Tuesday, November 29, 2016

finally winter is here

After that Thanksgiving Eve teaser, winter finally arrived in Utah in the form of a very nice storm that started Sunday night.  It went all day Monday, finally moving on out of here late that night, and left behind some wonderful snow totals:
Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts (Alta and Snowbird): 40-42 inches
Big Cottonwood Canyon resorts (Brighton and Solitude): 28-32 inches
Park City side (Park City and Deer Valley reporting): 20-25 inches
and Eagle Point cleaned up with 58 inches - too bad they're not open yet
We're catching a midweek break, with a small system that could hit or miss Thursday, and then sunny and cold for the weekend.  We are ready - with our rock skis ready to go!

Friday, November 25, 2016

thanksgiving 2016

Thankfully (see what I did there?), a storm moved into northern Utah Wednesday evening, bringing 1-3" in the valley, 4-6" along the benches and Alta claiming a foot.  By Thanksgiving morning, the storm had moved on and it was beautiful, cold and clear, about 30F at our house.  I had signed up for the annual Cold Turkey City Creek run and H and I drove up to Salt Lake City to join all the other turkey-trotters.  The usual race course is a 6k: starting at the Capitol, running up City Creek Canyon a ways before turning around, then descending to the finish line in Memory Grove.  This year, because of the storm, the race organizers were concerned about the snow and ice up the canyon, so just before the start they announced that they had moved the turnaround and we would only be running a 5k.  Everyone cheered!

The traditional pre-race purple fleece photo

My legs seemed a little heavy at the start and I wasn't passing anyone, to my dismay.  The first part of the road was pretty clear but when we turned up into City Creek Canyon, it got pretty slippery.  And as we picked our way up the canyon, I started getting confused: this was the seventh time I'd run this race, so I knew the course pretty well; when we got to the usual turnaround spot, we kept going.  And going and going - a lot more uphill.  I kept going, head down, and didn't stop, finally reaching the turnaround.  On the descent, I could go a little faster but still had to be very careful on the snow and ice.  The portion in Memory Grove was largely clear of snow and ice so I tried to stretch my legs out a little bit.  My back and hips were getting tight but I tried to take advantage of the dry road and managed to pass a few people.  I was still confused though - they said only 5k, but moved the turnaround further up so maybe they were going to move the finish line in?

Charging to the finish

Nope.  The finish line was right where it always is.  As I crossed it, race volunteers called out, "Congratulations! You just ran 10k, not 5k!"  Apparently they weren't paying attention when they reset the course, making it longer instead of shorter.  My very first 10k!  (I really hadn't trained for that - no wonder my back was stiff.)  To be honest, we don't really know how far we ran - so the race results are not going to be that meaningful, timing-wise - but it was a good race, a fun race, and I figured the extra kilometers would just translate into extra pie.


Race results (and history)
2016:  53:23.51, 4 out of 14 in age group, 159/544 overall, +/-10k 8.4k* distance
2015:  35:17.18, 6 out of 19 in age group, 186/593 overall
2014:  34:14:58, 10 out of 26 in age group, 174/656 overall
2013:  35:44.40, 7 out of 24 in age group, 243/682 overall
2012:  n/a (Thanksgiving in California)
2011:  35:41.33, 249/656 overall
2010:  37:22.76 (course changed due to ice/uphill finish), top half of finishers
2009:  35:53.32, top half of finishers

* So with it being an 8.4k (technically 5.2 miles = 8.36 km), my time is much less impressive, but still takes into account the treacherous footing.  Also, that's still the longest race I've ever done - although now I wish it really had been a 10k.

Monday, November 21, 2016

opening day delay

Due to our too warm, too dry weather, Alta (and many other Utah resorts) have had to push back their opening days, something that had not happened in the seven years that we've been in Salt Lake City.  Alta's opening was supposed to be Friday, November 18th; at this point, they are saying that opening will (hopefully) be Friday, December 2nd.  If they have to push it back again, there's no way I will be able to get in my usual 40 days/season.

