Saturday, June 28, 2008

Running with the Brumbys (well sort of)

Down on the Hunt highway near the Salt River there is a herd of wild horses. If one rides through there enough it is a given you will see them or have to wait for them to cross the road. This is the name the local cycling club adopted for their moniker taking the name for wild horse from the movie "The Man from Snowy River". Of course, if one has seen the "Man from Snowy River" you know that these horses can really move, hence the name.

I rolled out of bed this morning after a spunky 5 hours of interrupted sleep and managed to collect everything I needed and get out to the meeting place by 4 AM. There were 2 people there. at 4:10 we decided to get going. First off, let me tell you to never be fooled by the age a guy looks. His hair may be grey but it is the legs that count. I was holding on to this guys wheel for dear life as he pulled us at 20mph uphill, and upwind. Brown road has a 1% false flat heading east and I usually ride much slower, but not this morning!. They did drop me just past power road but by the time I got to Ellsworth they had stopped to hook up with a guy there and another group was approaching from the back. All told when we left the intersection we had about 30 cyclists. We were a mob.

It has been a long time since I have done any pack riding but fortunately it is like walking or uh, pardon the pun "riding a bike", and I managed to cruise along with them. We held 20mph all the frickin way across Apache Jct, steadily climbing towards the superstition mountains. I was amazed at the amount of distance we covered. Of course all good things eventually come to an end, and once again, just before the big hills started I found myself dropping off the back. I am close to being able to hold the Brumby's but I am not quite there yet. I have the jersey though so I am obligated at this point to get to the point I can run with the pack. I did find I was able to catch up to them at most of the regroups even if I was the last one.

At Canyon Lake everyone had gone up to the end of the pavement so I followed. About halfway up the fast guys came shooting down. I climbed on. Despite getting dropped I was making record time up this hill today. I got passed by a guy I had passed down at Canyon Lake (he was waiting for someone). He didn't pass me too fast though and I got to the end of the pavement just as he was heading back. I had to stop at the top to change the lenses out on my sunglasses. I chatted up Paul while I was up there. Paul is a 6'7" giant that is training for a 200 mile ride he hopes to ride in 10 hours. I'd be happy for 100 in 5 hrs. We road down the hill together. At tortilla flat he decided to do a repeat like the rest of the fast guys did. I headed back to Canyon Lake though as I didn't think I had a repeat in me today. Perhaps next time.

At Canyon Lake I downed a quart of water and refilled my bottles. I had heard the moderate group was supposed to get here (they were supposedly meeting at 5 AM and were going to turn around at Canyon Lake). I had hopes of riding back with them but waiting only brought the fast group in on their way back from the end of the pavement. After everyone refilled their bottles we were off. Not too far out of here I was promptly dropped again, but not before I had a good conversation with the guy that came up with the name for the club. It was kind of cool. Although I was slower than them I did not do too badly. Though my legs had had a good workout today I had good power going up the hill out of the Canyon. My back started to let me know it was a little tired of all this climbing at this point. I need to find some excersizes to strengthen my core.

At the corner of Ellsworth and Brown I was waiting at the light when who should come out of the gas station behind me? Yeah, you guessed it, the fast guys. They were going to go around Usery Pass to get an even hundred miles so we said hi and they went their way and I went mine. One of these days I will hang with them. I didn't do bad today though. I would run into one of the club's organizers getting back closer to the car. He was having back problems so he was just out for a good spin. We chatted it up a little and then he headed off. Getting back to the car I found I had gone 70 miles in 4 hours and 12 minutes. To give you some idea of how much faster today's ride was than what I am used to. My all time fastest time on this course is 4 hours and 20 minutes. " Yeah, so you pulled 8 minutes off, big Deal" you say. Well, when we remember that this is 6 miles longer than the route I usually go suddenly we get a much much better time. I figure I was running about 25-30 minutes ahead of my best time. Not bad. Average speed was 16.5 mph and total climbing was 3864 feet. I ended up weighing exactly what I did when I left so I think I nailed the hydration thing. Next week I hope I hang on longer!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Brumby Mob.

