Monday, November 27, 2017

La Ruta 2017

I am up above 10,000 ft, 3 hours into Stage 2 of La Ruta and am cresting the top of Volcano Irazu. It is foggy, misty, windy and actually cold. I am half able to pull up my arm warmers which had been shoved down around my wrists for the climb up. I am glad I decided to put them on for the 5 am start. I don't stop at the aid station, but I notice all the volunteers bundled up in hats, gloves and warm coats. I am about to start the most fun 2 hours I have ever had in Costa Rica on my bike. And I'm not being sarcastic. We descend for 20 miles off the volcano first on gravel, then through some steep rock fields, then on smoother gravel that turns to pavement. It feels like you are flying down the mountain side, past colorful houses, lazy dogs in the street who barely turn their heads to acknowledge you are going by. The descent just keeps going and going and going. Hey dog, look at me! I am having the time of my life on Stage 2! Who would have thought that would ever be possible! By the time I cross the finish line before noon, it is hot, humid, and I am sweating up a storm walking back from the showers. But I have the biggest smile on my face. 

Climbing Volcano Irazu.

One of many dogs on the course. They never seemed to care about hundreds of cyclists zooming past.

La Ruta is not a race you go to for the incredible trails or single track riding. In fact, when the race director tells you they have added in single track sections, be worried. And be prepared to equate that with gnarly, mostly unrideable hike-a-bike. It is not the longest stage race, it is not at elevation. It is 100 degrees with 80% humidity, but there is something about the mud, the jungle, the steepness and seemingly never ending climbs, and the time spent alone with only your thoughts that makes the race much more of a challenge than it may appear on paper.

The stages

I wanted a 2nd chance at La Ruta, which is why I decided to go back this year. I wanted to tackle the beast head on. Last year, I think I survived the fight, and definitely came away with some battle wounds maybe more emotionally than physically. This year, I was ready. I had actual steep hills to train on in Roanoke and I was mentally prepared to keep myself focused on the road and hill in front of me and not think too much about the horrors that lay ahead or how slowly the kilometers were creeping by. 

La Ruta is not a race you can plan for. You don't even know when the stages are going to start each day until the night before when you manage to track down a race organizer and ask. And sometimes you get 3 different answers from 3 different people. Best just show up an hour before the earliest time you were given and then spend that extra hour jockeying for a good start position at the entrance to the start corral. It's actually best to just relax, not plan for everything, and realize that somehow everything works out. Pura Vida. 

Our bikes in front of a cool mural Jeff found in Jaco. We both raced on Salsa Ti El Mar's. Indestructible!

The people and race atmosphere at La Ruta is incredibly special. People from the race organization actually remembered my name and would come up and give me a big hug when we arrived and ask how I've been. It was like seeing old friends. I made a new friend this year with Guillermo, the chef, who works tirelessly to feed all of the riders at the end of each stage. We actually finished at his farm at the end of stage 1. He is incredibly nice, and I want to learn Spanish just so I can impress him the next time I am in Costa Rica. Even the people you ride with, the people along the roads cheering you on, support cars for other riders offering you cold water, everyone is inclusive, encouraging and wanting to make sure that there is a smile under the suffering. It is impossible to be nervous, frustrated or upset for long when you are surrounded by such positive people.

Drinking some water while someone with a pump helped me add air to my tire

We arrived in Costa Rica on Tuesday. Our bike boxes were lashed to the top of sprinter van and we drove through the rain from San Jose to Jaco on the Pacific Coast. It was halloween and the hotel staff were dressed accordingly. The next day we built our bikes and went for a pre-ride half way up the first climb. OMG. I thought I was going to pass out. It was so hot and humid, and I think I sweated out every sodium molecule in my body. I immediately went back to the race expo and bought preload and electrolyte tabs, which I never usually use. I began to get a little worried about the heat.

Unloading bike boxes in Jaco

Croc's Resort in Jaco where we stayed before the race

Dying half way up the first climb on our pre-ride

Day 1 starts from the beach at Jaco. The helicopter turns up with blades whirring and they send us off in a "neutral start" which is similar to the neutral start at Fool's Gold (ie not neutral at all). The wind from the helicopter whips across us as we head out of town. Then about 1 mile down the road, the lead car stops the entire field, and we have another "start" in the middle of the dirt road. Again, strange, but pura vida. 

The start line on the beach

Jeff and me before the start. School kids waiting for the bus?

Day 1 was the longest day. It took me 8 hours and 13 mins to finish, Jeff was out for 10 hours. We climbed along gravel roads, then wound our way through the Carrara jungle and mud, then up more climbs, then along some "single track" (ie nice hiking section), then up more climbs to the finish. My rear tire went soft just before heading into Carrara. I tried adding air but it kept leaking out through the valve stem. I had to decide: ride a soft tire through the jungle or stop and put in a tube. Given my mechanical skills, I opted to tighten the valve stem as tightly as possible and ride the tire soft through the jungle. I ran through a lot of the river crossings so I wouldn't lose more air. I had very little control over the rear end of my bike which made for some sketchy descents, but I made it through, got air at the next aid station and luckily didn't have any more issues with it for the rest of the stage. 

You never know what will be on the road around the next turn

Riding through the towns can be tricky with people, cars, motorcycles and cyclists all navigating the same roads 

Day 2. 2:30 am breakfast, and at 3am the bus picks us up from the Holiday Inn in San Jose. We get to the start line at 3:30. We sleep on the parking lot pavement using our yellow race bags as pillows. At 5am, we cycle out of town. We climb for the next 3 hours. Up over Volcano Irazu and Turrialba. There are a few short hiking sections, but nothing like last year. We started the stage at about 4k ft, climbed to over 10k ft and then descended down to 2k ft at the finish. I wasn't even close to ending up in tears. The entire race seemed so much easier this year because of the new route on Day 2. It is by the far the most fun stage of La Ruta and maybe even one of the most fun days I have had racing my bike.

At the finish of stage 2

Day 3 starts out with an optional rafting section down the Pacuare river. It is a beautiful trip with lots of rapids and dense lush jungle on each side of the river where you might see the indigenous Cabecar people using ropes and a hanging basket to transport themselves across. Day 3 requires a completely opposite skill set from the 1st 2 days. It is a flat hammer fest and if don't get in with a fast group or skip across the railroad suspension bridges fast enough, you will left out to dry on your own. It also starts at 1pm. My garmin was reading 98 degrees and Jen's garmin was reading 101 degrees. It is a hot, humid 2.5 hours from Siquirres to the Caribbean ocean in Limon. After getting dropped on one of the railroad bridges, I worked really hard with another other guy who spoke only Spanish to catch back onto a group ahead. Gordon happened to be in that group and I tried my hardest to hold his wheel across the sandy beach section. I wiped out around one of the corners which is I am covered in sand and mud at the end. I managed to catch back up to him and he definitely helped pull me to the finish! I finished 2nd on every stage this year and 2nd overall in the elite women. Jen finished 3rd overall, and it was pretty awesome to share the podium with her. 

The chaotic start out of Siquirres

Jeff on one of the railroad bridges
The stairs down to the finish

Finishing behind Gordon who gave me some good pulls
Women's elite podium. Maybe one day I'll get a green jersey!

It's hard to describe the feeling of seeing the Atlantic ocean. It means you finished La Ruta, you don't have to wake up at ungodly hours, there is no more mud, and for most of us in the NUE/OMBC group, it means the end of a long endurance season that started sometime back in Feb or March. You can float in the waves, close your eyes, wash away the mud, and just let go of everything. After day 1, Jeff said he would never be coming back to La Ruta. While we were swimming in the Caribbean, he had already changed his mind and said he would do it again. Pura Vida!

Much thanks to all of my sponsors this season: Joe's Bike Shop, Maxxis Tires, ESI grips, Huma Gel, and Ridge Supply Socks. I really couldn't have had so much success without all of their support!

