Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mountain Biking the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

In September of 2014, Chrissy surprised me with the most memorable Christmas and birthday gift ever, a guided mountain bike trip along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We've taken mountain biking trips to Moab Utah, Fruita and Durango Colorado, and Asheville North Carolina in the past.   But, we had never taken a guided trip.   Although we were responsible for providing our tent and camping gear, the tour guides would provide guided trail rides,  preparation of our meals, transportation of our camping gear from campsite to campsite, and permits to ride in the Kaibab National Forest.

The trip began in Saint George, Utah with the typical meet and greet with the other mountain bikers and our trail guides before loading up bikes and camping gear to shuttle three hours to the Kaibab National Forest on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  For Chrissy and I, this trip would be a mountain bike reunion with our friends, Christian and Jen, who moved to Denver, Colorado several years.  Two other mountain bikers, Gary from Denver and Ed from North Carolina, were also on the trip with our guides Bama and Tanesha.

Mountain biking along the rim of the Big Ditch offers more climbing and descending than we had expected between 7000 and 9000 ft elevations.  The trail surfaces on the Kaibab plateau were surprisingly comprised of loose rocky sections through Ponderosa pine, Juniper, and Pinon trees.  The trails provided spectacular views of the Grand Canyon, mountain meadows, and plenty of wildlife.  Although mountain lions are known to live in this region, we were fortunate to not see any.  But, we saw plenty of Mule deer (similar to Whitetail deer, but larger), Stryker Jays (similar to Blue Jays, but larger), and black bodied/white-tailed Kaibab squirrels (similar to red and grey squirrels, but...you get the idea...larger) that are only found on the Kaibab plateau.

We began our adventure on day one with a relatively quick out and back ride on the Rainbow Trail.   Mileage was pleasantly short, since the high altitudes made it difficult to breathe.  But, we got back to camp to take in a dinner of fish tacos before the unexpected rains from a hurricane blown in from the Pacific Ocean would drive us into our tents.  

Chrissy, Jen, Christian and Ed on Rainbow Trail.  Day 1. 

Day 2 started with temperatures in the low 50s and a steady rain.  Usually, I look forward to starting rides in the early morning.  On this rainy morning though, I was feeling pretty content to stay in the tent until the rain stopped.  But, after a blueberry pancake breakfast we were riding off on the Rainbow Trail.  Six miles into the ride, several riders decided to turn back towards the camp to get warm and dry.  Four of us continued on another 3-5 miles as the clouds gave way to sunny skies.  After lunch at a viewpoint into the canyon, Gary, Ed, Christian and I hammered back with Bama to the camp for a dinner of steak fajitas and an Apple Betty desert.  

Although we were far from Morgantown, WV, we had spotted several things that reminded us of home:

Even though Christian lives in Denver, he continues to
buy his Cannondales from Pathfinder.
(this says a lot for their products and service)
On Day 3, Tanesha sent me out to lead the group on the Arizona Trail while she rode clean up and Bama drove our gear to our next campsite.   The Arizona trail had the same loose rocky surfaces as the Rainbow Trail.  But, the climbs were steeper and longer.  And, the descents were steep and swoopy.

Christian climbing through Aspens and Ponderosa pines

One of the mountain meadows.  A perfect place to repair Ed's broken chain.
Many areas of the Arizona trail were riddled with fallen trees from storms.  Chrissy had an unfortunate experience with one of the toppled jagged tree trunks during a downhill.  Fortunately though, this was the only crash with an injury.  In her usual tough girl form, she finished two more days of riding with a contusion that got much worse. 
Chrissy leading the group up a climb before her crash.
Multicolored souvenir.

With several hours of riding, we seemed to spend time riding as a group getting to know our guides, Gary, and Ed.  Gary proved to be an excellent mountain biker and an inspiration to all of us, riding strong at age 72 and only 15 months after open heart surgery. 

Gary and Jen climbing through Aspens and Ponderosa Pine.
Day 3 ended with another amazing dinner with spectacular views of the canyon.

Camping on the edge...literally. 

Our longest and most challenging ride came on the fourth day after a beautiful sunrise.  

Day 4 Sunrise.

Warming up the Swiftwicks before breakfast. 

Even the views from the shitter are grand.
Perfect place to contemplate the meaning of life.
Just don't lose your balance

Twenty-four miles of mountain biking with four climbs hitting 8900 ft in elevation.  This out an back ride had a 1/2 mile descent at 26.8% grade with multiple switchbacks.  Bama guided us down after a brief overview of what was ahead.  As we descended, I tried staying staying on the back wheel of his rigid Surly fat bike.  But, he would lose me in every switchback by riding a nose-wheelie through the turn, then planting the rear wheel to accelerate away.
Bama showing some fat bike skills.
Since this was an out and back ride, the 1/2 mile downhill became a 26.8% 1/2 mile climb at mile 20.    This is quite possibly the most challenging climb that I've done on any bike. 

We continued on the Arizona Trail for our final day of riding.  The trail passed through more mountain meadows before another steep climb into a Ponderosa forest that was decimated by a forest fire in the 1990s.

