Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Moab Day 3: Sovereign

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After a day of swooping around on Mars, I was curious to see what else the guides would throw our way.   Turns  out we were to visit Venus on the third day of our journey through the myriad worlds of Moab.
  
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Like slick rock,  the Sovereign trail is but a few miles from town,  but that’s where the similarities end.   The trail winds up, down, and across a huge mesa.   Unlike its red-faced sandstone cousins,  this gargantuan land peninsula is tinted with an oxidized green, like a giant molten blob of patina'd bronze.   I didn't know what to make of the green soil- I had never seen anything like it.   This oddly colored rock is just another example of how varied and diverse the life and land of this place is.   Every ride is a geology lesson and a ultra-high def episode of a discovery channel documentary all rolled into one.  Then again,  falling on a Juniper tree after wiping out on some crazy rocks is as close-up as you can get.


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Our guide today was a hard man known as Steve.  Steve had ridden these trails for quite a while,  and while he was slow to warm up, could rip through downhill singletrack with far more finesse than I could.  As we drove to the trailhead he told us about life around Moab and how he came to call it home;   not many people here were born and raised in Moab-   each person we’ve met here has their own story-  with Moab being the current stop of their journeys.  I guess we all have that in common at the moment.


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I’ll be honest:   riding up that mesa was a bit of a chore.   Three days into our trip, we were still getting acclimated to the altitude and terrain.   The sovereign trail was a world apart from slick rock:  generally tight singletrack littered with loose rocks and technical uphill sections.   It definitely left its mark on yours truly…

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After toiling uphill across loose rocks left by dirt bikes (the lazy' man’s mountain bike…),   we would be rewarded by tight, steep singletrack that switched back across the mesa.  The surface was much looser than slick rock, and I may have been guilty of riding the breaks down it, as I was really not in the mood to fly off the side of a cliff.  

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After an hour and a half of ups and downs we reached the top of the mesa:  a cliff face with the gorgeous La Sal mountains in the background.   The are the ultimate compliment to the varied Moab Terrain.  You’re in the middle of an arid desert canyon land, and off in the distance are snowcapped mountains,  gracefully kissing a sky so blue that it would give Bob Ross a wet dream.
 
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As we made our way down the Mesa, Steve corralled us through a dried up, rocky half-pipe of a riverbed (I believe if was called Terry’s Tunnel).  This riverbed was full of ledges and rocky outcrops that you had to traverse.  The techie bits were fun to try and figure out: correct gearing, a good line, and some fast twitch muscle fibers got you over the rocks and ledges,  but any misstep and you had the chance of a one night stand with the ground…

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As we stepped off of the green mesa we were met with sandy red singletrack and a few flat wash sections.  For the record,  deep, loose sand is a royal pain on a mountain bike-  I reassured myself that riding in sand would come in handy at the next cx race.
 
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One of the last sections we traversed was a giant, wide open stretch of sandstone.  i was told it used to be a seabed, and it’s pretty apparent.  it stretched far out-  a vast, dehydrated sea bed,  littered with junipers and small desert flora.

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we finished up our ride on some non-technical jeep roads, riding back to the van and cooling down.  We had another great day of unforgettable riding under our belts.  As I sat there devouring a sandwich in the shade, the La Sal Mountains sat on the horizon.  This trip was the mountain bike equivalent of a seven-course tasting menu at Le Bernardin-  I had no idea what the next course would be- couldn’t wait to find out.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Moab: Day 2- Martian Roller Coaster



Before I left for my trip, my friend David had recommended that I read “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey.  I’m about halfway through it and can strongly suggest it to my literate friends.  Edward Abbey was one of the founding fathers of environmentalism.  In the book, he recounts his time spent as a Park Ranger in Arches National Park in Moab.  He spent 3 seasons there taking in the varied and natural beauty of this ridiculous place.
  

  
Event though its right in the Desert,  I’ve seen what Abbey is talking about.  The terrain and life is rugged and dramatic.  It’s a stark contrast from the manufactured, manicured, and frenzied beauty of NYC.