Post race and post season beers on the bus ride back to San Jose

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Notes from the road: Part 3

Day 20: Hiked around Sunrise point. Beautiful clear blue skies and views of Mount Rainier. Went out to Freemont lookout tower and 2nd Burroughs. The mountain seemed so close you could almost reach out and touch it. Spent the afternoon hiking out to Summerland. There is a trail that goes from there out to Panhandle Gap. It was all snowfields. I asked a ranger if I could make it out to the gap without crampons or hiking poles. He said "yeah, risk is all relative.” I'm not sure exactly what he meant. It was cool hiking through the snow fields, complete silence and isolation out there. I didn’t stay long at the pass. I was a bit worried about an avalanche or that one of the snow bridges would collapse before I made it down. You could hear rivers running under sections of snow that was a little unnerving! Ate more tuna fish for dinner.

Day 21: Rode my bike about 30 miles to the top of Sunrise point just to make sure I can still peddle after so many days off the bike. Drove to Paradise region of the park. Hiked up to the Muir snowfield which leads up to the base camp. Decided I really needed more gear to cross the snowfield safely so I turned around there and hiked the rest of skyline trail which was basically all traversing through snow. Talked to a guy from Las Vegas who had summitted a couple of days ago and was hiking out. Definitely would be cool to hike to the top. He said there was no technical climbing – just fitness and crossing over deep crevasses in the snow. Camped at Couger campground. Last night of solo car camping and last tuna fish packets down the hatch!

Day 22: Drove to Mt. St. Helens. Foggy morning but the sun eventually came out and got some good views of the volcano. Hiked out to Harry’s Ridge. Spent some time in the visitor’s center learning about the volcano and the 1980 eruption. Drove to Portland. Found a KOA on the way there for a quick shower. Picked Jeff up! Drove to Bend. Ate a delicious dinner at Bend Brewing Co overlooking the Deschutes River. We are staying at an air bnb on the west side of Bend, close to the starting line for the High Cascades 100.

Day 23: Slept in. Got coffee at Looney Bean. Got an oil change for the van. Did laundry. Registered for High Cascades. Did a short pre-ride at Phillip’s trails. Carbo loaded at Immersion Brewery. Went to bed early. Start time for the race tomorrow is so early: 5:30 am.

Day 24: Raced High Cascades – 100 miles of dry dusty flowy singletrack. The race started with a 10 mile lead out on pavement to the trails. It was a really long flat paved road section with 500 riders in a huge group. Avoided any crashes. Hit a sandy climb that spread out the field. Jeff took off in front of me. I was questioning his tactics but I let him go and focused on my race. Since I had no idea what to expect, I went out conservatively, staying in the front of the women’s field but not going all out. Pulled into the 1st aid station at mile 25 with Kaydee Rash. She stopped and I kept going since I had plenty of water in my camel pack. Caught and passed Jeff who was eating sandwiches. He said he would catch up. He did catch up at the finish! In the last 20 miles, I realized the vision in my left eye was completely blurry and I couldn’t really see anything. I tried blinking and rubbing my eye to no avail. I was having trouble seeing the trail. I tried closing that eye but then had no depth perception. Remember sunglasses next time. Wiped out on one of the last downhill sections before the road back to the athletic center and finish line. After a bottle of eye drops, my vision came back. Drank beer, ate food, met some really nice people. Ate at Spork for dinner – a Mexican/Asian fusion place that was awesome.

Day 25: Woke up sore and tired. More Looney Bean coffee. Went SUPing with our awesome air bnb host who took us to Hosmer Lake. Beautiful water and mountain views. You could see huge fish swimming below in the water. Napped. Went to Crux brewery for some beers.

Day 26: Time for the road trip home. Drove to Fruita, CO. Almost ran out of gas driving through western Oregon. Stopped at Red Rock Brewing Co in Salt Lake City. Car camped near Fruita.

Day 27: Rode parts of the Kokepelli loops in Fruita. Beautiful canyon views over the Coloado River, rocky trails, slickrock riding. The Kokepelli trail is a 140 mile trail from Grand Junction to Moab. That would be fun to do sometime. More driving across CO and Kansas. 

