The Firebird 40 was scheduled to happen on Sunday, but typical early season Colorado weather moved in over the weekend and made the course unrideable. British people regularly chuckle at American MTB races getting cancelled due to rain, but the weather and trail systems work a little different over here. A lot of the trails are actually on public property, so the idea of riding them in less than ideal conditions is not actually possible. Secondly, the mud over here is often very clay like – making it impossible to make progress due to your bike getting clogged up. Hence – no race in Eagle on Sunday. I was a little disappointed, as the pre-rides had shown the course was fantastic, and with 8000 feet of climbing, it would have been a challenge.
It’s already green in the valleys
After almost a month of spring-like weather, the protective snowy blanket covering the hills is slowly lifting. March always gives us a glimpse of the good weather to come, but frequent spring storms ensure that it’s another six weeks until things become rideable. Now the weather is predictable; the Front Range is already in early summer, with the thunderstorms that go with it, but higher up, the flowers are yet to bloom, and the trees are devoid of leaves.
Another year in the high desert of central Arizona to really kick-start the mountain bike season. I’ve told everyone in the last few weeks that it’s a nice time of year to come down to the desert – that starting the season among the cacti is a good introduction to the new year. But the truth is that the high desert surrounding Prescott is anything but forgiving. The arid hills get little moisture, except in the spring. Last year we dealt with unlikely snow, but this year the weather wasn’t that far from normal for the region; on and off thunderstorms for three days straight. The crushed granite hills take the moisture well, though, and we rode some amazing under threatening skies.
Looking over the rocks from Amasa Back to the La Sal Mountains
Morning after the Thaw Massacre. It was a tough race. I wake up achy. But the trail is in need of being ridden. I want to get back to Boulder as soon as I can, but to make the weekend worthwhile, another ride has to be squeezed in. 5:45 AM. Choking down oatmeal. Dark outside, the breakfast room of the hotel is empty. The lady behind the counter sorts her wares in preparation for the rush of hungry mountain bikers yet to descend on the mounting stack of sausages. We’ll be gone by then. On the trail.
First race of the 2015 season, and first Mountain Bike race for me in Boulder Cycle Sport colours. I feel like I’ve been part of the BCS family for a little while now, even though it’s taken me a while to do an MTB race for them. They looked after me throughout cross season, and I got used to seeing a lot of teammates around at the races on the Front Range. So it was a little strange to be in Utah for the first race of the season, surrounded by unfamiliar kits, and definitely no-one else in BCS black and orange.
As I was watching the US Cup live stream from Fontana last week, I recalled the pain and suffering I went through racing there last year. I recalled the amazing descent of the backside of the course; the blown out switchbacks and lemon-squeezer rock drops that required infinite precision whilst your heart rate was still hovering around maximum. And then I looked back at the screen and I didn’t see any of it. I saw a line of ants riding along a trail. The helicopter view didn’t give me much perspective on the steepness, and I realised quickly that my interest and understanding about the race would have been so much less if I had not competed there the year before. With about 6000 views on race day, the Fontana live-stream didn’t reach a huge audience, but it’s definitely a lot more than would ever show up at an event and watch it live. So what is the value of MTB racing on a live stream, and what are we trying to achieve by putting it up there on the internet?
Christa and I have a plan to be fully mobile humans. As much as we love our little home in Boulder, it’s nice when we can escape for a bit and see the wild beauty all around us. Living in the west of the US, we have a huge expanse of countryside to explore. Too much for one lifetime. We did a trial run of mobile-living this week in Moab. With WiFi and coffee, Moab was chosen so we could actually be productive, while spending the 6 hours a day we didn’t have to work doing something other than sitting on the sofa. We joined the hoardes of adventurers that fill up this desolate landscape in the spring.
I got my new bike from Boulder Cyclesport in the middle of February. The earliest I’ve ever got a new bike. It was great. But there was also a problem. There weren’t any trails (within a six-hour drive) dry, and I wasn’t about to destroy a brand new bike in Colorado’s special blend of snowy-sand-slush. So I had to wait. Social Meedja has been filled with friends either training in Tuscon, or preparing to race the US Cups in California. Sun-filled, tan-lined photos have flashed up before me as I’ve been riding on the road or skiing. But patience is a virtue, especially when our MTB season extends from the beginning of March until the end of September. I have time.
With that mindset, I headed north to Loveland, Colorado with Bryan. Not exactly known as a mountain bike mecca, Loveland has exactly one trail, but it’s a beauty. The Devil’s Backbone trail is about 5 miles long, and ridden as an out and back. The trailhead was packed, and we could see an ant-like procession wandering up the strip of dirt away from the car park. I was worried we had picked the wrong spring Saturday for our trail time. We hit the dirt and friend-passed as many people as possible. A friend-pass is where you are disgustingly polite and smiley to every person you meet, no matter how oblivious they are to your presence. It’s annoying, but it’s about the only way mountain bikes are tolerated on multi-use trails on the Front Range.
Soon, we’d reached the half-mile threshold, and the hikers disappeared. It’s a known fact that traveling more than half a mile from a trailhead is the easiest way to avoid crowds. From here on, Bryan and I had the trail almost entirely to ourselves. Enough so that we could stop and session multiple sections of trail without anyone passing us. The trail climbs quickly onto a ridge-line, the main reason most of the hikers don’t make it that far. From there, jagged sandstone ridges cross the trail, creating a series of step ups and step down that are super tricky. It’s a great way to test some new equipment, re-learn things that should be second memory, and generally have a good time. We did all of those things. The middle, empty section of trail allowed us to pick up some speed and find the proverbial flow. It was needed. From rusty half-movements leading to dabs and rock scraps, I ended the day confident that I would be back at it soon enough.
Freeze/thaw cycles lead to some great icicles. Some of them were close to touching the ground
Christa and I rode up Rabbit Mountain – plenty of snow on the ground but warm temperatures
Bryan on the top of Flagstaff – sandy roads at the moment
Chautauqua still looking snowy.
Sun setting over the flatirons
Flagstaff is great. Even if it’s busy sometimes.
Spring is happening in Boulder. The clocks have changed to summertime, the weather has improved and there are flowers poking their eager heads through the snow.
I’ve never suffered with altitude sickness before. I thought it was a condition that befell only the unfit, the unprepared and the unaware. I was wrong. Having been back in Colorado for an entire week since the trip to England, and having trained hard during that week, I didn’t consider the possibility of acclimitisation being a problem. I agreed to go for a backcountry tour to the Indian Peaks, in the west of Boulder county, without worrying that I was in any way unsafe to be in the hills.