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November 26, 2010

Kennedy Turkey day ride

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

Every year on the morning of Thanksgiving day, a spontaneous and rather miraculous gathering of close to a thousand cyclists takes place on the summit of Kennedy fireroad in Los Gatos. Food and drinks are carried up the 2000ft hill and shared. I finally made it this year, and it was quite a spectacle – great to see many familiar faces and to reunite with the other Hard COEre 100 riders (or should I say, my fellow Coe nuts?).

Turkey ride 2010
Turkey ride 2010
“One gear, one beer” (aka best – and most useful – costume award)
Turkey ride 2010
Crowd with Switchbaxr/Ron in the foreground swinging his camera around

November 15, 2010

The Hard COEre 100, revisited

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

It’s now more than 24 hours ago since we finished but I’m still in some state of delirium… where to start? After last month’s attempt we had learned a few things, about batteries, nutrition, gear. But we would also lose almost an hour worth of daylight. The day that presented itself was promising to be an ideal opportunity though: the forecast said sunny with high temperatures in the 70′s, with trails turned uber-tacky by previous rains and now dried out to perfection. So I put my excuses aside and lined up with Patrick and Roy on Friday just before midnight on a frighteningly frigid Hunting Hollow parking lot… I had no idea how we would fare, but was trusting on our collective bull-headedness to pull us through.

On such cold and dark night (the moon had set a few hours before), climbing Lyman-Willson was a great way to get the blood flowing and we slowly started to warm up. The ridges were again much warmer than the canyon floors, with their pockets of seemingly arctic air stuck to the surface. On Steer Ridge we had our first noteworthy wildlife encounter: a skunk was running along in front of us, sticking to the trail rather than just moving to the side (the same, not-too-bright skunk of last time?). I lost my patience, launched into a sprint and successfully completed a ‘safe’ pass. This must have ticked it off a bit and poor Patrick was to pay the price, as he got sprayed by the cantankerous creature. Luckily for us, he managed to avoid most of it, though the unsavory aroma would accompany him for a while.

Descending Spike Jones and Timm in the dark was loads of fun again, I can highly recommend it. No trace of mountain kitties, though Patrick did spot a bobcat. We slowly made our way up to the top of Cross Canyon, then more fun ensued with the high speed descent and traverse through the canyon floor. The bottom was frosty and humid, and the slippery mess of vegetation and wet rocks made it a precarious and slow ride. We all failed miserably on the Cross Canyon Wall but didn’t really do an honest effort – saving our breath and legs would be the motto today. During the climb out, Roy got held up a bit, and Patrick and myself were to witness Roy’s extraordinary self-motivational skills again – the ungodly screams rising out of the depths of the canyon must have sounded terrifying to the untrained ear, but we knew better.

Twilight at Coe

Willow Ridge road was next, then Hoover Lake trail. By means of contribution to the trail work day, we left rock cairns indicating where rework was needed (more seriously: Paul and co would end up doing a great amount of work, thanks!). Last time around I was rather miserable on the Willow Ridge singletrack descent, with my dead battery and wimpy bar LED – not so today, all was well in the battery department and the plunge into the Narrows was a blast. After the climb on Lost Spring trail, the descent then ascent of China Hole we started to tire a bit of the nightriding, and were looking forward to dawn, which we were able to witness in all its glory on our way to Headquarters. We arrived there pretty much on schedule, but unfortunately the schedule didn’t involve waiting around for HQ to open up so that we could storm the coffee machine inside. No coffee for us today, but that was fine, we had Flat Frog and Middle Ridge to look forward to, not a bad way to start the day.

Middle Ridge

Everything looked glorious in the early morning light and I was flying down Middle Ridge – on one occasion, a bit all too literally, as my handlebar clipped a tree and bike and pilot got launched off trail. Fortunately, no real harm was done (except to the mount of my bar LED). I guess this was the first time I was having some second thoughts on having installed a wider bar and bar ends. Patrick also had a minor stumble, but we were fortunate that in terms of incidents this was all we would encounter today – no other crashes or bad mechanicals (my main fear for the day) were to be reported.

