Friday, December 31, 2010

Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands

On Sunday morning, I packed up and drove out to West Texas. When I told some friends about my plans, they were surprised I wasn't riding, but I've done that before and it can be extremely cold riding this time of year, especially in West Texas. I had thought I might spend the night in the town of Van Horn, but when I got there around 2pm, it didn't look all that interesting, so I went on to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and set up camp there. It was pretty warm when I got there, but once the sun started getting lower, the temperature dropped rapidly. I had dinner as the last sunlight was fading and was in my sleeping bag at 7pm (actually 6 local time). I read for a while, then went to sleep. I woke up a couple of times in the night, and started moving again at 5:30 MST.

I had breakfast, broke camp, and started on the Guadalupe Peak Trail at first light, 6:30 am. I felt I was way overdressed - three layers on top, two on bottom, and a warm cap - for hiking, and felt certain of it going up the relatively steep initial section. However, that section was also in the lee of the mountain, and once I topped that first ridge, a cold wind started blowing. The trail also flattened out, causing me to generate less heat, so I didn't have to strip down, I just changed my head gear. While hiking up that first section, I came upon an 8-point whitetail standing in the trail. Fortunately, it wasn't a repeat of my experience in Glacier, as he quickly went on his way in the other direction. Also going on in the first stretch was an evaluation of my right knee, which was bothering me since running Saturday. I took the unusual (for me) step of using trekking poles on this hike, and figured I would hike for an hour, and if the knee was hurting too badly, I would quit hiking. When I got to that one hour point, I was already 2/3 of the way to the top, and the knee was feeling okay. I didn't see anybody on the trail until I got to a backpacking campground where a man and two boys had apparently camped and were starting out for the summit. I was almost surprised when I got to the summit around 8:45, it felt like it should have been further or steeper or something. As windy as it had been on the approach, it was even more so at the very peak, and almost knocked me over once or twice. I had a snack, had the man (who arrived with the boys a few minutes after I did) take my picture, and signed the register. I was worried about the descent, since it's even harder on the knees, but by taking it a little gingerly and using my poles and left knee, I made it down with a minimum of pain a little past 11. While I was glad for the layers I had on at the summit, I was ready to be rid of them at the bottom, even after shedding hat and gloves and opening my jacket up. I took off a layer and drove north to Carlsbad Caverns. I had planned only to get tour information and take a tour the next day, but I found out pretty much all the ranger guided tours were sold out for the week. I went ahead a got a general admission ticket, and went on the self-guided natural entrance tour, and after its 800 ft vertical descent, did the big room tour. The place was a madhouse of people, all kinds of idiot tourists gawking and yapping. When I finished the big room tour, I was going to take the elevator back up, but the line was outrageously long, so I hiked out the way I came in. At that point, surprisingly, my knee was feeling fine, and the paved trail was pretty gentle. It looked like some people I had seen in the big room were just getting back to the visitor center at the same time I was, so the natural entrance was definitely the best way out of the cave for me. I checked at the ticket desk before leaving, and found there was an opening for the Wednesday Left Hand Tunnel Tour, so I booked that. I was thinking I would spend the night in Carlsbad, but the two places I checked didn't have anything reasonably priced, so I headed to Alamogordo. I hadn't looked at the distance that closely, and it was well past dark (but still only around 7pm) when I got into town and got a room.

Tuesday morning I drove down to White Sands National Monument. I cruised through until I got to the trailhead for the Alkali Flats Trail. I hadn't checked the trail out at all, so I just started out with just a water bottle, in my sneakers. If I had known more about the trail, I would have brought more stuff with me. Near the trailhead there were bunches of families, sledding and having fun on the gypsum dunes, which look a bit like ski hills. When I started on the trail, there were two other pairs of people who also seemed like they would be hiking as well. After I had gone about a mile, however, I couldn't see any of them, and in fact didn't see anybody at all until I got back closer to the trailhead. The trail was marked with plastic posts (and lots of footprints), but it was a pretty arbitrary course and surely changes regularly based on the "movement" of the dunes. Travel was not very efficient over the sand- some sections were pretty solid and easy to traverse, while others were soft and caused a lot of energy loss. The back sides of the dunes were particularly soft, and the steepness led every step slide downhill. Going uphill, it made for almost twice the climb, and downhill caused a lot of sand to get into my shoes. For a while I went barefoot, which actually felt slightly more efficient in the soft sand. The sand was cold on my feet though, and it was colder below the surface than on top. The trail turned back at the end of the dunes and the start of an ancient lake bed, and presumably near the edge of the missile range, as there were military-looking buildings in the distance. The signpost there had a distance marked as 2.2 miles, much farther than I had anticipated. It was after 11 at that point, and I would have packed some snacks at least had I realized how far it was. It was around 1 when I got back to my car, and after trying to shake off the sand I had some lunch. I headed about 30 miles south of the monument to the entrance of White Sands Missile Range. Rather than get a permit to drive 100 yards, I walked over to the museum. I rather enjoyed the place, it was really nerdy and full of engineering porn. One of the big claims to fame of the range is that it was the site of testing of captured German V-2 rockets, and allowed the US to catch up to and surpass their knowledge of rocketry. I also have some interest in nuclear weapons, for whatever reason, and WSMR was the site of the Trinity test, and they have a Fat Man casing in their outdoor area. They didn't have much information on my favorite rockets such as the Tomahawk, or ICBMs, but there were several short- and medium-range rockets capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads. I drove from there back to Carlsbad and checked into a motel.

I woke up at 7 Wednesday, had breakfast and went down to the caverns. I took the elevator down to the big room and met up with the tour group for the Left Hand Tunnel, one of the early tour routes that was effectively abandoned, neglected, and abused years ago. The abuse is evident in the tailings of the elevator shaft construction piled up at the start, and the broken calcite crust and many feet worth of missing silt slightly farther in. The tour didn't really go that far, distance wise, but the guide offered a lot of information about the early development and use of the caverns, as well as cave biology and development. Since there are no lights along this tour, everyone was issued a candle lantern. It was kind of like my tour of Jewel Cave, but the lanterns were different and many of them rattled when the holder was walking. They did issue one brand new LED lantern, which threw things off a bit as it produces a completely different color light. At the furthest point of the tour was a little cave biology lesson with many millions of years old fossils, and undetermined age (decades at least) bat "mummies." We went back to a larger room for a blackout, after which the guide told an interesting story about giving a tour to a blind woman, which kind of changes the perspective. The lead ranger had some lame songs and more even lamer jokes. His best line of the tour, I think, was after someone asked about things falling in the cave (meaning formations dropping and such, due to geologic activity) and he replied "my jokes fall flat all the time." It was kind of remarkable that he is the fourth generation of cave workers in his family, going back to 1932. At the beginning, he implored people not to publicize the entrance to the left hand tunnel, not that it's a great secret, but he asked if anyone had a blog and I sheepishly half raised a hand. So I won't reveal that it's just off of the lunch room. There's a locked gate, so it doesn't make a big difference any way. Leaving the caverns, I headed back to Guadalupe Mountains NP, and went to McKittrick Canyon for the first time. Since it was already 1pm and the gates to the area close at 4:30, I didn't have a lot of time for hiking, so I went as far as the Pratt Cabin. I thought it was pretty nice, and I really would love to have something like that of my own. The buildings are mainly stone, with some pine timbers, but the setting was magnificent with the mountains looming overhead. I decided to camp in the park again that night. It was a very windy night. While setting up, and while preparing and eating dinner, everything light had to be weighted down to keep from blowing away. I was afraid the tent was going to blow away or collapse. I only used the four anchor points I normally use, I should have added more. Twice, relatively early in the night, a stake pulled out of the ground and I had to go out and pound it back into the ground.

