Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cataract Creek exploration

The "hit list" that I have developed for biking is fairly extensive. A long break from work gave me a chance to check out a couple of items on that hit list that are in a similar area. With snow in the forecast, it seemed like it was either now, or next season before my tires would touch those trails. 

A summer's worth of fitness allowed me to hatch an ambitious plan to ride the 4 trails I had heard great things about over the 2 days. I was riding solo, but fortunately, I had a topo map as a companion to battle any internal power struggle.

Great! I get to ride through horse shit and get yelled at while I take 5mins to pass them!

Good thing I left this ride to the fall after the leaves fell off!

The exploration road quickly brought me into the alpine.

The end of the trail. The map suggested off trail travel along the ridgetop to the right to connect to the pass. There was a trail heading midway down the ridge, but it wasn't on my map and I didn't know where it went.
The first ride was a bit of a bust. Eventually the exploration road petered out and left me with some off trail hiking to get to the ridgetop. Ride #2 was a greater priority for me so I pulled the plug and enjoyed a pretty good descent down the trail that I had climbed.

Ride #2 didn't start off so hot. I was "just riding along" when a rock struck my rear derailleur and sent it into the spokes. It knocked my shifting off, but fortunately by almost exactly 1 index. 
Walking up the creek (and down at the end of the day) was hell. Fortunately it was not very far and  it seemed by fluke that I found the trail.
A hellish creek washout formed by the 1995 floods had taken out the first chunk of the trail and forced me to walk up through the rocks. Soon, I was walking up the trail.

Let's skip the forest section and move on to the exciting stuff! Formerly the highest lookout in Canada (I don't think it got surpassed, it was no longer in operation after 1954).

Raspberry Ridge, home to one of the two lookouts that replaced the Cameron Lookout.

...the other was Hailstone Butte.

Plateau Mountain, unaffected by the ice age. The alpine tundra and rock along the plateau apparently has a honeycomb arrangement as a result of freeze-thaw cycles.

Looking down the trail that I climbed. What attracts me to these lookouts is the well built trails that go into the alpine!

Starting to show her age.
This ride down was awesome, but it still does not equal a similar experience from earlier this year. The descent featured a benched rock sidehill

an exhilarating spine section

and some steep rock and slabs before heading into the fun trail through the forest.

And then back down the creek. 

The goal for the evening was to set up my hammock and I enjoyed looking up at the full moon with a clear sky during breaks in my comfortable sleep, although some clouds in the morning were a little threatening (fortunately I had a tent set up as well). It was cold in the morning, but I had to get a start on ride #3 (hinted in one of the previous pictures.

An enjoyable trail on a reclaimed road (think smooth singletrack that seemed to meander from where either "wheel" of the road was) led to the base of a steep trail, although I could have continued up the road for a less steep but longer climb. 

I chose the steep climb as it would give me a good opportunity to take a look at the descent.

The descent was steep and rocky, with a couple of sections that forced me to get off my bike and walk down.
A clue for ride #4
Ride #4 was the "Queen Stage" of the trip, potentially the longest trail but apparently it held some gems on the descent. The approach was on an interesting logging road, filled with steep climbs and descents instead of contouring natural features, and multiple shallow fords. Closer to the pass, the trail weaves with the Great Divide Trail, the latter offering more technical challenges on the way down, but making for frustrating climbing. Near the pass, the road turned to loose rock and would have forced me off my bike, requiring me to walk the rest of the way to the pass. Feeling "far out there" and by myself, I opted to turn around, so that I could be back home for dinnertime to mend my shattered character after 4 challenging rides.

Man, she's loose! Probably the only place I would take the GDT on the ascent as heck, I have to walk anyways, why not take the shorter and more scenic trail.

About 3km and a steep grunt up to the pass. Maybe for another time, when I have more company.
The GDT had some pretty technical sections that forced me to walk, but I was quickly back on the main trail and was able to make quick work back to the trailhead with a slight downhill almost making me wish I had gone to the top...almost. It was neat to explore a new area, but solo exploration in an area rarely frequented by mountain bikers is tough. Deadfall, being bear aware, and a general lack of information made this trip mentally draining for a solo rider.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


 Last winter's record snowfalls and the June monsoon had delayed my exploration of the alpine riding beyond the Canmore townsite. Racing also delayed this, but the motivation to ride my bike and the friendships formed made up for missed opportunities. September arrived and I realized that I had not yet explored many of the trails that I had heard wonderful stories about from guidebooks and internet forums. Fortunately, September has been mild and dry. Any snow that had fallen has quickly melted.

