This spring has been ridiculous.
I figured that after the season ended, I would have a month or two
to get settled and organized, while I gradually picked the training.
Well, the training has gradually picked up, but it seems like the
rest of my life just blew up all at once. For starters, I still
have no place to live and have been living on spare beds and couches
for two months now. I also started a new internet-based job in Salt
Lake which is taking a lot of time. It is actually a very good job
for training because my schedule is flexible (usually 11-6 M-F)
and I am sitting at a computer (i.e. resting) all day. But right
now it feels like a bit much due to all the other stuff going on.
This past week I had to take all four of my most prized possessions
into repair shops to be fixed. My truck, my computer, my mountain
bike and my stereo all had various problems that needed to be dealt
with (I bet you could learn a lot about someone by having them list
their most valued possessions. Mine seem a little basic, but then
again, I only own the basic necessities to be an outdoorsy computer
geek.) Anyway, most came back with only minor repairs, except the
big one: my truck. As I had suspected all winter, my poor truck
was dying. It either needed a new engine or to be retired. So I
have been debating my next course of transportationary action.
With my truck, I was unable to go
to Moab this spring because I knew it wouldn't make it. But while
my truck is in the shop, I have had to rent a car to get around.
So the upside to all this is that I now have the wheels to go south.
So today I ignored my ever-growing "To Do" list and loaded
up my newly tuned-up mountain bike, my tent and my sleeping bag
and headed for the desert of southern Utah.
I arrived in Moab in early afternoon
and went straight out for a ride on a huge slickrock formation called
Bartlett Wash. The road into Bartlett Wash was rocky and rutted
and every time I bottomed out, I glanced at the "Do Not Take
This Vehicle Off-Road." sticker, became even happier that I
paid for the damage insurance on the car, and made a mental note
to wash it before returning it. From where you park, you just pick
a route up the slickrock to the plateau above and then play around
on the smooth, grippy rock. This ride can be done as a loop, but
the other side is very sandy and uninviting, so after an hour or
so of testing my slickrock skills, I headed back down the way I
Since it is peak season in Moab,
I knew that finding a spot to camp would be like finding a 2 Live
Crew album at Wal-Mart. But fortunately my favorite spot to camp
is just south of town, out of the way and not very well known, and
I was able to snag the last available spot. I set up camp and went
to bed, happy to have a temporary reprieve from all the obligations
hanging over my head.
The next morning, as I ate my breakfast
I studied the map, looking for a good ride. Usually this time of
year there is still snow in the La Sal mountains, just east of town.
But because it was a very poor snow year, it looked like some of
the trails in higher elevations would be open. Having never ridden
up there, I was anxious to try it out. I chose a trail called Moonlight
Meadows, which was supposed to be pretty easy technically and fairly
strenuous aerobically. Soon after starting out, I passed a group
of about 6 people who were doing the same ride. I talked with them
for a few minutes, hoping maybe they had done the ride before (they
hadn't) and then decided that their pace was a bit slow and left
them behind. For the next few miles, I was accompanied by a couple
of men on four-wheeelers who would paused every few hundred meters
to search for a trail or something, but without luck. After about
an hour of climbing on a dirt road, I started to encounter small
patches of snow. Here, the four-wheelers turned around. At first,
the snow wasn't a big deal, except that I was still climbing and
soon there was more snow, enough to cover the whole road in spots.
The two miles of uphill were very frustrating. I spent as much time
walking my bike over snow as I did riding it. I thought about turning
around, but I could see the single track that I was to descend on
in the middle of a snow-less meadow, so I remained hopeful that
once I reached the top, the snow would all be behind me.
I was right about the snow, it wasn't
a problem after the top of the pass, but the trail was not nearly
as pristine as it looked from the other side of the valley. It was
essentially a very rough cattle trail, which was muddy and rutted
with hoofprints. It looked like it didn't get much tire traffic
and certainly not much this time of year. I had been hoping that
by searching out singletrack instead of the usually rocky jeep trails,
I would get a smoother ride, but I think the single track was even
worse that the rocky trails in the valley. In addition, the trail
was not very well marked and I kept losing it. By now I was 3.5
hours into a ride that was supposed to take three and I was still
miles from home. I was beginning to get frustrated and angry. As
I sensed that I might be getting close to the dirt road that would
take me back to my car, I also sensed that the trail was becoming
thinner and harder to follow, just when I was starting to think
I had lost my way again, I saw my buddies on the four-wheelers about
half a mile away through a field of sagebrush. I had stopped to
look at a map, but they noticed and recognized me and motioned for
me to follow them with a hand wave. So I jumped back on my bike
and after 10 minutes of chasing, I caught up to them. As I did so,
one of them pulled back along side me and asked, "Hey have
you seen the trail around here?" I was dumbfounded and livid
at the same time. "I thought YOU knew where it was," I
replied sternly. "Nope, we've been looking for it for an hour,"
he said. Quickly realizing that I was now in middle of nowhere,
following a tiny game trail, I took off in the general direction
of where I thought I wanted to be, which was southeast. The four
wheelers, thinking I was way off-base, went their own way. I soon
came to a ridge line, from which I could see the road I wanted,
about a mile away. Only problem is that there was a ravine between
here and there, and no trail. There was now too much sagebrush and
stinging nettles to ride my bike, so I picked it up and bushwhacked
for a good hour and a half before finally getting to the road. By
this point I was extremely irritated by the whole ride. I was cursing
the trail, the map, the terrain, the guy who decided that chainring
cogs had to be sharp enough to pierce skin when hit just right,
and, of course, myself. I just wanted to get back to my tent and
take a nap. I flew down the road, packed up the car and zipped down
to my campsite for lunch and rest.