It was a lot less windy the next morning, so breakfast and breaking camp were not as fraught with peril. Since I had abandoned my original plan of doing some backpacking, I thought I would hike in Balmorhea State Park, not realizing that there are no trails and the main draw of the park is a large spring-fed pool. It wasn't too cold out, and they said the water is always around 75 degrees, but I didn't really feel like swimming. I went on to Fort Davis, where I stopped at the Fort Davis National Historical Site. It sounded interesting enough, so I stayed and checked it out. It was a Civil War-era fort, used mainly to protect the San Antonio to El Paso road, abandoned in 1891 when it became obsolete. I found it to be fairly interesting, but the wind was howling, making it unpleasant to walk between the restored buildings. Also not helping my enjoyment was a family with a child constantly crying. There are some short trails on the site, but I didn't want to stick around with the wind whipping the way it was. I figured that it was just as windy in the state park a few miles away, and headed straight home from Fort Davis.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


The day after competing in the Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlon and almost no sleep, I took an early flight up to New York to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, sister and niece. The early flight got me in in the early afternoon, which would have allowed time to do something, except that I spent most of it sleeping. On Tuesday I went for a little run along the Hudson on a paved trail built within the last few years. On Wednesday we drove upstate to our friends' place we've been having Thanksgiving for many years now (with exceptions such as last year when we were in Costa Rica). I absolutely stuffed myself every practically every moment we were there. I did manage to get in a short run while there to mitigate the overconsumption. We drove back to my parents' on Friday, and I flew back to Austin on Saturday. It was an early flight again and I got home early enough to take a short bicycle ride in the afternoon. I went for a run on Sunday, but didn't do a properly long distance. I worked my distance back up, running 7, 8, and 9 miles in subsequent weekends.

On the 19th I drove up to the Dallas area to have Christmas lunch with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. The food was good, and I almost always gorge on those occasions that I do get a home-cooked meal. I spent most of the time I was there playing with my cousin's children with Nerf guns and other toys. I drove home later in the afternoon, and in all spent about as much time in the car driving as I did visiting.

I didn't do all that much yesterday or today. I had thought about swimming in Barton Springs yesterday, but it wound up raining, so I just swam at the gym (after I went back to sleep from 9-11:30). This morning I went for a run, and did the full 10-mile loop for the first time. The trail was a little hard to follow on the east end where it meanders through ball fields, not being familiar with the area, but I didn't get lost. There were a lot fewer people out than there normally are on a weekend (even a cold and overcast windy day), but there were still quite a few people out- mainly serious runners and people walking their dogs. My right knee started hurting at the end of mile 9. I probably should have stopped and stretched or something, but I wanted to hurry and get to the movie theater to see True Grit. I also failed to stretch properly after the run, which probably didn't help anything. As a result, my knee has been hurting all day since. Hopefully it gets better overnight or in the car ride out to West Texas in the morning... More on that when I get back.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlon

After doing the Lost Pines Triathlon, I definitely wanted to do another race. I thought the Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlon sounded pretty interesting (also run by the same people), so I signed up for the "Woolly Mammoth" distance- 5k run, 26 mile road ride, and another 5k run. However, after the Austin Relay Marathon, I took up a suggestion to run the 3M Half Marathon in January. Basically, I started training for that and figured the Du would pretty much sort itself out. In October, I started a training regimen of my own device- midweek: two days of strength training, one fast and short run, one day of either swimming or another short and fast run, and one day of rest; on the weekends: one long bike ride, and one long run. At first I had no idea if I could run far enough, since the 3.6 miles at Lost Pines was the longest distance I had ever run. My first long run was 5 miles, and since that went pretty well, I added a mile every week until I got up to 9 miles the Sunday before the Duo. Unfortunately my right foot started hurting after that 9-miler, and running a 5k Tuesday morning (at an 8-minute pace, which pleased me very much) didn't help at all. I didn't really run for the rest of the week, just about a half mile on the treadmill Wednesday and Thursday as a warm up for strength training. It wasn't hurting this morning, and even now it's not that bad, but it did hurt right at the end of the race.

I hydrated and consumed lots of carbs yesterday and did as little as possible of a physical nature. I got a pretty decent night's sleep, but it did take me a few seconds to realize why I was awake at 5 o'clock this morning. I had everything ready to go, so I pretty much just ate breakfast and got in the car for the hour drive toward San Antonio to the cave. I got my packet and timing chip, and got my bike situated in transition. I changed my mind about how I wanted my gear arranged a couple of times, but wound up just setting out my bike shoes, sunglasses, and gloves and left everything else in the car. In the pouches of my jersey, I just had a couple of gels and my car key. There was a pre-race meeting at which we were told that the nastiest looking part of the bike course - down into Krueger Canyon, turning around at the bottom and going back up - was cut out because of the weather (overcast, humid, and some drizzle). I didn't check out the canyon beforehand, but some people who had said it would have been pretty gnarly even if it had been bone dry. Most of the bike course was totally dry, except for the road leading into the canyon, so it was probably for the best. I wasn't heartbroken.

The race started a little bit late, around 8:15, with the "T-Rex" (longer, harder run, same bike course) runners. Once they were off, the Woolly Mammoth runners went down into the cave. Supposedly, this is the first multi-sport race ever inside of a cave. We walked down a sorta steep, sorta slippery path to the staging area, then started time trial style according to expected pace. The cave portion started pretty flat, but narrow and with lots of turns. Closer to the exit (a different one than the one we came in), we had to stop running and walk up the switchbacks. I didn't really mind not being allowed to run, my heart was already racing. Even though it was fairly warm and humid outside, it was even more so in the cave, and it was refreshing to come back outside. My new toy is a GPS watch, and I decided that since it obviously wouldn't get any reception inside the cave, I would just start it once I exited. Once I did, when I first looked at it, it said I was running at about a 9:30 mile pace, and I was shooting more for a 9:00 pace, so I sped up a little. When I looked again a short time later, it showed a 7:30 pace, which is way too fast for me to maintain for anything more than a mile. I slowed down a little, but I had to really suppress the urge to keep up with the people in front of me. I finished the first mile out of the cave at 8:21, which was still too fast of a pace. The second mile had a long but not steep uphill, so it was natural to slow to a 9:21, and the third mile was 9:02, right on target. I'm sure they measured it, but the course was definitely longer than 5k, more like 3.4 miles. I kept around a 9-minute pace until just before the first transition where the course went uphill and I slowed down. At that point, my heart rate was way too high, over 180, so I took a little longer than necessary putting on my bike gear and starting on that course. The traffic had picked up considerably from the 1-mile turnaround for the shorter races, so there were already a lot of bikes on the road.

The bike went well, I passed a lot of bikes, but mainly on the portions that were coincident with the shorter course (and thus a lot of less strong riders). I realized about 4 miles in that coming out of T1, instead of hitting the 'lap' button on my watch, I had hit the 'stop' button, and it wasn't recording. I got it going again, and managed to hit the correct button coming out of T2. The course was pretty hilly, but pretty normal for the Hill Country. One of the last hills, however, was decently steep and long, and I was not very happy at the top of it. My right knee was hurting a little for the last miles of the ride, but I didn't fully realize how much I had overdone it until I dismounted and my legs started really hurting. I again took some extra time in transition, had one more swig of water and a gel I should have had much sooner, and started the second run.

