The Baddick – Callaway Wedding

My Brother is a married man!

A whirlwind trip to England started with a fantastic stag do (that’s a Bachelor Party, Americans) organised by Frank’s good friends Richard and Keiran. I’d been feeling like I was failing in my best man duties when they started organising the festivities, but I soon realised that they were the right people to do it, and they did Frank really proud. We found ourselves in rural Herefordshire late on a Friday night, after just landing in Heathrow. The weekend was mainly outside, situated at a fantastic campsite in rolling hills. That’s about all that was suitable for this blog. I can say that by the time we left on Sunday, I had absolutely no idea what time zone I was in!

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Twenty four hours in Iceland. What would you do?

What would you do with 24 hours in Reykjavik?

Halgrimskirkje
Halgrimskirkje

In a stroke of Marketing genius, Icelandair offers free stopovers in Iceland at no extra cost on your ticket. Christa and I took up this offer, only to realise that even one day in Iceland will set you back at least $500. Even with the high price of everything on the island, we set off with just over 24 hours to explore Reykjavik and the surrounding area. We found that even one day was enough to get a feel for Reykjavik, even if we didn’t have a chance to explore further inland to find the real beauty of this wild country.

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Road riding on Exmoor – a biased review

Which way? There's almost always more than one way to connect each village. The options spread the few visitors out even further, leaving you with endless roads to yourself

The Exmoor coast is the most primitive shoreline left in England. The huge cliffs have protected 35 miles of coastline from development, and the result is one of the most one unique landscapes in the UK. The cliffs role inland onto huge flat-topped hills. The relentless atlantic storms and long winters have scoured the vegetation from the tops of the moorland, leaving hardy plants and wildlife. The wooded valleys cutting between these hills are a contrast – part of the huge variety of terrain you’ll see if you cross Exmoor by bike.

Countisbury Hill is famous in the UK as one of the hardest climbs. The first mile is at 25% gradient

The Tour of Britain has visited Exmoor on every iteration since it’s rebirth, and it’s easy to see why. The roads cutting straight up and down the hills create 25% gradients that are impossible to ride easily. With all elevation starting from absolute zero – sea level – and rising to 1600 feet, the climbs are bigger than they appear on the map, and some of the most challenging in the UK.

Towards the top of Dunkery Beacon. Most climbs on Exmoor are devoid of switchbacks; instead, small roads wind directly up the barren faces of the hills
Towards the top of Dunkery Beacon. Most climbs on Exmoor are devoid of switchbacks; instead, small roads wind directly up the barren faces of the hills

As soon as you travel off the top of the moor, the trees grow taller, plant species become more numerous, and the weather a little gentler. The weather is fast-moving and unpredictable on Exmoor. The storms moved rapidly off the atlantic and over the coast, dropping heavy rain any time of the year. The wooded valleys are the protection from the elements, and it’s not uncommon to have different weather at the bottom of the hill from at the top.

In the bottom of the valley's, it's sometimes impossible to tell what the weather is doing just 1000 feet above
In the bottom of the valley’s, it’s sometimes impossible to tell what the weather is doing just 1000 feet above

The inaccessible coastline was further protected when Exmoor became a national park. Unlike the Wildernesses that make up American national parks, in the UK the national parks are living places filled with farms and industry. The protection comes from stopping development that would ruin what is already there. As such, Exmoor is filled with small villages, each with its own identity. Some of the villages are just a couple of miles apart, separated by open moorland and winding roads. These winding roads have often been replaced by (slightly) larger roads that now carry cars around the park, leaving winding country lanes to the bikes and horses. It takes a lot of local knowledge to successfully piece together a route through the best parts of Exmoor, and it takes a strong pair of legs to carry out the planned ride.

Trentishoe Down is at the western edge of Exmoor, where the unrelenting hills finally subside into the friendlier North Devon countryside
Trentishoe Down is at the western edge of Exmoor, where the unrelenting hills finally subside into the friendlier North Devon countryside

With Weather and fitness on your side, there are endless options for riding, taking in the busier coastal areas, or the quieter high moorland.

