20,000 Feet of Climbing in a Circle

Weather seemed a little iffy on Tuesday, so I decided to keep the ride local. I had a idea for the weekend on what/where to ride and it was going to be a whopper ride in the mountains. I didn’t want to cover any of the tarmac I’d be doing on that ride, so I thought I’d just spin around in circles a little bit, up and down a little local aberration on the topo map called Lookout Mountain.

Lookout Mountain is probably the most accessible cycling route to take that has some descent climbing (you can view the route, here). The road is quiet enough and interesting enough to have fun on. Sometimes you’ll see some downhill skateboarders streak down or para gliders floating around.

Fun even in the snow! When no one in their right mind would want to first ride to Golden from Denver, or do the climb, proper. Except for I guess, you know, me. Some archive photos from 2007 of doing this climb fixed:

Going up, Lookin' Down

North View

I can’t remember what my record is for using the route as a, uh, “hill repeat”-type of, “training” route. Maybe 4 times? I usually go up the 19th street side and down the HW 40 side and then turnaround where HW-40 reaches I-70 again at the, “bottom” and go up the other side. It cuts a good few miles from a proper loop. This day, I thought I’d just keep going in circles and do it 5 – NO, 6 times, cause that sounded like a neat number.

Left around 8:00am I think. Felt like all hell. Stomach felt bad. Head felt bad. Questioned my sanity to try this, while feeling this way. Had some gastrointestinal events that I will spare you the details, but figured it all out in the Starbucks bathroom (very clean!) in downtown Golden. Bananas are a 1.00 there, if you were wondering.

Lookout Mountain Looper Duper
The Route

Laps 1-4 were no real big deal.  I didn’t keep track of my time up and down – I’m not organized enough, but lap 1 was a good clip and laps 2-4 were just OK. Lap 5 started to get a little hurting and lap 6 I did with much pain and a little reserve, as I still needed to ride home. The ride home was fast enough for me. The girl working at the burrito joint downtown gave me a break on  my burrito, as she likes to do and that makes the world go ’round as far as I’m concerned.

The day totaled to 136 miles, almost 100 of those either climbing or descending. That pretty much took everything out of me. Dinner consisted of a frozen veggie pizza and an entire apple pie. Still incredibly calorie deficient. Passed out on the couch watching the 1974 documentary about the Giro d’Italia.

Got up today and made the best damn four egg veggie and cheese omelet with four slices of jammed up whole wheat toast and tons of ketchup and hot sauce. And coffee – my God – Pablo’s does it right. Just good, simple food. One of the miracles of doing this type of training is that sometimes basic nourishment in your body feels good beyond what good could be. Sleeping isn’t just sleeping – it’s visiting a separate world. Eating isn’t just eating. Only a few things can compare. Getting released from the city jail. Eating (again) and sleeping (again) after something as similar as a multi-day hike.  

Today, I added up the amount of mileage I have done for the month and that total to around 1275 miles – which means I’ve met my personal goal of 1200 miles in the Month of March YEAH! If you’ve found my entries here interesting, please consider donating – I currently am very much behind in funds to do this race. No kidding.

Tuesday also totaled almost 20,000 feet of climbing. I don’t know how that could be and I don’t believe it myself, but there you go. Just like the Little Engine That Could. 

Week of March 20th – March 26th “Training” Log

Total Mileage: 383 miles

This seemed like a strange week for me. The large-ish 170 mile ride in the very beginning of the week kind of made me want to take a small break from the bike, so not to over train, but I still wanted to keep the mileage up.  What to do. I also would have trained more on the rest days, if I didn’t have, you know, stuff other than riding bikes to do.

But, Friday’s 120 miler felt good – felt fully recovered from Sunday. It’s been the first time I’ve ever gone up High Grade Road with the feeling that I was actually riding the road, instead of suffering the route, hoping it would be over, soon. To be honest, the road is nothing compared to some of the mountain passes in France, only being truly a “high grade” in a few parts. Mostly, I usually just have the feeling that the road never ends, never peaks and just keeps going.

Col d'Aubisque
High Grade here means around 15%, not 6%

That night, I also had a gig at the Gothic to take part in – one of my other commitments is being a cymbalist in an electronic/noise/marching band. The position is very physical – my cymbals are very large and a half hour of smashing them together, while jumping and running around basically did me for the night. 

I think a good point to make – and repeatedly make is this: when training one of these, uh, ultra-endurance cross country races is that the preceding six plus months before the event will be taken over with training for the event. The life that you had known will stop completely. I don’t really know the mileage/time/commitment other people are having to this race, but I suspect I fall somewhere in the middle of this type of resource sucking:

If riding bikes is (one of) your jobs, you have sponsorships and some of your equipment is flowed to you, you’re going to have an easier time than me. No flack on that, you probably have earned this sponsorship with blood/sweat/tears and preceding sacrifice.

If you have a family life and a career, you are going to have a much, much harder time than me.