I started rather slowly, about a 12:30 pace, in order to get my running legs back. My legs started to come around soon enough, and I finished the first mile at 10:46. The second mile did not go as well. I walked for a little bit, and went up the hill fairly slowly, ending with a time of 11:41. Once I got to the turnaround point and knew the end was in sight, I was able to pick up the pace again. Helped by the downhill, I finished the third mile with at time of 9:33. I'm not certain what my pace was for the last few tenths of a mile, because I forgot to stop my watch right as I crossed the finish line, but I think it was around 9:20, so even though it wasn't a great 5k time, I was still able to finish strong. Of course as soon as I stopped my legs started hurting, but with a little bit of time, some stretching, food and all that good stuff, they came around. My total time was 2:31:41, which was good enough for 5th place in my age division, but less than a minute from fourth, which is a bit maddening. At the start, when I saw there were only about 40 people doing the "Woolly Mammoth" distance, I thought I might have a half-decent shot at a "podium" finish in my age group, until I looked around and saw that seemingly half of the men were in my age group, and at least two were expecting to run much faster than me. My time was 18th overall for that distance [ed: according to the final posted results, I was 16 of 28 finishers]. Most of the nearly 300 people who raced did one of the shorter distances.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another Crazy Road Trip

I'm always thinking about road trips. When I'm on a road trip, I'm either thinking through the details of that trip, or plotting out some future road trip. I also probably spend far too much time at work thinking about road trips. In plotting to ride through my last Texas counties in the east, I started piling on more points of interest. "As long as I'm going to the Louisiana border, I might as well go on to Baton Rouge to the Capitol." "If I'm going to Baton Rouge, I might as well go to Jackson, MS." "I wouldn't want to go all the way to Mississippi and not go to the highpoint." "If I'm already in the northeast corner of Mississippi, it's just a quick hop over to Nashville, TN." I'm sure I played around with adding even more points, but those are the ones I settled on for a roughly 4-day time frame. I was thinking, based on weather and other stuff going on, I would take this trip late in October or possibly early November. When I happened to learn that the Highpointers organization was going to be in the area of the MS highpoint the weekend of October 9, I figured that was the best time for this little ~2000 mile trip.

I left well before dawn on Thursday, October 7. It was probably in the mid-40s at that point, so I was fully dressed with chaps, jacket, heavy gloves, and neck gaiter, which kept me warm but not hot. As the day warmed up, I stripped gear at every stop until by mid-day I was just in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Since I was heading almost due east, I was forced to stop just past dawn to change from clear to dark glasses, and even then it was hard to see anything. I passed through Liberty and Hardin counties (2 of the final 6) on the way out of Texas. I got to Baton Rouge and the capitol around 1pm. At 450 feet, it is the tallest capitol in the country. There is an observation deck, but it's not quite at the very top, and worse yet, they don't let you go outside. Other than the Mississippi River (which isn't pretty), the view isn't all that interesting anyway. The only other things in the building I was really able to see were the House chamber (currently under renovation) and the spot where Huey Long was assassinated. From there I hustled up to Jackson, MS in order to get to the capitol, worried that it would close at 5 and I wouldn't be able to get in and look around.
I arrived right around 5, and even though it seemed as though it was after hours, the doors were still unlocked and the guard post wasn't even manned. Whereas the Louisiana Capitol is more modern, essentially a skyscraper, Mississippi's is more of a traditional capitol with a large central dome and two wings for the branches of the legislature, and the governor in the middle. The Senate was closed and dark but with windows to see in. I was able to get into the House gallery, which is sort of unusual that people are seated behind the speaker, instead of looking towards the speaker's podium in most capitols. Once I was done looking around and taking pictures inside, I walked the grounds and took pictures outside, including the most coveted picture of my motorcycle and the capitol together. Leaving the capitol, I had another short stint of interstate until I got off onto the Natchez Trace Parkway.
I've ridden almost every mile of the Trace over two previous motorcycle trips (plus once in the car), and it a beautiful road. Other than the quaint woodsy setting, the best thing about the road is that it bans commercial traffic (meaning no trucks). There are no billboards, and it doesn't connect directly to any larger roads (it has something akin to on/off ramps), so it's almost like a world unto itself, hearkening to a bygone era. The only problem with the Trace is that the speed limit is 50 mph, but since there isn't really another road that goes from Jackson to the northeast corner of the state, it was still the quickest route to the state highpoint (Google maps didn't entirely agree, suggesting sort of a stair step, but that wouldn't have been very fun). There was a fair amount of traffic at first coming off of the interstate, but most of the cars turned off after a few miles. From that point, the road winds gently along a reservoir that looked spectacular in the setting sun light. I really wanted to take a picture, but there was nowhere to pull off. It started to get dark, even though the sun hadn't officially set, with the sun going behind the trees. I stopped briefly to change to clear lenses and put my jacket back on as the temperature also started dropping. I didn't ride too much longer: for the same reasons it's a beautiful ride in the day, it's kind of frightening at night, "real country dark," you might say. I saw a couple of the deer I was most worried about, so who knows how many were hanging around that I didn't see. I stopped for the night around 8:30 in the town of Kosciusko, and had a crappy dinner and stayed in a relatively cheap motel.

It was pretty chilly again Friday morning when I got off around 7. I got back on the Trace and cruised on up toward the town of Iuka, and more specifically the state highpoint near there. My GPS coordinates for the highpoint were right on (for once), but there were also a couple of signs pointing toward Woodall Mountain, which are apparently relatively new. The roads were all nice and paved until the last one, a small dirt county road. I looked as though it had been worked on pretty recently, but the work may have actually made it worse for me. The surface was really loose and hadn't gotten enough traffic to work in a groove for me to follow. I've ridden some dicey roads in the past, and this one was one of the worst to me. I gave up the fight just before the final steep section to the top of the "mountain" and walked the last few hundred feet. There wasn't much up at the top, a couple of cell towers and a little turnaround. There was, however, a brand new plaque on a big rock (which was probably also "new") in the center of the circle. The plaque was dated October 9, 2010 (the next day) so I must have gotten there too early to meet up with any of the highpointers, also evidenced by the complete lack of any other visitors to the site while I was there. I didn't particularly have the time or inclination to stick around or go out and find them, so I moved on after a quick stop in the town of Iuka, cutting the corner of Alabama. I rode the Trace for a little further, until I got closer to Nashville and cut over to an interstate. It was quite warm in Nashville that afternoon, amplified by the "heat island" cities create, and the slow speed (and traffic lights) of city streets. The Tennessee Capitol is not as large as many capitols, and has more like a cupola than a dome. I didn't pursue it, but I don't think they allow the public up the tower. Also different than most capitols, the House chamber is much larger than the Senate, and they're not symmetrically placed. There was some sort of book fair going on, so the building was full of people, many of them sitting down in the House and Senate chambers getting ready to hear a talk. I wandered around and took pictures, from the chamber floors and galleries, and the former Supreme Court chamber which also had some talk. The capitol is set at the top of a hill and has a fairly nice view, at least in the background. The foreground looking west is industrial and not pretty. I got gas and an ice cream bar before getting on the interstate heading west. I stopped for gas just outside of Memphis and searched on the internet for a cheap place to stay downtown. I found something, but rather than use GPS navigation I tried to wing it, more or less (I still used the GPS for the map). I missed one turn, and had to take a spin through surface streets, then when I got closer to where I was trying to go I ran into one-way streets and had to take a circuitous route to get to the hotel. The place wasn't anything amazing, but for $100 downtown, it was perfect. After checking in and unloading the bike, I walked a few blocks to a rib place the clerk had recommended, Rendezvous Charles Vergos. It was delicious, and I would recommend it to anybody who likes pork. From there I walked another couple of blocks to the world-famous Beale Street. I would say that Beale Street is somewhere between Austin's Sixth Street and New Orleans's Bourbon Street- not as crazy as Bourbon, but a little looser than Sixth. The only problem, to my thinking, is that most places have a cover charge, which I am almost universally against. The way it's set up, however, you don't really have to go into any of the clubs anyway. All the clubs have speakers pumping the live music inside out onto the sidewalk, and, like New Orleans, you can buy and consume adult beverages on the street. It was fun, but of course I was quite tired and went back to the hotel around 11.

