Sunday, August 30, 2009

Midnight Adventures, Part II

When we left off, our hero had run out of lights with 4+ miles of trail in front of him and no moonlight. Will this be the end of our hero? Let's find out...

I was in disbelief that both of my lights had gone out. This couldn't be happening. My lights generally last longer than this (I was about 1:20 into the ride at that point), and I had been pretty good about turning off one of the lights when I didn't need it up until that point.

But if there is one thing I'm pretty good at, it is this: I seldom panic. I figured that the worst that could happen is that I spend the night up on Cottonwood Creek. Yeah, Wesla would be freaking out in the morning (if she wasn't already - it was already almost midnight), but I had water and warm clothes (vest, arm, and knee warmers) and it wasn't too cold. Okay, so the worst that could really happen is that I get eaten by a mountain lion, but I tried not to dwell on that for too long.

After my lights went out and I slowed to a stop, a small miracle happened. The auto-pause feature on my GPS was triggered, and the backlight came on to let me know about it. Suddenly, I had light again. I also realized that I had my cellphone in my bag. So I took my cellphone in one hand and the GPS in the other and triggered their backlights to light up the trail. It wasn't much, but I could barely make out the edges of the trail.

I was in business again. I figured I had three objectives: 1) don't get seriously injured; 2) don't fall into the creek; and 3) don't lose the trail. I thanked my lucky stars that I charged the GPS the day before, threw on my warmer clothes, and started slowly feeling my way down the trail.

It's quite amazing what riding thousands of miles on dirt trails will do for you. It really gives you a sixth sense for following trails. Between hearing the creek to my left and barely seeing the trail in front of me, I was able to naviguess my way down the trail pretty well. Walking my bike also helped, as it served both as a walking stick and a blind man's cane. Anytime a drop off or a big rock was coming up, my front tire would hit it first and I would know what to expect.

I've occasionally been guilty of complaining about sharing trails with horses. They leave post holes in wet trails, they spook easily, and worst of all, they leave shit all over the trails. But from now on, I'll always have an appreciation for horse manure on the trails. It turns out that horse poop really stands out against a dirt backdrop. Almost every time I thought I was losing sight of the trails, I'd see a piece of horse crap on the ground, and I knew I was still heading in the right direction.

I was slowly making my way down the trail and was feeling pretty good about my chances of making it to the car sometime before morning. Suddenly, I heard something move to my right. It was quiet enough that I didn't know if it was the size of a rabbit or the size of an elephant. Then I heard it again, only louder. And then I could make out a big black silhouette about 10 meters away. After reading Watcher's post about a bear encounter the day before, I instinctively thought I was looking at a bear.

And then I heard something else move to my left. Another one. I decided it wasn't a bear, but instead I was standing between a mama moose and her calf, being that I am somewhat of a moose magnet (gives me an idea for a future post). I wanted the bear back.

MOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! ... rumble rumble rumble. I almost laughed out loud when I realized I was standing in the middle of a cow herd. However, the fact that I had just started a cow stampede with no light wasn't very funny. Fortunately the cows avoided me and I was able to keep on going.

After over 2 hours of inching along by my GPS backlight (my phone backlight turned out to be pretty useless, and I wanted to save the phone's battery as a last resort in case the GPS died) I was finally almost back to the car. I remembered from my previous ride on the Cottonwood Creek trail that there would be at least one stream crossing near the bottom, and I was pretty excited when I thought I found it. I crossed the stream without getting wet, and soon found another section of the stream to cross (I figured that the stream had split and that I walked across an island of sorts).

I kept walking, elated to be so near the trailhead. After going over a few hills, I decided I'd better verify that I was still going in the right direction, so I pulled up the map on my GPS. My jaw dropped as I realized that for the past 1/3 mile or so I'd double backed on myself. I was so disoriented in the darkness that the I didn't realize that the second stream crossing was actually the same as the first stream, and that I'd completely turned myself around. I cussed at myself and started heading back in the right direction. I turns out that a GPS can be used for more than just lighting up a trail. I'm telling you that if not for that GPS, I would have spent the night up there.

From there, I successfully followed the trail almost all the way back to parking lot. In my haste, I somehow lost the trail just before it intersects with the main river and I couldn't find the bridge to cross it. As I bush-whacked up and down the river in search of the bridge, I saw a light on the other side of the river. I yelled, and someone yelled back.

"Aaron, is that you!?"

Brandon had noticed my car in the parking lot as he was pulling out to leave. He waited around for me and when I never showed up, he ended up riding up past the hot pots to look for me and then paced back and forth for over 3 hours trying to figure out what to do. That's a good friend right there. Thanks, Brandon.

Other than a few scratches and a pretty big bruise from hitting my right calf on my pedal about 379 times, I made it down unscathed. It was a long 3 hour walk, but it certainly could have ended worse.

Now my main concern was about Wesla. She can be a light sleeper, and if she noticed I wasn't back, she would be freaking out. We drove down the canyon and eventually got back into cellphone range. I called my messages and was never so glad to hear "you have no new messages."

