Friday, December 04, 2015

Beat's new bike

The day before Thanksgiving, Beat and I stopped in Grand Junction to pick up the bicycle Beat plans to ride to Nome in March: a custom titanium Eriksen designed and previously owned by Mike Curiak. This is Beat's third "Curiak" fat bike, and it's gotten to the point where Mike e-mails Beat directly before he posts his bikes for sale. (Edit: As per MC's comment below, Beat was the one who initiated this sale.) I liken Beat to an art collector in this regard. When it comes to bikes for winter backcountry touring, arguably nobody in the world has more experience or has put more thought into the specifics than Mike Curiak. Even as I balk and argue that two people who live in a small apartment in coastal California do not need another fat bike, I can't deny a deep appreciation for these beautiful machines. It's gotten to the point where we actually do hang them on the walls.

This is also possibly the current best bike in the world for Beat's intended use on the Iditarod Trail. Mike wrote about this bike: "Key word above = geometry. I had a custom frame built because although everyone seems to make a fatbike these days, none of them come anywhere close to geometry that really, truly works on snow. 99.9% of the people buying and riding fatbikes these days don't know any better, and 90% of them don't care. Most are simply happy looking down on their gee-whiz bulbous tires, thinking that the tires are the most important thing. No way."

More details about this bike here and here.

Although I've been in awe of cycling from the moment I decided to pursue bicycle touring in 2002 (in my own backward way of deciding on a 600-mile trip, then re-learning to shift and pedal on a borrowed bicycle, and then finally buying one), I have never loved bicycles. Sure, I form emotional attachments with my well-used bicycles, to the point where you'd have to mangle my four-year-old, high-mileage Moots mountain bike beyond recognition before I'd ever be willing to give him up, and even then I'd cry. (I did actually shed a few tears when I shipped my Surly Pugsley to a new owner in Alaska, and sent my Karate Monkey to live with my sister because I couldn't bear to let her go. Also, I ascribe genders and personality traits to my bicycles.)

So perhaps I am bicycle obsessed after all. But a large part of me remains annoyed by the realities of bicycles — they're bulky things, and quite heavy when loaded with touring gear. They have to be carried or pushed in a wide range of unrideable conditions. They break down and need new parts frequently. They have to be secured and fretted about when left unsupervised. There are always these new-fangled components like thru-axles that I can't coax into releasing without much gnashing of teeth. (I have real difficulties with mechanical learning, of which I'm not proud, but there it is.) Even among rideable trails, a high percentage are off-limits to bicycles. There's so much more freedom — and fewer complications — in hiking, running, and backpacking. And yet the feeling of riding a bicycle — the steady rhythm, flow, and ease of covering ground — will always keep me coming back to cycling, even if the machines vaguely irritate me.
This one of the many reasons why Beat and I work so well together. He appreciates bicycles to the level of an art connoisseur, and I benefit from his attentiveness and fine-tuned decisions. On the other side, I love cycling so much that I'm pretty happy to straddle just about any bicycle and wrangle it into working for me, and like to think I do my part to coax Beat into riding the works of art on the wall.

Beat flew back to California on Sunday night, but I decided to spend a couple more days with my family in Salt Lake. Alone with Beat's new bike, of course I had to take it out for a ride on the neighborhood trails in Corner Canyon.

Here's another embarrassing confession that reveals my contemptuousness when it comes to mechanics: This bicycle came with two sets of wheels — 29" rims with 3" tires for "summer" use, and fat bike rims and knobby tires for "winter" use. Beat mounted the skinny wheels for his desert ride in Loma, and I was effectively too lazy to swap out the wheels. Sure, I reasoned that the trails were mostly well-packed and the 29+ set-up would be sufficient. But I also knew that my tendency is to venture off beaten paths to explore new ground, and I *knew* that rather than riding the established network of well-built, world-class singletrack, I was going to end up exploring the untracked jeep roads above the canyon. This is just who I am, and why I don't always abide well with the limitations of bicycles.

