Monthly Archives: July 2014

milky way over san juan mountains

Hut Trip Day 7: Geyser Pass to Moab (The Whole Enchilada)

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” 
― Marcus AureliusMeditations

From the log book:

“I once again sit in an amazing venue, escaped from the world, and watching the glory of the sunrise.

It is hard to believe that today will find me climbing up an unknown pass, descending thousands of feet back down to the familiarity of Moab. I am….

Amazed at the experience. That I could push myself, day after day, through physical and emotional discomfort, and unknown terrain. I feel I must be channeling my Mormon Pioneer ancestry.

As a youth I often felt deprived that I never particpated in ‘Pioneer Trek’. But I believe that my experience this week has been an even more daring, and rewarding, endeavor than that could ever have been.

I cannot express what a privilege it has been to be with these people, in these places, doing this thing.”

We started today with optimism. Dennis promised us a steep, short climb to Burro Pass, then a never-ending descent to Moab. Lies, both of them. The climb was steep, but it was long. Longer still because we were at elevation. But Dennis was giddy as a school boy, and probably dragged us up with his will alone.

The wildflowers blew my mind. The rock formations were ethereal. I could live in this place (if it were late July all the time). Dave, Dave, and I climbed the pass nearly together. Dennis and Jeff (and a couple of other adventurers as well) were waiting for us at the top. We rested, and refueled, and turned our bikes downhill.

It. Was. Challenging. So steep and loose! Dave S and Dennis were in ecstasy. Jeff, Dave C, and I were in something far more terrifying. But there was no denying the beauty. Or my mad technical skills! Woot woot!

Geyser pass hut
Geyser pass hut
View from the meadow near the hut
View from the meadow near the hut
Dave S on the descent from Burro Pass
Dave S on the descent from Burro Pass
Me, jumping a cattle guard.
Me, jumping a cattle guard.
Climbing up to Burro Pass
Climbing up to Burro Pass
Flowers. The thistles were also bright purple and supporting a floury of huge bumblebees.
Flowers. The thistles were also bright purple and supporting a floury of huge bumblebees.
Almost to the pass
Almost to the pass
The pass/saddle behind me.
The pass/saddle behind me.
Dennis water crossing
Dennis water crossing
Jeff water crossing
Jeff water crossing
Me water crossing
Me water crossing

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Then I got them to look at me. One of the rare pictures of the four of them together!

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Before long the steep, techy stuff was in the past, and we rode through gentle aspen forest again. Dennis and Dave S. had ended up behind us, repairing a flat tire (only the second the whole trip- I had lost a spoke on day 2 prior). Dave C, Jeff and I rode on. We met a cowboy that was actually a very attractive older woman. We questioned our route, but stayed the course. The bonk timer went off, so we found a nice spot at the top of a climb (yes! a climb!) to wait for our compadres.

They eventually caught us up, and we rode on, through the extremely scenic campground, to another climb, up through strands of scrub oak (see how fast the terrain changes!). This was Hazzard County. And it was a total blast to descend! Banked turns and technical rock patches- I found my flow state.

I turned to look behind at was amazed at how far behind us the La Sal Mountains already were. From the top of the hill it seemed that most of the Colorado Plateau was laid out before us. I’m proud to say that I could identify most of it- Moab Rim, Porcupine Rim, Sandflats (that’s where Hell’s Revenge and Slickrock bike trails are), Fisher Towers, Arches National Park, and of course, Castle Valley.

The double-track portion of TWE was a fast blast of joy!

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The Porcupine Singletrack was fun and challenging as well, but not beyond my skill level. We stopped to take lots of pictures, and have a snack. And since we finally had cell service, we connected with our families for the first time in several days.

There were benefits to descending in elevation. My lungs and power returned, and I felt amazing. But there were problems. It started to get hot. We’d been spoiled all week with clouds and thunderstorms and relatively cool temperatures. When we finished up the singletrack and got onto the jeep road portion, it was 102 degrees and threatening to climb.

