Thursday, September 28, 2017

Bronze looks good on me

XTERRA PanAm Champ highlights

Sitting on the grassy hillside with my head hanging low I exhaled slowly with an all too familiar tightness in my chest. At that moment I vowed never to return to the rugged beauty found in the Wasatch Mountain range.

That was 2012 and I had just completed my first XTERRA US National Championship off road triathlon. Keeping my word I did not return in 2013 or 2014. Yet, like many promises made to ones self forged in the bitterness of disappointment I did go back in 2015, 2016 and again this year mainly for redemption. I think what kept me away and what keeps most flat-landers away are the climbs. Training in the midwest you are living amongst the corn and soy bean fields, void of elevation save a few punchy river valleys and wind......we all hate the wind.

I wouldn't count my first foray into XTERRA in 2012 anything more than exploration, despite a few good finishes on the local scene. When it came to the Championship races, I placed "fair to midland" (a quote often uttered by my Pops). So with three Utah races under my belt this year seemed hold more promise than usual. As they say, the 4th time's the charm (I know this isn't the correct euphemism but it illustrates my point).

Al and I usually split the drive to Ogden up into two days. The first is a 900+ mile journey to Littleton, Colorado to visit my folks, the remainder is an 7+ hour drive to West Haven where we are home stayed by Meri and Devin (college soccer buddies).

We arrived in Ogden Thursday evening, settled in and planned on a partial pre ride the following morning. Mother Nature had other plans, heavy rains meant riders were strongly encouraged to stay off the trails allowing them to dry for Saturday's race. We opted for a chilly dip in Pine View Reservoir and a quick out and back run along the water's edge.

This year was different than in years past, Al would not be next to me on the starting line due to injury. Instead he would be tracking my progress as my race Sherpa.

Race morning was chilly, 40s at the res and high 30s at Snowbasin. It's been like this before but usually the temps rise to the low 80s later in the day. Today's high was forecasted to be in the mid 60s. Al tried to lift my spirits telling me this is the perfect temp for racing. Deep down I know he's right, but I'm dreading the cold climb up Wheeler Canyon in a wet kit. But XTERRA is gritty right? We are hardcore right? Still, nobody likes to be cold.

My swim was consistent with how I've been swimming lately and that's pretty well. I exited the water faster than previous years and my transition went under 2:00 minutes. Good considering they did away with the carpeted exit forcing competitors to run on this gravely-gnaw-your-feet-up parking lot.

I made good time up the canyon and settled into a rhythm on the bike. One little mechanical up Sardine forced me to dismount to pop my chain back on -- my bad. I lost a few spots on the climbs, including Sian Turner (2nd in my AG) but managed to earn a few back on the decent. I entered T2 and aside from a little fumble because my rack was occupied by another's bike I quickly slipped into my running shoes and exited to the trail. Al was along the fence line yelling my place (you're in 2nd). At the time I wasn't sure if Courtney Kaup had started the race and I knew Sian was ahead of me so with that knowledge I ran to maintain 2nd. I pushed hard up the hills and bombed the downs. I felt strong overall. Crossing the finish line I learned I was 3rd - which meant a podium and is AWESOME - to Sian in 2nd and Courtney in 1st. Courtney was 3rd OA amateur to Jen Razee (2nd) and my good friend and 2017 Ms. XTERRA Deanna "Dirty" McCurdy took the OA title. Props to these fast women. So strong in every right, they are champions!

This day, which also happened to be Al's and my 11th wedding anniversary, I would not hang my head in defeat on the grassy hillside. As my name was called I stepped upon that 3rd place podium proud and with a secret goal in mind for 2018.

Special K

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hatching the Kokopelli

A year ago a plan was hatched to bike pack the Kokopelli trail from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT. At the time of the hatching, everyone was "in." As the months passed by those that were "in" were suddenly not. The ambiguous trail, snakes from the up and coming bike town of Fruita . . . actually the trail head is in the neighboring town of Loma, to the red rock adventure capital of the southwest, Moab. I say ambiguous because in the weeks leading up to the bike trek neither I nor my husband could pin point an exact mileage. Blogs, Facebook pages, gpx files and even local bike wrenches seemed to think the trail was between 130-158 . . . ish.

