Running out of time

There is a undercurrent of panic among my Mountain Biking friends. The clouds descended last week, covering Boulder in a film of dew, coating the trees in an erie layer of humidity. The temperature dropped and the wind blew in the smell of fresh, wintery air. It barely dipped into trousers weather, but the change from oppressive heat was felt. It was a signal.

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The back of Boulder County

Looking west across the Sugarloaf valley from the ridge on Arkansas Mountain. Eldora ski area can just be seen in the distance.
Looking west across the Sugarloaf valley from the ridge on Arkansas Mountain. Eldora ski area can just be seen in the distance.
Sugarloaf Mountain is a bald pimple on the skyline when you look up from Boulder. Up close it sits just above the treeline, with winding trails snaking along its shoulder
Sugarloaf Mountain is a bald pimple on the skyline when you look up from Boulder. Up close it sits just above the treeline, with winding trails snaking along its shoulder
The flood last september destroyed most trails like this. It turned narrow singletrack into washed out, rocky gullies unable to be ridden. Gordon Gulch is a favourite of mine, and it mostly survived the rains untouched.
The flood last september destroyed most trails like this. It turned narrow singletrack into washed out, rocky gullies unable to be ridden. Gordon Gulch is a favourite of mine, and it mostly survived the rains untouched.

One week in April

The Apple Blossom is lighting in Boulder

Although I can’t believe it, we’re coming to the end of April, and with it Spring will slide seamlessly once again into summer. The days of spring in Boulder are numbered. Brief splashes of warm sunshine have played across the Mountains, accompanied by ever-increasing greenery in and around town. Between the warm breezy days huge storms have rocked across the foothills. We’re finally in thunderstorm season.

Chris Peterson rides up Logan Mill, an impending thunderstorm blocking the view up to the continental divide

I got out for a ride with Chris Peterson. Chris went to uni in Boulder before heading off into the big wide world. We rode my favourite Logan Mill loop and then turned off for some single-track additions. When we started from town, the warm morning sun put paid to our conservatism. We left the arm warmers at home and headed to the hills without protection. It was only as we crested the hill to Sugarloaf that the huge storm came into view. What a view. We pressed on, deciding that riding faster was better than turning around earlier. It paid off, as we only just got wet on our descent back to town. We got back to Boulder in the sunshine.

Christa rides the switchbacks up Bow Mountain Road - a close to town favourite.

Christa and I got out for a couple of rides together, too. We set off early on Saturday morning to ride a couple of short climbs around town. The weather was hanging low and close to the city. Warm damp clouds spitting occasional raindrops on us. It was a warm morning, and we were early enough to beat the cycling rush. The foothills are coming alive with greenery, and we rode empty roads for an hour without seeing another person. The deer barely even glanced up at us as we cruised on by.

Bryan finally popped the question

The weeks’ big event, though, was reserved for saturday afternoon. Bryan was to propose. Katie prides herself in being the organiser of our little friendship group. She’s the one you go to when you need to know what’s happening in the next few weeks. So it was with great delight that Bryan coordinated his friends around surprising Katie. She had absolutely no idea. We went for a bike ride, the three of us bursting with a secret about to be broken. Bryan stayed stoic. So quiet that he seemed scared that any words he said may reveal the big question burning through his brain. I was impressed he was able to ride his bike with such a distraction. With the Flatirons opening up in front of us, Bryan got down on one knee in a wild flower meadow, and made 2014 just a bit more special for Katie.

The Raymond Experience

Weekends of relaxation aren’t my style. Even though I’ve not been feeling 100% for a couple of days, I wanted to make the most of the weekend. It’s hard to feel in tip-top shape all the time, and I need to remind myself that training is all about stressing your body until it responds by getting stronger. I’m definitely in the stressed phase at the moment, and I’m really hoping that it all comes together in time for the Whiskey 50 in a couple of weeks.