By the time I was home, had eaten (I was starving by then) and climbed into bed (I took a page out of Rick's book and slept stinky style), it was past 3:30 am. When I woke up in the morning and went downstairs, Wesla says to me, "Well you were out a little later than I expected. I woke up at around midnight and you still weren't home. How did the ride go?"

To which I answered, "um... it was pretty good."

I think I may finally find out if Wesla actually reads this thing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Midnight Adventures

No, this is not a review of some sleazy video that you'd find advertised on your hotel TV (although Googling the title of this post is not recommended).  It is about a night ride.  More particularly, it is about a night ride that didn't quite go according to plan.

As some of you who read this blog may know, there was a night ride being planned up Diamond Fork Canyon last night.  The initial response from the riding crew was positive, but slowly, almost everyone dropped off for one reason or another.  When I was packing my stuff, I thought we may actually still get 4-5 guys, but by the time I was driving down to Diamond Fork, it had dwindled to just Brandon, me, and maybe one other dude.

Everything conspired against me that day to make me late for the ride, not the least of which was getting lost trying to find the trailhead.  By the time I finally pulled into the parking lot, it was already around 9:47pm.  As I found out later (much later), Brandon had given up on me and left on the ride at around 9:45.  (cue ominous music now (or is it "queue"?  I'm pretty sure it's cue)).

Since we were out of cell phone range, I needed to make a choice.  I initially wanted to bag the ride, but I felt really bad about ditching Brandon and making him ride around by himself at night.  I knew the route he was planning on, so I figured I could follow him, but by that time it was around 10pm and I knew I'd never catch him since I figured he had at least a 20-30 minute head start on me.  

Ultimately, I decided I'd just ride the loop backwards.  I'd probably run into him close to the top of the  5th water trail, then I'd just turn around and ride back with him.  

Looking back, this decision was stupid for a plethora of reasons:

1) I was by myself - this reason isn't dumb by itself (I've ridden alone at night plenty of times), but it is pretty dumb when combined with the rest of the reasons.
2) I was only vaguely familiar with the loop.  I rode it once last year.  In full daylight.  In reverse.
3) The loop doesn't have a single bailout point.
4) I was starting pretty late - 10pm.
5) I could go on, but I'd ruin the rest of the story...

So I started up 5th water and was making good time.  The only thing that slowed me down was the really drunk guy coming down from the hot pots that must have thought I was an alien UFO coming down to abduct him.  He actually seemed pretty excited about finally being taken up by the mothership.  I finally managed to nudge him out of the way so I could get by.

I rode by the hot pots that were boiling with BYU students.  Enough of them that they decided to remain fully clothed in fear that they'd be hearing from the honor code department if they chose otherwise.  I made it up to the Ray's Valley Road in pretty good time and still hadn't run into Brandon.  I figured that the trail he took up Cottonwood Creek was probably a bit longer than 5th Water, and plus he hadn't done the 4-5 miles of pavement yet, so there was still a good chance I'd run into him if I kept going.

I started up the road, which was a bit climbier than I remembered.  I was lucky to have my GPS to give me an idea of when I needed to turn right onto Cottonwood Creek (actually 1st water by the time it hits the pavement).  By the time I was half-way up the road and still hadn't seen any sign of Brandon, I knew that he must have done Cottonwood Creek as an out-and-back and that I wouldn't see him that night.

I figured I was past the point of no return though, so I kept riding.  About 3/4 of the way up the pavement,  the moon set behind the mountains, so it was pitch black whenever I'd turn off my lights.  Even with my lights on, it seemed pretty dark, but I figured that the pavement was washing out my lights.  The entire 20-30 minutes or so that I was on Ray's Valley Road, I didn't see a single car.  I started to feel a bit lonely.   

Luckily, even in the dark I was able to find the turn-off to take me down to Cottonwood Creek.   Unluckily, as soon as I turned onto the dirt road, I knew without any doubt:  My lights were going out.  Not just one of them, but both of them.  I had been cycling them on and off to make sure that this didn't happen, but for whatever reason, it was happening to both of them.  

Decision time again.  Do I turn around and go back to the paved road in hopes that a car would eventually drive by?  Based on the previous half hour, I knew that the likelihood of seeing anyone was slim, and that I'd probably just be delaying the inevitable and wasting what little light I had by turning around.

So I forged ahead, flipping between my helmet and bar lights to make it down the dirt road.  By the time I intersected the Cottonwood Creek trail, it was too dark to ride.  I got off and started walking with the bike, knowing that there was no way my lights would last all the way back to the trailhead.  And sure enough, within 1/4 mile, I was completely out of lights. I was standing in pitch black nothingness with 4+ miles of trail in front of me.

Man, this post is getting too long.  Come back later to see if I survived, or if I wrote this from my cellphone up on Cottonwood Creek just before getting eaten by a cougar.

