Friday, January 2, 2015

Top 10 Rides of 2014

It's a new year and that usually means that everyone makes all sorts of best-of lists. I like these. It's fun to look back at cool stuff from the past year, and maybe let some of them inspire the year to come. For me, 2014 was easily the best year of riding I've ever had.

For a variety of reasons I went into last January feeling motivated to really improve my form this year and try some big, hard rides. I had finished off 2013 with the most days ever (what had become a sort of annual goal of mine) with 254 days of riding, and doubted I could best that number, so I started the year off slow with lots of skate skiing in January, but after that it was off the races.

In the end I even managed to beat 2013. Final numbers for this year (2013 in parenthesis)
276 rides   (254)
5,630 miles / 9.060 km total distance   (4,833 / 7.778)
486,858 feet / 148,394 m climbing   (396,911 / 120.978)
457 hours total   (377)

Looking back on the year I started thinking about what rides really stood out for me, and I decided to make a 'best of' list. In this instance 'best' isn't just about the ride itself. I'm not trying to say that these rides are the 10 best roads or trails I visited this year. I think if that were the case all 10 spots would be taken up by two trips to Crested Butte and France. No, these are the 10 days, that through some awesome combination of locale, company, weather, caffein and drug influence, whatever, stand out in my mind as the most memorable rides of 2014

10. Rail Trail to the Pyrenees, July

One of my major 'goals' this year was the Rapha Gentleman's race at the end of July. It was going to be the hardest ride I'd ever done, with over 13,000 feet of climbing, and I was working hard to be ready. Of course, a trip to Northern Minnesota to spend a week chugging Summer Shandy's on the lake and eating fried food doesn't exactly lend itself to climbing form.... so I was going to have to put together some long rides through the Northern woods.

This was the best of them, and it was an absolutely mind blowing introduction to the long distance rail-trails they've been building in Minnesota. I set off from Bemidji heading south and proceeded to ride 60 miles in 3 hours on nothing but perfectly paved bike path set off on its own in the lushest woods you've ever seen. I ended the day with a 20 mile loop around Walker with Abby, Randy and Bobby on a swooping, sweeping bike path that doubles as a snowmobile trail in the winter. Apparently many of these bike trails are developed by a strong snowmobile/bike lobby partnership. That has to be one of the most unlikely alliances I could have imagined, but it leads to the development of some of the coolest bike path riding that I've ever done.

*Why 'Rail Trail to the Pyrenees' you ask? Well, ride a while in Minnesota, and you'll start referring to the leg breaking climbs around Walker as the Pyrenees too.

9. Classic CB Hero Loop, September

Great form, some of the most iconic singletrack in the world, one of my childhood 'heroes,' and beautiful weather. Can't imagine how this one turned out well.

While visiting Crested Butte this fall, during what was a leaf season for the ages, as good as I've ever seen, I got to ride 403 and 401 from town with a group of around 6 including a good buddy named Patrick. As a kid I had totally looked up to him for his mad skills on the bike and his badass product design career. 15 or so years later here I was shredding some of the best trails in world with him. And those trails. They were as good as they get, buffed in after a summer of riding, great visibility because the famous CB ground cover was laying down for winter, and vivid with the color of Aspen leaves exploding all around you. Incredible. Just in terms of trails, and beauty, this was the best mountain bike ride of the year. Of ever. There's just nothing better than CB in the fall.

8. Col de l'Arpettaz, June

Such is the road riding in the French alps that four of my top eight rides this year are from one trip I took in June to visit my dad. And this, the Col de L'Arpettaz, a ride with switchbacks so perfectly laid through the woods and up into the high tundra that they seem imagined, lined with vivid blankets of yellow flowers gently swaying in the breeze, lorded over by brilliant white limestone cliffs, is the lowest ranked of the four?! Well, we're getting into rarified air here. Any of these rides, it could be argued, are as good as it gets, and Arpettez truly is. Someday I'll go back and connect this into a bigger loop and it could be the best ride I've ever done.

The climb through the woods low down feels somehow unique and different from other rides I've done in France. Perfect switchbacks through quiet, magical woods. Then you leave those woods and emerge into the alpine tundra, blanketed in those flowers. The summit is just mind bendingly beautiful, green grass fields out of the Sound of Music, views of Mt. Blanc, and giant craggy cliffs that form the summits of mountains looking down on you.

And then there's the downhill. Let's just say that if you like sending it on a road bike, then this one is unbeatable.

7. Rooster Pass to Badger Down, June

The only other solo ride on the list. This was a day when my dad was resting up for more rides later in the week, so I set off on my own to crack off a quick loop from the house. As these things go, my route planning was a bit ambitious, so it ended up being more than 'a quick loop.' I think the thing that makes this ride so memorable for me was how amazed I was, once again, at how truly rad the riding is right out the door of my dad's house in the Chartreuse.

