Thursday, October 19, 2017

Frittering away weekdays

After my forest road meltdown last Friday, I was hopeful I'd cleared my head enough to muscle through some projects this week. I'd felt unmoored. Last weekend was supposed to be my annual trip to hike the Grand Canyon with my dad. This is a tradition we've kept, with a few hiccups, nearly every year since 2004. Due to poor calendar-keeping, other travel plans overlapped those plans, and I had to cancel. Then the second trip fell through. So I ended up at home, feeling wistful about the passing of time, the unsettled world, and missed opportunities. Perhaps I should pour some of this angst into my work. Or, you know, do what I usually do, which is burn it off amid hard physical efforts. 

 First came Sunday, when Beat and I wanted to put in a solid six-hour "run." We like to pepper our "long runs" with 5,000 feet of climbing and a little ridiculousness, like this descent into Eldo Canyon.

 Remnants of autumn were hanging on in the meadows below Shadow Canyon.

 Beat secretly chased another dude up Shadow Canyon, then bonked. It was pretty cute. Our late-afternoon descent was accompanied by stunning light — a white glow on branches in the burn, and glistening snow on mountains in the distance. It must have been more subtle than my memories, because none of it showed up in this photograph. Long runs really are mood and sense enhancers.

 On Monday I was going to buckle down and write, really, but then my friend Wendy inquired about a hike on Niwot Ridge. Wendy recently "retired," by which I mean she left a many-hours-a-week position to pursue her own creative and entrepreneurial projects. I'm an avid supporter of such endeavors when they're feasible, so how could I say no to weekday fun? It was a beautiful and warm afternoon although quite windy. I'm becoming more of a connoisseur of wind thanks to living within a funnel of near-constant winter gales and a weather station to measure them. I'd guess Niwot's wind was steadily in the 30mph range — enough to knock you around and seemingly pull the air from your lungs. Wendy and I babbled away for miles through the woods, but above tree line, all of our strength was needed for breathing. We couldn't hear anything but wind, anyway.

 Wendy's dog, Scout, seemed unfazed although I have to feel for a ~40-pound animal fighting these gusts. The sastrugi was so wind-hardened that we didn't even leave footprints, except in the rotten places where we punched through to our shins.

 It was a great outing, although I was knackered from fighting that wind. This was a humbling reminder of what it means to fight wind all day, possibly for many days, in Alaska. Niwot Ridge is a great spot for winter training because of its position in a wind funnel and relatively low avalanche danger. I hope to return frequently.

Tuesday and Wednesday brought my normal weekday deadlines and many errands. On Wednesday the temperature hit 80 degrees and I stupidly went out right after lunch to run hard on Mount Sanitas. Unsurprisingly I crapped out early yet still fought for it, stumbling over rocks and wondering if I was going to rip open a knee on Sanitas' easy descent, yet again. After that I went to the gym and refilled my water bottle at least five times while grunting through a hard lifting session, because I felt guilty for missing my Monday routine. Anyway, after efforts that were unimpressive on paper, I was surprisingly shattered for my next slacker day, riding fat bikes up Rollins Pass with Cheryl.

I love riding by this old schoolhouse in Tolland. I always imagine I'm a miner's kid in the 1880s, sprinting across a meadow in my prairie dress with an armful of books. The interior has polished wooden desks and a stern teacher at a chalkboard, and then the illusion is shattered as I pass the building and see the boarded-up windows and flaking yellow paint.

 Cheryl and I weren't sure we'd find any snow up here, but there was still a lot of ice in the more shaded sections at lower elevations. I didn't take any photos in the frosty woods, but there was a lot of skidding and spinning and near-misses. Cheryl actually did crash twice, a fate I only narrowly avoided because of platform pedals and fast dabs to stabilize while actively spinning. Cheryl knocked her elbow hard, then cut her leg open and bled all over her frame bag. She seemed unfazed by these injuries.

 Near 12,000 feet we began to hit unrideable slush drifts, so we stopped at the collapsed tunnel. I insisted on hiking to the top of the next mound "for the views."

 The views.

As we descended the rocky road, my rear tire went flat. Hope springs eternal, so I tried pumping it up. We rode a few hundred meters, and it was flat again. I removed the rear wheel to change the tube, fumbling every part of the process because I haven't ridden the fat bike in eight months, and can't even remember the last time I actually had to swap tubes on any bike. Then I was stymied by the valve extender, which I couldn't budge with my bare hands. I really tried. I had no gripping tools with me (I almost always have a multitool, but it was on my mountain bike at home.) So I put the wheel back on, pumped it up again, and made it about a 100 more meters.

Cheryl decided she would ride ahead so she could "get the car." It happened quickly, I didn't really have time to protest. Rollins Pass Road is rugged and so much longer than it seems, even after you've climbed it. We were still ten miles from the nearest spot she could reasonably bring her car. After she left, I had a little panic because it was late enough in the day that running ten miles would probably leave me there after dark, although I had lights, and the wind was picking up and temperatures were dropping, although I had warm clothes. I didn't have much food. I ran a few hundred meters before deciding that I needed to give the flat my best effort, and removed the wheel again.

I was embarrassed about stranding myself with something as preventable as a flat tire, and concentrated my frustration and rage on that valve extender. In the process I actually managed to tear the tube, which was a fat bike tube and not exactly a flimsy thing. This angered me so much that I went ballistic on the tube and tore several shreds, then went for the valve extender with my teeth. Luckily I couldn't get my mouth around it, as I probably would have broken a tooth, but the next effort with my fingers was successful. Success! Actual success! I swapped with the spare tube, pumped, and continued on my way, so happy about rolling that all the frustration dissolved in an instant. But adrenaline took its toll, and I was again knackered.

I vowed to be less complacent and better prepared in the future, although I had everything I needed except a multitool, and a little more patience.

It has been fun to get out with friends on weekdays, a rare treat anyway. These slacker days have left me surprisingly tired. Perhaps I'll finally sit down and work this weekend. After playing in more mountains, that is. 


  1. Love the second picture of the Fountain formation, I have a great affection for that rock.

  2. Two of my least favorite things, wind and flat tires :(.
    Box Canyon Mark, BLM squatting in Rv Goldie above Virgin, Utah, watching the first rays of dawn greet Hurricane Mesa's red rock promontory, trying to decide between a fat tire grind to the top...or taking on "The Gem." :)
    Life is Good.

    1. Ah, I can picture almost exactly where you are. Jem Trail is a classic. Actually the second place I ever rode a mountain bike (the first was the Slickrock Trail in Moab, four years prior, and I had such a harrowing experience that I avoided bikes for years.) If you're around in a couple of weeks, there are entertaining spectating opportunities at the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow.

    2. Yes on Frog Hollow race. We have a friend from Ouray who never misses's quite a big deal. I've ridden the course after and before the event and there is one downhill section so gnarly I have to carry my bike down...and they fly down it at night :(. Then there is the Red Bull "Rage in the Sage" down hill race over on Gooseberry Mesa. Those guys are Crazy!!!!
      Re: Moab Slick Rock Trail. Bobbie went OTB there landing on her chin. A gaping wound that I closed up with duct tape enough that she could ride out. 10 stitches at the Emergency Room...
      Oh to be young and careless :)


Feedback is always appreciated!