Wednesday George

When I arrived home from RAWROD I had an e-mail from Alex inviting me to ride with him Wednesday in St. George. I was pretty trashed from RAWROD, but I wanted to ride the trails he mentioned so I told him I was interested. By Monday evening I was feeling recovered so I told Alex I was in.

He picked me up at my house and off we went. Good conversation on the way down.

Alex had a campsite he wanted to try - the Virgin dam trailhead. It was a nice location near the edge of the Virgin River gorge. We talked for a while then time for sleep (theoretically). It was a nice evening, no wind, only the sound of the river down in the gorge, but I could not get to sleep. Finally at 3 AM I relented and took a Tylenol PM - I was asleep half an hour later.

In the morning Alex warmed up burritos for breakfast. We broke camp, got ourselves and the bikes ready and start down the Hurricane Rim trail. It's a fun trail as it winds along the rim in and out of gullies with a few technical stunts here and there.

But I was concerned when the moderate climbs revealed the RAWROD fatigue still lurking in my legs. And although I didn't ever feel hammered, I did have this low-level tiredness all day. Fortunately it didn't interfere with my riding too much.

The Hurricane Rim trail ended at highway 59 which we crossed to start up Gould's, which doesn't start auspiciously - it's an ugly double track climb with shot up appliances here and there. But not long after the climb the single track starts and the fun begins. I quite liked Gould's. It has good flow and scenery.

Gould's took us to the top of JEM where we stopped for a snack. I walked the nasty switchbacks, but then it was all fast desert single-track cruising - often in the big ring.

At the junction with Hurricane Rim (not far from camp) we did an out-n-back so I could experience the exposed riding along the gorge. It was fine, but a few spots get your attention with a touch of vertigo.

Back at the junction we finished Hurrican Rim back to camp (dodging grazing cows a few times). We ate some lunch then decided to drive down to Santa Clara to check out Barrel Roll and the new trails there.

Only a few yards up the Barrel Roll trail we took the new Precipice trail I'd heard about on UMB. It had only been finished and open for use a few days. Only a few wheels had been on it and the dirt was still soft in spots but it was a fun trail.

I need to note that one of the main objectives for Alex was to see the Spring blooms of the desert. Disappointingly not much blooming up on the Hurricane Rim, but down around Santa Clara more plants were in bloom. We stopped several times as we spotted flowers to observe and take pictures. Here are two among the 10 or more we saw:

Once on top we took the Sidewinder trail as it switchbacks over and over to climb even higher. Here's the view back down toward Barrel Roll, Precipice and the trailhead:

When Sidewinder reaches the top it makes a small loop then you go down the way you came up. From the top are views like this:

After a fun descent of Sidewinder we did the Barrel Roll loop. I made one of the three technical spots up top - I was run down and not very spunky, but Alex was cleaning stuff well. The descent was long, fast and fun.

Back at the car we solar showered then drove to In-N-Out for dinner then headed for home.

Today I was near zombie at work (I guess I need that Sunday recovery day), but the trip was totally worth it. All six trails we rode were firsts for me and all were ones I've wanted to ride. Alex was a good riding partner and enjoyable to be around and talk with.

It's obvious to those in the know that St. George has been a mountain biking destination for several years, and with the new trails they keep adding every year it keeps getting better. Get down there before it gets too hot.

Horsethief: The Longest Climb

Yes, I know Horsethief is not the longest climb. It's a metaphor. Like the longest yard in football is the one at the goal line. Trust me, when your legs have pedaled 100 miles over a rugged jeep road, Horsethief is the longest climb in the world.

Now I'm switching from metaphor to analogy, so stay with me.

Climbing Horsethief also reminds me a of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the two guards at swamp castle are looking out over the countryside and waaay off in the distance they see Sir Lancelot the Brave charging across the field accompanied by the sound of ominous drums. Bored they watch five times as Lancelot runs but never seems to get any closer until suddenly he's attacking right in front of them. (What? You haven't seen the Holy Grail or can't recall this scene? Go watch it [starts at 6:40] and come back when you're done.)

That's how this climb felt, even though it's only 1.6 miles and 890 feet of elevation gain. I just kept slowly turning the pedals over watching the ground roll under me at a glacial pace. Here's my thought stream mixed with Chad's (MOCougFan, who came out from Missouri for this ride) excellent photo sequence:

This ramp leading to the face is long, but I'll see how long I can last in 2nd gear. Yep, I'm still on it. I can see the turn at the face. I'm closer to it now. And I'm going around the turn. Enough of 2nd gear, down to granny, the gear of shame, and I really don't care.

Coming around a bend I can see the first switchback. That next segment is carved into the rock face, who built this crazy road? Hey, there's another rider up ahead, and although it's almost imperceptible, I think I'm gaining on him. Would it make me feel better to pass him? No, I'm engulfed in the suffering at hand and nothing will make me feel good except finishing this climb.

Here's the first switchback, how nice. Steeper now, can I go any slower and not fall over? I don't think so. The other rider is walking. I pass him and make some greeting. He comments he doesn't have the gears for this - yep, only one front chain ring, ouch.

How long is the carved-into-the-cliff section? It just keeps going. Where is the next switchback? Clear over there?!? I shouldn't have looked. Head back down, grind away.

Around a bend. I can see the 2nd switchback, I feel no consolation. Take it wide so it's as easy as possible. Oh, great it's steeper again. Must. Keep. Pedaling.

Another switchback. What number is it? How many more? No answer. My brain is mush and what mental capacity remains is trained on the task at hand. The simple task of riding a bicycle is now as mentally taxing as a college entrance exam - if Rider A climbs Horsethief with a 32x30 gear ratio and Rider B starts climbing 10 minutes later in a 32x26, who will reach the top first? Hmmm ... what's a gear?

Is this switchback #4? I think so, but that means nothing.

Almost around it now.

I must be getting close, but I look up and still see cliffs. Sweat is dripping down my face and my arms are wet with it. Unzip the jersey - why didn't I do this earlier? Who am I? Where am I?

Around another switchback. I can see more sky to the south. Am I close to the top! Can it be? Why are there people walking around on the road?

Hey, that guy has a camera. Who is he? Facial recognition circuits down, please try again. He just took a photo of the rider in front of me. OK, I better do something cool for the camera. But what? I'm almost to him now. Do I attack him with a sword? No, the photo. OK, do something. Pose. A peace sign?!?! What is this, 1969? Oh, well, all I really care about is finishing this thing.

And around the next bend I did - I finished it. I rolled over the cattle guard and up to the van and stopped. Finally.

The funny thing about that last picture is I have no recollection of smiling. Why would I (smile and be able to remember doing so)?

And thus ends the tale of my only victory of the day - climbing Horsethief. Well, just finishing the ride with the wind and such was a victory too.


Friday I drove down to RAWROD with Jesse, Cori and Steve. We arrived around 8 PM, just in time for fresh brats off the grill - very tasty (thanks all who made the brat dinner possible). After the campfire fun (good stories dug) I bunked in Jesse's mega-van and slept pretty good.

Saturday morning was warmer than last year. After I slathered myself with sunscreen, checked the bike and packed food, water and the usual gear I pedaled onto the road to get started. Heather Gilbert joined me and after a waiting a bit, we headed up the Horsethief road.

It was a nice morning. In only jersey and shorts I was comfortably cool. I saw a bunny. Heather and I talked a bit, then other groups caught us and we got separated. Other riders would come and go and it was fun to make new and old acquaintances.

There was some wind on Horsethief road, but it was more of a head wind on the paved road. Riders fell into pacelines. I tried hanging onto dug's wheel but couldn't hold the pace and fell off. Kenny and Elden came by and Elden invited me to jump on, which I did until Kenny alerted me to a low rear tire and I pulled off to take care of it. My pump didn't work well, but luckily anotehr rider was pulled off nearby and his pump worked great. (The tire held air the rest of the day - my guess is I had a slow leak that hadn't sealed completely from mounting the tires and adding sealant 2 days ago.)

The paved road is bland riding and I was glad when the fee booth came into sight because the dirt starts just after it. The ride down Shafer was better than last year, not so much loose rock. The rumor was it had been graded recently.

Last year I was on my full suspension Prophet, but this year I decided to mix it up with the hard tail X-Caliber. (By "decided" I mean I went back and forth 20-30 times.) Shafer let me know right away I was in for a rougher ride this year, but the 29" wheels and low-ish air pressure in the Crossmark tires running tubless helped.

The day was sunny with big, white, poofy clouds. The only mar was the nearly constant 10-15 mph headwind coming out of the south. I tried to keep a sustainable effort and not worry about speed (not having a cyclocomputer made this easier). I hooked onto a train dug was pulling, but the lively pace was wearing me out so I dropped after a while. A few times, usually around corners or going through passes, the wind would gust hard.

The first stop is White Crack and I rolled in and took a rest and refilled my Camelbak. My food was in the other truck an hour or more back, but riders who had extra were sharing their food - enough to fill me up (thanks for sharing!).

Since White Crack is the southernmost point of the White Rim I was hopefully we'd have a nice tail wind as we made our way generally north. But the front was moving in from the north resulting in north winds - not welcome.

I hoped to at least match my effort last year of climbing Murphy Hogback with only one walked section, but it was not to be. At the first pitch, way before the harder stuff, I got a cramp in my left hamstring. I walked it off, but when the next pitch got steep I cramped again. So I would ride until I cramped then walk all the way up. I was confused by these cramps - I didn't feel that worked. Then I figured it out - I'm on a hard tail this year and standing more, and when I stand I always put my left leg forward and have a bad habit of tensing my legs. This was overworking my left hamstring. After Murphy Hogback I focused on staying in the saddle more and relaxing my legs when I stood. I didn't have any more cramps the rest of the day.

While resting and waiting for the rest of our riders atop Murphy Hog back, the weather turned. The wind picked up, it turned cold and started raining. I was glad I had my windbreaker - it kept me just warm enough. We usually take a group shot here, but the weather was getting worse and riders had to get going to stay warm. As I headed off Murphy the wind was gusting so hard I got pushed sideways 1-2 feet a few times. I got hit by a gust just as my front wheel went over a rock and the wind took it - I thought I was going down, but somehow stayed upright. And it was raining pretty good - and a little hail, just for fun. I was glad to get off Murphy.

The rain stopped, but the wind stayed for the rest of the ride. It was stronger than before, I'd guess in the 20 mph range [Fisher said it averaged 30 mph] with gusts hitting 40 or even 50 mph. At times the wind would pick up sand and dust and blast me. When the road would head east I'd have a nice tail wind, but mostly it goes west and north which meant head wind. Mikey at UMB once told me of a White Rim ride where the wind always changed to be coming at them - now I know what he means.

I rode with Elden for a while, until we got separated. I caught Fisher's group and rode with them for a while. With such a large group (somewhere around 70 riders), even on a 100 mile ride you'll either catch up to someone to ride with, or they'll catch you. I felt strong in this section, even with the wind. And while I didn't push the pace I was at a fairly strong effort I felt I could maintain.

I gave Hardscrabble a not-very-determined effort. Climbed some slopes, but walked the steepest 2-3. The good thing about Hardscrabble is you know there are only 15 miles to go.

This year I didn't feel so drained after Hardscrabble. Partly because I ate better (thanks for the reminder, Andy). I even made it through all the sand sections (I made every sand trap of the ride) - the 29er wheels really do handle sand better. I soldiered on alone most of the time, which I enjoyed.

I was looking for the climb back up to the rim, where our camp was, but it's tough to spot and I only knew I was there when the road started to climb. I met Steve there and after a short rest I headed up - determined to make it without stopping. dug told Steve the key to long, steep climbs is to pedal as slowly as possible. Steve passed this advice onto me and it was a good reminder (as I have a habit of charging climbs and burning out).

I started up in 2nd gear and shifted into granny as the road turned left heading to the first switchback. The road is pretty steep, but nothing like the steep pitches on Murphy Hogback and Hardscrabble. I prepared myself mentally to push through the 1-2 steepest sections and I did. I arrived at the top and was happy to make at least one big climb.

Jesse and Cori had arrived (much) earlier. When Steve came up with his brother Mark, we loaded up and headed home. But we stopped at Ray's Tavern in Green River for a burger. More rain on the drive home, and even light snow at Soldier Summit. I arrived home around 12:45 AM, took a shower to wash all the wind-blown sand/dirt off me and went to bed.

Another RAWROD in the books, and on video:

To The Ends Of The Earth

Later today I'll be heading down to Moab for RAWROD 2009.

(Don't know what I'm talking about? Read about RAWROD 2008.)

I feel like my fitness is not as good as last year so I have concerns. And I still have some packing and bike maintenance to do so I don't feel ready. But I've done this ride before which consoles me that I should be able to finish the 100 dirt miles. What a crazy way to kick-off the cycling season, huh? Crazy good.

Treasure Map

There's gold in them thar hills! Not the precious metal, but good mountain bike trails in the foothills of Mount Timpanogos near the mouth of Provo Canyon.

Months ago Adam and I started putting together a website with maps and trail descriptions. It still needs some polish, but the basic info is there so we decided to release it:

Timp Foothill Trails

Hopefully the website will give an overview of the trails for new riders, help all riders understand the layout of the trail system, and unify the trail names.

We know trail names are a touchy subject, and there's no reason you can't continue to call them whatever you want, but you have to admit it is confusing when riders from different groups try to plan a ride and they spend most of their time trying to figure out what trails they're talking about. We tried to break the trails into logical sections and give each a name so it would be easy to describe routes (i.e. up Betty, west on Lament, down Crank, down Ireland). I included some alternate names, but I'm sure there are more to add.

So check out the website and let us know what you think. (Do I need to don my flame-proof suit?)

St. George Day 3: Hiking

Remember when you could sleep like this?

Pioneer Park

After some swimming at the hotel pool Saturday morning, we headed to Pioneer Park (just a little north of St. George Boulevard on top of the bluff). We visit this place almost every time we're in St. George with the kids, because it's fun. I mentioned it in a post last April.

First up is The Crack - a narrow slit in a sizable rock outcrop. It's a tight fit for adults. I'm 6' 1" and 170 lbs and there are 2-3 places I have to exhale to squeeze through. But it's easy for the kids. In fact my 6 year old boy can walk through the whole crack facing forward.

Here's the middle squeezy part.

Kade and Jolene near the end.

Here's what it looks like from up top.

Once out of The Crack we meandered across the rocks to the southeast to see this little arch (that's Kara and her cousin Julia).

Then we wandered around the rocks and I took a few plant photos. Not sure what flower this is, but it's lovely and gives me that "it's Spring" feeling.

Alex mentioned the Blackbrush should be blooming (or very close to blooming). I thought this is Blackbrush, but after looking at Alex's photos I don't think it is. Still a nice splash of green.

Red Cliffs

Next we drove to Leeds to visit the Red Cliffs Recreation Area. We hiked up the creek a few years ago and decided to do it again. We hoped to go higher up the canyon.

Rachel, me and Jamie just past the first obstacle (the muscle pose was Jamie's idea). You can see the steps carved into the rock and a helper rope on the right. It wasn't difficult, but Kade and Kara didn't like it so they stayed back with Jolene.

The older girls and I went up maybe 50 yards and found the next obstacle - a full swim through a flooded channel with rock walls on each side. We scrambled up the rock to the right and got up top. I scouted farther up and determined it might be possible to get back down to the stream past the swim, but I didn't want to leave Jolene and the younger kids too long so we reversed course. But before we downclimbed back into the bottom, Jamie took this photo looking up the canyon.

This is what Kade and Kara did while they waited for us.

We'd had enough of our kids, so we decided to hang 'em.

We hiked out, got in the car and drove home (with a stop in Filmore for burgers and shakes at Larry's Drive In).

All in all a good family trip. It would have been nicer if Thursday and Friday would have been warmer, but it was sunny and warmer than back home.

Monday Jolene and I took advantage of the good weather with a 13 mile out-n-back ride on the BST. I spun out on some loose rocks going around a switchback and fell downhill into some deadwood. But the added adrenaline and anger at my dorkiness fueled me up the rest of the climb from Battle Creek south even though it was loose, especially in the steepest sections.

Tonight I've been working on wheels.

Mike at the UMB shop trued up the two 26" wheels I laced a while ago to the Stans ZTR 355 rims I bought from Bob last year. The front tire on my Prophet went flat (the Stans sealant dried up) so I started with the front wheel. I applied the yellow tape as the rim strip and installed the valve stem. Put the flat tire on the new wheel but the bead wouldn't seat (no surprise). Put in a tube to seat the beads and reform the tire. After an hour I deflated the tube and was happy to see that both beads stayed seated. I broke the bead on one side to get the tube out and reinstalled the valve stem, but I couldn't get it re-seat with the floor pump, but the CO2 got it. I deflated it again and both beads held. I removed the valve core and used a syringe to put Stans sealant into the tire. Replaced the valve core and it pumped right up. This is how tubeless should be! I'm confident these new rims (wheels) will make it much easier to add sealant, which is the only real maintenance for tubeless tires. With my previous wheels the bead always broke when I deflated the tire to add more sealant and I always had to fight to get the beads to re-seat.

Next up was installing the Bontrager rims strips for my Bontrager Rhythm Comp 29er wheels. I got the front wheel all setup, but the brand new Maxis Crossmark tires came close to holding air, but not good enough. Plus I was out of Stans sealant so it didn't make sense to proceed any further. I'll get some more sealant tomorrow and finish the job. I'm looking forward to riding the 29er tubeless - with some weight out of the wheels I expect it to handle and climb even better.

St. George Day 2: Crawdad Canyon Rock Climbing

Friday after breakfast we went to Crawdad Canyon (north of St. George on the south edge of Veyo) for some rock climbing.

When we arrived the sign said they open in May, but the website said they open April 1st. So Jeff made some calls and we found they were open, by appointment. The proprietor came, took our money, and let us in.

It's a shallow canyon with black, basalt walls on each side and a tree-lined stream running through it. A rather lovely place.

The temperature dropped 10 degrees from the already unseasonably cool St. George. Jamie was hoping for warmer.

True to it's name, there were lots of crawdads in the stream.

Kade had fun starting up the rock.

Kara started tentatively, but improved with some coaching.

Rachel climbing well.

Myself and Jamie working our way up two different routes.

Jolene climbing (with new shoes that fit).

Me pulling the last moves on a fun 5.9 route.

Me and my buddy Kade. Note the prickly pear above and the colorful lichen.

The girls.

Crawdad was a nice place to climb. The rock is good with a wide variety of routes all close. And the kids kept themselves entertained with the stream, trails, bridges and rock features. But the operation is haphazard with the website not accurate (schedule and cost - he charged us $8 / person instead of $5 as stated on the website). The pool is open in the Summer (for an additional fee).

After climbing we went over to the brother-in-law's house for dinner. We talked while the kids played. Then back to the hotel to sleep.

Next up: hiking in Pioneer Park and Red Cliffs.

St. George Day 1: Mountain Biking

With the snow overnight we took our time packing up the van to give plenty of time for the roads to clear off (melt and/or plow). We left at 11 AM and the drive was fine.

Arriving in St. George around 4 PM we headed right to the trail head for some mellow mountain biking with the kids. We went up the Bloomington Micro Loop (an easy trail up a wash).

The kids were uncertain at first, but after some coaching and time on the dirt they all eventually were happy riding. Kara and Kade grew tired of going up the gentle incline so Jolene turned around with them.

I took the older girls up to the top of the loop - it joins into the Bear Claw Poppy trail, which we went down. They liked the rolling ups and downs, even though the trail is still bumpy from being tracked up when it was muddy.

After the ride we piled the kids in one of the hotel rooms with some movies and pizza while we went out with the other two couples for dinner at Outback.

Up next: Rock climbing and hiking.

Parting Shots

It dumped snow last night.

At midnight my daughter couldn't make it up the mellow slope of the driveway to get the car in the garage because of the snow. (I got it in - one of my super powers.)

This is our backyard this morning (compare with the photo from yesterday's post).

I was annoyed by the snow last night, concerned it would hamper our drive down to St. George.

But in the bright morning light it was so stunning I let go of my grudge. I wasn't even grumbling while I shoveled the driveway and sidewalks. I was so impressed by the scenery I got the camera and wandered around looking for good shots - and maybe I found a few.

Yes, that's almost 9 inches of snow in Utah Valley on April 16th.

I fully expect to hear some raving stories from the skiers today. dug has skied a lot and he ranked this season as a 10 - did this storm take it to 11?

Time for me to pack up the van. Over and out.