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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

This One Doesn't Quite Go To Eleven

The Stats:

  • 10 Laps
  • 91 Miles
  • 13,680' of elevation gain 
  • 7:10:08 on course 
  • 1st-Place Solo Singlespeed, 1st Solo Overall 
  • # of Wrecks: 0 
  • Max Speed: 40mph 
  • Max Temp (measured on my Garmin): 98.6F.  Oof.

That was my goal, to complete 11 laps in eight hours on the ~9.1-mile Knobby 9-to-5 course on Saturday.  I probably had just enough time to complete that 11th lap before the eight hours was up, but I was cooked.  Lots of learning.

Erica Zuber leads the charge to our bikes, with me a few spots back.  (Eric accidentally registered in the Solo Women's Singlespeed division, which resulted in much ribbing.)
Photo: Gene Marcowka

The 9-to-5 started as these races do, with a LeMans run to the pile of bikes and a scramble to get out of the mass before trampling/being trampled by everybody else.  As soon as we started pedaling I could feel that my legs were still fatigued from the last couple of weeks, which made me feel good about my plan to temper the pace in the first few laps to allow me to warm up into racing.  

Only marginally successful.  I rolled the first couple of laps in 4th place, faster than I wanted but letting myself get sucked into a faster pace by the 3 leading soloists.  And then somewhat unintentionally started pushing a bit harder to reel them in.  Not entirely a tempered pace.  

Fast, fun singletrack with Matt Woodruff.
Photo: Robin Purcell

Somewhere in lap 3 I caught and passed Matt Woodruff, and rode the next few laps with him as the other two leaders faded back.

Lap 4 was when I started to get a glimpse of the day's upcoming challenges.  Yeah it started to get hot, but the real bummer was that I was already starting to cramp.  Had I taken Anatomy & Physiology in college I could probably name the muscle that travels down the inside of the thigh; regardless, that was the first one to fire.  

Pedaling through it seemed the only reasonable option, and it did go away after a few minutes.  Alas, it was only a preview.

"Where is that guy?"  Dad tries to anticipate my arrival at the pit.
Photo: Robin Purcell

Riding with Matt was fun, but I knew I was going to need to try and break away eventually.  The way the laps were going, I was putting a small gap on him in the spinning climb up Spring Creek (my 34x19 gearing was the perfect choice for this course, by the way) and he would make up some time on the upper descents by shifting into a big gear.  Then I would make a small gap up Burnt Car Gulch and he would close it on the next descent.

"Thanks Mom!"
Photo: Robin Purcell

Lap 6 was the turning point, both in our race and in my legs.  I decided to put in a burst up Spring Creek to see if Matt would follow, and when I got to the top of the steep finish to Burnt Car I was alone.

(Finally) riding alone, and starting to feel it.
Photo: Robin Purcell

This day's Ultimate Support Crew: my parents and the Ruester.
Photo: Robin Purcell

What that burst meant for my legs was that for the rest of the race at least one muscle was cramped at all times.  It varied which muscle was firing, but the favorites seemed to be the inner thighs, calves, and quads.  As I kept pedaling the cramps kept traveling, but they were always there.

At one point my left quad cramped so hard that my leg was locked straight.  That sucked.  Thankfully I was on a slight downhill so the bike kept rolling while I forced my knee to bend.

Whoa, this hurts.
Photo: Robin Purcell

Feeling broiled, and heading out for #10.  Mom's ice bath was key.
Photo: Robin Purcell

Between the heat, my severe under-hydration, and the resulting cramps my pace slowed significantly from the start of the race and it took more and more oomph to head out on another lap.  (Early laps were in the 38-minute range; by the end they were more like 48.)  My Garmin topped out at 98.6 degrees (in the sun) during the dead-air Burnt Car climb--damn.  My body just isn't ready for that at this point in the summer!

Done.  Thanks for the support, Dad.
Photo: Robin Purcell

When I rolled into base at 4:10:08 and race maestro Hal told me that my last two laps had taken roughly 48 minutes each it slowly crystallized in my broiled brain that lap 11 wasn't going to happen.  Sure, I might have been able to pull off another one in 48, but I was freaking worked and if I finished at 5:00:01 the lap wouldn't count.  Knowing that nobody else was going to make an 11th lap either and that I had secured the win defeated my motivation to even contemplate heading out for another, so I stepped off the bike and went to lay in the shade with the Ruester for a spell.

