Early season training

As promised, I’m going to keep a log of my training this spring here, for the benefit of both :-) of my loyal readers.

Last week I managed to pedal 34km. That may not sound like much, but (a) it’s January, (b) I’m trying not to ride pavement, and (c) that includes 1300m of climbing! Work it out, that’s better than a 7% average grade.

Fortunately it’s been unseasonably warm and dry for a few weeks, so a lot of the dirt roads around here are rideable. There are still patches of ice and mud on north-facing sections, which really slows things down. And I have to hose off the bike after every ride.

However, it is starting to snow even as I write this, and by the time it’s over 36 hours from now we’re supposedly going to have 16 inches on the ground. Guess I’ll be fatbiking this week!

In other developments: I did purchase a shorter stem for the Gnarvester, but when I went to install it I noticed that the faceplate wasn’t tightening down evenly. I took out my ridiculously accurate digital calipers and found that the center bulge in the handlebar was not uniform — it was about 31.8 on one side and 32 and a few tenths (don’t remember exactly) on the other side. At first I thought “manufacturing defect that I never noticed until now”, but then I remembered a crash I had in early 2015 that slammed that end of the handlebar against the gound hard, and I think perhaps that deformed the bar. Now the bar is titanium, so I’m sure it’s safe to use, but cracking the stem clamp is what I’m worried about. So… time for a new bar too.

First training ride of the season

Well, it got up to about 60 degrees today — January in Colorado! — so I couldn’t quite make myself drive to higher elevation and freeze my ass off snow-biking. Instead, I took out the Gnarvester, the bike I am going to ride in the Alberta Rockies 700 this summer.

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14.5 miles at an average pace of 8.5mph; I was slowed down not just by the climbing (1870 feet) but also by the fact that some of the roads were muddy and/or icy. The Boulder Creek Path in Boulder Canyon was especially treacherous.

Today’s ride made me realize two things: first, I have to convert to metric. The entire ride I found myself mentally converting my ride stats to km ridden, meters climbed, etc. Not only do I not want to be doing that all spring, but when I actually get to Alberta, and all the road signs are metric, I don’t want to constantly have be thinking, “ok, it’s 30km to the next water stop, let’s see that’s about 19 miles so it should take me 2 hours”. Especially not when I’m too tired to think! I want to think “fluently” in metric. So I’m going to pull the battery out of my Rox 8 and reboot in metric mode, and from now on, all the ride stats posted here will be metric.

Second, I have to get a shorter stem. My bike position is great for cranking along on a flat smooth road, but it sucks for climbing, and the AR700 is all about climbing.

On a related note, today I weighed my bikes. I’ve been trying to decide whether I wanted to take my 29+ Gnarvester or my Twenty2 Cycles fatbike on this ride. I think the fatbike is overkill, but I thought if the weights were close, it might be worth it for the comfort. I bought this scale on Amazon the other day and it arrived yesterday. The weights: 29.2 lbs for the Gnarvester, 33.2 lbs for the Twenty2. Advantage: Gnarvester. The only downside to the Gnarvester is that, with its 1×11 SRAM drivetrain, it doesn’t have as low a low nor as high a high as the Twenty2’s Rohloff. However, I think the 4 lb weight advantage ought to help on the climbs, and the reduced rolling resistance should help everywhere else.

Alberta here I come!

Ok, after much hemming and hawing (and cross-checking vacation schedules with the ex-wife), I’ve decided I’m definitely doing the inaugural Albert Rockies 700 this summer.

Now to get in shape! The ride is 690km with about 9km of climbing. For the metrically-challenged, this is 425 miles and about 30k feet of climbing! So even at the relatively slow (and certainly non-contending for any podium position :-) ) pace of 7 days, that’s 62 miles and 4400 feet of climbing per day. To do it in 6 days, it’s about 74 miles and 5000 feet of climbing per day. And I can’t conceive of doing it any faster than that.

One mitigating factor is that there is oodles of daylight up there at that time of year. According to sunrisesunset.com, sunrise will be about 5:30am and sunset about 10:30pm; and there is enough twilight to carry on outdoor activities without artificial illumination for about 45 minutes before and after those times. (In fact, the sky never goes totally dark at that latitude in midsummer.) So it is no problem finding enough hours in the day to ride the miles; it’s an issue of finding enough miles in the legs!

