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Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Very Own March Madness

The Stats:
  • 87.5 Miles
  • 11,000' of elevation gain
  • 7:29:59 to the finish
  • 2nd-Place Singlespeed, 6th Overall

Oof.  Uh, uh, uh-uh.  Bam ba-bam-bam-bam.  Grrr.  Wheeeeeeeeee!

That's roughly what Zen felt like the first time 'round.  Capitalize all of those characters to describe the second lap.

Mid-March brought another trip to the southwest corner of Utah for the excessively early-season but still romping fun True Grit Epic, another solid ass-whooping, and another True Grit 2nd-place finish among the singularly stubborn crowd known as Singlespeeders.  (Stubbornness being the secret to successfully piloting a mountain bike with one gear.)

In all honesty, this year's True Grit was a blast--a chance to reunite with a bunch of other emaciated guys in spandex whom I haven't seen since last season and see how hard we could motivate eachother to ride the first singletrack that some of us had seen since that last season.  

The race started with Gordon Wadsworth, Mike Montalbano, Dan Rapp, and myself bombing along Cove Wash while choking on Sonya Looney's dust.  That girl starts hard!  Once the adrenaline surge had abated and we started up a fantastic sandstone canyon climb, our pack shrunk and I spent the next 30 or so miles of the race ripping around with Gordon and Mike.

Hauling balls to keep up with those two on our first Zen lap my hands started to go limp from all of the banging and vibration, and I was losing confidence that I would be able to continue hanging on to my handlebars much less manipulate my brake levers to pilot myself to end of the race.  Thankfully, feeling and muscle function returned once we finished up that loop and were laboring up the hot climb out to the back side of the course, and when we reached the endless flow of the Bearclaw-Poppi descent everything was working again.

Unthankfully this was right about the time that I realized I was battling with two competing urges: the urge to stay with Gordon and Mike, and the urge to finish the damn race.  Whether it was the mustache standing guard below his nose or he had hidden an IV bag of Red Bull in his bibs, Gordon was pushing a pace up the long-ass Stucki climb that was becoming increasingly clear would be faster than I could hope to maintain to the finish of the race.

So, judgment got the better of me and I backed off to a pace that still felt like I was racing but would allow me to cross the line.


I've been spending a healthy amount of time wandering through the mountains on skis and a splitboard this winter, which has given me reasonably good endurance fitness and has been good for the soul.  Turns out the downside is that it does pretty much nothing to build speed on a mountain bike, and given that fact it might be my reality that March is a touch early to expect to compete in anything like a race.

But, with my ability to stubbornly go long at moderate speeds intact and functional I spent the remains of the race all alone out there.  I did pass Mike when he stopped at the Barrel Rolls feed zone, but didn't stay to say hello.  (My race plan was set up to grab a re-supply on the return trip from that loop.)  Then for the next 40-ish miles I worked and worked, pedaled and pedaled, pumped the pumps and tried to stay off the brakes in an effort to extend my lead over Mike but he just wouldn't drop.  Every time the trail curved to afford a view back down the course, there he was.

Just far enough back that it felt like I could break away, but not far enough back to feel like I had broken away.

Midway through Lap 2, out there in the lunar solitude of the Stucki climb, I caught up to Matt Woodruff at just about the same place as last year and exchanged a handful of buzzed-out, overheated words before passing and continuing my solo journey to the finish line.

"Nice job, buddy."

"You, too."



The final lap around Barrel Rolls was undoubtedly the highlight of my day out there.  Sure, it was 80 miles into an excessively early-season race and everything above my waist was pleading for an end to the bashing, but damn if I didn't love romping around that trail.  Dirt, rocks, rocks mixed with dirt, rocks mixed with bigger rocks--it's just fun.  And it gets more fun when you ride it faster.

Thankfully, this year Race Director Cimarron revamped the course so that we came out of Barrel Rolls and rode down a ripping fast stretch of singletrack to a blissfully brief pavement spin directly to the finish in Santa Clara.

And thus it was over.  High-fives, story-telling, and a marginally coherent, damn-that-was-a-long-ride interview kept me around the finish line for a brief time before I spun off in search of a shady spot in the grass to curl up with E and Rue until podium time.

Yes, Forest, I did let the guy with those shorts beat me.

Race #1 of 2015, done and in the books.  Maybe next year I'll finally learn from this mid-March racing experience and stick with exploring snowy mountains until I after I've put in some time riding my bike.

Or maybe not.

Stubbornness is, after all, the secret to successfully piloting a mountain bike with one gear.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Each Day A New Adventure

Skinning away from the comfort and safety of the car at 3am, I find myself confronted with a challenging blend of emotions: exhilaration, fear, cold, hearing enhanced by the limited vision provided by a headlamp's glow.  Fingertips bite inside gloves, noses drip, skins hiss across hard-frozen snow.  The unknown of the day weighs heavy--will we work for hours to get up there only to be turned back?  Will conditions work out?  Will I fall off of this mountain?

The late Andreas Frannson wrote of it in his journal: "Would it be a game worth playing at all if the outcome was certain?"

Would it?

February's Friday the 13th seemed like a great setup for an adventure, having received 8-10" of snowfall in the preceding week and a couple of mild, sunny days on the 11th and 12th to settle things out.  In the wee hours of the 13th, ignoring common superstition around the date, Paul Rachele and I headed into Garnet Canyon to see how the game played on the Grand.

