Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Leadville Bound...

July 24th, qualified for Leadville 100 via Tahoe Trail 100k 5th place finish.
August 13th, Leadville 100 Race.

20 days...  100 miles...
20 till 100...

In a flash I had a new goal/job/dream/stressor/focus in my life.  In twenty days I would be sitting atop my bike, trying to complete something that only several thousand have tried, and even fewer have succeeded at.  With such a short time line, I resigned myself into acceptance that there was little I could do to physically prepare myself for such and undertaking.  There was no "cram session" of training that I could knock out, no book I could read, no EPO locally available... Kidding.

Several things took priority, and boiled largely down to one thing.  Funds.  The suddenness of it all left no time to save money for such a trip, or to slowly accumulate the needed parts, plan for accommodations, or even begin to wrap my head around it.   I began a fund raising effort, which in the end made it all possible.  My friends, family, bosses, and other local business came together and contributed a huge chunk of change to help cover the costs of such a trip.  After hours of number crunching, and several spreadsheets later, I reached a rough estimate of $1800, food not included.  It did cover entry fee, gas, lodging, bike parts, and a few pieces of clothing.  The largest cost of which was converting my newly built bike from single speed to geared. 

The guys at Reno Bike Project, a non-profit bike co-op of sorts, came up huge and offered me all the needed parts at cost, as well as free wrenching and tuning.  My friends at a local screen printing shop, Fuel Promotions, offered to print a couple jerseys and some t-shirts for my "pit crew" as well as to give as a thank you to some of the larger sponsors that helped me out.  Despite what felt like an oppressive weight of the somewhat unknown, constantly lingering, it was all coming together.  It consumed my life.  When I wasn't at work, where I talked about my plans for the next week, I was behind my computer screen, reaching out to anyone who I felt might have something to offer.  This included talking with some of my friends with competitive cycling careers, and experience in distance cycling.  It was a lot to take in.  Everything from nutrition leading up to and during the ride, to discussions on bike part selection.  These talks helped answer some questions, but also solidified how big of an undertaking this was.  The altitude, the distance, so many unknowns that lingered in the back of my head, a rookie cyclist by every measure.  

One week away.  The room was booked in Silverthorne, as everywhere in Leadville was full.  The last of the bike parts trickled in from QBP.  The jerseys and shirts were at the press.  The bank account was nearly empty.  But it was a go.  Jonathan, my step-dad, and friend Larry were along for the ride, offering to join me for the trip, and act as my pit crew for the race.  Without them, I couldn't have done it.  

Packed and anxiously awaiting the road ahead, somewhat relieved that the planning and logistics were nearly over.  Only a dull 17 hour drive away from Leadville...

Filling in the blank...

It's been far too long since I've updated this blog, not for lack of great things to mention, but I suppose more for lack of enthusiasm brought on by Winter moving in...  So here it goes.

July, 2011...
Three weeks after completing the Mono Lake to Reno bike-packing trip I signed up for the Tahoe Trail 100k race.  This was to be the longest race I had ever done, and only my 4th race ever.  The previous were: two small eight to ten mile loop courses with a variety of skills and ages from some junior high kids to grandfathers out to relive their youth, and the other was the Pine Nut Cracker back in May, a 30 mile loop race that all but defeated me.  The mixture of the rolling hills covered in a slurry of sand and gravel, the heat and my lack of caloric and water intake, my single speed gearing choice of 32-19, and my general naivety of it all hit me hard...  I was the third from last person on course, only to arrive before my friend Coach, and a guy I passed about 5 miles back on course who suffered from 4 flats during the race and resigned to carrying his bike rather than feeding it more rubber.

I lined up for the Tahoe Trail 100k at Northstar Village on a brand new bike that I had built from the frame up.  I chose the components with weight in mind, but also with keeping my budget in mind.  The frame, a Tomac Flint 29er, gave me the ability to run it single speed with it's eccentric bottom bracket, and I did exactly that.  For wheels I chose the Easton XC1ss; light, flexy, and relatively cheap, and in which I wrapped some Maxxis Crossmarks.  For the rest of the components I chose a mixture of Thomsom, Woodman, WTB, and Truvativ.   The complete build was just under 24 pounds.

