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Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tahoe - Rim Trail, Flume Trail

Lake Tahoe a seen from the Flume Trail

Congratulations to Jeremy for his first "Epic" Mountain Bike ride. 23 hard miles and 3300' of climbing at elevations above 7000', and over 8500' along the ridge. We rode sections of the Tahoe Rim trail and then created a loop around Lake Marlette by returning on the famed Flume Trail above the east shore of Lake Tahoe.

The XTERRA professional off road triathlon circuit had their Lake Tahoe race on Saturday too. We were able to see some of the last racers come through as they passed Lake Marlette, and I was actually able to ride with one of the guys and chat for a few minutes. We had been on our bikes approx. the same amount of time at that point.

I must say it was a little ego boosting to be riding up hills beside the racers walking their bikes. Granted, I hadn't just swam 300 odd meters in choppy water, and these guys and gals were the very back of the pack, and they still had 5k to run when they finished riding. But still, it was cool and makes me wonder what I could do with a lighter faster bike and a few competitive swimming lessons. I definitely had 5k left in me when we got off the bikes. Hmmm?

Looking east over Nevada

Next time we go - we camp overnight - or 2 nights possibly. I ended up driving a total of 14 hours in just over 24 hours to accommodate 6 hours on the bike. Bec, and the girls and I drove 2.5 hours to Lakeport Friday night, to spend a few fitful hours of sleep at our friends' home. (Actually she drove those 2.5 hours, while I napped and then read my latest novel out loud to the girls) By 4:35am Jeremy and I were heading toward Tahoe and on the bikes by 9:30am. That was reversed starting around 3:00 in the afternoon, putting the girls and I back in the Bay Area just before 11:00pm. Too much driving.

But it was worth it for our first shot at riding in this scenic area.

I think the last time I was this sore after a ride - was the last time I crashed. Yep. Did it again.
I attempted an ill conceived and ill fated superman stunt descending on the Rim Trail toward the north end of the Flume.
I do not fly well. I land worse.
My bike landed on me after I dove head first over the bars. I was sitting with my head swimming when Jeremy rolled up and accused me of staging a crash. I was still trying to get my wind back, so I just sat there with a stupid grin, mouthing unintelligible explanations with coughs and wheezes.

If nothing else Lake Tahoe makes a stellar backdrop for taking a moment to catch your breath.

I somehow managed to land squarely on my left pectoral and in spite of my last minute idiotic braking, landed on the very rock that had terrified my front wheel a mere fraction of a second before. I distinctly remember (during flight) thinking how tough it was going to be riding out of there with broken ribs.

No broken ribs, or any bones for that matter. (I don't think anyway - everything seems to hurt worse by the hour.) Fortunately my wrist had recovered 99% from the fall on New Years day, so it was ready to take another beating on the dirt to the right of the target rock. The left arm and hand are just fine, as they seem to know how to stay out of the way. Right knee has a small cut, really only worth mentioning because it was the only blood to be seen.

But, the "it hurts worst 2 days later" theory is all too true. Wow.

This route as recommended by my friend Vince was sublime, and I will do it again for sure.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Yosemite 2010

This is a very long posting and probably should be broken into at least 3 separate posts.
However, it is best read as a unit. So, brew some coffee, grab a comfortable chair, and I hope you enjoy.

In short this was the best backpacking adventure I've ever experienced. Each year the men from my church take 4 days and trek around the wilderness trails of Yosemite National Park. Some years are better than others but all are worth the time and energy invested.

Coming into this trip, somehow, I knew a change for the better was in the air. This year was going to be different. For me the change started immediately following the 2009 adventure, when my business partner and fellow adventurer read the account of our trip here in this blog. He immediately referred me to an ultralight backpacking web site - and the game was on. I began to learn and understand concepts in backpacking which I had never considered before. I was an immediate convert, and with my limited budget began turning the conversion into reality.

A second aspect of the change was the determination to get away from people. Last year the campsites and trails were practically crowded. No compromises this time. If there were going to be people there - we weren't going. In that, we succeeded with near perfection.