Porlock Hill has a warning for cyclists to dismount. It's hilarious for an experienced rider, but casual bike riders will struggle on Exmoor
Porlock Hill has a warning for cyclists to dismount. It’s hilarious for an experienced rider, but casual bike riders will struggle on Exmoor

I’ve been riding and walking on Exmoor for a long time, but it’s only recently that I’ve truly appreciated Exmoor for what it offers to cyclists. The variable weather that can never be predicted is the biggest factor in keeping people from coming to this part of the world – it seems that sunshine is often the determining factor when riders decide where to visit. Hot summers days might be the easiest time to enjoy the riding, but some of the best days are the ones where you’re the only person around for miles, the roads are your own, and the bleak moorland rolls on for days.

The heather, bracken, and gorse bushes are the natural flora of Exmoor. Hardy plants that can survive the harsh winters and bloom in the warm summers
The heather, bracken, and gorse bushes are the natural flora of Exmoor. Hardy plants that can survive the harsh winters and bloom in the warm summers

British XC National Champs

British National Championships XC - Photo by Frank Baddick
British National Championships XC – Photo by Frank Baddick

My first attempt at racing British Nationals. I feel like I’m a pretty experienced bike racer at this point – It’s been four years since I started pinning on numbers in earnest, and I’ve raced a huge number of events across the world. With all of that, though, I’ve very rarely raced in the UK. My racing started in Colorado, and has continued there ever since. I’ve not had the chance to come back to England and race, and I realise now that I haven’t had the fitness or experience to do so either. This race marked the last UCI race for 2014. This season took my count of national races from 2 to 9. In the process I’ve learnt exactly what I’ve got missing, and where I can get faster next year. I was really happy to have my Dad as support crew number 1 this weekend. We went through the learning process at Sherwood last weekend and we had everything dialled in for nationals. My Brother Frank, and sis-in-law-to-be Vicky also came along to shout at me in the woods.

Hopton Woods in Shropshire. Closer to Wales than anywhere in England, but a great venue for a bike race

I had a stupid warm up for the race – after a gentle spin on the lovely country lanes around Shropshire, I tried to get a last-minute lap of the course in. I hadn’t had time to pre-ride before hand, and the thought of starting nationals without knowing the loop was a bit scary. I managed to ride up the opening climb before a marshal decided I shouldn’t be on course. They told me I couldn’t ride any further, but had no idea how I should get back to the start without going on the course. Cue a last-minute scramble through the woods five minutes before race time! I found an old DH track that went straight downhill to the venue, but obviously wasn’t in the mental state to be riding it. I crashed pretty hard, opening a gash in my knee, and pulling my ring finger far enough back that I thought it would come off. (Yes, the race hasn’t even started yet and I’m already covered in mud and bleeding!) Once I finally made it to the start line, I slotted into 52/55 position on the grid. The course had a big wide open climb to start, and I was very confident of moving up. The gun went and that’s exactly what happened. Avoiding the obligatory start line crash, I moved up the outside of the course, and my brother counted me at 25th going into the singletrack. Now the ‘luck’ part of the racing was done I felt like I could relax a little. The climb (about 700 feet per lap) worked its way up on a mix of singletrack and dirt road, with plenty of passing places.

British National Championships XC - Photo by Frank Baddick
British National Championships XC – Photo by Frank Baddick

From the top, the descent dropped steeply through an old quarry back to the forest road below. First time down was very scary! I followed Lee Gratton, who I’d raced with last weekend, and I was confident he knew the lines. The surface was a mix of roots, slick rocks and hero dirt, and I had no idea what sections of the course I could trust. After feeling like Bambi on ice for the first lap, I got into the groove and was regularly dropping people on the descent. That felt good. Towards the middle of the race my forward progress halted and I found a couple of guys to ride with. I was faster down, they were faster up, but it gave me something to keep pedalling for.