I am nothing but some dirt bag dude that lives simply and just so happens to have a few bikes I’ve cobbled together and also just so happens to have a little experience riding a lot of miles and camping pretty minimally. I also have the Colorado Rockies at my doorstep to romp and play in.

If you are (like I am) reading other people’s accounts of ramping up for this event, you may get some wildly different perspectives. I think many people are “racing” more to, “survive” than to have a run at winning. I’m certainly not looking to win, but surviving/finishing is the least of my worries – I know how my body reacts to little rest and long miles. Not sure about some of the survivors, but hopefully they’ll do some overnighters (or if it was me: over-fortnighters) to get accustomed to their bodies acting in very strange ways, before they take something like the GDMBR.

My goal of finishing in 21 days seems still to me: sound.  The only new thing for me will be the “mostly-dirt” part of things, rather than, “mostly pavement”, but even the lack of civilization on the route is similar to what I experience in New Zealand. Sometimes, dots on the NZ map were nothing but the location of a pub.


Panda Shot
Nothing around for miles and miles

Found quite the hill on this road.
Overloaded touring bike with tramping gear, rain coming and a steep downhill means a whole lot of fun. Racing to get from Queensland to Invercargill in a very non-direct route in only a few days.

Early Sunday Moonset Prologue, Boulder Populaire, Diesel to Denver – 170 miles

Sunday, I decided to join the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club in Boulder for their first Populaire of the season. A, “meet and greet” 108km ride, to get you acquainted in the strange world of Randonneuring – a French-flavored, ultra distance uh, “sport”, where various cycling routes are put together with a time limit to complete each one.  

This year falls on the one of the every four years the Paris-Brest-Paris is run. The Paris-Brest-Paris is itself a 1200km ride you need to complete in 90 hours. To qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris, you need to go through a series of, “Brevets”: 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km I believe – all between now and mid June. Being a francophile as well as a bike-freak, a low priority of mine is to do the Paris-Brest-Paris ride in August, although a large barrier is in my way: the plane ticket I can’t afford. I also don’t know if my geographical area has all the needed rides – the organizer made lots of comments about how fun it is to travel around to various brevets. I’m not really feeling that, being carless.

But, the main goal of many of the randonneurs is to train for that 1200km ride in August and their goals are much like mine, except I want to do the distance four times in a row, self-supported and off road. By the beginning of June. Yes.

Since I live in Denver and the event is in Boulder and since I have an over-active imagination I thought to myself earlier that, “Hmm, wouldn’t it be neat to ride there, before the event starts at 10:45 in the a.m.?”

Totally doable – as I can rush to Denver in around two hours in a fairly direct route. But the over-active part of me then went, “Well, I’m training for this 2750 mile race, why do the easy way, why not go the HARD and unnecessarily roundabout way: up through Coal Creek Canyon, Nederland and down suicide Highway 119, into Boulder? THEN, do the populaire, THEN ride home?”

So, once thought, it had to be done.

Woke up at 5:00 am and gave myself about a half hour to get ready, went to my studio quickly to print out some things and was off at around 5:50 in the a.m, giving me around, I told myself, four hours to get to the event an hour early to sign up, plus around an hour of insurance, if I find myself slow. Great. And on paper, it seemed doable – ’round 70 miles a few, uh, thousand feet of climbing?

The ride afforded me both a incredible moonset of the super moon: 

Super Moonset 3/20/11

as well as a sunset, coming not a few minutes later

Sunrise, 3/20/11

Even though it was early, the wind seemed quite interested in not making my time going up Coal Creek Canyon very easy, so it was slow going. Cresting up Wondervu did afford, as usual, a wonderous view of Indian Peaks,

View from Wondervu

And a quick rest in the downhill. I got to the Nederland Bike Shop/Coffee shop a little after 9:00am, still with a good 20 miles to go. Going 20 miles/hour for a solid hour on a bicycle isn’t exactly easy, but I had 2,800 feet of elevation to lose, so I thought I’d give it a shot, after getting some coffee and a snack.

Surprised myself by getting to the meetup point just 10 minutes after 10:00am – signing in and being able to rest until 10 before 11:00am, for the official pre-talk. I intelligently used this time to nap. I was not in fresh shape, the gym work way back in Friday was still making me ache. Mini naps is certainly a tool I’m going to use with aplomb on the Divide. 

The Populaire itself was uneventful – probably around 80 people showed up to ride, most veterens, I didn’t make many buddies (people were friendly enough – I’m just a freak). The whole thing felt kind of like, well,  work: a pretty basic and bland course going North, then, West, then East, then South (and then to the starting point), through rolling farmland and the like. A deadline to hit. Hadn’t much trouble hitting it, as I found myself in a paceline of people who can usually whip me straight when it comes to top speeds. Didn’t do too much chatting, my janky bike, BMX helmet and knickers kind of set me a part. I would have thought I’d find allies in the randonneuring crew with bike knickers.

Did my best to act as if I knew what I was doing in such a situation and learned a good deal in what was, admittedly, a much more chilled-out scenario than a trial-by-fire in a criterium race, where I’d be spat it and forced to crash.  Kidding. I do have a lot to learn, as many times when it was my turn to pull, I would leave the group well behind me. I guess I just get excited. I’d make a horrible teammate.

Regardless, made a pretty good time of 3hr 40 something minutes, I think for the 108km/68 mile course, especially with the wind situation being somewhat abrasive. Still, would have rather found a random road and find the col and then find the trial to the top of the mountain it sits on. Sigh. 

I may pursue more of the series, just because, well, maybe work would be good to do. Checks and Balances. If this type of scenario makes me push my top speed while also pushing distances, I can’t really see a bad part about that. And once, (if?) I get a Tour Divide mountain bike rig, it’d be good to get some practice pounding out some boring miles in the time trial bars, all fully loaded and such. Would at least make me a spectacle and oh – how I love that. 

Doing the Paris-Brest-Paris would also be a good excuse to return to France for an extended period, but the funds for that are simply, not there. The series also has a, “flèche” – which is a twenty-four hour ride to see how far you can go, which greatly appeals to my, “death or glory” attitude, but lo – you need a team and I’m such a loner, it’d be hard, especially as a rookie randoneur to find one. Someone – anyone, ask me if you’re entertaining the thought of doing this. Want to at least try for a minimum of 400km in the 24 hour time. Not really thinking about sleeping, just literally a 10 mph pace.

After the Populaire, I took a break and visited, “The Hill” near the CU Boulder campus and passively dealt with the brass misogyny of the local folk, who talked about their exploits as, “dumb bitches”. There’s always something about Boulder that makes me glad I don’t live there, anymore. Bought a burrito and rested my tired – very tired legs.

Made it back to Denver along the easier, more direct way, mostly with slow-going energy that somehow was still able to propel my aching legs. Turn out to be 170 miles after another stop at the coffee shop to get some, “work” done before the night was out.

Week of March 13th – March 20th “Training” Log

  • Sunday: Rest! 13 miles
  • Monday: Up Lookout Mt through Evergreen and down to Morrison, back to Denver, 101 miles
  • Tuesday: Rest! 10 miles
  • Wednesday: Denver to Loveland Pass to Denver Ride, 145 miles
  • Thursday: Rest! 10 miles
  • Friday: Off the bike completely!  –  ran a few miles to gym, lifted some weights, did some plyometrics, ran back home
  • Saturday: Easy-going ride, 41 miles

Total Mileage: 320 miles.

Winter Trip up Loveland Pass

As been my convention and as mileage is slowly being increased during the Month of March, I’m seeking out routes that will keep me occupied and interested – creative minds can bore easily with repetitious activities. If this bid for the Tour Divide becomes nothing but a slog of miles over the same routes for purposes of plotting progress charts, or just simply because it’s easier or I dunno, realistic, to keep some sort of simple training regime – man, I dunno, I’d probably tap out. This is complicated by the fact that I do not have a car, so all my day-rides start and end at my doorstep. Nothing East of Denver has much of an interesting vibe to, I dunno – check out and explore. It just sort of keeps going for a 1,000 miles as The Great Plains.

So towards the mountains I again go. The mountains hold that sort of spiritual power that others talk about when they talk about the ocean. If the mountains weren’t there, I wouldn’t be here, either. I love riding my bike over their passes and climbing on foot to their peaks. I like looking at the ranges from a distance and memorizing the names people have given them. On my bike, I pass smaller peaks that lack trailheads and make up various routes to the top, depending on the equipment I also imagine I have, hoping one day to try them out, given my limited mountaineering skills.

Somehow Wednesday has become another, “Big Day on the Bike Day”, to complement whatever it is I do on the weekend. This Wednesday I decided to see if Loveland Pass was ridable with the go-fast road bike.

Still a question mark, as the elevation almost tops out at 12,000 feet and saddles the Continental Divide. It stays winter at that altitude for much longer than in the lowlands. The route could also prove to be a problem, since plowed snow, drifts and road conditions could be and usually are varied.

The route is fairly simple in of itself, with little variance that can be taken, once after Idaho Springs: just follow the frontage roads that parallel I-70 until after Georgetown, where you actually go onto I-70, until the Loveland ski area and take HW 6 up Loveland Pass.

Bikes cannot go through the Eisenhower tunnel, so the pass is the only realistic choice if you ride a bike and want to get to Summit County further West and on the other side of the Continental Divide (there are other passes that I’ve done, example: Argentine at elevation 13,205 feet – not for the casual rider). The other uses of Loveland Pass are somewhat  varied: tourists come up to soak in the views and take their photo by the signs and in the wintertime, skiers hitchhiking up and ski from a view different faces. And all the other traffic that cannot make it through the tunnel, take the Loveland Pass route – namely: large trucks containing hazardous/flammable materials. So that’s your crowd going up this thing. The tourists were indifferent to me, the trucks were very courteous and gave me a wide berth. The skiiers would give me the thumbs up/fist shake approval. Thanks everyone. 