Lately, I have become addicted to big, long, descents. Shorter descents are plentiful in the trails I ride right from the house, and they will remain rideable when winter starts to take its grip on the high mountains.

Something special happens when I am able to earn a nice long descent under my own power. I feel like I have accomplished something, and I quickly forget about the suffering as I let my brakes go and feel the flow of the trail. The long climbs also seem to provide excellent training for the upcoming winter season.

I don't mind watching a group of shuttlers bang off a couple of laps while I climb up a dusty road. The trails down might need a bit of a raking, but at least they are developed and somewhat maintained.

6" bikes are amazing. They can make quick work out of climbs and are enjoyable on the descent. A quick "warmup" lap the day before.

The June monsoon took its toll on the trails.
Beautiful fall colours
However, it is possible to widen the scope of big self powered descents by considering trails that do not have open roads to the top. These have been one of my main focuses for the fall.
After some hike-a-bike up steep roads and along a ridge, we were rewarded with a short descent before completing the rest of the ascent up the face.

It was some steep pushing, but hopefully it was rideable on the way down.

Looking down the ridge, the knoll where the road stops and the shuttlers descend from looks far down.

Nate, confidently riding the steep, loose, rock

and nailing any switchbacks on the way.

The top was a little too steep and exposed for my liking, I checked my ego and walked. It was more rideable for me lower down.
It is amazing what we are capable of doing. I really enjoy this style of mountain biking as I don't feel so "out there" as I can quickly descent back to the trailhead.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Martha Creek Meltdown and skimo camp

I had another tough decision to make: either go to Edmonton to race in ERTC's School of Cross and help out with Hardcore's Hop 'n Hurl, or go to Revelstoke, but I guess the title gives away my decision. I apologize to my Hardcore teammates for not lending a hand pounding stakes, stringing tape, and taking it all down.

Anyways, I struggled riding Martha Creek last time because it was wet, but the forecast was looking prime. The race had a super cool format: Either you could send just the 9+km, 1500m vertical descent, or you could climb to the top, then do the 9+km, 1500m vertical descent. It's probably pretty obvious which option I chose.

The climb was timed, which biases it towards my abilities, so I knew I had a shot at the win. I put in a really good effort on the climb (1:31ish) and had a couple of minutes of a buffer on my opponents. However, I knew that they were all way better descenders than me, so I had my work cut out on the descent!
I don't have the speed and preciseness to be a trail assassin
I hammered the flatter sections up top really hard and rode the rest safely without stopping, except to put my chain back on after it fell off multiple times. I got to the bottom and crossed the finish line (35min ish) into the gauntlet of people cheering and handing up beers. The best finish line vibes EVER.

Look at that hack!  Photo: Alex Cooper
Everyone even including Bill finished safely, and we spent the afternoon eating tacos, getting a massage, taking a dip in the lake, doing some yoga (aka STRETCHING), and then it was time for awards.

I held on for the win, but only because Martin, in second, flatted, but still held his position! Photo: Alex Cooper

Results. Bill had a slow leak on the climb and had to put a tube in, and only put 1.5mins on me during the descent!

So overall, a fun event, definitely on the calendar for next year. I really enjoyed the format, both the enduro style with the climb, and the long DH. From my armchair, DH courses look to be getting easier, so let's see how well people can slay them on bikes that still climb fast. Let's see who can be smooth and has the endurance to muscle around a bike for 25+minutes.

Back in Revelstoke, Bill headed back to Kelowna (probably humiliated :P), and I got to catch up with the skimo team guys. After a good sleep at Jeff's beautiful house, it was time for some track and field action. I think everyone was having some high school flashbacks, and the 5 event series: 100m, shot put, star agility run, standing long jump, and 800m was extremely close with no clear winner until the last event. In the end, Brad came out on top of the competition, which included Stano , Andrew , Ian , Steve , Mel , and Martha, with the help of Jeff and Julie (wheough, that's a lot of tabs!).

After a quick lunch and a good discussion about qualifying for events at world championships, it was time to shred. Ian, Andrew, Mel, Martha, and I headed to the Mt. MacPherson trails for a good rip. Martha showed up on an old rigid mountain bike with cantilever brakes and some big chainrings, but the smile never left her face. We slayed some trail in a nice train, until some mechanical issues (I was clean haha) split us up. I really like MacPherson. Berm Donor, Flowdown, Dusty Beaver, and Tantrum were extremely fun, without the crowds or the bugs you get up on Frisby ridge (but without the alpine-ness, and the bugs go away once it gets cold). And then you can add TNT, Black Forest, Root Canal, and Break a Leg to that! And the trails below Hwy 23, which I have yet to ride...

I had some beta on a trail in Golden, so I hit that up the next day with my legs aching after the 800m.

anyone else see the playboy bunny?
I've been enjoying this fall for sure. I hope to keep it up with the big climbs, big descents!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Kettle Cross

If I could clone myself twice, I would have raced the Bow 80 and the Steamer hillclimb as well. Weekends are a hot commodity.

I wasn't keen on registering a couple of months in advance to get a spot in the Bow 80, just in case the weather or trail conditions were shit come race day. The Bow 80 course is fun (well except for the cow trail), but it is already a sufferfest in dry conditions, let alone wet (conditions were dry on race day though). Looking at results from the Steamer, I think I would have done well, and Revelstoke is a nice place to spend a weekend. But it was also nice to stop by my house and see the parents.

I didn't grab much of a warmup, but I lined up on the 2nd row. I let a couple of riders by during the neutral start, but was fortunately ahead of a crash. By the time I really got going, the lead group had formed ahead of me. I was a couple of wheels too far back. I tried to chase hard a couple of times, but I ended up getting caught by Hardcore teammates Dave R and Mark, and Trev and Paul I. I was really suffering early on, and considering the scale of the race left to complete, it felt like I was hanging on and I was skipping pulls at the front. The trail was bumpy and it was hard to eat or drink, but I was able get some liquids and food down and I started feeling better near the end of the 1st of 2 laps.

Lap 2 seemed like the opposite of lap 1. I was able to take some good pulls but eventually Mike S was able to get off the front of our group with little interest in chasing. I pulled for a bit, then bridged up to him on a hill. We saw Mike vdH ahead and we had some chasers behind, so I tried to contribute to Mike’s strong pulls but was still not really doing my share. In the end I rolled in 6th. I got called out for wheelsucking, so yeah, I’m guilty. The course was punishing on bike and body, and my back was hurting good from taking a beating during the race.

Aside from Mike S and Paul T, everyone in our chase missed the lead group because we were too far back when the split happened. I think we all had the legs to ride with the lead group for a bit, until getting dropped one by one to battle for the 3rd podium spot. I’ve got to be more aggressive off the start because I have proved in Hinton and at the Kettle that I belong up there.

I really enjoyed the format. It was fun bombing around doubletrack in a pack, a bit of road tactics in there as well. A “fitness” race where tactics and bike handling were not as important and you can just get out there and go hard. It is a great format for getting more people into racing and makes me curious about the potential of the Canmore Nordic Centre for a similar event.

No regrets about missing Bow 80 or the Revelstoke Steamer. The Kettle is destined to be a classic, like the Bow 80 and the Birkebeiner. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Revelstoke Rip

After the race, I met up with Bill in Revelstoke to finish off the long weekend properly. A quick evening rip of Keystone-Standard Basin trail was first up.

Strictly business until the lake.

The previous users left the door open, which is great for letting in rodents. We SHUT THE FRONT DOOR

Awesome light on the way back, trail was tacking up as well.

Finishing up our sub 2.5hr Keystone rip!
Fox Float ladies model
The next day, we planned a big ride, but nothing we hadn't done before. In fact, we did this same ride last year!

We started off with a quick Frisby Ridge rip. The trail is extremely popular, I would recommend riding it on a weekday or in the evening. Not on a long weekend morning.

We put in a solid effort, but because I had to wait for Bill ( :P) I just missed out on going sub 2hrs. This time, I let Bill enjoy the Ultimate Frisby descent while I drove the vehicle down.

After fueling up and having a good chat with fellow skimo racer Jeff in town, we headed up for round two. A climb up Mt. Sale. The goings seemed easier than last year, even though last year, we didn't ride Frisby until afterwards. We ended up climbing faster than last year as well. At the top, I barely had enough time to snap some pictures before Bill rolled up even though we didn't take nearly as many breaks!

impressive views

The hum of the microwave tower is a welcome sound at the end of a 1500m climb.

Recent rains made the descent slick. I enjoyed the very top of the trail a lot, but further down, the trail was slick and had been beaten to death by a long summer of getting ridden HARD. The secret is out! The middle wasn't super enjoyable, the hilarious part was that they rerouted a section where I almost ate shit hard last year. The bottom was very fun. But overall, I think this classic descent is becoming the domain of bigger bikes. 

So we ripped some fantastic trails this weekend. But I think next time we are in Revelstoke, we should give Cartier or Joss mountains a go and ride more of the MacPherson trails. Bill and I certainly proved that we have the chops to get those done.