I can’t say I enjoyed the rest of the descent. It was technically challening, but I could ride it. The problem was it was relentless. And repetitive. Dennis was still having a great time, as was Dave S. The rest of us started to complain a wee bit. It was hot and we wanted shade (there was none). It was thrilling when we passed back into singletrack terratory. At least we didn’t have to focus too heavily on picking a line, right? Wrong. Every pedal stroke required mental fitness.

I’m pretty sure I started singing again. I was happy, if uncomfortable.

At some point Dave C. gave me a huge compliment. He said I was a pretty darn good rider and why didn’t I race Enduro? I chuckled. Oh, if he had seen me a year ago, when I was in prime racing shape. I’m almost 35 now, for heaven’s sake!

As we came onto the rim proper, with the Colorado stretched out below us and the risk of death growing higher, I pushed to try and keep Dave S and Dennis in sight. This came to a head when I took a left line, and almost passed Dave S on the right. He had gone over the handlebars (though not over the edge, thank goodness!), and was bleeding from several wounds. He bent his elbow to show me and a vein in his arm peaked out of the wound to taunt me.

Now, this was not my first time helping an injured friend on the trail. And it won’t be my last. And I can’t help but wonder why every time this happens they just don’t believe me when I tell them they are genuinely really hurt and need medical attention!

Well, I’d seen bulls get turned into steers, so I could totally handle this. I yelled for Dennis to return to us since he had the first aid kit. I pulled out my stash of baby wipes (ALWAYS CARRY BABY WIPES!), and started to clean Dave up and close up the gash in his arm. I was pretty successful, until he would move and that vein would peek out at me again. Dennis eventually returned and we pulled out the butterfly strips, did our best to close up the wound, and wrapped his arm so he could ride down.

We were not the only ones on the trail dealing with medical issues. It was 105 by this time and most of the other people riding were unprepared, and complaining loudly. One man we came across was walking his bike down the trail, helmet off, and looking quite bleak. As I always do with people who seem in distress, I asked if he needed anything.

“Water.” was his reply. Since I felt I had enough to get me down and back to Moab, plus the boys all had water they would share with me (we being all best friends by this point), I handed him my water bottle (heart aching, but what could I do? The dude didn’t have his own!), and filled it with water from my pack. I told him if he just kept going he would get down, and there was a campground at the base of the hill where he could get more. He thanked me and we went on our way.

Dave C. couldn’t believe how unprepared people were for this journey! He laughed at their complaints of having ridden from Hazard. WE had ridden from DURANGO! WE had climbed more than 23,000 feet over the last week. WE had come more than 200 miles! And WE weren’t complaining! On the contrary, other than the heat, we were content. And prepared.

There were more hike-a-bike obstacles, but for the most part the trail was rideable for me. I couldn’t help but be impressed with everyone’s technical skills- even with 20-30 pound packs on!

IMG_9623 IMG_9626 IMG_9627 IMG_9631 IMG_9634We eventually reached the paved trail, and the cool shadows along the Colorado River. Everything was familiar now, and it started to feel like this journey was wrapping up. The thought of separating from these men who had so endeared themselves to me was heart-wrenching.

I popped it into the highest gear, and pedaled hard for home. At the end of the canyon, we crossed the road and partook of the natural spring there. We bathed our heads, soaked our shirts, and generally relished in the cool water.

We made a plan to get our cars and meet for food at Milt’s. I called Andy and he came to pick us up at the transportation station, and return us to our Jeep- saving us from a 107 degree ride across town.

Waiting at the trasport station
Waiting at the transport station

I couldn’t believe it was over. I was ready enough for it to be, but reluctant. I missed my kids fiercely. But how do you safely exit a dream? I was changed forever by this journey. It is something I shall never forget. The lessons I learned about myself, about life, and about my husband are things that I’m not sure could have been learned in any other way.

I can’t imagine having better company than we had. Not better weather, not a better end each day. Having written these experiences now, I have relived them. I’m standing at Rolling Mountain pass, unafraid at the threat of a hail storm. I am bathing in the little stream in the meadows. I am flying down the side of Lone Cone and watching storms light the sky over Miramonte Reservoir. I am drying in the wind on the canyon rim at Wedding Bell. I am suffering, in tears, on Ketch Em Up, but being uplifted by lavender fields in Paradox. I am climbing into the aspen forests of the La Sal Mountains, my friends by my side. I am flowing down the mountains, through the oaks, into the desert, and my home. I am there even now, and it is a part of me.