In prior years, H has taken opening day off from work to ski, and then I have joined in for the weekend.  The skiing has sometimes not been great but we have been able to ski.  And here's the thing: ski season is so easy because we don't have to think about what to do.  There's no deciding whether to going hiking or biking, and no figuring out what trail to do.  Sure, there's some anxiety on my part about what to wear ... but it's really just get up and go skiing.  No brainer. 

When ski season is delayed, it throws us all off.  We have to make decisions again and sometimes that just proves to be too much.  Like this past weekend, for example: the weather was okay but not ideal (too warm and extremely windy) and we just couldn't decide on what we wanted to do, so we ended up doing chores and housework, cleaning out the DVR, going for short runs and making a really delicious mulligatawny soup (it was a mongrel of a couple recipes and what we had in the house, but these are close: here, here, here, here and here).  Fantastic soup aside, that's not our most ambitious weekend - but it looks like some more active weather is moving in so hopefully the ski season won't be delayed too much further.  Until then, time to investigate more soup recipes!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

surely this is the last mtb of the season

In an attempt to make lemonade out of no-winter-yet lemons, we went over to Park City on Sunday to do our Round Valley ride.  Even though it feels like we're riding there all the time, we really haven't done it that much this summer: we didn't do rides because of house guests, the Alta Dry Fork/Mineral Basin monster hike (which ruined us for Sunday), the big Echo Reservoir/Park City rail trail ride, our trip to New Mexico and my visit back east.  It had actually been two months since we had been there!

It was pretty windy (of course), sunny and cool for our return.  It wasn't too crowded, with the busiest section being the Rambler sage brush switchbacks, and we figure we saw more dogs than MTBers out there.  Lots of dogs, all off leash and all pretty well behaved around MTBers.  At one point, as we were going up the Sweet Sixteen, I had a scruffy wolfhound-ish-looking dog running with me, patiently trotting alongside my rear wheel.

Autumn riding

In our absence, the trail crew has been doing some maintenance work on the trails, smoothing out ruts and, in the case of the front side of Rambler (a/k/a our Sweet Sixteen), rerouting the trail entirely to put in wider, banked turns.  H didn't think the new trail sections made that much difference but I thought they made the climb easier.  I also made a huge breakthrough on lower Sweet Sixteen, finally riding one switchback that I have never been able to ride before.  For some reason, as I came up to that turn, my legs felt good and I thought, "I'm pretty sure I can ride that," and then I did.  There was no one around to witness my triumph but I was stoked.  Of course, now I have no excuse for walking that one ever again.

We wrapped up our ride with a strong headwind and drank our beers, squinting in the sun.  It was a great ride - I felt really good about my climbing although my downhill technique was dismal - but surely, surely we will be able to put our MTBs away now and get our skis tuned up.  Surely winter is coming soon.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

sol-bright, switched

Winter is definitely late to Utah this year.  Ski resorts have begun pushing their openings back because there is just no snow in the mountains and it's not even been cold enough to make snow.  In the past we have gone for a hike at Solitude/Brighton right after the first snow of the year; this year this first snow really hasn't come yet but we decided to do the hike anyway, in reverse this time, in an effort to jumpstart winter.

No snow at all down low

We sort of puttered around in the morning, finally getting up to the Silver Lake Nordic Center in Big Cottonwood Canyon to start our hike around 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning.  Because the weather was so [too] warm and beautiful, there were lots more people out hiking around the lake and Brighton's reservoirs than we would see in a normal November.  Most were inadequately dressed in city boots or sneakers and we soon pushed past them as we headed up the Sol-Bright trail from Brighton to Solitude.

Just a little snow on Millicent

The trail was variable, muddy in the exposed spots and snowy/icy in the shade.  The temperature was variable as well - sweaty on the sunny uphills but chilly for shady descents - and there was a light, cool breeze blowing.  Once we got past the other people, we were delighted to hear and see several pikas scurrying around the rocky slopes and piling up grasses to dry for storage.  We also saw tons of deer and coyote tracks.