Ah, that's so much better!
Photo: Gene Marcowka

At the finish with Matt Woodruff and his wife, Jana.
Photo: Tom Linnell

Matt rolled in a bit after me, as did Fitzy teammates Dave Byers (after achieving his 10-lap goal and a second-place finish in the 40-49 Men's Solo division) and Kim Beres (with a second-place finish in the 40+ Women's Solo division in her third-ever mountain bike race--all of them these whacko ultra-endurance things!)  Go team!

The Singlespeed podium, with Cameron Lloyd and Eric Zuber.
Photo: Tom Linnell

I didn't make my goal for the day; that stings, but it was a day full of learning.  Here's a bit of it:
  • Rest.  I hadn't allowed myself to recover from the Winds ski trip and a chunk of hard training during the intervening weekend.  And I should have done a better job of prioritizing 8 hours of nightly sleep last week.
  • Hydration.  Plan to drink more, and then do it.  I had drastically under-estimated the quantity of liquid I would need for this race.  Even doubling my fluid intake by slamming a bottle of water at each pit starting after Lap 6 I never even contemplated needing to pee during the race.  And after downing multiple bottles of water and a quart of chocolate milk at the finish, when I finally had to pee it was the most dehydrated pee of my life.  Might this have led to cramping?(!)
  • It's possible to ride through cramps.  Just keep pedaling; it will get better.  Or it won't, but at least you'll be further along the course.

Of course there's more than that, but that's where my head is at so far.  I really wanted that 11th lap, just blew it in prepping for the race.  More of a learning experience than a perfect race, but good enough.  Glad I got the gearing right, at least.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

2 Dudes, 3 Days, 4 Couloirs, One Sweet Trip Into the Wind Rivers

Plan A:

The plan went like this, more or less:

  • Meet at the Trail Lake Trailhead on Friday evening, go over gear and food, sleep there.
  • Wake up early Saturday morning and hike up and over Burro Flats, descend to Dinwoody Creek, and follow the Gracier Trail to the toe of the Gannett Glacier.
  • Climb and ski Gannett Peak (the highest point in Wyoming) on Sunday.
  • Hike back out to Trail Lake on Memorial Day Monday.

Feeling optimistic on Saturday morning.

Things started off marvelously.  Jeff Judkins and I met at the trailhead and were hiking in lovely temps up to Burro Flats early on Saturday morning.  We were a little surprised to see dry trail all the way over the Flats but with such smooth travel we just went with it.  The first 9 miles or so to the start of the descent to Dinwoody Creek took a little over 3 hours--we were getting optimistic about pulling this thing off!

Not much snow up there on Burro Flats!

Our first view deeper into the winds.  Still pretty dry.

Then the next mile took 2 hours.

We found snow as we descended into the forest, but rather than offering good travel on skis it was patchy and punchy.  On snow, off snow, put on skis, ski across pine needles and grass to the next snow, remove skis and posthole to your nuts.  Just enough snow to hide the trail.  


Looking at our progress, the time of day, and the quality of travel we deduced that we weren't going to make it anywhere near to Gannett and would probably just suffer down to Dinwoody Creek before suffering back out, so we went with Plan B. 


Plan B (more than just a whoops-I-just-got-laid contraceptive):

What was Plan B?  Plan B didn't exist until we got stymied in Plan A, but coming down the south side of Burro Flats we noticed a couple of cirques to the west with what appeared to be a plethora of couloirs hanging in the cliff walls.  Those became Plan B.

Check out those lines!  We would end up referring to them as the Wishbone Couloir, Hambone Couloir, and Golden Couloir.  (L to R)

So we turned away from Gannett and scrambled through boulders and up a little snowfield to a lovely lake without a name, but with a fantastic view into the couloir playland above.  Thus began Plan B, and it was a good plan.

Sunrise on Sunday revealed bluebird skies and warm temps, and we cruised around the edge of the firmly-frozen lake to a day full of steep snow and great turns high in the alpine.

Alpine camp.  Tantalizing view in the background!

Crossing the frozen lake, with the Hambone Couloir in our sights.

The Hambone Couloir was the start of our day.  (So named because it's right next-door to what we called the Wishbone Couloirs.  Were they first descents?  Did we have a right to name them? Who knows?  Who cares?  We had to call them something in order to communicate...)

Jeff climbs out of the top of the Hambone Couloir.

The Hambone gets sun as soon as it crests the horizon, so we knew we needed to get up it early.  It had been sunlit for about an hour by the time we stared climbing, perhaps a bit late, but the slightly softened snow was reassuring in that astonishingly steep terrain.  I mean it looked steep from a distance, but the upper few hundred feet were REALLY steep.  It sure made for fun skiing.