After lunch, I tried to nap, but
it was just too hot. I did some reading and began debating whether
I should do the hike I had planned for the afternoon. I had wanted
to do a short hike just west of Moab, but since my 3 hour bike ride
had turned into a 5 hour bike ride/hike/deathmarch, I figured I
had done enough for the day. Then I decided that since I had done
all the workouts I had planned to do, I still had 5 hours of daylight,
and it would feel really good to soak my bruised and battered body
in a shower and then climb into a real bed, I would drive home rather
than spent one more night.
Not the usual outstanding trip to
Moab, but I'm still glad I finally made it down there this spring.
Memorial Day Weekend. Up until recently,
weekends had no meaning for me. I usually worked Saturday and had
two, nonconsecutive days off during the week. While this schedule
was very good for training, it also meant that weekend getaways
with friends who had "Real Jobs" or at the very least,
Monday -Friday jobs, were next to impossible. But now that I work
M-F, I look forward to weekends just like 90% of the rest of the
world. I had planned to take advantage of this long holiday weekend
by going on backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park with a friend
of mine from San Francisco. I flew into San Francisco on Thursday
evening and my friend, Linda, picked me up at the airport and we
headed east towards the park. We had hoped to make it all the way
to the park that evening, but since my flight was late arriving,
we were behind schedule and decided to stop for the night at a campground
about half an hour outside the park. Not this would be a nonevent
not even worth mentioning, except for one incident. By the time
we got the tent pitched and were ready for bed it was at least 2:30
am. Just before crawling into my sleeping bag, I had to make one
last trip to the car, so Linda handed me the keys to her brand new
Subaru Forester. What she didn't tell me was that you need to disarm
the alarm with the remote keyless entry thing before you can insert
a key. So I just went ahead and inserted the key. This immediately
set off the alarm, which was very loud and a bit out of place at
2:30 am in a secluded campground. I fumbled with the keys for a
few seconds before finally getting the thing to turn off. By this
time, everyone in the campground was awake and not very happy with
me. I did my best to hide in the shadows as I returned to the tent.
Lesson #1: Always use the nifty little Unlock button on the keypad.
The next morning I awoke to the people
in the campsite next to us talking about "that damn alarm."
When I finally felt brave enough to get out of the tent and apologize,
they were in much better spirits. They explained that, yes, at first
they were pretty upset, but this morning, when they realized it
was a new Subaru, they understood. Turns out they also had a new
Subaru and had done the same thing. Twice. Feeling much better about
myself, we packed up and headed on our way.
Because we got here Friday morning,
we were able to beat the rush of holiday tourists. We spent the
morning planning our route, buying last minute supplies, and packing
our packs. Wanting to get the maximum training benefit out of the
hike, I was very greedy in packing, by stuffing as much as I could
possibly fit into, on, and around my pack. By the time I was done,
I had a 50 lb behemoth on my back and was very happy about it. Linda's
pack, though lighter, was still relatively heavy and we wondered
exactly how we could have possibly packed lighter (without leaving
behind the M&M's of course).
Our goal for today was to hike up
the Yosemite Falls trail to the rim of the canyon and camp just
beyond the Wilderness boundary, about 0.5 miles beyond the rim.
This trail rose about 4000 ft in three and a half miles. It was
a strenuous climb with very rewarding views of Upper and Lower Yosemite
Falls and the valley below. We made good time, reaching our destination
in about three hours. We set up camp on a beautiful overlook of
the Yosemite River and began to organize dinner. Neither Linda or
I owned some of the camping essentials, so Linda borrowed some equipment
from friends. One of the borrowed items was a camp stove for cooking
our meals. Lesson #2: Always test borrowed equipment before you
get miles from civilization. We tried to get the stove to light
for half an hour, using a whole box of matches, before we finally
gave up and built a fire. A campfire is not the easiest way to cook
pasta when you don't have a rack or anything, but with the exception
of a few close calls of almost spilling the pot and a few small
burns on my hand, it worked. I knew that being a Boy Scout would
help me someday (well actually I had my doubts, but what do you
know, it did!). After eating and cleaning and storing all our food
in a bear-proof container away from our campsite, we collapsed into
the tent for the night.