Saturday was mostly a torture session riding 800+ miles from Memphis to Austin, even though there was no real reason that I absolutely had to get back. I went straight down the interstate through Mississippi pretty much just stopping for gas. The one brief other stop I did make was in Yazoo County, when I got off toward Yazoo City because it's a fun name and the Ys for the ABCs of Touring, but turned around when I found out it was more than 20 miles away and not worth it. I got off the interstate for good (well, almost) a little ways into Louisiana. I took state roads into St. Francisville where I took a ferry across the Mississippi River to New Roads. It was a short ride across, helped by lucky timing to where I rode up and straight onto the ferry. When I made it into Texas, I realized that I had been to Newton County previously, but hadn't marked it on my master map of counties I've ridden through. I wasn't as sure about Jasper, Tyler, and San Jacinto Counties, which completed my goal of riding through all 254 of Texas's counties. From there it took longer to get home than I was initially thinking, and of course I was more than ready to be home (or at least off of the bike). I ground out those last miles and made it home around 10.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Play Hard

This weekend my company sponsored a "work hard, play hard" weekend, where they paid the entry fees for any employee interested in participating in four events- a bike ride, charity run or volleyball tournament on Saturday and a marathon relay on Sunday. When I first heard about it, I thought I would just do the Liberty Hill Lions Club Rip Roarin' Ride on Saturday, then I thought I would just do the Silicon Labs Austin Marathon Relay on Sunday. When I found out the company would give us a t-shirt for each event, I figured "what the heck?" and signed up for both. I didn't do much of anything specifically to prepare for the events- after I got home from my road trip, I did a 30-mile ride on the veloway on Sunday, and 5K runs on Monday and Wednesday in the gym. The runs actually didn't go that well- both days I started getting a cramp on my right side around my rib cage.

I woke up just past 5 on Saturday morning, even though I hadn't intended to get up quite that early (I had planned for closer to 6). I had breakfast, made sure I had everything I thought I needed, and headed out about 6. It took me about 45 minutes to get to Liberty Hill High School, slightly less than Google maps predicted thanks to almost zero traffic. It was still dark when I got there, picked up my packet, and started getting ready for the ride. I had a bunch of time to kill before the 8am start, most of which I spent riding through the parking lot and chatting with co-workers as they arrived and got ready. We all gathered at 7:45 for a group photo before heading over to the staging area. The turnout was really good- about 15 people, but most people were doing more (103) or fewer (14 or 28) miles than I was planning- 50. I chose 50 miles because it's more than I've ever done, but not that much more than my usual ~30 miles. The first few miles of the ride were pretty chaotic, with the initial solid clump slowly breaking apart into smaller groups as people faded back from the leaders. I kept passing bikes as I kept the leaders (or at least what I thought might be the leaders) in sight for the first 10 miles, then I fell off of their pace and never saw them again. Shortly after that point, though, the "full" 103-mile course diverged from the shorter distance routes. Somewhere around that diversion point, a co-worker caught up to me and we rode together for a while. My impression was that he was less tired than I was and had been going at a faster pace at that point. I think that after we met up, we rode at a pace somewhere in between our paces before meeting- like he slowed down to ride with me, while pushing me to ride a little faster. We stopped for some snacks and water at rest stop #3, about 24 miles in. He left the station a couple of minutes before I did, and I never saw him again. I later heard that because he was feeling good, he decided to do the 65-mile course instead of the 50. I stuck with the 50-miler, which turned away from the longer courses just past the rest stop. I didn't see many bikes for most of the way back from there until I stopped at rest stop #2, which for me was about 36 miles into the ride. I was ready for another break at that point, after a long, relatively steep, uphill around the 32-mile mark that had me cursing in pain. I got back to the high school around 11 and cooled off and got plenty of food and drinks. Most of my co-workers (at least those not doing the full course) had already left, but one who had done the 28-mile course with his son was still around, so we chatted a bit. I really enjoyed the ride, and thought it was well organized. Since it was my first time doing an organized ride like this, I can't really compare it to anything, but I would definitely like to do more in the future. It was a really nice ride on back roads (some of which could really use some repairs) through pretty country with little automobile traffic, and the weather was just about perfect.

On my way home, I was planning on stopping at a pizza place I like, but found it was closed, so I went to a BBQ place instead. I relaxed and watched Texas get walloped all afternoon, but didn't fall asleep. At the end of the third quarter, when I was pretty sure they were going to lose, I went downtown for a Yuen Woo Ping double feature at the Paramount I had scored free tickets to. As part of Fantastic Fest, they were showing Yuen's latest and very first kung fu movies he directed, as well as introductions and a Q&A with the master himself. As an extra treat, The RZA presented Yuen with a lifetime achievement award in the form of a sword. The Alamo Drafthouse had sent out an email that they had some free passes available, first come first served, so I figured why not give it a shot. I won the draw and even though I hadn't asked for one, they gave me a +1 as well, which I offered to a co-worker and he joined me for the screening. The new movie, True Legend was pretty awesome. Hardly anything groundbreaking in terms of kung fu movies, it certainly did feature Yuen's world-renowned fight sequences. The movie was kind of 2/3 revenge story and the last 1/3 was sort of a Drunken Master origin story. I think I would have preferred a little less CGI, but it was a fun, pretty good movie overall. I stayed for the Q&A after the film and the introduction to the second movie, but split as soon as that started in order to get home and get some sleep. It seemed like most people did the same, but they may have just been using the restroom since there wasn't a real intermission between shows.

I woke up around 6 on Sunday, even though I didn't really have to get to the race until much later. I parked in the Silicon Labs garage, then walked across the river to the start/finish area. I found my co-workers about 7, just in time to wish the lead-off 12K runners luck before the 7:15 start. I sat and read the paper for a while as more of the runners from our 5 relay teams arrived. I watched the start/finish as some of the better runners finished their 12K and handed off to the first 10K runner, and hung out there until our #1 runner came across at 52 minutes (even more impressive, it was the same guy I was riding with on Saturday who rode 65 miles). I hung around with my co-workers who were finishing or getting ready for their runs until closer to 10 when I started getting ready for my run. The blood really started to pump around 10:20, when the third runner on my team (the second 10K leg) came in and handed off to the first 5K runner and I had 20-30 minutes before running my "anchor" 5K leg. I was pretty amped up when my lead-in came across around 10:50. I grabbed the "baton" (a jelly bracelet with the timing chip attached) and started sprinting away. I knew I couldn't keep that pace for even a quarter mile, let alone ~3.1, so I had to calm myself down to a more normal pace and heart rate. Whereas I usually try to keep my heart rate somewhere around 160-165 on the treadmill, I was okay with it being closer to 175 on this run. The course started out pretty flat- west on Riverside to Lee Barton, then back east to South First. The road climbed a bit to the bridge over Lady Bird Lake, then was flat to Cesar Chavez and the first water station. The drink re-energized me a bit, even though I was still feeling pretty good. The course continued west on Chavez, which has some minor elevation changes, to the turnaround point past Lamar. As the course returned to South First, I knew I had enough energy left that I could pick up the pace a little. Aided by gravity a bit at first, coming down the slight hill from the bridge, I picked up my pace to the last turn onto Riverside. With the finish line in sight, I went to a full sprint and crossed the line with a double fist pump, which hopefully made for a good picture (I haven't seen any pics yet). My watch messed up along the route about 12 minutes in and reset itself, so I didn't have a very good idea of my time. I felt really good about the run- I probably passed more people than passed me, and I kept a solid pace the whole way. When the times were posted online later, there was some sort of glitch in my team's time. If I interpret the glitch properly, the third and fourth leg times were combined, and my 5K time was 30:50. I was hoping for a little better than that, but I could believe that time. I think my team finished second of the company's five teams, about 55 minutes behind the #1 team, which finished second in the corporate division.