So, after last weeks ordeal I am back into training on the road bike. I think to myself, why not head up the apache trail this morning? Of course, being summer it would be wise to start early to beat the boat traffic and the heat. I estimate 2 bottles could do it with a refill at Canyon Lake Marina. I was part right.
4:20 AM and I was on the streets in the aero-bars riding east into a quartering headwind. I was surprised to find I was keeping a faster pace than normal. In fact I would find my pace was faster than normal almost all day. I don't know if the fact that I had lost 15-20 lbs since I last rode this might have something to do with it. That's like having a whole other bicycle worth of weight. I turned my light off heading north out of Apache jct. I was quite pleased with myself climbing the hill over to canyon lake.
I was quite pleased with myself climbing the hill behind Tortilla Flat too. That is until around halfway up the hill I spot cyclists in my rear view mirror. I was just topping the toughest part of the hill and here come three cyclists. Their jersey showed that the Brumby mob was out and about this morning. The Brumby's are kind of famous in these here parts as being extremely strong cyclists. Many of them are racers as well. They didn't really blow by me, but they didn't have a hard time passing me either. One guy that was trailing them finally caught me near the top. I can say that I did get to all of their regrouping places before they had left so although I was not riding "with" the Brumby mob I was very pleased to find that they weren't completely leaving me in the dust. After all I was riding this in record time this morning. It is amazing how much easier the hills are with 20 lbs of ballast jettisoned.
I followed the Brumby's down at a bit of a distance behind. I hit 48 mph at one point which would be my high speed for the day. Near the bottom of the hill my pedals froze up. Now, I don't know how you feel about pedals freezing up, but when I am barreling along at 30-40 mph and the pedals freeze, I freeze a little too. Anyway, I played it cool and coasted to a stop after coasting through the wash hoping that only the pedals would freeze and not the wheels! It turned out my rear deraileur is a little out of adjustment and overshifted the chain off of the small cog. I popped the wheel off to release the chain and was off again with a mental note not to use the small cog when in the largest chainring.
At Canyon Lake Marina the Brumby's that weren't doing repeats on the big hill were there kicking it and refilling water bottles. I foolishly refilled one and put my sportsdrink into it. Had I been wise I would have filled one with water and one with the drink powder. As is I had a very hot climb out of Canyon lake. I had 3 of the Brumby's pass me at a pretty good clip climbing the first part of the big hill out. I would see them again at the "Dash In" taking it easy. I usually skip the "Dash In" but my tongue was clinging to the roof of my mouth and I was starting to get sick from drinking the sports drink stuff so I had to stop and get a bottle of water. They were talking about catching up to Cat3 racers and passing them. Perhaps after another 10-15 lbs come off I can hang with the Brumbies. Perhaps I could win the lottery too.
All in all I did 63 miles 4000 feet of climbing, in 4 hours and 20 minutes. That is a whole 14 minutes off my fastest time. I also woke up this morning with a resting heart rate of 46 which is the lowest I have counted it so I think I am in the best shape of my life right now. I averaged 14.6 mph which is almost as fast as I averaged on the Usery Pass route last time. Might be time to see if I can break my record for the Usery Pass ride.

Edit- I emailed the Brumby's having found their website and I am part of their list now. A few of them had issues with dehydration too it turns out. I might be running with the Brumby mob a little more in the future!

And, yes for those of you who may be wondering, they are named after the pack of wild horses in "The Man from Snowy River".

Friday, June 6, 2008

Out of Time, Hutzpah and Water.

Me and the Happy Jack Post Office. Who was this Jack Fella? And what made him so dang Happy?