The weather report was favorable – 70 degrees in Denver and sunny – 30 degrees cooler on the pass – wind gusts up to 25mph. Hmm, wind gusts. Coming from the West, they’ll prove a formidable headwind, complimenting the ~5% grade one will experience on their way to the top. And for around 40 miles, remember.  If the Texan from last year’s run of the Tour Divide had the advice of working on climbing (quote: Climb your ass off), I’m certainly following it. Climbing is the only thing I can somewhat do well.  Even at a body-weight hovering around 180lbs, I can climb most of the imaginary people’s that race in my imaginary races to the ground. The ground!

Wind gusts. They certainly were gusty.  Speeds of around 10 km/hr weren’t too rare, between Idaho Springs and the Loveland ski area. Nothing to do but attempt to minimize your surface area and slog through it. 

The crux of the climb happens right after the resort and I thought it’d be useful to visit the resort’s restroom. So, I did. Funny to walk in with minimal clothing into a ski area, where everyone is wearing much more bulkier and warmer stuff. And the bike.

The climb itself wasn’t too difficult. As I hoped, the mountain the pass carved mostly on the South East side of the mountain worked well enough to block most of the wind coming from the west. The large piles of snow besides the road did the rest of the work.

Loveland Pass (from Denver) March 16th, 2011

The sign reads, “Share The Road”
On the col, it was a different story, as nothing was there to protect you from the wind. Keeping positive helps, though – and realize that dawdling too long with minimal gear isn’t such a good idea. Taking a silly self portrait to prove I Was There (and I’m not just tall-taling the mileage I’m riding) I was gone.

Loveland Pass (from Denver) March 16th, 2011

My road bike is, in fact, fairly light – but still pounds heavier than any reasonably new, reasonably equipped ride –  gym-work helps a little bit to hoist the Machine over one’s head. To compare a late summer, fully loaded shot,


Loveland Pass

Thought about going down the other side of the pass and then riding back up and then home, but The Afternoon Angry Black Cloud that usually forms near the tops of summits around this area was in full effect, so I thought best to get down to a reasonable altitude. My OD was already over 100 km and I didn’t want this day to turn from, “A Good Haul” to, “Epic” – I had Sunday still to look forward to.

Having >6,000 feet of elevation to now lose getting back to Denver  means I’ll hit Mach 3 somewhere along the way – especially now with the wind at my back. Sweet sweet reward for taking such a long trip up.

I again stopped at the ski resort and used the bathroom facilities hot-air hand dryers to dry my socks and chat with some of the more curious skiers. Much words of support for the race. Thanks, everyone.

Travel had to be somewhat careful – especially on the I-70 portions. I noticed quite a bit of debris on the sides of the road – mostly broken snow chains. The maintenance crews on this stretch, it has to be said, do a phenomenal job at keeping a somewhat dangerous part of a dangerous highway in good condition.

I managed to avoid the largest obstacle that surprised me – a giant patch of snow and ice in the middle of the bike path into Georgetown with a spontaneous bunny hop over it. A few more feet and we may have had a different story. A good rush to keep the late-afternoon cramps at bay.

So: Denver to Loveland Pass: Def. ridable on a road bike, if one feels adventurous – not a usual winter fare, unless you want to be made an example of What Not To Do on a bike, in wintertime. A few hiking parts on the trail near Idaho Springs, with all the snow/ice on the trail proved to be impassable. Not to be done, except in exceptional weather. Always, keep an eye on the weather.

Denver to Loveland Pass to Denver (Standard Route)
Total Miles: 145 miles
Total Elevation: Quite a bit – >6,000 feet
Top Speed: 52 mph on Floyd’s Hill
Ice Cream Eaten: two scoops at Little Man, which realistically is about a pint.

Meditations on Racing Without A Bicycle to Race On

It’s around 90 or so days before the Grand Départ of this little thing I’m doing – the same little thing I’m documenting on this site.

I still don’t have a bicycle to ride the course.

Not many things give me much anxiety anymore these days. I used to have horrible, horrible anxiety nightmares over the smallest of things. I’d stay awake at night after attacks, never really understanding how to get rid of them, until I figured out a few things:

  • Most of the attacks were made worse – far far worse when I had drunk too much coffee. Less coffee = less anxiety attacks
  • Small things I had put off were enough to trigger them. Get the small thing accomplished, the attacks go away, replaced with a feeling of elation.
  • The last thing that stopped the attacks was the realization that it was just electrical storm in my head.

Once I was self-aware of what was happening, things didn’t seem so scary. I was able to just be an observer over what was happening and almost – almost enjoy it.

This race still gives me anxiety – most of it being nothing I can control. I’m worried that I will break something stupid, like my collarbone before the race, or will crash and break the bike/myself on day #1.

These are groundless worries – if I fall and break something, I fall and break something. Incredibly, I haven’t ever hurt myself that bad while riding bikes. What happens during the race, well, if I’m mindful of who I am, where I am and what I’m doing, I’ve done my best. The last thing I’m worried about is a bear. My own stupidity is my own worst enemy.

But, my present condition of not having a bicycle to race on gives me pause. The reason is quite simple – I can’t currently afford a mountain bike, without putting it on a card and that doesn’t seem worth it – the individual challenge of this event for me is partly to not to go into debt to race it. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that training for the race is itself a full  time job and takes away from actually working.

Work more, train less. Train more, work less. it’s a fine balance. Squeezing every last bit of time out of a day has become one of the skills I’m fine-tuning. I’m happy to be learning in some many ways. I live quite the simple life. I get along with few things. As Yvon Chouinard would say: I’m a dirtbag. But, as a dirt bag himself, Chouinard made the third ascent of Mont Fritz Roy, no small accomplishment. Dirt Bagging is the way to go. 

Strangely, another issue I’m having is even the idea of buying something New and Expensive, like, say – a mountain bike. Not that I won’t Ride the Sh*t out of one, but New and Expensive things purchased should be done with immense thought to them. I can’t but think of all the resources that are used and used up just to make a stupid bicycle. It’s something that should be done  at the very least with respect to what you are using up.   

In my adult life, I’ve bought one new bicycle, the rest of my machines have been used by others, before they’ve gotten to me. The one new bicycle was some BikeSource.com piece of shit – which I destroyed. Every piece of that bike, save perhaps the cranks, met their untimely fate to my ramblings. And, had to be replaced. I spent more on replacement parts than the bike, itself. A terribly expensive lesson (Buy Quality) learned.

Every other bike, I’ve bought used – mostly in piecemeal, over the winter as select parts became available at swaps or on Craigslist. In the Spring, I’d build it up and then take the creation on thousands and thousands of miles of roads, spanning countries. I never really cared about brands or parts – the frames I’d rattle-can black and any mention of a brand I cover with electric tape. De-tune the look of my rides has been one of my weapons against theft.

So as I’m looking at the present, as well as the future, I’m hoping for a miracle:

My work somehow picks up. Incredibly. I work for myself in many, many different avenues – basically whatever people offer as far as work, I take up.

Or, someone just hands me a bike. I don’t like this idea. I believe in earning my way through things. I don’t believe in taking shortcuts. If someone was to hand me something like that, I’d hand them ten times the worth of the machine in blood and sweat back, to repay the debt. I’m also no pro –  there’s talented, hard-working people out there that deserve their sponsorships. Give them the rides.

Or, I fall upon a great deal on the perfect bike, that needs a little work, but is Good Enough to do the job. That’s what hopefully will happen, very very soon.

If it doesn’t, I’ll still be at the start line at whatever I can cobble together. The engine, at least, will be the top of the line.

Week of March 6th – March 12th “Training” Log

  • Sunday: Rest! – 12 miles
  • Monday: 14er Attempt, Quandary
  • Tuesday: Rest!  – 15 miles
  • Wednesday: Ride to Redrocks, Hike/Run Mt. Morrison, via the South Ridge Route, ride back home – 52 miles
  • Thursday: Rest! 5 miles
  • Friday: Ride to Boulder, few hours at The Spot, bouldering Gym, ride home –  100 miles
  • Saturday: 1 1/2 hours on the trainer (not included in total), plus 2 miles outside.

Total Mileage: 186 miles

Saturday, I felt pretty bruised and spent. Had a gigantic, fattening meal of several takeout entrees from Peter’s Chinese and promptly passed out around 9:00 pm – if not earlier.

Weighed in on Friday at around 179 lbs, my weight at the new year was more like 185 lbs. Kind of obvious why that is.

Abandoned Attempt at Quandary Peak, Elevation 14,265′

“I’m getting concerned about the visibility issue.”, my much more careful, much more level-headed hiking partner stated clearly and with enough gusto to make it through the wind and snow.

“Yes. I think we’re pretty close. The peak is at that rock.”, I point, “ten more minutes and we’ll re-evaluate the situation. How does that sound?”

“I don’t see a rock.”

And she had a point. The rock was now, gone. Ten minutes became ten steps. We reached a slow-going snowy slope and called it quits.

White out conditions
A last look up (unedited photo)

Now, to get back to the trail head, while snow is blowing at a 90 degree angle with little visibility, with no trail or track to follow from 14,000’+. In a cloud. Even at such elevation and conditions, we keep fairly positive. Snapping a shot to show our happy discomfort, we begin the trip down.

Stopping Point

The day started out with blue skies and an encouraging weather report: a slight breeze, with clouds moving in, in the late afternoon. Snow, possible – likely even, but only half an inch and not until 5:00pm. We received the weather report right before our 8:30 am start at the trail head.

Starting out
Just excited to be here

8 1/2 hours seemed a pretty doable time to cover a little less than 7 miles, even in the snow, before a little snow flurry.

A dog greeted us at the trail head and followed us for a time. We took it as a good sign. No tags and, ahem, endowed – good at avoiding all attempts at photographing, it was probably a very hearty stray. Hoping it would follow us to the top, I mentally rationed some peanut butter in trade for its company. A black squirrel soon monopolized his attention and we were left alone, again.

Quandary Peak is one of the easiest 14ers in Colorado to summit in the summertime. A Class 1 all the way, with little in terms of surprises in the trail itself. My hiking partner and I have climbed it ourselves in the summer.

Incidentally, before our summer hike, a park ranger met us before hiking the trail at its head to warn us that this was, in fact, one of the most accident-inducing 14ers, due to its proximity to the major ski town of Breckenridge and the vacation-mindset of its attemptees:

The trail head itself is over 10,000 feet and close by Breckenridge is a resort town, attracting people from everywhere, in every shape possible, with every experience level. A well-to-do family from Texas going on a little hike up Quandary getting stuck in a thunderstorm leads to the threat of untimely deaths. Quandary does lack any sort of natural protection, no large rocks, caves etc to hide from even the rain.

Starting out on the hard-pack trail, even in the snow, it was easy to follow. We were being the quintessential “friends, recreationally snow shoeing” photo that you would see in any brochure for any Colorado Mountain town. I thought of this and even apologized to my hiking partner that I make her do such crazy things – that I’m sure, “snowshoeing” for her was like, walking around a lake, or something.

“Are you CRAZY! After all the things we’ve done together, that’s what you think I want to do?!”

She again, has a good point. I have followed her up at least seven 14er summits and quite a few smaller summits in the less than a year we’ve started out together. We both just try to do much with the very menial equipment that’s at our disposal. No one told us we can’t snowshoe up Quandary and snowshoes are all we have!.

Well, I brought along some crampons, rented, as well. We both improvised and maybe that frolicking snowshoe photo op is not so picture-perfect, what with our collected attire of thrift store finds. My own gloves don’t match, my snow pants are on increasingly prolonged loan from my Brother, the goggles found for $3 have a crack in them, the thrifted Columbia ski jacket is as amazing in its role as protection as it is incredible in its unstylishness.

The day went well. Peeling layers off as we went up, treeline was made in good time. The trail was now lost in the snow, but we just followed the ridge line. Clouds had formed on the range to the East of us, but the wind was coming from the South. The area of South Park was easily enough to see from the mountain, bare of any real snow. We felt confident at a summit bid – it would be both our first winter 14er.

Reaching a Point of a Little More Significance in Steepness, we decided to ditch our snowshoes for crampons. Having not worn crampons since New Zealand, it took a little time to get them on, properly. The Equipment Guy asked me if I knew how to work them and I waved him off with a, “yeah, yeah”, very domineeringly male-like. My plastic mountaineering boots were made for crampons, so the task soon was surmounted even if these crampons aren’t made for boots that are made for crampons (if that makes sense), but my climbing partner’s hiking boots took a little more time to get right.

I then gave my partner one of my telescoping climbing sticks and gave her instructions to make it much smaller – the size of an ice-axe, which it was about to stand in for. A little info on how to use it – keep it between you and the mountain – place it, and take some steps, place it again, take some steps – and how to fall, basically with a death-like grip on the ice-axe in an attempt to arrest your fall.

All this I’m basically lifting from the experiences of watching Cliffhanger the night before. I’ve never used one, myself. Mountaineering is something I’d like to pursue, but I have not the time money and a huge bike race in front of me. In the future, something to look forward to .

As an aside and to be blunt, never, ever use a telescoping pole as a stand-in for an ice-axe, except for dire emergencies – the pole is not even close to as stout as an ice axe. But, I wanted to practice some mountaineering techniques, if I ever get to a mountain climb that would require them and I’m a use-whatcha-got kind of guy. Even if that means it destroys my yuppie walking stick.

We ditched our snowshoes at one of the very view cairns and headed up the ridge. Nice going – an easy little hike.

Clouds starting moving in and my spirits somewhat fell. What’s a summit without a view, eh? And then it started to snow. A little bit, almost imperceptibly, and then, well, we were in the cloud of snow. Things became somewhat miserable. The wind carrying the snow right into our faces. There wasn’t much reprieve. Then the white-out conditions. And then, then we were probably over what one would assume is our comfort zone. Time to go down. Maybe 200 feet from the summit – my guess, anyways. Something like:

Abandon point

If I was alone, I would have tried harder to reach the top. It might also have been a bad move. My hiking partner is slower than me and I forget I’m training to reach my physiological peak conditioning in three months and she’s transitioning from being bedridden with the flu.