The course was two laps of 31 miles, with just over 3,400 feet of climbing per lap.  Mostly well groomed fire roads with several miles of technical single track climbs and switchback laden downhills.  It was a mass start event, with 200 plus people all chomping at the bit to warm up as the fog still socked in the mountain at 7am for the race start.  The gun shot released us, and up we went.  The first 2.7 miles were straight up, shooting us to over 7,200 feet in only minutes.  The 900 foot climb was made more difficult by small segments of over 10% grade mixed amongst the gradual climb.  With no choice of downshifting, as I was committed to my one gear combination of 32-20, I was forced out of the saddle only minutes in.  Passing those granny gearing up the climb, with looks of both astonishment, and smirks of those accomplished riders who can pick the rookie endurance racer out on climbs like these.  Judging those inexperienced riders who start at a faster pace than they can maintain for the long haul.  It wasn't my ego, or my eagerness that was pushing me up the grade, but rather a simple lack of options.  Six miles in and dozens of people passed, the climb was forgotten as a three mile downhill rewarded the effort.

Then came the single-speeder's nightmare, flat ground, six or seven miles of it.  Gently rolling fire road gave way to tight and flowy single-track.  I maintained a comfortable pace, sacrificing several positions to those who were able to push a bigger gear.  The first checkpoint and aid station came about 15 miles in, and from the talk of the pit workers and the racers beside me, we were only about 40 back of the leaders.  The news of this, and the caffeine from a gel pumped me up just in time for another five mile stretch of single-track.  Quick and technical track gave way to another fire road climb.  Steep and shaded, it hid several patches of snow and mud that still lingered from the late Winter of last.  Up and down the course went, before finally making one last climb up to what next time around would be the finish line.  I made a quick pit stop, swapping water bottles for those I had sitting in my drop bag, pre-mixed with Perpetuem, and shedding the arm warmers that had been dangling around my wrists since early in the first lap.  Back on course in under a minute.

Lap two was much of the same, sans the giant climb, as it was sort of a popsicle course, thankfully.  I passed more people on the climbs, only to smile at them again as they slowly turned over their cranks on the flats, humored by my efforts to spin fast enough to keep up.  I choked down more calories, knowing what lurked ahead at mile 46.  The same daunting climbs that I had already conquered, and would now have to face again, now with thirty extra miles in my legs.  Climbs like that can either destroy you, or build you up.  Getting the frequent "Good job!" or "You're nuts!" from those walking their bike up the road as I mashed the pedals, shifting all of my body weight from the left foot to the right foot, provided me with the latter.  This was my first true insight into the world of racing, and I knew now what it felt like to be a racer.  The competitive ambitions of others never give way, but yet can be set aside for brief moments when they too are on your side.

Pushing all the way till the route dropped me once again onto the Northstar Downhill Course which would lead me to the finish line at the Village.  I refused to use the brakes, despite the likelihood of a last minute spill on the banked turns was ever-present.  Putting my time before my humility, I continued to push until I coasted across the finish line where my parents were setback, cheering.  A glance over my left shoulder revealed the digital red font of the race clock.  5:08:20.  I hung the bike on a nearby rack, and grabbed a fresh bottle of water and sat down on the nearest bench I could find.

The results were being hung occasionally, printed plainly on white paper, and stapled to a green sheet of plywood.  I eventually made my way down there, the loudspeaker a constant chatter of race announcers translating bib numbers and dirty faces of those crossing the line, to names.  Also frequently mentioning how the Leadville qualifying worked, something I wasn't entirely aware of heading into this race, nor something I truly paid much attention to, as I had no intentions of being on that level .  Rather than racing against only 4 other single-speeders, I opted to race in the larger pool by age group, 19-29, which had about 30 people in it.  As I approached the easel, I fingered my way from the bottom of the age group page towards the top.  There I was, sat surprisingly only 5 lines down from the top of the page...  I confirmed with one of the race organizers, the top 5 from my age group were qualified for the Leadville 100 only three weeks away.

I sat in a whirlpool of emotion, somewhat shocked, and even more amazed at what I just accomplished.  I spoke with the parents about what it meant, and what a privilege it is to race Leadville.  I called my friend Larry to run it by him, and more importantly, to ask him if he was on board with it, and with me.  Another few minutes passed before I made the commitment.  Payment was due that day to lock your spot in to race Leadville.  I sat casually at a picnic table with one of the Leadville ladies who entered my info into her laptop, trading my ticket for the opportunity to pay hundreds of dollars, but with that, entering the race of a lifetime.  I was Leadville bound...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 4... Heenan Lake to Reno.