Photo by Frank Baddick
British National Championships XC – Photo by Frank Baddick

At this point, the ability to suffer was waning, and my concentration on the downs was also failing. Towards the end of lap 6 on the successive drops back to the start/finish, I came in way too fast. With no way to slow down, I took to the undergrowth, and somehow managed to ride out a nose wheelie to avoid going down. That stymied my chance of catching the guys in front, so the last lap was an exercise in getting around. I probably lost 45 seconds in the last lap, but really had no ounce of drive to go any faster.

I crossed the line 16th. That’s a gain of 36 places off the start line, and a pretty good benchmark for what I can achieve in the future. The event (Organised by Pearce Cycles) was the smoothest and best run XC race I’ve been to. I have a lot of thoughts and comments about the difference between XC racing in the UK and the US that I’ll be writing down soon, but the gist of it is that the UK scene is a fantastic and friendly place to race bikes. I feel like I already have the fire I need to come back stronger next year.

British National Championships XC - Photo by Frank Baddick
British National Championships XC – Photo by Frank Baddick

The rest of this mountain bike season comprises of fun races in Colorado. I have the Steamboat Stinger coming up in August, which is my favourite race anywhere, and then some local Winter Park races, too. Suddenly thoughts turn to cross season (news on that front to come!), which is just around the corner!

Missoula ProXCT – reflections on a bad day on the bike

Twelve hours is a long time to drive, no matter what you’re doing at the other end. When it comes to racing, a long drive just seems to amplify expectations. The planning that goes into a drive to Montana means that I’d weighted this race pretty heavily. For my first season of racing the full ProXCT series, one might say that I’m being harsh to expect results straight away, but I’m here for that reason only – the experience and the atmosphere, the trails and the new places are definitely secondary to gaining that one UCI point.
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I knew the course in Missoula wouldn’t be my ideal scenario. Marshall Mountain is a defunct ski resort with a rusting chairlift and a couple of lodge buildings. Just outside of Missoula, the hills don’t have a huge elevation change, but enough for an amazing purpose built course carved out of the side of the hill. Each lap was one steep 10 minute climb, gaining roughly 900 feet (300 metres) followed by a technical downhill. The climbing would favour the riders that weighed in a little less than me, but I looked to the positives and saw that the slightly smaller field and wide dirt road climb on each lap would give me plenty of opportunities to move up, even if I had a bad call up on the starting grid. The downhill would suit me too; lots of tight alpine style switchbacks and a big six foot drop half way down the hill. I was confident. In the end, there really wasn’t much I could do on race day, as my legs stayed at home and left my mind to suffer up the hills alone.
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The start was furious, but I weaseled my way through the four rows of riders in front of me and found a position in the top 15 on the dirt road. There wasn’t any significant bottleneck, as the singletrack started far enough up the hill to spread things out. I was where I wanted to be. I felt terrible, but as anyone who’s raced an XC knows, terrible is exactly where you expect to be at this point in the race.
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I just remembered to reach down and unlock my fork going into the first descent, and felt pretty comfortable descending, even if my brakes had decided they weren’t going to be very effective.
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I hit the big drop in a chain of riders, and felt my foot loosen from my left pedal just as I left Terra firma and sailed through the air. The next second or so slowed down as my bike twisted underneath me and my left leg sprung upwards. The weight of the bike that I expected to be on the bottom of my foot was not there and my balance suffered greatly. I landed one footed and just held on through the corner at the bottom. I took a couple of deep breathes and got back to the racing.
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At some point on lap two, my body started dictating orders to me. I’m very used to ignoring those calls and suffering onwards, but this time it would be different. My back and hips seemed to seize up to the point where the signals coming down from my brain didn’t get through. I eased back and fell through the mid teens until I found a group of riders spanning 20-25th. It worked well for me to be in a group. The draw of a wheel in front of me was enough to keep pushing hard, but by lap three even that was too much. I cracked on the climb, then crashed into the bushes on the descent trying to chase back on. I was now in no mans land with two laps to go. The ‘quit’ signals from my brain got ever stronger, but the thought of driving twelve hours back to Boulder after not finishing was even worse. I just pedalled around, alone, in agony.
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I finished in 25th. A much better result than I thought I was riding for at the time, but still a long way short of where I wanted to be. Two weeks ago, when I raced the GoPro games in Vail, I’d finally started riding with some names I’d been paying attention to this year. I had finished four minutes behind Howard Grotts (the winner on both occasions), rather than twelve minutes back here in Missoula. I know that I have a top 15 ride in me, and it’s really disappointing to see who I want to be competing against doing well in the important races, and leaving me floundering behind.