After some food and drink, I walked back to my car and went to get that pizza I had been craving. I took a nice hour-plus nap in the afternoon, then went out and had a delicious steak for dinner.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Road Trip 2010, Part 2

It was only a couple of hours ride from Page to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I was held up from getting into the village because of road construction, but I finally did and met up with my parents who were already there for the Grand Canyon Celebration of the Arts, a plein air painting event with a number of invited artists. They were staying at the parks service's training "dorms," more like an average motel, and had arranged to get me a room next to theirs. Nobody was in the office, however, so I couldn't get into my room right away so we went to my parents' room for a little while before going into the nearby town of Tusayan for a luncheon. The luncheon was held at a brand new Western museum (they had their grand opening later that day) with Grand Canyon and Old West history, as well as a very nice collection of Grand Canyon art. The art was probably the real reason for getting the group there, and the man whose collection the art is from gave a little rambling speech about art. After lunch I got checked into my room and dumped all the stuff off of my bike. I went with my parents for a drive along the south rim west of the village. The road is normally closed to private vehicles, but artists were given special permission for the event. After stopping and checking out a few overlooks, my dad set up to paint and I went for a little run. I ran about 2 miles along the unpaved south rim trail, which was fairly level, well maintained, mostly shaded, and of course had spectacular views. My mom picked me up down the road and we went back to the room for a little bit while my dad painted. Later on, we all went to one of the lodges to meet up with some of the other artists for pizza.

Right around sunrise on Tuesday I rode south toward Flagstaff, to the Arizona Snowbowl, which I had briefly stopped at a couple of years ago (but didn't hike to AZ's highpoint). It felt like a decent temperature standing in the parking lot in Grand Canyon Village, but I was soon glad I was wearing my chaps and heavy jacket- a sign in Tusayan said the temperature was 47, which I didn't entirely believe, but it was pretty cool. It warmed up as I went south and into slightly lower altitude, but it started cooling off again as I climbed again into the San Francisco Peaks. I arrived at the trailhead parking area (around 9,000 ft elevation) and changed from riding gear to hiking gear. The very start of the trail crosses a clearing that, in the winter, is a ski trail, then it goes through the woods up to tree line. My first stop was in a switchback right next to a very rocky slope that might have been a nice ski run except that the ski area is on Agassiz Peak, and I was climbing Humphreys Peak. My second stop was right at tree line, just before the trail reached a saddle, where in one direction the trail went to Humphreys and in the other direction went up some subsidiary peaks. I had passed three people who were also going up on my way up, and just above the saddle passed a woman descending from the summit. The end of the trail was all rocky, and in a couple of places a bit hard to follow. The air was thinner up top, but not nearly as bad as Elbert was (being almost 2000 feet shorter at 12,633 ft). However, right at the summit the strong wind brought a lungfull of smoke from the many (hopefully) prescribed burns in the area, which was rather unpleasant. Fortunately it didn't stay too smoky, it was mainly that initial blast right as I summitted. I ducked behind the rock wind shelter, where there were already two women from Indiana resting from their climb. One woman was a fellow highpointer, and she had done some I haven't yet, and she hadn't done Rainier yet, so we chatted and traded notes. It was her friend's first highpoint, and had been sort of dragged along for the trip. I took some pictures from the summit (and had the women take one of me), but visibility was pretty low because of the fires, then started down just ahead of the two women. They caught up to me when I took a long break partway down to air my feet out, retape my blisters (from Elbert), and put on clean socks. Feeling refreshed from the break, I started jogging down, at least over the dirt sections of the trail, and slowing down over the rocky sections. I passed the women again, as well as a number of people going up, and made it back to my bike around 1:30, roughly 5 and a half hours after I had started. I changed back into riding mode, and headed on my way- but naturally I didn't take the most direct route back to the Grand Canyon, I went through Flagstaff and stopped at the Harley shop west of town for a t-shirt. They also had a roadhouse-style restaurant on their property, and since I was hungry I went in for a hamburger. The place was almost deserted and it was "grill your own" meat, but it turned out okay. I got back around 4, got cleaned up, and a little later went to dinner with my parents at the El Tovar Hotel in the village. It was a really nice place and the food was delicious- I had a pork chop, my dad had duck, and my mom had a shrimp dish. After dinner we met up with some of the other artists in the lounge area back at the training center. At one point, it was like back in school with yearbooks, with the artists passing copies of the event catalog for the other artists to sign by the work they submitted for the show.

Wednesday morning I went with my parents to Yaki Point to watch the sun rise. The Grand Canyon is pretty spectacular from pretty much any point and with any light, but it felt extra special at sunrise. We went over to the South Kaibab trailhead, where my dad set up to do a painting and I started on a hike down into the canyon. My mom went with me a very short ways down the trail, then watched as I shrunk away down the switchbacks. It only took me about 25 minutes to get down to Cedar Ridge, which I had confused myself into thinking was as far as I had intended to go. When I realized I had confused the 3 miles roundtrip to Cedar Ridge with the 3 miles one way I had intended, I continued down into the canyon until I got to Skeleton Point, 2,000 feet vertically below the rim, around 8 am. Just below that point was the first view down to the river. There are rapids at the point of the river that is visible, and I could hear them 2,500 feet below. The view was spectacular, and a completely different perspective than looking down from the rim. I probably would have gone a little further down, but I didn't want to keep my parents waiting since they were expecting me to take about 3 hours. I probably wouldn't have tried to go all the way to the river, since it is highly discouraged as a day hike, and the temperature that far down was still over 100 degrees, even though it was so pleasant on the rim. When I started planning this trip, I briefly considered doing a "rim to rim," hiking from the north to the south rim, but what I read didn't recommend it, and the high temperatures down in the canyon dissuaded me. It will remain on my list of things to do "some day" for now. I started back up the trail charging hard, until I had to stop to catch my breath. I took a longer break once I got back to Cedar Ridge, then started the charge back up to the rim. There were quite a few people coming down in the other direction, which made me think "if this is the less popular trail, I'd hate to be on Bright Angel Trail." I got back up to the trailhead around 9:30, just as my mom was coming over thinking she would see me coming back up the switchbacks. We loaded up and went further east to Shoshone Point, which is sort of a narrow peninsula into the canyon from the rim and giving a panoramic view. I of course rushed out to the end, while my mom could barely stand to watch me. It was a really nice spot, and hard for most tourists to get to, so it was quiet and not surprisingly there were a few artists set up in the area. We headed back to the village from there, and after lunch I zonked out and had my only nap of the trip. That evening I went with my parents and the other artists to dinner at the park superintendent's house in the village, along with some other park employees and sponsors of the event. It was informal, with heavy hors d'oeuvres instead of an entree. I enjoyed the whole thing, but especially getting to talk to the superintendent and assistant superintendent. Being pretty high up the food chain of the parks department, they've both traveled all over to various National Parks and I always enjoy talking about the parks. The Grand Canyon superintendent, Steve Martin (no relation), was previously superintendent of Grand Teton National park and has climbed Grand Teton several times, so I was able to talk climbing with him as well. I really could have talked to him all night, but obviously he had to socialize with everybody. Later on, back at the training center one of the artists gave me and my parents a preview of the work he'd been doing as well as that of his roommate. It was all spectacular, and I arranged to purchase one of Cody DeLong's plein air paintings he had done that week. If I had stayed longer, I might have purchased some from other artists as well, but the road she is a harsh mistress.