The light once again illuminated the tent, and the squawking of the local birds alerted me to the day.  With only 50 miles planned on the day, I took my time getting moving.  Made some breakfast and even wet a line for a while.  Unsuccessfully chasing the rising rainbows feeding in the weed beds just off the shore.  I was feeling mentally exhausted after the late push of the previous day, but eager to set off again.

The ride started with a great decent down the west side of Monitor Pass to meet up with and skirt the Carson River into Markleeville.  I rolled into town just before 11am.  I filled up on my liquids and splurged on a large deli sandwich prior to sticking my head into the Ranger station and purchasing two more detailed maps of the Tahoe are.

Fueled with a full stomach, I began the road segment of my trip.  Following Highway 89 up and over Luther Pass at 7,700 feet before dropping down to Lake Tahoe.  It was about 2pm when I get into South Lake Tahoe and grabbed a giant burrito and an iced coffee.  I sat on the shore, eating and debating on my plan for the rest of the afternoon.  I had originally planned on meeting up with the Tahoe Rim Trail just east of town, and setting up camp for the night, and finishing the last 60 miles the following day.  The small bumps in the road of the previous day had deflated my enthusiasm a little, and stuck to the pavement, slowly working my way North along the lake shore.  Figuring that I would keep pedaling until my legs had no more to offer in exchange for forward movement.

It was 6pm when I got to the top of Spooner Summit, the second long and brutal climb of the day, and already over 50 miles in.  My knees were starting to get tight, and required more and more frequent of stops to let them rest.  Cranking my forty pound bike up a 6% grade with no option of shifting was wearing me down.  Again I sat and weighed out my options before deciding to head just up the Flume Trail out of Spooner Lake and camp for the night.  It felt good to be on dirt again, and I felt a ease of pressure, as the sound of traffic disappeared in the distance for the first time all days.  No longer was I constrained by a single white line on the tarmac.

If only it stayed that relaxing.  Only a few miles into the dirt leg that would end my day, I was once again motivated by something of the Ursine family.  Two bears were walking side by side down the trail as I approached them from behind.  Hardly spooked by my presence, they disappeared into the woods.  I decided to keep moving.  The daylight was receding, as the sun was lingering just above the ridge line across the lake.  "Keep moving."  The exhaustion and pain were out of my mind yet again.  Pedal strokes continued, and eventually I reached the turn for Tunnel Creek, which would put me back onto the highway, just outside of Incline Village.  I planned on setting up camp somewhere just outside of Incline, and making the final push early in the morning.  I revisited the map, and routed out a course on the old Highway 431, which runs parallel to the new highway up and over Mt. Rose Summit. The turnoff was easy to find, clearly marked with a locked gate.  The pavement of decades past could be seen beneath a thin layer of degraded granite.  It wasn't long before it began to wind it's way up the mountain side, quickly gaining elevation, in what seemed like an effort to counteract the fleeting sunlight.  Again, a bear bolted across the road.  Unsettled even further, but feeling completely drained and walking my bike at this point, I continued.  Eventually the old highway met the new, and Mt. Rose Summit was only 4 miles away, up a long straightaway to the elevation of 8,900 feet.

It was 9pm, and at this point I had already decided a bed was in order.  I was over 80 miles into the day, and ready to push the last 30.  The sun was set, and the sky was quickly turning to purple, then to black.  And my sense of defeat was only added to by the discovery a couple hours earlier, that my camera lens had rattled free, and now wouldn't fully retract.  I was ready to be home.  I arrived a the summit still sweating, as the temperate shifted.  I layered up with just about every piece of clothing I had, and attached my Petzl light to the back of my helmet for the long decent into Reno.  It's 14 miles of tightly wound road, down more than 4,300 feet in elevation.  Loaded and bundled, a smile had now replaced the tiredness on my face.  For 30 minutes straight I simply had to hold on.  No pedaling, no walking.  Occasionally a car would gain on me, and I would use one of the turnouts to let them pass.  Hitting speeds of over 40 mph on a fully loaded sled in the complete darkness is something that I wouldn't recommend, but it was a highlight of the trip.  The last 12 miles home felt like a gift.  I was greeted at the valley floor with a tail wind, and with road construction which opened an entire two lanes for me to ride in.  It was after 11pm by the time I made the final pedal stroke and coasted to my door step.  Home!  120 miles, over 12,000 feet of climbing, one gear...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Day 3... Kirman Lake to Heenan Lake.

