Zion, Bryce, and Rt 12 Tour

Someone asked me the other day about this; well, they said “so I see you write a blog” and I was like “yeah I guess” and afterwards I wished I would have said “well it’s my journal, but yeah I make it public” because writing about this shit is cathartic and it is RAD to have it all recorded to look at whenever I want.  Anyway, I realized recently that I have many things I want to write about but I’ve been stuck on this last trip with Luna.  I wrote about the Grand Canyon, which was still sad but I guess doable because it didn’t so much involve her directly?  This one is not going to happen though.  So in order to put this trip to bed, here is the public record of my photos, barely even captioned, and now I may move on.

 

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The Red Canyon/Bryce bike path system is so rad, and I think the first time I ever saw those steep grade signs made specifically for bikes. I was charmed, to say the least, and I’m shocked that I didn’t end up with even one (or 12) photos of them.

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Hoodoos

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Tropic

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Cannonville. It’s like a totally different place.

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Grand Staircase Escalante

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That pizza box was on the rack for like 2 days until I found a trash can

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There’s a fountain Coke in one of the bottle cages

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Lu’s favorite campsite ever

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Coyotes came into this camp. Lu stared them down, and they left.

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The rolling green hills of the…desert

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Stop taking a picture and pack up your fucking camp Sarah.

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roadside dog agility park. Tropic, population 400

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This is the good one, where Luna is *not* peeing

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Do it anyway: Utah Bike Tour Pt 3

I don’t think it’s some revelation that the secret to living your life is “do it anyway”; it’s not  crazy or unexpected to realize that when you struggle through hard shit everything else gets easier.  But although I’ve gone through that thousands of times with all the increasingly hard shit and crazy situations I end up in, this was so different.  Long linkup days in the mountains have made me feel like I can get myself into or out of any situation, albeit sometimes with cold quiet acceptance.  That’s the famous “freedom of the mountaineer”, that your body and your skills can take you anywhere safely.  This bike trip, though, expanded that freedom to EVERYWHERE, because it eliminated the tethers.  It makes me feel like even in the worst case scenario situations, I will figure it out, and I will be ok.

Tell me what is impossible but still true: I lived on my bicycle for ten days and rode 600 miles around southern Utah.

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Although nothing that interesting happened in Capitol Reef, the landscape was COOL, and this and the next several photos are from the park

I don’t remember when it was, but I spent hours one afternoon riding and thinking of this thing a first grader said to me in a school that I worked at in Lansing, Michigan years (probably 10) ago.  I rode my bike to that school (and everywhere else I went), it was about 40 minutes from my house I think.  I would come into the classroom with my helmet and gloves tucked under one arm, but I rode in my regular clothes so I didn’t have to change.  It was a poor neighborhood, and my job was paid for by federal grants.  Here’s the exchange:

“Did you ride a bike here?”

“yeah, I always do”

“Do you not have a car?”

“I do actually, but I would rather ride my bike.”

At this point he didn’t say anything, but looked at me with disgust

“Your body can take you anywhere, don’t you think that’s really cool? We’re really lucky to have strong, healthy bodies.”

The kid’s eyes were a mix of pity and confusion, and he just went back to his desk.  I will never forget any part of that exchange, including the way he looked at me, because I had previously been someone that he had some measure of respect for, but in one minute I became someone that he felt bad for.

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We woke up in the desert, and didn’t get bitten by snakes!  I trapped the spiders that were blocking our exits, and we packed up to go.  In the grey desert, we were just a couple of miles outside the official boundary of Capitol Reef National Park.  The previous night, I had looked over my maps and lists of mileage and elevation gain and thought it was obvious that I would pass through Capitol Reef and onto route 12 that day, then be in Bryce Canyon on Sunday.  I knew something was wrong, so I pulled the maps back out and looked over them again.  I had written the elevation profile in legs, so to speak, and because the towns on route 12 were suddenly much closer, the legs were much shorter.

It did look like: Blanding to Hite 80 mi +4285 -6664

and now it looked like:

Fruita to Grover 17.3mi +2165 -479

Grover to Boulder 28.8 +3077 -3356

and what I hadn’t thought of last night, when I thought it would be reasonable to add several of these short legs together was that I’d be looking at 2 8000ft of climbing days.  Which, pre bike trip, I thought was totally reasonable, as I do more than that on skis and much more on foot in the summer.  What I know now: climbing on a loaded bike with a trailer with a dog in it is at least 30x harder than running uphill.

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200 million years ago, this was underwater.  The dinosaurs swam here.

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I’m pretty sure the Little Mermaid was based on this area.

Coming out of Capitol Reef, we spent hours just climbing.  I can’t even think of another way to put it, it felt as though I were just desperately trying to drag a train uphill with only the strength of my legs.  I knew it would be hard, but I thought after the first couple days, I would adapt physically to the work and be stronger.  I think I was, but the hills kept getting longer and steeper.  We were making about four miles an hour.  Each time we crested a hill, I could see better the storm that was ahead, and better feel the wind coming.  The temperature had dropped at some point to 7 degrees Celsius [I had bought a tiny thermometer to put on my bike and didn’t notice until I left that it was only in Celsius.  I haven’t had to translate temperatures from Celsius since like third grade].  The wind came in these crazy gusts, it would hit me like a wall and either stop me or nearly knock me over.  I was trying to keep riding, and when the gust was over, the force that I had been fighting the wind with also nearly knocked me over.  I yelled into the wind “WHY WON’T YOU LEAVE ME ALONE?!”  I yelled at Utah.  I yelled at Luna, because she was cold in her trailer but she also didn’t want to get out and run beside me for the double benefit that she’d warm up and be less weight that I had to haul.  This nonsense went on for hours that felt like days that felt like my whole life.  We crested another hill, and suddenly there was snow.

I pulled over, leaned the bike on a sign post, sat down on the ground, and wept.  I knew the weather wasn’t attacking me personally, and I wasn’t actually mad at Utah, it was me.  I had underestimated the terrain.  I had misjudged the weather.  I had overestimated my own strength (and ability to adapt).  I had definitely underestimated how hard it would be to tow Luna. I had underestimated how much Luna would even want to be out of her trailer and running under her own power.  I was infinitely disappointed in myself.  Here I was, on one of the most beautiful tours in the country, and I couldn’t keep the train moving.  I wouldn’t be able to do the 23,000 feet of climbing over the next three days to make it to Bryce canyon and back in time to ride back to Moab.  And now it was winter.  Because even though I knew how much climbing there would be, I had written it all down, it hadn’t occurred to me that Bryce Canyon is at 9k, which is why there’s all that fucking climbing.  While it’s unusual that S Utah in general is so cold in late March, obviously it’s still winter at 9,000 feet.  I could keep climbing all day, and it would keep getting colder, but ultimately I would have to turn around tomorrow, without having gotten anywhere, in order to make it home on time.  The tour was essentially over.  It took me so long to write part three, because I knew reliving this moment would hurt the most.  My heart broke.  I didn’t have time to finish what I started, I couldn’t, because I wasn’t strong enough, because I hadn’t planned this whole thing out intelligently enough.  The tour was over, and I still had several days of riding left to close the loop and get back.

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But there was nothing else to do but ride.  And for a few more hours, the wind pounded me, and I struggled and suffered, and finally I stopped to take a break.  I had accidentally stumbled upon a BLM historical site that featured a couple sweet campsites, and I thought, “I have fucking HAD IT.  I do not want to ride anymore. I am DONE for today.”

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This is a historical site because the Native Americans used the holes in the rocks to store grain

Really, I think that about sums it all up.  Yeah I rode for several more days and put in a really hefty amount of mileage.  There were good times and bad times.  There were times I thought drivers were going to kill me, there were times I was super stressed out, there were times when the mileage and hours just rolled by.  There was sun, there was more rain.  I came to terms with my disappointment in myself.  It was hot sometimes and it was cold others.  I had some delicious french toast, and I ate a lot of fuel that I didn’t care much about.  We had a couple more good campsites.  We talked to some interesting people.  A photographer stopped me and asked to take some photos.  It made me really uncomfortable, but I obliged.  She said, “what you’re doing is extraordinary.”  I said thanks, but what I thought was “it just feels normal now”.  An elderly woman gestured to the rig and asked if it was my home.  I said “for now”, but I wished I had said “yes.”  There were more spiders, there were more miles, and I got bitten by a fire ant (it hurt more than expected).  There was another very violent storm, during which I got a flat tire.  My rear brakes came loose.  The derailleurs were struggling to shift at all on the last 2300ft climb.  I got another flat tire.  I was just about to type that I fell apart in the last 10 miles to Canyonlands, but I didn’t.  I didn’t fall apart.  In the middle of this super violent storm, I considered my options and started running, because it seemed more reasonable to get back to the truck instead of trying to fix the bike in the storm at 7:15pm.  Ultimately, a nice family gave Lu and I a ride for the last couple miles.  There was no triumphant return, it was just over.

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There’s a Mario Kart course based on this area I’m pretty sure.

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I believed during the various periods of suffering that after the tour was over, I would only remember the good parts.  Well, shows how much I know.  I miss all of it; the bad, hard, scary, miserable parts just as much as the joyous descents, sunny miles, and sweet campsites.  I can feel the fear and worry, the cold, and my aching body as if I’m still out there.  And I want it back, I want it all back.  I had been afraid of losing safety and security, and comfort; of being too far away.  I didn’t realize I had been afraid of living directly in the environment for a length of time, of being exposed, of deprivation.  This tour has changed everything.  I used to want to be fearless, and believed that by continually facing my fears I could evolve to a point that I had none.  That’s impossible, because fear is what makes you human, and I don’t ever want to be without it.  Choosing to do it anyway, THAT is freedom.

“Paralyzed by the voice inside your head, it’s the standing still that should be scaring you instead.  Go on and do it anyway.  Risk it anyway.

Tell me what I said I would never do, tell me what I said I would never say.  Read me off a list of things that I used to not like but now I think are ok.” -Ben Folds

(who knew Ben Folds was this brilliant philosopher?)

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Utah Bike Tour 2017 pt 2

Another storm was coming in, it was getting increasingly dark, and I had put in 30 miles since Blanding with no sign of this super hard climb that I’d heard about.  As my morale was falling apart after an otherwise great day, I dragged poor Blow and the rig through the red clay to a secluded spot and set up camp.  The storm didn’t wait for us to be safely in the tent, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and the rain came in huge heavy drops.  I read Franny and Zooey out loud to Luna, and tried my best to seal the tent from spiders, snakes, and scorpions.

When we woke up in the morning, it was still cloudy, still wet, but now it was also very cold.  I guess because the sun wasn’t going to shed its’ light on anything today.  And I still had this climb to deal with.  I stayed in the sleeping bag for a bit, wondering what to do, when I realized there isn’t anything to do.  There’s no choice, no decision making, nothing, NOTHING at all to be done.  It was time to pack up and ride.

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When I put the computer on the bike that morning and I saw it was only 7a when we were departing camp, it was my first taste of what I’m going to call “tour time”.  There is no 7a or 7p or noon on a bike tour, there’s: wake up time, pack up time, eating time, bathroom time, eating time, too beat to ride anymore time, set up camp time, eating time, and dark.  There was a couple more hundred feet to climb (and thank GOODness because I needed something to warm me up) then the hills evened out to a roll.  We would dip down into a small canyon, then climb out of it, and so on. We came upon one of the spots Steve had told me to look for water, and there was a little stream so I topped off our supply as we were still 50 something miles away from Hite, the next resupply. [and NOW I’m thinking STEVE why didn’t you mark on the map where this mystical climb was supposed to be!?]  And so the miles kept ticking away, and it kept raining off and on, and it kept being cold, and I kept not coming across this mythically terrible climb, and suddenly we were at the former settlement of Fry Canyon [I would like to bring attention to the fact that spell check doesn’t believe at least 7% of the words that I use are words at all, and I’m just not sorry for it.  Mythically seems like it should be a word, and I still think it is.  Fuck you spell check, you don’t know anything and nobody wants you.]

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the abandoned fry canyon settlement

So the MYTHICALLY terrible climb was already over apparently, and wasn’t so bad at all since I remember some climbing but not some terrible dread-pirate-8-mile-climb.  Fry Canyon on to Hite was said to be “all downhill” which is obviously never true, but it was mostly downhill and I besides my numb hands and feet, I felt glorious, like I understood what bike touring was all about.

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As we rolled into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the motherfucking sun came out!

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And I understood what it means to live in your environment.  Without climate control and just some bags of tools and gear, and a simple machine like a bike, I was “exposed”.  And yeah, it was uncomfortable sometimes, but as soon as you accept that, you get used to it.  There’s a word in sanskrit, santosha, that’s generally translated as “contentment” but I’ve always thought of it is being okay with the situation, all the good and all the bad.  When I used to work with kids and we’d hand out crayons or something, we’d say “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit” and that’s exactly it.  Sometimes you get rain, sometimes you get sun, sometimes it’s freezing and sometimes it’s hot and there is NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING you can do to change it.  You can go in your heated house and pretend that’s real.  But it doesn’t stop the world from being hot or cold or sunny or rainy or windy.  It only seems like suffering because we’ve become so sensitive.  The real world is tumultuous, but you can actually live there.  For a day, or ten days, or you can even move there indefinitely.

Anyway, Glen Canyon NRA was gorgeous with really a dramatic landscape.  It turns out, Hite is basically a ranger station that seemed quite deserted.  There’s a “store” there with a lot of empty shelves but I somehow managed to get my hands on a can of coke.  There’s a sign suggesting that you pay the fee to visit the park (but I never saw a single person to enforce it)(and I had a federal inter-agency pass anyway so don’t go assuming I didn’t pay to get in).  But there was water, and that was what was important.  After Hite, 95 takes a windy and quite drunk path through the park, going abruptly in every direction about equally so at the end you feel you’ve done a lot of miles but not gotten anywhere at all.  But one of the other Most Memorable Moments of my trip was about to happen.  Utah apparently has a penchant for roads with steep grades that take hairpin turns through blasted out canyon walls then suddenly sweep into totally and outrageously epic views, which is how I found myself again at 40mph, plunging down to a bridge crossing the Colorado River.  And I knew it was the CO before the sign on the bridge, and I did not see it coming as I only vaguely looked at the maps for this area and I assumed I was about to cross some small tributary to Lake Powell, but then it was THE COLORADO RIVER in all its’ magnificent splendor, the sun reflecting off it overzealously, the way a kid would paint it in elementary school.  I exclaimed at the top of my lungs something like “WHOA HOLY ***** *** *****”, not anticipating that there was a person on the bridge, but I’m 87% sure he did hear it based on the way he greeted me when I passed him.  I didn’t take that picture either, and couldn’t have as there was no way I was going to stop in the middle of such a grand downhill, but I did take a picture on the other side:

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So it’s all beautiful and sunny here, then suddenly, I went through another hairpin turn through a blown out canyon wall and a very aggressive storm was there.  It was dark and so windy it not only stopped me (and the freight train I was piloting) completely, but knocked me over.  Interestingly, I crashed twice and both times there was a car behind me and neither time did they stop to make sure I was okay.  Thank goodness for the handful of nice people I came across on this trip, because most people are kind of assholes, and if it weren’t for those few good folks I would think humanity is in the toilet.  Anyway, it was only 3:30, but I wasn’t going anywhere in that wind (because it was physically impossible to ride against it apparently), and I didn’t really want to, so I put Blow in the vestibule of a pit toilet (see how I added a touch of class there?)(not the same toilet that humanity may or may not be in) and put Luna, all our gear, and I inside the tent.

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the second most violent storm of the trip

And then it raged.  I’m still amazed that wind didn’t tear my tent to pieces or pick it up and throw it across the canyon with us in it.  Perhaps needless to say, the tent flooded, and really we should have all been in the vestibule of the pit toilet.  It went on for about an hour, Luna piled on top of me looking despairing and trying to escape the new Lake Powell that had formed in the tent (what I’m trying to say is, there was more water in my TENT than in Lake Powell).  But then, because all weather is is a bunch of interesting physical reactions, and I know that it has no personal vendetta against me but is, in fact, just being itself, the storm cleared up and the sun came out:

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While I was retrieving Blow from the vestibule, as if the apocalypse hadn’t happened at all a truck drove up and a lady got out to use the bathroom, and she stopped dead in her tracks and said “ARE YOU ON A BIKE?!” and I said yes, and she asked about the dog, and I said she has a trailer, and the woman looked taken aback for a moment then resumed her business, shaking her head.  New Lake Powell dried up, and I considered riding on, but this campsite was fucking rad, so we stayed.

