The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.
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40 Miles Feels Like… 40 Miles

The first half of our ride, more or less. The rest is a blur.

I’m guessing that you’re curious as to how I traveled these 40 miles, so I will keep you in suspense no longer – by bike. While I’m well aware that certain die-hard road bikers do “century club rides” (that would be 100 miles) with alarming frequency, this 40 miles trek was my longest to date. And boy, did it feel like long.

We started out strong from south Boulder with temps in the low 40’s. I was nervous. My heart is with my mountain bike and on single track it’s you versus trail, rock, trees, etc. But suddenly I was facing a much bigger, scarier foe (cue dark, gloomy music): cars.

My fear can partially be attributed to the results of an informal poll I have conducted that past 5 years or so. Every time I meet someone who is really passionate about road biking, I ask if they have ever been hit by a car. The answer, without exception, is “yes”. This is not a comfortable margin for me.

So, with the fear of Not Being In Control in my heart and two Boulder locals, we wove through the intricate system of Boulder bike trails before striking out on highway 36 north towards Lyons. For the first few minutes, I had an odd feeling I can only describe as anxiety. The cars passing by were too loud and disruptive. What if someone reached down to change the radio station and swerved? However, finding that level of anxiety too high maintenance, I soon settled into a happy peddling rhythm and watched the colors fly by.

And by colors, I mean bikers. In matching colors. As my friend Aaron pointed out, if you see a biker with a jersey that matches their shorts which match their bike, you’re about to get your butt kicked. I can further simplify that to if you see a biker with a matching jersey and shorts, they are passing me, which leads me to this solid hypothesis: matching makes you go faster.

I did not match. In fact, I didn’t even have slick tires. I was laboring away (happily, I might add) on my Jake cyclo-cross (see this post for more info on Jake). While I appreciated the margin of comfort provided by the tread, I do believe I had to work a bit harder than if I had outfitted my bike with slick tires. But it was all worth it when our posse veered off 36 North to Hygiene road and the Crane Hollow Cafe.

The Crane Hollow Cafe is tucked in the sleepy town of Hygiene and has some truly delicious eats. So delicious that I could have ordered a second sandwich after the first tuna melt went down incredibly easy and just started to ebb the hunger of a 20 mile pedal. Alas, it was not to be – someone (not me) had only brought $20 cash for our duo to dine at the most excellent cafe. This proved to be a problem.

I had no juice left for the return ride. Luckily, our brilliant Boulder friends had stacked the odds distinctly in my favor – we looped back on a shorter, 17 mile road with less hills (okay, okay, I know you’re doing the math and it’s only a 37 mile ride. But 40 sounded better for the title, so just relax). My quads just felt empty. The sandwich didn’t make it past my belly. While I had chowed down before the ride, I had forgotten my #1 rule of long hikes/runs/bike rides – bring lots and lot (and lots) of food in many forms. A Gu shot or two would have made all the difference. While I know this to be inherently true for me, I still found myself without. Is life just a big repeating loop after all or will I someday get wiser (provided I don’t get hit by a car first)?

Yummy-recipe-of-the-day: Whole Wheat, Rosemary & Caramelized Onion Bread from Simplyscratch.com

 

Riding the Mickelson Trail

There ARE two dogs in the trailer - look for Shasta's ears to the right of Wendell, the big black Lab.

With Fall colors (finally!) at a peak, we decided to make good on our “we should do that someday” and headed over to the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota.

At only 3.5 hours from Casper, this weekend trip was a hop, skip and jump in Wyoming drive times and delivers a lot of bang for the buck. The wide trail is built on an old railbed and totals a huge 109 miles of packed gravel with only slight inclines over some sections. The user fee is a very approachable $3/day for everyone over 12 and the trail is open to bicyclists, hikers and horseback riders, although we didn’t see any horses on the trail. What we did see was lots of healthy forest, a river (a major plus for the dogs) and some awesome secnery from some of the 100 converted railroad bridges and four rock tunnels.

For a bike, I choose my Jake, a cyclocross bike from Kona that is basically a sturdy road bike with slightly knobby tires. It was definitely the right tool for the day although a mountain bike with the suspension locked out would work well, too. We rode about 20 miles on Saturday, which started slow as there was some intense dog training happening. What was the training, you ask? 20 miles is a lot for Lab like Wendell to run and Shasta is a 15-year-old border collie/blue heeler. Needless to say, there is no way she is running 20 miles. But since our dogs are our adventure partners, we improvised sometimes they ran, other times they rode- in a trailer (see photo at right).

Wendell was NOT impressed by the trailer. After being bribed in by treats, he nearly had a heart-attack when the bike started moving and gave new meaning to the phrase “sad puppy-dog eyes”. The trailer was specifically designed for dogs and featured a super helpful tie down in the middle which had to be extremely taut to prevent Wendell from jumping out and being ran over. However, an hour and half a bag of treats later, he sat up proudly, unrestrained (but with a watchful eye on me at every second) and learned to enjoy the scenery. A successful weekend for all involved and one that may be repeated on cross-country skis in the winter. Stay tuned for Colby pulling a trailer over now sans bike…

Colby at Mount Rushmore

Parting tip: If you go and find yourself a little saddle-sore after the first day, take a day to visit Mount Rushmore. It’s right there and worth a visit once in your life. Also, eat dinner at Sylvan Lake Lodge and get a picnic lunch (or just get food in your tummy after a wine tasting) at Prairie Berry Winery. That’s all folks!

Cooking-site-of-the-day: Gojee.com – put in what’s in your fridge and pantry, and it gives you a recipe. Brilliant.

Brrrtooth Highway

Note the white box with 'enlarged switchbacks'

So yes, it’s really “Beartooth Highway” and it’s beautiful. It’s also only open to car traffic in summer, and as the snow flying outside my window would attest, the Rockies are still a longs way from dog days. The solution? Head up on two wheels.

This is easier said than done. Beartooth highway straddles the Wyoming/Montana border and has an impressive 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. It is also the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet), Montana (10,350 feet) and the entire Northern Rockies region. All these stats add up to one inarguable fact: cold, thin air.

That morning, we loaded up the car in pleasant 55° weather in Billings, Montana. Folks cautioned us that Red Lodge, about an hour away, would be about 10° cooler. Down to 45° in Red Lodge, we began climbing up the open portion of Beartooth highway as the temperature settled to somewhere around freezing. As we lifted the bikes off the roof of the car, I mentally chastised myself for bringing bike shorts and no tights, but reasoned that it wasn’t that cold – until I saw him.

He was the owner of the other car parked at the gate and he was covered– as in the only skin visible was from his eyes to his nose. His ragged bike tights revealed an additional layer of long underwear and I stared as his big winter mitts enviously while I thought, “oh shit”. Regrouping, I decided that I could adapt my clothes to be bike friendly. I pulled my comfy yoga pants on over my bike shorts and found a rubberband to cinch the pants around one ankle and a few hair ties for the other. I also rummaged through my emergency winter stash (which is really a year-round stash in Wyoming) by the spare tire in my car and pulled out my own pair of fluffy mittens. My favorite cute and function Lululemon jacket has a rad collar that zips up to my nose with (and this is the genius part) a hood completely independent of the collar. My ratcheting bike helmet allowed a quick resize to accommodate the raised hood while the chinstrap slipped under the high collar without interfering with the heat-saving hood. I’ve always thought the zipperpull on this jacket was another place to shout “LULULEMON!”, but the bulky three-disk design proved genius when I could grab it through bike gloves layered with bulky mittens on top.

Unfortunately, my winter stash had nothing for my partner. While the ride up was peaceful and surprisingly not-SO-steep (bear in mind my comparative point is Teton Pass), the way down was brutal. We had pedaled high enough for the air to get cooler and while we enjoyed the wind at our back on the way up, it was full-on in our face on the way down. So full-on that we actually had to pedal while careening down the mountain. We stopped more than once to warm my partners hands while I furiously wiggled my cold toes.

By the time we arrived back at the car, my toes lacked any and all circulation. My core temperature had also dropped and I hurriedly leaned the bike against the car and broke into a fast succession of jumping jacks. There were some overweight tourists in an SUV pointing and laughing. Soon enough, the car was pumping out heat and we were enjoying a delicious dinner in Red Lodge. But adventure always make dinner taste better.

Worst. Bike. Ride. Ever.

Not even close to the highway I was on. But the question of what about 'highway' associates with 'recreation' remains.

I thought of this title on the mentioned bike ride, but then realized I was being a bit melodramatic. After all, wouldn’t the “worst bike ride ever” involve major bodily harm to your person or someone around you? So maybe it wasn’t the worse ever, but a couple of items led to my extreme dissatisfaction. The first of which was that fact that I was not on single track.

