Monday, September 10, 2018

BikePacking the Sawatch Part II

A follow up to the "real" story of bikepacking the Sawatch/Collegiate range between Buena Vista, Salida, and Crested Butte.....on one hand I can't believe that I spent an entire post yapping about a trip that I didn't yet actually start, but I seem to be able to yap at too-much-length about pretty-near anything!

Ultimately Fred and I rambled out of his nice place above Boulder and headed for Buena Vista.  BV is a cool little town; I first visited there about 3 eons ago to see if I wanted to be a river guide, and even though I didn't do that (and I'm glad I didn't) it's a great place, and has only improved over the last few years since I've been there:  they put in a nice play wave on the Arkansas river right in town, they are building out the downtown area to take better advantage of the riverfront (ala Salida), and it's got a lot of fun local businesses that seem to be thriving.  And the recreation is top notch, with great kayaking nearby, killer mountain bike trails, and a plethora of hiking opportunities looming high above on the Collegiate 14'ers.

The Colorado Trail is a 500+ mile trail that stretches from Denver to Durango, and 'Rado-ans are quite proud of it, as they should be; linking together "a trail" out of many networks of trails that traverses a huge chunk of a huge chunk of mountains is impressive.  It seems that it's got the most popularity as a take-it-in-chunks hiking route, but the growth of bikepacking in general and the evolution of the bags to carry ever-lighter gear has meant a lot of folks are doing it on bikes.  And of course there's a race:  The Colorado Trail Race (CTR) has been going for the last 10 years and has resulted in some dudes doing it in less than 4 days, which is astounding; the nearby Great Divide route (a little ways to the east) has guys averaging 150 miles/day on mostly-gravel roads; if what we saw is any indication, the Colorado Trail is not only mostly singletrack but much of it is pretty stout singletrack.  Fred's plan was to use the CT as a bit of a conduit to a bunch of great riding that wasn't part of the CT proper, which gave me both an opportunity to nibble a bit on the CT and do some other, more-unusual, and generally higher alpine trails as well.

A trip report can be fun - and I do a lot of them, and try to make them fun - but I've read way too many of them that can get pretty tedious.   "And then we did this!  And then we did that!  Day 2; we woke up to a beautiful sunrise, had another freeze dried breakfast and coffee and tea til it warmed up, then we rode all day, and gosh was it tiring!  But we met some nice people at a cafe along the way and slayed some great singletrack!  And while I didn't know the area before now I do, so I'll go into painful details about our route, in the very off chance that someone out there may want to replicate what we did, because it was so awesome!"  I'm actually tempted to write a parody of the cliche'd Trip Report one of these days.  This trip was great; Fred put together an incredible route that had us riding  - and pushing/carrying - up some long, hard climbs and indeed slaying a ton of great singletrack descents, with fun mix of buffed to medium to really burly singletrack, with some stellar campsites and plenty of water burbling out to keep us hydrated.  But for me to go through a day-by-day synopsis of what we did would be a bit repetitive, so I'm going to keep it simple and do some highlights.

That said, if you are interested, here's the route:  we followed the CT from Cottonwood Pass road, under mounts Princeton and Antero and then up to the Monarch Crest, which sports a big handful of long, technical descents down to valleys on either side.  After 2 days we ended up in Salida, where I was able to get a new headset for my retro-bike (starting to close in on the $$ I might have paid for a new, more-appropriate bike!) and picked up Chad, whose wife MerriLee gave us a ride back up the highway to the Monarch Crest again, we went down the backside towards Gunnison, then did a long back climb up to connect into the famous Alpine Tunnel and an equally-well-known singletrack descent from there, then a painful 5000+ foot climb to the summit of 14er Mt Antero, descended an unmarked trail back down to the east to the Colorado Trail, and went "backwards" on the Colorado Trail to our starting point.  It wasn't a ton of miles, but a lot of vert.