We met the guys at Milts (after a little shopping at the thrift store), and said our good-byes. It was a difficult parting, but a happy one. IMG_9637

I don’t remember our drive back to Grand Junction. It felt so odd to be driving at all. As we came up our street we had to remember that we lived in 390, not 379 1/2. When we walked in the door things were pretty much as we had left them. To quote Sam from Lord of the Rings, “Well, I’m back.”

i don’t think our kids missed us at all.

IMG_9409 Photo Jul 29, 6 38 53 IMG_9635 IMG_9625 IMG_9624 IMG_9610 IMG_9604 IMG_9558 IMG_9511

 

 

san juan huts durango to moab

Hut Trip Day 6: Paradox to Paradise (Geyser Pass)

“The path to paradise begins in hell.” 
― Dante Alighieri

From my log book:

“Kelly joined us lat night. I was already borderline drunk. I lost it a little on the farm roads yesterday. Took of my helmet and glasses and drank a Mt. Dew and cried. This morning I wasn’t much better. Dennis held me while I let some more tears fall. But I turned on some Mumford and tried to forget myself. I guess the days of repeated physical exertion have wreaked havoc on my emotional state.”

Today hurt my bum. It was a saddle-intensive day. It was a fine, hot morning, with plenty of humidity. Kelly and Dan were joining us for the climb up to Geyser Pass today, and I was extremely grateful to have my friend with me.

Misty morning in Paradox Valley
Misty morning in Paradox Valley

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We rode across the valley and began the arduous climb. It was fascinating to watch the terrain change with nearly every 500 feet we ascended. Before long we were back into the oaks. And the then aspens. And then the pines. We would come around a corner and the sights, smells, and sounds would all change, as if walking from a quiet library and lounge to a ballroom.

It didn’t take long for me to fall behind, relishing in the return to the mountains. My spirit began to lift and the views surrounding me were enough to wash away the suffering moments of yesterday.

Before long we found ourselves at a lake (I say “before long”, but it was hours later). I was the last to arrive and everyone else was relaxing and refueling. I’m not sure what possessed him, but Dennis stripped down to nothing and jumped in the water. We hadn’t taken a full-on dip since day 3. I imagined it felt amazing. I decided to test the theory.

Again- I’ve had issues with open water. Open water while wearing nothing? Never done before. But I’ve never ridden 200+ miles in a week before. I’ve never done MOST of the things I’d done on this trip. Today was the day to embrace every experience offered to me.

I took off my clothes and walked into the water- laughing hysterically.

Whatever emotional funk I had been in over the last 24 hours was finally broken. I floated on my back (in my minds eye imagining what those on shore could see had they chosen to look. NOT a pretty sight! But I didn’t care!) I watched the clouds pass overhead; the only redeeming thing about open water swimming.

One of the most interesting things on the trip to me was the perspective of the various mountains. From the time we left Lone Cone it stalked behind us, slowly sinking away beyond the horizon. Jeff had commented that it felt like Lone Cone was stalking us. It returned to its silent vigil as we ascended the La Sals.

Not far past the lake we reached the Utah/Colorado border, and we entered into The Motherland.

Dennis
Dennis
Looking back at Paradox- the last time.
Looking back at Paradox- the last time.
Except for this selfie of me NOT looking back to Paradox.
Except for this selfie of me NOT looking back to Paradox.
Dave C and Kelly- my riding buddies and really cool peeps.
Dave C and Kelly- my riding buddies and really cool peeps.
Dennis. he knows what's about to go down.
Dennis. he knows what’s about to go down.
Kelly.
Kelly.

IMG_9588 IMG_9596

 

After another thousand feet or so of climbing, we came to a big, open field, with a view of the La Sal Mountains that I had never imagined I would see- breathtaking.

