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.

The game plan

I can’t think of anything else at the moment other than the races I want to do this year and the places I want to go. After a LONG time of trawling all across the interwebs, I’ve concluded that there are too many races.

Yea, terrible problem.

So this list is not an exhaustive calendar of races in the Western USA, but a list of races that I want to do. I wont do all of them, and I’m sure there will be substitutions and additions.

This is also pending mid-summer travel plans to the UK, which will mean a couple of British races thrown in too.

Last year I started 22 races, including short tracks and cross races. This list has 20, not including CX and STXC. We’ll see what happens. Its certainly going to be a ride!!

14th April – Rumble at 18 Road. Fruita, Colorado

This will be a new one for me. Previous years have started with the Mountain States cup out at Rabbit Valley, but this race looks much better. Hosted at the famous 18 road trails, the entry fees are lower than the MSC and the prizes are bigger. No surprise there then. Looking forward to some desert riding. This race also coincides with our team training camp, so we’ll have an extended weekend of riding. Fun times.

19th – 22nd April – Sea Otter Classic. Monterey, California

Still not sure on this one. Flights to Monterey are pretty expensive, and the XC is notoriously un-XC. It will be a good opportunity for some fast competition though, so we’ll see what happens. Monterey is also a fantastically wonderful place

18th May – Riverside Rampage. Salida, Colorado

This is a Mountain States Cup, so an expensive investment. But with the three day format and really well designed courses, it will be worth it. Salida is also a lovely central colorado town that truely appreciates Mountain Bikers. That is worth supporting.

19th May – Battle of the Bear. Morrison, Colorado

I raced this in 2009 and won the Cat 1 (Expert) division in a sprint finish against good friend Andrew Shephard. This year I will be hoping to podium in the Pro category. We’ll see. The trails aren’t exciting, so the race is pretty tactical. The multi lap format will be a nice practice for the ProXCT races though.

20th May – Palmer Park XC race. Colorado Springs, Colorado

This is a new one for me. Never raced in Colorado Springs, but I have heard the trails are technical and fun to the max. Racing an hour from home is always a good thing!

26th May – Iron Horse Classic XC. Durango, Colorado

The road race is famous, but the Iron Horse XC race is also supposed to be excellent. Last year I chose to do the Gunnison Growler, but this year I want to compare myself to the Durango competition. Last year the race went THROUGH a brewery. That is a good thing.

2nd June – Teva Games XC. Vail, Colorado

My favourite race from two years ago. The Vail course is fun in the trees with roots and rocks. The organisation is also fantastic. Cheap entry fees and big prizes thanks to all the corperate sponsorship. Seems like everyone turns up to race as well, so it will be a test.

9th June – Grand Mesa Grind. Palisade, Colorado

I heard about this race at the day before last year from Kevin Kane. The report was amazing trails and a low key and friendly atmosphere. A few fast locals will probably show up again and underline that local knowledge beats base miles hands down every time.

15th June – Ute Valley ProXCT. Colorado Springs, Colorado

A big goal for the season is to race well in Colorado Springs. Its perfectly timed in the season for me to peak, especially with a week off afterwards.

7th July – 40 in the Fort. Fort Collins, Colorado

This is another maybe. 2011 was the inaugural race, and it had good reviews. Racing at low elevations in July is a challenge when it heats up. 40 miles on technical trails is a good distance for me though, I think I could do well.

13th – 15th July – Snowmass three day Enduro. Snowmass Mountain, Colorado

I know nothing about this race. Depending on its balance of XC to DH, it could be a great event. I love the idea of the Enduro format; multiple stages of DH oriented riding, but all round skill and fitness are just as important.

OR  14th July – Missoula ProXCT. Missoula, Montana

If I get the chance, I would love to head back up to Montana and race this ProXCT. The course looks amazing, and I want to take every opportunity to race the fast guys!

21st July – 12 Hours of Snowmass. Snowmass Mountain, Colorado

Teammate Sam Morrison mentioned the possibility of doing a duo or trio at this race. Mid summer fitness, high mountain aspen-lined trails and the vibe that is always present at team events sounds like the perfect July weekend. Nothing like some sleep deprivation to make you feel alive

11th August – Steamboat Stinger 50 miler. Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Steamboat Springs knows how to do racing. This race was so well organised last year. Despite the amazing trails. I think I was still learning how to race the long stuff, and as such I wasn’t super happy with 6th place, even if it was good on paper. This year I will be back to get a podium spot.

12th – 18th August – Breck Epic 6 Day stage race. Breckenridge, Colorado

The Highlight of the season last year. barring mis-direction, I raced really well all week and found that I can be competitive in stage races. Each day was a phenomenal ride over some breaktaking country. This one will be very much dependent on the finances, but I hope I can get myself to the start line and get a top 5.

25th August – Epic Singletrack series race #7 – Winter Park, Colorado

The winter park series is the best local competition. There’s a high chance I will fit a few more into the schedule earlier in the year. In 2009 I did them all and found every course to be well thought out and worth the entry fee. being so close to the front range also means turn out is high and competition fast. And I could do with a few extra pint glasses….

8th September – Fall Classic. Breckenridge, Colorado

Riding in the high country with the Aspens turning autumnal orange is a life changing experience. Never done this race, but there aren’t any bad trails in Breckenridge so I’m sure it will be good

30th September – Whole Enchilada Enduro. Moab, Utah

New to the calendar is the big mountain enduro series. Organised by the same people as the Mountain States cup, the entry fee is extortionate at $150. The whole series would cost a staggering $450 to enter!! I am deliberating whether I can justify that expense, and support that company, but this race might be too good of an opportunity to miss. We’ll see.