Still, for riding in anywhere from 3" to 9" of drifted, somewhat crusty fluff, this bike handled impressively well. It helps that Utah snow is practically like air, but I had great fun motoring up steep hillsides that were pocked with deer tracks and nothing else. Sure, the big wheels would have assisted an easier and faster ride, but I was glad for a little more nimbleness when I launched down a mercilessly steep jeep track riddled with baseball-sized boulders that were hidden by a thin layer of snow. Brakes were dialed in as well, thank goodness.

On Wednesday I turned west to head home. I hoped to visit Ann in Auburn that evening, but the timing worked out that I had about two hours to kill en route along I-80. I chose to stop early in the day in West Wendover, Nevada — a place on the Utah/Nevada border that I used to frequent shortly after I turned 21 because there was such novelty in cramming six friends into a $19.99 hotel room, dropping $25 on the roulette table over a series of $0.50 bets, and milking all the free perks while chatting with some truly eyebrow-raising characters at the Red Garter Casino. These days, the thought of such an outing depresses me to no end. Thus, by association, Wendover does as well.

I usually actively avoid this place when driving between Utah and California, even for a bathroom break, but this time decided to finally check out the hills surrounding this somewhat run-down tiny resort town at the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats. I parked at the Stateline Casino and set out on a jeep road toward a small cluster of mountains to the north. Because of Wendover's extremely dry climate, I was not expecting to see any snow, so I again didn't change out the wheels. It was a rude awakening to step outside to a temperature of 15F, a slight breeze, and after a few hundred feet of climbing, several inches of snow.

In just over two hours, I was only able to link up a 13-mile loop with a short spur toward a rocky canyon. There was a fair amount of walking along these steep jeep roads, most of which were untracked. I was wearing what I had for hiking at 15 or so degrees the previous week, forgetting that when I ride a bicycle, I need to dress at least a layer warmer. My hands and feet became useless clumps of cold meat. There was a long, gradual descent on a severely rutted and rocky road that was just technical enough to prevent me from applying much effort, and I froze without relief.

At yet, I was so enamored with this frozen landscape — almost alien in its barren expansiveness, and yet so close to the interstate that I could venture out for a quick jaunt in the same amount of time many travelers would drop a few bucks on slots and $6.99 prime rib lunch.

I also have a better sense for how well this bike is going to work for Beat in Alaska. It is quite nimble, light, and comfortable — the saddle notwithstanding. (I used to pride myself on being able to sit my butt on any saddle without issues, but Adamo saddles quickly cause what feels like bruising on my sit bones. After my five-hour ride on Monday, I could hardly sit in a chair without wincing. Beat uses these saddles because they distribute weight directly to the sit-bones to protect softer body parts, so I get it. But they strongly do not work for me.)

But if we have to have another bike filling the walls of our apartment, I'm glad it's this one. 
Monday, November 30, 2015

ITI training, week seven

Monday: Hike, 1:33, 4.6 miles, 2,293 feet climbing. Beat used his lunch break to go for a jaunt up Green Mountain, whose trailhead is only about three miles from Google Boulder. The views from Green Mountain are spectacular — quite the enviable lunch run. I was wearing spikes and turned my ankle badly on the descent, but was able to work it out with minimal limping.                   
Tuesday: Morning, trail run, 1:35, 6.1 miles, 1,742 feet climbing. Evening: Weight routine. I started from the Baseline Road trailhead and explored some of the lower trails of the Flatirons. It was a toasty day at 60 degrees, and the area was crowded. I struggled with the rockiness of the trails, and did a lot of hiking after turning my ankle again. In the evening I went to the weight room in the hotel for another free-weight session.My shoulders and arms were still sore from Sunday's routine. Still managed 30 pushups over three sets, but most of them hurt and were probably ugly. 

 Wednesday: Trail run, 1:25, 6 miles, 939 feet climbing. Beat and I drove to Salt Lake City for Thanksgiving, but not without stopping in Grand Junction to pick up his latest two-wheeled acquisition. It's true, Beat and I disagree about the number of bicycles he purchases. I'm still considered the "cyclist" in our relationship, and yet I'm the one that attempts to put a moratorium on the n+1 rule. But Beat is an avid fan of Mike Curiak's one-of-a-kind work, and any time one of those bikes ends up on the market, Beat feels he must have it. He also has the appropriate justification of needing the perfect bicycle to take to Nome. Anyway, it's his money, and I admit I enjoy the fruits of his collection. (I'll probably rave about this bike once I have an opportunity to ride it.)