Getting down proved slow, but easy enough until we reached the Point of a Little More Significance in Steepness again and collected the snowshoes. The definite ridge line soon disappears. I found myself waiting for my partner a lot. I don’t mind being the fastest, but when you don’t move, you start freezing and this was a bummer.

And then, the hallucinations.

“See that?!”, I said to my climbing partner, “I think that’s a ridge, of the peaks West of here. Looks like the weather is lifting!”.

“Are you sure? it looks… it’s another climber! They’re coming towards us! They’re with an animal! It’s sick! They’re with a sick dog!”

“I still think it’s a part of a mountain! NO! It’s BEAR! There’s a BEAR up here!” I start to think of ways of defending ourselves from a bear, at 13,000 feet.

“Whatever it is. It’s MOVING. It’s MOVING TOWARDS US!”

We stared at this damn thing for a good five minutes in the cold, wind and snow, trying to figure out which way this man/bear/animal/thing was moving. Wondering if we should start waving at it.




“I think it’s a pile of rocks. I don’t want to walk to it, that’s where the big drop off is.”

“A pile of rocks, like a cairn? To mark, you know, the trail?”

Finally, we walk towards this thing. It turned out to be several basketball-sized rocks, all in a row. Thirty feet away. That’s the best way I can describe how bad the white-out conditions were and what happens to creative minds in times of stress.

Spoofed by rocks.

We make our way slowly down, taking turns leading. Until my hiking partner states the first time she’s a little concerned: “I’m unsure that we know where we are and where we’re going.”

This is not the situation you want up so high. In any other mountain, we would be in Big Trouble and it’s common in alpinism deaths to find oneself in white-out conditions, become disoriented and well, fall off the face of a cliff. End game.

If my partner plays the Common Sense role, I play the Inexhaustible Optimist. I’m also really loud and I yell much of this out: “You’re not sure?! Haw haw! I’m 100% sure where we are! To the North of us is a big dropoff, to the South… another big drop off. To the West is the Summit, so we just have to go East. East until we hit the treeline and then…” and then I sort of puzzle myself, since I have no idea how to find the trail through the forest. Sounds like No Big Problem, but snowdrifts in the forest could become head-high. Enough to immobilize travel enough that it would take, literally, hours to go a mile. Snowshoes won’t help.

I then realize the only thing I’m using to take my bearings is the slope of the mountain, or lack of slope (and even this is sketchy) and the direction of the wind, which I’ve assumed is coming from a Southerly direction.

My sailing history soon kicks in and I realize that the wind changes direction. Constantly. If it has changed direction, we may be walking right off this mountain.

I am still playing Inexhaustible Optimist, so I don’t tell her any of this. Instead I take off my pack and whip out my compass and bark a, “See?!”. Show the needle pointing North, away from the wind and then point my frigid finger to the general direction we need to go. East. Guffaw again and bound down the mountain.

This actually does work and the treeline comes into site. We reach it at a small rise in elevation – nothing we remember going down with two choices. One to the right, one to the left. I ask my partner for her opinion.

“The right.”

“That’s what I was thinking too. Wait.” I pull out my compass again. East is the left hand choice. East is where we need to go. We think right, compass says left. If we take the wrong turn, we’re post holing a rise of 200 feet. We agree to go left, to continue East. Besides, right was Right Into the Wind and my poor face had had enough of that. I was wearing a beard of ice at this point.

The snow starts to, well, stop falling from the god-damn sky and the trees start to offer some protection from the wind. Visibility is markedly improving. We take a collective sigh of relief. The only thing now to do is to find the trail. If it proves impossible to find, our contingency plan is to just get down, anywhere and hike up or down the main road, to the trail head. It’s not a bad one.

Ice Beard at treeline.
Assessing self at treeline

We move slowly through the drifts to a small ridge and look around. To avoid post holing, I crawl over the deepest snow drifts and have my partner follow me in the now-packed snow. We haven’t yet transitioned to snowshoes. It doesn’t seem worth it, yet. We’ve really, really started to like going down in crampons, instead of shoes, with their long heels that seem to impede downward mobility.

An obvious route reveals itself – enough to attempt to get down. I then spot small aberrations in the snow – near a tree, coming from the left side stopping just a little past the tree itself. Could have been tricks of the wind, or snow falling from the needles of the tree, but they look too regular. I tell my partner that I think I see tracks.

We investigate. The tracks continue some distance South, up a hill. I do recon. to see what I can find. Slow going with so much snow. More crawling technique. Can’t believe that was working! The tracks aren’t from today – we actually hadn’t seen anyone – save a dog on the trail all  day. For a mountain that has a conga line in the summertime, it’s strange to have an it entirely  to ourselves. It was luck they hadn’t been washed completely away in the drifts. Up the hill, the trail continues and meets up with a more well-defined trail. It could have been the one we took out. I call for my partner to follow me up. Tell her it’s some trail and some trail is better than none. Slipping a little from my Optimistic Attitude, I then tell her it could also be trails of people just like us and we’re about to go in circles, but I end that one with a laugh, to cover it up.