Day 3 started off with the sun creeping through the two trees that I slept beneath.  After only 2 days, my mornings had quickly become a routine, and something that required little thought, but brought a feeling of pleasure.   -- Light stove to boil water for coffee, fill water bladders at nearby creek, eat while letting the air mattress drain, roll up shelter, dress for the day of riding, re-pack food for the day so it's easily accessible, lube bike chain, check tire pressure, etc...

The plans for the day were to get to Heenan Lake, situated at the base of Monitor pass, right off of Highway 89.  On paper this would be about 50 miles of riding, with two large climbs included, each of over 4,000 feet of elevation gain in only a couple miles.  Sounded simple enough...  My guilelessness proved to be a mistake.

I was on the bike at 9:30am, and coasted gently down the road, passing several cow ponds before eventually arriving in a scenic meadow, with a spring creek dividing it.  I stopped and fished for a few minutes, in hopes of tempting it's cut-bank residents with a small hopper imitation.  The sun was already blazing, and the fish were not biting...

At this point I was only a couple of miles from the road which I would use to cross the valley, and the headwaters of the West Walker River.  It only took a few minutes to skirt the meadows via an old overgrown farm road.  As I neared my crossing point, and could see the highway only a couple hundred yards beyond, I knew this wasn't going to work...  The road I was on led directly into the raging river, in what during a normal Summer of rainfall and snowmelt, would be easily waded across.  There were people only 50 feet away, pulled over in a rest stop, admiring the view that was easily achieved.  I was less enthusiastic at this point, knowing it would cost me countless hours of backtracking or re-routing.  The road I was on can be seen in this picture towards the lower right hand side.

With few options, I decided to get to a higher point and weigh  my options.  I threw my bike on my head, using the frame bag as a pad, and scurried my way to the top of the nearest rocky point.  From up there, I could see that the river was guided on both sides by steep and foreboding cliffs.  After an hour of hike-a-bike, and only a small amount of ground covered traveling upstream, I returned to the road where I started.  With a somewhat defeated feeling, I pedaled away from my desired direction, towards Poore Lake.  Several miles up the road, now completely exposed to the mid-day sun, I rode up on a group of scouts returning from an overnight trip.  The turnoff they were taking led to the foot-bridge located at Upper Leavitt Meadows.  
After crossing the bridge, a slight relief came over me, only to be met with the realization that I had lost almost 4 hours of daylight due to the detour.  Amazing what a little snow melt can do...  I sat and ate some trail mix, and a refilled my water supply while regrouping my thoughts.  And before long, admitting how much time had gotten away from me, I was back on the bike.  Sticking to the pavement for the next 18 miles, and keeping the camera stashed away, to make up some time.  This saved me 4,000 feet of climbing, and countless hours.  I arrived at Walker just after 3pm, and joined the masses in line at Walker Burger.  A burger, fries, and large soda helped to get my head back in the day, and convince my body that a second wind was within.  I ate slowly, knowing how much more was ahead, sharing my adventure with a few roadies out for an afternoon ride, but as drawn to the shade as I was.

Two miles North of Walker was a turnoff that would put me back on my original route.  On the map it was a quick four mile ride up a graded dirt road to the trailhead for the 16 miles of single-track that would guide me to Heenan Lake.  Once again, I was wrong.  As the road was not easy!  It quickly switched back and forth from the valley floor seen here, to the top of the sharp peak seen in the middle of the picture, a gain of over 4,000 feet in those four miles.  A majority of it, simply too steep to convince my increasingly heavy legs to pedal me up.  The walk was slow, and exhausting.

Every few hundred yards, I was rewarded with a glimpse of where I had begun.  Each time, the road and valley floor grew more distant.  (the part of the road in the picture above can be seen just left of center in this picture)

With the help of some encouraging thumbs up from motorcyclists enjoying the view, and the ever present concern for the amount of daylight left, I reached the summit at just before 6:30pm.  The road hit a dead end, and a sign for the Carson Iceberg Wilderness greeted me.  The sight of this pristine chunk of single-track, along with the lowering sun provided me with another energy laden smile.  I threw on long sleeved shirt, and gloves and began my descent.