There is an old Irish blessing/curse that goes, "May you live in interesting times."  The Tetons have seen interesting weather this year, resulting in interesting conditions in the alpine, with strong winds blowing out many of the lines up high and unexpectedly filling in others.  Many lines are unskiable, or at least not worth the effort for the amount of ropework that it would take.  Others are as fat as I've ever seen them.  

The Ford Couloir is the funnel-shaped feature dropping from the summit, and the Stettner Couloir is the skinny one in the lower right.  The Chevy is the gully that connects the two, where the line is dashed.
(Photo taken from the top of the Middle a couple of years ago.)

The Ford-Stettner on the Grand looked pretty well filled-in from the valley floor, and we had been hearing reports that it was skiing well.  There were even whispers of powder turns off the top...

Sunrise from the Teepee Glacier.

So we skinned into Garnet Canyon with a brilliant quilt of stars above and firm, easy-travel snow under foot.  Above the Meadows the previous days' sun had hardened the snow surface to the point that skins were no longer practical, so we stowed them away for the rest of the day and initiated a few thousand feet of bootpacking.  Efficient travel landed us on the moraine at the toe of the Teepe Glacier just before sunrise, where we unexpectedly spent an hour fixing Paul's Dynafiddle heelpieces as the eastern sky turned orange.

Damn these Dynafiddles...

Ah well, at least we were beyond the point where he would need to stand on the Dyna-heels for skinning.  And as long as they kept his boot heels firmly attached to his skis they could avoid being classified as dead weight.

We couldn't have asked for or expected better weather than what we received up there: crystal-clear skies without a breath of wind and temperatures that begged no more than a light windshirt.


Upslope winds left some previous party's tracks raised above the rest of the snow in the Stettner--pretty cool feature.

Really, the climbing up to the top of the Chevy went quickly and as easily as could be expected for climbing above 12,000'.  The Stettner ice went easy, though I was a little disappointed to see that there was so little snow in there that taking the time to transition to making turns on the downhill journey would hardly be justified (after rappelling the Chevy,) so we would be rappelling everything below the Ford.  We chose to rope-up to climb the steeper pitch of ice in the Chevy, but almost just as a formality.

Exiting the top of the Chevy, and contemplating our first real views beyond Garnet Canyon.

Phew, still got a ways to go.

What a place.  Exiting out of the top of the Ford and onto the South Ridge, well above everything else in sight with roughly 700' of climbing yet to be done.

And feeling it.

Midway up the Ford things slowed down notably.  Then around 13,500' on the South Ridge the altitude started to really hit, and those last 300' took an eternity.

"Alright, just 50 steps and then take a breather.  Just 50 steps.  You can do that.  Okay, maybe 20 steps--that'll work.  Just get those 20 steps before you stop.  Fuck it, 10 steps.  Just kick 10 fucking steps."  And on...

And on...

Until finally, mercifully, there wasn't any more up to go and we stepped into the day's first wind flowing over the top of our world.

The obligatory summit shot.

We tucked into an alcove out of the wind and reveled in the view for a bit, eating nibbles of chocolate and drinking the last of our water as we slowly made the switch to playfully embracing gravity.  Paul got creative with ensuring that his ski bindings wouldn't fail at some inopportune moment, and we re-discovered the wonder of Voilé's classic orange straps.

Lock those things in there, dude.  And yet he skied with confidence--that is grace.

And then we were off.  Damp powder turns from the top of the highest thing around, with thousands of feet of exposure below.  Like flying, while staying firmly attached to terra firma.  Just enough tingling fear from looking down at that exposure to induce a heightened state of focus and awareness.  A whole different kind of high, brought on by being way up high.


A whole lot of fun for a little while, and then just like that the Ford ran out and we were forced to resort to ropework to continue downward progress.  It's a funny feature of this route that I inevitably forget how skewed the skiing-to-rappelling ratio is.  There is actually remarkably little skiing when one thinks about it.  Not to diminish the experience of being up there--it's rad to spend a day like that way up in the alpine.  But as a ski objective?  Hmm.

That being said, once we stowed away the ropes and opened it up down the Teepe, all those thoughts melted away in powdery, arcing mach-speed turns to lower elevations.  Fatigue?  What fatigue?  

Gimme more.

Looking back up at the Teepe.  Damn, those were fun turns.
That run confirmed it--I love this board.  After years of questioning splitboard performance and adamantly carrying around a solid deck, the Voilé Revelator has turned me.  Super light and responsive, stiff just the way I like it.  Feels like every gram of energy that I put into this board comes back in snap, precision, and Grrrrr.

So, was Fransson right?  Would it be worth it if the outcome was certain?

No way.

Would we have even gone if we knew Paul's Dynafiddles would malfunction?  Or if we knew how much ice was in the Stettner?  Would we have chosen an alternate objective that offered up more turns?  Not knowing leaves an infinite myriad of possibilities for what might happen and how our skills can be pushed.  Not knowing makes the adventure exciting, and a little bit scary, and challenging, and... worth it.  And it's often the unexpected outcomes of a day's adventuring that become the most memorable parts of the day.

It's the not knowing that makes it all worth doing.