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And what else do we see? Cowboys. Rounding up calves and moms for a little work. But we didn’t know that at the time. It was a very romantic setting. Imagine! REAL LIVE COWBOYS!

As I rode past one I thanked him. “For what!?” he replies. “For just being awesome.” I said. Dave C. almost vaulted off of his bike to grab his camera and get their pictures. So Kelly and I stopped, too, within earshot.

A few minutes passed when one of the cowboys yelled to us, “Do you want to come and help us?” Well, it was my day for new experiences, right? So I said, “YES!!!” Kelly and I rode over to the pen where they had corralled all the moms and babies.

Dave C. followed with the camera, and at some point Jeff rode back to join us, leaving Dan, Dennis and Dave S to ride on. Kelly and I hopped the fence into the corral and asked what we could do.

They said we could watch, or help hold down the calves. Or inject them with antibiotics. Or brand them. Or castrate them. That’s what they were doing. I had a sinking suspicion that perhaps I was about to witness one of the confirming moments of my vegetarianism.

They roped a calve and brought him to the harness, stretching him out, belly facing us. One of the cowboys took the branding iron and burned through the calf’s hair and skin, sending up a plume of smoke that made me ill. He then injected it- one syringe in each hand- before he pulled out his pocket knife, grabbed the bull’s balls, cut through the flesh, cast it aside, pulled out the testicles, extending the vas deferense out a few feet before severing the tissues and casting the bloody testicles on the muddy ground. He then expertly removed the tip of its ear, and let it go back to its mommy.

I stood there and watched as Kelly took the syringes, one in each hand, and “helped” the cowboys. More than once they asked if I wanted to handle the knife and do the castrating. “It’s a life-skill, you know,” they tried to convince me. “Not in MY life,” I said, “I have a master’s degree.” (my answer to everything) But I remembered I have a beautiful, young, happy, pure daughter. If someone were to take advantage of her sweetness, I WOULD have their testicles. So yeah. I guess I was tempted.

After a few more rounds, I couldn’t take it anymore. I said thank you and good bye and walked out of the corral. Kelly followed. She understands my reasons for being vegetarian- she was one for most of her life. And now I felt even more secure in this life choice of mine.

As we rode on to catch up with our boys at the next intersection, Dave C. talked about the injustice of those poor cows undergoing such treatment so young and without any kind of pain relief. I just shrugged my shoulders. People like to eat cow. And these cow were far better off roaming the high country of San Juan County, Utah, than the vast majority of cows raised for meat.

After the next junction the road began to climb again in earnest. The faster boys (Jeff, Dennis and Dan) rode on ahead, the rest of us keeping a casual pace through the glades of aspens. At times it was easy to imagine we were ants in a field of grass, the trees were so tall and thick around us. A mountain stream sang to us as we pedaled on this penultimate journey.

We rode through the Redd Ranch, and laid down for a rest, as the trail was about to become more technical, and we still had almost another thousand feet to climb.

 

 

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At times the trail was too steep or too challenging to climb, and we walked. We were again at elevation and my power was very, very low. I could ride/walk a few feet, but would have to rest. Repeat.

At one point we came across a natural spring, cold, clean and clear. I dismounted, took off my helmet, and soaked my head in the water. I filled up my bottle and drank deep. Pure satisfaction. Another new experience. Head first.

Eventually we crossed off the road, through a field of wildflowers, to a hut painted green an surrounded by aspen groves. It was heaven. Just beyond the hut, another meadow opened to an expansive view of three of the La Sal peaks.

Dennis, Jeff, and Dan had made a salsa, and opened us some beers, and we partook, gladly. I took off my wet clothes and hung them on the line to dry. We tried to talk Kelly and Dan into staying for dinner, but they declined. We kept them long enough for Dave to take several pictures of them for use as engagement/wedding pictures. It was so sweet.

They also offered to take down for us anything we didn’t need for this night or the next day. They would be riding back to Paradox (wow! what a downhill that must be!!!). With gratitude we loaded them up.

