Tuesday, August 25, 2009

<em>La Diabla de Rojo</em>


There is a trail called Rojo in eastern Utah that makes it way up Red Mountain.  It’s somewhat of a favorite among the locals, what few locals there are out there.  The rest of you have probably never heard of it, and the locals prefer it that way.  RyanThey ride up an ATV trail to the top of Red Mountain and then ride down Rojo to make a loop out of it.  But the locals are doing it wrong.  The only way to enjoy Rojo is to ride up.  

 Rojo is a short little trail, just three or four miles long, but what it lacks in length it makes up in technical difficulty, chest pounding climbs and aesthetic beauty.  It starts in a wash next to the ATV trail, deliberately difficult to find to keep the throttle twisters off.  Then it immediately begins making its convoluted way to the top.  It doubles back on itself twice, flirts with the edge of a cliff three times and crosses a normally dry wash four or five times.  All along the way the trail steps up, down and across sandstone ledges, cobbles and potholes.  Rojo is every bit as good as the Zen Trail in southern Utah, if only a little shorter, and Rojo is way better than Gooseberry Mesa in that there is no eight mile drive down a washboard road to get to it.  The road to Rojo is paved all the way to the trailhead, but I have never, ever, seen another car parked there.   

Endo I said going uphill is the way to enjoy Rojo, but I might be wrong.  I really don’t know.  The truth is I’ve never gotten to ride down it.  Well, at least not in an enjoyable way.  Aaron, Ryan, Mark and I have attempted three times to ride all of Rojo—it’s become an annual event—and we have failed three times.  There is a devil living on Red Mountain and she does not want us to ride Rojo. 

 In 2007 we underestimated the difficulty of the trail and started too late in the evening.  Then Aaron hurt his knee and we had to turn around and pick our way down in the near-darkness.  Aaron’s knee was better as soon as we got off Red Mountain.  The devil, la Diabla, has power over our sinews. 

RainIn 2008 we arrived at the trailhead under cloudy skies.  La Diabla turned on the rain and immediately turned the wash into a small river, the sand into quicksand and the slickrock into, well, slickrock.  Dejected and cold, we turned around again.Smith

2009 was supposed to be our year.  We attempted Rojo in August instead of October.  We started early in the evening so we’d have enough light to get to the top.  It was 90 degrees in the shade but the trail was dry—like a desert trail should be.  Everything was in order to finally ride to the top of Rojo.  We made it 90%, 95%, then 97% to the top.  We were within 200 yards of finishing, easily within shouting distance so la Diabla would hear us celebrating our triumph over her evil. 

HangerLa Diabla does not give up easily.  Right as we started the final push to the summit she reached out her fiery talon from under a bush and snatched my rear derailleur. It disintegrated upon her touch, and it happened so fast that Aaron, who was immediately behind me, saw nothing but the aftermath. We walked to the top and I coasted, sans chain and with a little help from my friends, down the ATV trail.  We were doing the locals' ride in reverse.Help 

We don’t give up easily either.  We’re going to try again in 2010.  But please tell us, la Diabla what do we have to do to get to the top?  Should we pour tequila on the trail and put habanero sauce in our water bottles?  Is this a punishment because on the night before the ride I put Ryan’s chamois in the freezer?  Oh please, how could you even know about that? Just tell us what we need to do and we’ll do it.  We’ll give you whatever you want, your evilness, because Rojo is worth it.

  Frozen Chamois


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A race I can win


The last part of the Intermountain Cup race season was a bit of a blur.  I started out great in the State Championships at Solitude, but missed a turn in the first lap and lost about 7 positiShanee ons.  I did it again in Jackson, this time leading two other riders off course in the third of four laps.  Sorry Brandon.  Sorry Rich.  Then at the series final at The Canyons Resort—By the way, who’s brilliant idea was it to start a race at high noon on the first day of August?—I had put in an effort I could feel good about and was coming down the final descent with Brandon Firth hot on my trail.  I was certain I could hold him off since I’ve been working on my descending and can now descent faster than my eight-year-old niece.   However, in typical fashion I was also letting my mind wander.  Gee, I thought, I’m going to make it through this entire season without a single flat tire.

Walking finish Moments later I whacked my front wheel hard on a rock and heard the ominous burping sound of air escaping my tubeless tire.  I stopped and quickly gassed it up, surprised that it sealed, and hopped back on.  I had probably only lost about two minutes, but that was enough time for Brandon to pass me. 

My tire was flat again by the time I got to the bottom, I guess it didn’t really seal, and I nearly went down at the final hairpin turn before the finish line.  Rather than fight it, I just got off and ran the last fifty feet to the finish line.  I suppose finishing like that is some sort of metaphor, but I don’t like its implication so I’ll just leave it out there. 

So it’s been nearly three weeks since the final ICUP series race.  I finished in a respectable fifth place overall in the pro men field.  Not bad, I suppose, but I just don’t understand why the series has to end so soon, or more specifically, why there needs to be five races in May and only one in August.  The Mountain States Cup Series in Colorado runs through mid September.   The Wild Rockies Series in Idaho finishes in late September and the Wisconsin Off Road Series has two races scheduled for October. 

The end of the season has given me a case of the doldrums.  Normally by now I’m shifting my focus onto some longer distance races and my plans this year were no different.  I was really looking forward to racing the American Mountain Classic stage race again, and the 12 Hours of Bear Lake seemed pretty appealing too.   Then there was one more Pro XCT Tour series scheduled in Las Vegas in September where I was hoping to redeem myself after my lackluster performance in Colorado Springs.  But all three of those races have been canceled.

There was also the Leadville 100 last weekend, to which I was denied registration due to the Lance-factor.  Speaking of Lance Armstrong, he won that race this year, but he needed the help of some teammates to beat perennial winner Dave Wiens.  That speaks volumes about the 44 year old Wiens and what it takes to beat him, and about Lance, especially after he tirelessly worked to divide his own team at the Tour de France this year simply because he wasn’t the team leader.  

Lance’s use of team tactics to win at Leadville also says something about the race itself.  Mountain bike races aren’t team events.  The Leadville 100 is a dirt road race.

So no AMC, no Pro XCT, no 12 Hours of Bear Lake, and no (not ever?) Leadville for me.  To add insult to injury, Fish has scheduled his luau for the same day as the 12 Hours of Sundance.  I’m still wrestling over that decision.  

Grocery bikeMaybe I’m just bitter but it’s not all bad.  There is one bright spot this time of year.  It is harvest season and the farmers’ markets are in full swing.  I try every August to eat my body weight in locally grown fruits and vegetables. 

 Last weekend Mags and I went to the People’s Market on the west side of SLC.  On the way back we came upon an older couple riding bikes in the same direction.  I was on our Grocery Bike, albeit with only partially loaded baskets, unlike in this picture.  The woman was on a fancy new bicycle.  Electric bikeIt looked like one of those GoCycles.  It was Fancy because it was electric and new because she was proud of it, as evidenced by what she said to me as I came by:  

“Wanna race?” 

“You bet.” I said as I mashed the pedals.  She throttled her electric motor and the race was on. 

I pushed hard, wishing Mags hadn’t lowered the seat on the Grocery Bike.  The old woman and I were still even.  I pushed harder, and nosed into the lead, but my opponent countered by starting to pedal.  Oh that was ruthless, how was I supposed to compete with motor and muscle?  

My only chance was to shift gears, but the shifters are mounted on the stem, and reaching for them meant pulling one hand off the handlebar, possibly allowing my loaded basked up front to cause dangerous speed wobble—we were reaching speeds in excess of 10 miles per hour!—leading to the doubly embarrassing likelihood of crashing and losing to a gray haired woman on an electric bike. 

2005-06-30-lance-lookI risked it.   My hand shot like a flash to the stem, pulled the rear derailleur lever up two notches, and flashed back to the bar.  I gave my opponent a  Lance-inspired steely glare and rode on to victory.  As she rode by a few seconds later I heard the woman (remarkably clear despite all the wind noise from our high speeds) say to Mags “He’s faster than me.” 

Yes finally, a reason to feel good about my race season. 

Monday, August 3, 2009

National Watermelon Day


Mags and I bought our first Green River Watermelon of the season on Friday, just in time for National Watermelon Day today.  Why this tasty gourd has its own special day goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway:  It’s refreshing, it ripens at the height of summer, it’s so messy that you ought to eat it outside, and so big that there’s always enough to share with you neighbors who see you out there.  It’s also a good source of lycopene, something Wikipedia says can ward off cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. 

I can not think of a better way to eat your thirst away.  

Viagra-picture As if that weren’t enough, Watermelon has been shown to share some of the same effects as a certain little blue pill.  In other words, it might make you a faster cyclist

For all of these and more reasons, watermelon is my favorite food.  Yes, that’s right, it’s my favorite food.  There’s nothing I would rather eat, and there’s no better watermelon than a Green River Watermelon, grown in the sandy soil of Southern Utah, with warm nights and hot days, and plenty of irrigation from the nearby Green River.  

Wat My insatiable thirst for watermelon is genetic. How else do you explain that my brother chose to be married on Aug 3, a day set aside [probably by a consortium of watermelon farmers] as a day to commemorate the many facets of this delightful fruit (or is it a vegetable?)?  And it is also no coincidence that my father was born on National Watermelon Day, and that he asked us to decorate his grave with watermelon instead of flowers.  

Don’t worry Dad.  I’ll personally see to it that your share gets eaten.