Monday, September 22, 2008

CDT ST, day 6+

The wind slapped us around all night long, whipping the tarps into a flapping frenzy and guaranteeing that real honest-to-goodness sleep never happened for more than a few seconds at a time. Camped as we were near the lakeshore, each time a gust ripped through the trees it'd bring a succession of waves landward. Waves lapping at the shore sounded an awful lot like a large carnivore whetting its whistle, or slopping noisily along the waters edge.

Easy to imagine that last while half-sleeping in a strange place through the deep dark of a blustery night...

Dawn seemed to come later than usual, finding us chilled and groggy and needing a good climb to get warmed up and clear out the mental haze. Fortunately, we had no choice but to ascend semi-steeply right off the bat.

So groggy and out of sorts was I that for the first few hours composing pics held little allure and I simply rode, and gawked, and enjoyed each moment as it passed. A rarity for me and not an unpleasant one. Eventually the alpine scenery aroused me from that strange slumber and I leaned the bike near the edge of a talus field for an on-high perspective of Scott riding past. I pushed buttons, twiddled dials, sighted my subject and then, with an altogether inappropriate-to-the-grandeur-of-the-scene 'beep' received confirmation that my perspective of that moment had been immortalized.

Then on we went.

Although the motivation to snap pics had returned, the coordination to do so wasn't necessarily present. Seconds later I clumsily exited a switchback and saw another perspective that seemed worthy of a pic. Knowing that Scott was close behind, I rushed to dismount the bike, lean it, fetch the camera, power it up, aim, fiddle, and fire all in the space of about 6.2 heartbeats. Somewhere before I'd extracted the camera things went awry, with the result that I became entangled in the bike and went tumbling down into a talus field. It was an ugly fall.

I came to rest on my chin with the bike on my back, and needed more than a second to disentangle myself enough to take stock of the situation. Dabbing the back of my glove to my chin showed no blood (yet), so I turned my attention to the other apparent aches slowly clamoring for attention. The most obvious was a finger pointing roughly 90 degrees to any orientation I had yet seen. Ow. I removed my glove to verify the injury, then relocated the digit using inline traction. Examining closely the already bulbous joint produced an odd queasy feeling in the pit of my gut, which rose quickly and threatened to dislodge the meager breakfast I'd eaten short hours before. Without much thought I remounted the bike, determined to ride (and encourage) the wave of adrenaline that followed the crash, in hopes that it could override the nausea. Seemed to work, as joint swelling and an immediate dull ache were the worst I'd have to complain about through this day and the next.

Blazing ever downward into Idaho, the trail reentered the trees and, confusingly, became more rocky, ledgy, and technical as it descended.

We bottomed out over 3000' lower only to find a virtually unrideable ascent stretching back up to the divide. Lacking any other option, we pushed our bikes up the unrelenting pitch, occasionally breaking to snack on trailside berries as they presented themselves. By the apex of the climb my gut was full of fruit and my gloves were permanently stained from their juices.

Life seemed pretty good at that moment. It was then that I realized I had achieved what all vacations should at least set out to do: I had shed the concerns of my day-to-day existence and was living, as they say, in the moment. The broken digit, the endless slaving ascents, the lack of sleep, the incessant wind, the interminable filthiness--all of it added up to something not much worthy of consideration as I grinned through gaping mouthfuls of overripe berries.

Perspective thus adjusted, I grinned even bigger.

The ensuing miles were different from those past only in that my perspective had altered and with it came a lighter frame of mind. Gentler grades, sweetwater springs, duff trail, and slanted light that spoke of autumn more than summer.

On into the afternoon and evening we followed the ridgeline separating east from west, Atlantic from Pacific, distant panicked snobbery from less distant groovy-hippiedom. At some point the trail tipped upward at an attention getting grade, and up we pushed for a time. Regrouping at a knoll a short discussion ensued, wherein it was decided that given all of the collective route knowledge that we possessed, backtracking to a forest road and descending to a highway was likely our best course of action.

And that's just what we did.

The trip wasn't ended there--they never are. More effort and struggle was involved than either of us had expected, intended, or planned for, but a day later and with rejuvenated spirits we found ourselves smiling and recounting the finer points of the trip as we drove easily southward to resume our everyday existences.

As always, we're already discussing and looking forward to the next one.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

CDT ST, day five.

Spinning up the dirt road from Jackson, Montana headed for Miner's Lake and the CDT, we came upon this:

After ruminating on it for about 6.2 seconds the thought that my mind settled on was simply this: a penis implant would likely have been cheaper, would certainly have used fewer trees, would not have degraded the view, and stood a better chance of making an (in)significant improvement to the owner's self confidence.


Fortunately we left the ranches and entered the forest pretty quick--the only structures up here are derelict cabins left over from miners and an occasional gate, and very few of either. Mostly we just saw a lotta mountains, rocks, trees, flowers, and lakes. And poop from large omnivorous critters.

You know--the good stuff.

The higher we climbed the better the trail seemed to get. Well built switchbacks connected long stretches of rideable if techy singletrack.