Given our slightly-later-than-optimal timing on this one we had more sluff coming down with us than one might have preferred, but it was manageable enough.

With things continuing to soften in the sun we were happy to be out of the Hambone and move on to something north-facing.  Boulder-hopping down to Florence Lake we were surprised to find a fairly large, hidden cirque with--no shit--over a dozen couloirs flowing into it.  Unreal.

The S Couloir on the left, Dogleg on the right.

Climbing the S.

We headed to the far side of the cirque to poke into a couple of couloirs there, the S and Dogleg.  Having watched a massive cornice fail up the ridge from the Hambone in the morning's sun, we spent the day avoiding terrain that lay beneath hanging snow, which led us to the decision to avoid the Dogleg and just focus on the S Couloir.  Nice step-kicking in late-season, dense powder got us to the top in quick form and we dug out platforms where we could get into our skis.

Tele turns?!  Go Jeff!

The skiing was more interesting than fantastic, at least in the upper couloir--shallowly-buried rock kept things spicey until we dropped lower into deeper snow.  Jeff pulled out the telemark turn for the bulk of this descent--nice style!

Having ruled out the Dogleg as an objective, we decided to head back to the Wishbone Couloirs (next-door to the Hambone) for an afternoon ski before returning to camp.  The South Wishbone had received about an hour of morning sun before the shadow of its massive wall moved over it and kept it cool, so we figured it could be prime for an attempt.

Climbing into the Wishbone Couloirs--South on the left, North on the right.  They both continue well out of view to the ridgecrest above.

And we were right.  Perfect steps in sweet corn up to the high point in the above photo, and half again that amount of vertical gain to the actual top.  Beautiful.

Jeff high in the South Wishbone.  Steep!

Contemplating dropping-in.  Somehow we didn't get a single photo of the skiing.

It turned out to be the best skiing of the day, by far.  Super steep, with great corn and amazing edging--fast and fun all the way to the cirque below.

Jeff and the Wishbone and Hambone Couloirs.  You can just make out our tracks.

We both acknowledged that our legs had had about enough climbing and skiing for the day so we pointed ourselves back to camp and scurried across the sun-warmed lake.  A thin overcast sky rolled in with some wind, so after reviving ourselves with a feed on Idaho's finest instant mashed potatoes (with real butter and bacon flavors!) we packed up camp and moved down to Golden Lake in the hope that we would be more sheltered from the wind.  It also set us up for an early-morning attempt at the Golden Couloir before heading out of the mountains.

Unexpectedly, and counter to the weather forecast, I woke up to big, fat, wet snowfall around 2am.  And rolled over to go back to sleep, snug in my bag in the tent and hoping that it wouldn't produce too much.  Then we woke up at 5 to crystal clear skies and 1/2" of new snow.


Thar she blows!  The Golden Couloir hangs above camp at sunrise.
We couldn't have had better timing in the Golden Couloir.  Firm snow on the climb--just enough to sink crampon toes into--turned to perfect corn for the descent.  Strong, reliable edging with little sluff.

Dropping over the roll and into the elevator shaft.

Which was good--we found the steepest skiing I've ever done in the upper half of the couloir.  Plant a pole, commit to the turn, plummet until ski edges regained contact, repeat.  Over and over and over.  So incredibly fun!

Damn, what at trip.

The Vector BC's were absolutely the shit out there--the Ultimate Mountaineering Ski?  Yes.  Nice and light, amazing on the down, and I only put my skins on once.  (Mostly as a formality.)  Their versatility with the waxless pattern and formidable skiing performance blows the mind.

Back at camp around 7:30 we broke things down and headed out for the exit back to the trucks.  We had spied an alternate route to Burro Flats that would hopefully avoid crappy travel down in the forest and were able to link up snow on skis just about to the top.

A bit of trail hiking in ski boots down the north side brought us to a strip of snow in a gully that we ran out as far as possible.  (And a bit beyond that...)

Aah, that's better.

Stubbornly refusing to give in to trail hiking, we managed to ski to within a half-mile of the switchback descent to Bomber Basin before switching to trail shoes and the trail-pounding out of the mountains.  Back on the trail we again made good time and surprisingly quickly were back within view of the trailhead and the end of our trip.

Cold Miller High Life tasted awfully good after hammering out the trail (still ice in the cooler after 3 days!), so we lounged around in the warm sun and enjoyed a tasty brew before packing up and heading out for the trip home.  I still want to make a Gannett Peak trip work one of these years, but for this year Plan B turned out to be a pretty sweet alternative.

Time to put the skis away and get back on knobby tires.