Since I live in the foothills of Colorado (just west of Boulder), there is no shortage around here of either dirt roads or climbs. However I don’t think that weekend-only riding is going to get me ready for sustained, day-after-day effort. Luckily (funny, this never seemed luck before), I work about 20 miles from my house and I can commute mainly on low-traffic roads and trails. So my plan is, starting about May 1, I will commute to work on my Carver Gnarvester (the bike I’m planning to take on the ride) as many days a week as I can stand. (I can’t start before May because there aren’t enough hours of daylight and it’s pretty scary riding the canyon where I live in the dark.) Since I have child custody every other week, this will be a one-week-on, one-week-off sort of thing. In the final week of training, I plan to do the commute with my full gear kit.

In addition, I’ll have to do an occasional weekend ride to train for distance. But the multi-day commute is to condition me to getting up every morning and riding no matter how tired I am from the preceding day(s).

I plan to post my training rides here as I do them, and then I’ll update from the trail to see if the training prepared me adequately. Hopefully, this might give other people, who are considering taking on a multi-day bikepacking route but are wondering if they are in shape to do it, an idea of how much training is enough, and whether it’s possible to do enough training while holding down a job and taking care of kids!

The 401 Trail

Last night I spent quite a lot of time lying awake, trying to decide whether to go back to C.B. the way I had come, or to take the long way around, over McClure and Kebler Passes. The latter would take longer, but be easier (i.e., more riding, less walking). But then I checked the weather report, and the weather is supposed to deteriorate later in the day. The fastest way back, even considering walking quite a bit of it, is back through Crystal and over Schofield, so I decided to get out early and go hard.

A half-mile into the ride, I hit the bottom of the crazy fast descent at the end of yesterday. The locals call this Daniels Hill. According to google maps, it is 570 feet of elevataion gain in 0.7 miles — that’s a 16% grade! Walking it was a good way to warm up and stretch out my piano-wire calves.

Going up Daniels Hill

Going up Daniels Hill

Heading up, I was treated to some views that I hadn’t seen coming the other way the day before.

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I was able to ride most of the road to Marble — I actually prefer to go uphill on rocky terrain to going downhill, because it’s easier to stay on your line. Shortly after Marble I came to the area just below the Devil’s Punchbowl.

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See that section of the trail right in the middle of the picture? I had trouble even walking up that. According to my cycle computer/altimeter, it was a 20% grade.

Right after the steep uphill the road heads back down to the bridge at the base of the Punchbowl. I saw this extreme offroad vehicle going the other way at about 2 mph. This terrain is way more technical than it looks in the pictures!

Extreme Rock Crawling

Extreme Rock Crawling

Then it was time to push back up the Punchbowl trail, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds — maybe about 20 leisurely minutes. Here’s a picture that illustrates what the trail surface is like — refer back to yesterday’s description.

Bedrock trail

Off-camber bedrock trail surface

Almost at the top!

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The rest of the ride to the pass was pretty easy — the two stream crossings that I knew were coming, the flat cruise through Schofield Park, and a bit of climbing from there to the Pass. The really amazing thing was, although it took me 2:30 yesterday to get from the “4×4 only” sign at the west end of the Park down to Marble, it took only 3:15 to go the other way — despite the fact that there is 2500′ of elevation loss/gain! Think about what that says about the trail — it takes almost as long to ride/walk down 2500 feet as it does to ride/walk up.

So in hindsight, I was really glad that I made the choice to return this way, because this means I get to ride the famous 401! At the Pass, the 401 trail starts off going uphill. It actually goes uphill for quite some distance — a good fraction of a mile — and I had to walk a lot of it because I was so tired.

Climbing up the start of the 401

Climbing up the start of the 401

The wildflowers are incredible.

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Eventually you get to the top and the views are incredible.

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And then you come to the really iconic section of the trail that runs along the side of a ridge with huge views of the valley below. According to the locals, the wildflowers were even better than usual this year because of all the rain. They were so tall it was like riding through a cornfield!IMG_20150810_1325144_rewind

Eventually the cruise with the big views comes to an end, and the trail starts to switch-back down the hill. The wildflowers are still incredible though.

