Monday, November 24, 2014

Sweet Weekend for October

This weekend kicked butt...if it was the end of October.
Alas, it's the end of November.

Normally, Kenai rides start with some kind of explosion in my brain muscle on Monday morning. I then work really hard to not bother Adam until Wednesday, if I can make it.
It should say a lot then, that when I called Adam for a long-overdue catch up call on Friday evening, it occurred to us somewhat simultaneously, that we could give the Russian Loop a shot, as ridiculous as that is for the time of year, and shrugged our shoulders and went for it.
The idea was only slightly less misguided than we presumed. The first half went by crazy fast. Low elevation trails were frozen solid, super tacky, with no ice. We buzzed up Snug Harbor Rd in a light rain, but not long into the meat of the climb the rain turned to snow, and by the time we reached the upper trail head we were in something of a winter wonderland.
The snow made it impossible to tell what we were riding on, which ranged from bare ground to a mixture of ice types. Studs or fat tires would have been OK, but regular mountain bike treads raised the sketch factor and seriously cut into forward progress. If we could have said that it was only going to last for "x" miles until we returned to hero tack, we might have toughed it out, but not knowing if we had 2,5, or 10 more miles, was enough to remind us of the initial plan: if the upper trail sucks, turn around.
The descent back down Snug sucked immensely, but once we got the downhill out of the way we warmed back up and enjoyed the rest of the ride.

Not right.

Sorry bikes.
The trip south provided enough intel for the brain muscle to land on boarding in Turnagain on Sunday.
Turnagain, Saturday evening.
Nathan and Cody were down, and we headed south.
I was anticipating a 30-45 minute walk through the alders of beer can mountain, probably half of it getting pissed on. We'd ski two laps in the upper trees in descent snow, then head back down into the vertically rising rain line of doom.

As we rose above Portage, the clouds parted, and we found Turnagain Pass enjoying the morning light of a sucker hole; and quite lonely (one car at Tin Can, 2 at Sunburst).
With vis in place, we headed to the latter, where two skiers headed back to Taylor Creek Pass and another solo joined us to the ridgeline with his pup for a run.
It was about a 30-minute hike to skins-on, and the snow went from inches to well over a foot of fresh ontop of the bullet-proof rain crust base rather quickly above some certain elevation. The snow itself was high quality, with the lower layer dense and the top layer cold and dry. Read: loud when you carved hard, billowed big for everything else. Stability was a hairline under bomber. A little wind and consolidation on top of that ice layer could lead to more reactivity.
We stuck around for three runs in conditions none of us expected, with a group of 5 arriving late in the day as we departed.
A fourth run was surely on the clock, but not necessarily in the legs.

Busting rhymes on the ridge.

I love this picture.
Ya. It felt so good. Just gonna pretend it's October.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Monoculture Racing?

There is a move afoot to change the organization of the pro road racing calendar.
This is not the usual grist for this blog, but I digress for this post because I guess I’m worried/annoyed enough to consolidate some thoughts on what’s going on in the world of pro cycling as it attempts a major overhaul.
I’m not going to say that I’m against any changes, there is obviously room for improvement, but I’m certainly against a couple of the arguments.
One is the geographically scattered nature of the race season, the second is the shortening on the grand tours.
The point has been made that in a single week, any given pro team might have riders racing in three or more events in as many different countries.
Let’s keep that in perspective. We’re not talking about countries on opposite sides of the planet, we’re mostly talking about Europe.

A shot that defined 2014. Photo Velo News.
The pro racing circuit has seen some growth in the last decade for events outside the European theater, but these events typically fall outside the heart of the racing season, or teams make a fairly big deal of which riders they will commit to these events.
Arguing that teams with multi-million dollar budgets can’t afford the physical and financial stresses of racing a few different events at any given time in Europe is a joke. For smaller teams, this may present greater challenges, but so increases the importance of selecting races that better suit their rider’s and the team’s collective goals. Some people who like competition would call this type of decision-making “strategy.”
If anything, this diversity of events, and the willingness of teams to send riders to different venues, means a greater number of fans have the opportunity to see a wider array of riders.
Obviously, not all the top names in the sport will be represented at every race as a result, and decisions will have to be made as to what events to race each season.
Here it comes: so what?
Much has been made of the fact that even with 1 million Euros on the table, the top three riders in the peloton declined a Russian billionaire’s offer to compete in all three grand tours next season because of the massive physical stress that would present.
I can only draw comparisons to things that I have done in my own life, but here’s what I know: there are rides that I’ve completed and mountains that I’ve climbed and skied, that I may never do again. It’s not so much that I would not want to repeat them – although certainly there are a few that once was enough – but that there are other goals I hope to achieve.
I don’t need to climb to the top of the same mountains each winter to feel complete. Indeed, in the world of backcountry skiing, there may be windows that are only days long over a period of years to safely ski certain lines.
The fact that rider’s will work so hard to stand atop the podium at a particular race just once in their career speaks to the significance of the achievement.
Every year shapes up a bit differently as a result.
Riders have strong performances one season and appear to fall out of the ranks the next, race routes change, the weather is pleasant, or harsh, or somewhere in-between.
Let’s just look at the Tour this year. Who raced? Froome? Yep. Contador? Yep. Nibali? Yep. Sagan? Yep. Cavendish? Yep. Want me to keep going?
There were a bunch of big names on the start line, and look what happened; most were annihilated.
This year’s Tour in particular was won through a force of will to survive heinous conditions.
As a spectator, and maybe more importantly, one who values the role the environment plays in racing, it was awesome to watch.
The fall out, by the way: a good number of those big names who were defeated in the Tour showed up for the bastard-child of the grand tours: the Vuelta.
I was so stoked for the Spanish tour this year. Quintana promised to be fresh after his long hiatus, and Contador and Froome were undoubtedly bloodthirsty and looking for redemption. Let’s not even talk about the rivalry between teammates Valverde and Quintana.
Sure. It could have played out different, but it didn’t.
The pro cycling circuit is a forest of ancient trees.
Some are taller and more prestigious, some are gnarled and twisted like hell, yet others grow into each other and compete for the same limited space, all while a new crop of shoots fights to grow into their own.
Lopping them all off to about the same height and distance to create some UCI-sanctioned monoculture is to fail entirely to see this forest for the trees.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

It Never Starts Like It Should

But this one. Wow.
It's felt like the past two falls have been particularly ornery. Cold, dry, snow-less.
I think most people I know would take either in a heartbeat.
It could all change in a breeze, but it's hard to imagine it will.

Hopeful that snow was falling up high, and eager to be in the mountains, Phil and I headed up to Jewel Glacier on Friday to investigate.
Snow may have fallen, but Mr. Weend was out with his buffer, making sure the mountains stayed smooth and brown. I've seen more snow up there in September.
Jewel Glacier was several inches of supportable wind crust all the way up. It was a slippery skin, but surprisingly consistent skiing. The upshot of Mr. Weend's OCD was that despite the thin cover, we were able to make it to within a mile and a quarter of the car before it was time to go back to foot travel.

A dog chased us up the road from the Crow Creek sub-division and did the rent-boy routine in the parking lot, tagging along for the trip. I get the feeling this pup spends more time up here than anyone else and is a true mountain dog. Otherwise, we had the Pass and the glacier to ourselves.

Wind-buffed but carvable.

Spring-like snow and hot-pow where an avi had spit out some debris during the last storm.
Word was out that the riding in Palmer was dry and dusty. Cody and I headed up Saturday in rather winter-ish temps. The riding was as good as expected, and the frosty forests and fields were beautiful. The bonus was riding the newly-built trails. So much fun.

Photo courtesy C.G.

On other fronts, the slow start is good for house projects.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Summer Gear Wrap Up

Maxxis Ardent Race Review

I loaded these front and rear on my Santa Cruz Solo for Kenai backcountry riding. These are an ideal middle-of-the-road trail tire: light, sturdy, with medium-sized knobs. They’re a good step up from the Ikons if you need something a bit more meaty, but don’t want to give up too much weight or rolling resistance. These would only make sense as XC race tires for the burliest of courses, and even than I imagine they would still be overkill. For endurance racing or XC/trail riding though, they’re a great do-it-all.
While these tires have some meat, they will demand a little more precision and cadence control when the trails start to get wet. Had this year been drier, my plan was to run swap out the rear AR with an Ikon. Had this turned out to be a wetter year, or for the shoulder seasons, I’d just go with an Ardent.
The only problem I encountered with these was likely an operator error issue. I belched the rear tire one ride and incidentally created a small slit as long as a fingernail is wide, just above the bead. The slit killed the tubeless capability of the tire. I used a patch on the inside of the tire and ran a tube in it for the rest of the season. I blame myself; I think my tire pressure was too low. That being said, my related concern was durability. The lighter nature of the tire made me wonder how it would hold up if our trails featured more rock gardens and shark fins. Maxxis is known for making durable tires, so its probably a non-issue.


Maxxis Ikon Review

I had these tires mounted front and rear to Mavic Crossmax on my Scott Scale. Their primary purpose was ripping around the trails in town and XC racing, and they were awesome. I was continually impressed by these treads all season. The smaller knobs didn’t inspire any confidence, but they hooked up reliably, from loose over hard pack to slick roots, to soft sandy corners. Obviously, as with other small knob treads, in wet or loamy conditions, they will start to show their weakness.
In late September I purchased a Yeti SB95 that came with an Ikon 2.2 in the back and an Ardent 2.4 in the front. This was a pretty goofy combo, and after taking it on a couple rides in Anchorage and the Kenai in classic fall riding conditions, the best analogy I could make was a 350-pound guy walking a yip-yap dog…I think it’s clear which tire is which here.
I’m not sure what the logic was there, but it was an unfair assessment of the Ikon’s abilities as a trail tire given the pairing and season. I soon swapped the Ikon with a 2.3 Ardent.
A big plus in my view, was that for a light tire, the Ikons held up great. I was looking for a more reliable, but still light, XC racing tread, after an unsatisfactory performance from the over-prized Schwalbe Rocket Rons last season. By late summer last year, the former tires were literally unraveling with each ride. The Ikons cost slightly less than the Schwalbes and don’t charge a hefty weight penalty. Mine should be good to go next year.

Halo Headbands Review

Headbands? Really? Review?
This is one of those, if you ever thought this was a good idea, go invest $25 and stop being a moron…like me.
I should have got on board with these ages ago. I never really liked the idea of riding with a headband as it seemed, stifling.
My most recent helmet, a Bell Volt, the same helmet I’ve bought every other year for the past 6 year, seems to drain a lot of sweat down my forehead. I have no idea what changed, but I finally got tired of having streaky glasses within 20 minutes of riding.
I expected the band’s forehead gasket to simply divert copious sweat down the sides of my face to my temples. Instead, the band wicks the sweat circumferentially around the skull, and helps to act a bit like a radiator. Except for in the hottest conditions, very little sweat actually runs down my face now. I did notice a bit of “stifling” discomfort the first ride or two, but that fades fast.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

West Half

The west half of the October escape plan started October 22 when I left the colorful northeast for bone dry Southern California.
The next morning, the Yeti arrived courtesy of Bernie, highlighting an additional benefit of the versatile EVOC bag: you can ship them just as easy as you can take them through the airport.

A few hours later, Tom pulled into Castle Miramar.

The last time I saw Tom was riding – of course – Kingdom in May of 2008, a few days before I loaded the Suby and headed north.

Tom and I reunite after my return to the states in July 2007. Tom was living in Santa Monica at the time and had just taken a spill on his road bike in Topanga Canyon going 50 MPH.

The last time I rode with Tom at Kingdom in May 2008. Can't remember if this is Sidewinder or Tap'n'Die.

We’ve kept in touch, despite Tom’s best efforts to live in some pretty far flung and remote corners of the west lacking cell or Internet coverage.

We assembled his bike and headed down CA1 to Sycamore Canyon.

Sycamore was great warm up ride, we knocked out what has become the standard loop I like to hit there, ending with brews and a sunset back at the beach. Sweet!

Reunited, Fall 2014.

The next morning, we headed to Ojai to take advantage of having two cars and plenty of motivation to do the Sisar Canyon-Gridley trail point-to-point.

Oh, ya, this was my birthday ride, and hitting Gridley seemed perfect.

Temps were pretty scorching, I think the computer registered 102 and we were guzzling through our water.

The descent was sweet nonetheless, though in some of the south-facing traverses, it felt like a blast furnace.

A quick text to Narva, who we missed on this great ride, told us to hit up the Ojai Beverage Company for post-ride brews and eats. Thanks buddy!

Good suggestion Narv!

Saturday we again headed to the mouth of sycamore Canyon, but this time straight-lined up and out to Potrero Road and over to my favorite trail in the area: Los Robles.
A side note: Tom had been riding his 26” Santa Cruz Chameleon hard tail the past few days, and so I thought we might trade bikes for the day. In spring 2005, I loaned Tom my Marin quad-link for a ride one day, his first fully-suspendered. Not long after, he went full-sus himself.
It seemed somehow fitting, that I do the same, almost a decade and so many advancements later.
He was not disappointed by the Yeti’s ride to say the least!
Meanwhile, I hopped back on the TranceX, the first time I’ve been on that bike since last December.
If I was sipping the carbon or the 29r koolaide before our ride, I was guzzling it by the end.
Wow. There were times this summer, frustrated by the Solo, that I missed the Trance.
I still think it’s a descent bike, but it was simply no match for the Yeti. It felt like a kids bike from the get go. As I adapted, I found that I was treating it more like a BMX then a mountain bike. As I pushed it past its boundaries, I would forcefully rip it back into line to re-correct.

It didn’t matter though, Los Robles is a fun trail no matter what you’re on. We spent nearly 5 hours in the saddle before arriving back at the beach for cold brews next to the surf.

Cooler temps than Gridley but still hot.

All smiles.

Best way to end a ride: beers on a beach.

Starved, we pleased the owners of a local Korean BBQ joint when we devoured two platters stacked high with animal protein and a crazy assortment of side dishes they threw at us along the way (it was seriously ridiculous).

Sunday morning, Tom hit the road.

It was so good to get to hang out and ride. It was almost hard to believe that 6 years and change had gone by. We’ve both changed, grown up, a little bit, but the enthusiasm we share for railing trails, well, that’s just as strong as its always been.

Sunday through Thursday I actually did some work, taking a break to ride Sycamore or Los Robles at lunch.

Life at Castle Miramar.

Blimps and shrimp, things you might see on CA1 at lunch.
 Having some fun on Los Robles
Clouds moving in.
On Friday my mom and I went up to Santa Barbara so I could check out the Santa Cruz trail and she could catch up with a friend.

The SC trail, or Little Pine Loop, is accessed by a 12-mile fire road that gains 3,200 feet. Cloud cover helped to keep temps down on the long climb, and at times, there was even a very light misty rain. By the time I summited though, the skies were breaking back up.

"The wall." Though not the steepest section of the climb, it was daunting as hell to see.

After an intitial climb, the road mostly hugged the ridges.

Sorry. Where am I?

The Santa Cruz trail dumped about 3,000 feet in 5 miles of incredible single track that offered just about everything, often with descent exposure to boot.

Golden grass meadow at the top.

Sorry for the distracting trail markers, but check out the cliff. There were several no-fall sections, but mostly, the issue was less what would happen to the rider, but what would happen to the bike.

Serious stabilization in this section. The sound of the dry sand sliding down the ravines after I passed was strangely re-assuring, and reminded me of the sound of hoar-frost under a board or snow sloughing with each carve in a couloir.

My favorite section. Without warning, the rider comes around a corner and enters this definite no-fall section. This was the first place I could stop and take a pic looking back.

The trail is visible snaking it's way far below. The blue-ish clay was my second favorite section.

I pointed the rig back up the road for a much shorter climb to the Cameusa Road Connector trail.
The CRC had a bad rap on the Venturacountrytrails web page, but when I passed on the initial climb I saw lots of tire tracks, and had hope.
I was not disappointed. Though decidedly more XC compared to the SC, with a few short but steep climbs, this trail was banked and flowy, with no exposure to speak of. The road ride back was easy. In the future, I'd leave a car down near Lower Osso though.

Entrance to CRC.

Banked and flowy. It was much easier to open up.

The final descent into the Santa Ynez. The next mile or so was ridiculously fun.

Friday night, well-heralded rain came through. I would have complained, but the area is in desperate need, and it was pretty cool to see.
Saturday morning, the trails promised to be super muddy (it's mostly clay), so I rented a road bike and went out for a 3-4 hour ride in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Guess what? It did not suck.

I rented an aluminum Specialized Allez. Let's just say that I fogot how harsh aluminum road bikes are. Though most the roads of the SMs are smooth, I picked a few that had some character, and this bike bucked and bumped in rebellion.

After turning off CA1, I headed up, and up, and up. In less than 10 miles I'd logged 3,000 feet of climbing. Amazingly, I rode for over an hour after turning off, only getting passed by two motorcycles before the first car finally came by. Traffic was very light. Ridiculous.

Singletrack pavement.

Sandstone tors.

I actually got sprinkled on briefly. A few passing showers made for what is a rare scene here.

Artichoke fields heading back to the coast
Sunday I had to pack up, but I snuck off for a run on some trails closed to bikes in Sycamore. The flight back north turned into quite the fiasco when a computer glitch killed my ticket at the gate (it's a long story). United and Alaska both biffed, but they also fixed the issue, and I made it home 12 hours later than planned. Oh well.

One last time taking in this view after a run.

Back in Los Anchorage. AK Air spends a lot of money on custom paint jobs for their fleet.
Great. Trip.