Crossing the creek at Poverty Flat Camp we started to feel the impending doom of Bear Mountain, but we first needed to deal with its little cousin: Poverty Flat road. The recent rain has been a godsend – it turned the unclimbable mess of moondust into a nice firm tacky surface and I think I haven’t seen it in any better conditions yet. On our left, we saw some smoldering remains of the controlled burn that recently took place in the Blue Ridge zone. At this point, we’d done over 40 miles and were close to having climbed 10k feet, but we still felt in decent shape – I tried to ignore the fact that we’d just done a six hour night ride and imagined we were instead just starting out our ride on this bright sunny morning. More mind games were going to be needed to pull this off, I figured. As we knew from past experience, our paces were pretty well matched, and it certainly helped to have someone to complain to when needed close to you.

The big one was up next: Bear Mountain. I felt better than last time and attacked the lower section with some amount of success. Of course, all resistance was futile once we got to that ludicrous 40% section. Patrick was a beast again and cleaned more than I thought possible or advisable. After the seemingly endless sequence of false summits, we finally made it to the top; meanwhile things had been nicely warming up and we could finally strip some layers and bask in the sun a bit. We had a few ‘easy’ miles to look forward to then, the descent to and circumnavigation of Mississippi Lake. A bit of climbing on Willow Ridge road got us to the top of Heritage: a bumpy descent leading to the even bumpier, pothole-ridden upper Pacheco Creek trail. I was not in a happy place on my hardtail here, and upped the pace, looking forward to get it over with quickly and to some rest and repose at Pacheco Camp. We rolled into camp almost exactly at noon.

North Fork

I considered beforehand the third part of the course, which was up next, to be the make-it-or-break-it part. It’s a deep excursion into the backcountry, and even on a ‘normal’ ride not for the faint of heart. But by now the miles had started to weigh real heavy, and we entered deep into our respective pain caves. To describe the horrors Kaiser-Aetna (‘a mile and a half of hell’?) or Center Flats road inflicted on us at this stage of the ride is difficult, it’s something to experience rather than explain. But the payoff is we got to ride incredible and unique gems of singletrack (Dutch’s trail: undiluted awesomeness! That superfast downhill stretch of Burra Burra!), in the middle of nowhere, the trails all for ourselves. On Dutch’s I even retrieved a water bottle (one with an integrated filter) that I lost there some time last August.

Center Flats

Not surprisingly, our pace had been dropping a lot, and on this short November day we were soon going to embark on part two of our night ride. We had planned for this and made sure we had plenty of battery juice. After we had dragged ourselves off of Center Flats road, we witnessed a spectacular sunset on Wagon road, and hooked up our lights (and warm gear) again. The last 20 mile leg of the route had been designed to be a bit faster and easier, though that was all highly relative at this point. The Kelly Lake trail descent in the dark was certainly fast and fun, just as Dexter/Grizzly Gulch trail, a wonderful combination. Then there were a bunch of slow fireroad grinds (Crest road, Coit road from Kelly Lake, Grizzly Gulch road/Wagon towards Camp Willson) that certainly felt easier than the earlier butchery on Center Flats and its likes.

Sunset in Coe

To add mileage to the route (and ensure a clean 100 as per the official Coe map), I had included a slight detour off of Camp Willson in the end, featuring sections of Vasquez and Long Dam trails, and I hadn’t bothered to preride them. Roy and Patrick gave me a disparaging look once we had regrouped at Camp Willson, and I was unsure why. As soon as they sent me ahead down Vasquez I understood. The downhill part is horribly rutted, the short climb out vicious, and the descent down Long Dam most possibly the worst trail I have ever laid wheels on (basketball sized potholes, ruts and ditches are literally all over the place). But in a way, I guess it’s not unfitting for a ‘hard’ Coe ride.

Even though we were plodding around like zombies now, I was getting quite excited, knowing that we had it almost in the bag. The last-but-not-least hurdle however was the 500ft climb on Wagon road. A smooth fireroad, but the bottom part sports a sustained 18% section and I had to use all my willpower to refrain from dabbing and ditching the bike – having Patrick climb next to me helped to ease the pain and at last we made it to the top. I must have fallen half asleep, as I missed the spectacular meteorite that Patrick and Roy were gazing at (I did see a smaller one earlier on). The fast and furious final descent down Wagon road upped the adrenaline level again, and we stormed back home through a frosty Hunting Hollow road to claim our 100 miler, which had taken us a grand total of 21 hours and 12 minutes. We were pleasantly surprised to see a welcome committee on the parking lot, which we highly appreciated, thanks Paul and Bryan! Some numbers needed rounding up (damn GPS receivers), so after a bit of bonus riding we were finally able to enjoy the festivities while staving off onset of hypothermia. Best – and hardest – ride ever! Thanks Patrick and Roy for sharing in the madness. Next year, I’d love to see some strong riders show up and shatter our time; after all, if we can do it, why not you?