The players were down to my husband and I. We would leave Ogden following one of my final XTERRA's of the year (PanAm Championship - a blog on this is in the works) and head to Moab. Al had previously hired a shuttle - Paul - to haul bikes, equipment and ourselves to Fruita where we would camp for the night and set out early Monday morning. Al and I hoped for 30-50 miles a day finishing up in Moab either Wednesday or Thursday . . . again depending upon the ambiguous mileage.

I'm not sure what kind of audience might be reading this but I want to mention that the prep for this trip was pretty in-depth. Like I'm talkin' sampling dehydrated meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the weeks prior, watching and being impressed by boiling water in my new JetBoil Flash camp stove (4:20 seconds for 4 cups!!!), buying shit shovels, packing and repacking, realizing that just packi
ng is not sufficient when one can roll things instead. Obsessively checking the weather, wondering how badly you can smell if you wear just one bike kit? Thinking, oh well, I can always shower in a river. Practicing your water filtration techniques and hoping there is adequate water to filter. Realizing you're shit at reading a topo map, hoping your hubby gets it better than you.

So, bike packing is tricky, it's a delicate balance between having what you need and weight. So, custom frame bag by #roguepanda fit my FS nicely which carried a frame pump, insect repellant, applicable maps by #latitude40 and snacks which also served as lunch during our rides. Two #revelatedesigns mountain feed bags at my bars, one each with 12 oz of water, also chapstick and a bandana. The Terrapin behind the seat bag also by #revelatedesigns which carried clothes, toiletries and beef jerky. #Osprey backpack with 2.5L of water, this is where I carried the #jetboil stove, #mountainhouse meals, #starbucks via instant coffee packs and mui importante Sriracha packs which I swiped from said coffee bar, #msr coffee mug and tiny salt shaker, emergency water tablets, waterproof matches and fuel and #lifestraw.

The #salsa out in front rack is where my #topeakbikamper tent, #thermarest ground pad, #seatosummit pillow and sleeping bag liner were stowed. In hind site, I really could have used an ACTUAL sleeping bag because the desert is a stone cold bitch when the sun goes down and I used every last piece of clothing to stay warm at night, yes, I even layered my undies (not really, cuz I didn't bring any, I'm simply trying to illustrate just how cold I was at night). Additionally I used the #revelatedesigns gas tank and jerrycan bags for charging blocks and bike repair. All of this amounted to nearly 25 additional pounds on bike and back. Al's rig was set up similarly with a little extra room due to a larger frame and HT design.

Paul dropped us off in front of Over the Edge Cycles in Fruita where we readied our rigs. On the trip over Paul suggested we stash water along the trail just before Yellow Jacket Canyon (a sandy, shitty 18 miles section just over half way). We stashed three gallons of water behind a bush just off of the trail. Water is not promised along the trail and filtering we learned isn't alway an option . . . newsflash Kristen, the desert is dry! Before leaving we decided to pop into the bike shop to look for last minute items and double check with the local wrench the one question we were having trouble answering . . .  along the trail road construction in Moab had a section of the Kokopelli closed during the week. This would force a detour and we would miss a few miles of the trail. We wanted to clarify where we could pick up the trail after the closure. However, no one really had an answer and adding to our concern for the closure the bike wrench told us "there is no authorized camping along the Kokopelli trail system." WTF? really? We opted to ignore the stern warning and grabbed some fish tacos before heading out.

Al and I rode the 7.5 miles to the trailhead and decided to bike in a bit before setting up camp for the night. It was nearing late afternoon so we thought we'd get 15 miles or so before sunset. But something we learned early on is the Kokopelli has different ideas than YOUR best laid plans. We biked 8+ miles before calling it quits.....enter rock ledges, hike-a-bike sections and pretty steep climbs. I was pretty cached from the previous days race. We found our own slice of heaven overlooking the Colorado River, pictured here and set up camp. We referenced our map and talked about how we could ride 40-50 the following day.

Just like the ambiguous mileage and mystery road closure the meaning behind the Kokopelli is just as varied. Some say the Kokopelli with his flute and bag of seeds symbolizes prosperity, some say fertilization, and some others say marriage . . . . whatever the true meaning behind the Kokopelli I know this much to be true, he is also a trickster and bearer of suffering and bad luck . . . not death or destruction, just enough bad luck to totally annoy you and enough suffering to make you feel like you deffinatly bit off more than you could chew. Coffee in the morning is my first joy of the day, no coffee, no happy Kristen. The fuel I brought was old enough to have the open/close gasket dry rot...who knew, so the gas no workie. This is bad, no gas means no food . . . I for a second had images of Al and I crunching down on dehydrated lasagna sans water. But, Al was able to get the fuel can to work. Fast forward, camp is picked up and we're off. "Hey Al, I smell gas." Since the aforementioned gasket was dry rot, the gas was free flowing in my backpack. PANIC!!! But, again, Al saved the day.