The following is the account of my attempt at running the Dirty Mogollon Mormon Madness 200k Permanent-

I had originally thought of driving up Thursday night and camping in the campground around the corner from the Clint's well Gas station but after all was said and done Thursday night it was 9:30 before I was ready so I figured I would get a good night sleep and wake up at 4 AM and then go. I didn't sleep well at all and an infernal cricket kept chirping all night so 30 minutes before I was supposed to wake up I shut off the alarm and made ready to go. It would take me 2 hours and 20 minutes all told to get up there with a short stop to change into my cycling clothes in a hidden spot next to the highway. It was 40 degrees. Needless to say I put on my Arm Warmers and Leg warmers.

Clints Well/Happy Jack is pretty much a gas station and a cafe. They pretty much exist because there is nothing else around for 45 miles except Pine and Strawberry and campers don't like to drive all the way off the rim. So, at ten to seven I sat waiting outside the gas station waiting for it to open. I was loaded for bear and so was my bike. For every one of the 15 pounds I had lost lately I likely had equivalent weight in an item I brought to support myself on this trip. Extra things like a meager survival kit for making shelter and fire should I get stuck out in the middle of nowhere. A bottle of water purification tablets should I run out of water and need to use one of the springs to obtain water. A pocket knife for various things (really goes under the survival category). A bag of maltodextrin and 4 cliff bars to get me through the first three legs (2nd control has water but no food). 3 26 oz water bottles filled with water and maltodextrin. Other than that the main difference was I would be riding a mountain bike with 2" tires and aerobars (not so much for speed but for a place to rest my hands for awhile on smoother roads).

The gas station finally opened and I was off having quaffed a pinapple mango beverage of some sort. The first thing I noticed was the nip in the air. My ears and cheeks were cold but the smell of the pine trees more than made up for the cold start. I was off riding through the forest. I was home again. I grew up in Flagstaff and used to mountain bike all over through the forest and I have to say I have not done it in a long long time. It was not long before the road began to climb. I rode through alternating patches of shade and sun but mostly shade for the first part seeing as the sun was still rising. I was noticing the altitude a bit on this first hill. The air was definitely thinner up here. Of course what goes up must go down and it wasn't too long before I was at Jones Crossing heading over East Clear Creek far above where I would again cross it later this morning. From here the steady climb of the morning starts. It is a 10% grade climbing out of Jones Crossing and then after the first mile the road gradually climbs for 7 miles or so. This was what I feared would jeopardize my arriving at the first control 18 miles into the ride. I needed to keep at least 10 mph climbing this and I did. The really funny thing about all this is that I think this road was in better condition than the rim road which I would eventually get to but stopped to snap a picture a little bit before the turn.

I love snapping pictures of the lush forests of the rim country as many people don't know there is another half to Arizona. Many is the time I spoke with people who were surprised to learn of pine forests in Arizona only to have someone chime in to state that they were caught in the worst blizzard of their lives outside of Flagstaff. The fact is the largest stand of Ponderosa pine in the world grows right here in the good old Grand Canyon state and stretches from Williams to the new Mexico border and beyond. I would only be riding through a small chunk of it today.

Riding the rim road made me glad I put the fat tires on. It was rollers. Not just any rollers. Steep ones with inclines of 10-13% magnitude. Fortunately the scenery was incredible. The views along the rim are absolutely singular. The Mogollon rim is the southern end of the Colorado Plateau which stretches all the way up into, you guessed it, Colorado. There is over 1000' feet of elevation drop from the top to the bottom of the rim and this leads to unsurpassed views of the mtn ranges to the south which stretch out as far as the eye can see.

I have no idea why I had this look on my face. Perhaps I was about to fall

Riding the steep rollers of the rim made me glad I had ditched the idea of riding on slicks. Some of the steeper sections were washboarded and had scree on them where any kind of speed needed to be supported by good grip on the front wheel. I knew I was pressed for time and there was a lot more climbing in this section than I had expected.

Old red enjoying the view.