Beat wanted to take his new bike for a spin, so we hit the trails in Loma. While Beat had all the fun, I went for an awkward, slow "run" on the Moore Fun Trail, which is mostly a pile of rocks. I decided that running buffed-out trails in the Bay Area does not aid in my aspirations to become a desert or mountain trail runner. The same goes for mountain biking, although I admit that any technical terrain is far from my first choice if it doesn't involve a large reward (like amazing mountain vistas.) I only have so much patience for staring down at trails rather than looking up to my heart's content.

 Thursday: Snow hike, 1:31, 4.5 miles, 1,641 feet climbing. Beat, Dad, and I embarked on a quick pre-feast hike to lower Bell Canyon falls in the morning. Felt good, maintained a fairly fast pace on the powdery climb just trying to keep up with these two (6 out of 20 for the 2.1-mile Strava segment.) But this didn't feel like a hard effort.

 Friday: Snow hike, 3:04, 7.8 miles, 3,198 feet climbing. Gobbler's Knob is a 10,200-foot peak above Salt Lake City. Winter trail conditions were good, but even in good conditions — even in summer conditions — this climb is a grind. A cold front was moving in, carrying high winds and lower temperatures (it was probably 10F at this altitude, with a steady 20 mph wind gusting to 30, which was calmer than we expected.) Our total time was four and a half hours, and stopped time was fairly minimal in those fierce windchills. I so enjoy these difficult slogs, even if their numbers look so puny in my training log.

 Saturday: Snowshoe, 2:43, 7.9 miles, 2,574 feet climbing. The storm brought a few inches of new snow, so we opted for a winter wonderland jaunt to the Red Pine lakes in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The temperature was 17 degrees at the trailhead, and it dropped swiftly when fog and flurries moved in. Later I learned a gauge at Snowbird recorded temperatures of 0 to -3F around this time, and we were just a few drainages over from the ski resort at a similar altitude. I was underdressed and not pulling my weight in the trail-breaking department, so I felt cold for most of the climb. We hiked along the slushy shoreline of Lower Red Pine Lake and continued a true slog to Upper Red Pine, breaking trail in several feet of powder through a treacherous boulder field. I struggled enough with my footing that I could barely keep up with Beat and Dad even though they were breaking trail, but didn't generate much heat at the 0.5 mph pace. A stiff breeze drove the windchill well into the minuses, and I became quite cold — numb shoulders and thighs cold. At the lake I did some callisthenics to push some blood back to my limbs. We were able to move a lot faster and even run some on the descent, but I didn't feel warm until a mile from the trailhead. In this way, it was a valuable training exercise.

Sunday: Afternoon: Snow run, 1:20, 6.7 miles, 1,178 feet climbing. Evening, weight lifting at gym. There was more fresh snow on Sunday, and not enough visibility to get excited about a mountain hike, so Beat and I ran a loop on the Ghost Falls and Clark trails in Corner Canyon. (Note: I did suggest Beat ride his bike instead, but he chose to run with me.) This was a fun run — I love loping downhill through fresh powder. The temperature at the trailhead was 26 degrees. It felt downright warm, until we hit the wind in the more open areas, then brrr. I took Beat to the airport in the evening, and then spent the next hour looking for a gym — I belong to this national chain that used to have several locations in the South Salt Lake Valley, but apparently at least two of them have closed. I kept trying new addresses because I'd already invested so much time, and finally I found a very nice franchise in West Jordan. Going back to my machine routine after two weeks away was encouraging — I felt very strong, upped all my weights, and didn't struggle with the third set as much as last time. It will be interesting to see how sore I feel tomorrow.