On day 1 we were met with beautiful desert singletrack and some stunning geological formations.  Today was completely different.  Even though we were maybe 10 miles away from where we rode yesterday, we might as well have been on a different planet.
  


More specifically, Mars.
Today we rode the slickrock trail,   which is known for its, well, slickrock.   I was pumped as hell to give it a try.  The slickrock landscape looks like something the Mars rover must have set eyes upon while on its death march.   Swooping, rolling dunes of solid rock litter the landscape.  The only giveaway that you’re on earth is the beautiful desert life that’s peppered across the land.  



Our guide today was Heidi.   Heidi’s an avid athlete who’s keeps busy by kickin’ ass at trail running when she’s not taking fat, spoiled New York cyclists out for pity rides.   Needless to say, Heidi put us through our paces for the next 4 hours of Mars rovin’.




So how does it ride??   Like a Martian rollercoaster.


 

Riding slickrock is quite a departure from the singletrack that you’re probably used to.   The biggest difference is grip.  It’s Grippy.  Super grippy.  Grippier than my hands are around a Bacon cheeseburger.   While the name “slickrock” may  seem to imply differently,  it earned its name because it is quite slippery when we’re talking about horses and cows.  Horseshoes and slickrock= bovines sliding around like your mother in a Jell-O wrestling match.




So what does that mean?  It means you can ride slick rock at ridiculous angles- up, down, sideways, off-camber, and probably upside-down.  You can ride straight across a 50-degree off-camber that would make a cx-racer weep.  




The Best part of slickrock is the swoopy stuff.  You come to the crest of a slope,   fly down 50 feet and slam right up the incline of the next.    You’ve gotta have the granny gear on hand to get up these inclines.   each of those climbs is a 20-30 second V02MAX effort that forces you to sit so far forward that  you’re practically straddling the steerer tube like a stripper pole and spinning your legs around in your 32X22 (the 32 is in the rear, roadies).  I may have earned a new nickname due to my overzealous spinning while going up these things…
 


Each of these aggressive efforts is like a little interval that you end up repeating about 30-50 times.   We have essentially signed up for a week a daily 4-hour long anaerobic interval workouts.  Coach roger would be so proud…



Understandably,  some of those rises were too steep for us and we ended up dumping out a few times and walking.  This leads me to a very important tip for all of you northeasterners coming to ride slick rock up here:  TAKE OUT YOUR TOE SPIKES BEFORE YOU EVEN THINK OF RIDING SLICKROCK.  Sure,  toe spikes are great when you’re knee-deep in mud at Granogue or tap-dancing on a street corner, but on a steep slickrock incline they are about as useful as a Bacon AT-AT in a synagogue.


 

Around the midpoint of the ride we came across a bit of a playground-  it was akin to the empty pools skateboarders do tricks in,  but naturally formed.  it was a blast to swoop in and out and take some banked turns.   Naturally this was the perfect time for a far superior rider named Kyle to show up and demonstrate how terrible we actually are…




The whole slickrock trail is situated high above Moab.  Depending on where you were you could overlook the whole town  or the mighty Colorado River.   What better place to sit down and enjoy the view then on the edge of a sheer 1000 ft cliff face.





I can say without hesitation that romping around on this Martian terrain was one of the best bike experiences I’ve had in my life.  Who knows what planet we’ll end up on tomorrow?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

To Moab

    

I’m sitting in a cheap motel in the middle of Utah.  I couldn’t be happier.   I’m not sure that the words "Utah,” “Motel,” and “Happy” are used in conjunction that often,  but  it absolutely rings true here.  

Two weeks ago I ended my career in the world of Finance.   No longer happy with taking part in the rat race for mediocrity,  I enthusiastically gave up the life of a middle office trade support excel monkey.   I won’t get into any details but suffice to say reconciling other people’s cash and confirming other people’s trades is something that is definitively not for me.  Instead, I’ll be jumping into the world of social media and digital marketing.