I did stop along this section for a few pictures. You just can't ride along the rim with a camera and not snap a few photographs. During this section I would spot one of three cars I would see during the day (not counting the pavement section) and we would narrowly pass each other as he came down a steep one lane section and I went up. Around here I startled one of the largest Coyotes I have seen. I am pretty sure it was not a grey wolf as I don't think they range this far west.

By the time I got to the first control I had climbed 1680' all told. Looking at my watch I had 15 minutes to spare. I had done it. The first section was in the bag, a little close for comfort but in the bag none the less. The cabin looked just like I had last seen it when I went biking back here with scouts a few years back. After a quick picture of myself and a picture of my GPS to prove I had been here at the time I wrote down I was off onto the next section.

After getting up the initial hill exiting this control I turned down forest road 95. Around a mile in I saw one of the hugest elk I have seen in a long time. I thought it was a horse at first as it didn't have horns. It ran off into the woods and stared at me as I passed. This weird red, white, blue, and black animal that mysteriously ran above the ground.

This section was about 7 miles of beautiful descent with a pristine forested canyon and a stream in the bottom at the bottom of it. For the most part this road was smooth and I got up into the 20's a few times on it but mostly I went 15-20. The sun was higher in the sky now and things were starting to warm up. In fact I had to push my arm warmers down and unzip the jersey because on a few of the uphills I got downright warm. I would need to shed my arm and leg warmers at the bottom of Clear Creek Gorge.

The descent into Clear Creek Gorge is a lot of fun. One does need to be careful though as there are bumpy sections and there is nothing off the left hand side of the road so staying in control is important. There is a good 800 foot drop into the canyon which has a little bridge at the bottom and a beautiful creek bordered by sandstone cliffes and trees on either side.

Before the climb out on the other side I shed the warmers, put on sunscreen and promptly panicked as I noticed it was 10:00 and the next control closed at 11:12 and I had a largish hill and 10 miles or so from there to the control. So off I went climbing the hill but remembering not to go too fast to save something for later. The climb was long but eventually was over and after cresting the road descended most of the way to the ranger station. I hadn't realized it descended quite so much, or perhaps it was the tailwind, but I kept it around 20 for much of the way there and all told I would get there with 20 minutes to spare so the last section had been a little slower than the first but I still averaged above 10 mph.

The second control and the Blue Ridge Ranger Station

From here there would be some more fairly quick dirt road which was good because I knew I needed to bank some time as there was a rough section coming up that would eat my average for lunch and spit it out. I got passed by my second car of the day. It was a couple of Good Ol' Boys in a faded blue pickup of probably 70 eras fame heading up to one of the lakes up this road.

Watching the cue sheet I arrived at the spot where there should be a road but I was having trouble finding it. I turned on the GPS (low on batteries so I was only using it to confirm turns) and sure enough this is where it turned off. Could that little tire track in the dried mud be it? Well, off I went down the little tire track which soon became a rocky mess. The road was nearly as rocky and rough if not more than the non-road. I would be assured this was a road when I reached a forlorn cattle guard sitting out in a field. The road from here grew a little more pronounced but remained rocky.

I would follow the rocky road up into a desolate area devoid of trees but having an occasional juniper bush. This was an ancient lava flow as the large basalt rocks in the road testified. I felt utterly abandoned out there in the desolation. I probably averaged around 3 mph in the next 2 miles. After 2 miles it let up a bit but there would still be sections like it interspersed and the road kept me below 7 mph in all but a few places. One part near Turkey mtn was pretty but this section was a grind mostly.

At one point the pain was interrupted by a herd of cattle who weren't too sure about me. They were feeding near a tank out in the woods. As I approached they moved off up the road. I felt like a real wrangler as I chased them along. I would herd them about a quarter mile before they figured out all they had to do was get off the road.

