Could it be that winter's stranglehold is finally giving way to spring? I mean, really, it's June.
Maybe it's the new "normal," cooler than normal, wetter than normal and, unfortunately, windier than normal. Like a recalcitrant stepchild, mountain winters go kicking and screaming, always sleuthing for new ways to fuck up outdoor plans.
Part of it is that I seem too always be underdressed in April and May. Mornings are cold, with temp in the low 30s more often than not. And it doesn't help that sunrise in Lovely Ouray is a couple/three hours after Valley Folk (thank you Mount Sunblock). So I leave the house all bundled up for 50 mile bike rides, only to peel layers in Ridgway as I begin the grind up Dallas Divide. In 15 minutes I'm sweating like Rudy Giuliani in front of a Special Prosecutor.
I felt good on my last ride. Though not quite a PR, I made good time to Ridgway. I swung down to Town Park for a potty break and stripped off the first layer in prep for the asphalt grind up Dallas to County Road 24. I hate riding this section of pavement because it's so heavily traffice with trucks and Rvs. It's unnerving when they refuse to budge an inch. And this is why I can't carry a gun...
|A bike ride view of snowcapped San Juan Mountains across spring hayfields in Pleasant Valley|
As usual, I tripped my stopwatch at the edge of town...just in case "felt strong" was not a fluke and the notorious Dallas Headwind was on holiday. My previous PR up Dallas to CR 24 is 38 minutes. But sub-forties are a rare occurrence, so I held no loft aspirations of equalling, much less bettering my time.
I noticed something was missing as I pedaled up from Ridgway to Pleasant Valley. No wind! The Dallas Breeze AWOL such that I could run a gear higher, sometimes two. So I pushed the pace, just in case my luck held out beyond The Double RL, Ralph Lauren's sprawling 16,000 acre ranch.
I purposely ignored my stopwatch as I pedaled at about 90% of max. It felt so easy without the normal headwind. Hmmm. Maybe it would be a good day to try for a new PR up "Dallas." I decided to go max—pedals to the metal—you know, just incase the gods were kind and stars aligned for a sub 39 PR. When headwinds are strong it can take over an hour to get to County Road 24. On this day, however, I timed out at 36:30.
Long story longer, I pedaled my usual loop by connecting 20 miles of gravel county roads until soon found myself rolling back into Ridgway with a total time of 2 hours and 54 minutes. With only 10 miles between me and home in Lovely Ouray, I was on pace to set another PR. I've clocked that slightly uphill ride in 60 minutes a couple of times, but only after shorter loops of 30 instead of 50 miles. But now, with an extra 6 minutes, the time was ripe to go for an overall PR.
As luck would have it, the gods were just toying with me. Suddenly the stars fell out of alignment and I was pedaling into a steady headwind as I rolled out of Ridgway. I hoped it would let up as the canyon narrowed. But no, the headwind became stronger the closer I got to home.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Riding with one hand, I managed to pop a couple of caffeinated Shot Blocs and chug down a Gatorade. Unfortunately, my elixir of sugar and caffeine were no match for prankster gods who take delight in torturing humans. Wobble-kneed and agonized, I rolled up to my driveway in 4 hours and 5 minutes.
The good news is that, upon rechecking, I beat a previous PR of 4 hours and 8 minutes. The bad news (insert giggling gods here) I failed in my attempt at a sub-4 hour ride.
After two days of recovery, I took on "The Ridge To The Bridge" via Old Horse Thief Trail. 2600 feet of elevation gain.
I can see old Old Horse Thief's trailhead and initial switchbacks from our living room window, as well as the sun-splashed ridge line destination a lofty 2600 feet higher. It's my annual spring temptress, for sure. But I know better than to take her on too soon...usually around mid May. But OHT Trail is generally south facing, so that helps...except for a few places that don't face south a a couple of patches of dark timber.
There's also a couple of steep scree sections of trail that slide down mountain over the course of winter that must be re-established every spring. But the ides of May arrived cool and clear and the time had come to get 'er done.
A simple push of the "record" on my Gaia app, and I was off and running. Okay "hiking," but at a brisk pace.
It takes a while for trail crews to get around OHT Trail every year, so it's common for the switchbacks to be littered with slide-rock and scree early on. It was particularly bad this year, like playing hopscotch, trying to land clean footfalls between ankle-rollers. My legs protested the extra effort this required and my mind the extra concentration. It was increasingly difficult to maintain pace, especially with the elevation gain. I tried to focus on breathing, an essential but oft forgotten strategy for hiking at altitude. After some experimentation, I found drawing deep, near max breaths combined with long pursed-lips exhales worked the best. The drop in heart rate drop was immediately noticeable and I settled in for the long haul. As expected, I met no one on the way up. Bears are hungry and grumpy post-hibernation, so I packed a can of pepper spray on my waist band just in case.
Old Horse Thief is a relentless SOB that offers few respites in grade in which to recover. I stopped multiple times to hang my head while perspiration poured from brow. My teeshirt was completely soaked as well, and sunglasses blurred by smudgy salt deposits such that I could barely see. At times like this I do begin to question "why" and wonder if it's time to start smelling roses. But we are who we are, and I think it's a little too late at this point to try and re-wire my genetic code. Besides, I would sorely miss the post-effort rush of endorphins.
I was plodding the final hundred yards to the summit ridge when I spotted a hiker coming up from the Dexter Creek approach. He had heard the OHT route was pretty steep and wondered if it was true. Having been up both ways, I replied that he had taken the shorter and easier route. He went on to say he was headed on up to the Bridge Of Heaven. I advised him that it might require some post-holing through forested areas, and that using elk tracks on the final push above timberline helps to minimize postholes.
I was mopping sweat from face and neck when I got around to hitting the "Stop" button on my Gaia's: 1 hour and 40 minutes. I never found previous record of a timed ascent up OHT Trail, so I guess that's the time to beat next year.
|Almost there, a quick glance down at my starting point...|
|Topped out on the Ridge To The Bridge of Heaven, with Lovely Ouray tucked away in the bosom of her mountain surround.|
|Bridal Veil Falls|
And finally, a few days later on legs still shredded from the grind up OHT, want overruled reason and I found myself attempting to match a previous PR to the summit of Twin Peaks. I realize most of you are shaking your heads by now and it's understandable. But these efforts are what it now takes to get 70 year old lungs and legs conditioned enought for arduous summer scrambles that push 14,000 feet of elevation. Besides, as you well know by now, I actually enjoy challenges and competition, even if it's just Me against a stopwatch.
Starting around 70 years old you begin to realize that your remaining days have numbers on them. This helps me appreciate what I have left and leaves me wanting more. Maybe, if I just keep moving, my wish will come to pass. At some point in life, one should live large and stop taking time for granted. Life is good, but it's getting shorter by the minute.
Normally, I only take one hiking pole. There are some places where even that's one too many. Sometimes you need both hands free to scramble up cliffy sections of rock. One pole comes in handy, though, especially on attempts to climb Twin Peaks in May when there is a good chance of encountering awkward and precipitous banks of snow on north facing slopes. It helps me keep my balance when footing is sketchy/icy. More importantly, a hiking pole can be used as a self-arrest device in case footing unexpectedly gives way. It's something we practice, just in case.
I decided to take two poles this time, hoping that by engaging both arms and shoulders I could take some of the burden off tired legs and make up some time. Indeed, it seemed to work early on. I was able to tie a previous PR of 56 minutes from home and on up Old Twin Peaks Trail to the Oak Creek Trail junction. Pushing that trail is not for the faint of heart and or will. It's nothing short of a steep, loose staircase that makes a mile feel more like five.
On pace for a possible (yet unlikely) new PR, I gave it everything I had. I knew there would be snow to navigate at some point and that it would cost me time, depending on where, how much and if it had been tracked yet.
Sure enough, I began encountering patches of snow that got deeper and longer the higher I climbed. The one below is always tricky because it falls away to the right at a fairly steep angle...enough to turn you into a snowball.
It happened with unexpected suddenness. A foot gives way and you think you are about to become that snowball. Fortunately, I had one pole securely buried about halfway in firm snow. I felt it bend, and, being a cheap-ass aluminum Walmart pole, I waited for it to snap. But it didn't snap. It bent but did'nt break. I was able to get my footing back and finish crossing to firm ground on the other side. Bullet dodged. Chalk up a minor miracle. The gods have obviously taken a day off.
That's when I began to encounter deadfall...awkward, ball-raking, skin scratching, time consuming deadfall. I lost precious time but stayed after it, hoping for another miracle, i.e., making up for lost time.
|Almost became a snowball here...|
Gaining the saddle between Little Sister and Twin Peaks, I glanced at my time: 1 hour 34 minutes. At best it's a 10 minute climb from the saddle to Twin Peaks. There would be no "miracle" PR this day. My footing and pace went to Hell as I waged a losing war with marbled footing and legs that refused to obey orders. 12 minutes and change later, it was over. A disappointing 1 hour and 46 minutes...6 minutes off a PR.
Once on top, though, "disappointment" was vaporized by the joy of just being alive and on top. The truth is, there are no losers when it comes to summiting no matter how long it takes, especially when you have it all to yourself.
Ultimately, no one will remember that 6 minutes after I'm gone. Not even me. Hey, if you can't be the best, then be the only.” You might have an off day on the trail, but you will never, ever have a bad day on the trail. If you do have a bad day, you might want to check priorities.
|Little Sister saddle|
When you compete with others you are doomed to fail. There will always be someone better.
“Life is not a competition with others. Life is a competition with yourself—to do your personal best each day.” Cameron C. Taylor
A stopwatch doesn't lie...
Peace out from Lovely Ouray,
Mark and Bobbie