We were loving the trail almost as much as the scenery. Somewhere on our way north we'd crossed a threshold where the alpine lifezone dipped down into the 7000' range. Nearer to Lima we'd been at 10,000' and still in sage desert.

Simply couldn't stop composing and snapping pics this day. The light was just so-so but the amount and quality of subject material underfoot was staggering. I almost had several meltdowns when trying to decide which way to point the camera. At one point I was so overstim'ed I just plopped down on the ground, turned the camera off, and *looked*. Wanted to make sure I'd *seen* and *been* here instead of just photographing it. Made sure to take a few deep breaths to suck up the sweet stench of decaying organic matter too. Not much of that back home in the desert.

And then we crested a ridge and started downhill, with an immediate and unbelievable (to me, but then I'm easy to impress) increase in fun, chunk, tech, and scenery. In short, the trail got funner and the lookee-looing got better.

Earlier than planned my tank hit "E" and after the requisite ~30 minutes of denial while attempting to clean a tech climb that required more than just abundant energy, I pulled over at a lakeside campsite and started collecting wood for a fire. The day had never warmed past ~60 and the incessant wind had me chilled before the sun fell beyond the nearest western ridge. Scott was in disbelief that I wanted to stop and I wasn't able to convince him (least I don't think I did) that the early halt wasn't a choice--I was simply cooked and had no more to give.

Banking some rest was the idea, but the wind had other plans for us...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

CDT ST, day three plus.

Everyone has something they still like to do that they haven't messed up by making it too complicated just yet. Bikepacking is mine. By its very nature it is a minimalist activity--there's only so much crap you can tote along and still be able to ride techy singletrack. Less crap in the pack means less crap to wonder or worry about, leaving you mostly free to enjoy all of the external stimulation.

Assuming of course that you chose an externally stimulating place to go bikepacking. In our case, we had--so far so good.

What am I on about?

Minimalism. Simplicity. Being chaos-free enough in the noggin to notice and appreciate the little things around you that add up to a lot more.

For example: Waking up and having this be the very first thing your eyes focus on is just ducky in my book.

That view told me that all was right in my world, at least at that moment.

Then your brain starts to cogitate a bit and you realize that Hey! I'm still alive! And the bears didn't eat my food! And the bugs are mostly gone! And I'm no more filthy than when I got in the bag! And it isn't raining!

Suddenly life seems pretty in-focus. At least for me.

I have to be honest--for most of the rest of this day there wasn't a whole lot of brain wave activity going on. It started with that sunrise view, with the smile produced by that view, with the uplifted feeling that followed the smile. Throughout the day I was mostly in the moment, enjoying the views, the wind (for it removed the bugs), each bite of sustenance, drink of water, even the dreaded bike pushing was ok by me.

Beat the hell outta pushing up daisies.

Mid-morning we met a CDT thru-hiker. She was cordial but obviously had zero interest in company. I didn't feel much like talking either so that was fine--on we went.

Maybe an hour later we rolled up to Morrison Lake and saw the fish feeding. Not a whole lot of hesitation--I unpacked the fly rod, walked a dozen steps to where I could see a few trout offshore, then cast.

Between the gusts and my piddly 4wt rod the wind had a lot more to say about my placement than I did. But still--the fly hit the water and at that precise millisecond the water around the fly just erupted. I set the hook and played this beauty for ~90 seconds before landing it.

I look at the pic, now, and although the size of the fish is underwhelming (even though it felt as fat as a football in-hand) I still get a bit of the thrill of that moment. One of the highlights of the trip for me.

Side note--I don't know diddly about fishing and even less about fishing gear, but I *do* know that a 4wt rod makes any fish a heckuva lot more fun to catch. You have to work for every catch, and mistakes aren't covered up by gear. Mistakes equal a lost fish--no more, no less.


Moments later the wind *really* came up and further casts equaled balls of fly line around the rod, my legs, and on the sage lining the lake. Time to get back on the trail.

Wind dominated everything about this afternoon. When riding we countersteered as much as possible but still were involuntarily removed from the trail a few times each when the gusts raged then stopped, then raged some more. When pushing the bike I'd keep it on the upwind side of me--easier to control it when its worst habit is to push harder into me. A little something I picked up up north...

I know you're not supposed to 'fight' anything anymore in this PC world. Simply put, if forward progress was to be made on this day, most of the time it involved struggle. And since we knew the trail was going to get better (it had to...) we opted to move forward.

This vid shows an average amount of wind on a rare rideable climb. Watch Scott's front wheel and understand that he isn't moving it willingly, he's merely reacting to the gusts:

Mid-afternoon brought us to this oasis. Unquestionably one of the nicest springs I've ever had the pleasure of dunking my salt-encrusted melon into.

What followed was an oasis of a different sort: rideable singletrack. How and why this section was favored with built and fun trail is unknown. What is known is that we were both tickled repeatedly to round a corner and *not* see an unrideable grade stretching out before us. We were even happier that our GPS track proved wrong the higher we got: instead of kicking up and directly crossing stacked contours we wrapped around the side of the mountain on reasonable grades connected by switchbacks.

I call it an oasis merely because the miles of trail on either side of it aren't really worth duplicating.

The ensuing descent was beyond brilliant, at least relative to everything we'd ridden the past two days. More contour trail, more well-built switchbacks, more fun tech challenges linking miles of fast test-the-limits-of-your-tires singletrack.

The delayed gratification only made it that much sweeter.

Bottoming out at Bannock Pass Scott finally came clean and verbalized what he'd been hinting at for the past ~12 hours: not enough food in his larder to continue. We sat atop the pass and discussed potential detour-to-food options, but the wind made it difficult to hear each other and we could only agree to drop off the divide and down into the 'town' of Grant where he was sure we could get a meal.

The meal didn't seem certain until it was warming our bellies, and although I hadn't felt hungry for the previous 48 hours I could have eaten three times what our heavenly hostess ("Diesta") served up.

Looking west from our rented cabin that night, into Idaho and the smoke from a shortlived fire being fanned by the incessant blow.

The next day (day 4) we rode ~south along the GDMBR headed back towards Lima. This section of the Great Divide Race route was one of my favorites each time I rode through on it, but years later it was difficult to see why. The views to each side (including the high ridgeline we'd followed the past few days) were still great and the remote flavor was still somewhat there. But it was difficult to see the forest for the crappy dirt road we were riding. Call me a snob (the shoe fits) but riding dirt road simply does not scratch the itch. Give me singletrack, heck even doubletrack, the twistier the better, and keep the dirt roads for the Texas wheelchairs and minivans.

We're mountain bikers, we deserve better.

I'm not much for stats but my favorite number of this trip comes here: It took Scott and I 3 solid days of difficult travel to traverse the CDT to Bannock Pass from Lima. It took us half a day to ride the GDMBR back to Lima. The distances were similar as was the locale, but all similarities ended there.

Stick with me--still 3 more days to go...


CDT ST, day two

Scott still snoozin' at daybreak:

Next AM I was up at first light and casting onto a mirror smooth lake. Where had all the caddis gone? A few hits but not many fish moving had me disappointed at my hasty mistakes the previous night. Tiptoeing around the shoreline and trying to 'look more, move less' I felt a slight tickle on the side of my neck. I instinctively swatted but then my mind flipped out of 'mosquito mode' and into 'fishing mode' and I brought the palm of my hand up to see the caddis I had just mashed. Ooooo. Within minutes the lake was abuzz again with the hatch and this time I was ready. In the space of ~an hour I landed 4 rainbows, 4 or 5 cutthroats, and even (I think) a Dolly. Wahoo!

Scott's perspective of the morning's excitement:

After the first few catches I started to think about food--I'd smack-talkingly told Scott that I could probably catch breakfast faster than he could get a fire going to cook it. I'd brought foil and spices to cook the fish with, but Scott seemed antsy to get moving, no doubt fueled by the knowledge that the first ~half of today's route was known good trail. Grudgingly I put the rod away (despite the screaming protests of the fish) and broke camp as the sun crested the ridgeline.

We meandered up Deadman Creek for the next few hours:

Mostly mellow grades punctuated by a few steeper made-by-motors (or so it always seems to me) pitches brought us out into a meadow below this wall of peaks. I didn't know what their proper names were, but the words 'striking' and 'crenelated' leapt repeatedly to mind:

So stunning was the skyline that I had to forcefully move my gaze nearer lest the macro get missed entirely:

As we rolled through the saddle and began descending into the Nicholia drainage I didn't see any choice but to lift my gaze and enjoy the distant scenery for a spell.

All too soon we had left the high amphitheater and were meandering back into the desert.

And by 'meandering' I mean...

We spent a few hours regaining the divide after Harkness ("Heart o' darkness?") Lakes. Some of it was mellow and rideable but significant portions were not. As I crested the ridge Scott motioned towards three CDT thru-hikers coming our way. Our chat with them was brief and somehow strained. Hindsight reveals that we were all plum tuckered near the end of a difficult day, and there simply wasn't much energy left to converse.

We said our goodbyes and started pushing again. The next several miles would prove to be trailless as well as breathtaking. Late summer *and* evening light provided all the contrast a wannabe photog like me could hope for. Even better was that the cairn-to-cairn travel slowed Scott down enough to give me an extra minute to compose a few of these shots.

A frequent sight when touring with Scott: checking the GPS. He'll probably disagree, but it's *not* common for him to exude crepuscular rays from his right shoulder.

With the last of the sun we descended into a drainage (on *trail*!) and could instantly feel the coolness that presaged the sound of running water--we were both low and needed to fill. When the rivulet appeared I was having so much fun descending the techy, chunky singletrack that I just kept riding. My knee-jerk assumption was that we would follow the creek down, so there wasn't any urgency to stop *right now*. Ahem--you know what they say about assuming. Some backtracking was involved to water up, then we descended again to find a campsite on the first flattish spot we crossed.

I started my little alcohol burner with the last light in the sky, then we ate, hung the bear bag, and set up our tarps by headlamp. Actual sleep was fitful for most of the night--hordes of mosquitoes kept us inside of our bags despite the stuffy temps. Still, sleepless downtime is still downtime, right?