Leaving my job and switching careers gave me a reason to come out here.  I believe that whenever one has a big life change, he/she should get away for a few days and take it all in.  A sort of intermission between acts of a play.  Maybe it’s more like a half-time show? 

I needed to get out of the city for a few days.  We’re so over-stimulated in our daily lives that we become numb.  What we see and experience can stop affecting us.  All day we sit at computers and process information in all its forms.   It gets a bit old after a while. 

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What better place for a reset than Moab.   Fresh off of the hilariously brutal pain train known as Battenkill, my teammate Steve and I hopped a plane to Denver, jumped on a comically bouncy turboprop that dropped us into Grand Junction, and from there we drove 2 hours to Moab.  Here we’ll spend 7 days mountain biking over and around some of the most beautiful, dramatic and awe-inspiring landscape around.

Yesterday was day 1.  After a fantastic breakfast we were met by our guide for the day- Joe.   Joe was a pretty awesome dude who had 3 seasons of MTB touring under his belt, and was a rock climber in the off season.  He drove us over to the trailhead where our ride would begin.

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Our Steeds would be Kona Dawg Deluxes.  These dual suspension monsters have 6 inches of travel and will run over just about anything without much of a fuss.  I can tell you that I love riding dual-ies much much more than hardtails.  It’s just more fun to barrel over the mountain and not have to worry about your junk getting pounded into a pulp.
 
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Today Joe introduced us to a couple of trails that are all linked together.   First we hit up Klondike Bluffs, and rode up half of Baby Steps.  These trails featured quite a wide  range of terrain.  There was a good deal of slick rock to ride over, which is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.  It’s grippy, easy to climb up, and fun as hell to bomb down.

 


The other facet of these trails included more technical single track on loose dirt.   The singletrack would weave and snake around the land,  sometimes incorporating rock formations.  it did get pretty technical at times, and I was at my best when i decided to dump out and  take a quick dirt nap right on top of a juniper bush.

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You’re sort of conflicted when riding parts of this trail.  Some of the views are so spectacular that its easy to not pay as much attention to where you’re riding.  We made sure to stop a view times and take it all in so that we wouldn’t be distracted when we were actually riding.
 
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By lunch time we had ridden right up to the edge of Arches National Park.  That’s home to all of the picturesque geological formations that Moab is known for.  As it’s a national park, we had to leave our bikes at the border.  We hiked on to the edge of a cliff and stopped for lunch.  For the record,  Mountain bike shoes with toe spikes may in fact be the worst shoes around when it comes to scrambling around on rocks.  not recommended… 

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After shoving a delicious wad of roast beef down my gullet we plodded back to the bikes and kept going.   We hit some more technical singletrack which resulted in me dumping out a few times.  The weather was partly cloudy,  which in the desert means that the temps drop 20 degrees whenever cloudy block the sun from doing its job.   At one point Steve got a flat and i briefly saw snow flurries.

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After bombing down some more singletrack and slick rock,   we rolled through a fire road imprinted with 4X4 tracks.  As we road by Joe found a baby cow on the side of the road takin’ a nap.   Probably tired from a day of running around the desert, the little dude was calm and didn't freak out when we approached him.  “You’ll make a fine osso bucco someday,” I said to him.  

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Not a bad experience for day one.   The trails that Joe took us on were a great way to get acclimated to the Moab experience,  which would prove to be a huge departure from the wooded trails of the northeast.


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After the ride we sat in a little Mexican restaurant  and pounded fish tacos and cervezas.   And to think,  at this very moment I could be sitting at a desk staring at 32 excel spreadsheets.   This round to me.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Rouge Roubaix Redux (again)

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Cycling bloggers say it again and again every year, but it's true: I can't believe the road season is back again. It seems like just yesterday that I was running all over Staten Island so that people could jump over barriers and run along the beach with their bikes on their backs. Since then there's been a whole off-season full of behavior that would make my coach cringe (Sorry, Roger) A few pigs worth of pork had been consumed, and I've lined the pockets of far too many Trappist monks this season.

