Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cross Mountain Gorge.

Around about this time of year the last of the water 'dries up', meaning that free-run rivers drop too low to float, and dam releases get curtailed for umpteen reasons.

If it weren't for an upcoming Grand Canyon trip for which I feel ill-prepared, I'd be OK with letting boating season end and riding season begin.

But because of said looming trip, I badgered Stevie and Greg into paddling on Tuesday, despite the fact that flows were tanking all over the state.  Ultimately Stevie had to bail but Greg pressed for Cross Mountain Gorge of the Yampa, which turned out to be a great call.

We rode our own shuttle over the course of ~an hour, following a straightforward route of doubletracks and dirt roads, and saw not one other person from the time we pedaled away from my car until we floated back down to it many hours hence.

BLM administers the public lands in this area, and has this to say:

Cross Mountain itself is an oblong, flat-topped land mass that rises over 2,200 feet above the floodplain of the Yampa River and the Little Snake River. The mountain trends north-south and forms an easily-identifiable landmark in the region.

The Yampa River cut a 1,000-foot-deep gorge, the Cross Mountain Canyon, through the mountain, forming a classic example of a superimposed river gorge with spectacular geologic history. Erosion of the mountain's east and west flanks has exposed colorful, rocky rims, side canyons and rock outcrops.

Riverbrain describes the water thusly:

Cross Mountain Gorge is a fun run through a beautiful desert canyon in northeastern Colorado.  This run often attracts the attention of antsy Colorado and Utah boaters since it is one of the first decent sections in Colorado to start running in the early season, often as early as March.  At low water expect mostly easy class II and III with a couple rapids in the IV- range and a stretch of flatwater on ingress and egress to the gorge.

After the mandatory faffing about that takes place at every put-in, we launched into ominous but startlingly calm skies.  Before rounding the first bend the blow began, and soon we were hunched forward and digging hard, putting our backs into overcoming the wind-pushed waves rolling upstream.  A mile or so later we entered the gorge proper, and while I don't think the wind died, other considerations presented themselves.

The first rapid of note, Osterizer, is rather kittenish (Greg's term) at these flows.  Boat scout from the small left eddy directly above (and pictured above) or shore scout from the right--where I'm standing to shoot the shot below.

Lots of IIIish action interspersed with bunches of boogie will occupy you for the next ~mile, before a few consecutive blind (but boat-scoutable) moves and then a horizon line encourage you to step out and up to have a look.

This is Snake Pit, probably the hardest line on the river this day.  My inexperience will probably show through here, but I'll stick my neck out and call it a III+ move with V- consequences.  Meaning if you blow the line you're in for a hole chundering and/or a really high speed, really shitty swim.  After much deliberation (in the midst of which Greg reminded me that his last SWR 'refresher' was in junior high) I chose to sneak it on the creeky line river right.  The main line had plenty of flow and looked relatively straightforward, but the fast runout into not-much-water with heaps of F-U rocks had me unmotivated to participate.  The creek line was fun.

Snake Pit from far below, at river level.

It was Greg's turn to lead when we arrived at this wall shot/pillow redirect.  I (think I) bluffed him into believing it was an inconsequential move, largely because I could see his blood pressure spiking the longer he looked at it.  I knew he could see the line and we both knew he could execute, so I waded/swam out to a better vantage point for photos while he battened down the hatches.

Lots of II+/III- read and run from here on out.

Some moving pixels from the day:

In the end we had a grand mini adventure, continued our education at the hands of water, and saw a lot of new-to-us country.  Win, win, win.

Thanks to Greg for the still shots appended above.

Thanks to you for checkin' in.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Flashback: 2002.

In the 2002 Iditarod Trail Invitational I was racing, ravenous, and had just left the native coastal village of Shaktoolik with a fresh resupply.  We use the post offices as our checkpoints in that race, meaning that we ship whatever we think we might need a few weeks in advance.  Back then you never knew if the villages would have stores, if/when you’d arrive, if/when they’d be open, what they’d have (or not) on the shelves, etc.  One year I arrived at the village store in Koyuk to find a pallet of Nutter Butter cookies (one of my all-time favorites) front and center by the door.  A quick glance revealed that they were six years past their expiration date, yet proved just as delicious as the day they were born.  And a bargain at only $9/pack! 

I share this story as entertainment, but also to illustrate that you make a best guess on what you’ll need from a few weeks and several thousand miles away, then ship it.  And pray. 

Among the goodies in each of the boxes I'd shipped out were headlamp batteries, dry socks, spare inner tubes, Bag Balm for my, um, bag, maps for the next section of trail, and lots of food. Salient edibles that year were Velveeta-and-bacon-filled tortillas, heaps of gummi worms (they’re excellent when frozen), and a quart-sized baggie full of chocolate-dipped dried apple rings. I looked forward to these more than anything else as I approached each village. 

 In order to get a box to any of these villages, the postal service has to use increasingly smaller aircraft to get from the hubs to the dots at the end of the line, and as such the boxes get handled many, many times — tossed into and out of the bellies of many small planes along the way.  Often the boxes simply never arrived at their destination; whether they were lost, stolen, or destroyed is anyone’s guess. 

When they did somehow arrive they looked like they’d been dragged most of the way from Colorado to bush Alaska.  The box that I picked up in Shaktoolik was ripped, scuffed, had been wet and dry several times, and had two gaping holes in the bottom.  It was obvious some stuff had fallen out and been shoved back in, and it was clear that not everything had made it back in.  From the general heft of it I assumed there was enough food to make it a few more days to the next store, so I signed for it and hustled out the door. 

Outside the PO I haphazardly tore everything out of the box and stashed it wherever I could on the bike — inside of pogies, inside the frame pack, in pockets in my jacket, etc.  Just a quick and dirty pack job for the moment, as I was leading the race and wanted to get out of town (and out of sight!) before any other racers arrived.  That done, I hightailed it back onto the trail and headed for the sea ice of Norton Sound. 

 A few hours later, hungry from the exertion of flight and able to see about 10 miles behind along the empty trail, I stopped for a snack. I sussed out the apple rings and was surprised to see a hole in the side of the bag. “No matter,” I thought, “at least they’re all still in there.” 

What I hadn’t noticed was that there was also a hole in the side of the Bag Balm ziploc, and that greasy, nasty stuff had gotten everywhere -- including all over the apples.  They still looked oh-so-delicious but the balm had rendered them completely, terribly inedible.  I carried them the next two days, occasionally trying to clean them with snow or to just tolerate the flavor, but each time I got instant gag reflex at the taste of the petroleum-jelly-based balm.  I ended up leaving the brim-full bag on a table inside of a shelter cabin near the Kwik River, figuring that someone might be in a survival situation and need to choke them down.  Or, better, maybe they could use them to start a fire! 

 Three days go by.  I’m back in Anchorage after successfully completing the race.  The guys that finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are flying back from the finish, and I’m thrilled to meet them at the airport to hear all about their rides.  Over the next few hours, in the course of much eating and storytelling, one of the three (a Brit) mentions how they'd found this indescribably delicious concoction some trail angel had left in a cabin.  He went on to re-imagine the ethereal flavor, something intangible but very familiar, of apples dipped in chocolate, with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ tying it all together.  He confessed that he and his mate (another Brit) ate the whole bag while their traveling partner slept nearby.  They admitted they felt guilty for not sharing, but were too overcome with the unique flavor to even consider stopping until there was nothing left to eat...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Things don't always have to be so black and white.

Except when it, uh, makes sense for them to.

New bike time.  Most important thing to remember is that any fatbike, for me, is always going to be meant for snow ~90% of the time.  

I may get a wild hair to do something requiring added float in the non-snow months, but those trips are the exception, and pretty much any geometry will work on soft, unfrozen surfaces.

Key word above = geometry.  I had a custom frame built because although everyone seems to make a fatbike these days, none of them come anywhere close to geometry that really, truly works on snow.  99.9% of the people buying and riding fatbikes these days don't know any better, and 90% of them don't care.  Most are simply happy looking down on their gee-whiz bulbous tires, thinking that the tires are the most important thing.

No way. 

Pictured here with summer kit (fork, post, grips) and wheels.

Heirloom stem.  Single pinch bolt for ease of turning the bars sideways--when strapping the bike onto a packraft, or stuffing the whole thing into a bush plane.

Heirloom bars.  They hold ~12oz of liquid, most often denatured alcohol.

Horizontal strut for ease of portage.  Fatbikes can be ridden lots of places that normal bikes cannot, but they still have their limits.  And since I usually ride with a framebag in place, that strut becomes my suitcase handle.

Proto?  Hopefully not for long.  Running 'em tubeless at ~13psi on Derby rims.

26t ring is plenty for where/how I ride it.

It's the little things.

Love the clean functionality of this cockpit.

Rack TBD.

Honestly, I do not and will not ride this bike much for 10 months of the year.  But I cannot imagine being entirely without a floaty chassis.  Those other ~2 months it'll get used enough to justify it's existence many times over.

More details to come as I put more miles on it.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Fabric of the cosmos.

Every few months I get a wild hair to fiddle with astrophotogeekery.  There are heaps of tutorials online to get you in the vague arena of the shot you're after, but in the end you have to get out and make a lot of mistakes while shorting yourself on sleep in order to get anything unique.

The beauty of this niche of photogeeking is that you can never know exactly what you'll end up with--too many variables, too few of them controllable.

The bummer of this niche is that I'm already chronically sleep deprived, and another hobby to get OCD about after dark isn't going to help.

Last weekend I shot some night exposures from deep within the Gunnison Gorge.  The image below was spawned by the simple idea that a non-conventional interval shot might yield something noteworthy.  

I set the lens to 16mm and manual focus at infinity, then set the 7d body to f2.8, ISO 3200, RAW capture, auto white balance, shutter open for 29 seconds, and a 5 minute 5 second interval.

I used StarStax to stitch the 30 resulting images, then did a very basic levels adjustment in iPhoto to arrive at what you see above.

I've not yet gotten to the point with astrophotogeeking where I have expectations of what will result from any given shot or sequence, thus the fabric-esque pattern that resulted here was an unexpected delight.

Thanks for checking in.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Christmas in July.

After two months of stunning heat, single digit humidity, and trail surfaces the consistency of (deep) baby powder, the monsoons have arrived.  

Yes, arrived--and brought with them triple digit humidity, ball-bearings-on-concrete trails, and sketchy new ruts seemingly whenever you let the bike run.

I'll take it.  All of it.

Nice to have the change--feels like a gift relative to what came before.

Please enjoy a quick edit of 'where I go when the day has gotten long and I only have an hour to burn...". 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Postcards from summer.

My guess is that, were summer given a pen, her to-the-point message to fall, winter, and spring would be:

"Y'all can suck it!"

Gazing at the pixels appended here (if you aren't already out recreating) might make a strong argument for that assertion.

Mountains, Milky Way, shooting star. and aurora--FTW!

Get out there, now, before the flowers are gone and the creeks have all dried up.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Exercising options.

All of last week Jeny and I alternately debated weekend plans and checked weather websites.  The normal summer pattern of afternoon thunderstorms has settled in, which is ideal if you're among the parched flora that blanket this state.  Not so good if you're a sentient bike rider looking to ride up high without getting electrocuted.

As we neared the weekend very few options remained in play, and we began considering staying low and paddling in what little moving water remains.

Then a hail-mary email came in from Jeff and Tim, inviting us to join them on an overnighter near Salida.

Even though the forecast there looked every bit as bad as elsewhere, somehow the fact that it was someone else's trip, with plans already firm, made it seem like a better idea than not.

The storms started early on the first day, catching us out a long ways from shelter the first time.  We all got soaked through despite good rain gear, prompting an impromptu stop under the eaves of the next trailhead loo we came to.

And while we did get some good weather for riding over our two days out, wave after wave of storms washed over us, necessitating a lot of stopping and waiting at low points when they presented themselves.

All that rain made for hero dirt, a condition no one seemed to mind.

We camped strategically on day one so that we could top our high point early on day two--theoretically before the storms began and closed the door on that option.

Mere moments after the group topped out on Tomichi Pass the thrumbles began to our west, and would hound us increasingly through the day.

Much of the second day's route was in thick enough trees that shelter of a sort was always at arms reach.  Still, we ended up having to shortcut our route substantially because of all the downtime spent waiting for charged clouds to roll on by.

We used that downtime wisely--by sharing scoobysnacks, catching up on each others lives, and, of course, talking smack.

In the end the weekend turned out nowhere near any plan any of us had envisioned.

Despite that, we had a great time and would go again at the drop of a hat.

To Tim, Roz, Heather, and Jeff--thanks for having us.

And thanks to you for checkin' in.