The trail immediately crossed a creek, and became hard to follow, costing me a few extra minutes of back-tracking to regain my bearings.  The pedals spun over easier, as the  trail opened up and began to follow an ever growing creek.  The sun was frequently obscured by the trees and hill sides, as it dropped lower and lower on the horizon.  I was comfortable with my pace, as it was a pretty quick downhill flow.  I was feeling good until the next speed bump...

About 4 miles into the 16 miles of single track, I came upon a couple hiking back towards their truck parked at the summit from which I had just been.  They were locals, that had hike the area before, and seemed to know the area well.  This was comforting, as they confirmed that I was where I had hoped I was.  They then proceeded to tell me that the river was impassible ahead, and that I had to cross it at some point to reach my destination of Heenan Lake.  Once again, I was pretty deflated.  Not entirely sure they were correct, but now hesitant that the maps I had might be slightly off, or at least in the terms of not taking the usually "small creek" crossing into account.

I continued on.  And once again, feeling the need to push harder.  I was now breaking a sweat from the exertion.  The trail was easy to follow, and seemed to keep me on course.  Although there was a point, where I questioned crossing a downed tree that lay across a 40 foot deep canyon that the river had carved.  At this point I completely understood how a depleted mind and body can make irrational decisions, the kind you hear about people making in survival situations.  Over halfway into this leg of the journey, I smelled a campfire, and the setting sun illuminated a haze in the trees.  I could hear the laughter of children as I approached a camp.  Two fathers came out to greet me.  Their first words set the mood...  "You seen any bears yet?"  They had hiked up from one of the side trails and were staying the night.  They had spotted three bears near their camp only hours ago.  We chatted, and they reassured me as to my direction being the correct one, and that I needn't cross any rivers to get where I was going.  And as the sun was now very faint, and only offering light to the tops of the trees, I once again had to dig deep.  In retrospect, I'm sure I could have camped near them, as camping alone in bear country isn't the most comforting feeling.  Instead I pushed on.  Digging deep yet again, convincing my body that it had more left in it.  The lingering and unsettling concern of bears offering a good motivation.

Several miles further down the trail I hit a giant meadow just faintly lit by the final orange beams of sunlight the day had to offer.  It was now 8pm.  I had made good time to this point, but with still over 5 miles to go before hitting the 4 mile stretch of dirt road to the lake, I was running out of light.  The trail quickly disappeared as the meadow opened up.  I picked a point miles across the openness, and started pedaling towards it.  The soil was moist, and occasional springs required a deviation from my straight line approach.  Pedal strokes became thoughtless, as my mind was occupied by the days decisions, and concerns.  Wondering if I should've stayed and camped near the family.  Or if I was even headed the right direction at this point.  By the time I reached the other side of the valley, and the dirt double-track came into view for the first time, it was nearly dark.  It was a very welcomed sight, and at this point, I was comforted by the sights I had escaped in the first place.  Fresh tire tracks let me know that this road was accessible despite all the high rivers.  The sky still blue, and offering some light by which to ride.  I stopped with only a few miles to go.  I sat for a minute, regrouped myself, topped off my water reservoirs, ate a Snickers, and put on my headlamp before settling back into the saddle.

The lights of a campfire came into view just as I crested a small ridge behind Heenan Lake.  I had made it...  It was close to 11pm.  I was on the move for nearly 12 hours.  I was exhausted, and yet filled with a huge feeling of achievement, and joy.  For multiple hours a day, now for 3 days, I had only myself.  My mind constantly working in conjunction with my body, convincing it to keep going, and offering it insight, frequently into itself...  Always having an answer, and always willing to continue on.  For me this was what it was all about.  This is the feeling I sought, although prior to achieving it, I didn't know it existed.  It truly was something special.  A day that stands out more than most in my past.  I set up my shelter with the last ounce of energy I had, then retired to the sleeping bag without even eating...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 2... Tamarack Lake to Kirman Lake.

Back at this...  Day two started alarm free, only awoken by the glow of the morning sun illuminating my tent.  A quick cup of coffee and a few ounces of water added to my pre-mixed granola and powdered milk ziploc, and I was off.

