Thursday, April 30, 2009

Putting a stake in the ground

One of the more frustrating things about fitness is that it changes. Actually, the frustrating part is that it gets worse. If it didn’t change for the better, we’d all give up hope and end up like the humans in Wall-E. Or ordinary Americans.

Of course, I thought that hiking for turns all winter had kept me in good shape. Moreover, in the fall I asserted that skiing is harder than cycling, so I assumed I’d have no problems transitioning to the bike.

And for the most part, I haven’t. I placed 10th in a race I didn’t really train for. I just got done riding 100 miles on dirt in one day. And I’ve already lost about half the weight I gained over the winter.

But I’m still slower than I was in the fall. Yesterday after work, I did the Clark’s TT to see how I measured up. Last September, on my very first ride up the trail, I did it in 11:13, the median time, incidentally. I figured I’d be somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 minutes this time around. And I was, if you consider a variance of 77 seconds “in the neighborhood.” I finished in 13:17.

Apparently, however, nearly everyone else is waiting until they’re back to full fitness before submitting times, as I’m currently in first place. Out of three. But still.

At least I have a baseline. Now establish yours. Clark’s, Crank, and Sidewinder TTs are all open for business. Go on and make me look slow. We’ll all be faster as the season goes on.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Changing gears

Just got this in my inbox from the Utah Avalanche Center:

We have ended our avalanche advisories for the season.

This does not mean that there will be no more avalanches. It just means that we have run out of money and our forecasters are heading off to their summer jobs, with a short vacation in between.

I knew it was coming, but the email message brings a sort of finality with it. Dug mentioned that he needs RAWROD to get him to put the skis away and get out the bike every spring. The timing of this message seems to confirm the rightness of that change.

Now that I’m on the bike, I’m happy to be there. It’s been a fantastic ski season—a 10—a happy welcome back to Utah.

But now that I’m on the bike, or more precisely, now that I’ve spent 12 hours on one bike, I can’t get a certain thought out of my head. As Aaron and I were chatting with the Samurai on Friday morning, they both commented that my rigid single speed was sort of like telemark skiing—it’s a choice of equipment that makes the task more difficult than it needs to be.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy riding the single speed and find certain benefits to it. But it definitely is one of those things like making drop-knee turns: it’s not the most efficient way around the mountain.

At first I thought the cure to my ills was just a suspension fork, and that once my delicate wrists were spared the abuse of riding rigid, all would be well. But coming across White Rim on Saturday, spinning a cadence as high as 125 and as low as 30 when I’m most comfortable between 80 and 95, the tradeoffs of riding just one gear became all the more poignant.

So I guess the easy solution is to ride my geared, front-suspended 29er more often. Except I don’t like the geometry of that bike and the fork could use some TLC.

The fact that I don’t have enough space in a three car garage suggests I have too many bikes anyway. So I’m pondering thinning the herd. But I’m still left with the problem of what constitutes a bike I would be happy with. And since this is my blog, and I am not without opinions on the matter, I’m going to ramble on a bit.

29ers: Big wheels ride smoother—they’re worth about 20-30 mm of suspension. But they’re also heavier and don’t handle as well at slow speeds. They can improve traction, but no more than an active rear suspension that keeps the tire in contact with the ground. And contrary to what anyone tells you, the size (I didn’t say shape) of the tire’s contact patch is no different than that of a 26” bike running the same tire pressure. It doesn’t matter how wide your tires are or what diameter they are, a 180 pound bike + rider running 30 PSI will have six square inches of rubber touching the ground.

Full Suspension Bikes: I’m a dirtbag and hate dropping the cash for a full suspension bike, since that’s a big up-front cost and a whole host of moving parts that need to be maintained, even if they offer certain advantages that I won’t get into here. I’ve owned two and would likely buy another if money were no object. In fact, if money were no object and I had a four car garage, I would have a 7 inch travel freeride bike that would only ever go downhill.

Single Speeds: Riding a single speed is fun and a great way to get a good workout in a short amount of time. It forces you to do intervals when you may have been too lazy otherwise. And intervals do, in fact, make you faster. But single speeds aren’t inherently faster bikes. If you cover a certain amount of ground in a certain time, it requires a certain wattage regardless of which gear you were spinning. The only way to go faster is to increase your output. And last I checked, single speeds couldn’t do that for you.

So what’s the right answer? For the mostly not-very-technical trails I spend most of my time riding, a geared 29er with a suspension fork. But if you see me riding my rigid single speed again, you’ll know this was just RAWROD talking.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

RAWROD weekend in photos

Thought you might enjoy a few photos from the weekend.

Overlooking the Colorado River from Slickrock:

Aaron and Brandon stare into the void:

The view from the edge:




Aaron at Sovereign:

Steve on Schaefer Trail:

Steve on Musselman Arch:

Views from the White Rim Trail:

The trail gets pretty close to the edge at times:

Views like this never get old:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mayonnaise, an apple, and a diet coke

I thought I’d do my best to keep this short, but since I’m not particularly good at that to begin with and it was a rather eventful weekend in Moab, you may want to go get some popcorn or something.

Anyway, Thursday after work, Aaron and I left for Moab. Our original plan was to ski in the La Sals on Friday and ride RAWROD on Saturday, but the snow in the La Sals wasn’t so good, so we decided to just ride trails both days instead.

Aside from having to borrow a pillow from Aaron, nearly running out of gas after a wrong turn on our way to camp, and a great deal of wind through the night, the trip there went without incident. On Friday morning we headed towards town to ride Slickrock, passing the Samurai, Bart, Adam, and Kenny all headed the other way for the fast guys’ version of the White Rim ride. We were happy to let them have it and to be meeting Brandon in town for some fun rides.

It was my first attempt at riding slickrock on a single speed; same for Brandon. We used this as an excuse not to climb the Road to Paris (I don’t know if this feature has a name, but it’s the steep pitch off the trail rider’s right when riding clockwise shortly before Cogs to Spare, which until recently was unmarked but now has white dots and jeep rubber on it.) But since Aaron had never done it before and had gears, we insisted that he try it. He cleaned it on his second attempt. Nice. Slickrock felt fresh on the single, although Cogs to Spare earned it’s name and found me walking.