Wildflowers on the 401

Wildflowers on the 401

I thought it would be all downhill back to town, but it turns out that there’s quite a bit of gradual uphill to Mt. Crested Butte. When I got back to the Grand Lodge, I came up with a great idea. I went to the front desk and the same lady who had checked me in two days ago and given me a parking permit to let me park for an extra day was working there. I asked her if I could use the poolside shower, and she said sure, she remembered me. So she made me a key card that let me into the pool area, and I was able to shower and change into my civvies for the drive home.

Schofield Pass to Marble

This morning I left C.B. and climbed Gothic Road to Schofield Pass. Amazingly, I ran into two of my neighbors from Boulder at the Snodgrass trailhead just a few miles outside of town. Small world!

Here are some pics of the ride up to Schofield Pass.

Heading for Schofield Pass

Heading for Schofield Pass

One of many parking areas, all crowded

One of many parking areas, all crowded

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The 401 trailhead was a mob scene of other riders.

Schofield Pass and the 401 trailhead

Schofield Pass and the 401 trailhead

From this point I was the only mountain biker I saw for the next day and a half, but there were plenty of SUVs, ATVs, and dirt bikers. Shortly after the pass you enter a rather open area called Schofield Park that is really beautiful.

Schofield Park

Schofield Park

There is a trail here that leads up the backside of the Maroon Bells, and there were about 50 SUVs parked at the trailhead. There are even a few private cabins up here. Gorgeous spot, but I’m sure summer-only.

Cabin in Schofield Park

Cabin in Schofield Park

At the west end of Schofield Park you come to the first sign that really sounds like it means business. All the signs up to this point say things like “high clearance recommended” but this one is much more direct that you had better know what you are doing to go past this point.

Beginning of descent to Marble

Beginning of descent to Marble

This is the end of the line for most SUVs (the ones driven by sane people); only ATVs, dirt bikers, hikers, and yours truly dare to tread here. Immediately the road turns to rock and there is a creek crossing. Once again I love my Keens cycling shoes as I simply took off my socks and put the shoes back on to walk through the water.

Stream crossing

Stream crossing

I figured I’d go sockless for awhile and sure enough, not long after I came to an even deeper crossing that required carrying the bike to keep the drive train out of the water.

Then I reached an area they call the Devil’s Punchbowl. I believe it gets its name from the series of pools that the river cascades down. The river is in a narrow gorge and drops quite quickly here. There is a trail on the left side about 7-8 feet wide which was probably dynamited out of the rock face. Here’s a view from the bottom (which I haven’t gotten to yet) that gives you the idea; the trail is on the upper right.

Looking back up - trail is on upper right

Looking back up – trail is on upper right

Here’s what it looks like from the top looking down:

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At this point there were no more SUVs and my only company was ATVs and an occasional dirt bike. I saw this guy almost roll his ATV right in front of me! His front right wheel lifted off the ground and he had to post his left leg to keep from rolling down that slide on his left!

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Now let me try to describe the trail surface. From the photos it looks like random loose rock, but in fact the surface of the trail is mostly immobile bedrock that is part of the mountain to the left. The face of the mountain is of course made of layers (they are visible behind the ATV rider), and these layers have been thrust upward to make the mountain. So imagine a stack of books that are offset slightly to create a sort of staircase. Now tilt the stack so that the edges of the stairs are fairly level — that sawtooth profile is what the trail surface is like. Now imagine the sawtooth is set at a 45 degree angle to your direction of travel. Last, but not least, put it on a 15% downgrade, which, combined with the 45-degree angle of the sawtooth, makes it extremely easy to catch the front wheel and high-side over the handlebars! On a surface like this, falling is simply not an option — the best you could hope for would be some broken bones on the edges of the sawtooth rocks; the worst would be what almost happened to the guy in the photo above. So, I walked down it.

At the bottom of this descent there was a “bridge” across the creek (a slab of steel reinforced concrete that they dropped there) and then the trail starts to go back up, and then down again. Here’s a shot looking back. This gives you an idea of the narrowness and steepness of the trail as well as the incredible scenery. Keep in mind that this section of the trail is much smoother than the Punchbowl.

Below Devils Punchbowl still some snow

Below Devils Punchbowl still some snow

So except for the occasional rockslide, from this point it’s mostly rideable — downhill — but I doubt I could ride up very much of it. So I’m starting to have second thoughts about doing this in the reverse direction tomorrow!