6th October – LTR 18 Road XC race. Fruita, Colorado

Motivation and funds will decide whether this late season race will happen. I might have transformed myself into someone that knows how to ride a cross bike by this time! Fruita is fun, though!


Barriers, sand and hopefully some snow. After dipping my toes into the water with three races last season, I think I need to prove I can actually be fast at Cross. In theory, the hour long format with running involved should suit me perfectly. Also, its a very good excuse to build a new bike. The main draw, though, is 15 races being within a half hour drive of home. The enthusiastic supporters, and the massive fields of riders in the open categories. I will never move away from Moutanin Biking, but this made-for-racing format is very difficult to beat!


Food for freewheeling

The last three days have been sandwiches. I like sandwiches.

The early sunrise that is beckoning spring has moved my internal dials towards an equally early rise, with the effect that riding in the mornings has actually been possible. The beginning of the week hailed optimistic thoughts of riding without the preface of layering clothes for 20 minutes. The windy warm days are a perfect sandwich of a morning spin, followed by the immense productivity that only comes when that incessant exercise bug has already been sated.

The other slice of bread has been warm golden evenings. Some quirk of meteorology around here makes the wind calm drastically after 4pm. Perfect timing. I live in perhaps the only house where I can come home and pick any roommate to ask the question “you want to ride up Magnolia?” and get an affirmative answer.

Wayne and I managed to get out the door within 5 minutes of the question being asked, and we dodged traffic on the canyon to get to the climb. Garmin told me we got to 21% up-ness in places. I’ll take it.

Sitting 1000 metres above Boulder with the sun bouncing off the Continental Divide, and the pink hue being chased across the plains below by the advancing shadows was a great way to end the day.

And I’m still hungry. I will be sandwiching rides into every corner this spring and summer. Bring on the sunshine.

Down by the River

I arouse from my heavily sedated state. For the second time. My Brother who has brought me a cup of tea two hours earlier is heading out of the house for a run. Its nearly 10am. Jetlag. I lug my lead-weighted body down the stairs and see the bacon already cooked and another cup of tea steaming on the kitchen side. Its good to be home. Nothing to do but eat vast quantities, drink tea, and ride my bike.

Hmm, yes. Ride my bike. Its raining outside and I’m not surprised; I could hear it lashing the windows when I was still in bed. I feel my cycling clothing, left by the Aga overnight, and its still wet from the sodden ride yesterday. I settle into my bacon sandwich and hope that it will be dry enough to ride in half an hour.

As time slips towards midday, I finally get the courage to get changed and hit the road.

Living in the bottom of a steep and verdant valley, there is no option other than climbing up a hill to get out. My sleepy mind had baulked at the idea of heading out into the grey windy day, and as such I had massively over dressed. Its warm and sticky outside. The humid air seems to have caught hold of the rain before it could hit the ground – its so thick with moisture that I feel like I’m battling it, as well as gravity.

My aim of five hours of pedalling, I realise, is rather ambitious. Not for distance or energy but it occurs to me that it will be completely dark in four. So I head over the big ridge of hills which mark the start of Exmoor National Park, and down towards the Estuary. The Tarka trail might be one of the heaviest used cycle paths in the country, but today I would rather battle recreation cyclists and dog walkers than possessed drivers on narrow wet busy roads. The Tarka trail hugs the riverside for 32 miles around the Taw and Torridge estuaries. Its main benefit, other than the fantastic sea breeze and views across the coast, is its lack of hills.

The wind blowing off the sea is at the perfect 90 degrees to me riding. I lean towards it and quick find a steady rhythm. The occasional stray dog is subdued by its owner, or scared witless as it realises I wont be slowing from my steady 18 mph.

It seems that the average speed of most cyclists along these paths is more in the region of 10 mph. The look of sadness and disappointment of the faces of some cyclists is priceless: Kitted in brand new Christmas apparel, handlebars adorned with lights and bells and wing mirrors and all manner of other clip on accessories, they’re aghast as I cruise gently by with a smile on my face. They struggled to pilot their hydrid racers against the gentle wind, the extra pounds of Christmas festivities put on over causing too much resistance.

The random 10 year old – let loose by his parents to pedal like crazy – sees me coming and sprints into a fury, holding my wheel for a minute or two. I encourage the youngster to sit in. Alas, the furious base pace is too high and he fades away.

Unlike Colorado, where a 60 mile ride can take you into the depths of nowhere, my ride pedals through many communities. The small cafe on the river in Fremington was bustling with pension aged custom. Instow, with trendy pubs and restaurants, was abuzz with middle aged men in nice cars ferrying their families out for a meal followed by a stroll on the beach. I felt like a was steamrollering past these places, just catching a glimpse of the personality of each little hive.

Past Torrington and everything starts to get quiet. Away from the coast now, the river winds its way into the country. The valley sides get steeper and greener, and the families are replaced by lone dog walkers – the type that are out here every week through the year. The smooth surface of the paths becomes a little greener and narrower; not by design but from the moss and lichen which blankets every available surface.

I look at the clock and realise its just gone 2:30 in the afternoon. In the mood for exploration, and legs feeling warm and full of energy, I am hesitant to turn around, to head back through the maze of seaside community, but I know that if I don’t I will not be back before the thick blanket of northern darkness falls.

I turn around and do it all again.