Grand Exposure

There could have been no better way to begin a Grand Loop solo TT than to stage from Mike Curiaks home.  He’s a machine both on and off the bike – the way he was putting wheels together as we talked exuded the sort of expertise you want from the person building the most important part of your bike.  I haven’t spent a lot of time talking to him and have usually had the impression his hard earned lessons in endurance racing were closely guarded from a competitive stantpoint.  Such is not the case – he understands that the most valued lessons learned are those learned through trial, error, and pain.  Those are things you won’t forget, and things you will cherish.  To freely hand those out is to cheat the new ultra rider out of a good part of the experience. 

As we chatted and my understanding of his motivations became clearer, more pieces of this ultra puzzle were clicking into place.  As I write this goose bumps are coming up because I realize in retrospect the time with MC for a coupla hours had a large impact on the outcome, the decisions I made, in this GL TT…

As we roll out to Loma on pavement, we chatted about a lot of things and at times I was in stitches.  Mike is a cunning rider; you don’t set long distance records by luck or chance and some of his strategies had me getting an early ab workout.  Rolling into the Kokopelli TH at Loma we met Pete Basinger who I had not met before.  

The more multi day ultra riders I meet, the more I’m convinced it’s a big boy’s game – literally.  Pete, Mike, Scott M., Stephan – all are considerably bigger than my 140ish lbs.  The reason is simple – there’s a fixed amount of gear required to get these done, and the larger the rider the less the percentage of body weight of the gear.  No matter what my w/kg is, it changes drastically when considering my beginning gear weight was ~ 1/2 of my bodyweight.  Rather significant when a route entails some 40k+ feet of climbing, eh?

Just before sunset I head off down the Kokopelli trail, alone in my thoughts for the next 3 days.  This was a great feeling.  I was on the Yeti, recently tuned to perfection by Andy at Desert Cyclery in StG.  In addition, I’d asked him to get as many water bottle mounts on it as possible and it came back with 6!!!  This is 5 more than the bike has mounts for.  Impressive work my man.  This was great.  It meant I didn’t need to use my pack bladder at all, and therefore didn’t need the rear OMM rack to haul extra food/gear.

Before I knew it, I was at the top of the hike out from Salt Creek.  MP3 on, I was ripping along in a moonless night under the power of 500 lumens of my custom lights.  Rabbits and mice were everywhere.  Now there are a few less.  As many times as I’d ridden this trail in the past year you’d think I could follow it blindfolded – but I was in such a great groove with the tunes and vibes of riding through the night that just past Rabbit Valley I made a left down to the river instead of heading upwards towards Westwater.  I almost made it to the river before I figured it out.  DUH.  An hour later I was back at the missed turn, slightly aggravated with my error – and hugely aware that this wasn’t a “paint by numbers” endeavor and I better wake up and start paying attention.

The rest of the night was heaven.  There is a lot of flow in the desert section of the Koko and I enjoyed every bit of it.  Next up were the shandy climbs of the Entrada bluffs road beyond Dewey.  The last time I rode these loaded I ended up walking a couple of times to relieve the grind…but conditions were great, it was still dark & cool and they seemed much easier this time.  At the top of the second one I stopped to enjoy the sunrise unfold over the Uncompaghre plateau.  That looming monster was to be the challenge of tomorrow…

I really dislike missing sleep, and that’s one of the bigger challenges of multi-day racing (for me) and of the timing of this route in particular as it starts when I usually fall asleep.  To my advantage though, I can take a quick catnap at the drop of a hat and rise refreshed.  The periodic napping began somewhere after Rose Garden Hill…

Working my way up N. Beaver Mesa I was astounded by the flowers.  The building billowy cumulus clouds, blue sky, greeness spring was really accentuating the bloom. 

Shortly thereafter the route leaves the KT behind and follows the Paradox trail through the La Sals until it bombs down Carpenter Ridge to Bedrock, CO.  This section, although  non-technical, is above 8,000′ and never flat.  It wore me down some to say the least, but I was bouyed by new scenery…and even saw a big brown bear running down the road.  It was suddenly there no more than 30 feet in front of me, running from me, and I had no idea where it came from.  It must be naptime again ;)

I really enjoyed this new region and I’ll be back in a non-race setting sometime…sadly, this is the last picture my camera took the whole time.  The next time I went to snap a shot it was dead as a dodo.

A while later I’m pushing throug a decent size storm, getting really muddy and the roads turned to muck.  It was slow going for a couple of hours.  Finally, getting near Buckeye it was drying out and getting fast, just in time to descend to Bedrock.  By then I was tired.  I’d hoped to make it to Tabaguache creek tonight, but Bedrock would have to suffice.  I phoned Mike with my progress and was slightly dissapointed to get his answering machine.  In retrospect, it was prolly a blessing in disguise as he could have easily played on my weakened mental state ;)

160 miles done, I made a little nest in the sand and slept like a baby.  A few hours later I awoke to sky sparkling with stars and the rare sound of a live, running Dolores river.  Suddenly I was ALIVE.  Oh man that was a fine time.  I slammed some breakfast, packed up, and started off in the dark.  The river canyons were lively as both the Dolores and San Miguel were running high.  Lots of class II stuff to listen to as I rode by.  Next up was the Spring creek mesa climb which was relatively uneventful.  Cows early on made for some poop dodging as I had a water bottle in the crud catcher position. 

Arriving at Tab creek it was time for some calories to go down the hatch while filtering enough water for the most challenging section of the Paradox, Tab Creek to Hauser road.  Having pre-ridden it with CP and DN, I knew what was coming, at least to Pinto Mesa.  It got fairly hot here and I did stop under a tree once or twice, but still made good time.  Arriving at the top of Pinto Mesa a very light shower blew over to provide my own personal misty cooling system – manna from heaven.  Actually, it was from the Uncompahgre plateau, that great weather cooker.  Each day I’d see clouds form over the top of this beast of a landform.

Then something special happened.  Glencoe Bench.  This is the section north of Pinto mesa, and for me, this was terra incognita, beyond where our pre-ride had taken us.  The vegetation, the views, it all changed in a heartbeat from p/j high desert to ponderosa, aspen, marshy ponds, and so green it made your eyes hurt.  Enormous views down into Tabaguache creek,  it was overwhelming, and to be in new country after so much effort (my GPS was telling me I’d climbed well over 20K feet by now…) was priceless.  It made me re-think the concept of pre-riding courses for this type of event…made me consider why anyone would do these events.  Is it for the result?  Experience?  Escapism?  Just to ride unfettered?  I don’t have all the answers, but one I do have is this:  I don’t do it for the results, and that is the best argument for pre-riding routes.  Pushing hard through unknown territory forces one into a heightened awareness of ones own existence – survival – and pre-riding demystifies this.  I like mystery.  Hmmmmmmmm……..

Hauser road.  Upward and onward.  Soon I reached to Divide road at nearly 10,000′ and was somwhat alarmed by the quantity of snow still remaining.  It was a dry, warm March that had snowpack much reduced from normal levels and I had guessed it would be OK by now, but now I wasn’t certain.  A few miles later, heading up the powerlines everything was dry and snow free.  Where the tab singletrack heads into the woods, it was not so dry and I was dodging snowbanks and fallen trees, but the going wasn’t too bad.

I was hoping to make some good progress on the Rubidau section before a short bivvy, but man this was looking grim.  Then it got worse.  postholing through crotch deep drifts, dragging a loaded rig, is just a lot harder than riding a bike.  And I was moving inches per hour, not miles…after a few  hours of this it was clear I wasn’t going to get through this section before sunset.  There was  no way I’d make it through here in the dark, if at all. 

Decision time:  should I bail down transfer road and call it quits, and if so, then what?  Should I skirt the singletrack section via Divide road?  Should I cry for mamma?

Truth be told, I was damn tired and didn’t trust my decision making ability in this situation.  So, I backtracked out of the snowy area to find dry ground, built a white man’s fire and made dinner.  Slept like a baby again, and since there was no need to start before daylight had lots of time to sleep too.  I’d hit the snow puzzle in the am with a fresh pair of eyes.

It froze up there overnight, so the snow was crusted.  I could make easier progress without postholing.  But eventually the trail sidehills on a steeply sidehill slope in deep, dark timber.  This was my undoing – there was not a patch of ground to be seen, it was all 5-10 feet of snow and trees.  Trail?  What trail?  It was winter.  I tried to guess where the trail would go and followed that route for a few hours, but realized I had gone about 1/2 mile in 3 hours – doing the math, it was going to take another week to finish this 7 mile section.  Stick a fork in this GL attempt.  Game over, film at 11.

Getting out of there proved no easy task.  The sun was up, the air warming, the snow’s crust softening.  Where I was able to walk on the crust earlier, I was now postholing again, but I was much farther in than yesterday.  To complicate things, coming in I didn’t make lasting tracks and navigation in those dark woods is rather disorienting to say the least.  The GPS saved my bacon in this area as I was able to follow my track out of there.

6 hard hours later, I was back to the Divide road.  I started pedalling…soon thereafter I came to the road that shoots down to the Roubideau trail – and it looked rideable.  Soupy, but totally doable.  Yet another decision to be made.  Do I head down this road, pick up the tab and do the remainder of the route?  I had been salivating over the idea of doing this trail for a long time.  It started last summer, and really heightened when laid up this winter.  Mapping it out intensified it further.  Yet, I was now a DNF for the GL, which could mean only one thing:  I would be back.  To ride the tab would be in essence to pre-ride the tab, and I would cheat myself out of the intense experience back on Glencoe.  I held a straight line, sticking to the Divide road, and never looked back.

The Divide road did not dissapoint and affording sweeping views of at least half the planet.  At one overlook, you could look down on Glencoe bench and the route up to Pinto Mesa.  That in itself was a real sense of accomplishment.  Funny, I felt probably better this day than all the previous two, and tapped out the ~100 miles back to GJ in no time.  I got to see the Uncompahgre plateau from the top; it’s deep dark timber in the south, giving way to aspen and open meadows in the north, and eye popping canyons descending to the Gunnison river drainage.  Deer, elk, bear, porcupines, a blind rodent crawling in my bag, wild turkeys are just a few of the wildlife encounters.  After it’s all said and done, I covered 345 miles in under 3 days time and was flooded by many emotions, thoughts, experiences. 

Of the entire experience, my favorite part?  By far, that left undone.

See you June 1.