It’s the bad races that really make me appreciate having a coach, though. Dave’s hard work for me really shows through when I’m having a bad day. He cares about how I do, and that support helps lessen the burden of figuring out where to go from a bad race. It makes going into the next one a little less scary, and reminds me that there’s a bigger picture out there that he’s painting for me.

Colorado Springs ProXCT is next weekend. I’m confident of having a better race than this weekend. Whether that better race will fulfill my goals is another question. I’d really like to head back home to England with a UCI point.

Missoula – First Impressions

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Keith, Bryan and I drove through all of Tuesday from Boulder up to Missoula, on the western Edge of Montana. The twelve hour road trip took us mainly on two roads. First, we sped north on Interstate 25 for 359 miles, before bearing slightly left, and then driving along Interstate 90 for the remaining 503 miles. Easy. Wyoming, as ever, was an unerring expanse of vast emptiness. The unseasonal green covering the huge plains a little reminder of the excess rain we’ve had falling all over the place this year.

We pulled into Missoulla at 9pm. The swirling clouds hung close to the hills, obscuring the sky line. I knew, from my map gazing, that the hills went a lot higher than we could see, but I settled for waiting until morning to find out how high they really were.

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Morning brought a spin through town, through the University of Montana (“the Grizzlies”), and through a french style bakery set in a big warehouse. It’s here we got comfortable and did the bike racer thing of spending as little energy (and money) as possible.

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In the afternoon we headed up to Marshall Mountain for the first time. My intention was to race the local series race being held in the evening on the same course as Saturdays main event.

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We left the house at the base of the mountain and started riding up there. The temperature was hovering around 5 celcius with torrential rain. I’d resigned myself to be getting pretty wet, but I was soaked through immediately. We rode a lap of the course before deciding whether to race. The answer was a resounding no. After a good soaking, I thought it much more intelligent to get in the car and find a warm shower instead.

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The Iron Horse Classic

The fresh May snow coating the peaks

The Iron Horse Classic MTB race, scheduled for Sunday, was cancelled due to bike eating mud. From arriving in Durango on Friday until the race at 8:30am on Sunday, low clouds hung over the valley. Occasional glimpses of the high country revealed a fresh sprinkle of white on the peaks. Bryan and I warmed up in the drizzling rain on Sunday morning, the clouds refused to part. Our reluctance to stop warming up could be explained by our 5:00am wake up time. The multiple cups of coffee consumed. The hearty breakfast eaten in preparation. As we cruised up to the start line, the general chaos belied the decision about to be announced. A stressed looking Dave Hagen, the man in charge, had his phone glued to his head. His shoes were clumped with pounds of red clay mud; his early course reconnaissance obviously didn’t go as planned. As Dave lowered his mobile from his ear, he drew a slow cutthroat sign across his neck. The race was done. As with most Colorado towns, the trails are a public facility. Tax money has been turned into winding and sinuous singletrack routes around town. In the short term, the rain is much needed to keep the trails in good condition, but as guests to the town, a race in the mud would do a year’s worth of damage in a day. The cancellation was the only solution.

Durango is fun, no matter what the weather gives you

This is where friends come in. The seven hour drive to Durango wasn’t all for the race. Certainly, it was an excuse, a motivator. A reason to get in the car and drive. But we’d gone to the southwest of Colorado to get away from Boulder for a long weekend; to spend time with friends, enjoying Durango’s network of paths and trails in the red hills spiraling away from town. When the race was cancelled, it didn’t make to a wasted trip, it just lead to a reason to find trails that stood up to the rain; to play around on the higher trails that were armoured with a thick and crunchy covering of pine needles.

Laura riding the Hogsfoot trail in Overend Park, Durango

On Sunday we ended up messing around town for almost five hours; trails, roads, rain, and eventually the sun came out. We wondered downtown to spectate the poorly attended criterium, then drink a beer at Old Tymers on Main Street. Never a day wasted; just repurposed to make the most of the situation.

Bryan riding Raiders Ridge above downtown Durango. The rain made it an extra challenge

The Memorial Day weekend gave us an extra day to play before getting on the road back to Boulder. We pedalled out of town in the direction of Junction Creek. The Colorado trail is a 535 mile route from Denver to Durango, ending its journey among the huge cottonwoods in Junction Creek, just five miles from town. We rode up the first section, pedalling up the tacky dirt under the canopy in the bottom of the valley.

Christa embraced the rain to ride with Bryan and I. She's a natural born MTBer

We then picked our way up the tight switchbacks though the healthy, old growth pine forests onto the top of the ridge at Gudy’s rest. From here we could look south towards the town. Just at the very edge of the expansive wilderness that spreads for hundreds of miles, we already felt out there in the middle of nowhere. The size of the untouched forests are like nothing found in the UK or Europe.

Just a small stretch of the unending forests around Durango

There’s places, I like to believe, that no-one has ever been. Perhaps there are just places so beautiful, quiet and isolated that the people who have found them will never share their secrets, in order to protect them for the people who will search them out themselves.

Bryan, Katie, Christa and I at Gudys rest. Overlooking Junction Creek

I’ve pondered what it would be like to live in Durango. When I go there, the opportunity and time to explore is almost endless. Would living there be the same? Would all the amazing things about Durango make up for it being six hours from the outside world? It’s isolation is what makes it special. For the time being, I’ll just enjoy the small chunks of time I get to spend in Colorado’s southwest.

The Sangre de Cristo mountains on the way to Durango

Let’s talk about the summer

One of my very rare “looking forward” posts. What’s in store this summer?


As the snow falls gently outside on this May Sunday, I’m excited for the adventures coming up in the next few months. The first adventure starts on Monday, when I will begin teaching the month long intensive class on Clinical Nutrition. I have a feeling my students are going to have a lot of cycling examples, and I hope I can learn a little more myself in the process. It’s Monday – Friday, four hours a day. That’s a lot of talking. I’ll be balancing it with a healthy dose of racing, too.

I was planning trip to Canada next weekend to race in the Canada Cup in Quebec. Unfortunately, reward flights and other generous offers from friends didn’t quite pan out, and the logistics seemed to be getting ever more complicated. I had to call it quits on that and look a little closer to home. I’ll be racing the “Gowdy Grinder” instead. It’s a local race near Laramie in Wyoming. At 20 miles long, it seems easy, but I’ve heard from many people to expect over two hours of brutal technical riding. It should be my first race on the new Turner Czar too, which I’m really excited about. My two year old Cannondale has done me proud, but it’s certainly on its last legs.


Up next, after Wyoming, is the Iron Horse Classic in Durango. What better reason to spend a long weekend in Durango staying with the O’Block family! The race itself is a strange one. Durango is a cycling mecca just like Boulder; the field will be packed with locals out to impress. The course starts in downtown, winding through the city streets and onto the steep and dusty trails around the edge of town. From there it loops back around, and THROUGH a brewery. Actually right through the front door, down a ramp and out the back door. It creates an amazing atmosphere for the spectators. For the racers it’s a tough race that ends up tactical. Above all that racing, I’m looking forward to catching up with some Durango friends, riding good trails, and eating tacos in the sunshine on main street.

That pretty much wraps up May. June brings some more US Cups in Colorado Springs and Missoula, Montana. I’m really excited to be on much better form than I was in March. I’m still gunning for a single UCI point. I think I can do it.

July is my first chance to go back to England in the summer. I have lots of things to do, and people to see. First up is some more Mountain Bike racing. I’ll be doing the British Series race in Sherwood Pines, up near my brother in Nottinghamshire. Then the weekend after is British National Champs in Shropshire. I have absolutely no expectations from these races other than to let people know I exist. It would be rewarding to race well at either one, show people I’m doing well over here in the US, and get my name recognised when it comes to qualifying for some bigger races in the future.