Some highlights:
After we made the final, painful climb to the Monarch Crest:
We met a guy who was on a monthlong solo backpack:

We had avoided going high on our first couple of days because we heard it was going to be windy up there, and asked this guy about it.  He said - in deadpan seriousness - "yeah, it was so windy that I had wind blowing up one nostril and blowing snot out the other!"  We roared in laughter, and he didn't think it was that funny.  As a shoe guy, I'm always checking out people's footwear, and he had an unusual scene going on:
His toe had been sticking out for a few days, but he didn't want to buy another pair because they were too much $$, and even though his mom somehow found out about it and wanted to get him a pair, he "didn't want to be a mooch."

We slayed a bunch of singletrack, from mild to wild:

Fred! Fred!  You'rs supposed to ride ON the trail, not across it!  
and did some free-range riding:

ground up a lot of steep, dramatic climbs, some on the bikes:

and some off the bikes:
25% grades, dust, and babyheads....

It's not often that you get heel blisters on a bike ride, but this wasn't an average "ride"

We rode as far as we could on Mount Antero, then did the final 800' or so hike to the summit.  I utilized my tried and true ride-to-hike bicycle security technique:
hang the shorts shammy-side out to dry; it has never failed in keeping the bike safe from wannabe bikepack thieves!  
Coloradans love their 14-ers;
and being a Coloradan, Chad celebrated appropriately:

Of course, we had to share the "roads" with some of the burlyboyz in their internal combustion rigs:

But we saw evidence that simpler machines can prevail
a pussymobile outing gone awry.
Colorado is somewhat unusual to have such big mountains juxtaposed pretty closely to towns:
awaiting my new headset in Salida
Making friends with the Absolute Bikes shop dog, whilst drinking a shop-supplied beer while they fit me in to fix my bike!  
and we never had to carry more than a day or two's worth of food, and had some pretty civilized meals:

not your typical freeze dried meal....

this bikepacking stuff is tough!  

Tho I did have to do some gnawing for some energy on one of the climbs:
There were some good high-altitude bike-robatics:
and some very lame ones:
it was all I could do to get that wheel off the ground, much less ride it with Chad's prowess!  (he has a good party trick of riding a wheelie around....without a front wheel!)
When these guys stopped to put on their pads:

I knew it was gonna get real:

And I did some hike-a-biking, downhill:
We were able to get in some night riding
this terrible pic is an example of why people like Fred get paid to take photos; his shots of this trail at sunset are incredible. Once he's cleared to share them I'll share as well.  
We toted around a really nice set of lights from Light and Motion and they were partially paying for the trip, so we did a bit of a mid-day siesta and started a long climb in the late afternoon, and ended up at about 12,000 feet with with the wind blowing doing a bunch of night shots, followed by some of the gnarliest trail we saw on the whole trip.  Fun and memorable evening, though.

Did some more pushing:

to some nice big mountain views:

and some more singletrack-slayin'

I stayed committed to the one-pair-of socks thing (and shoes) for the whole trip; I had to dry them out once after a bunch of creek crossings on a 10 mile descent of the Agate Creek trail:

And then we were done, and back to Boulder, where it was great to see Mike with a bit more life in his eyes and a bit more movement in his legs

And for the record, my efforts to bikepack-ize my ancient Fisher Gitchee Gumi turned out to be fruitful.
 As noted, the headset needed replacing but that's just a wear thing that I shoulda done before I left, and was off the back of Fred and Chad when the trail got burly and they simply pointed their enduro bikes through and over the many, many rocks, but for the most part the bike was just fine, and I was glad for the ability to run a frame bag and keep the extra weight off my back.  They say that late adopters are the most enthusiastic, and I gotta say that my eyes have been opened to the possibilities that these simple new bags create for bike-based adventures; I'd say the game-change is comparable to that represented by pack rafts.    We did meet a couple who was doing the whole 2800 mile great divide route on basically the same bike that I was considering buying, but I think they got a little carried away and brought too much stuff:

Thanks again to Fred for a) having the idea for the trip, b) putting in the time to come up with a truly challenging and spectacular route, c) getting the sweet gear for the trip and beyond, d) inviting me, and e) being a great pard for this and any other trip.  And thanks to Chad for also being a great pard, and for both of them for taking a few of the (better!) pictures shown here.
I'm looking forward to another trip, and hopefully Mike will be able to join on that one!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