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It was so windy at night it woke me up and in my sleepy stupor I was sure I woke up to footsteps just outside of my tent.  Despite how much I dislike desert predators, I’m still much more afraid of people than anything nature could throw at me.  But it turned out to just be the wind thwap thwappping the tent fabric somewhat violently.  Then there was a beautiful sunrise:

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And just like every day, it was time to pack up and ride.  There was a long climb, then this:

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Then a long sunny day of rolling hills and miles (during which I obviously fantasized about my future in stage racing) all the way to Hanksville, where I had a lovely fountain Coke and ice cream and resupped on the important supplies, like chips and candy, to the chagrin of the 15 year old cashier (“will that be ALL ma’am?”).  Because the miles were coming so easily, I put on 25 more before finding a cozy campsite amongst dozens of snakeholes right on the edge of Capitol Reef National Park in interesting terrain that I could only describe as a weird, grey desert.  To be continued.

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Sunrise from the weird grey desert campsite

All you gotta do is jump: Utah Bike Tour 2017 pt 1

I really wanted to get my thoughts down right away about all the things that happened in Utah in the past 10 days before anything slips away, because I’ve already noticed after being home less than 12 hours that it’s surprisingly hard and surprisingly easy to adjust back to regular life.  I think human adaptivity is one of our greatest qualities, as a day ago I had been adjusted to waking up in a flooded, ice cold tent and my morning spider trapping duties.

On my last night on tour, a family gave me an 8 mile ride and the daughter, who is around 12 I think, told me she’s too lazy for biking or for running.  There was a book in her lap.  When I was 12 I would’ve said the same thing probably when my dad came home from a tour.  I’ve wanted to go for a long time and it’s been one thing I was too scared to go through with.  Why?  Because I’m tethered to the relative safety and comfort of the truck and my house.  We use words like “hostile” to describe the environment and weather when it makes us uncomfortable, and words like “exposure” to denote the danger of living in that environment, the real environment; the one that we haven’t manipulated.  The reality of humanity is that we don’t at all live in reality, we live in a web of environments that we’ve manipulated into being safe and comfortable.  Cars and houses and buildings with climate control, packaged food, machines and tools that we don’t really understand but are designed to make our lives easier.  Running water, indoor plumbing, and cell phones.  The number one thing people responded when I told them about this tour, before during or after, was “that sounds miserable”.  I guess it was, if that’s the way you’re going to look at it.

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I was so excited, anxious, and afraid on the drive to Utah that I swear my heartbeat shook the truck.  Unloading the bike and my baggage and setting up the rig, my hands shook madly.  It was sunny and beautiful, and as I dragged the whole thing down the sandy BLM road I was parked on back to highway 313 I began to think the whole thing was impossible.  It was so heavy, and so far, and I would have to leave my tether to safety for a long time, and get impossibly far away from it (which is one thing that makes bike touring much scarier than backpacking, the sheer mileage).  But there was nothing else to do but get on the bike and ride it, so that’s what I did.

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The excellent Moab bike path is dotted with mtn bike trails, and uncrowded enough that it was the only time Lu got to run untethered next to me while I rode.

The first day was magically easy; the weather was good and it was pretty much all downhill to Moab.  There’s a magnificent bike path between 313 and Moab so you don’t have to ride on the highway until you’re just about in town.  Which is nice, because riding 191 on any of the days I had to do it was one of the worst and scariest things I’ve ever done.  I slept on BLM land maybe ten miles south of Moab, and day two was the first of several days I woke up to a large and poisonous spider hanging from the door of the tent.  I was sufficiently terrified of the predators of southern Utah, because they’re hard to predict and understand.  The internet suggested making sure the tent is zipped up all the way, never walking around without shoes on, and some golden advice, “spiders, scorpions, and snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them.”  Well internet/National Park Service/Utah state government, I would like to assure you that spiders are not afraid of people at all, in fact they routinely broke into my tent to be closer to me despite my best efforts to seal them out.  So what do you do when a large, colorful, and poisonous spider is blocking your only exit?  I thought hard about cutting a new exit into the back of the tent, but instead I trapped it.  I felt sick all day, and I don’t remember if I woke up that way but I could hardly eat anything all day.

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Luna: all play, no work

Day two was hard.  I knew it would be, in fact I had imagined the first couple days would be very hard, adapting to full days in the saddle and towing that heavy ass trailer, and then I would be stronger and start mashing miles.  I also imagined that Utah was basically flat (even AFTER writing out the elevation profiles for each leg of this trip), and that they never had winter.  People make mistakes.  Moab to Monticello is just all uphill, divided into steep climbs and long low grade climbs.  The shoulder on 191 is taken up with the most enormous rumble strips I’ve ever seen, thousands of potholes in a row.  Also, I think anyone would imagine that towing a trailer with a dog in it would be harder than riding a bike without it, and climbing with a dog and trailer is harder than climbing without it, but what I hadn’t at all prepared for was that downhills feel like flats and flats feel like climbs.  And that climbs are now basically impossible and require maximum effort to keep the whole freight train moving at all.  And that’s the story of how you can ride for ten hours and only get 50 miles in.  There was so much traffic between Moab and Monticello, I imagined Monticello must be the size of Denver.  It’s not.  I’ll always wonder where all those people were going, so aggressively and in such a hurry.

We slept at a campground in Monticello, as it was already 7:30p when we got there and I was too brutalized by climbing and traffic to ride anymore anyway.  The proprietor was like an old western grandpa.  It was 30 degrees that night.  Day three I woke up still feeling ill, but at least I knew I’d be off of 191 before long.  The hills between Monticello and Blanding evened out, were more rolling, and by the time we got to Blanding I was starving, finally.  I had breakfast at a diner where both of the employees looked me up and down long and hard but didn’t have anything to ask or say about it, and I put down the whole plate before the waitress came back with a napkin.  Topping off my enormous reserves of water (8 liters) at the visitor center before we left, a nice older man named Steve marked on a map for me where he thought I could find wild water in the canyons along highway 95.  He also told me that in the summer as many as 30 cyclists per day departed from Blanding to ride 95, but they’re generally supported and in groups.  “An intrepid adventurer like yourself is very rare indeed.”  Thanks, Steve.  [In fact, I didn’t see one single cyclist until 24 between Hanksville and Capitol Reef NP].

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I will now always have a deep, visceral reaction to downhill steep grade warning signs.

Once on 95, there is almost immediately an 8% downhill.  Normally, I would have been braking the shit out of that hill on a massively loaded bike (with 16lbs worth of water, at least 5 days of food for me and Lu, in addition to all the gear) and towing precious cargo.  But the version of me that was somewhat brutalized the previous day threw caution to the wind and I found myself descending the serpentine road into the canyon at 40mph.  In time, I think I’ll remember few details about this trip, but that moment of delight with all of Fry and the surrounding canyons suddenly opening before me, I will never forget.  It makes me feel so overwhelmed every time I think about it, it was the first time I understood the freedom of touring and it felt like all of Southern Utah was at my disposal.

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The road came through that little notch in the ridge.  This isn’t looking back on the joyous downhill I wrote about above, I didn’t take that picture.  In fact, I don’t think I have pictures from any of my favorite moments, those will live in my memory forever and nowhere else.

I know a lot of people start tours from Blanding, but that downhill could not possibly be as satisfying without the 7k of climbing leading up to it.  So, Steve had warned me that there was a big, 8 mile climb starting 20 miles west of Blanding, and after that I’d be home free.  I had hoped to get that climb out of the way that afternoon, but I just seemed to never get there.  Since this is turning out so long, I take it it’s going to be in the format of installments.  So, end of part one, to be continued.

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dads (and how they can get you to do 80 miles)

I’ve known my dad was coming out to Leadville to visit for months, and he warned me that I’d better get good on the passes (on a bicycle). But alas, it was winter still until just a couple weeks ago and thus I’d only been on my bike a dozen times or fewer by the time he arrived to visit.

My father is the type of guy that can ride over 100 miles per day every day for weeks.

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total badass

So we were making plans for what we’d do while he was here, and he asked if I wanted to do Independence Pass. I said yes immediately, because that’s just how I roll, but after the fact I had to think about it very seriously and I discovered I was nervous. He asked what the longest distance was I’d done in a day so far, and it was somewhere in the thirties [it is tragic how I rode 25+ every day in Denver and now I only do that once or twice a week!]. He told me Leadville to the top of Independence Pass and back was about 70 miles.

I did spend some time thinking it over and the reason I was nervous was because I was concerned I couldn’t do it, and kind of legitimately so. The thing about out-and-backs is that at the point you turn around, you’re going to have to do just as much distance back. What a mindfuck. If you can’t, you never get home. Let me tell you though, the premise that if you stop you’ll never get home is EXCELLENT motivation. The other thing is that 24 back to Leadville is miles and miles of brutal and relentless uphill.

So yeah, I was worried. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But what on earth was I going to tell my [totally badass] dad? Like I would puss out. No, I would do this thing.

My dad told me in the morning that it was more like 76 miles. We set out with tons of snacks and water. From Leadville to CO 82 is pretty much downhill (which explains the evil uphill) so we were cruising pretty good. We made good time to Twin Lakes.

la plata TH

la plata TH

The trail over Independence Pass has been in use possibly since prehistoric times, and most definitely by the Ute Native Americans that occupied the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s pretty much the only way through. Like most of the High Rockies, Roaring Fork and Aspen were rushed by miners in the 1870’s (slightly later in the decade than the mining towns to the East) and in 1880 one of the boomers paid a crew using hand tools to build a real road over the pass. At each bridge a toll was charged-$.25 for horses and $.50 for wagons. Also in 1880, a town developed around the ore mill three miles west of the pass. It was called Independence, and at its peak housed 1000 residents. The last resident of Independence left in 1912. The pass had previously been known as Hunter Pass, and was re-named in honor of its new neighboring town.

To say CO-82 is scenic is a wretched understatement. I’ve spent so much time on Fremont Pass (between Leadville and I-70/Copper Mountain) that I forgot how gorgeous passes can be. The road to Independence is winding, forest-lined, and right in the middle of a beautiful valley. Rushing rivers, canyons, and completely epic mountain views line the road. I wasn’t really that tired when we approached the first switchback, but my crotch HURT and the steepness of the switchbacks was terrifying. [I still don’t understand the steep/steepness deep/depth conundrum, despite how much time I spend thinking about it].

I’d never done a mountain pass on a bike before, and I’ve discovered it’s much like ascending a fourteener…you always think you’ve gone further than you have, you always think there’s less left to go than there is, and most of the time you can’t actually see where the route goes in the future (so you spend a lot of time thinking about it). At first I had a can’t stop-won’t stop mentality and I somehow thought I could bust ass up THE WHOLE PASS without slowing or stopping…but I think each time you turn into a new switchback, it’s like realizing you’re on a false summit, and I’m not going to lie my friends I slowed down and took two breaks during that ascent. It felt great though. Someone spray painted encouraging things along the road for cyclists…YOU CAN DO IT!.

Yeah it was a lot of work but trucking up the final ascent to the pass felt light and triumphant. At this point (much like on fourteeners also) I was thinking “the hardest part is over” but that was not at all the case.

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In most endurance sports, you can plan to race twice the mileage you’ve been training. The 80 miles (yes, 80) we ended up doing for the round trip was definitely more than twice my previous high mileage. I hadn’t written the last post yet, about the physiology of endurance, but I knew well enough to eat as much as I could before I got too hungry and drink more than I could stand [here’s a fun fact-if you drink solely to thirst you’ll be about 70% hydrated. Most studies agree that your body can still operate very well at 70%, and that at the end of the session you can catch back up]. I still had to take a few breaks though. By the time we got to 24 my vag hurt so much I could barely put it on the seat anymore, and now my shoulders felt like they could barely support my torso on the handlebars. I think we had about 15 miles to go at this point. Uphill.

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So here’s what I mean about another person helping you push past your limits. It would not have occurred to me to ride 80 miles on Monday, let alone in our mountains and up a pass, because 80 is so far beyond my comfort zone. But because my dad asked me to, I said yes and attempted it the best I could. And we made it. From Leadville to the top of Independence Pass and all the way back home (for pizza, fries, and Cokes). I don’t know if I even believed I could do it until we were ascending, but I went for it anyway. My dad literally rode circles around me. The whole thing was such an eye-opener; I surpassed what I believed to be my limits running and climbing in the mountains in the past year to such an extent that I stopped believing I have them. But now I can see that it’s not full circle-I still see limitations in myself when faced with different types of barriers. Friends, this is a new frontier.

BONKED (hitting the wall)

Hiking 30 miles and running 30 miles are incredibly different endeavors.

I’m used to very long distance hikes, and in those cases I carry food and eat along the way. When running, though, I adopted the philosophy over the winter that if I’m going out for less than 20 miles I don’t need to carry food or water. When it’s cold I lose less water and it’s available to me periodically in the form of snow and snowmelt [yeah yeah, it’s dangerous to drink wild water, I don’t care]. In the case of a big ascent, I might bring a little snack but I definitely haven’t spent much time considering my “refueling plans”..until now.

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I suppose it’s about right that I set 20 miles as the magic number, because now that I’m regularly exceeding it I’ve noticed that something terrible happens right around 21. I’m feeling great, then suddenly I’m barely dragging myself along; in pain and miserable. I don’t hang out with other long distance runners, so I’m figuring it out as I go and during my first 30 mile run, I learned about THE WALL.

First, let’s talk about how our muscles get energy [WARNING: shit’s about to get science-y. If that sounds boring, skip the next 5 paragraphs]

Digestion breaks down energy containing nutrients and sends them to your cells via blood. Once they’re in your cells, the nutrients are either built up into proteins, lipids, and glycogen OR converted [to pyruvic acid or Acetyl CoA] for energy production. If you’re wondering why people say B vitamins are important for energy, it’s because they’re very important in conversions to Acetyl CoA. There’s more detail here that we just won’t go into.

So now we head to the mitochondria. There’s basically two ways your body creates energy (and by energy I mean ATP- the official energy currency of your body). Glycolysis is quick and dirty- it gets results fast but isn’t very efficient, and there’s a lactic acid problem. Kreb’s Cycle is the tortoise- slow and steady, and much more efficient. This stuff is cool because it explains exactly why lactic acid (what makes muscles stiff and sore) happens. Glycolysis is anaerobic, it can happen without oxygen (like during strenuous activity when you just can’t breathe enough in) BUT it creates extra hydrogen, and that hydrogen needs to be pawned off somewhere. If oxygen is available, hydrogen will go home with him (creating water-nbd) but otherwise hydrogen gets dumped on pyruvic acid, and that’s how we end up with sad little lactic acid, gumming up the works.

Basically, when you start running your body is going to use ATP it’s already made to make your muscles work. It’s constantly working to produce more, but you’ll use it faster than you can make it. Desperately, glycolysis will bust ass for you (most of us are at this point when we exercise). But what happens if you keep going? Incidentally, your body stores enough glycogen to keep producing ATP for 20 miles of running. (I fucking knew it)

Once you’ve used your ATP stores, your cells raid the glycogen stores to make more. But WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOUR GLYCOGEN STORES ARE GONE!?

That’s when you “hit the wall”. Your liver will start converting fat and protein to use in the energy making process but it’s not terribly efficient and takes up energy. Now refueling makes a whole lot of sense: GET MORE GLUCOSE INTO YOUR BLOODSTREAM!

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So I did a lot of research about refueling and I have to say, most of it sounds gross. Eating while you’re running sucks. Period. The big problem I guess is getting food down without puking it back up. Yuck. So you need things that are palatable and go down easily. You’ll also want a good mix of simple carbs that get into your bloodstream asap (in minutes) and complex carbs that break down slowly and release small amounts of glucose into your blood over a long time. You don’t want to refuel with protein or fat; those two are the professional ebay sellers at the post office-holding everybody else up.

Here’s a knowledge bomb for you: compared to the type of machines we can build, our body is EPICALLY efficient. Through these processes we capture a whopping 38% of the energy available from what we consume (and the rest is RELEASED AS HEAT-boom. Why do you get hot when you work out? That’s why. You’re welcome.)

There’s a psychological aspect to hitting the wall for sure. I read somewhere that your discomfort when you’re dehydrated or under-fueled has a bigger effect on your performance than the physiological problems themselves. I’ll say firsthand that hitting the wall HURTS EVERYWHERE. I’ve noticed that I’m basically never sore anymore, muscle-wise, but when I’m on really long runs everything starts to ache. I get dizzy and woozy. My legs don’t feel like jelly, it’s more that I become the tin man. Yeah, it’s so uncomfortable it’s hard to continue. To cope, I’ve started counting. At first I count up to high numbers, and the deal is that when I get to 780 or something I can stop, but when I get to 780 I tell myself okay, now you just have to get to 780 again. Then when it gets really, REALLY bad I’m counting to 20. Interestingly, the promise of a fuel down is not an incentive anymore when I’ve made it past the wall; the idea of eating anything is gross and horrible and the only thing I can stomach the idea of is bananas or plain romaine lettuce.

Yeah, I know this post sounds terrible to those of you who haven’t experienced it. It’s so very hard to explain why we do what we do, especially when there’s a fair amount of suffering. I like to think of my training program as RELENTLESS. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love doing it. That first 30 mile run that I mentioned earlier; yeah it was painful and terrible and taught me lessons I’ll never forget. It was also when I realized that I can do Nolan’s. As far as I can tell, there are two barriers to cross: long distance and elevation gain. But you only need to cross them each once, after that you’re just building. Long distance mountain running is the highest of epic, joyous highs. And it’s the lowest of soul crushing, wish-you-were-dead lows. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.
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beast mode/couch mode (the space between?)

On Friday Mark and I ran the Flatirons and the first time up the first Flatiron I was dragging. I have this brilliant theory that I’m good after 4 miles…and in this instance we were tackling badass elevation gain very early, so I could use that as an excuse. But man, do you ever have that run that you just want to stop with every single step. Ugh! Then right at the end it turned, and I beast moded the rest of it. BM is how we do epic shit right? I pride myself on my ability to beast mode elevation gain, in races but more importantly the real world. I get “can’t stop/won’t stop” in my head and just blast right past where I think my edge is. It seems to have environmental factors (and by that I mean COMPETITION), but there has to be some way to trigger it just any time. Right!?

Flatirons are so sleepy you can't even see them

Flatirons are so sleepy you can’t even see them

I was thinking during this run how much I’ve changed. Even from that moment in a spin class I was teaching when I thought about BASELINE (is your baseline sitting on the couch watching Netflix?) and I was already training then. Powering through the mountains has changed everything. Beast mode is now rocking 1000ft gain/mile. But there’s always so far to go.

I scheduled the rest of the 28 fourteeners. It’s pretty surreal; last January 20 seemed like an insane number. A month ago 28 seemed improbable. I’ll finish the remaining Collegiates (and the rest of the Sawatch range) next week. Up next is the Long’s trip. I’ll be riding the 82 miles to the trailhead, running the 14 miles to and from the summit of Long’s Peak, and riding home to Denver, hopefully in less than 20 hours (bagging one peak the long way). Last week of September Mark and I are going back for the Mosquito Range peaks we missed the last time around (due to ice and Luna’s cut foot). Then, it’s Capitol Peak with the boys. Colorado’s most technically difficult fourteener, and the #5 most dangerous (happy birthday to me!).

braking for pull ups on the way to Evergreen on my new bike, Blow

braking for pull ups on the way to Evergreen on my new bike, Blow

Monday was the Columbia ascent 11.5 miles and 4200ft gain
Tuesday off
Wednesday 42 miles on the bike
Thursday 6mi city
Friday 5mi 3000ft gain at the Flatirons
Saturday 15mi bike
Sunday 14mi Mesa Trail (NO BEARS!!!)

Training for greatness (how to schedule all of your free time)

Don’t get me wrong, I love laying face down on the floor of my apartment watching Awkward, drinking Coke, and eating junk. But those things are fun in the moment, and not even a little bit epic.

I grew up hoping to wake up before my dad left for work, at like 6 o’clock in the morning, to kiss him goodbye, and I can remember like it was yesterday my dad sitting on the stair by the side door putting his shoes on. To ride his bike 6.3 miles to work (and that’s one way, I just looked it up). Rain or shine, and all winter long (and we lived in Michigan…). Epic. He helped me move to Colorado…and rode his bike home (TO MICHIGAN). He’s been doing this his whole life.

So now you know where I get it.

Every day it seems like there are more amazing things I want to do. I’m not going to lie, I dove face first into climbing, I’ve been at the gym every single day. Contrary to breakdancing and ashtanga, I’m actually getting so much better and more comfortable with all of this practice. Everything has sort of overlapped, at the moment I’m just rocking as hard as possible running and putting miles in the saddle. I need to make a sched…yikes! My yoga schedule is finally calming down, luckily, so this is getting more possible.

With all the madness, here’s what I’m currently working on:

Running: mainly, training to be able to run 14ers. I’m planning next week to knock out the four collegiate peaks in two days, which means I’m going to need to run some to get the mileage done in time. I’ve considered doing one more race before the season’s over…but I’m unsure if racing is something I want to do again. Such a different mindset.

Climbing: mainly, just trying to get better, stronger, more comfortable so I can get back out on the real rock before the weather goes. I love it so much, but I quickly realized that I have A LOT of strength to gain before I can get serious outdoors.

Hiking: 28 14ers before 10/3/14. That’s pretty self explanatory, right? I’m thinking on 10/3, my birthday, we’ll do Capitol Peak…my biggest, hardest climb yet and one that makes me tremble a little, it is on the list of the top 5 most difficult Colorado 14ers…and barely misses the cut for top 4 most deadly. See you at the Knife Edge?

Riding: So I’ve just been gifted a new bike (A NEW BIKE. I KNOW.) Which means I can finally race if I want to…looking at the Steamboat Springs Stage Race over Labor Day weekend…and I am terrified, just considering it as a possibility. I mean. Holy shit, right?! Cyclists are fancy mf. Scared of this for so many reasons. …but…maybe?

Ashtanga: relegated to once a week. I know. Better than not at all? My regular practice has to be a compliment to all of my wild training in other directions.

Gosh, is there anything I’m forgetting? I’m going to try abandoning my regular diet (and by diet I mean the food I normally eat-I don’t do “diets”) and subscribe to Alicia Silverstone’s vegan macrobiotic cookbook (I’m already vegan…but I eat a lot of bread and pasta. and sugar). There’s millet porridge in my fridge…is this going to work? We don’t know. In the meantime, I’ll share the raw energy balls recipe I just made in another post (and let me tell you, they are f***ing amazing).

xoxo love you, internet!

Bicycle Commuting & Touring (loves, hates, fears)

LOVES:

Fresh air
Sunshine
Front row parking anywhere and everywhere
Elevating my fitness baseline
Human powerered
Downhills
Uphills too
Accomplishment
Alone time
No technology
Chatting with other cyclists and pedestrians
The views!
All the weird little things you get to see and hear

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HATES:

Cranky drivers
Stop lights
Being exhausted
Being hungry and still having to ride
Uphills 😉
Stopping
When people in cars or on street corners are smoking while I’m waiting at a light
People who don’t understand bike lanes
People who steal bikes or things off of your bike
That you have to carry everything with you
When all of my clothes and shoes are soaked because it rained for a few days

FEARS:

People who don’t understand bike lanes
People who steal bikes or things off of your bike
Cranky drivers
That I won’t make it home
That it’s going to hail
That my foot won’t catch the pedal when I take off
That my crankset will lock up when I’m on a steep uphill and I’ll go careening back down
Chain breaking
When you mess up fixing a flat and the new tube goes flat again

What are yours?

Training (and psychology or something, probably)

You guys know I’ve been up to a lot of business lately. And by business, I mean activities. As I’ve been planning my upcoming amazing trips, I’ve realized that there’s a couple doozies coming up fast and in addition to the things I’m already training for, I have some areas to step up. It’s got me to thinking about the difference between working out (for the sake of working out), training for competition, and training to do epic shit.

I’ve been involved in competitive sports for basically ever, with maybe a 2 year reprieve after I stopped racing (road running) after college and before I picked up roller derby. Training for competitive sports is a discipline and an obligation. Sometimes, it’s awesome. As long as I’ve had something to work for, I’m able to train (even if I don’t always like it). But, like I say all the time, I road run to support my trail racing habit. And it’s exactly that. Most of my training for running is on the road, and it sucks. I would never be like “I’m going to crush 10 miles on the ROAD!” it’s more like oh dear god, 10 miles. 10 monotonous, repetitive motion injury, joint shaking miles that make me question my commitment to long distance running in general (more on this later). But I still do it.

I’ve never been one for working out. When I’m at the height of intense training for something, I can really crush a work out. And yeah, I like it, and it feels good. I’m never going to question the amazing effects of endorphins, et al. But I can not bring myself to work out for the sake of working out. Plenty of people do, it’s awesome, because exercise is really important for your health and not every human is willing and able to commit their lives to physical endeavors. I teach a spin class once a week and the beautiful souls who attend that class, I tip my hat to them. No music in the world would make me work that hard just to be healthy.

What!?  So many miles!

What!? So many miles!

So I’ve been keeping track of my bicycle commuting mileage on a calendar all month, without doing anything with it (like adding it up) and when I realized the other day that I MUST start training for my bike tours, I added it up. I ride 70-100 miles a week, and that’s mainly getting to classes. I don’t think I entered in when I ride to a restaurant for dinner or something, and I usually walk to the store. I was pretty impressed. Although with the Mt Evans trip (50 miles by bicycle, from Denver to Echo Lake, then summit Mt. Evans, then ride the 50 back) looming, I need to increase mileage by a lot. Something about planning and committing to this training feels very different. I rode an extra 30 miles yesterday, and it felt amazing. I haven’t been riding much outside of commuting lately, so that was probably part of it. But it was more than that. It wasn’t an obligation. It was a commitment to become stronger so I could live a stronger life. There’s been a tone of falsity in my race training lately, and that’s what it is. I consider that training obligatory so I can race hard and obtain a good time and all the glory that comes with competition. Whereas, training to walk and ride mountains; that feels very authentic and like I’m working to be better.

Yeah, this is how I ride training miles...get better sunglasses, Sarah.  And wear a MF helmet!

Yeah, this is how I ride training miles…get better sunglasses, Sarah. And wear a MF helmet!

How do I bring this into my race training?

Updates and coming up:
Monday Long’s (this should be 3/20 and my last winter ascent of the season, I hear the conditions up there are actually still WINTER)
6/11 Mt. Evans
July 2-6 Wanderlust Festival in Aspen
July & August Nolan’s Fourteeners 100 miles backpacking, bicycle tour to Estes via Peak to Peak Highway
Breakdancing: still working on the same two moves but they’re getting better!
Ashtanga: finally getting back on track