A skim-coat of snow in Honeycomb Canyon

Since we hadn't seen the fully-installed new Summit chair, we ground our way up the very steep access road to the top of Solitude to check it out.  Where the old two-seater unloaded in a narrow space surrounded by rock walls, the new quad dumps its people out into a characterless wide open since they blasted huge chunks of the cliff away.  I'm sure lots of people are thrilled but I wish they'd kept the old chair.  I like old stuff.

The new Summit quad

We headed back down before the breeze could chill us, following the access road under the lift to Lake Solitude, then picking up the trail on the east side of the lake back to Silver Lake.  The lack of snow was really a bit shocking; you just don't expect to see bare ground under Utah lifts in mid-November.  We finished the hike by going around Silver Lake and then lifted a beer in the parking lot (pouring a little bit out in a hopeful tribute to Ullr, just in case), as more and more cars poured in, people taking advantage of the mild weather.  It was a nice little hike on a pretty day but we are over mild weather.  Bring on the snow.

Hike stats: 5.07 miles; 1,300 feet elevation; 2:03 hiking time, plus 24 minutes of standing and gawking; moving average 2.5 m.p.h.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

november long weekend in moab - pt. 4

It ended, our long weekend in Moab - they always seem to end and we have to drive north back to lawns that need raking, and jobs, and mountains of laundry. But first: one more MTB ride at the MOAB Brand Trails.  (After breakfast at the Moab Diner, of course.)  The loop we put together there (Rusty Spur and Bar M) is much less technical than the other stuff we'd been riding.  We did take a look at the map and decide to add another trail (Sidewinder) to the mix on our next trip but this time we were sticking to what we knew.

Chilly enough for arm warmers

There were only a few cars in the parking lot when we got there and we only saw two other riders when we were out for our two hour, 19+ mile ride.  The weather was perfect - clear, sunny and cool - and the trails were in good shape.  I only hopped off my bike twice, on a tricky uphill cattle guard and on a tricky rocky uphill corner, and H of course didn't have to walk at all.  We really like that loop, feeling that if Rusty Spur was 5x as long we would love to ride it, plus enjoying the climbing and cruising for the Bar M.  I know it's easy for H but sometimes it's fun to just ride without worrying that you're going to fall off a cliff.  Much more relaxing.

Love the desert

After our ride, we had our beers and chatted with a friendly MTB guide who had just finished a short ride with a tour group of private school kids from Arizona.  None of the kids had been on a MTB before and she also had one girl who had never ridden a bike at all, but who really wanted to learn at age 18.  The guide's joy at helping that girl ride was fun to witness.  After that, it was cheeseburgers at Ray's Tavern in Green River and then the drive home.  And that's all she wrote for our most recent Moab excursion.  We've already started planning for the next one.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

november long weekend in moab pt. 3

Monday morning found us breakfasting at the Moab Diner, then picking up sandwiches and more water at the grocery store, and then heading out to try some new-to-us MTB trails: Navajo Rocks. This trail system is actually fairly new to Moab too, having just been opened in spring of 2014, but it has already developed quite a following: when we drove by the trail heads on Saturday and Sunday, the parking lots were packed.  This, plus the fact that the trails are described as intermediate to upper-intermediate to advanced, encouraged us to go early on a weekday.  I get nervous enough on new trails without having to dodge - or be dodged by - hordes of other riders.

Monitor and Merrimac from Big Mesa trail head

There were only a couple other cars in the lot when we got there and got on the trails at 9 a.m. and we ended up only seeing nine other MTBers while we were out there.  That was fortunate because within the first quarter mile, I was already hike-a-biking.  The trail descriptions we read suggested doing the western loop - Big Mesa/Big Lonely/Coney Island/Middle Earth - for intermediate riders; these trails were definitely more technical than we usually ride. I ended up walking a lot and even H was off his bike more than he usually is due to some high and narrow bridges, steep slickrock climbs and drop-offs.  One thing for sure: these are trails with consequences.