NIke's new ad campaign

On one hand, I can’t believe I care now a little about football.  When I was at Oregon State the football team was notoriously the worst program in the country (from a website:  “the Beavers still hold the NCAA Div. IA record for the most consecutive losing seasons at 28 straight years, 1970-98) yet the players on the team swaggered around the athletic facilities and campus as if they were kings (much to the chagrin of the skinny cross-country runners like me who had to share the facilities with those assholes).  And I have never actually watched an entire football game.  But on the other hand, lately it seems that football has transcended the world of sports beyond rah rah look at ‘em go, my-town-is-better-than-your-town, typical entertainment into actual social consciousness via the kneeling-during –the-anthem thing , and  thus to me it’s now become pretty intriguing.   And now Nike has ratcheted up the rhetoric with its new commercial/campaign featuring the much-maligned Colin Kaepernick in a re-introduction of its “Just Do It” campaign that was launched 30 years ago.   Here’s a link to the ad, (narrated by Kaepernick)

I was a fresh, enthusiastic new employee at Nike in 1988 when they had an all-company meeting in a biggish movie theater in Beaverton (it’s a testament to how much they’ve grown:  Nike now employs over 12,000 people in Oregon). The VP of marketing unveiled the new campaign to we employees first, and I have a vivid memory of the theater being split into three thirds with each third holling “JUST.  DO.  IT!” in sequence, and literally people stormed out the doors as fired up as…well, a football team entering a stadium.  Of course, the campaign was legendary, spawned many wannabe slogans by its rivals that never really resonated;  I had to look a couple of them up, which is a testament to their staying power:  Adidas:  “Impossible is Nothing” (and neither are lame slogans), Reebok:  “I am what I am” (and I’m not what I’m not?), Under Armour:  “I will/Protect This House” (huh?).  Nike has utilized “Just Do It” off and on for a long time, and clearly decided to use the coincidental opportunity of the slogan’s anniversary and this national “conversation” (argument) for a provocative relaunch, and of course it immediately stoked the fires on both sides of the argument, as it no doubt fully expected. 

Since the ad came out, I’ve read a handful of opinions about it, and they have compelled me to write my own, and I’ll take them one at a time. 

First, the Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial page editor and columnist George Pyle, whose opinion and writing I admire, had this piece where he unfortunately falls on the tired trope that Nike utilizes/encourages deplorable labor practices of its contracted factories while simultaneously disparaging them for charging “too much” for its products, before actually going on to compliment them for their support of what he sees as a legitimate expression of someone’s right to protest social injustice.  At the risk of going too much into a tangent, Nike – and all big companies – deserve to be criticized for many things, but after the “sweatshop” allegations came up in the ‘90’s Nike took those complaints and reputation seriously and worked hard to pressure their vendors to improve conditions for their vendors.  And even as Nike was and has been taking the heat, their competitors – including Under Armor, which Mr. Pyle references as a potential alternative since he incorrectly assumes they have different vendors and higher standards – shyly ducked away from that controversy, because their products were literally being made in the same factories, by the same people as Nike’s.  I have not been in any of the big boyz’ factories, but I have been in plenty of Asian shoe factories, and I have seen that the factories have taken the pressure to heart and the conditions are clean, safe, and I can vouch for the fact that the only person sweating in the factories I’ve visited was….me, being unaccustomed to the warm temps and high humidity of SE Asia.  And in fact, the shoe factory that I did see that had absolutely deplorable conditions (wayyy too hot, dirty, cramped, multiple open barrels of the toxic solvent MEK,) was in….Los Angeles!  And if Mr. Pyle thinks that shoes are too expensive now, perhaps when Trumpy Boy gets his way and the shoe industry moves back over here (which effectively can’t happen) his nice light jogging shoes will be retailing for probably well over $400. 