Those who know me well - know I love a challenge. The ultralight transformation had presented a challenge I could benefit from in so many ways and likewise couldn't resist. I committed to the game in earnest in the spring of 2010 by purchasing a lightweight backpack - significantly smaller than the old one - then sold the old one. The only way I was going to get everything in a sub 3lb pack was by changing nearly everything. A lighter pack now meant easier travel, but more than that it meant the opportunity to explore the depths of my creativity.

The transformation was under way.

First to go was the stove - replaced by a soda can alcohol stove and a small bottle of denatured alcohol. This actually was never utilized in the wilderness, since our campfires roared, but many home tests proved the ability of the stove to boil 2 cups of water with 1 oz. of alcohol in under 10 minutes.

Second was the tent - replaced by a homemade bivy, garden hose tested in the backyard by my daughter, and tested positive to keep out the rain.

Third was the water filter - replaced by an emergency supply of purification tablets and an empty large can of Bush's baked beans for boiling water in. The tablets were also never used, though I've experimented with them in the past. One can at a time was boiled, and then stored in gallon ziplock bags to cool until emptied into the Camelbak bladder - or immediately sanctified into coffee.

Fourth was the pad and sleeping bag - replaced by overpriced models by Therm-a-rest and North Face and purchased with as many gift cards and discounts as I could legitimately assemble.

Finally the last reduction was food - where careful planning assured that I would have sufficient nutrients and calories to enjoy the trip, but not bring anything out with me. My belt was notably loose at the end of the trip, so a lightweight fishing pole, or some extra energy bars may be a good addition next year.

The tally ended up at 25 total pounds including all the food and a full 3 liter Camelbak bladder.
By 10 pounds (and in some cases 15 - 20) I had the lightest adult pack on the trip.
It made all the difference.

We embarked from the Bridalveil Creek trail head on Wednesday early afternoon with 6 men, 1 teenager, and 2 boys. The first day's hike was a remarkably easy 2 miles with practically no elevation gain or loss. This would prove a huge benefit, as over the course of the next 2 days I would hike the length of that trail 4 more times. The first campsite was easy to find, situated along Bridalveil creek.

Dale, a big man and strong hiker on all of our training hikes, fell victim to a variety of serious foot ailments in the first 2 miles. By dinner time he was reduced to hobbling around and bedded down soon after dinner.

We broached the topic of what to do next over our reconstituted Mountain House meals. It was obvious Dale was going nowhere on Thursday, and thus we established that 2 nights along Bridalveil Creek would be wise. This worked well into our consideration of a day trip to Ostrander Lake, and so the following day's activities were decided.

Rather unexpectedly the temperature over night dropped to 30 degrees. I was prepared for 40 and 30 made for a rude awakening around midnight. Actually midnight was closer to 35, but I was keenly aware of the dropping temps over the next few hours. Even intermittant sleep would have been enviable, till finally around 3:45 am I'd had enough and emerged from my rapidly cooling cocoon. I crept over to my water supply to see if it was freezing (it wasn't) and then shivered my way to the fire pit to stoke up some relief. Awake and warm, or awake and shivering wishing I was warm - the decision was easy for me. I wasn't alone, and within minutes after the first flames astounded the blackness Pastor was by my side with palms outstretched to the warmth. By 5:00 am 2 separate thermometers read 30 degrees.

The jacket I had worn Wednesday morning on the drive in was sitting on the front seat of Matt's truck, and chiding me from 2 miles away. I rehydrated breakfast around 6:30am and then announced to the shivering crowd now amassed at the fire ring that I was returning to the truck to get my jacket. Spontaneously other items were added to the list, and I was soon jogging down the trail with my empty backpack to carry it all back. The 4 mile run was completed in 54 minutes (they timed me) and finally brought my body temperature up to normal.

Dale guarded the campsite from the bears and read one of my Louis L'Amour books while the remaining 8 climbed the 1500' up to Ostrander Lake which sits at 8500'. This is where we got our first great vistas of the trip, as we looked out toward the Clark range and the back of majestic Half Dome.

