Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Way Out West - Camp Week

The Purpose: March 5, 4:00 p.m.: As I step out of Tucson International Airport, I am greeted by a dear friend … “sunshine”. Marianne points to Tara who is standing in a sunny patch on the sidewalk. I step next to Tara and roll up my sleeves, tilt my head up and take in all that I can. I feel the sun and a gentle breeze that touches my arms in a way that is familiar but not been felt in a long time. As cyclists, we enjoy so many sensations that add to the beauty and excitement of riding a bike. In winter, many of these sensations are muffled and bound by the cold and all the many layers we wear to fend off the cold.

Finally I was here in the land of sunshine, standing on the sidewalk with 100 smiles burning inside of me. As I looked around, I realized Marianne, Tara, Patti and I were all in sync with each other, in sync with our surroundings and in sync with our purpose for being here; 500 laughs a day, sunshine and riding our bikes.

The Riding: Tucson has some good riding, but most importantly, the weather in March is wonderful. This year the weather was a little funky. They had been having a bit more rain than usual and frequent snow down to about 4000 ft. Although these conditions made for some beautiful snow topped mountains, the run off of rain and snow melt was much more than usual. Our access out the back yard previously took us across a sand pit or a few trickles of water, but this year we had a full river with current. Each day’s ride began and ended with some sort of adventure and wet feet. Our first day, I may have resisted that concept a tad, but after some great riding, some sunshine and laughs, the doubts dried up as quickly as my socks.

We experienced a good variety of riding, from rolling to long climbing and from swoopy to big drops and technical. Some trails were popular and some secluded. Different areas had different vegetation. You could ride whatever you pleased, just don't get too close to the vegetation. Out there the plants have an attitude all of their own, and need to be respected. One thing I did learn is that if you hit the cacti past the apex, you are less likely to take on as many needles. The cholla are a PIA, and I only got two chunks of them stuck to me during the week. One chunk stuck to my little toe through my shoe. They are barbed, and when I went to pull it out, it just pulled my toe back in forth in the shoe, until it finally let go. Although the plants can be intimidating at times, the whole riding experience is a perfect mix.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ski to Ilgenstein

Last week the snow gods were good enough to gift us another snow storm. After 2 days of shoveling, it was time for me to get out of the house before I went crazy. The mountains, just north and west of us had received two to three feet of snow. This is an incredible amount of snow for New Jersey. Many of the parks had not plowed their lots and some were just plain closed from snow damage. The thought of riding through the woods on a bike was becoming a lost dream.

Ringwood had a few parking lots plowed, so I declared a new route ski mission: XC ski to Ilgenstein Rock from Skylands Manor. Normally this route is too rocky to ski, but there was close to three feet of snow up there with drifting in the higher elevations. Art and Nate were the only skiers to show up for my mission. I really had no idea how far it was or how long it would take. Art guessed 4+ hours and was skeptical about the whole mission.

10:15 we set out on skis behind the gardens on the crossover trail. A set of tracks was already set from the day before. It was slightly glazed, offering little kick but plenty of glide. Up hills were tough without much kick. Once we reached the intersection of the Ringwood/Ramapo trail, the ski tracks stopped, so we broke our own. It may have been a little bit slower, but seemed easier to me.

By Ice Pond Rd, we were able to pick up my friend Nancy’s tracks from the day before. We took them all the way up Pearson Ridge to where the Blue trail turns off the road. Huge snowdrifts crossed the road creating a roller coaster affect as we rolled through the drifts. Nate pretty much dropped us on this climb. You can tell who has been keeping up with their secret training.

Once reaching the blue, we broke our own tracks all the way out to the lookout on Ilgenstein. As most mountain bikers know, the trail underneath is very rocky, but today we sailed over a blanket of white snow without a rock in sight. Trail markers were partially buried, and even the blueberry bushes were all under the snow. We had to stop several times to find our way, by searching familiarity, and contours, with no rocks or bushes to guide us.

The biggest problem was getting back up after you fell. The snow was so deep that you could not push off the ground with your arms. At one point I cramped my leg trying to get up. It is somewhat of a comical and helpless feeling. Actually much of XC skiing feels comical and helpless.

On our way back we skied more single-track and added in Warm Puppy to complete the ski mission at four hours. It was an amazing day. I don’t know if we will ever have this much snow at Ringwood again, so I am glad to have experienced this epic ski.

Today it is warm and the sun shines. The snow is melting fast and an old friend peeks out.