Last fall, being somewhat ignorant of football Ashley and I engaged in a conversation with some family members about the kneeling deal. At the time it wasn’t as big of a deal as it is now and we didn’t quite understand the passion that some folks had on the topic, and it unfortunately turned into the ugly family blowup.  One argument was that these guys were not providing respect to the flag and the freedoms for which our respective fathers’ sacrificed their safety and years of their lives defending.  From my perspective, however, I am pretty confident that my own dad – who stared down death many times on a ship in the Pacific for 4 years during WWII – would say “I did that in order to assure that people like Kaepernick have the freedom to express their opinions.”  As an employee, of course, there can be other limitations applied by the employers, but assuming that dynamic is addressed, the ability to kneel is a legitimate expression of the first amendment. 

And even the concept of kneeling is important:  everyone has seen a King Arthur movie where the knights kneel before the king in a show of utmost respect, and even the Bible applies the concept of kneeling to not only respect but mutual respect:  “When you kneel before God He stands up for you.” (Ephesians 1:3). 

But back to the ad, and Kaepernick’s part in it. 

The Salt Lake Trib’s sports columnist Gordon Monson put up his opinion yesterday, and he feels that Nike deteriorates the overall message for simple commercial reasons.  There is no doubt that Nike did a full financial analysis of the potential implications of the ad, but Monson neglects to recognize that Nike’s global impact has created the ability to transcend simple sales, and as a fierce defender of athletes and athletics, they have the right and perhaps feel the obligation to throw down something like this ad, perhaps even as a global manifestation of their management’s and employee’s own feelings.  I kinda used to know Nike’s president Mark Parker, president of innovation Tom Clarke, and other leaders there and know enough about founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman to know that all of these folks are quite passionate and have the guts to use their bully pulpit as a hugely influential company to throw down, regardless of the financial implications (which, to be sure, will undoubtedly be positive).  And this passion speaks to an equally-disappointing column by the Washington Post’s Megan McArdle, who thinks that “Nike…should leave the politics to politicians and voters”.  Well, I think it’s pretty clear to anyone that not only did this specific action actually start  - and remains in - the social sphere and has been co-opted by politicians, and I think it’s also pretty clear that “leaving the politics to politicians” has not really worked out that well lately, since if nothing else it’s created deep divisiveness, among other things. 

Last week I got turned onto Jelani Cobb, a Smart Guy writer for the New Yorker who was in SLC for a talk about race in the US, and he addressed the controversy by pointing out that Kaepernick has been vilified because he should be grateful for the opportunity to play football, even though what he’s chosen to do requires fulfilling the American Dream of enduring years of practice and executing the highest levels of performance (do we expect people like Musk or Welch or Zuckerberg to be “grateful” for the opportunity to pursue their careers?).  And Cobb also points out one of the arguments is that well, Kaepernick is rich, so why should he complain?   But also points out that being rich doesn’t necessarily preclude anyone from complaining, with exhibit A being Donald Trump being super rich and being the Complainer in Chief. 
(here's the link to the hour+ conversation, which is really good; the reference to Kaepernick is at minute 42:00, and goes on to point out that Louis Armstrong did something quite similar long ago).  And Cobb also came out this week with his view on the Nike ad that is far more articulate than I could ever hope to emulate.  

Even though I now know enough about football that this is a big deal and find myself admiring a football player for the first time ever, but it's unlikely that I’ll be watching any games this fall (gotta keep my streak going!).  But conversation is interesting and provocative, the ad is indeed pretty inspiring and I admire Nike for having the guts – that Under Armor only wishes they could have – to Just Do It yet again.  And maybe I'll even think about buying a pair of Nikes!  

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Bikepacking Colorado's Sawatch, part 1

"The alpine tends to be pretty burly and rocky"  Fred Marmsater rarely minces words and has a good sense of adventure, so when he sent me a message asking if I wanted to do a bikepacking tour in Colorado I knew that it would likely be challenging and exciting. 
Fred spends more time outside than anyone I know
"We can link up some epics of the best alpine singletracks in the state, and do so utilizing the new-school bikepacking gear that neither of us had ever tried before; despite Fred's many talents (pro photographer, PhD chemist who intro'd a new cancer drug, top level waterskier, ultra-distance athlete, burly skier, sailor, etc) he had never done any bike touring before and was keen to give it a go.  But in classic Fred fashion, even though he hadn't gone overnight on a bike before, he wanted to go big.  So he cooked up a route that started traditionally enough on the Colorado Trail, but instead of simply following that, Fred's route veered off multiple ways in order to descend 10 mile long technical descents, climb over multiple 12-13,000 foot passes and peaks, gave us the opp to possibly ride a 14'er, and do so - in Fred's words again: "stupid light."  I knew I had to be ready.  And I needed a good bike. 

Recently I wrote an article for the Utah Adventure Journal singing the praises of the Beast Bike:  the old school mountain bikes with 26" wheels that seem to linger in many folks' garages for a long time until someone finally decides to unload on Craig's List.  These bikes can very easily become perfect townie or commuting bikes and can be great touring bikes as well since they are simple, sturdy, and the parts are universal so they are easily fixed around the globe.  And I even went so far as to say that the "standard frame geometry of years' past is nicely configured to provide plenty of space for a frame bag." So there I was:  Fred was giving me a rare invite to come join him on a trip that I knew would be at best challenging, I knew he'd have a new school bike with a carbon frame, lots of front and rear suspension travel, big tubeless-ed tires on stout 29-inch wheels, and a dropper post, all of which provided the confidence to slay any technical singletrack that we might find.   I, on the other hand, had....a mid-90's Fisher Gitchee Gumi steel frame with a rigid fork, a 7 speed cassette, V-brakes, and cheap mixed-surface tires, and the knowledge that it worked fine on well-graded gravel roads. My "normal" mountain bike is an equally sorta dumb rigid steel singlespeed, and I was a bit intimidated at the prospect of using that rig at high elevations loaded with gear on unknown and ambitious terrain (I was paranoid of being the Hold People Back Guy).  So I kinda needed a bike.

It's a bit silly, really; almost all of my peers have nice bikes that would work just fine for a burly trail, high elevation bikepack trip, yet despite the fact that there are 9.5 bikes in our garage (one uni) I didn't have an appropriate bike.  Despite my enthusiasm for the used Beast I got affected by some old fashioned American Consumerism and thought "I need something else, that's slightly better than what I have!"  At least I started out by taking a little of my own advice and went onto Craigs List to see if on the odd chance I could find a more appropriate steed, and indeed I did:  a little-used Surly Crampus.    Steel frame, 29 inch wheels that had 3 inch tires already converted to tubeless, and very similar to Ash's Salsa equivalent (the Deadwood) that she got some time ago and loves.  The guy wanted $1200 for it, the ad had been up for a few weeks and the bike was still available, so I probably could talk him down a fair bit.  Yet right as I was on the verge of getting in the car to hit the bank for the cash and make the 20 mile drive to get the new bike, Ash pointed out that all I was really getting for the extra $$ of yet another bike was bigger wheels, and that I was being a bit of a weenie.  That was all I needed to decide to make the Gitchee worthee. 

In the garage we had a Marzocchi suspension fork that was so old I couldn't remember what bike it used to be on nor if it would fit the Gitchee.  But maybe it would work?  In Ethiopia I had split a rim due to excess brake wear and had a guy on the street build me another wheel for $10 that had a permanent, untrue-able lump in it; would that wheel be worthy of alpine abuse?  I used the reminder of that rear split rim to check the front, and it was a good thing I did; the rim was well-ground by the brake pads and it was clear that it wasn't long before that one wore through too (another good reminder of why disc brakes have become the rule).  And 26-inch wheels and good tires with tubeless-worthy sidewalls that would (just barely, not really) fit inside the rear triangle of an old school bike - are hard to come by now!  But after multiple trips to Fishers bike shop and a coupla test rides I thought I was ready to go, with Fred's further admonition "make sure your bike is tip top!" ringing in my ears as I traveled to Denver.