Our plan for today was to do a day
hike over to North Dome, which strangely enough, is a full dome
just north of the famous Half Dome. Since there was real hurry today
and we were still feeling the effects of our late night on Thursday,
this morning we slept in, had a relaxing morning by the river, and
finally headed out for our hike by early afternoon. Since this hike
was fairly flat and we didn't have huge packs on, we figured it
to be an easy, laid-back hike. On the way there it was, the only
problem is that it took over four hours, when I had expected more
like two and half. Sure we had stopped for views at the Yosemite
Lookout and stopped for snacks as well, but I was still embarrassed
to admit to myself that 5 miles had taken four hours. We were now
in danger of not being back in time to cook dinner in the daylight.
On the other hand there were people we saw at the top of North Dome
who had done a day hike from the valley who left the top to head
down at the same time we did. Maybe I have too little faith in the
human race, but these people did not look like the type to fly down
10 miles and 4000 feet in three hours. It made me feel a little
better about our situation. As we headed back, I mentioned to Linda
that we would have to hurry to make it back for dinner and she responded
by putting the hammer down. We flew back, doing the return trip
in two hours. We had just enough time to cook and eat dinner (Cheesecake
and all!) before the sun set. Just another day in paradise.
Today we had to motivate a little
earlier because we had a full day ahead of us. First we were going
to hike over to the top of El Capitan, about 9 miles round trip,
then we had to break camp and hike back down 4000 feet to the valley.
Then we had to drive 5 hours back to San Francisco. So after a breakfast
of pancakes over a campfire (which actually turned out pretty well
once I let Linda take charge of the operation - my first attempt
was pretty ugly), we set off for El Cap. With yesterday's rushed
return hike still in our minds, we hiked at a faster clip today.
The hike over took just under two hours, and was highlighted by
seeing my first rattlesnake ever. You would think that living in
Utah and traveling south as often as I do, I would have seen one,
but not until today. And there is nothing that I hate more (or am
more afraid of) than snakes. As we were walking up a hill, we heard
a rattling sound off to the side of the trail. I froze immediately
and glanced over to where the sound was coming from. Sure enough,
there was a rattler about five feet off the trail, coiled, rattling
away, and waiting for our next move. I took a couple slow steps
until I was, what I thought, safely out of range and looked back.
We couldn't really tell why he was so upset, he seemed to be safely
out of range from us, but something had definitely ticked him off.
Maybe he/she had eggs but whatever it was, we had no intentions
of sticking around to find out. We set out again, watching the ground
a little bit closer and relieved that my first rattlesnake sighting
was without incident.
At first we were disappointed with
the top of El Cap. We had been expecting a ledge that we could look
over and see straight down for three thousand feet or so. But the
top fell off gradually, with no cliff in sight. Just as we were
getting ready to leave, another hiker affirmed to us that there
was indeed a cliff and showed us how to get down to it. It was amazing.
You lay down on your stomach and slowly ease your way out until
your head and neck are over the edge and you can see nothing but
the valley floor way, way below. It makes your head spin a bit,
but even worse is watching someone else do it. When it is under
your own control, you feel relatively secure, but when you watch
someone else, that's when your stomach gets queasy. After a few
looks for each of us, we made our way back to camp.
As we packed up camp, I once again
took everything I could find and stuffed it into my pack. I figured
it was a pretty safe plan, because even though I wanted a good workout,
we had eaten so much food that there was now way my pack could be
heavier than it was on the way up. I was wrong. By the time I closed
up my pack, I'm sure it weighed about 60 lb. With a little help,
I got it on my back and we headed down, with a short stop at the
top of Yosemite Falls. As we surveyed the scene at the top of the
falls, I realized that this was the perfect place to see Darwin's
Natural Selection in action. Despite warning signs and guardrails,
some people still had to get as close as they could to the falls.
Some climbed outside the guardrails for pictures on the edge of
1000 foot cliffs, some dangled their feet in the water near signs
that read "Stay away from the water. The current could sweep
you away at any time. There is no second chance." There are
deaths here every year, but some people still try to push the limits.
I guess that's one way to clean the gene pool.
On the way down, something had gotten
into Linda and I think she was trying to set a new world record
descent pace while carrying a full pack. In many places she was
actually running, and I tried to keep up as best I could (In case
you were wondering, I do not recommend running with a 60 lb pack
on your back. Your knees will not like you later). We made it down
in less than two hours and after a stop at the village store for
ice cream, Pringles and a Coke, we hit the road back to San Fran.
It was a really cool trip. Having never been to Yosemite, I was
amazed by the huge rock formations, the numerous waterfalls, and
the vast expanses of wilderness. It is so big that on Memorial Day
Weekend in one of the most popular parks in the world, we only saw
one other occupied campsite. I have to admit that I did not expect
three days of hiking to tire me out, but I am sore and exhausted
and happily so.