camp and experimenting with the attachment of skis and boots to our packs and the whole situations's compatibility with riding a motorcycle.

   It's so hard to get out of a comfy bed early on the weekend, but the forecast was for a warm day and we didn't really want to ski glop or deal with wet slides so we rallied to get out of bed and get moving at 6. We each gulped down an egg sandwich and shouldered our awkward packs with skis, boots, poles, ice axes, etc poking out in all directions; and then, as if that wasn't enough of a challenge, threw a leg over our dirt bikes and tried to kick the starter without tipping over. Successful in that, I left camp gingerly at first and opened the throttle as I figured out the balance a little better. Once past the popular climbers' camp by the Buttermilk boulders where the road gets rough and sitting down is a terrible idea, my arms and legs were burning with the effort of hanging on and staying upright with an extra 30 pounds on my back. Horton Lakes road felt like an eternity even though we made good time up to the gate, just under half an hour. The fast way to approach, but certainly not the easiest way! My quads and triceps were already dreading the ride back down just a little bit...

  There were already several cars parked by the gate at 7am and we wondered if we had slept in just a little bit too long. Basin's East Couloir faced to the east and the rising sun was already directly upon it. Whatever. We'll just have to climb faster and catch them all. Except that there were no fresh boot tracks or skin tracks upon reaching the snow... bizarre! We eventually figured that those cars' owners must be hiking into Horton Lakes and elsewhere, because there was not another soul on Basin Mountain this day!
Snacking partway up
   The first pitch went by fairly quickly, a couple of hours or so, and we stopped for a quick snack on the saddle before continuing upward. A short traverse brought us to the base of the actual couloir and the pitch began to steepen, enough that I stopped to swap skis and poles for crampons and ice axe. Although the snow was soft and boot-able, I would rather wear than carry the extra weight, and it felt nice and secure kicking steps with sharp things on my feet and in my hand. At this point the couloir seemed endless, the top appearing just as far away from halfway up as it did from the bottom. We finally reached the giant rock in the middle where we'd agreed to stop for a snack break, and realized that the top was not far off at all.
   Maybe 20 minutes later, around 11:30 AM we reached the top of the couloir and dropped our packs, finding some comfy rocks to sit on and scarf down more food while taking a few photos of the views in all directions. The saddle atop the couloir was still probably a couple hundred feet below the true summit of 13,240 feet, but some chossy, loose rock lay between it and us, and no rope or climbing gear accompanied us. Highest skiable point, then, counts as a summit in our book!

We clicked into our skis just after noon and enjoyed some rather excellent skiing all the way down the East Couloir. Crossing the short traverse and scrambling back over the rock band took several minutes, and then we were back in our skis and hunting for the least crappy descent route down the last pitch, peppered with suncups and avalanche debris. Survival skiing at its finest--welcome to backcountry skiing!! We reached the tail end of the snow safely, following some sketchy maneuvering among giant runnels in sticky snow. The hike back down to our bikes was incredibly awkward in ski boots, but I managed to not trip over anything and tumble down the hill, all the while envious of Kit's relatively easier
walk in telemark boots...
  Back at the motorcycles, we arranged all of the skiing equipment back on our packs somewhat securely, as I faced the half hour ride back down the hill with more than a little apprehension. As it turns out, riding downhill isn't nearly as bad, and we putzed our way back down to camp, passing a couple of Jeeps crawling slowly down Horton Lakes road. We got a number of surprised looks cruising through Buttermilks camp and a few thumbs-up. The final challenge back at the truck: dismounting in such a way as to to avoid catching skis on bike and tipping over... Success! Tecates with lime all around! A 7 hour round trip from car to car, about 5,000 vertical feet of climbing and skiing, and another 2,000 of approach ride, and that classic peak was in the bag. We're off to find some delicious burgers and watch some Mule Days for the rest of the afternoon!

A horse riding in a car...always something outrageous at Mule Days!