Day 28: More driving, another 14 hour day in the van with Jeff and his stinky farts! Stopped at a park in Ohio to do some running and take a break. Made it into West Virginia. Last night of car camping! Stayed at a KOA.

Day 29: Made it to Baltimore! Picked up our dogs. Got in a 50ish mile road ride on old training roads on a borrowed road bike from Joe. Drove to Chapel Hill. Movers come at 9am tomorrow morning for our move to Roanoke!

It was an incredible trip and I learned a lot during it. I learned that I am capable of going out and exploring by myself and having fun while I'm at it. You just don't get lonely when you are in beautiful places, hiking and biking and seeing incredible things. I think shared experiences are always better, and it was awesome when Jeff joined me in Portland. But exploring solo definitely beats not exploring at all! And I learned that life doesn't fall apart when you take time off the bike. I would stress out so much about missing intervals or a training workout that my coach gave me. But for the last 3 weeks, I haven't touched a heart rate monitor or looked at a training plan. I re-discovered a love for running, I did more hiking than I have in years, and I still ended up doing ok at High Cascades. I'll probably never have this much time off or freedom to explore again, so I am so happy that I went!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Notes from the road: Part 2

Day 10: Slept in. Ate a huge egg and bacon bagel sandwich. Sat outside in the sun. Bought bear spray. Met up with Abby and her husband, Jason, Mari and Amy, all adventure racers, for an afternoon hike up Beards and Mustache mountains. Learned that adventure racers don’t follow trails. Bushwacked our way up and down the mountain sides. It is pretty awesome just exploring in the woods not being confined to trails. Eventually found a trail again and ran back to the car. So fun!

Day 11: 108 mile bike ride today around the Tetons with Abby, Jason and Mari. Jason thought it would be fun to ride a section of singletrack that he had never ridden before. Since we all had mountain bikes, we set off to check it out. We spent about 2 hours in the 1st 12-15 miles of the ride climbing over downed trees, up steep hike-a-bike sections, across streams. The rideable trail was really fun though! Then we did about half on gravel roads and the second half on paved roads through Grand Teton park. Incredible mountain views! Abby’s parents met us in Teton Village so we didn’t have to climb back over the pass. Ate dinner at the Grand Teton Brewing company. Nobody was drinking beer so I got a root beer instead. Amazing ride with a great group of people!

Day 12: Rode 55 miles of singletrack at Grand Targhee – some of the same ones as in the Pierre’s Hole 100 race that we did last year, some different ones, had a blast exploring and enjoying the mountain views, the alpine meadows, the wildflowers, the flowy singletrack, the heart pounding climbs. Way more fun just riding those trails than racing them.

Day 13: Rode Phillips Ridge trail in the morning and completed the climb up to the top of Teton pass that I missed riding 2 days ago. Met up with Abby and Jason for a 16 mile hike/run in the Big Hole Mountains in the afternoon. It turned out to be way more running than hiking. I used to run all the time but for the last 18 months, I haven’t done any running at all. Definitely should have done some running training prior to this trip! Ate veggies tacos with Abby and Jason and then we joined up with Mari and sat outside and watched the fireworks. The town of Driggs put on a great display which was almost as good as the street fireworks set off by all the neighbors. Said goodbye to everyone. Learned a lot about adventure racing hanging out here. Definitely would be fun to try sometime. Heading to Glacier tomorrow.

Day 14: Amazingly, I can still walk after yesterday’s run. Drove to Glacier - about 8 hours with extra for stops. Talked to one of the rangers at the Many Glacier area. Unfortunately, a lot of the trails are still closed due to snow but there is a possibility they might open before I leave. Did a short hike out to Red Rock Falls. I have never seen water so clear before in the rivers and lakes. Went to a ranger talk on wolverines. Watched the sunset over Swiftcurrent lake. Beautiful place.