P.S. This is pretty much a transcript of what I posted on the mtbr thread – check it out for Patrick and Roy’s version of the facts. Ride stats and many more photos here.

November 12, 2010


Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

We tested the waters (for some of us, quite literally) and since a nice meteorological window of opportunity has opened up, we’re on for a rematch:

Hard COEre 100 flyer

We wouldn’t have been able to wait until next year anyways..

October 17, 2010

The Hard COEre 100 – first shot

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

We came, we saw and Coe won.

For a while I’ve been fascinated by the idea of pulling off an unsupported 100-miler at Henry Coe: riding one giant, pure dirt loop, without repeats, out-and-backs or pavement. The vast amount of terrain Coe offers does allow this – it would allow even more if you’d be inclined to want more, with its 87,000 acres and 300-something miles of trails and dirt roads. And so the Hard COEre 100 was born (follow the link for route details and more). A century at Coe means one should count on at least 20,000 feet of climbing, as the trails – a concoction of bumpy singletrack, steep firebreaks and jeep roads, half-overgrown game trails, rocky creek beds and old horse carriage trails – tend to go either up or down, at mostly unforgiving grades.

I probed around a bit and found Patrick and Roy – two of the strongest Coe-riders I know – prepared to share in the madness and line up with me for a 2AM start of this inaugural version. The evening before, my goal was to get at least a few hours of sleep in before the start, my main fear was not to hear my alarm and suffer rightful embarrassment. Carbo-loading by drinking two IPA’s was just right to obtain both objectives, and would hopefully provide good energy for the ride as well.

start of Hard COEre 100
The inaugural crazies riders right before the start

And so three souls lined up at the start – we’d be carrying more weight than usual (lights, batteries, warm riding gear, all our food), and it finally started to dawn upon me that the schedule and route that I had thought up in front of my computer was verging on the edge of madness, given what I thought my own capabilities were. But I quickly pushed the worries aside, I wanted to play and see, and just try to make the best of the curveballs that Coe would throw at us.

A ride like this needed an appropriate warm-up, so what better way to start it than the slow grunt up Lyman-Willson? The most memorable part of it turned out to be a skunk running along in front of us for a while, forcing us to opt for the steeper part of a short braid in the trail. After reaching Camp Willson we decided to not pause and push through to Willson Peak, climbing further up Steer Ridge. Unfortunately the moon had set already, as the nocturnal views from Steer Ridge would have been magical. Now the fun could really begin: the combo of singletrack descents Spike Jones / Timm was a total blast in the dark – my setup of strong helmet incandescent light and bar mounted LED worked great and I hesitated only on the trickiest log rolls on Timm. Roy took out some snagging branches with his sheer enthusiasm, I believe. We were up for a 5 hour night ride, on its own already respectable, but I remembered this setup worked perfectly for almost 8 hours during the Moonlight Madness ride, so I didn’t worry too much about battery life. Alas, I should never trust anything using batteries, as I was about to find out.

Lost Spring trail
Roy climbing out of Lost Spring trail, after ritual release of inner demons

Next up was a bit of Coit road, a bit of Anza (up, then down) and more Coit. Coit Spring / south Cross Canyon was the next notable climb, and at the crest we took our first real break. So far all was good, and we dived into Cross Canyon, a fast, furious descent. Then: my helmet light started to get dimmer and dimmer, and quickly failed entirely; another lesson learnt (test everything thoroughly and preferably right before you use it) but not a good spot and time to learn it, with Cross Canyon being among the most rocky, techy parts of the route. I still had my LED bar light of course, and it took some getting used to, and a few clumsy stumbles on the tricky dried out creek crossings, but it worked.

We told ourselves to not bother trying to clean the hardest climbing sections on this ride (one of our normal passtimes on Coe rides) – though Patrick in particular gave honest attempts on many of them – so the Cross Canyon Wall remained undefeated. Really hard to imagine it can be cleaned anyway these days, it is looking more rutted and loose than ever.

A few gentle miles of Willow Ridge road were up next and then it was time to check up on our recent trailwork near Hoover Lake. I couldn’t enjoy it very much due to my challenges with illumination but it rode well – minus dabs on the early switchbacks but I’ll blame those on the darkness.

In my current predicament I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Willow Ridge trail, a steep plunge on narrow, poison oak infested singletrack to Los Cruzeros, and I had to take it very slowly. But once we started the climb out of the Narrows on Lost Spring trail, dawn broke and my battery worries were over (for a while). Seeing the sun rise after a long night ride always gives me a good morale boost, and I enjoyed the climb out towards the top of China Hole East. After Patrick and I had crested the climb, we were upset by a loud, infernal grunt rising from the depths of the Narrows – the only thing this could signal was Roy not cleaning a climb. Coe cries every time Roy dabs!

Sunrise  in Coe

Sunrise in China Hole
A rather awesome part of long night rides: witnessing dawn

The descent into China Hole was fast and fun, and particularly nice in the fresh daylight. Next up was the, for Coe standards, easy, ‘family-oriented’ climb up China Hole West. After jointly dabbing on the toughest part of it, the first, elusive switchback, we slowly but surely dragged ourselves up Pine Ridge. The Manzanita Point fireroad leading to the park’s headquarters (HQ) had recently been graded (a mountain biker’s curse) and turned into a sandy mess in spots. The plan was to take it all the way up to HQ to refill on water and enjoy some other perks (full service bathrooms, instant coffee or hot chocolate for 25 cents!), which ment we would have to deviate a bit from the ‘rules’, as it implied a short out-and-back section, and even a very short stretch of pavement. But as it really falls in the noise overall (the out-and-back is about 0.6 miles), and it serves a clear purpose (water supply), we decided it was an acceptable exception (that’s the advantage if you make up the rules yourself!).

dusty graded road
Roy needed some dusting after Patrick was done with him here
ocean of fog
A sea of fog rolling into the valley below

Our pace had been dropping throughout the ride, or rather, our breaks getting increasingly long and more frequent – and I knew it was going to be very hard to finish it in something resembling daylight, which was weighing a bit on me knowing my battery situation. But the coffee/chocolate at HQ was a godsend and got us all psyched up again for the goodness that was to follow: Flat Frog and Middle Ridge (ok, with some Hobbs-drudge in between). Middle Ridge is of course about the finest singletrack descent one could dream up. I walked the steep climb at the beginning of it to save myself for what we’d get on our plate as soon as the downhill fun would have dried up.

Middle Ridge
The joys of Middle Ridge

So much fun just had to have a price. Poverty Flat would be the appetizer for what was to come: an unclimbable loose mess, an excursion towards the outer limits of what we were willing to put up with. Meanwhile it had started to warm up, and temperatures were definitely exceeding the 80F barrier of my comfort zone. The main course was Bear Mountain. Roy and I had stoked Patrick – a Bear Mountain virgin – about it and I hope it delivered. The first stretch was a long hike-a-bike for the three of us, but it was impressive to see how Patrick managed to clean a formidable section later on. It was clear that he had the best legs today; a climb like this doesn’t leave much doubt. But the mountain did get him in the end: he seemed to suffer a slow leak in the rear tire and needed to replace a tube. Myself, I think I ended up hiking almost half of its 4 mile overall length.

Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain: the Crusher of souls, the Obliterator of hope

hikeabike on Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain: delivering on its evil promises

We pretty much looped around this lonely house-on-the-hill

Fortunately, Bear Mountain road does have an end, and we were relieved to zip down towards Mississippi lake along County Line road, on occasion staring into the Orestimba Wilderness on our left. It’s always a joy to see Mississippi Lake appear and after riding a fun stretch of singletrack around it we took a break and filtered some water. The next part of the route was the only one I hadn’t ridden before: a stretch of Willow Ridge road followed by a descent on Rat Spring trail – the Willow Ridge part seemed innocent enough on the map, a gradual climb followed by some ‘rollers’. But these rollers turned out to be a rather painful affair – ridiculously steep walls that were generally just a tad too long for me to power up through momentum – I was still in the process of recovering from Bear Mountain and felt beat down by the heat and now this. I suffered/hiked through them, but needed a long break at Pacheco Camp to regain my composure and some strength.