It was a cloudy day with occasional spitting rain when I set off over the Col de Coq and it continued to be so as I crossed three passes on tiny roads, for the most part alone with my thoughts, traffic and cities seemingly a world away. Quiet cloudy days have a way of making you feel like you're cruising along in your own little universe. However, descending the famous downhill off Col du Vence into Grenoble brought me back to reality, both the reality that there were indeed other people in the world and on the roads, and that I had a beast of climb to get back to dad's house. By the time I made it home I was shelled, but simultaneously ecstatic at the adventure I had just gone on.

*On Strava I titled this ride 'Rooster Pass to Badger Down' because the first pass I crossed is the Col du Coq, Rooster Pass, and the descent off Col du Vence into Grenoble was made (in)famous when a certain Bernard 'the Badger' Hinault took quite a spectacular crash in the yellow jersey of the Dauphine Libere. After climbing back up to the road, he remounted and won the stage atop the Bastille above Grenoble, which is where the picture accompanying this ride is from. I rode that the next day and #$%k is that hard.

6. Mike Dahl's Fucked up Epic, June

I often find that the most memorable rides are the ones that you don't really fully, properly plan. I mean, you plan them, but the route evolves, the times grow, and suddenly you're 7 hours later rooting through each other's packs in search of calories. This was that ride. Mike wanted to ride from his house in Vail to Sean's in Edwards. (That would take about 30 minutes on the bike path in the bottom of the valley.) He had ridden and knew the trails on either end. It was just a matter of connecting them through the middle part which he didn't know. Which meant embarking on one of the craziest route finding adventures on mountain bikes that I've done.

I think it's fair to say that if you asked any of us if we'd do the same route again we'd say, emphatically, fuck no. But am I glad I did it? Hell yeah. Spending a day in the woods with some of your best friends exploring the wilderness is as good as it gets, and despite a disturbing quantity of superfluous jeep road climbs and a particularly violent wreck half a mile from Edwards that saw me crack a brand new helmet, this was easily one of my favorite days of 2014.

5. The Whole Enchilada with the Whole Crew, October

It'd been a couple years, since my wedding in 2010 in fact, since I'd done the Whole Enchilada. Despite Mexican food being my favorite type of food, the shuttle logistics and trail conditions usually keep us riding lower in the desert around Moab. But late this October, after Burro Pass had already been snowed in but was rumored to be reopened, I found myself home in Moab with a crew of my favorite people to ride with. At least half the group had never done Moab's most famous shuttle, so the excitement was palpable when we verified that we could indeed ride Burro Pass. The day was everything you'd expect, epic views, spectacular, swoopy, flowy, technical trails, great company, flat tires, crashes, mechanicals, injuries and bonks. It was like an ingredient list for a kick ass day of memorable riding. The Whole Enchilada is truly a bucket list ride and sneaking it in late in the fall when it's usually covered in snow is a pretty special experience.

4. Singletrack and Fall Leaves with Mom, September

You might have noticed a theme here, memorable rides come from the perfect combination of place, and people. This was in my favorite place to ride mountain bikes with one of my three favorite people in the world. So yeah, it was pretty rad. Add in the fact that we rode straight from the front door, up Cement Creek and Walrod Gulch into a world of perfect, skinny singletracks surrounded by alpine meadows and aspen leaves that were frankly insane. Colors like I've never seen, and blue sky like only Colorado in the fall can show you.

Then, to make it more spectacular, Crested Butte, historical home to the world's best singeltrack, has been working hard building great new trails that cater to the modern, pump track schooled, punk ass enduro rider. They're fun for the rest of us too. Point Lookout trail, bringing you back down to the top of the Cave Trail, is an instant classic in the CB lexicon. But this ride, more than anything else, was memorable for the time I got to spend riding mountain bikes with... sometimes I need to say this twice to truly realize how lucky I am, riding mountain bikes with my mom.

3. Col du Solude, June

 It's hard to decide between the ride I did over the Col du Solude across from Alp D'Huez with my dad and Max, or the ride we did over the Col du Noyer a week earlier. I think that if I doubled up the Col du Solude with one of the shelf roads on Alp D'Huez or the Col de Sarrenne it might be the coolest road route I've ever done. As it is the pure scale of the Noyer loop edges it.