Total: 13:13, 43.9 miles run, 13,563 feet climbing. This felt like my lightest week since I started this training block. I would have liked to embark on a day-long effort, but it can be tough to squeeze in eight hours in a one push, especially while out of town and spending time with family. The Friday and Saturday hikes were both difficult, and good preparation for cold. Yes, still no rest days, but those other days of 90-minute jaunts are really just warm-ups. I'd like to hit closer to 20 hours per week for most of December, but I don't stress about specifics. As seriously as I'm taking ITI preparation, I will always prioritize "life" over "training" — I just do a lot of combining of the two.

A few more pictures from Saturday:

Dad and Beat after the climb, before they changed into their warm gear. Dad cracked a rib after he tripped while trail running more than a month ago, and is just getting back at it. (Dad and I share the clumsy gene.)

 While navigating the boulder field between Lower and Upper Red Pine lakes, we all stumbled into and over our fair share of hidden rocks. Here, Dad dropped his foot into the narrow opening between two boulders, and the snowshoe wedged underneath like a latch. Even with Beat reaching to loosen the binding, it took several minutes to work his leg free. This gives me more pause about solo winter travel — it would be unnerving to have this happen while alone. Because you can't see the boulders beneath the snow, you can't always avoid the holes. They're like miniature crevasses.

 Upper Red Pine basin, at 10,100 feet. The sun was trying to break through the fog. Scary boulder minefields, frozen fingers, frigid winds, and the 0.5 mph pace ended our desire to climb any higher. 
Friday, November 27, 2015

Opt outside

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, just like Fall Grand Canyon is my favorite tradition, for many of the same reasons. Besides bringing the family together in a low-expectations format centered around mushy food and homemade pie (my favorite!), Thanksgiving also prompts reflection on gratitude. Expressing thankfulness is another way of compartmentalizing values. What am I thankful for? What in life do I value most? Same question. 

This Thanksgiving was particularly festive, as it brought everyone in my immediate family together for the first time in a long while. We always gather at my aunt's house near Ogden for a large traditional spread and brief catch-ups with some of my many first cousins, their kids, aunts, uncles, and my 85-year-old grandmother. It's often a noisy affair that begins in the early afternoon, so my dad, Beat and I only had a couple of hours in the morning to sneak in a hike.

 We went to the lower Bell Canyon falls amid a few inches of fresh snow and frosty temperatures. It was a quick hour-forty-five, stabbing at the steep slope and breathing cold fire. I loped down the canyon behind Beat and Dad — both faster than me — brimming with gratitude.

 For Friday, we embarked on what seems to have become our yearly tradition of climbing Gobblers Knob on Black Friday. This year, some of the hype surrounding this pseudo-holiday focused toward REI's smart marketing campaign, #optoutside. Yes, it's a social media ploy, but it's also a fun sentiment. I love the idea thousands of people venturing outdoors during what is often a cold and windy part of the shoulder season in many parts of the United States. More people still choose to battle crowds at stores on this day, and honestly I think that's fine, too — my sisters are among those who love the Black Friday sales. It's a small slice of consumer culture, and I recognize that I'm very much a part of this. But similar to expressing gratitude on Thanksgiving, it's great to actually set aside a day where you can reflect on what you value more — a cheap television, or a day outside?

 Temperatures dropped into the teens as we climbed up Butler Fork toward the fierce winds that were ripping along the ridge. Winds of 50 miles per hour were reported in the canyons earlier in the day, and I was fearful of potential hurricane-force gusts, but we seemed to find a relative window of calm amid the snow-driving weather happening all around us.

 We even found a tiny pocket of calm to sit down and enjoy a quick lunch of pita bread slathered in Nutella and peanut butter. Thanksgiving dinner is pretty good, but if everyone could taste a Nutella and peanut butter sandwich at 10,000 feet amid a windchill of 0F, lots would have a new favorite food tradition.

With our hands and feet numbed by the short stop, and shards of ice whipping around us, we started down the mountain in giddy moods. I thought about how lucky I am to share these experiences with two people I love, my closest family members, and how grateful I am for our health. Happiness is simple at its core, where reality aligns with our values. I wouldn't trade this for anything.