A typical Willow Ridge ‘roller’

But a worse thing was that we were now more than three hours behind schedule. I had tried to design the route so that leg 2 (which we just completed) and 3 were the hardest, and leg 4 easier and faster. Riding legs 3 and 4 was going to leave us with an ETA of at best 10pm. Given that I would have to rely on a wimpy bar LED, and Patrick and Roy’s lights may have had only one or two hours left, we made the hard decision to pull the plug on the whole route, skip leg 3 and finish by continuing with leg 4. It would still give us 80 miles with ~15,000 foot of climbing.

After eating a bit and employing my secret end-of-ride weapon (GU shots) I started to feel better again. The last part of the route was a bunch faster indeed and featured highlights such as the Kelly Lake trail (East) descent, the Dexter + Grizzly Gulch singletrack (great downhill!) and some exhilarating high-speed downhill fun on Wagon Road (speeds approaching 40mph). Roy started to look a little pale and we were afraid that he would decide to climb up Serpentine rather than stick to the route (yes, he’s one who would opt to climb more in order to feel better!), but our fear was fortunately ungrounded.

On Wagon road
Roy cresting the final climb on Wagon Road

It was very rewarding and great fun riding this in a small group, but there is a final, near-500 foot climb on Wagon right before the descent home, and my original intention was to propose to Roy and Patrick to duke it out here, close to the very end, for the ‘win’. Of course that wasn’t relevant anymore, and Patrick would have handily smoked us anyway, so I didn’t even bring it up. Hence we rolled together through Hunting Hollow right before sunset, around 6.15pm, back to the lot, to enjoy some post-ride festivities. Too bad that the mtbr HCFC crowd had left already, but we did manage to sweep up Brian/knobs from his ride and chatted a bit.

A great adventure was had – thanks Roy and Patrick for the company and willingness to take part in my borderline-ridiculous plans – and we all learned something. For instance, that it should be possible for us to finish this thing, given a better preparation, some minor tweaks and perhaps a longer day. This ain’t over yet!

at the end of our HC100 attempt
‘After’ shot, enjoying some well-deserved goodies

October 3, 2010

A Hole in the Ground (and a broken link, a sheared bolt)

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

The plan was simple: enjoy the DRT+HitG yet one more time this year, before it gets too cold, before it gets snowed in – and introduce Tom to its glorious goodness.
Connector to the Donner Rim trail

Sometimes not everything goes according to plan though.

Just over one mile in, after finishing the initial climb from the Donner Lake traihead to the DRT, I felt something funny at my left crank. It started to feel even funnier when it completely detached from its rightful location, the bottom bracket, and was just dangling from my foot. The crank bolt had sheared in two sections and there was nothing we could do to get the bike to somewhat work again. Well, it was possible to descend with one crank back to the trailhead, which actually did provide some entertainment.

Truckee was close by so we went there to look for a bike shop – our luck took a turn for the better as the great folks of Cyclepaths in Truckee were able to quickly fix things and set me up with a replacement bolt. But we still had wasted a good chunk of time driving around so we decided to settle for the regular HitG loop – which made me suspect for a second that Tom might have sabotaged my bike, to prevent me from dragging him along on a 30+ miler in the high Sierra, a thought that earlier on hadn’t been able to extract much enthusiasm out of him…

We started out with the road and fireroad section – and then the fun could start. Conditions were perfect at the time – not too warm, not too cold, some clouds, fall colors here and there, and the climb up Andesite provided plenty of purrty views. Soon we got into the flow of the trail, and took on a brisky pace. There was a group of three ahead of us going at an equally brisk pace, and we passed a friendly couple from New York state vacationing in the area while they were acquainting themselves with the Sierra granite.

At the midway point of the loop, about 7 miles from each trailhead, I stopped right after a chunky section to get some photos; while Tom was descending said section, a loud popping noise accompanied the downhill action, a noise that had the unmistakable and terrifying character of disintegrating bike parts. It turned out the linkage of his Santa Cruz Blur LT rear suspension had broken (in multiple pieces, not all of which we were able to retrieve) – a perfect spot for this to happen, we couldn’t be farther out from civilization and the impending dread of a 7 mile hike-a-bike under looming thunderstorms didn’t exactly lighten up the mood.