After some lunch, we met up with Keith and headed over to Sovereign. If you haven’t ridden Sovereign in a while, it’s worth revisiting. It’s no longer one trail but a network of trails, with spurs and connectors winding all along the mesa.

And it was great fun. Except for the part when I was trying to ride up a steep rock ramp and spun out and took a little spill, coccyx-first, on a large pointy rock. It hurt so bad that everything went black. And I yelled. And howled. To the point that Aaron thought my weekend was over and that maybe they’d need to haul me out on a stretcher or something.

Thanks to my one physiologic advantage, I escaped without a fracture. And if there’s any one thing cyclists can do, it is endure pain, so I pedaled out under my own power.

The best part about RAWROD is Friday night. We sit around a campfire and eat. And while eating in and of itself can be fun, eating with the reckless abandon of one about to spend twelve hours on a bike the next day but not in a race is a completely different kind of joy. Cookies, cake, chips, thank you very much. No guilt whatsoever. And of course, the bratwurst.

I had one the traditional way, with mustard on Kenny’s bread. Then I had another and a whole new world of indulgence was opened up to me. It was identical to the first except that in addition to the mustard, I added mayonnaise. I hate myself for even thinking about eating it, but it was delicious. And so, along with the shake I had at the Moab Diner just hours previously, bratwurst with mayonnaise joined the rarified air of food worth getting fat over.

My brother Steve had come down with Kris Friday night, and the two of us set off Saturday morning at about 7:00. I’m pretty sure this was the third time Steve had been on a mountain bike in the last five years, but I’ve learned with him that it doesn’t seem to matter what he’s pedaling.

I am in better shape than I was last year, yet I knew I was in for a tougher day. First of all, I was on a single speed. Second, last year my biggest problem was with asthma, and with the wind blowing the way it was, I knew this year the dust would make it worse.

The first 60 or so miles are fairly flat and easy. Then you get to the first of three big climbs, Mirphy’s Hogback. I learned last year while pushing my bike up the last pitch of Mirphy’s that one could walk pretty much the whole climb and then get on and pedal before coming around the last corner and into visibility of those waiting above and still get cheered as if he had ridden the whole thing. So that’s what I did, and that’s what happened. I didn’t need the cheers or feel like I deserved them, but it beat the ominous silence that greets anyone pushing his bike.

Instead of hanging out and eating lunch at the top of Mirphy’s, everyone was shivering in the wind and hoping it wouldn’t rain. I would have liked to keep going, but I was out of food and water and needed to wait for the truck. It started raining right before the truck arrived, so Steve and I scarfed our sandwiches, refilled with water, and kept going. It’s good we waited, because it would be the last water I got. Aside from the rain and hail that pelted us as we descended.

Between Mirphy’s and Potato Bottom is a lot of flat riding that this year included 30 mph headwinds with gusts as high as 40 or 50. Steve, Kenny, Dug, and I got into a paceline with a handful of others and dropped the hammer through this section. I would have loved a little more gear through here, but you gotta dance with the girl that brung ya.

Our only break before hardscrabble was to throw rocks off of a cliff. I took no part—no way you’re getting me near the edge of a precipice like that—but Kenny and Dug reminded us precisely why my son breaks things for entertainment—it’s just plain fun. Check out the end of Kris’s video if you want to know what I’m talking about.

Just before Hardscrabble, I dropped my chain and fell out of the paceline with no expectation they would wait. I put it back on but once I resumed riding, the asthma and associated hypoxic state I had tried to ignore all day finally came to a head. I couldn’t fill my lungs more than about 25% without coughing violently, so I just soft pedaled along figuring I’d get there eventually.

I didn’t even try riding up Hardscrabble, and I figured my one goal for the day—cleaning the final climb up Horsethief—was out of the question as well.

With just a couple of miles before Horsethief, I was plodding along, hoping to muster the energy to finish. Then I got caught by one of the support trucks—the one with my cooler in it. “Do you need anything?”

I got out my cooler and found an apple and a diet coke in the bottom. I pounded about half the diet coke and poured the rest in my bottle. Then I just pedaled slowly and ate the apple as I went.

I started to feel better and was able to fill my lungs about 50%by the time I got to the bottom of Horsethief. Sitting and waiting for me was Steve. Then Elden pulled in right behind. Elden had his helmet camera, so I told him he needed to go in front of me so it wasn’t on film when I got off and walked.

“No way, man. You’re my subject. I’m going to ride behind you.”

Steve passed along Dug’s simple yet profound advice: ride as slowly as you can without tipping over.

This seems a no-brainer, but the natural tendency as a cyclist is to attack every climb and try to get it over with as soon as possible.

The three of us, along with Jilene, started up the hill. Slowly. Steve and Jilene had gears and used them. Elden and I pedaled very, very slowly. Horsethief is 1.6 miles, so it isn’t a long climb. And with only 890 feet of elevation gain, it isn’t that steep either. But all bets are off when you already have 99 miles in your legs and you haven’t eaten properly for the last 40. It may as well be Mont Ventoux.

About 3/4 of the way up, we were still pedaling. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t much care about cleaning the climb. I didn’t much care about anything except not riding anymore. I told Elden and Jilene I needed some crazy Belgians to ring a cowbell for me. Or to paint “Allez Mark” on the dirt. Or to yell hurtful things at me. Or to dress like the devil and run alongside me.

Jilene took this as a cue to become my cheerleader. Except that she yelled nice, encouraging things that a woman would want to hear when what I really needed was for someone to tell me I was fat and pathetic, an embarrassment to the $400 bicycle I was riding. Or that Fast Friday was a stronger rider than me. I wanted a fight or flight response. What I got was kind, gentle words, with slightly sexual overtones. But whatever. It seemed to work.

I kept pedaling. And finished. And went back to my car, which, even though I had the keys, was wide open. I asked Aaron how he got in. “Oh, I grew up in West Valley. I know how to get into cars.”

