30 June 2009


Ken cleaning the Portal of Pain on a Tuesday Morning Ride back-in-the-day.
I had a brainstorm a few years ago that we should sell a house-branded, hand-selected blend of bagged and roasted coffee at Absolute Bikes, the bike shop I work at in the summertime. Surprisingly, my idea was rather well received (most of them aren't) and we began a dialog with the owner of Flagstaff's Late For The Train coffee shops, and even commissioned local artist Lyle Motley to design a packaging label. We deliberated for a while before selecting a brand name for our soon-to-be-sold house coffee and eventually settled on TMR Blend, as a kind of homage to the shop's classic weekly group ride. But somehow, along the way, the whole plan to sell coffee at the bike shop got canceled. I don't remember specifically what killed it, but as is so often the case, I know for certain that it died; no bags of TMR Blend Coffee were ever sold. LFTT moved on without a second thought, and the completed design for the packaging languishes somewhere in the bowels of the vault at Absolute Bikes.

But our fleeting plan to sell coffee at the bike shop lives on in my mind; I am reminded of it every Tuesday morning as I crawl out of bed at 5:50 AM to grind and brew my own home-roasted coffee as I prep for the Flagstaff's longest-standing formally-organized no-drop group ride: the Tuesday Morning Ride.

I try to attend every Tuesday Morning Ride I can during my ever-shortening summers. Between early June, when school lets out for the summer, and early August, when teacher meetings and then classes resume, I am usually able to get in some 8-10 Tuesday Morning Rides if I really commit to getting out of bed way-too-early-for-summer. Most years I do.

I've been riding with regular attendees Ken and Chris, as well as a whole host of others who show more sporadically, on the Tuesday Morning Ride for years. And not once in all that time has the ride ever sucked. Yeah, some rides have been a bit too fast, some a bit too long, some way too slowed down by multiple flats and/or crashes, mechanicals, or lost riders. But seriously, in like 12 or 13 years of getting up early-early in the summer on Tuesday morning to ride bikes in the woods, I cannot remember even one ride that was not generally awesome: filled with great empty trails, cool temps, good strong friends, and a whole lot of climbing and descending on singletrack. Every Tuesday Morning Ride is different: different people, different trails, different themes. But they all kinda end up sounding a little like this:

Ken and Jim and Charlie (on his one-speed) and Brad and I headed around Mount Elden this morning on my third Tuesday Morning Ride of the summer. We rode out through Buffalo Park to Lower Oldham and I flatted. After the repair, we got on the new freelancer trails that head east from Oldham and eventually, after riding a few choice secrets up high at the base of the rocks, joined up with Forces of Nature and the Elden Spring system. However, because we'd spent so much time bouncing around on the rocks on the trails at the base of Elden, Ken was out of time and had to bail by the time we got to the bottom of Fat Man's Loop.

The rest of our group proceeded around the always-too-hot-no-matter-the-time-of-day eastern exposures of Mount Elden, past Hart Trail, through Sandy Seep, and eventually around the corner to the Little Elden Spring Trail on the mountain's northern slope. We crawled up Little Elden through miles of horse-assaulted trail dust to Little Bear where we ate and said goodbye Jim for a while as he took off like a rocket up the long climb. The rest of us sat-in and made a long-but-mellow no-debt steady ascent up Little Bear's miles-long four giant switchbacks to the saddle at the top where we found Jim (nearly asleep, I think) patiently waiting for us in the shade.

We took another quick break at the top of Little Bear, and since several of us were getting close to gotta-be-home-time, jumped onto Upper Red Onion down to Elden Lookout Road. Brad bailed down the Lookout Road at this point, complaining of a sore knee, and the three of us that remained made the short jump up to Lower Red Onion. Following the quick portage down the marble-covered sketchy switchback in the middle of Lower Red Onion, Jim made his first successful ride down the super-giant rock towards the bottom of the trail!

From here we hopped back on Elden Lookout Road down to Middle Oldham, ripped down it and onto Rocky Ridge. Another fast descent, and Jim split off at the Rocky Ridge/Jumps intersection. Charlie and I continued down Jumps to the back of Buffalo Park where we shook hands, said goodbye, and split, he going up to the Buffalo, and I continuing down Jumps to the Park Street trailhead and home.

Five riders. Who know how many miles or feet of climbing. Four hours fifteen minutes door-to-door. Two flats. Approximately two bottles of water and a snack each. Plenty of good conversation and scenery.

Slice it any way you like, but that's pretty much a Tuesday Morning Ride.

13 June 2009

How I survived but sprained a finger

I forgot it was race day today.

In fact, I think I thought race days were still on Sundays. It's been that long since I've raced.

Regardless, it quickly became evident as I headed out this morning that I'd got my days mixed... the number plates on everyone's-bike-but-yours kinda gives that sort of thing away pretty quickly. But, other than a few skinny riders out early doing warm-up intervals on this somewhat breezy early summer morning, the only other folks I ran into on my way to ride the suffer-trail up Lower Brookbank were my friends Ken and Kurt preparing to do a little race-day corner-marshalling with a posse of their kids.

Toward the top of Brookbank the already-steep trail tips up even steeper into a section just below the Upper Brookbank intersection that's tough to clean even on ideal conditions on your very best day. Today neither of those components were present, so I rode toward this trap ready to dab. I like to ride into it as far as I can, no matter what, hoping to perhaps get lucky, and today I thought I saw a decent line through the loose stuff that's accumulated at the bottom of this section.

I've been on Brookbank several times this week, going up and down. So I immediately noticed, as I headed toward my line, that there were a few new sticks and limbs strewn about on the ground in this area that hadn't been there yesterday. A few of the limbs were sizeable, five or six footers, that had obviously sluffed off one the the many large old snags that occupy this pocket of the hillside. I didn't think too much about the limbs though, they were off my line; they were remarkable only for their size. But then, as I rode past the base of one of the nearby snags I began to hear HUGE cracking sounds just inches from my right shoulder as the dead tree next to the trail began to give way RIGHT BEHIND ME!

Instinctively, I jumped off my bike and began to run up the trail as the sound of the tree crashing to the ground grew louder behind me. In my head I'm thinking, "It's going to kill me. If it falls on me I am dead." I had no idea which direction the snag was falling, only that, judging by the sound, it was coming down very, very close to me. I didn't even turn to look, I just ran as fast as I could away from the sound. As it fell it began to sheer off it's own limbs and the limbs of other nearby trees and I could hear all of these amazing, huge cracking and crashing sounds growing louder and louder right behind me. I ran in a panic, almost on all fours, straight up the trail, stumbing over loose rock, when suddenly something inside me said, "Uphill! Run uphill!" I immediately cut up the bank of the hillside and scrambled over the duff and trailside debris. Seconds later, with a gigantic thud and crash, the snag fell to the ground. The commotion was instantly over. And I stopped running.

I was about 20 feet from the tree; my bike, where I'd ditched it when I started running, was only inches from it. It had fallen nearly perpendicular to the trail, downhill from it's rootbed, but less down the hill than I'd expected. It was an old cinnamon-colored ponderosa, with perhaps a three foot diameter, some 75-100 feet tall. A big old snag. I'm sure it's still there and will be for some time to come, until an earnest saw-crew gets all the way up there to cut through it.

I sprained my finger pretty good while I was running. Not every day you get to say that. Nor is it every day that you get to be a real live mythbuster either.

But I am today. Because I can tell you, for certain: When a tree falls in the woods, it makes a very big sound! A very big sound indeed.

More pictures on flickr.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey