Rocky Mountain Dirt & Unplanned Bliss

After my early summer adventures/races, I feared I'd blown my knee for good.  I've known (via several surgeons and my own foresight) that my knee's lifespan is limited.  I went 3 weeks not even being able to squat 20deg nor even sleep face down because the kneecap was protruding forward so badly.  "Fortunately" (?), I had to travel for work for a few weeks so (a) was preoccupied with work, and (b) wasn't tempted/depressed by seeing my mountain bike & trails to run on nearby daily.  I'd tried a few times to get on a spinbike, but frankly even 15-20 minutes of easy spinning killed me.  I just tried to justify it as needing time for the swelling to go down and that maybe it was the size of the cranks on the bike (too long).  So, I just did some maintenance stuff for a few weeks to stay somewhat fit and reluctantly wondered if my running/riding days were over, and hoping that when I returned home, a miracle might happen.

I finally made it back home and reunited w/my bike.  The first day was a goatrope.  I rode for about 30 minutes before collapsing on the side of the trail - likely a combo of jetlag (50+ hours straight of sitting on planes, trains, automobiles), heat exhaustion (rocky trail near my friends' home in Mesa, AZ) at sunrise,  a newly busted hand and sheer lack of fitness.  But then I tried again the next day.  It still hurt, but less so.

I was scheduled to race at Beaver Creek, XTERRA, that weekend, and simply knew that I had no personal governor when it comes to racing and I feared that if I towed that line, I would likely kill my knee forever.  Plus, all those colorado girls would kick this sealevel girl's bootay! Ha!  So, after much internal debate, I opted not to race.

I still wanted to ride in Colorado.  I get to go/ride there so infrequently and figured why not just go explore all those epic trails -- without a race, without a stopwatch, for the sheer joy of RIDING a bike.  Maybe the absence of "training" and a "clock" would help me to rehab my knee. Of course, coming from an early summer at sea-level, it might be a challenge, but typically, I handle the altitude pretty well and figured it beat sulking in hot Arizona.  And, frankly, while I ADORE the red rocks of Sedona, I wasn't in love with the idea of fighting rocks and techy trail this summer.  Seeking big mountains, huge climbs, aspen, long and fun descents.  Rocky Mountains!

So, I loaded up the truck, the bike and some camping gear and hit the road.    I'm lucky to have a flexible calendar and wanted to exploit the summer to its fullest this year.  I hit up everyone I know who KNOWS Colorado singletrack and got tons of 411.  Biggest shoutouts to the Turner fam -- Matt & Timoni -- who between the two of them pointed the lil' carbon caballo on most excellent dirt several times.  Super appreciative!

Love crossing the rez at sunset...magical sunset glow.

So, I eased into it, first stop Telluride, rode w/some friends.  I felt the knee, but less so.  Then again the next day, riding easy, the knee was ok.  Wha???   Not sure why I was suddenly better.  Back to my shorter cranks? Better fit on the bike vs a standard spin bike? A few days off from running?  Colorado? I never figured it out.  Rather, I said a few thank yous (to God, Allah, the bike, etc.) and promised to not take it for granted! :)

Of course, I didn't get to ride ALL the trails I'd hoped, but heck yeah a lot of it.   Lots of the epics.  Telluride, Crested Butte, Almont, Fruita, Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt, Cortez, etc..  Big mountains, flowy dirt, chunky rock, jeep passes.  Most of my days were above 8000ft elev, and several times above 13,000ft, well above the treeline.   I handled it pretty well.  My legs definitely lacked some needed punch several times.  Found I had to push the bike a few times in places I wouldn't have had to were I a mile lower in elevation.  But I loved it.  Found myself grinning a lot!  Definitely bliss.  Looking back at some stats, looks like I rode 1-2x a day on NEW dirt, pedaled about 250 miles and a glorious 40,000 in about 10 days of riding.  Yes, less than Coconino250/La Ruta/etc; but again, this was for FUN, for EXPLORING, and while yeah hitting it hard at times, I definitely stopped to smell the roses, and mock foxes, and oogle black bears, etc..  (One of the rides was about 5500ft climbing in a mere 20miles, and up to 13K' which kicked my bootay!)

A huge perk was that I even ended up getting to ride w/some friends along the way.  Few of those joint rides were planned, but popped up as great opportunities along the way! :-)

Even some of the best riders find themselves having to push "easy" pitches when nearing 14,000ft.
Corkscrew gulch, near Ouray.  
Jess, leading the way for Patrick, Jason and me, near Telluride.  

I'd recruited a buddy to do some bikepacking and traverse one of the best sections of the Colorado Trail (CT), but being in the midst of monsoon season, it became too risky to get stuck up there on a certain long exposed sections during lightening/electrical storms -- which that particular week was seeing many of.   Of course, my impatience tried to beg borrow and steal to convince him to just go for it, but in the end and after a morning "recon" session, we opted out -- and nearly suffered hypothermia from the experience.    I was bummed but knowing how I have no tolerance for wet/cold as it is, it was probably good I avoided a melt-down...and death by lightening of course.)

Wet rat on the Colorado Trail.
Cold, soaked, off-route and realizing that my hopes for the full-passage the following day was not going to happen...due to the weeklong summer storm in the San Juan range.

Pics never capture moments precisely, especially when the actual vistas are so pungent of vast space, vivid colors, crisp air and the magnanimous appreciation of good health and insanely happy lungs and legs.  Yet, I'm glad to have photos.  For soon, I will be back at work, with no time.  No bike.  No mountains.  No freedom to go go go.  No imperfectly angled climbs.  No glorious deep breathing.  No options for quads to argue for more.  No irrational fear of mountain lions stalking.  No sweet anticipation of what's around the next ridgeline.  No cramping hands and triceps from sweet descents (e.g. Doctor Park!).  No laughing, chasing, freezing, sweating, suffering, alongside riding partners in crime.  No passing out from sheer exhaustion and exhilaration only to wake up and saddle up again.

So, these pics will remind me of my summer stoke - and maybe inspire others to just pack up and go hit the trail (or whatever your equivalent is)!   It's somewhat hard for me to see these pics now, hard to not be bitter that I can't go back tomorrow today.  But hopefully I'll have next summer.  And the next.  And the next.  En sha allah.

Or, as a friend pointed out, this little globe we live on always has summer somewhere on it.  So, for now, I'll try to stay drunk off the summer sweetness and start hatching the next lil excursion.

Birthday morning ride to above the treeline. Near Silverton.

Between Ouray and Silverton...California Gulch I think (via Corkscrew).

Happy camper, climbing to the moon!

The MTB diva Tina on her SS pony...showing me the spectacular colorado trail above Durango.

Ol Black Bear seems to be going where I was planning to go.  Thank gawd for Johnny Cash songs aloud, and my persistence to tuck into that aspen forest anyway.  Near Aspen.

Morning venture. Near Crested Butte.
Perfect for soaking the legs between the am/pm rides.  Near Almont.

Wrapping up the snodgrass trail. Fast fun look, near Mt. Crested Butte.

Singletrack discovery near Cortez.  Amazing circuit of Anasazi ruins along the way.

At around 13000'.  
A solid riding partner. Just say "go" and the boy can "go". Turns out he can climb bout as good as he can DH.

           Pushing up a (sorta) steep pitch...way above the treeline....loving it! Red Mtn, Imogene, etc. in the background.

              Lars, leading the way along the Colorado Trail -- pre-rain/hail/slopsoup fest.  What a day!