If Friday night brats are the best part, then the second best part is eating a burger at Ray’s Tavern in Green River when it’s all over. As Dug walked out of Ray’s, he stopped at my table and said “I’m not sure I was even aware you had a brother, let alone one who can ride like that.” Nice job, Bro. Thanks for waiting for me at Horsethief.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jeremiah 48:36

“Therefore my heart shall sound for Moab like pipes…”

See you Monday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Water tankers and soft serve

Last night at the RMR crit they had us racing on a different course than we’ve used before. They recently did some work on the oval that made that unrideable, and they’re currently repaving portions of the drag strip, rendering the normal “outside” track unusable as well.

So they had us on the other end of the drag strip and riding through part of the parking lot, with the course marked with white trash barrels, culminating in a chicane before getting onto the drag strip again. At the end of the drag strip, the only true straightaway, we had a 180 degree turn.

Just for fun, the tanker truck used for the repaving at the other end of the drag strip decided (or rather, its driver decided) to drive onto the course during the second last lap of the A flight. He somehow realized there was in fact a bike race going on and pulled back off the course just before the peloton T-boned his payload. Then he pulled back onto the course when they were done and stayed there, delaying the start of the C flight by 30 minutes or so.

Needless to say the racing was completely different than riding in the oval. In the oval, it’s just hammer down for 30 minutes. Out on this course it was constant acceleration and deceleration—slow through the corners, then sprint for all you’re worth to get back up to speed, repeated five times each lap.

The pack split on the first corner, two riders in front of me, so I had to bridge to stay with the lead group. Then it split again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Each time 2-3 riders in front of me. I discovered that chasing back onto a 27-30 mph peloton is hard work.

Finally, mercifully, they called “three laps to go.” As we went through the chicane and onto the home stretch, the pack split, yet again about three riders in front of me. Then as we crossed the line, I heard the bell ring. WTF? I guess we were skipping the second last lap. Didn’t matter, because this time I didn’t have the legs to bridge. I got passed by a guy who made a heroic pull—we almost got back on—but just didn’t.

Sam and Steve finished fourth and fifth. Except as Steve crossed the line, they wrote down 473 instead of 475 and refused to acknowledge that they could have made a mistake. Wonder if 473 was even racing?

Afterwards, Rachel drove my car home so she could go eat brownies at Gina’s house (I’m sure they did other things, but I don’t know what). I took the kids to get ice cream cones at McDonald’s.

Here’s the thing, though, once you tell kids you’re going to McDonald’s, nothing else will do. Did you know that if you’re driving around West Valley City looking for McDonald’s, you’re likely to pass 2 Cafe Saigons, 3 Mi Rancheritos, a Pho Hua, 2 Burger Kings, 2 KFCs, a Greek Souvlaki, a Golden Corral, and a Costco before you see one? Me neither.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More vicissitudes of road riding

As a cyclist, I voluntarily endure things most normal humans don’t put up with. Leg shaving is an obvious one. Most people shave either their legs or their face. I shave both (though in winter I shave neither). And while I’m at it, I figure I may as well shave my back too. But since I can’t reach that part, I need help. Thanks, Rachel!

Then there’s the willful starvation. I was watching Versus the other day, and they showed a clip of Carlos Sastre in the final time trial from last year’s Tour. He was so skinny, at first I thought he was Kristin Armstrong, who is one of the skinniest women I’ve ever seen. Seems that no matter how much we weigh, it’s always too much.

A perhaps more obvious drawback is the one most non-cyclists are familiar with, and that’s interacting with cars. But really, when it comes right down to it, would you rather be the guy in a tight pink outfit with shaved legs, or the chubby, 20-something in the back seat of his buddy’s PT Cruiser convertible yelling obscenities at said cyclist? That’s what I thought.

(By the way, why on earth would three dudes be driving up American Fork canyon together in a PT Cruiser convertible? Ick.)

Finally there’s the cyclist’s approach to treating ailments. Pro cyclists don’t shake hands with people, don’t touch elevator buttons, use paper towels to open bathroom doors, and probably keep Purel in their jersey pockets. Because if they get sick, they may have to take antibiotics. And antibiotics supposedly have an adverse effect on performance.

This week I have a crit Tuesday night and a 100 mile mountain bike ride on the weekend. So when I came down with a sinus infection on Sunday, I was loathe to start a round of antibiotics. My doctor prescribed some, just in case I need them, but then suggested some alternative treatments, including a neti pot.

For those who have never used a neti pot, it pretty much goes like this: you pour salt water in one nostril and let it drain out the other side. Then repeat on the other side. It’s about as pleasant as it sounds. But as you can imagine, it really clears things out.

For those sensitive to "R" rated words, I advise turning this video, or at least the sound, off about 10 seconds before it ends.

It seems to work. I started the regimen yesterday, and I think my infection is already nearly gone. Don’t think antibiotics would have done the job any faster. Of course now that I’m nearly back to normal, I did about 10 seconds of interweb research and found that my fear of antibiotics was apparently all for naught.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered

Rachel is about as tolerant as a wife can be of my habit of getting up at 4:30 to go skiing. But since I’d gone the last two days in a row, she wasn’t too keen on letting me go a third, especially since we’ve got plans for this evening, and she doesn’t want me to be a zombie.

But the lure of powder day number 30 was just too strong, and in the end she was just too nice. I should have listened to her. Like I’ve never said that before.

Snow on the South-facing aspects was crusty. On the skin track up, we got passed by the Samurai who commented, “this snow sucks.”

Nevertheless, we had high hopes that the North-facing stuff on the other side of the ridge would have been protected. What was spared from the sun got nuked by the wind. Even in the trees it was wind-jacked.

But any skiing is better than not skiing. And since we were hiking, at least I got my workout for the day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pinch me

This morning was so good, I thought I was dreaming. After the first lap, I asked Dug to pinch me, just to make sure I was awake. After the second lap, we pondered a third. It’s April 16. Could be last chance for powder this year. We lapped it again.

