Thursday, April 9, 2015

My commitment to serve wild places...

One of my favorite things to do when I visit a National Park is to become a Junior Ranger. It's a lot of fun, really, and anybody can do it (it's not just for kids). You have to meet certain requirements, mostly having to do with learning the natural history of the park, the plants and animals that are found there, and the environmental factors that define the area, such as water availability or wind erosion.

Once you meet the criteria, a real Ranger swears you in and hands you your Jr. Ranger patch, which you can then wear with pride forever. The swearing-in includes your commitment to protect all National Parks.

So, as part of my commitment to the National Parks and all places wild, I'm using this post to ask my like-minded friends to put a stop to some recent political nonsense.

Senate Amendment 838, introduced by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to "allow states to take over, transfer and sell public, federal lands, including National Forests, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas", passed the Senate vote 51-49, with all Democrats voting against and all but 3 Republicans voting FOR the measure.

You can read the details of this mostly symbolic (message: Republican senators are more interested in profiting from public lands than they are in preserving them) measure here:

And you can see how your Senator voted by clicking here:

I won't presume that you agree with me about the land preservation thing, but I hope you do. And if you do, I ask that you make a simple call to your state Senators to express your opinion on how they voted.

Thanks for letting me rant. Thanks, especially, for getting involved - especially if you agree that this measure is ridiculously short-sighted and wrong for this country.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

An unattained goal = more motivation to try again

Knowing what the wind is like out in the California desert, I reluctantly checked a weather report to see what was in store. Tomorrow's wind forecast: a steady 10 - 20 mph, with gusting 30+. Dammit.

Tomorrow was our planned ride to Rhyolite, certainly the longest ride of our week, and the most challenging. Even on a windless day.

I had recruited Angie, Tad, and Tim to come along. The rest of the group would climb to Hell's Gate and then turn around. The 4 of us would continue on through Daylight Pass, another 2000 ft above Hell's Gate, and then dip down into Nevada and to the strange and wonderful little ghost town of Rhyolite before returning up and over the pass for a 75-mile round-trip. 

As with all rides in Death Valley, the underlying and unspoken disclaimer is always 'Subject to Change'. Conditions here change in a hurry, and on an unsupported ride bad decisions can turn into really bad days. 

We left from Furnace Creek super early so as to get to Rhyolite by mid-morning. The rolling Highway 190 gave way to the Beatty Cutoff, and that's where the fun began. This is a delicious 8%, 10-mile climb -  on a good day. On a day with a steady headwind, though, when the pace barely reaches 7 mph and you've used up all your gears, it starts to feel less like a challenge and more like a death march.

Angie and I didn't talk much up the Beatty Cutoff. But at some point, I asked her if we could consider maybe just going to Daylight Pass, and then seeing how we felt at that point. 

(The truth is, I was ready to make Hell's Gate my turnaround point, but I knew Angie was looking forward to Rhyolite, and if she wanted to continue than I would  suck it up).

When we finally got to Hell's Gate, the wind was fierce. Tad was close behind, and Tim somewhere behind him. Tim will admit that he's not the fastest climber. On the other hand, Tim is the most persistent rider I know, and as a 5-time 508 finisher, he is no stranger to adverse conditions. We would wait for him to arrive at Hell's Gate before continuing on.

I think at this point, Angie was done with climbing, too. And neither of us was all too thrilled with having to make the descent into the valley with that vicious cross wind. But neither of us was willing to call it quits. And Tad was OK with any decision we made.

And then Tim summited and made the decision for all of us, stating that he felt that continuing on under these conditions wouldn't be well advised. Or something to that effect.

Which just means one thing: we will be back next year, and we will ride to Rhyolite. We will pick our day, and watch the wind reports, and carry enough fuel and hydration. Our legs will be screaming for the opportunity to do this climb again - and then to keep going. We will ride to Rhyolite. And then we'll take some great pictures, fly back down into the Valley, have a cold beer (or two) at Furnace Creek, and we'll bask in our own pride of accomplishment.

Why am I so confident that this will happen? Because when you can visualize a goal so clearly you can taste the beer at the end, it's in the bag.

See you next spring, Death Valley.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Finding my way back

Photo (c) Greyson Quarles

As with any visit to a vacation destination,  I try to bring a piece of the experience back home so I can savor the trip a little longer. Having an altered perspective is what makes travel so necessary, in my opinion.

This time, though, I left something behind in Death Valley. I left my mojo.

I didn't realize it was missing until I got back home and met a teammate/friend for a ride. I figured that, with all those hundreds of training miles and thousands of feet of climbing, I would be more than ready to jump right in to the new season.

I was wrong. We rode the bike course for an upcoming local duathlon, a race I had competed in for years, and have always placed high. Now I was struggling to hang on to my friend's wheel, gasping like an asthmatic up an insignificant climb. My riding partner was encouraging and patient, noting that I was probably tired from last week, not used to the cold weather, blah blah blah.

Honestly, I was caught off guard. What the hell had I been doing all off-season if not suffering in the Pain Cave?

So now I'm back to what feels like square one. And the first thing that I need to figure out is this: what do I plan to do this year that warrants the suffering?

Of course, I've been thinking about this a LOT, but those thoughts will be fodder for later posts. One thing for sure, though, is this: this will not be more of the same as last year, or the year before that. I have precious little motivation for goals I have already attained and races that I've never been too fond of in the first place. And don't get me started - at least not yet - about the change in racer attitude I've noticed over the years.

For now, it's back on the trainer while I unfold a new map, the one that will take me to where I need to be right now.