I don’t remember much from this last night. At one point I took a sleeping bag and crept out onto the meadow, laying back to breath in the magic surrounding me in this slice of paradise on earth. When would I ever have this experience again? What was I going to do with my life? What was my future to be like? Here I lay at a crossroads, and I didn’t know where to turn. I had hoped to find clarity on this trip, but had I? What had I learned? Many things, but I couldn’t recall. I poured out my soul to those flowers, until I heard them calling for me, and I returned.

This I did know: I am strong. I am powerful. I can endure many things. I am strong.

Photo Jul 31, 6 11 03

 

paradox trail colorado

Hut Trip Day 5: Wedding Bell to Paradox

“Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.” 
― Frank Herbert

“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” 
― Rita Mae Brown

“He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.” 
― Michel de MontaigneThe Complete Essays

Sorry, lots of good quotes about paradoxes. Had to.

Today was the day I broke down. Here’s how it started, written in my log book:

“I woke again before dawn. Last night we had talked about getting an early start and beating the heat of the day. I lay here in my pre-dawn stupor, debating about waking my hobbits.

When I raised my head and saw the dozen beer cans lined up on the counter that had made an appearance after I fell to slumber, I determined to let them sleep.

Last night was filled with drunken debauchery of the merriest kind- laughing at “honeydew melons” and “name someone who’s first name is ‘Wes'” or “a song that has ‘rain’ in it….”

And rain it did. As we ate a meal of pasta w/ bacon, eggs and cheese, we watched the first of the storms roll in. This morning the clouds were low and I did some exploring while my hobbits slept. I found the rusted-out car and watched as the first rays of sun dappled the painted canvas stretched out before me.

I had very lucid dreams last night and the scents of wet sage and desert breeze clear my mind. The body grows heartier. Three more days.”

(8 million sperm in 1cc of fluid.)

Where that came from, I have no idea. But it’s in the log book so I write it here. It’s one of the only random statements in the book that doesn’t drop an offensive expletive. Ha!

It didn’t take us long to hit the trail this morning. It was immediately evident that the day would have some very warm moments. Combined with the rain of last night it was like riding in a steam room. There were portions of the trail that were wet sand and my back tire sunk in like….(insert your own analogy). By our first 1-hour bonk-timer break I was soaked with sweat and condensation.

We had a snack on the edge of a canyon, but I could tell I wasn’t mentally in the same place I had been. I was losing it. The endless wrapping around the canyon rim contours, steep climbs and short descents, over and over, it was hard to feel any progress.

At one point we came to a puddle that obscured the road entirely. There was no clear way around and it was too deep to go through. We carried our bikes through thick, sticky mud, to the other side. Most of it rode off before the next big, exhausting climb up Davis Mesa. David C kept me company as we pushed on ahead of the rest. His company was the string I clung to.

Until we heard the thunder. Deep and throbbing, in quick succession, like a cadence. The storm was blowing our way. I began the climb in sunlight, the storm at my back. I felt it creep up behind me, enshrouding me in its shadow.

Morning view from the hut.
Morning view from the hut.
Abandoned mine contraption
Abandoned mine contraption
My boys
My boys
Bonk prevention
Bonk prevention
Storm approaching
Storm approaching
Climbing up to Davis Mesa
Climbing up to Davis Mesa

IMG_9549Short descent to the hanging valley.

We topped out to this amazing view. It was a long, long way down to the valley floor before us, but we weren’t going there yet. We went about 1/3 of the way down and rode an unused 2-track. Though it was wide enough for full-size, the only tracks on it were bike.

It was sand. Slightly wet. Just enough to have about zero traction for my bike. Each pedal stroke was a struggle, sucking my energy away. The boys left me far, far behind them.

I tried every mental trick I could to relieve my mind. I practiced being “present”. I took in the scenery around me. I visualized where I was. I remembered I would probably never be in this same place again. I sang my favorite songs. But it was to no avail. Soon I felt blind, seeing only the sand before me. Feeling only the soaking wet clothes clinging to my body. And no music.

When I caught up to the boys they were lost. They had followed the bike tracks to a dead-end. We set down our bikes and hiked around, looking for what we assumed was an obvious trail. We ended up finding it, back .25 mile. The route went almost straight up a rocky climb. Think: Horsethief drop in. Once to the top it was some fun, fast, flowy singletrack for a very short time.

We came out on a viewpoint, looking more than a thousand feet down to the Dolores River below. We had a snack and joked about the upcoming section of trail. It’s called the Ketch Em Up trail, and it went almost straight down from where we were sitting. We could see the end of it almost directly below us. We had no idea how it did that, but we knew that it did.

Me and Jeff about to descend to the lower, but not lowest, trail.
Me and Jeff about to descend to the lower, but not lowest, trail.

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The storm clouds keeping us nice and cool.
The storm clouds keeping us nice and cool.
Sunflowers on Davis Mesa.
Sunflowers on Davis Mesa.
The dead end.
The dead end.
Looking down on Paradox
Looking down on Paradox

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The trail didn’t seem so bad at first. Dennis and Dave S were able to ride a portion of it. But it was soon revealed to be one of the most treacherous routes I’ve ever experienced. And that’s saying something.

I had to lift my bike and carry it, over and around rocks, steep steps 3 feet down at a time, with the perilous edge just inches away. I didn’t have the strength to continuously pack my  bike down the cliff-edge with one hand, so I had to alternate. At times my bike bounced against the rock, ricocheting me toward the precipice. The only direction I could look was down. Straight down at my feet.

I have no reckoning of the time it took for us to descend. Even now I think I try to block it from my memory. It was one of the most challenging physical and mental experiences of my life. When Jeff and I finally caught up to Dennis and Dave S they were standing by the bridge that spans the Dolores River, and I had a throbbing pain that seemed to stem from my neck and absorb my entire head, penetrating pain behind my eyes.

As we waited for Dave C. I held back tears. I was fairly certain it was mental anguish manifesting in physical form. I dug out some pain relievers from pack and swallowed nearly the last of my water.

We rode on toward the hut, opting for the most direct route over fields through the Paradox Valley. Some fields were scented of manure which recalled to me visits to my cousin’s house in Tremonton, Utah, in my youth. Several fields wafted the scents of lavender, pure and clean in comparison, and lightening my spirit.

But it wasn’t enough.

I stopped, letting the others take a long lead on me. I took off my helmet and strapped it to my pack. I pulled out my emergency can of Mt. Dew and drank half of it while standing there in the middle of the road, holding back tears. I opened the zipper on the front pack of my bike, turned on Mumford and Sons on my phone, and sang along, unabashedly. When “Not With Haste” came on, I lost it, sobbing.

I was able to collect myself enough before catching up with the others. We made it to the hut, which was fantastic. There were fresh vegetables there for us. The local store lady (I don’t remember her name. I was not nearly as impressed with her as other hut visitors clearly had been.) She came in like she was a queen, telling us how great we looked in comparison to other visitors. Duh. We are awesome.

By the time we got her to leave us alone I had two adult beverages in me, was on my back on the bed, stretching my legs up over my head. I’m not sure how long I stayed in that position. Time started to mean very little to me.

Jeff looking down at me and the thousand feet to the valley floor inches to my left.
Jeff looking down at me and the thousand feet to the valley floor inches to my left.
Me looking up a Jeff. Ditto.
Me looking up a Jeff. Ditto.
There's a trail here?! Who knew!
There’s a trail here?! Who knew!
Composite shot. Can you spot Jeff?
Composite shot. Can you spot Jeff?

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Again, no concept of time. Kelly and Dan showed up- which was the absolute best part of the day. They brought treats from Ridgeway, and ordered dinner from Marty (I guess that was the chick’s name. She called us “hutties”. I found that offensive. She also tried to talk us into a shuttle up to the next hut. Also offensive. She charged $20/person for dinner. She’s lucky I was pretty out of it….)

I ate some of the Colorado Boy pizza with deep gratitude for Kelly and Dan, and washed it down with some of the growler of beer from the same establishment. Capital friends! Best of friends!

At some point the Paradox people brought food and we ate like gluttons. Again, my whole concept of time at this point was negligible. The sun went down, and with it, so did I.

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