Rollin, rollin, rollin. Keep movin, movin, movin,Though they’re disapprovin, keep them doggies movin Rawhide!
I was riding with the wind so was a bit warm through here, the temp was a nice 74 degrees though so it wasn't too bad. Navigation through here was interesting as the road often was no more defined than a path leading off to a campsite by the road or someones 4wd track they blazed. I often ran into trees fallen across the road and had to go around. I felt very alone out here. There were not even tire tracks in the dust between rocks. No one had been on this road since the last rain which was a few weeks back. Much of the time in this section was in the anaerobic zone. It would take me two and a half hours to cover the 10 miles that were this nightmare road (which I wouldn't go much faster on in my jeep actually due to the rocks and such). I really needed full suspension for this and even then I think it would get tedious. I felt like I was shaking the flesh off my bones. My hands were going numb and there was nowhere I could give them a rest on the aerobars without wiping out spectacularly. My left arm was also getting sore because the legs and the arms become your suspension when your bike doesn't have any in rough sections like this. All in all my shoulder and arm still hurt today. Not too far from the end I was out of hutzpah, no more, gone I was slowly turning the pedals over and often just barely getting my foot unclipped before a large rock stopped me in my tracks and tried to cast me to the ground. A few times I nearly endoed. It is not good to ride roads like this when you are completely shot.
At long last I got to Pine Spring and evaluated my situation. I had used all 80 oz of the water I had on hand on the last 10 miles. I had an hour and change to cover the next 18 miles and 5 of those were climbing a good sized hill. Most important of all, I was out of water. If I stopped and purified some water that would eat up at least a half hour putting me beyond hope of reaching the next control even if I was fresh and frisky. So, things being what they were I rode across the meadow to the spring which I was not looking forward to using for water as it is a cow pond. But, looking around I found a cement box under a barbwired fence was the source of the spring and had amazingly clean and frigid water (couldn't keep my hand in it for more than 15 seconds or so). It would take a very talented cow indeed to poop in that baby so I sat down and filled my 3 water bottles. The first water bottle (the one I had filled at the ranger station) appeared with the normal orangish iodine color as I dropped the two iodine tablets in. The other two turned dark blue interestingly enough. I forgot that Maltodextrin is a starch which has that reaction with iodine and even the trace amounts left on the sides of the bottle were enough to turn it dark blue. I figured I would not drink the blue bottles if I didn't have to and I ended up only needing the one bottle for the next 25 miles.

It takes a half hour before the water is ready to drink so I retired to a nice shady campsite at one end of the meadow to lay down and figure out how I could change the route to avoid the previous 10 miles of trail as this permanent will be nearly unrunnable with them and even that in good conditions. Even without them the permanent will be a strong challenge. I figure I will need to add 5 miles of pavement and a control to get around them as that section of the forest is really remote and there aren't any other roads in the vicinity that aren't any different.

While I was laying down I saw a cow skull and thought I would take a picture of it with my bike.

The latest in Aerobar technology.

I had over 5 miles to go to get out to the highway, but made a mental note of the area to use as an information control in the future. I was not going very fast out to the highway I am afraid. I had burned every last one of my biological matches so to speak. Feeling hungry I munched a cliff bar as I sipped the orange water out of my water bottle. I had not tasted iodine water in a long time. It is possible to get the taste out of it with vitamin c but I didn't have any and I wasn't exactly picky at this point. I coasted down hills and slowly climbed others in my granny gear. Feeling I should be near the highway I consulted my topo map and discovered I was less than a quarter mile away. At the highway I downed another cliff bar and some water.

The ride down the highway was nice, especially the first big downhill where I found that when you are hitting potholes at 35 mph in the aerobars it is a really handy thing to have 2" tires. I plodded on down the road after the hill and meandered through 10 more miles of rollers before finally arriving back at Clint's Well 10 hours after I had started. All told I had 85 miles on the computer and nearly 6000 feet of climbing. Of course that doesn't account for the 10 miles of quad pumping rough road which I would take a long 10% grade over any day. So, I finished weak, thoroughly beat up, and glad to be back at the car. It was still an awesome day though. It could have been worse though if I had not been prepared. Good Boy Scout as Glen Moyer of Southern Arizona Randonneur fame would say.