We're off . . . again. 120 minutes later we've managed to tick off a whopping 5 miles, land speed record. This is the section of the trail lovingly referred to as hike-a-bike which doesn't include another section of trail called the really big climb, a 400' climb in about a 3/4 mile section at about a 45% grade. We did encounter some trail magic along the way, Linn and his wife (I didn't catch her name) were our oasis in the desert. Low on water and not sure if we'd make it to the next supposed water spot, Linn topped us off with his "fresh from a Boulder, Colorado spring water." The kindness of people makes me smile.

My Garmin with the gpx signaled low battery about midday. No fear, I'll just juice her up with my trusty charging block. This would have totally been the ideal situation only I forgot the plug for the Garmin. So, the remainder of the ride we would be pushing Al's map reading skillz to the limit. Kokopelli strikes again.

Our 40-50 mile day ultimately turned into a 30 mile ride which ended around 3:30 p.m. at the Westwater Ranger Station and campground. Westwater is primarily used by rafters who put in and set sail on "float and bloats" along a 17 mile section of the Colorado ending in Cisco near Moab.

We bathed in the icy Colorado, rinsed our salt stained kits and even dined on some quite tasty camp food including Raspberry Crunch. We walked the campground, referenced our route for the following day, filmed some wild turkeys and realized it was only 4:30. Damn, we're so not good at just sitting around. So . . . . . we played a little HeadsUp on my phone and managed to be really bad at relaxing.

Up at 6:30 a.m. made coffee, ate an awesome breakfast hash, packed up camp and set out. We rocked the first 5 miles in 35 minutes and I swear to God as soon as Al mentions how fast we're moving we turn straight into a headwind. It's like gale force. Sustained 30 mph and gusts of 50 mph. It's enough to take your breath away if you breath directly into it. Al actually says to me at the top of one of our climbs, "Is this fucking Everest?" I'd have laughed but I can't breath.

We finally make our water stash and sit to eat fighting for what little shade the desert sage provides us. We sit defeated, hot, windblown, sunburned (can you believe I forgot sunscreen after all that prep?) and directly next to a fire ant colony.
Only I think the ants can sense how tired and deflated we are and leave us be. I spread Justin's hazelnut butter on a Stroopwaffle and it makes me laugh cuz it looks more like a Poopwaffle than a Stroopwaffle. I eat it, it's amazing. I drink until my belly blo

ats, I eat my turkey jerky and anything else I can shovel in my mouth. I'm hoping Al is thinking the same thing I'm thinking and that's that I don't want to bike into Yellow Jacket Canyon with the wind whipping sand into our faces. Thankfully Al beats me to it an suggests we ride the road to where the trail exits the canyon and rally a new game plan. I'm game!

With full bellies we ride to the Dewey bridge, just a few miles up the road and pull into a campsite along the Colorado where we've decided to soak our legs for a spell. The map shows there's about 30 miles between us and Moab along Route 128 on freshly paved blacktop . . . . or if we choose to dive back onto the Kokopelli there's a 4k climb waiting for us and camping at 8,000'. If the previous two nights have taught us anything it's that we are not equipped for cold weather camping and the high elevation means temps could plummet into the 30s. With a combined sense of disappointment and relief we opt to pedal the final 30 miles into town and grab a room, shower, and feast our faces. Sensing our departure from the trail, Kokopelli blew his wind as hard as he could making the majority downhill ride into Moab a literal sufferfest. I have NEVER had to forcefully pedal going downhill, there was NO coasting. We fought for every last mile taking multiple stops along the way just to recoup for the next section.

Into town we rolled after nearly 10+ hours of riding covering only 65 ish miles. Slow yes, don't judge, it wasn't a race it was an adventure. Our Subie was just as we'd left him, parked behind the Best Western waiting to take us to our next destination.

We loaded up, booked a room (criminally overpriced due to "peak adventure season" in Moab), took a proper shower and walked across the street to the Moab Brewery for nachos, burgers & fries and gelato! That night, tucked into our king sized bed we slept like the dead....