This time on foot.  I camped just above 9000' for the night, and had a short 3 mile hike in the morning up to Tamarack Lake which sits at over 9800', and contains Golden trout.  I had this destination on my list from day one.  The trail out of camp met up with a nicely packed single track leading all the way the side of the mountain, and led right to the lake.

The sun was still hidden behind the steep ridge line to my east for most of the latter half of the hike.  And eventually required walking across what had essentially become a 500 yard long glacier.  The snow was still solid, as the high altitude morning air was brisk.  My cycling cleats doing their best to act as crampons in the most slippery of sections.

Tamarack Lake was incredible!  A true High Sierra lake in every aspect!  Crystal clear water, only rippled by the occasional breeze that would slowly drift a small chunk of ice across it's surface.

The creek running out of Tamarack looked promising for fulfilling my goal of catching my first Golden Trout.  I spent about two hours taking in the sights, and wetting my line at various "fishy" spots on the tailwater, and the lake itself.  All to no avail

Knowing I had a lot more riding to do to get to my destination for the day, I made the short hike back to camp, and packed the rest of my gear up on the bike.

About 200 yards from my camp I met up with my route to Twin Lakes.  It was a 8 mile decent down a single track that was truly perfect! A hiking trail that I'm sure only a handful of people have ridden.  The grin that was plastered upon for the entirety of the trail was more memorable than many I've had.  It followed the ridgeline down for a majority, until switching back and forth through some wooded  crests just above the lakes.

I stopped at the chaos of Twin Lakes, grabbed a Gatorade, and a candy bar, and then got back on the saddle.  

Looking back upon where I had started my day several hours earlier.  Only a few miles down a well groomed dirt road was Buckeye Hot Springs, where I knew a friend of mine would be camped for his buddy's bachelor party.  I found them rather easily, spotting several guys playing horse-shoes only yards from the road.  I stopped in and said hello, sat out the heat of the day, and made some new friends while I was at it.  I topped off my water reserves, and continued down the road at 4pm, still with more than 30 miles to go for the day...

This well traveled gravel road skirted the hills until ultimately forcing me the tarmac for a short stretch of 6 or 7 miles, leaving me with one last glimpse of the past.   The snowcapped mountains from which I arose this morning offered me some motivation to continue on.  It was a rewarding feeling to look back upon them in the distance, as they grew smaller with each pedal stroke.

A gradual climb up on the mirage soaked pavement took me to my turnoff towards Kirman Lake.  It was a slow and steady push, made to feel slower by the now odd to me sound of cars wizzing by at over 60 miles an hour.  The sun at my face now, and the warm breeze at my side.   

A detour was required, after realizing that the creek crossing shown on the maps was under several feet of rushing water.  Luckily I realized this only 3 miles up Little Walker Road.  I returned to the highway, and took the turn onto 108 for what would be only a 3 mile cruise to my dirt pathway.  The turnout was easily seen, as several cars marked the trailhead that lead to Kirman Lake, a popular fly fishing destination.  A steel ladder over the barbwire fence was my gateway to the dirt yet again.  

Several miles of winding road, with a few short, wooded climbs led me to the crest which revealed the lake for the first time.  The sun was getting low, and illuminating the ridge line with rays of light disseminating in uniform beams.  Having already missed the prime fishing time, and seeing how full of weeds the lakeshore was, I opted to set up camp, and call it a night.  I found a single Pine tree that offered some shade, and points for me to tie out my guy-lines.  After a Mountain House meal of Chicken ala' King, I retired my exhausted body.  Nearly 60 miles ridden on the day, with thousands of feet of climbing in the bag...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 1... Virginia Lakes to Tamarack Lake

After a two hour drive, we hit the Virginia Lakes turnoff on Highway 395, and this was where I got on the bike for the first time.  The ride started with a 6 mile paved road that quickly climbed from 6800' to 9272'.  Nothing like a good thin-air climb to get your legs and lungs in the mode that they shall remain for the next several days.  These first few miles were smooth, and went quickly, as I ran through my checklists, plans, and routes in my head.  The planning was done, now it's go time.