I know that the term ‘road biking’ implies, well, a road, but I failed to really absorb how BORING a road can be. You’re either sucking exhaust (mmm), pedaling uphill (groan), hoping the 3500 diesel doesn’t hit you or speeding downhill while praying no surprise potholes exfoliate off your face or any other body part that goes skidding along the surface. Surpisingly, none of the aforementioned items are listed as ‘fun’ in my book. And in Casper, there’s one extra little tidbit of joy- hurricane speed winds. I could actually feel alternate surfaces of my tire interfacing with the pavement as the wind gusted me heavily to one side. When I commented that I felt like I was going to get blown over, the reply was, “you’ll know when it happens”. You don’t say. And lest you think the downhill sections are a bright spot, my only thought nuking down a two-lane highway is “great, that’s another hill I’m going to have to pedal back up.”

Which brings me back to the title. On single track, my mind is in the moment. If I’m not paying attention, a crash is very likely. On a road bike, I just pedal and my thoughts wander to subjects like, how MUCH bodily harm is okay for a little bit of fun. As in, would I rather take a 95% safe road bike ride* with little probability of crashing and little probability of a good time OR would a rather incur small amounts of bodily harm like minor scrapes and stiff hips from my topple-over and have a super-sweet fun mountain bike ride? The answer of course, is ‘bring on the pain’. This is how I know I’m not getting old. This is also why I’ll use my road bike for exercise but my mountain bike is where my heart lives. Casper is going to need some more single track to hold me down.

*all statistics are purely speculation and subject to the daily mood changing of Michelle.

Invention of the Day: A bicycle airbag helmet. Yes, I’m serious. Watch the video- it’s rad.

A New Range for Mountain Kidd

Downtown Casper and Casper Mountain

After six full years in the valley of Jackson Hole, Mountain Kidd is relocating to the second biggest city in Wyoming. Since very few people know the second biggest city in Wyoming, I’ll just spill the beans; I’m moving to Casper.

Casper, Wyoming has a population of 53,500 according to the 2010 census.  This is a significant number for Wyoming. And yes, I’ll still be “Mountain Kidd”. Casper is located at the north end of the Laramie mountain range. In this range is Casper Mountain, rising 3,000 feet above the city to a total of 8130 feet. 8130 is no Grand Teton. but that’s okay- I’ll adapt.

I’ve lived throughout the Rockies for over ten years and each town has pushed me to develop one skill set or another. In Vail, I was young and made bold job choices. Working full-time as a ski instructor Beaver Creek allowed me to become a technical, proficient skier very very quickly. When summer came around, I paid $200 to take a two-week training course as a whitewater rafting guide. At the end of the two weeks, everyone was granted an interview with the promise that about half of us would be hired on for the summer. With a customer service personality and a deep passion for water in all its forms, I got the job and spent the summer swimming rapids on the Eagle River (not on purpose) and guiding tourists down the Shoshone section of the Colorado.  I also bought a whitewater kayak and found that I enjoyed the solidarity of kayaking even more than rafting

There was a brief stint swimming flood-stage whitewater on the New River in West Virgina, but it was clear that I needed to find my next mountain town ‘out west’. Vail was fantastic but I knew the fur coat party scene wasn’t for ultimately for me. I told people I wanted another ski town without so many people and more laid back. Those in the know all said “go to Jackson.” And to Jackson I went.

While Jackson has whitewater, it’s not near as plentiful or accessible as it is in Colorado. But we do have epic mountain biking. Armed with a tricked out Kona mountain bike as a college graduation gift, I took to the trails with vengeance and let whitewater fall to the wayside. I dare say the shift in focus fit my aging process as well. When things go ‘wrong’ on whitewater, it’s game on. The situation instantly becomes exponentially more serious and a rapid set of decisions needs to be made to ensure the continuation of life. As a raft guide, you may need to flip the raft, which involves climbing on top of an upside-down raft, attaching a rope to the side and pulling it on top of yourself as you go back into the water. After this, you need to collect your guests. There’s no question that it’s a high pressure situation. But with mountain biking, a wrong decisions leads to a glorious stand-still. Assuming your friend isn’t about to run you over, a crashed mountain biker can luxuriate in lying on the ground and doing a mental once-over before acting.

Of course, the winter months in Jackson are all about the skiing. I went from a good skier in Michigan to a good skier in Colorado (a considerable jump) during my time at Beaver Creek and I consider myself lucky to have had the time to cut my teeth before coming to Jackson. When people call it the best skiing in the lower 48, they’re right- if you can ski it. Jackson is steep and rugged with limited beginner and intermediate terrain. It’s one reason we’ll never get the skier numbers of Vail- which is fine by us locals. On drops where other resorts would issue series of flashing lights and multiple rope lines, Jackson puts a pole with a small orange “cliff” sign. Skiers that wander off the groomed trail, ski at your own risk. It’s fantastic skiing, but a minor knee injury and the cumulative effect of many long, hard winters has me thinking I may be able to live without flinging myself down mountains on two narrow sticks.