It wasn’t just the snow that was good. The sky was clear, no wind, and we had great views of Pfeifferhorn and Lightning Ridge, as well as the valley below.

Photos courtesy of Adam

Conditions being what they were, we made the most of it. And when I say “we,” I mean that Adam, Aaron, Dug, Nate, and I were just watching Ben remind us that he really is that much better of a skier than everyone else.

Remember that big cornice on Scotties? Well Ben decided he was going to jump the upper part of the cornice and land in the chute.

So we watched as Ben made his run in, and then something happened that I’ve never seen before:

Ben crashed. So he had to hike back up and do it again. This time he made it to the launch zone without incident. And then something else happened that I’ve never seen before:

Not only did he send it off the cornice, he threw a front flip. The snow was deep enough that he made a crater when he landed, popped out of that, and in two turns was at the bottom of the upper bowl.

The euphoria from watching that led to a general sense of goofiness that permeated the rest of the day. Aaron and Ben chose to exhibit this positive energy by having a lively discussion about surface area, mass, and coefficients of friction as it pertains to climbing skins.

The rest of us luddites only know that sometimes skins slide backwards when you’re climbing. So we came up with clever product warnings Black Diamond would never use. Such as:

“Keep back 30 feet. These skis may stop or back up at any time.” Or: “These skis may backslide worse than a Jesus Freak in a whorehouse.”

At the top, the conversation wandered to a topic best illustrated by a quiz. Match the skier below with his first album purchase (state your answers in the comments). When I say “album” I mean cassette, LP, 8 track, or whatever. Cuz I think we’re all old enough that they weren’t CDs or iTunes downloads.

1) Aaron

2) Adam

3) Ben

4) Me


a) Depeche Mode

b) U2

c) Rush

d) Simon and Garfunkle

Despite wasting time at the top in idle chit-chat--we moved on from here to location of first kisses, Dracula’s Castle ride at Lagoon, for instance--and pausing to watch Ben drop a huge cliff:

We had to lap the upper bowl one more time. And then it was 2,000+ glorious feet of creamy powder back to the car.

A great note to go out on. Except we’re not going out. It may be the last powder day, but we’ve still got spring corn to harvest. Of course, it could snow some more tonight and force us to ski powder yet again tomorrow. Brother Brigham was right: this is the right place.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Snowball effect

Yesterday when I left work, I was planning to get out on dawn patrol this morning with Aaron. Then I checked my email last night, and Jared asked if I was planning to get out. Then I got a text from Tyler saying he wanted to come too.

When I showed up at the BCC lot this morning, Adam had come with Aaron, Tyler had his brother Quinn with him, and Jared had brought his friend John. What were two became seven just like that.

Some people get a bit sensitive about touring with large groups. And for some tours, I can see the point. But on dawn patrol, which of necessity is a short trip, in familiar terrain, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I’d much rather have a big group than nobody to go with.

The part that I don’t get is why Jared would be slumming it with the rest of us. Here’s a guy who recently got back from Pierra Menta, who skied Lisa, Coalpit, and Pfeiff with McLean’s ten in ten project, and who, along with his brother Sam and Bart G., climbed and skied Box Elder, Pfeifferhorn, and Superior in the time it took us to climb and ski Box Elder.

Either John was late to confirm, and Jared was desperate to make sure he had a partner, or else we’re far and away more charming than we realize. But it couldn’t have been about matching ability levels. Compared with Jared, Andrew, Noah, Derek, among others whom I consider the top tier of the Wasatch backcountry scene, we’re a sliding junk show.

But I guess when you’re still skiing fresh snow on April 15th, you just take what you can get. Most of us headed up this morning with the intention of “just getting a workout.” We were pleasantly surprised with boot-deep powder on the way down. And it’s still snowing. So you know where I’ll be again tomorrow morning. And probably the day after that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I am not a streaker

If you’re a runner, you know what streaking is. And perhaps unfortunately, I’m not talking about running across the football field naked in the middle of the game.

Streakers are people who run every day. Who have to run every day, even for just a little bit. Back when I was a runner, I read in Runners World about some streaks that were 30 or more years long.

I feel no such compulsion. For starters, I don’t even ride my bike year round. In the colder months, skiing every day is logistically impossible, even if I wish it weren’t.

But once the weather turns, and I’m on the bike again, I’m usually on it five days a week and often six. I take Sundays off, but that’s about it.

When I’m trying to lose weight (which is typically pretty much all season), I’m somewhat more committed, as a missed workout means I’m also one step back if not two from hitting my goal.

So imagine my disappointment when this email arrived:

No racey racey tonight at RMR 4/14!
Dont forget Salt Air TT starts this Thursday... 4/16  First rider off at 6pm!

I knew it was coming. It had been raining all morning. And the last thing anyone wants is a bunch of skittish Cat. 5s hauling around a rain-soaked, oil-slick race track with less than two square inches of rubber holding them to the slippery surface.

But I was still disappointed. And maybe panicked a bit trying to figure out how to get some exercise. I will be haunted by the stationary bike in my basement until I step on the scale tomorrow morning.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I love this time of year. Here’s why: today at lunch I rode my mountain bike in near perfect conditions. Friday--thanks to Theresa--Rachel and I met UTRider at Deer Valley for a wonderful day of skiing. The day before that, I was in knee-deep powder, and two days before that, I was racing the crit at RMR.

Springtime makes me think of that Monty Python song about Finland, except that it’s springtime instead of Finland that has it all.

There’s just one problem. For such a lovely season, spring sure got saddled with a crappy name. I mean, is “spring” really the best that we as English speakers could come up with? Its homonym is a rusty part found on the undercarriage of a car.

Compared with Spanish or Italian, the loveliest and romantic of languages (no apologies to French and Francophiles, though I’m sure YOU think you deserve one), we really botched this one. In English, we have “spring.” In Italian or Spanish, they have “primavera.” I’m sure it’s no accident that these two languages share such a pleasant word for the most perfect season of the year.

Even compared with other seasons, spring got the short end of the naming stick. “Summer” has countless people and even more songs that include its name. My daughter has a friend named “Autumn,” who is a lovely girl with a name to match. “Winter” is less pretty and somewhat more austere, but that’s fitting for the season. And then there’s “spring.” Lame.

Spring reminds me of when I was in grad school and my wife worked in the admissions office. Many of the applicants from Asia would give themselves a Western name, I guess to make it easier to remember, which it often was, but for the wrong reason. I’ll never forget a certain young lady from China, whose given name was quite pretty, even to an ignorant Westerner with no clue what it meant. I am at a loss, however, to remember what the Chinese name was, because the Western name she chose for herself was “Faustina.” Yeah, spring is kinda like that.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sunday Jen

Normally I would do a trip report of the skiing this morning, but since I didn’t bring a camera and don’t have any photos, I’m not going to bother beyond this:

Snow above 8,000 feet was knee deep, but a bit heavy. We skied from the tippy top of Scotties rather than the shoulder like I normally do, and it was a fight to avoid getting caught in one’s own sluff all the way down. In a chute like that, there’s not really anywhere to go to avoid it. Apron skiing was nice. Really nice. Below 8,000 feet, the snow was thinner and we could feel the crust underneath. Tomorrow should be even better. If you want pictures, Dustin or Aaron will likely post some.

Now, on to what I really wanted to write about.

Yesterday, Dug mentioned his son Ian’s inability to do the dishes without music. Specifically, that he listened to Rise Against. I commented on Rise Against, a band I was introduced to by the film The Collective, as well as another song I liked from that film, Sunday Jen by Slackstring (which I maintain is the best song to ski to in the history of songs and skiing, even though I don’t generally ski with an ipod. But when I do, I always listen to this song at least once).

Well that comment prompted other comments related to the film, which reminded me of a really cool experience I had a few years ago.

We took a family vacation to Maui, and having seen and been enamored by this scene from The Collective, I wanted to try and ride in some of these zones.

So I sent an email to Darcy Whittenberg, one of the producers of The Collective, and asked him for some beta on where to go. He emailed me back and said to contact Paul at some shop I don’t remember the name of in Maui. So I did.

When I asked Paul about riding some of the lines from the film, he said that most of that was “mini golf” stuff—looks good on film, but really short and not that fun to do as a ride. He said to come to the shop on Friday, and we’d do something way better. Or maybe it was mo betta.

“Mo betta” turned out to be having Paul’s wife shuttle us and bikes to the top of the Haleakala volcano. But not so we could do the tourist descent of the road on cruiser bikes. We dropped off the backside, where it’s singletrack for over 7,000 vertical feet through six different climate zones, ranging from volcanic moonscape stuff at the top, to pine forests, to tropical.

Interspersed along the trail were various jumps, skinnies, teeters, and other features. At the very end, we just rolled through a grassy meadow with a narrow strip of red dirt right down the middle. Mountain biking bliss.

Paul asked me when were done how I knew Darcy. I said I didn’t. I just sent him an email and never had any contact with him other than that brief exchange.

Sure, he’s not a big-time Hollywood type, but a lot of people would find it odd to email a movie producer out of the blue to ask a question about his film. Turns out, he’s an exceptionally cool guy that was just happy to help. As often as not in the skiing and biking communities, I think those are the kind of people you find.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

C flight

A Cat. 4 road racer is nothing more than a Cat. 5 who has done at least 10 events. You don’t have to place or even finish for that matter—it’s an automatic upgrade once you get the starts.

Yet if I were a betting man and had to choose whether an equally-fit Cat. 4 or a Cat. 5 would place higher when racing together, my money would be on the Cat. 4. While certain race tactics may sound good to the uninitiated, how they turn out in practice may be another matter entirely. What actually works is something you can only figure out through experience.

Take last night’s criterium at Rocky Mountain Raceway. Steve, Pat, Sam, and I were all racing the C flight, which is for Cat. 5s who self select not to race the D flight, but who haven’t upgraded yet.

It was a fairly large field, and we knew we couldn’t make a move and hold them off for very long. So we decided to wait until 23 minutes into the 30 minute race, and then go.

We were racing on the oval, and with the banked turns, the corners were every bit as fast as the straightaways. In fact, due to wind, the back stretch was the slowest section of track.

This meant that we couldn’t just all accelerate out of a turn and expect a gap to open. So I volunteered to let the other guys make a move in front of me, and I would slow up and force the pack around to delay the chase.

Before the appointed time, however, Steve got stuck on the front after chasing another break, and no matter how much he slowed, nobody would go around. When we were finally ready to make our move, I made my way to the front, with the other three on my wheel. After a lap or two, they went, and I slowed. A gap opened just like we planned.

Unfortunately, Steve was too smoked from being on the front to stay with the break, so it was just Pat and Sam. They did an admirable job and got the gap to as much as a quarter lap. But the pack was hungry, and they were reeled in with just a few laps to go.

When the bell rang for the last lap, it was mayhem. I had the legs to go harder, but was stuck on the inside with nowhere to make a move. On the final turn, I made my way just enough to the outside to get up towards the front of the field, but there was no way I was getting ahead of anyone at that point. Everyone who hadn’t been dropped finished within a few seconds of one another.

Having to both think and ride is what I love about racing on the road and must be why Eric loves crits so much. Our average speed for the race was 27 mph, and we were often over 30. Unless you’ve got a big enough motor to open a gap and keep it open on that bunch, you have to use good tactics to be successful.  And learning tactics only comes with experience.

About the time we start getting this figured out, it will be time to upgrade, we’ll be forced into the B flight, and once again, we’ll be the dumb ones in the bunch. I’m just hoping we’re lucky enough to find a nut or two between now and then.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

That time of year

The recent snowfall has made me forget that it is, in fact, springtime. And in true Jan Ulrich fashion, I’ve spent the winter enjoying powdery white substances and excessive quantities of food and drink. Unfortunately, it’s now time to lose weight.