No backpacking trip is complete without a swim, so we were happily obliged to dive into the frigid water of Ostrander Lake. A pronounced cramp in my calf sent me to shore earlier than I had hoped, but I managed to wedge myself into a small hollow on the granite slope and was soon drying, sunburning, and soundly sleeping. I was adding to the three hours of sleep from the night before.

What to do for Dale dominated the conversation on the return trip. We had settled on 2 options and I presented them to Dale for his thoughts over dinner. Dale could stay put in camp after we left the next morning and spend the 3rd night on his own, while the balance of the group completed the 14 mile loop. I offered to remain behind if he chose this option, since his outdoor experience is limited. We would then work our way back out on Saturday morning and meet the balance of the group as they finished the trip.
The second option seemed to put him more at ease, and after a moment's deliberation was chosen as most reasonable. 2 of us would carry his gear and hobble him out the following morning - back to the vehicles - where he would be near potable water, and a campground full of people. It would be a lonely day and a half, but at least he would be settled where he could rest in reasonable comfort.
Tony Jr. and I were chosen for the task of moving his gear, and shortly after day break, the 3 of us were on our way back along the now familiar 2 miles of trail. This round trip took close to 2 hours, and upon return the group was just mobilizing for the day's hike.

The next 2 days of hiking were more like what should be expected of a Yosemite adventure. We climbed ridges, sucking wind and prodding junior aged hikers, then descended to valleys spread with meadows and running with cool streams. We were earning the privilege to tread the hallowed expanse.

By Friday afternoon the miles, altitude, and weight of the packs had set us all in anticipation of our next bivouac. Our growing understanding of the Yosemite wilderness led us to anticipate where we were likely to find the next camp site. 4 of us found where a specified creek crossed our trail several minutes ahead of the 2 fathers and the youngest members of our group. No campsite or fire ring was in sight, though one much overgrown ledge led upstream and showed an element of promise. I sent Tony Jr. up into the overgrowth to investigate, while I jogged down the trail a little further. The creek pulled further down and away from the trail the further I went, and I soon realized that I wasn't likely to find an acceptable site in this direction.

Meanwhile Tony had found a fire ring well back along the ledge, and what had long ago been a small clearing. Upon inspection, I deemed it the best prospective camp site we had ever come across in the park. It took some work for me to convince the late arriving fathers that this is what wilderness camping is all about, and that clearing your own camp site should be the norm. (Hopefully no Park Rangers are reading this, as their ideal is for hikers to stay in well established sites with soot covering the ring of stones from the fires of ten thousand previous campers.) I also recognized that this ledge must have been at one time a short spur of logging road, along which could still be found lengths of various sized steel cable and an assortment of half buried logging gear. It felt as if we had stepped into a piece of forgotten Yosemite history.

With few other options and diminishing daylight we cleared a path and began surveying the area to clear tent sites. In far less time than expected we had a respectable clearing, fire ring, and a tidy configuration of tarps and tents.
The bivy never got set up that night, but rather, I laid it out and set the pad and sleeping bag on top of it. I wanted nothing between me and the stars - and with the lower altitude and warmer weather during the day, it seemed the added warmth of the bivy wouldn't be necessary. That was one of the defining decisions of the journey for me.

I lay snugly beneath the vast array of stars and watched satellites dart in and out of view as they passed through the branches of overhanging trees. I slept the last night for nearly 4 hours straight, and awakened to the celestial spectacle on and off for the next few hours. Having managed to rest till dawn the night before, I was little concerned that I sleep this last night. When I noticed a light moving nearby, I checked the time and found it just after 4:00am. I asked Tony Jr. if he wanted to start the fire, and before long we were waiting together for the eastern sky to begin its mockery of our flickering blaze. It was still black when Tony Sr. and Pastor joined us at the fire. I think it was understood among us that we were all enjoying our last few minutes of inky darkness before we would begin the inevitable journey back toward street lights and the urban glow.

That was our last camp site for the 2010 backpacking trip. But it was a gem. We managed to see no one on the trail nor frankly even the sign of another human having been in the area for weeks, for the better part of 24 hours. That alone made it worth the effort.

We found Dale in good health and spirits sitting at the back of Matt's truck reading Louis L'Amour. I regret that he couldn't share the balance of the adventure with us. Not to rub it in, but I feel he missed the best part of the trip. But, it did bring to bear the reality of the wilderness. It is unpredictable, and you make decisions on a moment by moment basis. As I will mention later, the wilderness brings out a simplicity to life, that is often missed when urban life presents us with a myriad of options. That is definitely a part of why I dearly love my time in the wilderness.

Some closing thoughts - waxing philosophical...

This adventure was a showcase of dichotomy. The insignificant juxtaposed against the immense. The simple and the complex. The sublime and the humbling.
I recognized the latter of these first as we began to drive into the foothills of the Sierras. With mild horror I realized, and then casually mentioned to Pastor, that I had forgotten the wilderness permit acquired many months in advance at no small financial or logistical expense. His tangential and uncharacteristically placid reply made the blood ice in my veins. "Weren't we supposed to call to reserve our spot on the trail?" A moment of profound silence followed.
Wilderness trail permits in the middle of the summer are gold. If you don't check in by 10:00 am, they give your trail away to the next group looking for an open wilderness permit. A phone call will hold the permit, but we were already well into the afternoon.
He calmly placed a call to the wilderness center and with bated breath the occupants of our truck attempted to discern the other half of the conversation by Pastor's answers and tone of voice. If he was attempting to extend our anxiety then he succeeded magnificently. When he hung up, I was still breathing shallow. Yes, they had canceled our permit. Yes, they had reserved it for us again, and we would not need the precious paper permit. The dichotomy: my shame and foolishness was now set hard against an overwhelming relief at not needing to telling my friends in the other vehicle that our previous 2.5 hour drive and weeks of preparation were in vain.

The most dynamically dichotomous element of the trip was the scenery itself. The drive down to the valley floor is stunning. The profile of Half Dome, the mountain ranges layered off into the distance, the imposing cliffs of El Capitan, and the plummeting water falls which seemed to be in full show even this late in the summer. We drove amidst throngs of spectators as we ascended the far side of the valley toward the Bridalveil Creek Campground and our point of embarkation. We were not alone in our awe.

The majority of the throngs however, would not perceive the microcosm that lay hidden within the vastness they were beholding. Beyond sight and sound of the spectators we began to participate in the wilderness. Leaving the campground behind, we wandered into the petals of the flower we call Yosemite. With awe we began to appreciate this blossoming paradise. The wildflowers were in full bloom - a spectacle atypical this late in the year, and heretofore unrealized by this group of adventurers. We were spellbound by the carpeted meadows and overgrown trails splashing vibrant color into our path. The dichotomy of the incomprehensible vistas set as a backdrop to the delicate petals of a million nameless blooms was breathtaking.

A final dichotomy I recognized was that of the simplicity of life amidst its complexity. Each member of our party (with the possible exception of those under 18) has planned and scheduled for the past year to make this adventure a reality. Our gear was organized, packed, reorganized and repacked repeatedly until the moment we embarked. Our gear itself is a complex assortment of carbon fiber, plastic, nylon, and aluminum. What many of us left behind were jobs and businesses that would go forward in spite of our absence, and with certainty seek us out with compounded complexity upon our return. But as we walked away from the 2 trucks that had deposited us along the waters of Bridalveil Creek, we shed our various and divergent concerns and united into a homogeneous group with a homogeneous mission - don't get eaten by bears or otherwise meet an untimely demise in the wilderness of Yosemite National Park. Survival is seemingly so simple - don't die - and the wilderness gives place for a focus on such simplistic concepts.

A look forward to next year started before the trip had concluded. There is something addictive about wild air, crackling campfires, and waking to black nights pierced by a billion stars. We filter the water, though it seemingly runs pure and clear, in order to remove contaminants that might afflict our bodies. I'm certain however, that what is not filtered out is a liquor that intoxicates our spirits and drives us to return for more.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I suspect that inactivity kills blog readership.
So I'm posting this so that you won't go away.

I haven't been inactive - far from it. But then that's why nothing has been posted here in a while.