I got the bike all packed up and left Grand Canyon right at dawn on Thursday. I was dressed warmly at first, and it was cold again in Tusayan, but it warmed up quickly and I packed away the chaps and jacket at the first gas stop, somewhere on I-40 east of Flagstaff. I cruised along the interstate all the way to Albuquerque, NM, where I made a little stop at Isotopes Stadium. For anyone not a big Simpsons or baseball fan (myself being the former), the name for the team (unofficially) comes from an episode of the Simpsons, where the Springfield Isotopes threaten to move to Albuquerque. My favorite thing about Albuquerque (and I can't say I know much about the city) is that the people chose the name Isotopes. I've always thought about going to a game when they're visiting the Round Rock Express, but never have, so since I was already going through the area, I decided I'd stop in for a visit. Since their season is over, the place was practically shut down and I had to find somebody to sell me a t-shirt, and they didn't have much selection in my size. I took I-25 from there to Santa Fe, where I got the coveted picture of my bike with the Capitol. I went in to look around, even though I had already seen the inside in February. When I got back on the bike, it was not happy. It was popping, sputtering, and just plain running like crap. I tried pulling over and shutting it off, to see if maybe it was just in some funky mode and needed to be reset or something. When that didn't work, the only thing I could think is that maybe it was overheated, so I pulled over and parked under a tree for fifteen minutes. I was really worried, and was thinking I might have to get it towed to the local Harley shop or something- but at least I was in a major city and close to a shop. I tried starting her again after 15 minutes for both of us to cool down (it was actually not that hot in Santa Fe, it was hotter in Albuquerque), and whatever Gremlin had been fouling things up had moved on, and the bike ran just fine. I headed a pretty good ways north from Santa Fe, almost to Colorado, before turning east toward Texas. When mapping out the route, I found that if I just added a minor detour, I could add a few new New Mexico counties, so of course that's the route I took. This would have been a perfectly fine strategy, except that it was getting dark, and this was a rural area. I was pretty relieved that I was able to get gas in the tiny town of Roy, even if it was low-grade. It was really dark when I headed out the small road back to the US highway. It wasn't long before I saw one of the most dreaded country sights: the glow of reflection of an animal's eyes. First, there were a whole bunch of deer, and later I saw a solitary deer. I almost locked the wheels up stopping for the first bunch from ~50 mph, but kept my speed down closer to 40 after that. I was glad to make it back to the highway intact, and even though traffic was very light, a few cars felt better than no cars. I stopped for the night just short of the Texas border in the town of Clayton, some time after 9.

I got going a little after sunrise, had the pretty decent breakfast, and headed for Texas. As ever, I didn't take the direct route home, I wound my way through the last 5 counties in the panhandle I had yet to ride through. The riding was pretty standard for a second straight 700 mile day- my back was not happy, I was pretty much sick of my iPod, and I mostly just wanted to be home already. There were a lot of clouds in the sky as I approached Llano and the sun was setting. I could see there was rain in the area, so I pulled over and got on my rain gear just outside of town. Fortunately, I didn't run into any actual rain, but did go through some spots of wet pavement, so it was definitely nearby. I got home around 10 but didn't wind up going to sleep until almost 1. I didn't do much of anything over the weekend, just tried to get caught up with the postal mail and my work email. I would have mowed the badly overgrown lawn, but it sprinkled on and off both days.

The final tally for the trip is 3866 miles in 10 days. Good trip, but too much in too little time, as always.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Road Trip 2010, Part 1

On Wednesday, September 8, I set out on my first long motorcycle trip of the year. I've been doing so much cycling and so little motorcycle riding, I'm pretty sure up until this trip I had put more miles on the bicycle than either motorcycle in 2010. I had originally planned on leaving Tuesday, but I wound up having to do something Wednesday morning, so I left as soon as that was done. It's just as well I had to wait, the whole region was getting lashed with rain on Tuesday from Tropical Storm Hermine. I rode just to the corner station to fill up with gas and check that the bike was running well, and got wet even with my rain gear on. It was a lot milder in the morning, but I still got rained on steadily from Austin to Lampasas, then off and on for the rest of the day. I went through a few areas where it was actually sunny, and as soon as I thought that maybe the rain was done and I could take my rain gear off at the next stop, I would hit another patch of rain. My rain gear didn't do the best job of keeping me dry, the top and bottom of my shirt and the bottoms of my pants got wet. The sunny stretches allowed my shirt to mostly dry out, but my pant legs, and worst of all, my socks, stayed wet the entire day. I finally stopped in Guymon, Oklahoma and got dry and a decent night's rest. On the positive side, I did ride through 7 Texas counties and one OK county I'd never ridden through before.

I got packed up and moving on early on Thursday, and got to the Kansas line right around sunrise. I headed north along the western end of the state to its highest point, just east of the Colorado line. The biggest challenge in getting to the highpoint was riding on gravel roads, but that's not exactly anything new. It was the Fat Boy's third actual highpoint (NE and OH the others), so at least that's something. While I was there a man and (I'm guessing) his two sons drove up, who were fellow highpointers. I took a picture of them in front of the highpoint marker, which is kind of a neat metal sculpture, including a sunflower (the point is called Mount Sunflower, even though it's not a mountain). I rode a gravel road from there to the interstate, and headed west to Denver. The weather had been pretty pleasant, but it was hot in Denver. I went to the Capitol, but there was no place to stop for a picture in front, so I had to get one around back. I parked and went inside for a look around. I climbed up into the dome just as the woman was getting ready to close it down for the day. The view was really nice and the breeze up there was great. I hit some traffic on my way out of the city, but fortunately it was just rubberneckers, and not the multi-car pileup in the other direction. The temperature dropped, from quite nice to downright chilly, as I climbed into the mountains, and then it would warm up again descending from the mountain passes. As I have previously, I went through the Eisenhower Tunnel, the highest (and longest) in the US, at over 11,000 feet above sea level. On the way down, I was chasing a semi that seemed to be on fire, as it was spewing foul smoke. I eventually got off of the interstate and headed to Leadville (the highest city in the US). I gassed up and headed just outside of town toward the Elbert trailhead. I found the turn I somehow missed when I was there in 2008, and found myself a campsite in the National Forest campground. I would have just stayed put for the night, but what I didn't realize at first is that the campground was effectively closed for the season- the restrooms (pit toilets) were locked, but there was no fee at least. The manual water pumps (if they were operational at all) had had their handles removed, so there was no water. I set up camp and rode back to town to get water, and I also picked up some cookies and other carbs for the hike the next morning. It was starting to get dark as I made my way back to camp, which is exactly what I wanted to avoid. That wasn't the real problem, though. I realized, after it was already dark and I had no interest in going back to town, that the batteries in my headlamp were nearly dead. I also searched everywhere and didn't have a backup flashlight anywhere. I used to keep a mini-maglite in my backpack as a backup, but I probably took it out to fly somewhere. Of course there was no moon out at that point, and after a little while the headlamp was putting out only slightly more light than the stars. I managed to prepare and eat dinner, and did find a lighter for emergency lighting. On the positive, I did see more stars that night than almost any other time in my life.

It was still dark when I woke up Friday morning. I fumbled about for a while getting stuff sorted out for the hike. It started getting light as I was packing the bike back up, and the sun was rising by the time I got to the trailhead. The toilets there were not locked, so I availed myself of one. There was a pretty big group of guys of various ages (mostly 10+ years older than me) that left a couple of minutes before I did, but I caught up with them in less than 10 minutes. I passed most of them before catching up with the youngest at the front. He must have thought I was with his group at first, because he seemed surprised when he turned around and looked at me. After a little ways, there was a flat traverse section, and I decided to jog a little bit. In retrospect, I probably should have saved my energy, but I was feeling strong. I passed an older guy by himself just after the trail started climbing again. He caught up to me when I stopped for a 10 minute break not long after, and he said he was from Nashville. I think he must have turned back before the summit, because I didn't see him again. It was only about 15 minutes after my break that I reached tree line (around 12,000 ft), and took a quick break to put on sunscreen and sunglasses. It started to get steeped from there, and the air was definitely getting thinner. I met a couple coming down who had been at the summit for sunrise. The air was getting really thin by the time I got to the first of several false summits around 14,000 ft. I would only go about 50 feet before having to pause for breath, and every time I restarted from a stop I got a head rush. Fortunately, the trail from 14,000 to the summit (14,440) was not very steep. The wind, which had been blowing pretty good all the way from tree line, was particularly strong at the summit. Thankfully, there are several low rock walls for shelter. There were two people at the summit when I got there. I had them take my picture before they started back down. I didn't stay very long at the summit, mainly because it was cold and windy. I passed a number of people on their way up as I was descending. Some of them were not exactly thrilled to hear how much further they had to go. I passed the big group I had passed in the beginning just before I got back to tree line. I was feeling pretty tired when I stopped for a break just below tree line. I took my boots and socks off for a while, ate something, and relaxed for a few minutes. I was a bit more energetic after the break and clean, dry (but thin) socks, but it wasn't long after that I was feeling pretty sapped again. I pushed myself for a while, but ultimately decided that I didn't really have to rush and took my time. Ultimately, it took my almost 3 hours from the top to the bottom, and it had only taken me 3 and a half from the bottom to the top. I had to do some rearranging of the bike before I could head back down the gravel road toward town. I rode south and then west to the town of Gunnison. For whatever reason, the first chain hotels I tried were full (or only had an expensive room available), so I wound up staying at a small family-owned motel. It wasn't much and the room was very tiny, but it had what I really needed- a shower. I had dinner at the place the clerk recommended, but it was not very good and the steak prices were significantly higher than Austin's. After dinner I used the motel's curious hot tub in a little wooden house in the middle of the parking lot. It felt pretty good nonetheless, and soon after I was socked out in front of the TV.

It was very cold Saturday morning- the local weather was saying 26 degrees, which was pretty much confirmed by the frost on my bike and the several other bikes in the parking lot. I brushed the ice off and packed the bike anyway. I had breakfast along with the owners of some of those other bikes. We chatted a bit about our rides in the area until I finished and got geared up for my morning ride. I had every piece of warm riding gear with me on, and I was still freezing. The temperature had started to rise, but I had not yet begun to thaw when I got to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park about an hour away. I started to warm up in the visitors center, and moreso when I walked down to a view point and back up. Since a ranger program was starting soon, I rode down to the river to the East Portal ranger station. The road down might just be the steepest paved road in the US at 16% grade. The bike wasn't entirely happy, it was backfiring the whole way down. I found the talk interesting- it was about the Gunnison Tunnel, which at the time of its completion was the longest irrigation tunnel in the world, and is now a National Civil Engineering Landmark. Unfortunately we didn't get to see the tunnel itself, since it is still in operation, providing water for the area's fruit trees and other crops. After the program, I rode back up the steep road and checked out the vistas along the canyon rim. It was pretty impressive- very tall and quite steep. I don't have a great fear of heights, but there was one view point in particular where I had a hard time getting the proper perspective, and it kind of made my head start to swim. At another view point, there were rangers who were checking up on two rock climbers who were coming up just across the way (but still on the same side of the river). That was pretty impressive to see, but even more impressive would have been to climb the Painted Wall, which at 2300 feet is not quite El Capitan, but is the tallest in Colorado. It had warmed up by the time I headed out of the park around noon, and since I still wanted to go a pretty good ways, I got back on the road. The sun was getting close to setting as I was riding pretty much due west into Capitol Reef National Park, so I was having some trouble seeing, but fortunately there was very few other cars. When I got there, the park's one campground was already full, so I went on 10 miles further west into the town of Torrey and got a site at a commercial campground. I had a nice little campfire going and had even picked up some new batteries for my headlamp, even though I didn't need it nearly as badly as I had in Leadville, since there was a big artificial light in this campground.

Sunday morning, I had some breakfast, packed up, and headed back into the park. Since my legs were still sore from Elbert and I wasn't really geared for hiking, I mostly just rode to the various view points, even a couple that were down dirt roads. The one hike I did do was to a natural bridge. It certainly wasn't Arches NP with its dozens of arches and bridges, but it's always cool to see those weird formations. I paid the $3 and took the scenic drive, which honestly wasn't that much more scenic than the main road through the park, but it did offer some spots to pull over and take a few nice pictures of my bike. I headed out of the park around noon, and passed through lots more beautiful landscapes. I particularly enjoyed passing through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is rated as one of the most scenic roads in the country. I would definitely agree, it was pretty spectacular. It would have been nice to be able to explore it some, but that will have to wait for another trip. I did stop and check out Kodachrome Basin State Park, mainly because of the name and that once I saw it on the map, I couldn't get the Simon and Garfunkel song out of my head. It wasn't a particularly large park, and I didn't think the formations looked all that different from the others I had passed, but it was still a nice place. It sucked to pass right by Bryce Canyon NP and Zion NP and not have enough time to stop, but I have already seen them and really want several days to explore them some day. I headed east toward Page, AZ as the sun was setting, and was treated to a typically gorgeous desert sunset. The hotels in Page seemed to be pretty full and while I might have found a better deal elsewhere, I checked in to the Best Western. After dropping my stuff, I went out for food. For as many foreign tourists as there were in my hotel, the town seemed to be pretty dead. I had a pretty good dinner, then headed back. It wasn't too late, since I had gained an hour by crossing the UT/AZ line, so I went for a swim. The heater for the hot tub was broken, but the pool was open. The air was cool and the pool wasn't especially warm, but it was fine once I eased my way in, and I started swimming laps despite it being an irregularly shaped pool and the lights (in the pool) being off.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lost Pines Triathlon

As I mentioned oh so long ago in my last post, I became interested in doing a triathlon after watching the CapTexTri downtown on Memorial Day. After mentioning it to a coworker, he suggested looking at to find one I was interested in. After looking and thinking for a while, I zeroed in on the Lost Pines Triathlon in Bastrop State Park at the end of August. It's considered a sprint distance, and the 400m swim is in a pool (followed by a 16 mile bike and 5k run). That pretty well alleviated any fears I had of drowning out in open water somewhere.

Starting just 10 weeks before the race, I decided the best method for training would be to join a gym with a pool, since swimming was a big concern of mine. I joined the enormous one, about 6 miles from my house, LifeTime, with two lap pools (one indoors, one outdoors). Also, not that it has anything to do with a triathlon, it has an indoor rock climbing wall. After about two weeks of running and swimming (on top of my usual cycling) and a trial run of the race distance, I was pretty confident I would be able to at least complete it, and I registered for the Lost Pines race.

Training went pretty well, I did about an hour a day 4 days during the week, and usually a little longer on the weekends, with a mix of in the gym and outdoors (which included cycling to work about once a week). I initially jumped around on the machines in the gym, since I'd never belonged to a gym before, trying out the stair master, the ellipticals, the rowing machine, before pretty much settling on the treadmill. I swam about twice a week in their lap pool, and on most Saturdays I joined the group bicycle ride leaving from the gym. One weekend I rode my bicycle downtown to the running shoe store, bought some proper running shoes (instead of just my regular all-purpose sneakers), and went for a run on the hike-and-bike trail. A week before the race, I did another "brick," riding to and around the veloway for 16 miles, and then running a 5k on the high school track.

After all the prep, today was race day. I woke up at 5 in order to get to Bastrop State Park before 6:30 to get one of the limited number of parking spots actually inside the park. I got my bike and other stuff and set up in the transition area. Being a rookie, I managed to do things out of order and initially missed getting my number drawn on my arms and legs. I picked up my timing chip and strapped it to my leg. Then it was milling about and getting my gear situated and ready to go before they closed the transition. In the pre-race briefing, it was explained that since the pool is old and not a lap pool, it was about 33 yards and the whole swim would be "about" 400 yards long. Also, that the run wasn't 3.2 miles or even 5k as advertised, it was more like 3.6 miles. Then the real chaos started, as they basically threw out the seeding and rather than have people start based on what time they said it would take for them to swim the course, they just let people go whenever. For example, there was a really big guy who it seemed could barely swim started long before I did (he got a big cheer when he finally finished the race, well after me).

The course worked kind of like a maze, going down and back one lane (which, by the way, were divided basically by pool noodle floats), moving to the next lane, down and back, next lane, etc, for a total of ~11 1/2 laps (ending at the steps in the middle of the pool). The starter wasn't releasing people at a regular interval, she just started people when the person in front was most of the way through their first lap. Because of the random order, I managed to catch up the person ahead of me around the first turn. I passed two more women in one of the lanes, which was complicated by oncoming traffic- the lanes were narrow for even two people to pass, three was impossible, so I had to wait for an opening. I passed a couple more people who stopped for a breather on the walls. At one wall, I stopped long enough to get a comment from the woman who started right after me (and had been chatting with) that it was harder to follow the lane dividers than expected. I definitely found that to be the case- having done most of my swimming in a specifically designed lap pool, I got used to having a tile stripe on the floor to follow- this pool was oddly shaped and had no such markings.