One of the other allures of the trip to 'Rado was that it was an opportunity to reconnect with our old friend Mike O'Sullivan, whom I had done a few ski trips with a long time ago but then he chose to become a Caribbean sailor man and had disappeared from our world.  Fortunately for us he got bored sailing and headed back to terra firma, bought nice van, converted it, headed back to the mountains, bought a bike, took a skills course, and was keen to give this bikepacking thing a go. But a couple of days before I was to leave I got this picture from Fred:

Mike had apparently gone over the bars on a night ride with Fred and crashed, um, "hard", with the result of a broken femoral head, 4 broken ribs, a compressed L5 vertebrae, and broken off several of the "wings" (transverse processes) of some of his other vertebrae, and was concussed.  Literally a crushing blow for all of us.  But as he's well aware, he was lucky; as it was he was unconscious and convulsing long enough that Fred was wondering if his friend was going to expire right there on the trail in his arms.

But Mike came to, they were close to the trailhead, Fred activated his inReach (he had it for "just" a short ride; food for thought), they got a ride in a very expensive vehicle, and modern medicine prevailed.  Though he was in a lot of pain the two docs who tag teamed on him agreed that he will heal up fine, but it'll take a while.  And being the great friends that we are, Fred and I decided to forge ahead with the trip.

(as an aside, over the weekend on a real mountain bike ride in the Wasatch I saw two guys riding without helmets.  As someone who has broken - yes - about 25 helmets with my head and won't ride my cruiser around the park without a helmet, I can't believe that people are willing to spend the resources to buy a bike, shoes, shorts, etc....but don't wear a helmet?!?!).

As a successful pro photographer, (his website is worth perusing) Fred has become a master at working his outdoor industry clients for trips that will generate great shots for them.  This trip was a bit different; he was going out "just for fun", but he was able to secure one for-sure deal with Light And Motion and three potential programs with Ortlieb, Darn Tough socks, and Patagonia (the first pic on Patagonia's home page is a Fred shot) all of whom sent him products to use and shoot, which was great because those are all brands I've used and liked a lot.  But Fred doesn't usually look to me as a model because:  a) I'm no young gun pushing the limits in anything worth photographing, and b)  I'm usually a bit of a shitshow when it comes to gear and - more importantly - looking good.  So Fred had a good challenge to "pretty me up nice" for his pics, and had to specifically tell me to "Leave that Tyvek shit at home" (at first he thought I was joking when I said I wanted to bring my new secret weapon white Tyvek onesie...Tyvek is no joke!)

But when Fred saw my circa-90's bike

he did a triple take, shook his head, and wondered how he would be able to get any cycling shots worthy enough for Patagonia's latest new school cool-guy mountain bike clothes and Ortlieb and Light And Motion's new product lines.  But at least the socks were black, and Darn Tough was actually looking for an essay for their blog along the lines of "using only one pair of socks for a weeklong mountain adventure" which is just weird enough to be right up my alley. 

And when I arrived in Colorado Fred told me that he'd gotten a last-minute addition to the trip in Chad Melis, the recently-formered marketing director of the venerable Oskar Blues Brewery (which is now part of a larger group that also includes Utah's Wasatch and Squatters breweries).  Chad not only is a longtime excellent mountain biker and a great guy, but also has the cool enduro bike (from Reeb bikes, which is the Oskar Blues house brand; note what "Reeb" spells backwards) and Chad shoulders new-school mtb clothes much better than I do, so that took a bit of the pressure off me as Fred's only (shitshow) model.  Chad and his wife just had a baby 2 months ago, but like any good hedonistic father who's just bailed on working too hard for too long with a wise wife he was stoked to rage through the Rockies for a few days. 
That's what being liberated from a too-long job apparently feels like
And thus with Mike convalescing at Fred's house, me sporting my new duds and my retro bike, and Chad meeting us after the first couple of days, and Fred loaded down with his nice camera, we were off on our first bikepacking adventure, that was destined to be full of buffed singletrack, high altitude pushing, beautiful high passes, burly, rocky trails, and a few yuks.

To be continued....