When I speak to my fellow cyclists it seems that many of them have had a bit of a hard time kicking off training this year. Should we blame the weather? Sure- let's do that. The 12+inch dumps (I'm talking snow here) kill weekend rides, which are the bread and butter of base training. A winter full of wine, food, and regrettable decisions is hard to give up, but as the scale tips farther and farther away from your ideal and delusional race weight, reality must rear its ugly head. Before you know it, its time to give up your Friday nights in hopes of 6 am central park cycling glory. So how does one prepare for a return to the life of a spandex-clad monk?
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For me, two words: Rouge Roubaix. For the past three years, I've made the hilariously stupid decision of having the hardest race of the season be the first race of the season. My teammate Tim and I can't stay away from this hidden gem of a Spring Classic: 101 miles, 30 of which feature offensive, minefield-like unpaved sections that make Battenkill's "un-pave" feel like a track velodrome. Oh, and by the way, even though this race is in Louisiana, it's quite hilly. Myriad short, punchy, unpaved climbs result in almost 4,000 feet of climbing. And what's not to love about an obscenely unpaved 18% grade at mile 85?

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We got in two days before the race and stayed with a mutual friend in Baton Rouge. The most eventful part of the flight was realizing that I paid more to get to the airport and get my bike on the plane than i did for my ticket. Even though JetBlue's $50 bike box fee is relatively reasonable, I'm still infuriated by the fact that I'm charged for a sub-50 lb piece of luggage just because it's a bicycle. However, on the way back I discovered a fantastic way to bypass paying to get your bike on the plane: Simply say that your bike box is a massage table. There you go. Maybe I’ll have business cards made: “CJ’s love-you-long-time massage service. Where every ending is happy.”
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We got suited up in our brand-spankin-new kits and went for a spin by the Mississippi Levee. It had been so long since i had ridden in warm weather- I couldn't have been happier. As we sprinted for telephone poles, a pressing questions was mulling around in the back of my head; Am I actually going to survive this race again?


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Last year's Rouge Roubaix completely tore me up. Every part of my body was shredded, and I (like many) had been bonking by the end of the ride. I managed 18th place last year, but that was also with a week of Roger's Tucson cycling camp under my belt.


This time around I didn't have much confidence in my training up until 2 weeks before the race. Sure, I did a few reluctant 2+hr sessions on the trainer and got out for longer rides when I could, but I wasn't hungry for it like I was hungry for any number of delicacies I had been consuming all winter. I'd say my biggest obstacle as a bike racer is my torrid love affair with pork and foie gras products.
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The night of the race we had two dinners. Sushi at 4PM and Pasta before bed. A small ocean's worth of water was consumed, and we slammed some endurolytes in preparation for the upcoming pain fest. A laid out the buffet spread for the race. I decided to bring an extra bottle of water, 'cuz bonking at a Roubaix is about as fun as carnal relations with This.

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We woke up early and zoomed over to St. Francisville in our rock racing-esque SUV. We got to the hotel and registered. right by the registration tables was a course map with a lovely elevation profile that resembled tiger woods taking a lie detector test about his business trips.

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The air was a bit cold and clammy and we spent about an hour debating wardrobe selection. I decided to be a little cold at the start and go short sleeves. it would later warm up to the mid-60's range, so it was a good call. After pinning on the number and slathering on a metric ton of Sportique, we were ready to go.

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the first twenty miles of the race are relatively tame. our pack of about 60 cat 4's rode in a rather un-excited fashion. My biggest priority of the first 25 miles of the race was to initiate a tinkle-stop before the first dirt section. It's long been speculated that i have the bladder of a newborn infant, and I didn't want that to be an issue later on in the race. Tim and I informed the field we should take a pee break, and a few along with us pulled off to whizz. the rest of the field, though, kept going. after about 5 minutes of riding at threshold, I finally caught back on. Hilariously enough, that's when THE REST OF THE @#$!% FIELD DECIDED TO STOP FOR A BREAK. not being one to waste energy (lazy) I was a bit riled up. Tim calmed me down and we kept going.