Christian, Ed, Jen, and Gary about to enter the burned forest.

A big thanks goes out to Bama and Tanesha, and Western Spirit for a great trip with old friends and new friends.   

And an especially big thanks to my wonderful Chrissy for the amazing gift of travel. 


The Road Season may have come to an end but it's not time to be laying around!

We all plan for a road racing season months before the weather is even conducive for riding road bikes outside on the streets of the northern states. That's the reality we live in so that's what can we do to get fit for February and March. The fact is that we all want to perform well for our teams so we spend a lot time and money to ensure we are ready to compete.

If you are new to racing you probably bought the Cyclists Training Bible and/or signed up on Strava. You get on your bike as much as possible to get some training hours in. Riding is definitely better than NOT riding at all. Your new to the sport and so simply being active in the off season is OK. 

If you have been racing for a year or 2 you have an idea of what it takes to be a leader in your category. Maybe you write some structured workouts or a monthly workout plan. You base your hours off of the book the read last year. Maybe you bought a power meter based on recommendation of a friend and now your going to "figure this numbers thing out." You plan and work hard from January to March to be a great competitor and an All around Swell Guy or Gal!

If you've been racing for 3 or more years you have some idea that power numbers mean something to the coaches or to your best buddy that's a cat 1 racer. You have decided you will buy a carbon bike and a power meter (if you don't already have one.)  Before you know it you are on the 600 hour annual training plan to race the cat 3 field in your local racing scene. You prey each day your bike doesn't break because you could never afford to repair it. You drink lots of Coffee because Jens does but you don't eat because you cant afford that and bike repairs!

If you have been racing for more years than 4 you are in the seasoned rider category. You probably understand that you don't know it all. You train with power. You have a structured training plan using interval training. You probably have a coach. You train a lot. I mean lots. You never see your family. You call off from work to get in extra training hours. You wear Embro and Shammy Cream to bed hoping it will speed recovery. " WoW- I'm going Pro next season!"

Regardless of what level you ride, this time of year is the Roadies Reflection Period and time to plan for the upcoming year. For me this means that I dabble in some CX and MTN riding and prepare for an annual end of season vacation with my wife Caito. We all need some time off the bike or just some unstructured fun time on the bike. We all need to spend a little extra time with our families and show them we appreciate the months full of sacrifices they make.  After all - most of us are not being paid to race bicycles and our families put up with us acting like we do!

This is my time to give thanks. SO - Thank you Caito for putting up with the hours I put into training and competing. I can't do it without you! Thanks to all the sponsors that help support my athletic endeavors; Dynamic Physical Therapy and Pathfinder of WV- for Title Sponsorship of the team,  ABRA-for making races happen, Cannondale-for giving me a beautiful carbon machine, Kenda Tires- for giving confidence in all conditions, Swiftwick-for giving me superior foot comfort, Pro Gold Lubricants (Bruce)-because only you can satisfy EJ Hubs with the best cleaning products and lubes in the world (an almost impossible feat!), Red Rose Imports-for getting JR Petsko goods, Performance Coaching-for being TRUE to athletes of our region, Sketches by Anne- for creating monuments that last, Nalini Custom- for padding the punch, and to Apothecary Ale House & Cafe/Morgantown Brewing Company- because you satisfy so many cyclists need for great food and FANTASTIC beer selections after torturing themselves. Unfortunately I don't drink but the rest of the team would parish without you!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Rio Baby!

                It’s safe to say August has been a crazy month.  A lot happened during the second half of the month...moved into a new apartment, went to Brazil for vacation, and got a new job.  Although all of these things are positives, it was a very stressful month.  I’m looking forward to a relaxing September with lots of cross riding!  Yes, I said it.  I’m going to race cross this year.  I use the term race very loosely though.
                Brazil was the trip of a lifetime!  There is nothing like having 10 close friends from college travel to Rio for vacation.  The trip started out with a welcoming party where we got a taste of the signature drink of Brazil, capahrina.  It’s made from their most popular distilled liquor, Cacha├ža.  Man, are they dangerous!  They make you brave enough to Samba dance in front of Brazilians!  Unfortunately, they don’t make you any better at it...

              Brazil has the most gorgeous beaches and the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen!  The sidewalks are all made out of small pieces of stone with different designs in each area…so cool looking!  One of our first touristy stops was to see the Christ the Redeemer statue.  Unfortunately when we got to the top the clouds had rolled in and we couldn’t see the view.  We did get the gorgeous view from the top of Sugarloaf mountain though.  It was amazing!  I can see why people in Rio call it the best view...You could see everything! 

                The reason we were all in this amazing city was for our friend Donna's wedding.  The wedding took place in this gorgeous, small church outside of Rio.  It was a fairly tale wedding.  The pictures don't do it justice!  Brazilian weddings are a little different from US weddings.  There are no speeches and no sit down dinners.  Waiters and waitresses come around with little food trays.  It's endless tapas and, of course, endless champagne/alcohol.  I think everyone at the wedding had their fair share of both!

Best cake topper ever!
                Although the trip was amazing it’s good to be back home!  The cross bike has been cleaned…now it’s time to get it dirty and start racing!