After that I have a couple of weekends to live it large. Trevor and Sarah are getting married in Hampshire at the end of July, and my Cousin Hannah is getting married to Tom in Devon at the beginning of August. I’m really hoping I can catch up with a bunch of people at both those weddings. After that, it’s back to Colorado and back to reality.

So, that’s the grand plan – let’s see what happens on the other end!

Prescott, Arizona.

I collected up most of my friends and went to the Whiskey 50 last weekend. Prescott, Arizona is located half-way between Phoenix and Flagstaff, tucked into the northern edge of the Bradshaw Mountains. A high desert outcrop of hills covered in Conifers and scrub oak trees. They stick out from the Sonoran Desert, a strange bump on the cactus riddled plains of Arizona. As you drive north from the disgusting sprawl of Phoenix, you’re released into a huge valley, with the chain of mountains running along the western edge. You wind between towering Cardón cacti, climbing from the desert floor to 5500 feet, 1600 metres.

Prescott was the territorial capital of Arizona in the 1870’s. The huge town hall in the middle of the square is a reminder to its grand origins. It’s now home to a mix of bars and restaurants in the compact downtown, a big old theatre, and huge desert-style houses spreading out in the foothills in every direction.

The view from our house above Prescott

We’d rented a big house in the hills to fit our 12 friends into. We wound our way up the driveway in the dark on Thursday night, wondering where on earth we were going. To wake on Friday to the expansive views was exactly the introduction to the weekend I needed. The wind whistled gently against the gargantuan conifers, the warm sun filled me with energy to ride.

Friday was a packed day. In the morning we checked in with team sponsor Carborocket, who was one of the first companies to get set up at the expo. Brad from Carborocket looked after us really well; handing out recovery drink after the crit, and giving us ice cold water after the main event. I wanted to ride as much trail as possible on Friday – I wanted to remember the ins and outs of the course. My memory had shortened every aspect of the course. I had to go back and put the details in place. We rode for two hours in the morning, arriving at the Elks theatre in time for the riders meeting at lunch.

The fat tire 'crit' around downtown Prescott. Thumb Butte in the background

Friday afternoon was the “Fat Tyre Crit”. A spectacle for the locals, something for the amatuer racers to watch. A 50 mile race doesn’t lend itself well to spectating, so this is the organisers way of making Mountain Biking a little more accessible. We started in the town square, riding a two-minute loop up a steep hill, then careening back down to do it again. For 30 minutes. I metered my efforts from the gun, choosing to avoid the chaos of the lead group, and settle into a nice rhythm. It paid off, as I moved through the field, never getting out the saddle, never digging into those precious reserves. It’s great to race around with so many people cheering you on. It makes me feel like my extravagant past-time of bike racing is actually worth something.

Bike prep before the big show on Sunday

Saturday morning. I’d prepared for some bad weather. I’m pretty certain that Bryan spends all of his free time browsing the NOAA weather website; he’d told me to expect rain, and I’d packed accordingly. I wasn’t expecting the weather we woke up to, though. As we surfaced inside our warm mountain house, the driving rain was pushed down the valley by a vicious wind. The town below was obscured by clouds, and rather than warming as the day progressed, the rain turned white. Through hail, sleet and finally an inch of snow, we waited inside, knowing the mass participation amateur race was supposed to be going on. To give you an idea of what it was like for them, read Kate Ginsbach’s report of her trials in the forest.

The snow came and went within hours. A bad dream for anyone trying to race on Saturday
The irony of snow in the desert; by 2pm the sun was out. The temperature had climbed from -2*c to 15*c. The wind was still high, but it had wiped the snow right off the ground, leaving behind dry, tacky dirt. This is the kind of things mountain bikers get excited about – good dirt. Hero dirt. Grippy and smooth and sculpted by the rain. We headed out to ride for a little bit in the afternoon. Spin the aches and hydrogen ions out of the legs from the criterium the day before. We found a piece of singletrack at our front door, and proceeded to ride a couple of laps up and down until we were forced to pull ourselves away, to save the energy for the big deal tomorrow.