On a recent visit to the doctor, my wife asked him to convince me that I wasn’t fat and didn’t really need to lose weight. So he got out his BMI tables, and determined that I need to lose about 20 pounds to have a BMI under 25, or weigh ten pounds less than I did last year when I hit my goal weight for Lotoja.

Rather than the doctor convincing me I didn’t need to lose weight, I found myself justifying to him that 160 pounds is a good weight for me and that getting down to 150 or less just wasn’t reasonable. Rachel just sat there with her mouth shut.

On Sunday, my brother, Steve, and I were watching the Tour of Flanders. We’re both big fans of the spring classics, not just because long, one-day races are the kind of thing we like to do, but also because we have a great deal of admiration for the type of riding it takes to win a classic rather than the strongest-team-(but not necessarily man)-wins nature of the grand tours.

The race coverage was peppered with rider profiles, and as one profiled rider left the start house in some time trial footage, we both saw his butt and thighs* and said “hey, that looks like me.”

*For those who have not seen me from behind, allow me to illustrate. About fifteen years ago, I had put on a bit of weight and needed to have a pair of slacks let out. I took them to a shop that did alterations, and a friendly but matter-of-fact African-American woman took my measurements. As she came around behind me to measure my hips, she took one look and said “Most white people don’t have butts, but Honey, you sure got one.”

Then they flashed his profile: 5’ 9” and 170 pounds. Same height as Steve, and Steve actually weighs less!

Finally, a pro tour rider with a BMI over 25 (albeit barely). Which is why Mike “Meatball” Friedman is my new favorite racer. I don’t expect him to win anything this year, but then again, I don’t expect to win anything either. The simple fact that he’s mixing it up with the scrawny Euros is victory enough for me.

The original Meatball:

Photo: Jonathan Devich/Cycling News

This Meatball:

This meatball’s slightly less meatballish brother:

The upside to that additional girth is often higher bone density. Most pros have bone density comparable to that of a calcium-depleted 85-year-old woman. And while high bone density probably won’t help you win a race, it’s awful tough to finish one with a fractured hip or clavicle.

The downside for me is that this proves that my only physiological advantage as a cyclist is manifest exclusively in a crash. And given how scared I am of crashing, I’m not super stoked about it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hell of the North

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

-Robert Frost

Dante's Inferno chronicles one worldview of hell, and indeed the prominent worldview in medieval times, as a place of physical torment for those who made decisions in their earthly life that were contrary to the will of God. Of note is that while the concept of hell as a place of physical punishment is often and even in holy writ referred to as a lake of fire and brimstone, in Dante's epic poem, the damned occupying the ninth circle of hell--that place reserved for the likes of Satan and Judas Iscariot--are entrapped in ice.

Other, perhaps more modern or enlightened, notions of hell suggest that it is a state not of physical punishment but of perpetual regret wherein the condemned are left to suffer in the most simple but poignant knowledge that had they chosen a different path, paradise could have been achieved rather than the less-desirable state wherein they find themselves.

Regardless of which, if either, is correct, I got a taste of both on Saturday.

The story begins on Friday. I had skied some light, delicious powder that morning, and it continued snowing all day. Rick sent an email out in the afternoon inquiring as to whether anyone wanted to do a longer tour on Saturday morning.

I had been planning for weeks to do the Hell of the North bike race, Utah's miniature version of the spring classic sharing the same nickname. Conditions were going to be awful. Or epic, depending on how you look at it. I wavered with indecision for the rest of the day, even going so far as to prepare my "B" bike the night before AND set out all my clothing and gear for skiing.

Finally when I went to bed and set my alarm, I more or less made a decision. My rationale was thus: I've skied 40+ times this year, 25 of them powder days. The wind is blowing, skies are cloudy. Tomorrow could go either way. Hell of the North is one day a year and a chance to race with my brother, which I always enjoy.

At 4:30, I awoke with my phone chiming, alerting me of a text message. I got up and looked at it. Dug: Not gonna make it. At this point, I could have gone and checked the weather--looked at what the wind was doing and what the overnight snowfall was. Instead, I just responded: Me neither.

I got back up at 6:00 and put on my cycling kit. The wind and snow were beating against the walls of my house. Then I got another text, this time from Sam, saying he wasn't going to race because conditions were too bad. Great. Sam called me Friday afternoon and gave just enough encouragement to race that it was probably what tipped the scales in that direction. Oh well. Sam not showing means I'm automatically one place higher than I would have been.

Steve and I got to the course and were relieved to find the winds much calmer and no snow falling. For the moment. We rode a warm up lap, and the course, which includes nearly 2 miles per lap of dirt road, was wet, but probably not as bad as it could have been. We got back to the car, took our jackets off and headed to the start.

I realized about a mile down the road to the start that I hadn't used my inhaler and didn't have it with me. I also had left my water bottle in the car, so I turned around. And quickly realized I wouldn't make it back in time. So I raced with no inhaler and no water. It was only 25 miles, so I figured I'd be OK.

A couple of guys tried to break for it right from the starting gun. Everyone else let them go, and by halfway through the first lap, we had caught them and spit one of them out the back. I also noticed at that point that Steve was nowhere to be seen. I wouldn't see him again all race.

Onto the dirt, and I was feeling OK. My glasses got dirty, and I was getting wet, but once on the pavement again, I just wiped my glasses off (I'm in the red vest and white and blue helmet below).

On lap two, I figured out that the strategy was going to be to accelerate out of the corners and push it as hard as possible on the dirt, with hopes of dropping riders little by little. It worked. After two laps, the lead group was down to 15 or 20 riders, and after three laps, it was down to 11.

At this point the snow was falling fairly hard, my drivetrain was so gummed up that it was about 15 seconds from when I shifted until the chain moved cogs, and my feet were numb. My glasses were sitting down on my nose like an old lady, useless to see through, but still a somewhat valuable shield from the splatter coming up and into my eyes.

When the bell rang as we completed the fourth lap, it was one of the sweetest sounds I have ever heard. I was just ready to be done. My feet were so numb at this point that they just felt like stumps from the ankles down. I knew the pace would be harder on this lap as riders wanted to thin the field before the bunch sprint, but it was only five miles.