Edit: The story continues - Midnight Adventures, Part II

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

AMC "Pre-ride"

I had the perfect plan. Head down to the Cedar Breaks area (Duck Creek, to be more precise) with the family (including my parents, my siblings, and their spouses and kids), spend 4 days getting acclimated to the altitude and pre-riding parts of the AMC course, and then head back 4 days later to race the AMC, which was supposed to be finishing today.

Of course, the AMC has been canceled since I made these plans. It would have been nice of them to cancel it before I planned my season (and my family vacation) around it. BTW, don't tell the rest of my family that I planned their vacation around my race (which never even happened).

The canceling of the AMC didn't stop me from having a good time down at Duck Creek with the family though. And since we were staying in a cabin that was a few miles away from the start of the Virgin Rim trail (which would have been Stage 1 of the AMC), I couldn't help but partake in some Virgin Rim goodness:

My brothers, my pops and I also hit the Navajo Lake loop (half of which was also supposed to be in the AMC):

You can tell that Finley (in the pack) is just fascinated by Bryce Canyon:

I made Wesla pull her weight as well:

And the scenery didn't suck:
Since I wasn't busy racing the AMC prologue on Thursday, it gave me a good excuse to head up to the Nebo loop to watch the Tour of Utah. In case you hadn't heard, there were reports of a bearded lady in the Payson Canyon:

The race leader was inspired. Or maybe just riding in fear.
At the back of the pack, there was a lot of extra long hand-ups going on:
Getting ready to show the riders his/her version of being a true Scotsman:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Belated Canyons Race Report

Things have been a bit hectic around here, but better late than never. Fortunately, things got crazy the week before the Canyons race, which made for a nice forced taper before the race.

I pre-rode the course a couple of weeks before and predicted that we'd see some crashes. The descent is high-speed with a lot of blind hazards and unpredictable off-camber turns. But surely those crashes would all come from the other people. Riiiiight....

The imaginary gun went off and I immediately loved this race. With the long dirt road climb before the single track, most of the group seemed happy with a nice mellow pace to start. It was a nice change from the "sprint as fast as you can before the singletrack" start that is typical in my class.

The pace eventually picked up before we filed into the singletrack. I was feeling good at the time and a few people in front were slowing down. From what I can remember, everyone was cool about passing at the Canyons race. It was very refreshing. If anything, I was the person holding people back, but I did offer multiple times to let people by.

I made a few passes before the descent started. Well, with the course, you think that the descent is starting, but before you know it, you're climbing again:

The second lap started and I was feeling pretty good. I felt like I was climbing okay, but everyone seemed to be flying today. I had a few guys on my tail that I just couldn't seem to shake. I finally made it to the top, and then quickly remembered, that the top is really more of a false flat that doesn't let you relax much.

The descent was fast and fun:

On the last lap, I was still feeling okay, but had no idea of my positioning. I made a few passes on the climb and was making desent time until that last straight away that just seems to go on forever. I think that the climb started to get in my head a bit. At the end, it all seems to look the same. I convinced myself a few times that I was at the top, which never came. Finally, I accepted that I had a while to go, and 2 guys in my class jumped around me just before the top finally arrived.

I closed the gap on the false flat and on the beginning of the downhill. I finally caught back on during the mid-descent climb and when the downhill started again, the guy in front was cool enough to let me pass without asking. I went by and could see the next guy up ahead. I was pushing as fast as I could and finally was about to make contact just as one of the off-camber right-hand turns snuck up on me. Before I knew it I was flying over my bars and into the bushes. It looks like my pre-race prediction came true in an ironic and unwelcome way.

All of my limbs were attached, so I started to climb back out as the guy I had just passed leapfrogged me. I followed him down the rest of the way, and he was smart not to let me pass again. Between the sketchy switchbacks at the end and the lapper traffic, I had no chance to contest the sprint and finished in 7th, 30 seconds out of another visit to the tweety chair.

All in all, it was a great way to end another great i-cup season.
Race details

Thanks to Scott at primelite photo for the great pictures! Search by your race number and you're likely to find some good pictures of you.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Be Good Like Susan

As Adam, Brandon and I sat at the back of the cultural hall for Susan's funeral, we tried to pick out some of our cycling friends from the congregation. A few times, we went back and forth 2 or 3 times trying to decide if we had identified our bald-headed friends correctly. Adam mentioned that it would be a lot easier if everyone was wearing a cycling kit or a ski suit.

Seeing so many cycling friends in suits and ties and wiping tears from their eyes was a sobering sight. It was good to see that the bonds of riding and skiing go far beyond the singletrack and powder days.

Elden talked about how Susan managed to turn cancer into a good thing by raising over $600,000 for cancer research. That is certainly impressive and is easy to quantify. What is harder to quantify, but every bit as impressive, is the positive influence she had on others. By following Susan's example, I'll renew my efforts to be a good spouse, a good parent, a good son to my mom who has cancer, a good friend, a good neighbor, and in the words of Susan's sister-in-law, "just plain good." I know I'm not the only one who drove away from the chapel today with a resolve to be good (and fight) like Susan.