Day 15: Hiked out as far as I could to Grinnell Glacier. There was a really steep snowfield across the trail about 4 miles out that I didn’t feel safe crossing so I turned around there. Still amazing views of mountains and almost green appearing Grinnell Lake below. A bear decided to mosey its way down the trail on the return hike around the opposite side of Josephine lake. Luckily for me, it continued to mosey its way off the trail and down towards the water. Decided to do some more trail running for the afternoon and jogged out to Cracker lake. I forgot how much I like running! Saw a mom and cub grizzly bear way up on the mountain side near Cracker Lake that a ranger pointed out to me. The water of Cracker lake is an incredible teal blue color. There is also an old mine on the hillside that I walked around in with my flashlight. Kinda spooky. Jogged back out, went swimming in Swiftcurrent lake. So cold but felt so good! Found out highline trail opened up which is one of the trails I really wanted to hike while I was here so that is cool.

Day 16: Did a short hike out to Apikuni falls in the morning. Bought a phone card so I could use a pay phone to call Jeff. Pretty funny using pay phones again but I have zero service out here. Spent the rest of the day biking over to St. Mary and then along Going to the Sun Road. Amazing views up over Logan Pass– it doesn’t even feel like a workout! The descent off Logan pass was so fun, lots of twists and turns in the road, snow capped mountains, waterfalls cascades down cliff sides. They don’t let bikes back over Logan pass eastbound until 4pm so I rode along Logan Creek for awhile, filled up water bottles, ate a PB&J sandwich. Started climbing back over the pass at 4. A woman stopped and gave me an ice cold lime pelligrino which tasted delicious! Got in 116 miles. Discovered there are public showers at swiftcurrent inn for $4. Definitely the best $4 I have ever spent!

Day 17: Amazing day of hiking. Took a shuttle to the top of Logan pass. Saw 2 bears on the way out. Hiked Highline trail up to Granite Chalet and then up over Swiftcurrent pass and down back to the car. Incredible views around every turn. Took a side trail up the top of the Garden Wall and ate lunch looking out over Grinnell glacier. The views are so big here. It is hard to capture them on camera even with panorama mode. Saw lots of marmots. After you hike over the pass, you get more amazing views over red mountain ranges, blue lakes below, beargrass and wildflowers along the trail side meadows, glaciers up high along the rock walls. I bought a bunch of tuna fish packets for dinners out here since I figured it would be a good source of protein and would survive sitting in a hot car all day. Needless to say, I am getting sick of eating tuna fish sandwiches for dinner!

Day 18: Another amazing day of hiking. Did a combo of hiking and trail running out to Iceberg lake. Waded in for like 30 secs and the water was so cold, my feet hurt getting out. Then went up to Ptarmigan tunnel which just opened up yesterday! Again, just incredible views. There a tunnel through the mountain that you can walk through and it opens up amazing views on the other side of the mountain range. Spent the afternoon exploring some trails off Going to the Sun road. Hiked out to St. Mary and Virginia falls. Saw a bunch of guys jumping off the bridge at St. Mary’s falls. Decided I needed to try that too. So fun! Went out to hidden lake. The trail is basically all snow covered. Lots of people there hiking it. Some people skiing and snowboarding down. Saw mountain goats and big horn sheep. Makes sense I would see the most animals on the most populated trail. Splurged for dinner at Rising Sun. Got a huge salad with fresh veggies and chicken – delicious and tuna fish free! Drove up to Logan pass to watch the stars. Fell asleep though before it got dark enough.

Day 19: Woke up to big horn sheep around the car. Beautiful sunrise at the top of Logan Pass. Hiked out to Avalanche lake. Pretty, but does not compare to the hikes around Many Glacier area. Lots of cars on Going to the Sun Road. If I come back to Glacier, definitely would plan to skip all the day hikes and just do backcountry hiking. Drove to Mount Rainier. Stopped in Coeur D’Alene for lunch and to catch up on life stuff that comes along with having service again. Got a camping spot at White River. Decided to set up the tent and take a break from car camping. temperatures are definitely cold. I knew I brought my puffy jacket out here for a reason.