McGyver linkage fix

However, as the stereotype has it, in every crisis there is opportunity, and Tom got the bright idea of lodging a rock in between his seat tube and the seatstays. This would prevent his bottom bracket from sinking down to near-ground due to the defunct linkage and now dangling free shock, effectively turning it into a hardtail: the Santa Cruz limited edition Blur LT ‘Hard’ Tail with custom rock-link! He had wrapped some duct tape around the rock and I suggested using his cellphone pouch to spread out the contact force and protect the seat tube. More duct tape was dug up from the depths of his backpack, to keep the entire assembly in place and I had to bow my head in respect for such preparedness (previously, I had given him plenty of flack for carrying too much stuff around ‘that one would never use’ on rides). I now agree, there can never be enough duct tape!

Duct tape to the rescue

It all worked surprisingly well, even on the chunkier sections of trail (of which there are rather a few). I had a pretty great time on the rocks and didn’t even have to feel bad for Tom’s misadventure, as he was able to maintain a very decent pace, taking it easy on the hard sections, to protect the integrity of his brand new hardtail as much as possibe.



Close to the end, at the staircased hairball section I dabbed on the same tight right hander I had trouble with last time; next time, third time right perhaps?

It was an eventful day out in the woods, and to conclude I’d say that the fabric that keeps mankind going must undoubtedly contain some McGyver-style thought processes and ample supplies of duct tape.
Oh, and get up there if you have the chance – there’s still time before the snow, and the fall colors are starting to break out…


September 17, 2010

DRT + HitG

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

Or, Donner Rim Trail plus Hole in the Ground (I finally closed the loop). These trails could and should never end. Some photos below, to keep the stoke, while the next Tahoe excursion is being staged…

Donner Rim trail

Summit Lake

Donner Rim Trail

Donner Rim Trail

Everything is still in good shape (i.e. you won’t eat too much dust) due to the late snow, so go get it while it lasts…

September 10, 2010

To race or not to race

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

For some reason I haven’t been much into racing this year, but the upcoming weekend there seems to be a perfect storm of events gathering:

Annadel XC Challenge, Tahoe-Sierra 100, Great Tahoe Flume Race, Folsom Cyclebration, Big Kahuna, Pacific Grove Tri, Fremont Peak hillclimb

The Annadel and Tahoe Flume races are particularly interesting because it’s the first time since the Ancient Times that a mountain bike race is being held in these great venues (ok, make that a decade or so), and it’s a great thing for the parks and the community to see this happen. With the weekend approaching, my ‘embarras de choix’ gets bigger and bigger but ultimately will sort itself out since due to my procrastination I’m slipping most of the signup deadlines. Which is okay, since as I mentioned, for some reason I’m not feeling particularly motivated to race this year – I do have something else, bigger in mind, but that is staying under cloak for a while.

I was initially planning to do the Big Kahuna as a relay with my co-worker but unfortunately he suffered a stress fracture. The Fremont Peak thing looks like an interesting new format to try out, but I’m still feeling the remnants of undiluted suffering that a genuine climbing TT inflicts (OLH, yesterday), so we’ll see…

August 24, 2010

Bear Mountain

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

Bear Mountain is the ground zero of the Lick Fire. It’s also one of the steepest sufferfests of a climb in a place that is known for, well, its steep trails. It doesn’t hide its intentions and starts out with a 1 mile stretch raising you 1000 feet…

Bear Mountain

…followed by a number of steep ‘rollers’: euphemism for a series of walls where even the rotational inertia of niner wheels doesn’t get you anywhere. You need to do some work to get at the base of the climb; even in the middle of this unusually cool summer weekend day there wasn’t a soul around. Hardly any wildlife even, in contrast to the rest of the area that I’d traveled through. It was eerily calm, beautifully stark and desolate.

Bear Mountain walls

I hadn’t even planned on being here (Black Oak Springs / Rock House Ridge was the original plan), and I was questioning my sanity – light on food and water I had planned on Pacheco Camp as my resupply spot, and it was still a world away. There’d be of course plenty of water in Mississippi Lake, and I had my filter bottle with me in case. On one of the neverending staircase-steep pitches I told myself there is no reason to ever come back here – now, while typing this, I’m jonesing to get back there and beyond – funny how that works.

Orestimba wilderness

The Orestimba wilderness is recovering from the big fire – it now looks and feels a bit like I imagine the high desert does.
All that climbing did result in a fair payoff: downhill singletrack bliss, alternating between goat trail style (Heritage) and buff (Bowl/Lyman-Willson into Hunting Hollow).

More here

August 9, 2010

Adventures in bikepacking (I)

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:45 am

I’ve been interested for a while in bikepacking; read about the countless adventures chronicled here by Scott M. to find out what this is all about, or check out the Colorado Trail race for an extreme and rather captivating example.

I’ve done one trip before that could be described as a bona fide bikepacking trip, which was my two-day loop around Lake Tahoe, so consider me a genuine rookie; though lots of fun overall, it sometimes felt a bit as if I was riding around with a boat anchor strapped to my back; so I’ve been doing some homework since then and devised a setup for my Salsa. Now I needed to try it out. My goal was to figure out if I could carry enough stuff to comfortably camp out while still having the ride feel like real mountain biking. Multi-day mtb races typically also involve lots of solo night riding, under the motto ‘sleep is overrated’, so this would be my secondary goal: do a solo night ride in a (semi-)remote wilderness without getting all too creeped out.

a Henry Coe evening

Enter Henry Coe; the perfect place to break test your gear, get lost in the dark and be on your own to sort things out. Well, maybe not the getting lost part, as I’ve somewhat learned my way around there.

Salsa bikepacking setup

Here’s my setup (including mystery rider with backpack): frame bag with top bag (‘fuel tank’) from Epic Revelate Designs in Alaska, with a 4 lbs heavy tent strapped on the handlebar (long live velcro straps) . In the case of a race the tent would go and probably be replaced by a bivy bag weighing less than nothing but note that I said ‘comfortably camp’ above; also, this is a $30 tent that I bought years ago, I’m sure with some more investment I could get one two or three pounds lighter. Note also that I’m not using a seat cargo bag (yet), but we’re working on that as well. The fully loaded bike weighed in at ~37 lbs (of which 12 lbs consisted of non-bike parts; more details on all the crap I took along maybe in a later post), then my backpack with full water bladder added another 10 lbs or so.

I showed up at HH around 6.30pm and started making my way up Lyman-Willson. First test: would I be able to clean the Wall, fully loaded? I’m happy to report, yes indeed, and no foot was put down between Hunting Hollow and Camp Willson – probably mainly thanks to the fact that the rutted step-up near the sinking pond on Bowl has been bedded in nicely lately. Up and down Wagon then, and the bike handled fine on the descents, though the extra weight on the front required some getting used to. That should be taken care of with a lighter tent or bivy, and it wasn’t actually even too bad as it was. I was a bit more concerned about the potential of brake fading, as my Hope Mono Mini’s aren’t exactly designed for this type of hard labor.

Up the peak at Crest trail I took a break to watch the sun set and ponder my plans for the rest of the ride – these were, in good tradition, yet to be improvised. I decided not to go ahead with the actual camping, but only do pretend-camping, for two main reasons: (a) I realized I had procrastinated patching up my Big Agnes air pad (which is great, except when it has a leak), and this would wreak certain havoc on the quality of my beauty sleep out here and (b) I had beer stashed in a cooler in the car and unfortunately not on or near my bike. After I was done lingering around, staring at Coit Lake deep below me and studying the farther expanses of Coe near the horizon I put on my lights and took off in the dusk, heading to Willow Ridge road.

Top of Crest trail

Remember my two goals stated earlier? I figured the descent of Willow Ridge trail – the singletrack that drops you 1200ft down into Los Cruzeros – would kill two birds with one stone. If I’d be able to enjoy the winding descent and not feel bogged down by my gear, it would certainly qualify as ‘real mountain biking’, and at the same time it would make for a proper night ride, as the twilight was fading quickly and making place for a deep darkness. The downhill was thrilling indeed but some of the thrills came from the young poison oak sprouts all over the place and my frantic attempts to stay clear of them. I remember we worked on this trail just over a year ago and we pretty much nuked all the PO, now however it seems to be back in full force; quite a weed, this thing. Nevertheless, the bike was handling fine, and I’m not able to report any noteworthy issues regarding braking or cornering.

Willow Ridge trail - in the dark

But now I got myself into a hole and needed to get out of it; a scenic, though dark hole it was, Los Cruzeros, surrounded on all sides by steep climbs. I noticed some campers but didn’t take the time to go exchange pleasanteries, as they were about one hundred yards off the trail and I wasn’t sure whether they were that eager for interaction with some nutcase showing up out of nowhere with a huge headlamp.

Up the Mahoney Meadows Wall I dabbed for the first time – not a shame as even on a good day and with a light bike the long, 30 degrees steep pitch consisting of mostly soft and loose dirt isn’t quite my cup of tea. I was able to clean all the climbing on Lost Springs however, probably thanks again to the plentiful poison oak infestations that made me stick to my line and power through the steeps like a madman high on steroids.

The section of Mahoney Meadows to Coit road – even on a sunny day a rather unexciting affair – was in the darkness of the night even more of a pain than usual: coastal fog had been rolling in, reflecting the beam of my headlight, killing visibility and making the ride rather tricky; well I guess at least it wasn’t as boring as it could have been. At this point I also started to succumb to some night riding paranoia – weird sounds in the woods, sudden movements caught in the corner of the eye – mostly birds and rodents, but there are always the creepy thoughts of being watched by the mountain lions. Either way, this is why the iPod was invented, so I cranked up the volume to tune out any funny noises and carried on: up the short section of Coit road, and then at last the descent home, one of my favorites, down Cross Canyon to Grapevine. My most fearful trail encounter happened a bit later, right after I was having a pretty good time negotiating the Grapevine rock garden in the dark (final test for the loaded bike: it performed nicely also on the techy bits): I found myself with a skunk running in front of me on the singletrack; at some point it jumped into some shrubs on the side and started making fart noises – I swiftly switched into a higher gear and accelerated out of trouble; it had been a close call! There were no more incidents to report on the final stretch of Coit and the Hot Springs road back to the parking lot and soon I was able to look back at a successful first experiment in bikepacking with my new setup.

May 24, 2010

Tour of California

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:06 am

The 2010 Tour of California was passing through my proverbial backyard again, which was a great excuse to get out on my bike(s) and go check out the race.

Stage 3 would feature climbs of Tunitas, Highway 84 from Woodside to Alice’s and later in the stage Bonny Doon. The fact that the Highway 84 climb goes unnamed indicates how relatively unpopular it is with local cyclists: it is so heavily car trafficked that most riders just choose to descend it, closing a loop after climbing say Old La Honda. Talking about OLH, it appears that this gem of a climb was initially selected by the organizers to feature in the stage, which would have been beyond awesome, but the idea was apparently canned due to protests by local residents. That, together with the ridiculous complaints by local governments on ‘road paint‘ shows how bad the NIMBY-effect can get in California. On the positive side though: both stages I checked out featured a huge amount of spectators (even in the rain), what looked like a mass convention of local cyclists and a great overall party atmosphere.

The TOC was apparently moved for three main reasons: to have better weather, to allow inclusion of the bigger climbs in the Sierra Nevada and to gather a more competitive (read: in shape) peloton that what you get in February. Well, I guess they got one out of three (mid-May is way too early for the real Sierra climbs, so I’m not sure what that argument was about). During stage 3, I rode my bicycle to the top of the 84 climb, well before the racers would show. It was raining, not drizzling like last year.

toc 2010 stage 3

2010 TOC stage 3

It was nice to see our local roads owned by cyclists for a day. The group wasn’t really racing but at this point it was pretty early on in the stage. Stage 4 the next day featured the Sierra road climb and some less-traveled but awesome roads in the Diablo range (Calaveras, Mines) – which I know mainly from motorcycling. Talking of which, I took the Duc out that day to watch the race, which turned out to be a highly efficient and entertaining approach. The photos below show the riders passing a (rolling) section of Calaveras road.

2010 TOC stage 4

2010 TOC Stage 4

As for the doping relevations: I’ve long ceased to idolize bike racers (hm, since VdB in ’99 perhaps?); the ones I do still admire nobody knows and are racing in events such as the Arizona Trail Race, Tour Divide, CTR and the likes. The clean guys in the peloton are probably heros, but many others are flawed individuals, just like everyone else and the characters in Lost ;) .

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