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Eventually I reached the town of Crystal, where there are a few homes and a gift shop. I learned that living in Crystal is summer-only. A bit later I found out why: even though it’s only 5 miles from Marble to Crystal, it takes an hour to drive it.

I passed the famous Crystal Mill and took the same picture everyone else does.

Crystal Mill

Crystal Mill

Anyway, the”road”from Crystal to Marble it’s unbelievably rocky. I passed an SUV right after leaving town and even though I made several stops to take pictures, remove clothing (it was really warning up), etc, he still never caught me.

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Lizard Lake

Lizard Lake

The last mile or two is smoother but so steep that I had to stop 3 times to let my brakes cool down. The rotors were sizzling hot.

Right after passing Beaver Lake, which was mobbed with paddle boards and canoes, I saw my B&B on the hill above the lake.

Beaver Lake Retreat

Beaver Lake Retreat

It was only 2:30 and I was hungry, so I rode into town to go to the BBQ joint. It was packed even in the middle of the afternoon. Of course, there are no other restaurants for 20+ miles! Tip: do not get the ribs, they are scrawny. Then I stopped across the street at the tourist office (which they call the Marble Hub) to get an ice cream bar..

I rode up to the B&B, which was deserted.

Looking down at Beaver Lake from the Retreat

Looking down at Beaver Lake from the Retreat

Shortly after I arrived, the owner, Vince, drive up. He is an interesting character. PhD in psychology, and he mainly rents out the entire place to a group for workshops. He got his degree back in the 70s I think, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously:

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Anyway, I have the entire place to myself tonight, because Vince is going back to his house in Aspen (rough life, right?) There’s not much to do here, but there is a piano and a hot tub, both of which I intend to make use of.

Vince gave me a ride back to town on his way out, so I’m back at the BBQ joint. I ordered a la carte, a half pound of brisket and a half pound of sausage. (I’m planning to have the sausage for breakfast.) The brisket is average, it’s moist but only average flavor, however the sausage is outstanding. They get it from a local farm near here, so I guess I won’t be seeing it at the grocery store ant time soon. Also, the “skillet corn” side dish is the bomb. Definitely recommended if you ever eat here.

Rest Day in Crested Butte

Rest day today. Did my laundry at the hotel, booked my accomodations for the next couple of days, got a massage. Later I might go to the local movie theater to see the new M.I. flick.

Stopped at the bike shop to get some advice about the Schofield Pass / 401 ride. Ended up buying a Latitude 40 map of the local trails, which might come in handy when I return from Marble. The guy at the shop recommended a multi-trail linkup of Snodgrass, Lupine, and Lower Loop that I might do when I return from Marble.

C.B. is definitely cruiser capital of Colorado:

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I am staying at the insanely posh Grand Lodge at Mt. Crested Butte tonight because all of the accomodations in town are full. Not exactly what you would call bikepacking:

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However, there are quite a few advantages to staying here. First of all, the alternative would be to drive 30 minutes to Gunnison tonight and then back tomorrow morning, which would make it hard to get an early start. Second, they are 3 miles further up Gothic Road than C.B. itself, that’s 3 fewer miles to climb tomorrow! Third, they are letting me leave my car in their lot tomorrow night when I’m not here. And fourth, I got a free one-ride lift ticket, which I might use to check out the resort’s bike park when I get back.

I have a room reserved at the Beaver Lake Retreat in Marble tomorrow night. Should be pretty nice because he had a big group that was going to rent the entire place postpone their trip by a day.

I will be completely out of contact for the next two days, riding to Marble and back. The plan tomorrow is to ride over Schofield Pass to the town of Crystal (location of the famous Crystal Mill — supposedly the most-photographed site in the entire state), check out the Crystal ghost town, maybe a waterfall, then continue into Marble where I hope to see some of those gigantic slabs of the stone. And there’s a BBQ joint in Marble, of all places, that was recommended to me by a guy I work with.

Then on Monday I’ll ride back up the Crystal River road to Schofield Pass (which I’m told is going to require some walking because it’s steep and rocky in places), but then instead of returning on the Gothic Road I’ll hang a left onto the famous 401 trail, supposedly the best singletrack in the entire state (seeing a pattern here yet?).

I’m told these roads/trails are quite busy with jeeps, ATVs, hikers, and bikers so I don’t think I’ll ever really get lonely out there. I will bring along my satellite tracker “just in case”.