Casper does have world-class Nordic skiing. The Casper Nordic Center has 42 kilometers of groomed trails with a 1.2K lighted loop. So I’ll buy some Nordic gear for the winter months. Maybe I’ll help develop the mountain bike trails in the summer, but Casper does have a whitewater park on the downtown section of the Platte river- it’s fun without the consequences of class V rivers. And Jackson is an easy five-hour drive away. Maybe a mountain lifestyle has more to do with the person than the geographical location.

Nonprofit of the Day: Teton Valley Hapi Trails

Banff, Canada, ‘eh!

Helicopter Ride from Kananaskis in Canmore, Alberta

A friend told me she heard that Banff was “even more beautiful than Jackson”, which immediately raised my hackles as I tend to take everything a bit too personally. How dare she suggest anywhere more beautiful than Jackson Hole, a place I pay a small fortune to call home! However, after a majestic week in Banff, Alberta, Canada, I have to admit that she may have heard something fairly accurate.

Although we started out in Calgary, a dazzling polite city where no one jaywalks (ever), our hearts were into the Banff portion of the trip and we spontaneously splurged for a 30-minute helicopter tour outside of Banff National Park. It was awful. And by awful, I mean amazing and worth every penny. I was granted the front seat next to the pilot and the exposure buff in me LOVED cresting a mountaintop ridge to see the world drop beneath the window at my feet.

Although most anything would seem anticlimactic after a helicopter ride, Banff didn’t disappoint. For those familiar with Jackson hikes, I describe it as this: hike 20 minutes up Death Canyon overlooking Phelps Lake, then place a complete town with everything from Gucci to McDonald’s.

Teahouse at Plain of the Six Glaciers

Banff is completely nested in amazing mountain views with the spectacularly colored Bow River running though the middle. Although the main street, Banff avenue is as packed as Jackson’s Town Square in July, some of the nicer hotels just 10 minutes away offer solstice for those more interested in mountain scenery than accessible shopping. We stayed at the Rim Rock Resort Hotel and would absolutely choose it time and time again.

And what’s with Canadians being so nice? No wonder the European and Japanese crowds prefer Canada; these people have infinite patience and kindness. Banff is building up their single-track trails for mountain biking and when we half-destroyed a decent rental bike (bye-bye derailleur), they cheerfully responded that all repairs were included in the reasonable bike rental cost. However, my favorite part of Banff was the Canadian attitude towards National Park and the teahouse they allowed at the top of a spectacular hike.

At 5.5 kilometers each way (3.4 miles), the hike to The Plain of Six Glaciers climbs 370 m (1215 ft) to a maximum elevation of 2100 m (6890 ft). It takes about 1.5-2 hours each way for most folks and I would classify it as moderately strenuous. The trail head is gorgeous Lake Louise but the hike quickly climbs after leaving the lake area. Because of this, I expected the tourists to start dropping off like flies. However, the Japanese tourists in Banff are a bit hardier than the American tourists in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

Me hiking back to Lake Louise from just above the teahouse.

There were Japanese grandmas and little kids hoofing it up this hike. Amazing. And they were well rewarded. As the hike was a spur-of-the-moment decision, our uninformed and cynical American selves half expected the ‘teahouse’ at the top to be a dilapidated building with a marker explaining its historic significance. Not so. The teahouse was a legitimate if small restaurant with sandwiches, warm biscuits with jam and butter and, of course, tea. A placard told us that they helicopter in flour, sugar and such at the start of the summer and backpack in the rest. The waitresses and owner/operators live in small cabins around the tea house 5 days a week and hike down on their days off. I reasoned that if rewarded with such a teahouse at the top of Teton hikes, I might hike a little more often. With responsible stewardship on behalf of the vendor, what would be so bad about motivating hikers in Grand Teton and Yellowstone for a few select hikes? Opinions? Submit a comment below.

I’m-jealous-of-your-blog of the day: Smitten Kitchen – I’m about to make their chewy oatmeal cookies and have it on good authority that they are heavenly.

Super-cute-athletic-clothing-company of the day (men and women):  Lululemon

Licorice Keys and Cross-Training

My new buddy (bike), Jake

Some people can observe the way the majority of the world completes a task, evaluate the method and successfully mimic it. I am not one of those people. Professional life aside, I would say I’m not really one to think the little things through. It is more my style to plunge in head first with little to no forethought and later say something like, “you know, there may be something to this one-leg-at-a-time method of putting on pants.”