After reaching Lower Virginia Lake, the road turned into a smooth graded gravel road for only a 1/2 mile ride to the Upper Lake.  A lake that years ago would have been photo worthy, but is now crowded and blemished by a parking lot full of Fords and the occasional Mini Van.  I rode to the top, took a few seconds to think about what I was about to embark on, and got started.  A short ride back down the now mirage covered pavement lead me to my first turn.  A forestry road that would lead me back down to the valley floor before swinging back North and West, into the mountains again.

This road would cover about 15 miles of ground quickly, most of it being downhill, and well groomed.  The valley was still, and aside from the occasional glimpse of the highway in the distance, I could have been anywhere.  It was after a long stretch of downhill dirt when I first began smiling ear to ear.  I knew I'd talk to myself at some points during this trip, as 4 days alone will do that to anyone, but it had started already.  The joy was simple and earned already.

25 miles into the first day and the first real tests began.  Tamarack Lake sits just South of The Twin Lakes, at an elevation of over 9800'.  I planned to camp at over 9000' for the night, and then make the 2 mile hike to the secluded lake in the morning in hopes of catching my first Golden Trout.  The road had begun to climb again, more and more quickly.  The view over my shoulder grew grander with each burning pedal stroke as crawled forward with my forty pound bike.  It was silent, with only the sounds of the chain burdened by the force, and the occasional "pop" from rocks shooting out from under the tires.

The last three or four miles were too much.  The road become strewn with rocks, and the dirt far too loose to ride, not to mention the grade at which it rose.  I walked the road, stopping occasionally to rest and refresh.  The maps showed the road turning in a direction I had no intention of going, so I continued up the hill along a less used route, unaware of where it might lead, only knowing it was going up, and that was constant.

After about 6 hours on the bike, I had covered about 40 miles and was at my loosely planned destination.  The road ended, and turned into a small single track that lead through a patch of Pines.  I set up camp near a well used and constructed fire ring, who's builders couldn't have been any less excited than myself.  Without even sitting down, I got to the "chores".  A ten minute walk to a creek, thats snowmelt rage could be heard from my campsite, for water.  A few minutes spent gathering what fallen timber I could source.  Another few minutes spent setting up the tent, and exerting my lungs for the last time that day as I blew up my air mattress.

After boiling some water on the open fire, and preparing dinner, I walked out of the trees to a small clearing on a knoll that served as a look-out on something incredible.  The valley was just beginning to change colors, as the shadows grew longer, my own included.  The last of the suns beams silhouetted the jagged mountain crests to my west.

I sat here for close to two hours watching the sun and sky direct nature's play before retiring to my sleeping bag for the night, eager for tomorrow to begin.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Preparations and setup...

I figured I'd start with a little info on my bikepacking setup....

2010 GT Peace 9'r SingleSpeed
Rockshox Tora Fork
Ergon GC2 Grips(not shown in this picture)
32x20 Gearing
WTB Vulpine Tires
Framebag, Seatpack, Handlebar Bag I made myself.
Osprey Talon 22 Pack

Here's a picture of all the stuff I managed to get into the Osprey Pack. Definitely was heavy to start with, and most of the time I also had the 2L bladder full as well.  But overall it carried very well, and I had no shoulder or back pain!

On the bike itself I had the following:

-Frame bag=  2L Water Bladder,  2 tubes, CO2 Pump Setup, Planet Bike Microlite Pump, Tool Kit(15mm wrench, multitool, patch kit, zip ties, duct tape, few extra bolts/nuts), 4 AA & 4 AAA Batteries, 30' Paracord, two collapsable aluminum poles for my shelter.

-Handlebar bag=  GoLite Shangri La 1 Shelter w/ 8 Stakes, Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Pad, North Face Goretex Jacket, and then my 4wt TFO Fly Rod.
---Then attached to the handlebar system I made, I had a Granite Gear Armored Pocket.  Worked great as a modular system!  In this I held=  3 Maps, Pen and Paper, Sunglasses(when not wearing them), Camera(when not strapped on top of the setup for easy access), Lighter, Extra Snacks For the Days Ride(if needed).

-Seatpack=  All inside of a Outdoor Research 10L Dry Sack.  Kelty Cosmic Down 20 Bag, Outdoor Research Down Hooded Jacket, Thick/Tall SmartWool Socks.  And by the end of the trip I also had strapped my extra shoes(awesome low neoprene dive boots) to the top of this bag, as it was riding/handling even better than I had hoped!