Christa and I don’t get to ride very much normally; work schedules and racing commitments means that quick spins during the week are the extent of together time on the bike. When we were over in Europe last summer, we had 10 solid days of riding together in the hills. It was great; sharing the views at the top of the climbs is the way to do it.

Raymond is a little gem tucked away in the hills west of Lyons. You wouldn't find it without looking

With this in mind, we decided to head out on Sunday for some quality time. I wanted to ride easy, and Christa wanted to ride hard. This actually works out very well, as our two paces align perfectly. The weather forecast called for sunshine and warm temperatures, then scattered showers in the afternoon. We decided to make the pilgrimage to the Raymond General Store – a small convenience store in the town of Raymond, at the top of South St. Vrain Canyon.

There’s no easy way to get there from Boulder. We chose to ride up to Lyons, where we drank a coffee, then head up the long 17 mile canyon to the small town. From there we were going to crest the foothills on Peak to Peak highway, and descend back into Boulder on Sugarloaf road. We cruised up next to the St. Vrain river, marvelling at the damage from the flood back in September. People had been busy shoring up the road, rearranging rocks and putting the road back together again. We had some stretches of brand new pavement, followed by some rough pieces of road with no shoulder. Christa set the pace up the climb – she likes to tell people she can’t climb, but I know the truth. Having done a couple of 2000 metre days with her, I know that she loves climbing once she gets going.

Pre-climbing coffee at The Stone Cup in Lyons

We turned off the highway through the tiny little town of Riverside. The name giving away how much damage it received from the flooding. The small log built houses here are always immaculately kept – flowers and gardens manicured. As we cruised through the rows of houses, we suddenly saw one completely up-ended and lying in the river bed, where the water had completely undermined it. The rest of the ride on the small side road up to Raymond was a mix of washed away dirt and wet roads. We pulled in to the village centre to find the general store closed up – no sign of life whatsoever. Disaster! I had figured there may be a chance it was closed, and we’d brought a slice of Banana Bread and a Brownie in Lyons to enjoy at the top. It was perfect sitting in the sun chomping down on some well made treats. The sun was shining and the wind was calm.

Enjoying the very last drops of sunshine for the day. Little did we know what would greet us around the next couple of turns

Back on the bikes and making the last couple of turns towards Peaceful Valley. I love this stretch of the ride as you’re next to the river in the trees, but as you climb the switchbacks in the valley, the trees subside and you’re out in the open with the huge array of the Indian Peaks hanging above you. I was pedalling gently up the road, when I noticed we couldn’t actually make out the hill in front of us. Instead we were greeted with a blanket of white pushing towards us at great speed. Within 30 seconds the temperature had dropped below freezing, and we were being pelted by wet heavy snow. It instantly started accumulating around us, and we were stuck.

Christa Descending South Saint Vrain Canyon in a snow storm

It was at this point we had a choice to make. Turn around and flee, or soldier through the snow. The forward option would have us exposed on a high ridge at 9000 feet, with no assurance the snow would be stopping any time soon. The return option would be descending 17 miles of cold canyon in a snow storm. Nothing like a tough choice to harden the resolve. We kitted up with the clothing we’d brought in preparation for the descent, then turned-tail and headed back down the road. Within minutes Christa’s hands were frozen blocks of ice. We stopped and did the star jumps dance on the side of the road.

We kept descending.

We stopped and I shoved Christa’s hands inside my jacket.

Another 10 minutes later, that’s 10 minutes of descending at 40 mph, we reached Lyons again. It was surreal to come out of the canyon into bright sunlight and warm temperatures. We could see the huge black clouds hanging over the hills, and the telltale strands of dangling rain scouring across the plains. Patches of huge clouds tactically placed between us and home meant we were pretty certain of getting wet. Christa locked herself to my rear wheel (a talent of hers), and we rode at her tempo the entire way back to Boulder.

Warming up back in Boulder with a coke and some sweets

With a dearth of sweet things at home, we stopped at Lolita’s market on Pearl Street for a coke and some gummy bears.

What a way to spend some together time. We really earned our evening on the sofa with a steak and a film.

The views of late winter

The Sunshine view - huge Mountains give way to huge plains

Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting the seasons. I’m not in tune, not living according to the chapters that nature has set out for us. This winter has been dominated by the drive to be fast on my bike this summer. It’s a pursuit I’m really enjoying – I feel like I’m living for something and making progress. But it causes some friction with the Colorado weather. it’s hard to accept that the snow should be here. It should be on the ground, coating the hills in a protective layer of moisture to stave off the fire season for as long as possible. The weather is doing its best for the big picture, and sometimes I need to stand back and take in the view, too.

Continue reading The views of late winter

Bikes at night.

Last year we organised an end of the season night ride around the South Boulder trails. Starting in town,we rolled out to Marshall Mesa just as everyone else was finishing their after work ride. We ended the evening at the Southern Sun; South Boulders very own brewery. It went down well enough that Sam decided an impromptu rerun was needed.

Marshall Mesa, South Boulder
We gathered on the University campus amid the new students arriving in Boulder, negotiating nervous drivers and wary parents. Soon enough, though, we were free from town and pedalling up the tame trails of Marhall Mesa

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The Boulder Update

It’s been a whirlwind landing back in Boulder after nine months away. Coming into Denver via Iceland was a breeze, and I’m going to recommend IcelandAir to anyone who will listen from now on. My bikes came out of the airport machinery looking a little mangled, but a quick check over reassured me they were OK, and the haste to find Christa and get back to Boulder stopped me inspecting them any further.

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Life lines

The beckoning of spring has caught me by surprise. In winters past, both in England and Colorado, the onset of my favourite season has happened in a day. That fantastic day when you awake to birds singing, only to suddenly realise there are buds on the trees and the sun has real warmth that has been absent for many a month.

Without the harsh and bitter clime of normal Colorado, my spring happened in a gradual realisation that winter wasn’t going to stamp its feet and make itself heard. Contrary to what some might think, todays little lapse back into snow isn’t winter playing catch up, but the standard Boulder spring – the moisture we need, and the brake on life that can only happen when the weather won’t cooperate with the ‘big plans’.

As the misty morning clouds part enough to reassure me that the flatirons still exist, and the bright pink cherry blossom begins to shed its temporary veil of white, I will be drinking coffee and hurrying to take everything in.

Without such a day-pause (for want of a better ‘word’), I haven’t done much writing. Here is the catch up, in pixel form:

The ‘points’ game was taken to a new level. It got serious. reputation was on the line. This section of Devils backbone was one of only two that stumped us. Three hours later, we ended on five points apiece. Chainrings suffered and ego’s were bruised but this kind of competitive sessioning can only be a good thing.

When the mercury starts creeping up, I tend to head in the same direction. Walker ranch is a eight mile loop of washed out sandy trails and terribly sketchy descents, bisected by a hard scramble out the bottom of a steep river valley. We tested the water quality; cold.

Mt. Eve isn’t something that sticks out as noteworthy, unless you have a reason to look at it. Sylvan Lake state park outside of Eagle, Colorado isn’t what most consider a mountain bike destination in March, until you go there. Its only a short hop down the road from Vail, but the trails twisting through the scrub oak and sage brush right outside of town should be marked on the map by anyone driving I-70 to somewhere else. Stop here: its worth it.

I know someone famous. OK, not Blake in this photo, but Kiel Reijnen who slogged his way through Milan San-Remo. We watched from the comfort of North Boulder, Coffee and Pancakes, and then emulated his awesomeness with our own fanclub.

Rides don’t have to be long to induce smiles. Short sleeves and sunshine, empty roads. ‘nuff said.

Joe’s Ridge, Fruita Colorado. Someone should be thanked for the design of this trail. Or at least, the beauty of the Bookcliffs (from which these spines originate, before hitting the Grand Valley floor) need to be appreciated.