We may have dropped one or two on the last lap, but I'm not sure. We passed quite a few Cat 4s, who started four minutes ahead of us. I didn't have a computer, so I can only describe the speed as somewhere between fast and painful.

The 1Km to go sign is on the dirt road, shortly before rounding the corner to the pavement. The pace went up again, and I knew the sprint would start as soon as the pavement did. I also knew that even though I was holding on, I had only been on a bike four times since November, and I could do no sprinting.

Phatty Pat got a nice leadout from the first guy to make a move and held on for the W. I gave it what little I was worth to finish at the tail end of the lead bunch, somewhere around 10th.

Steve had flatted in the first mile and ridden solo for the duration. The downside to that is he got no benefit from drafting. The upside was that he stayed remarkably clean.

Aside from being as cold as I have ever been in my entire life, I actually felt pretty good about the race and about my efforts. And it got me one step closer to the Cat. 4 upgrade, so that was good. The physical suffering was very real and intense, but by the time I'd had some hot chocolate, taken a shower, and gotten the mud out of my eyes with only minor lacerations on my eyeballs, it was over.

The regret and mental anguish, however were only beginning. For starters, I forgot the bike was on the roof rack when I pulled into the garage. Thankfully it wasn't my "A" bike. The car is fine, the garage is fine. The bike is not. At the very least it needs a new fork. We'll see what else.

Then I decided to take the kids to Solitude for the afternoon. Which was a good thing--my son skied his first blue run, right under the lift, and got plenty of cheers from above as he did so. The first time down, he followed in my tracks, but after a couple laps, he was hitting it all by himself. Unfortunately, being up there, I was left to look around at all the untouched backcountry lines just begging for someone to ski them.

While there, I made the mistake of texting the Wonder Twins to see how the skiing was. Rob said "Incredible--wish you woulda come." Rick said "Some of the best snow of my life. Super light and over the shoulder deep." My pleas to Dug to go out on dusk patrol went unheeded.

Once home, I found that the Samurai, who is a skinny ski guy, was on 110 waisted skis and even then wondered if it was too deep. Dustin and his crew were gasping for air between turns. Oh to suffer from asphyxiation in such manner.

Even if my legacy for the day is a smashed-up bike, I shouldn't complain. It's not like my life sucks. It's just that in hindsight, Saturday could have sucked a lot less than it did.

A huge thank you to my brother Josh for braving the elements in nothing but a sweatshirt to get these fantastic photos. Thanks mom and dad for coming to cheer us on--encouragement from the crowd makes a difference.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Mistaken identity

I realize you are all enthralled with yet another thrilling trip report about my backcountry skiing, but this was too good not to double post, even if it is Friday afternoon and nobody will read this.

I recently received the following email message:

Greetings, Mark. I hope this note finds you well.

My wife, Ann, and I are headed for D.C. next week for business with [name withheld]. We hope to get a little golf in during the visit – I’m still a member at Mt. Vernon CC. One of the few places I have not played out there is RTJ because it was built after I left the area. [name withheld] tells me that you are a member, so I thought I would ask what the “ground rules” are. Does the course take reciprocal play (I’m also a member of San Diego CC)?

I understand RTJ is just an incredible track. We would appreciate anything you could do to get us on…and needless to say, we are more than happy to pay our way!!!


Here is my response:


Good to hear from you. I'd love to play some golf with you while you're here, but I'll need to check the weather forecast. I only play when the temperature is as high or higher than my best score from the previous season. Last year, that was a 73. If your schedule and the weather cooperate, I could take you out to RTJ myself.

As for ground rules, you just need to come as the guest of a member. If it works out that we can play together, that's great. Otherwise, several of my colleagues are also members, and I'm sure one of them would be available to take you out. As far as guest fees go, it's kind of an odd system, but you pay the head greenskeeper directly by giving him a drawing of a spider. Must be hand drawn, and you need to do it.

Feel free to give me a call to see if our schedule's will mesh. My cell phone number is 202.867.5309.

I look forward to seeing you next week.



P.S. If you haven't figured it out by now, you sent this to the wrong email address. I should have just told you that up front, but I couldn't resist. Good luck getting on the course, but I'm of no use in that regard.


“It was a 9.75—we rate them.”

That’s what Richard told me when we got back to the parking lot. Richard and Scott, whom I had met on a previous outing in Scotties, were the only people there besides Tyler and me.

Scott is in his 50’s and every year tries to do at least one tour for every year he is old. Today was number 66. He’s ahead of schedule.

We had an auspicious start when the snow plow almost hit my car with its blade on its way out of the White Pine parking lot followed by Liam Fitzgerald from UDOT pulling in to tell us he was closing the canyon and this was our last chance to go back down unless we wanted to risk being stuck for a while.

But with the snow still falling, being stuck up the canyon was a chance we were willing to take. Worst case scenario we’d just have to ski more. Please don’t throw me into that briar patch!

Skiing knee deep Utah dry on April 3 was gravy on top of what has already been an impossibly good season. It’s been nearly five months to the day since my first powder day of the season, and today was up there with the best of them.

I was slightly worried about stability but more than anything curious as to what would happen if it broke, so at the top of the ridge, I knocked down this cornice. Notice the crown line to the right of the cornice. The resulting slide was limited to the new snow, didn’t propagate very wide or run very far, but was due warning that we should watch our sluff.

A very happy Tyler makes his way through the trees.

My turn to pose for the camera.

I like skiing during the storm rather than waiting until after, as the best conditions are often while the snow is falling. Doesn’t make for great pictures, but then again the pictures are really only so Rob can see what he missed.

This probably isn’t the best way to train for a bike race tomorrow, but do I look like I care? Who knows, maybe I’ll skip the race and ski instead.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Making new friends and eating crow

I’ve been reading Dustin’s blog for about a year now, ever since he skied with Dug and Rick on a chance encounter last spring. But it wasn’t until Tuesday night at the Friends of Flagstaff meeting that I actually met him.

With Tuesday’s business addressed inasmuch as it can be at this point, this morning we got together to ski. Dustin’s friend Jason, as well as Dug, Tyler, Adam, Aaron, and Adam’s friend, Keith joined us.

It was Keith’s first tour. He learned to use a borrowed beacon in the parking lot. He’s a snowboarder, and he was going to hike up in snowshoes with his board strapped to his back. I’ll admit I was more than a little apprehensive about the prospect.

Other than Dug and Tyler each using one pole, the hike up was uneventful. Except that somehow Dustin would get like a 1/4 mile gap on the rest of us, stop and take pictures until we had all passed, then somehow pass us all again without us noticing, and repeat. I guess that technically, he was working, since Dustin works for Petzl, and a good number of us were wearing their headlamps in his photos.

When we got to the ridge at the top of the headwall, I climbed those last 20 vertical feet Dug gave me so much crap about last week. And then kept going quite a ways further than that. I guess having 2000 fewer vertical feet in my legs did make a difference in my willingness to keep climbing. The much-vaunted view was nothing to speak of since it was cloudy.

Keith also shocked me by keeping pace with the rest of us in his snowshoes. Considering how cooked I was at the top after six months of doing this, that’s something.

Descending the headwall was no less than spectacular. Srsly. It’s steep, but fun steep, not make-you-pucker steep. The trees are big and spaced as if someone gladed it. The trees shelter it from the wind, so it holds good snow even if the wind is hammering everything else. And it’s the last 500 or so vertical of a 3,000+ vertical foot climb, so most people don’t hike that far (?!?), leaving it largely untouched even when the lower bowl looks like a ski resort.

Once off the headwall, I followed Dustin as he made beautiful telemark turns down to a cornice we had spotted on the way up. Dustin positioned himself to grab a picture of me dropping the cornice, and I inched up to the edge to spot where I would take off from.

Just as I was almost to where I wanted to launch from and ready to hike back up and make a run at it, I was weightless then falling. The cornice had broken off and took me with it. Thankfully it didn’t propagate, so I stood there laughing at what just happened. Turns out Tyler had the same thing happen on the same cornice moments later.

With the picture spoiled, we descended to the scene of Dug’s drop from last week to try and get a lesser make up shot. Thanks to Dustin for this and all previous photos.

From there, Dustin and Jason had to rush off to get to work, so I waited for the rest of the crew and snapped a few photos.



Wanna know why Tyler always looks good in his photos? Because he’s a damn good skier, that’s why.

Adam powering through the crust on the lower slopes:

Adam, after the crust overpowered him:

Somehow I failed to get any pictures of Keith. Sorry Keith.

With Keith and Aaron representing the snowboard community the way they do and Dustin and Jason showing how Telemark skiing is done right, I’m pretty much stuck without anyone to make fun of, except maybe myself.

I guess I could turn to cycling and make fun of the whole fixie scene, but that’s been overdone already. Maybe I’ll have to take my own advice and just be nice. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


The more clever bloggers out there are making April Fools jokes today and lizzing at how witty they are to Rick-roll so many people on one day.

If you came looking for that, sorry to disappoint. Today’s post is a stream-of-consciousness rant filled with emotional and not-very-well-formed opinions that I may not hold for longer than today.

But before I get to that, thanks to everyone who showed up to last night’s meeting at REI regarding the proposed lift up Flagstaff Mountain. I’ll not comment in detail on the proceedings because Andrew McLean has already said pretty much everything I want to. The turnout was great—people were being turned away because there simply wasn’t enough room. The presenters were well-prepared and each made his case effectively. Each except Onno Wieringa from Alta, whom I don’t trust.

Now on to what I actually wanted to write about today:

If you’re a skier, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably aware that Big Mountain legend Shane McConkey passed away last week while filming for Matchstick Productions in Italy.

Shane was a true ski pioneer. Reverse camber skis are all the rage for skiing deep snow. Thank Shane for that. He thought there was a better design for soft snow than traditional camber and sidecut and was behind the original reverse camber-reverse sidecut ski, the Volant Spatula. More recently his signature model was the K2 Pontoon.

But Shane’s pushing of the limits in ski design was really fueled by his need to push the limits of his skiing. Many of the most aesthetic lines end in huge cliffs, making them unskiable. So Shane strapped a parachute on his back and began ski BASE jumping.

When Shane died, it was because he was pushing the limits further and added flying with a wingsuit between skiing and deploying his parachute. Flying with a wingsuit requires ejecting the skis, and one of Shane’s skis didn’t come off, sending him into a spin.

I will freely admit that I’ve had mixed feelings about Shane’s death. Ski BASE is about as dangerous as it gets, so to add wing suits in the mix is just nuts. One simply can’t expect to live very long when doing things like that. I wouldn’t have described his death as tragic.

Until I saw this picture taken in Shane’s garage, with his skis, his saucer, and his darling daughter, Ayla.


While my heart goes out to Shane’s wife, Sherry, she also knew what she was getting into when she married him. She had to know this was a possibility, perhaps only a matter of time. Though it doesn’t make it any easier.

But Ayla’s case is truly tragic. She chose none of this. She will grow up not knowing her father. He was larger than life and leaves quite a legacy in the ski industry, but his legacy will neither read to her, teach her to ski, or give her a whoosh when she climbs into bed.

As a father and a backcountry skier, this hits close to home. Every time I go up on the mountain, there’s a chance that something could happen. I don’t take unnecessary chances and do my best to minimize risk, but still. Something could always happen, even if it’s a car wreck on the way to work or cancer or any other crappy, unexpected outcome.

The community has already and will continue to rally around Ayla and Sherry. Nobody can replace Shane, but we can offer help.

But there are a lot of other kids who need help, too. So play your pranks, have your April Fools fun, but then find a way to do something nice for someone who needs it. Especially if that someone is a kid having a bad day. Or a bad life. Call it Karma, paying it forward, a deposit on your mansion on high, whatever you will. But be kind and lend a hand where you can. We’ll all be happier for it.