Sunset over the Bradshaw Mountains in the Sonoran Desert

A house of professional cyclists eats a lot of food. It’s difficult to plan for three days of meals – it gets expensive to go to the supermarket everyday without having huge amounts of left overs. We tried our best to avoid waste, but it happened anyway. We were really lucky that Deidre’s Mum Lorraine came down to help us. She just quietly got along doing all the things no-one else wanted to. Such a stress reliever.

My race report from the Whiskey is here. Read it at your own peril. I’m yet to master the art of writing about races without including all the details. Everything went so smoothly on Sunday that I don’t even know what to write about. Perfect temperature to race in, no stress or hassle at any point, and coming home with a cheque for $500. We piled into the minivan after the race. Every position I tried to hold was uncomfortable. I drifted into a dazed sleep as we cruised back toward Phoenix. I’m so happy I wasn’t driving home. These interludes of racing squeezed into normal life are surreal. I was sitting in the office on Monday morning surrounded by colleagues who have no idea what my weekends entail. It’s kind of nice to have that alter ego.

Moab in Bloom

The mountains parted, letting us escape their grasp as we drove west. The finger like cliffs of the western slope releasing us into the reddened desert beyond. The wintry clouds hung over the book cliffs. We ignored them. We were Moab bound. The junction off of I-70 towards Moab is indistinct. Don’t expect any services on the drive towards Cisco Landing, a once-upon-a-time town, now left alone by the highway which was built as a teasing 10 miles to the North.

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Utah state highway 128 drops towards the Colorado river, a view of the La Sal mountains hanging above. They’re snowy; covered in low clouds. We wind down to the river, crossing Dewey Bridge and then following the river thirty miles southwest.

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We arrive in Moab in the between season. The weird time when the red dusty hills are soaked in their once a year bath. The greenery is subtle and sparse. Sitting in gaps on the canyon walls. The cactus are in bloom, but you can’t tell that from a distance. You must get up close and personal.  Smell the scent of rain on the rocks. Christa and I had come here to ride bikes, drink beer and remove ourselves from society for a couple of days. We started the adventure by riding down the river towards Moab, the riparian vegetation a huge a contrast from the desert above.

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The moody clouds somehow made the hills seem friendlier – the wide open sky was now boxed in close to the canyons. It muffled the sounds of the jeeps in the distance. We could hear water flowing in the slots. The washes and creeks were flowing.

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We rode to the top of the Amasa Back trail – a rough jeep road climbing a mesa above the Colorado river. As you climb away from the river, the walls of the canyons climb around you, the echo of the walls making the space seem almost cosy. It was in this little cavity of Utah that the cacti were really singing.

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And then we reached the top, where we took the necessary photo hanging over the edge, looking down into Jackson’s hole, with the meandering Colorado river below, and the Potash mines on the other side, a manicured incursion on the floor of the desert.

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We relaxed at our campsite in the evening. Utah is known for its dearth of beer. Mormon derision of alcohol in general means that for a long time the only alcohol allowed was 3.2% or less ABV. I don’t know exactly what has changed, but now you can find some rare gems of good local beer. We picked up some Uinta brewing beer, made in Salt Lake City. It was fitting.
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Day two of our short incursion into Abbey country. We awoke under rainy skies – the clouds finally heavy enough to drop their weight down to the ground below. We made egg and avocado sandwiches, a couple of pots of coffee, then set off to ride some trails. Slickrock trail is high above Moab up on a lumpy Mesa of sandstone. The trail meanders around the rocks, climbing ridiculously steeply up and down between sandy washes. The porous rock gives you great grip, even in the wet. We tested that theory to the maximum.
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As we were sat, huddled underneath a sparsely branched juniper bush, with hail lashing down upon us from all sides, I realised that Christa must really like me. I couldn’t think of any other explanation as to why she would choose to be sitting under tree with me, on a mountain bike ride, in the hail. These are the things that make memories.