The defined trail soon, sadly, peters out in a clearing of the trees. Decide finally to put on our snowshoes, if what I did was lead us regrettably into a dead-end. But,  It still doesn’t make sense that a trail would stop without a beginning, so we feel our way with our poles for packed in snow and follow the invisible-to-the-eye trail, underneath the drifts. Soon, many trails from many people come into view. Trails of skis. Snowshoes and boots. All very faint, but they’re there and we follow the general direction.

We turn onto the main trail and breath a sigh of relief. It becomes another scene in the Recreational Snowshoeing Guide to Colorado catalog. Insane. The weather completely dissolves, save for an overcast sky and we merely skip down the well-marked trail to the trailhead, reaching it at 6:00pm, almost expecting the dog to again, appear to escort us out.

A Good Sign
A Good Sign

Sunday’s Ride: Plains to Mountains

Sunday’s ride started at 5:50 in the morning, the goal being to get up – and over Squaw Pass, a gamble to do in winter, as it peaks at over 11,000 feet.Then, down into Colorado Springs and take the bicycle route that follows I-70, using frontage roads, old HW-40 and the Scott Lancaster bike path.

Getting to HW 103, where Squaw Pass is located was to be done in a very round about way. The mountains, obviously are West of Denver, I started my trek going South East on the Cherry Creek Bike Path, the West on the E-470 trail, until getting up into Deer Creek Canyon and taking a little road called, “High Grade” (so aptly named), before descending slightly into the town of Evergreen, and ascending again onto the turnoff for HW 103. A map may help, we’re going clockwise:


And an insane elevation profile:


Why one would travel so far East to eventually back track West is as ridiculous as a Zen Koan and to start such a hard ride up a pass by first tackling High Grade Road is sheer lunacy, but the goal is to be prepared for a cross country race and I’m quite serious about getting in good enough shape to at least – at the very least, survive.

Squaw Pass proved to be passable, albeit very windy, very cold and somewhat lonely. Few sports of minimal snow, but mostly clear as it is in summertime. Kept myself entertained with silly self-portraits,

Squaw Pass

Getting down from the col itself proved to be a little trying. Even though I was wearing three sets of gloves, my fingers still froze to a state of barely moving. Both the sign labeling the pass itself and the sign telling of a major ascent were missing, so the descent actually snuck up on me.

Luck was on my side, as a curious couple saw me, alone, on top of the pass, next to the turnoff to the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway (the road that can take almost anyone to the top of the 14,000+ foot Mt. Evans in the comfort of their automobile), snapping photos like this one,

The last 13 Miles of the Mount Evans Scenic Byway

And offered first to drive me to Idaho Springs (which I kindly didn’t take) and then offered to simply allow me to hang out in their car with their dog for a few minutes, which I gladly took up.

Saved me, as in a few minutes, my hands had warmed up enough to go the few thousand feet down into Idaho Springs. Being a North facing road, I was expected a lot more snow drifting on the road and a little bit more difficult conditions in getting down.

But, getting down I did, taking very little time. Warmed myself up with a fancy coffee drink and tried (and failed, in oh so many ways) to make a little video update, which you may laugh at, here:

The people I met in the car also gave me their number to call, in case something happened on my way down, so I called them to let them know all was well. The call was cut short, as they were racing to an animal hospital. The dog that was with them on their own cross country ski trip had tragically fallen ill. They called me later that night to tell me that it had, sadly, passed away. It had a good last day, romping in the mountains. I guess a tumor was to blame.

Chased around town for a sweatshirt, as I had foolishly forgot to pack on, only wearing two polypro long underwear tops and a waterproof shell! Found one across the street for $10 and grabbed some chemical warmers for my hands and feet at the Safeway and made it back East. Floyd’s hill, as always proved to be a very hard little hill to crest after being so worn down from 14+ hours in the saddle, but nevertheless, made it through and back home at around 8:50pm.

Total Miles: 146 miles
Elevation Gained: 9,300 feet. 
Ride time: 16 hours total. Stopped for lunch, coffee and snacks.

Week of Feb 27 – March 5th “Training” Log

  • Sunday: 70-something something mile mixed road/mountain bike trek here and there – 11hours
  • Monday: 35 miles around Cherry Creek and back – 3 hours, started as a
    recovery ride, ended with me going as fast as I could, felt around 66% from the day before.
  • Tuesday: 2 hours on the trainer
  • Wednesday: 8 mile, leisurely hike up Mt. Crosier, 7 hours
  • Thursday: Rest!
  • Friday: Rest!
  • Saturday: 146 miles Super Ride – 16 hours

Total mileage: 250 something… something miles
Total hours training: 39 hours