Not so much with the consequences here but still focused

Despite the technical challenges, we had a great time.  The views were spectacular and the trails, when not terrifying, were in good shape, a mix of slickrock, sand and dirt.  The loop we did was 10.31 miles, which took us 1 hour and 48 minutes of riding plus 40 stoppage minutes, with an average speed of 5.7 m.p.h. (!!) and a maximum speed of 14.6 m.p.h., which must have been on short section of Coney Island that was easy double-track.

Looking out towards Lone Mesa 

After our ride, we hung out in the parking lot for quite a while, consuming our sandwiches and beers and chatting with people.  Several more vehicles had shown up while we were out there but the numbers were still way less than the weekend crowds. Before our legs stiffened up entirely, we decided we should walk at least a little and settled on the rim trails at Dead Horse Point State Park.  Amazingly, we had never done this four mile loop that, as the name suggests, goes all the way around the point, right at the cliff's edge.  We went outbound from the visitors' center on the East Rim trail, paused to watch some aerobatic ravens at land's end, then returned via the West Rim trail.  It was easy walking with spectacular views - highly recommended even for non-hikers.

View from the East Rim

Neither of us was all that hungry when dinner time rolled around but we did manage to get over to Zax on Main Street for a couple of beers and some pizza.  Things were pretty quiet at the motel when we got back - the off season was clearly descending on Moab.

View from the West Rim

Friday, November 11, 2016

november long weekend in moab pt. 2

We hadn't made much of a plan for this Moab trip but we did decide to do a long hike on Sunday.  We geared up, stopping at the grocery store for breakfast and lunch fixings first before heading up to Canyonlands National Park's Island in the Sky.  We had hoped to renew our parks pass on the way in but Canyonlands is on winter hours currently and the visitors' center didn't open until 9 a.m.; when we got to the trail head, we stuck our expired park pass in the window and hoped for the best.  (We were able to renew our pass on the way out.)

Finishing my doughnut before hitting the trail

There was only one other car at the Murphy Point trail head when we got there.  We snarfed down bagels and doughnuts while putting on our boots and then hit the trail at 9 a.m.  We'd done the shorter Murphy Point overlook trail a couple years ago - our trail this time was the Murphy Loop, a lollipop that started out down the face of the mesa. 

Looking out over the rim

The descent wasn't as intense as going down Gooseberry had been, but it felt a little sketchier than the Syncline Loop descent.  Still, since we were following switchbacks down the face of the cliff, we descended really quickly.

That's what we came down

At the bottom of the cliff, we were presented with a choice for the loop portion: to the left down Murphy Wash or to the right across the Murphy Hogback.  Since our books recommended a counterclockwise route, we headed out across the hogback.  This was a fantastic trail, dry and level, hardpacked dirt winding its way through the desert vegetation.  The views, as they usually are in Canyonlands, were spectacular, with the winding canyons below and in front of us and the red cliffs of the mesa behind us.

H heading out across the hogback

After 4.8 miles, we turned left onto the famed White Rim Road, a 100-mile dirt MTB/OHV trail.  We met a couple of MTBers who were doing the whole thing, a multi-day trip supported by a Jeep carrying water, food, camping equipment (and beers, presumably).  They had just finished a brutal climb and were pretty gassed - but not so much so that they couldn't gawk at the gawk-worthy scenery. 

Don't know what it is but it's pretty, even dry

We continued along the road, down that hill and into the Murphy Wash which would complete the loop at the base of the mountain.  Walking up the wash was a little more challenging than the trail across the hogback had been - the footing was loose sand and pebbles - but the ascent, though constant, was gradual and made up for all the elevation we had lost on the White Rim Road rather painlessly.

View out towards the White Rim and the river

Just as we started the climb back up to the mesa, we met three other hikers who had just descended.  This was around 1:00 p.m. and we were a little concerned for them: we had already been out for four hours and were now on our way up; they didn't seem to be as strong hikers as we were and the sun would be setting at 5:10 p.m., leaving them just over four hours to do the loop and get back up the cliffside.  Maybe they had head lamps with them but climbing back up to the mesa was not something we would want to do.  They didn't ask our opinion, however, so we wished them well and all parties continued on their respective ways.

From whence we came

It took us 39 minutes to get back up to the mesa, the cliff walls baking in the afternoon sun.  The beers and sandwiches that were waiting for us at the truck were very well received at that point (10.68 miles; just over 4 hours of walking, 56 minutes of rest/looking around; 1,500 feet of elevation; 2.6 m.p.h. moving average speed and 2.1 m.p.h. overall average speed).  It was a great hike over varied terrain with few other humans around - doesn't get much better than that.

Heading up the wash towards the cliffs

We repeated the routine back at the motel - showers and then beers in front of the room whilst listening to the music from the Folk Festival wafting from a few streets over.  Then the evening's entertainment included a quick drink at Woody's, followed by a walk to Milt's Stop N' Eat for cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes under the tree out front.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

november long weekend in moab pt. 1

Winter is taking its time in getting to northern Utah so we thought we'd take advantage of the continuing nice weather by going to Moab for a long weekend.  It was a good time to go: despite the Moab Trail Marathon and the Folk Festival both being in town, it generally seemed less busy than our previous visits in September, October and May.  The woman who owns the Kokopelli properties said that this weekend is really the end of the season - things will really be slow until March now.

Cool temperatures, great trails

It was cloudy and sprinkling lightly when we got to Dead Horse Point State Park late Saturday morning.  There were a fair number of cars in the parking lot but we only saw six other MTBers when we were out on the Intrepid trails - delightful!  The trails were in good shape too, not nearly as sandy as we have found them on prior visits.  We did the Big Chief loop on the east side, then went across to the west side for Whiptail and Twisted Tree.

Looking west-ish from Whiptail Trail

After our ride (16.5 miles, 2 hours with standing around gawking at scenery), we chatted for a while with a friendly Kiwi (New Zealand) who was dirt-bagging around the American west, then headed in town to check in at our motel.  The cooler temperatures were allowing tourists to bring their dogs with them to Moab; we met Sophie (6 mo. old mastiff) and Felix (5 yr. old border collie mix) as we sat in front of our room, enjoying a beer as the sun set.

Post-ride refreshments

As we often do on our first night in Moab, we walked to the Moab Brewery for dinner.  It was super-busy (lots of runners who had done the Saturday trail run) but we managed to score seats at the bar without waiting too long.  A chile verde burrito, gyro wrap and a couple of Johnny's IPAs later, we headed back to our room and called it a night.

Friday, November 4, 2016

shoulder season snippets

Oops - that week just went and got away from me!  We are in full shoulder season around here, extended by the fact that after a bunch of warm rainstorms, a ridge of high pressure has parked itself over the mountain west: first it was too damp and blustery to get out on the trails, and now, even though it's gotten a little colder, it's dry and sunny and there is no snow to speak of in the mountains.  We'll have to see how this plays out - some ski areas, including Alta, are supposed to open in just a couple weeks.

We did pick up our season passes, which is always a joyful day, but other than that, haven't been doing much.  We've put away the patio furniture and cleaned up the backyard.  But I've refused to do any raking until more leaves come off the big tree out front, plus it's been too windy to rake anyway.  This must annoy our neighbor to no end - he prefers a spotless lawn - but since he's retired, I figure it gives him something to do, picking up the leaves that blow from our yard to his.  (Plus the neighbors on the other side of him haven't raked yet either and they have way more trees/leaves than we do.)

Hopefully the weather will change soon, giving us storms and snow and something to write about here!