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photo by Allen Richard

The first unpaved section was around mile 25 and is an 8 mile-long, sandy, pebbly mess. it's also where a violent acceleration happens, and the entire field gets strung out and eventually disintegrates. I would say about 10-15 people rode away from where I was in that dirt section.
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I was able to organize a chase group with about 5 or so other riders and we quickly started chasing upon exiting the dirt section. We had 20 mi or so till the next dirt section, and everyone worked together quite nicely. short, sweet pulls were the name of the game.
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Mile 65 would mark the start of the really nasty stuff- a short, 15% unpaved climb known as “Big Bertha” awaited us- some members of the group got dropped in the 2nd dirt section, and most were forced to dismount due to a lovely sand pit right in the middle of one of the climbs.
Between the 2nd and 3rd dirt section is a stretch of rolling asphalt- probably about 20 miles long. Last year this was the stretch where i started to hurt. I don’t think i was drinking enough or being disciplined enough about eating. I know- of all people, how could forget when you eat? This year i refilled all my bottles at every feed zone, stuffing water bottles down my jersey like a cuckolded domestique. I also brought along Nuun tablets and made sure to eat something every half hour. up until the last 5 miles of the race i felt great and had no problems staying smooth.
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the 3rd and final dirt section comes around mile 80-something and goes on for about 5 miles or so. within that final hilariously bad stretch of road, you’re greeted with short punchy climbs between 10-18% and descents that should be reserved for MTB’ers and CX’ers. Many a dude wiped out or had their tires go pop. This definitely wasn't a good race for tubulars or carbon wheels. I stuck with my Campy Eurus wheels and the never disappointing Vittoria Pave Clincher. Those tires are bulletproof and are without a doubt the best tires for any unpaved road race.
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the worst part of the race is most certainly the last road section up to the finish. You’ve just gone through the last unpaved stretch and you and your taint are hoping for a little solace. No way, Jose- while the last 10 miles are technically “paved,” the road is mostly chip seal and littered with potholes that make you wonder if you’re riding through a minefield. At this point all but 3 people in the chase group were actually taking pulls. Myself, a kid from Arkansas, and a dude from Natchez who looked like a bumblebee. I couldn’t tell if the rest of the group was pulling the douche move of waiting to attack at the last bit or if they were truly shattered.
The final stretch to the finish line is quite ugly: about a 500 meter uphill with a dip in the middle. as we turned into the final stretch, Arkansas gave me a nice little leadout and I sprinted my fat ass uphill for half a kilometer. I got a nice gap between me and the other guys who decided to sprint, and churned to the finish line as my legs filled to the brim with lactic acid. Note to self- never sprint for 500 meters uphill ever again. I was about to vomit when I crossed the finish line, but had a good 5 bike lengths from the rest of the guys.
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The minute I crossed the line I rolled over to the curb and collapsed on a patch of grass. I started hallucinating and could have sworn I saw an ethereal Phil Collins telling me to head towards the light.
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I had no idea what place I came in, and frankly I didn't care. I had finished in about 5 hrs and 13 minutes, and Tim had come in about 3 minutes ahead of me. We drove back to the start and shoved food and beer down our gullets. Everyone had a glazed look in their eyes and they all moved with a drawl that would make a normal Southerner seem like a coked-out NYC I-banker.
once we got the results, I was pretty happy: Tim came in 12th and I nabbed 15th. the first year I raced Rouge I came in 20th. Last year I got 18th. As long as I beat myself year over year I’m happy.
The next day we drove over to New Orleans to reward myself and undo all the good I did by riding 100 miles. Giant gulf oysters and Po’ Boys. Hoo-rah.
Call me a masochist, but there’s no better way to kick off the road season. Once the hardest race is behind you, everything else is a relative cakewalk. This race has also brought back my desire to train. Hell, maybe I’ll try and upgrade to 3 sometime this season. Sometimes, though, It’s just fun being an excitable cat 4.
See you guys in the park.
CJ