My first transition was pretty slow, mainly because I put on socks and had to wipe the pine needles and crap off my feet first. I also put on my helmet, gloves, sunglasses, heart rate monitor, watch, ... I was feeling an adrenaline rush at the start of the bike ride, and my heart was going over 170 bpm. After the first couple of rolling hills, it was over 180. Once it leveled out more and I was in "bike mode," my heart rate came down to reasonable levels. Then came more and more rolling hills. I passed a lot of other bikes, and really only one passed me (one guy was climbing slower and descending faster than I was who passed me twice, and I him twice), some of whom got off and walked some of the bigger hills. The steepest hill was as steep as the steep section on the veloway, but a little bit longer. I never had to get off the bike, but I did get down to the lowest gear I have (and then had to stand up and crank). I finally got to the turnaround point, and had to do it all again in the other direction. Fortunately there wasn't as steep of an uphill on the way back. I did manage to lose a water bottle (that I was holding at the time) going over a paved-over cattle guard. At least it was the one with straight water, and not the one with electrolytes.

The second transition was quicker, swapping my cycling shoes for my running shoes, racking my bike and ditching my gloves and helmet. I started to feel my calves cramping changing my shoes and at the start of the run, but I figured it would work itself out as long as I kept moving (and hydrating), which turned out to be the case. The run course went right past where they were cooking kielbasa for lunch, which was a bit tortuous as I was feeling hungry before the race started. The run went fine, I certainly didn't set any speed record, but I'm pleased that I managed to keep up at least a jogging pace the entire time. The guy I had been dogfighting with on the bike sailed past me, as did a woman. In the very last stretch, two guys overtook me. Right at the finish line I felt pretty spent, and was glad someone was there to bend over and take my timing chip so I didn't have to. After a little replenishment, I felt really awesome, kind of a "runner's high," I guess. I ate and drank a ton, and just sort of wandered about until they gave out the trophies and such. It turned out to be worth my waiting around, I won a wetsuit in the prize giveaway. My time ended up being 1:53:09, good for 66th overall (of 200+), and 5th in my class (men 30-34, of 12 total), which I feel is pretty good for a first time. The guy who got the best time (~1:20) said of his 20 years of racing, this was one of the toughest courses he'd done. Should make the next sprint triathlon I do seem easier, or maybe I'll just jump up to the Olympic distance...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Long Overdue Update

Man, it's been quite a while since I've written anything here. I guess I pretty much lost interest. That, and I haven't been up to too much that's particularly exciting. Not that that stopped me in the past, but I sort of fell out of the habit and have had a hard time getting interested again. Maybe part of the problem is that I've gotten very little feedback about this blog. I haven't done much of anything to bring in readers, other than sending out what I wrote about the Rainier climb along with pictures to a bunch of people. I haven't even set up a feed from here to Facebook, which is where I do pretty much all of my sharing these days. Other than the Rainier article, pretty much the only feedback I've gotten about this blog is in real life, which is just kind of weird. Enough with the excuses, I'll get to a brief overview of what I've been up to.

In February, I went skiing for the first time in at least a decade in Taos. I went the week of Presidents Day, just after the project I had been slaving over for a few months at work wrapped up. I made the arrangements only about a week or so beforehand, when it finally looked like we were going to make it. I made all the arrangements (including lift ticket and ski rental) through the hotel I stayed at in Taos Ski Valley. Staying there was definitely more expensive than staying in town would have been, but I wanted to be close, especially in case there was overnight snow and my little car would have getting trouble getting to the mountain. After parking Monday morning, I didn't move my car until I left Thursday morning. I ate breakfast and dinner pretty much every day in a little bar/restaurant in the same clump of buildings as my hotel and the ski rental shop. It was good and reasonably priced, probably only a little more expensive than town, but it was full of skiers and people who work on the mountain, which made for easy conversation. It was also really nice that the Olympics were on TV the entire time, there was always something to discuss with strangers.

I raced slalom in high school, so I used to be a pretty good skier, but only skied a couple of times during college, and not at all after moving to Texas. Having once been relatively good and my legs being in good shape helped significantly, I think, in my return. I started on green runs (the easiest), quickly moved to blues (medium), and even a couple of black runs (difficult) by the end of the first day. I didn't even come close to attempting any double black diamonds (expert only). Taos Ski Valley has pretty advanced terrain, and most of their black runs, in addition to being fairly steep, are ungroomed and therefore covered in moguls. One run I spent a while on was half groomed, so I could take the moguls one or two at a time to relearn how to ski them, and then ski on the groomed portion for fun. I certainly didn't get to the point that I would call good on the moguls, but I did really enjoy myself. One other reason I liked the black runs is that I spent a lot more time than on the blues- I mostly sped down the blues faster than the lifts were going up. At the start of the third day my legs were pretty tired. It took about an hour for them to really warm up, and they about gave up well before the end of the day.

On my way back home, I stopped and spent the night with some old family friends in Santa Fe. They showed me around the town, which I really liked. I had actually stopped for a little while on my way up and toured the Capitol. My parents actually just visited them as well.

A short time after I got home from the Taos trip, my grandmother passed away. I went up to Dallas for the memorial service in March. My parents, sister and niece all came down, so it was good to see them. My aunt and uncle and cousin and her family all live up there, so of course we saw them as well. There was a funny moment- my niece and I had gone over to my cousin's house where she and my cousin's daughter worked on a coloring project; my cousin and I were helping them and they ran off to watch TV, leaving two adults coloring with crayons.

Once again this year I went up to Pittsburgh in April for Spring Carnival. I took an absurdly early flight on Thursday in order to get to the buggy display before it ended. I took a bus from the airport to my hotel, dropped my bag and walked at top speed to campus, and made it with enough time to wander around and chat with old friends. However, most of the people I saw throughout the weekend who I knew from when I was in school lived in the area- there weren't nearly as many of my friends from out of town as the first few times after I graduated. The buggy races were pretty spectacular- there were a lot of crashes on Friday and on Saturday there was a shocking major disqualification of an entire team that would likely have won in both the men's and women's divisions. The weather changed dramatically between Friday and Saturday- whereas Thursday and Friday were warm to where I wished I was wearing shorts instead of jeans, Saturday (especially the morning for races) was very cold, to where I had to go inside to warm up a few times. There was some sort of 10-year reunion gathering at some point that sounded pretty lame, and that I skipped to hang out with my fraternity brothers and other old friends.

I have been cycling quite a bit, just over 700 miles since I got a computer for the Secteur. Since the end of March I've been riding to work at least once a week, and it's become my main means of transportation on the weekends. After mulling it over for quite a while, in April I swapped my toe clip pedals for clipless pedals. I went with ones really meant for mountain bikes, mainly because those kind work with cycling shoes that actually look like shoes. Since I still mostly ride to places and stay for a little while, I wanted shoes that didn't look totally bizarre out of context and also were easy to walk in. I also picked up a pair of "commuter sandals," which also accept cleats compatible with the pedals. I haven't had much trouble with them, mainly in clipping in from a stop- sometimes it takes a couple tries before they click in. I've found the sandals are harder to unclip than the shoes, possibly because there's extra play between when the foot moves and the sandal moves. Only one time it caused me to fall over when there were some bicycles in my way and I couldn't unclip in time to keep myself from falling over. I bruised my hand and butt slightly in the fall, nothing too serious. This past Monday (Memorial Day) I went downtown to watch the CapTexTri for the first time. Seeing all of the "less than elite" competitors kind of made me want to try one some day. We'll see if that interest lasts and if I can swim a half to three quarters of a mile without drowning.

I haven't been inline skating much. I have been hiking in Barton Creek Greenbelt every now and then. I haven't been riding the motorcycles too much other than to and from work every once in a while. I haven't been camping and it seems I missed the weather window for this area- it may hit 100 degrees this weekend.

That's probably about it for now. Maybe now that I've gotten that stuff down, I'll write about my next adventure without feeling a burden of all this other stuff I hadn't mentioned.