Here are some pictures of my 4 day backpacking trip in Yosemite last week. It was the best backpacking trip of my life.
Between preparing for that trip, going, and then recovering from it - there has been little time to breath no less write.
I've been spending countless hours working on a video of that trip - and have basically come within a key stroke of deleting the whole thing. The software I've been using has proven to be flawed - after compiling nearly 300 pictures and video clips, and 4 different pieces of music into a 12 minute movie. I can recreate it in a variety of other software, but may not have the desire to do it.
Yeah, it's late and I'm a little annoyed.

Enjoy the pictures, a written report is already in the works. That may just have to do.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge - Recapping the Passion

Vince paid for this ride - in exchange for installing his front door a few months back. He chose not to ride this one himself but should have.

The SCMC is second only to the Death Ride, and a very close second, as far as organized rides go in my opinion. 100 miles, 10,000' + elevation gain, a timed climb up Jamison Creek Rd., and very well supported.

Getting ready to ride

Kevin and Milt - The guys who talked me into signing up.

But as I hinted at in the last posting, the SCMC certainly has its quirks. In all fairness, the ride suffers no more from oddness than does it's name sake city. Santa Cruz has always been a bastion for the bizarre, and has always held a curious attraction for me - but never for more than a few hours at a time. We have a favorite pizza restaurant on Pacific Ave. called Kianti's. They have a live show every Friday and Saturday night which my family found by accident several years ago, and have returned to regularly ever since. Getting my "traditional family" safely to the pizza and back again on Santa Cruz weekends is always a challenge though.

I should have expected no different from this ride. True to style, the organizers and volunteers were passionate and friendly beyond compare, and were constantly taking candid photos of the riders. Accustomed to taking photos of my rides, it was a bit odd being on the other side of the lens so much. The rest stops were very frequent and unbelievably well staffed. At one rest stop there were no less than 4 volunteers guarding the recycling. Oh did I mention the recycling?

Breakfast, each rest area, and dinner were all bestowed with a cadre of receptacles for various types of waste. Each in turn was guarded by a garbage Nazi directing the operation. I even found this particular Storm Trooper actively pulling plastic forks from the "Other trash" bins - presumably to relocate to "Recycling." I had to take the picture quick for fear of being noticed and sent to the gulag.

But all of that was well worth the ride. It seemed that most of the riders I met carried much the same eclectic passion as the organizers. The Death Ride seems to attract many who want to be seen as hard core, wearing kits with professional team names emblazoned across their bulging quadriceps. Unfortunately, they can be less than friendly at times if you happen to not have "Powerbar" or "Liquigas" somewhere on your jersey. Not to imply that the DR is less than friendly - because it is just the opposite, but in contrast, I met and rode with NO ONE on the SCMC that wasn't anxious to chat with another recreational cyclist. I actually had guys I had met only minutes or hours before, drop off their pace to "pick me back up" in a windy area so that I could benefit from their draft. The riders were passionate about cycling, because they love cycling.

The group I rode with for much of the day - on and off between losing each other on various hard climbs - set a pace which I was looking for: Just a touch faster than what I could do on my own. I settled into their group on the first hard climb having caught them while riding with a british sounding rider sporting the same 5 pass DR finisher jersey that I own. We all climbed together and picked up another fellow whom I had earlier saved from a long detour when he blew past our first left turn at the start of the ride. At the top of the hill I was feeling really good, and topped out first and began the meandering descent. When the descent became more dramatic I realized that the group was back together and was soon scorched as 2 of the faster guys jetted by. Having a line to follow now, I hammered down and slipped into third position for an awesome descent into Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The bottom came too soon and we were cutting through the bacon and eggs scented smoke from the campfires of countless bleary eyed campers. I held my breath a few times, concerned about diminished capacity resulting from the smokey inhalations. (I know, what harm could it do? - probably just a little of the Santa Cruz rubbing off on me.)

Our next rest stop was one that only the 100 mile group visited, as the 100 kilometer crowd skipped this loop. Noticing the fully stocked tables and overanxious staff, I asked how many had come through before us. 5 riders - a group of 3 and a group of 2 they said. I was jazzed. We were at the front, and it felt good.

Next was the Jamison Creek Time Trial of which I had heard brief reports as being a pretty tough climb. Sure enough. They take your bike number and time at the bottom of the hill and total your time at the top. My goal was just to ride to the top of the 3 mile hill - until I got passed the first time. It was on. I rode at between 90% and 100% the whole way up and just managed a "how's it going" to my 100k riding friend Milt as I passed him around the beginning of mile 3. You can see the results here. I managed 60th out of 470 riders.

The Time Trial ended just a couple miles before the lunch stop, but since it was only 10:30am, I was content with a brief rest including a Coke and a handful of other offerings and back on my way. The following miles were a little lonely, but very fast. This was the descent down to the Coast Highway. At the bottom I overtook 2 riders, a guy and a gal, with whom I shared the labor of riding north into the incessant sea breeze. But the views...

The fog line is still over the sea at this point

The "Gestapo"
As they eyed a confused cyclist deciding where to drop his muffin paper, I joked that they must have a trap door which chutes erring victims into the ocean if they choose the wrong bin. I was a little alarmed at how well they took to the idea.

A Gestapo member at the Highway 1 rest area said this gal was the first female out that far, but we soon learned that she had skipped Big Basin to make an early assault on the Time Trial. The recent 10 mile loop and return trip on the same stretch of Highway 1 makes this stretch look like a lollipop on the map. Riding back on the lollipop stick was morale boosting for 2 reasons. 1, the tail wind plus the opportunity to draft with the fellow whose detour I had interrupted early in the morning made for rapid progress. And 2, we were passing groups of dozens of riders going the other way still fighting the wind we now had behind us - literally.

Even with a tail wind, this fellow's draft was a bonus.
We were climbing hills at well over 20mph and descending in the 40's.
I pulled my share, but it set me up for a rough solo climb.

The wind wasn't going to help us climb back up into those mountains though, and was more a bane than a boon by effectively eliminating any breeze on the LONG slow climb up what is referred to with reverence among cyclists as simply - Bonny Doon. I was passed by 3 riders on the way up, but those were the only ones I saw after falling behind my friend on that lonely climb. The only riders I saw going up anyway. Having also descended this same stretch on our way to the sea, I was now dazzled by the spinning and whirring kaleidoscope of riders flashing by at often 10 times the speed I was now traveling. I took some measure of pleasure in noting that they were at least an hour back, and I was shut of the increasing winds they had yet to encounter.

The final 25 miles went fast. After Bonny Doon, the road leveled enough to notice, but still rolled rather viciously at times. It was in this stretch that my local friends Kipp and Mardi, whom I had seen at check in, had some trouble. Evidently the rough road - which I distinctly remember in that section - had Mardi's number and she went OTB (over the bars) with the aid of a large bump and a twitchy front brake. Fortunately the bike is said to be in good condition. And, (Now that I have that off your mind), Mardi suffered road rash and bruises but avoided broken bones so far as I know. They would have finished the ride too, but chose to SAG back to the start rather than risk further harm.

Santa Cruz Beach - From W. Cliff Dr.

The finishing miles took us past Natural Bridges State Beach , along beautiful W. Cliff Dr., and through the heart of Santa Cruz before climbing the final 300' back to Scott's Valley and the awaiting Super Burritos at the finish. The ride through Santa Cruz again rung true to the bizarre theme. The organizers had stationed flaggers in the heart of town to help direct riders through the dicey sections. We were literally riding in traffic, but then would suddenly be directed onto a section of boardwalk, and then a sidewalk for a quarter mile. I've never before had to employ my urban cycling skills during an organized ride like this. But again, as nuts as it was, I could see the passion for cycling oozing up even through the sidewalk cracks. This was cycling in Santa Cruz, and they wanted us to experience a piece of it. I'm just glad it didn't experience a piece of me. I enjoyed the last 15 miles with a fellow from that first group I had ridden with. We met up near Natural Bridges and guided each other through the city. He, like I, was hoping to ride in with company, and so we chatted like old friends for the last hour.

I will ride this again. I finished in under 7 hours on the bike and under 8 hours total. My average speed was 14.5 mph and average facial expression was a childlike grin.
I say thanks to the SCCCC for an awesome ride.