Take my recent revelation regarding cross-training. As an athlete I acknowledged the similarities between mountain-biking and downhill skiing. After all, the upper/lower body separation and mental component to evaluating the rapidly changing terrain is pretty undeniable. But here in Wyoming, there tends to be a bit of a lag time between ski and mountain bike season (unless you’re a die-hard “hike to wherever the snow is” skier- I am not), which means by the time I am pedaling up a steep hill, my legs no longer have the ski spirit. And then I got a road bike.

Technically, my Kona Jake is not a road bike but a cyclo-cross bike (thanks Andy and crew at Wilson Backcountry), but for me it’s close enough. During our crazy long spring that finally concluded at the end of June, I was able to pedal my bike on the dry-ish concrete rather than feverishly checking the trails to see if they were dry enough to pedal (it’s bad karma to bike on a muddy trail and a good way to ruin it for everyone). When the trails finally dried up, I set out solo for my typical early-season huff-and-puff on my favorite little trail, putt-putt.

Early season biking, even on putt-putt, is tough. Typically this first few rides are accompanied by an inner monologue going something like this:

“Is this the big hill? It better be because this is hard. Oh crap, that was the little hill BEFORE the big hill. Was it always this hard or do I forget how much it hurts over the winter? Why do I like this sport again? Keep riding and the next ride will be that much easier… don’t stop don’t stop you big chicken- it’s only putt-putt…”

But this time, the inner monologue was silenced. It seems that all the pedaling on the concrete translated to cardio-strength and leg muscle for the mountain bike. I virtually flew up the big hills with September like strength. Whoa. If I had known that road biking would help my mountain biking season start off with a bang, I would have bought one many moons ago. But I didn’t think it through. Just like I didn’t think through playing the piano while eating licorice last night. School of hard knocks, I am ready to graduate.

Teaching Bike Rack 101 in Chugwater, Wyoming

Note the strap on the tray on the bottom left of photo.

It all started with an innocent phone call. On the other end was the boyfriend’s cousin with a “I’m driving cross-country after college graduation”. As we were driving east and she west, we made plans to meet up in about 30 minutes at a place famous for fantastic chili (and not much more) known as Chugwater, Wyoming.

When we pulled in, I noticed the cousin’s driving companion was adjusting the bike rack. And by “adjusting”, I mean he was grabbing various parts, shaking them and furrowing his brow. He was inexperienced with this particular system, so I casually glanced over the setup, which revealed the truth. He was a bike rack idiot. (B.R.I.)

The bike rack was an earlier version of the picture above and the most obvious problem concerned the ratcheting strap on the rear tire of the bike. The ratcheting strap on this particular model features a flat side with a “T” like molding that slides onto the underside of the rail. This allows one to firmly clamp the back tire to the rail. B.R.I. didn’t have the strap plugged into the rail, so it hung as a sort of loose bracelet with air on all sides. The reason B.R.I. even thought to look at the rack was an 8-year-old kid approached him at the gas station and said there bikes were falling off which led to the “grab and shake” repair method I was witnessing.

I diagnosed the problem and said the straps needed to slide into the rail, to which he said “I don’t really know what you mean”. At least he knew his limitations. I told him that I know it sounded like a big pain, but we had to take the bikes off the rack and take the rack partially apart. By this point the boyfriend stopped chatting with his cousin to see why I was tearing apart the top of their car. He glanced at it, found my eyes and gave an “oh shit, we’re going to be here for a while” look.

With the bikes and trays off the car, we slid the straps onto the rail and adjusted the positioning of the trays, at times giving B.R.I. instructions in an attempt to expedite the process. His typical response was, “I don’t know what you’re saying,” which prompted one of my witchier comments of all time.

“Not an engineering major, I take it.”

Really? Did I have to say that?

He was a drama major.

This prompted a lively gender-role discussion after we departed the college graduate. The boyfriend thought the cousin (female) would have “figured it out” if we hadn’t been there, to which I pointed out that she didn’t “figure it out” when they put the bikes on the car in the first place. He thought the the B.R.I. probably took care of it all and she didn’t give it a second glance as she trusted his male handy-man skills. I said that anytime a drama major is assembling something, I would have and will be examining it very, very closely. My apologies to any drama majors I may have offended and if you yourself happen to be a B.R.I., it’s okay; just ask for help to avoid injury to your bike, car and America’s driving public.

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