But, the climb up Col du Solude, starting in Bourg D'Oisans, is one of the most incredibly insane pieces of cliff hanging road building I've ever seen, and I've seen some crazy shit that the French and Italians call roads. We brought lights for this one on my dad's suggestion, and we were glad we did as these tunnels are seriously dark, and a couple of them are long, like 200 meters. At the top of this climb you reach a small village that represents the end of the road for most people. But if you keep on climbing a gravel chemin things got out-of-control spectacular. You arrive at a buff gravel traverse along a plateau a couple thousand feet above the valley floor, directly across from Alp D'Huez, and it is probably the coolest road I've ever ridden. (that, and all the other coolest roads I've ever ridden...)

Then, where the road turned back to pavement, we drank beers on a sun drenched patio in a village and roasted an unbelievably good downhill back to the car. Like I said, the only thing that could have made this ride better was if it was longer.

2. Col du Noyer, June

We drove an hour and half or so south of Grenoble, into the Southern Alps, to ride a pass that my dad had raved about called the Col du Noyer. It's a little-known pass, crossed I think only once by the Tour, but is easily one of the best I've done. The thing that really sets this ride above others was the true sense of a journey that we got on it. All day we just had this incredible sense that you were going somewhere, truly crossing the countryside by bike. Some of the vistas along the way, where my dad would point out some distant spot on the horizon where we were headed, were just epic.

The Col du Noyer itself possesses one of the most deliciously aesthetic finishing stacks of switchbacks I've ever seen. It's the perfect reward for all the work you put in low down on the slopes of the climb, when you finally emerge around a bend on the mountain side and look up to see 3 switchbacks built into the side of cliff that deliver you to the summit of the pass. 3 switchbacks that seem as if their sole mission on earth is to provide the perfect stadium for the pure climbers of a peleton to dance to glory, or for the rest of us to pretend so. This ride, this loop, is not only on my list for 2014, but my list of best rides I've ever done.

1. Rapha Gentlemen's Race, July

I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a sense of elation and excitement that bordered on a kid on Christmas morning when I opened an email from the Rapha mothership inviting me to take part in their first ever Colorado based Gentleman's Race. I've been a fan of the brand for a while, and had gotten the chance to meet a few of the great people that work there over the past year. Rapha's commitment to documenting the culture of cycling and the adventure involved has always been my favorite part of the brand, and a fundamental part of why I can sort of sometimes justify their prices. I mean, it costs money to hire the talented photographers, videographers and writers that create all the cool stuff I enjoy reading and watching for free in the internet. Not to mention the actual designers who come up with all that great product. But enough Rapha love.

On to the ride itself. This was always going to be a doozy. Rapha promised a route that would be secret until the week of the ride itself, but that it would contain over 100 miles with 10-15,000 feet of climbing. I'd done 130 miles before in the Triple Bypass, but over much tamer climbs than I knew we'd encounter on the RGR. As the date approached, and I continued to push myself on harder and harder routes around here, more details began to leak. Up Lickskillet, a road so steep I'd never even tried it, up the Switzerland Trail, a road that is so far from being an actual road that it's called a trail. Over Twin Spruce to Gap Road, an area on the other side of Coal Creek Canyon, on the other side of Super Flag, where I'd never even been.

Then there was the question of our team. Getting 6 people on the same page in terms of fitness, attitude, nutrition, and riding skill, on the same day, is much easier said than done. It turned out that the 'gentlemen' who I ended up lucky enough to ride alongside that day are some of the finest I've ever spent time with, and I can say that with a clarity that only comes from making it through a truly challenging experience together. Spencer, Ross, Mark, Brian and Ken were all guys with that incredible combination of strength, skill, and most importantly, unerringly positive attitudes and light-hearted natures that can make truly stupidly hard moments seem fun.

Looking back on it, the team was the best part of a really great day. Everyone was just so on, so upbeat, such fantastic cyclists, that it was inspiring to be a part of it the whole time. I mean, yes, it was super hard. But, and I say this looking back with a sense of disbelief myself, it wasn't that hard. By the numbers it was the hardest thing I've ever done, but those five dudes who I rode with were so freaking awesome, making it so much fun the whole time, that the hard was blunted by the stoke.

I'll be forever in awe of the fact that between the 6 of us, among the 630 odd miles we pedaled combined, in the nearly 80,000 feet we climbed and descended, we had 1 flat tire and 0 crashes or mechanicals. And half that was on gravel. Sure, some of that is luck, but a large part is due to some bad ass bike riding by some seriously solid gentlemen. Which explains why we had exactly 0 hissy fits, arguments, bonks, or other freak outs. Just buddies having fun crushing a stupid hard route through the Rocky Mountains.

So there you go. My most memorable ride of 2014. I certainly rode more spectacular, beautiful, and exotic spots this year, as evidenced by some others on this list, but the Rapha Gentleman's Race in June brought a new sense of adventure and excitement, and glory, to the good old roads of Boulder.

No comments: