Sunday, October 23, 2011

Three rides

"Maybe sometime we can all have a relaxing pack or bikepack trip with camping, swimming, and soaking. Something relaxing. Jill, when you visit your friends it usually involves some kind of hell walk or ride," my friend Bill wrote to me. We have been exchanging e-mails and scheming our plans for the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow. I wrote that I was secretly (or not so secretly) looking forward to disassembling myself completely over 25 hours of mostly darkness in the Southwestern Utah desert.

"I don't think I'm going to win but it's been so long since I really tried to unravel myself," I wrote. "Tahoe Rim Trail was the last time, really, and that was a painful disaster. I'm optimistic that I'll be able to turn Frog Hollow into the soul-crushing experience I desire without too much specific physical pain." It was a declaration of anticipated suffering that I thought would even impress "Missoula's endurance mountain biking champion."

But my former Montana adventure-partner-in-crime could only laugh at me, and wistfully dream of a peaceful, friendly reunion that we were throwing aside for a purposeless quest in adversity and solitude. Still, I know that Bill, who has already enjoyed a long successful summer of bicycle racing, is going to show up for our parallel solo battle ready for pain. Even though I spent my summer either running slowly, injured, or hiking, I too wish for battle-ready fitness. The race is in two weeks. Cram session.

On Thursday I had to go into the doctor for a second rabies shot as part of my Nepal vaccinations. I figured I could squeeze in a couple of hours on the road bike afterward. I'm not sure if I ate something bad for lunch or if I had an adverse reaction to the shot, but soon after I left the doctor's office I did not feel well, not well at all. I had to backtrack down Mount Eden Road, twice, to the bathrooms at Steven's Canyon. Normally I would just give up and go home, but the Frog Hollow devil sat on my shoulder and told me to "use the pain." "Gotta practice feeling bad on the bike," I told myself, and continued pumping the pedals. I managed to motor through decreasing waves of nausea to the 3,000-foot "top" on Skyline Drive. 28 miles (plus four from the initial commute) and 3,600 feet of climbing. It felt like a victory. One Frog Hollow demon slayed. (GPS track here.)

On Friday, Beat and I were planning an evening run with our fully loaded packs. There's nothing like focused training for two wildly different events at the same time. I didn't want to overdo it so I planned a lunchtime "spin class," using the fastest bike in the house (Beat's Specialized S-Works Roubaix) for a higher intensity ride up Monte Bello Road. Due to accumulating fatigue I couldn't even engage my high gears, but I still set a PR on the 8.7-mile, 2,600-foot climb at 51:50 from my house. The exact same climb usually takes me 1:15 on my mountain bikes (it's the access point to my local trails.) I swear the S-Works pedals itself. Despite giving most of the credit to the bike's prowess, I still felt fast. Two Frog Hollow demons down. (GPS track here.)

On Saturday I conned Beat into joining me on a "moderate" mountain bike ride; you know, only five hours or so. He wanted to ride the singlespeed so I took the Fatback in an effort to better match his bike's energy demands. We did a fantastically fun loop of trails that ended at the bottom of Grizzly Flat, near 1,300 feet elevation. I declared that I wanted to head back up the ridge on the Table Mountain Trail, a route I have only climbed once and remembered vaguely as "steep." Beat took the smart route, which was the trail toward home.

The initial singletrack threw in challenging obstacles that I powered up with glee. When it comes to any kind of technical trail, I've found I'm actually the most comfortable on a fat bike, because I don't even have to pick a line. I just point the huge wheels that fill up nearly the entire trail and monster-truck my way to mountain bike awesomeness. I ground over boulders and steamrolled across roots and even successfully lifted the monstrous front wheel onto a particularly eroded ledge, something I usually wouldn't even attempt with my much lighter Element.

I reached the end of the singletrack at elevation 1,759, mile 22.5, and proceeded to climb to 2,555 feet at mile 23.7. That's 800 feet in one mile, up a rocky, loose-gravel fireroad, on a fat-tire bike that weighs well over 30 pounds. I planted my butt in the saddle to keep the rear Endomorph from spinning out (those tires have the worst traction; I'm sorry, they do) and cranked the quad-burning granny gear at a blazing 3 miles per hour. The Frog Hollow angel sat on my shoulder and said "use the Zen." I zoomed all of my focus on a tiny patch of gravel and thought of Hurricane's Jem Trail, weaving a red ribbon through the sagebrush, cast in silver by the light of the moon. It's a beautiful, blissful descent that a lap race such as Frog Hollow affords many visits to. As many as I want. As many as my legs can handle. Go, legs, go!

Yes, bliss is 80 degrees, sunshine and five hours on a Fatback. Who knows how the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow will turn out? But the training sure is fun. (GPS track here.)


  1. Did you see "A Man, a Bike and 4,100 Miles" in the New York Times? Pretty nice piece, huh?

  2. This is so far out of my realm of comprehension anymore but I vaguely remember it from my marathon training days. Sadly we will probably never meet to hike anywhere because I lean more to the other side of the spectrum these days (fun, relax, some hard exercise mixed in). But you are inspiring in that you are doing what you want to do, so enjoy. ps. I think rabies shots can mess you up. Rabies? For Nepal? What's rabid there?

  3. Actually Nepal is one of the areas with the highest incidents of Rabies, and it's a recommended vaccination by some agencies. Many dogs are carriers - and since we don't know exactly where the course goes, I thought it's not a bad idea.
    Normally the post-bite rabies shot is basically as effective as the vaccination, however sometimes you may not notice (bat bites for example can go unnoticed - uuuuuuh those vampires).
    Also rabies is pretty much always deadly, really it's all around a nasty disease, and it's fairly prevalent still - CDC estimates 40000-70000 rabies deaths each year.

  4. Mary, the humorous thing is, I'm not really like this at all. At the same 24-hour race, I'm the "racer" stopping between every lap to down pieces of pizza and make self-depreciating comments about how much I hacked through that last round. But when the night comes and everything's quiet, I love still being out there, grinding away against the fatigue and monotony and (minor) pain. I've had some special experiences amid those moments.

    And I've also had more fun with my biking in the last several weeks than I've had all summer. I do love having big, outlandish goals.

    That said, I still prefer "normal" versions of fun with friends. Right now I'm planning a winter bike trip near Whitehorse, Yukon, with several other women. They too voiced their concerns that I would want to go all Xtreme, which is ridiculous. When I'm on a social trip, I too want to ride a relaxed five or six hours a day and then kick back in a warm yurt and drink hot cider. Still, for most people a winter bike trip in any distance probably sounds crazy ambitious, so I guess it's all relative.

  5. I can't wait to hear about the Whitehorse trip! I'd love to do something like that someday. Looking forward to a little more snow here in CO so I can finally give snow-biking on my mountain bike a try (but oooh would it be fun on one of your snow bikes!)

  6. Riiiiight Jill. But I get it, because some people won't hike with me, claiming the same thing (Xtreme) Which is kind of crazy, but it all depends on what you think is extreme and what isn't. For me riding a bike for 25 hours is just insane. I'd die. Snow biking though, that I might like.

  7. Good luck to you and Beat in Nepal. I will be looking forward to reading of your adventures.
    Best regards, -Mike

  8. You really make me chuckle Jill...that pic of you atop Black Mt w/ the Fatback...quite honestly if I were to see somebody on a bike like that I'd think they were off their rocker! It's just SUCH a beastly bike!

    That you voluntarily take it for a big ride over the RM Element just shows the vast chasm that separates us as cyclists. I've been feeling that my 03 Blur is kind'a on the portly side for a 4-5" travel bikes these days (sits about 29lbs ready to ride), and I have to admit that I look w/ envy at the 22lb full susp wonder-bikes. But due to their INSANE cost, I'll just keep looking AND pedaling my beloved Blur. It's STILL a far better bike than I am a rider.

    We here all know you have a method to your madness in riding the SS or the Monster Truck...but the thought of the average weight-weenie dude on the trail staring dumfounded as he is passed by you (a GIRL no less...GASP!) on the Fat-Beast would be priceless!

    You're still my cycling hero! Stay safe!

  9. All the pictures of the Fatback make me jealous, mine is (apparently) en route, but here in Whitehorse the snow has fallen and I feel like I've been left unprepared.

    Don't get too fit - otherwise you'll be bored when you come ride with me.


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