Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Slackwater Time in Ski Season

The hasty flow chart below best plots my weekend routine since December. 

That simple, three letter word in the middle rectangle is all that matters in this diagram. It represents an activity so euphoric that all the connected objects, and their associated anxiety, disappear as quickly as I can link a turn down Gunsight. This loop, however, comes with collateral damage: weekend exhaustion. "Hectic" should not be an adjective tied to "skiing", but when the Wasatch is less than an hour's reach from a million plus people, I find that by 9pm on a Saturday night, I'm barely able finish my whiskey let alone partake in another euphoric, three letter word activity. The last month at work resulted in some major PPTSD (PowerPoint Traumatic Stress Disorder) and I needed to escape to nature without everyone else in the Salt Lake Valley. So, before Moab fell prey to their own incursion of tourists, I decided to go down there with Lexi and introduce her to mountain biking.
Lexi pedals along the Moab Brand trails.


As soon as we left Friday night, I was already seeing incredible images on Instagram of skiers pitted on one of the deepest days of the season. It was tough to stomach, but sometimes you just need to pedal. And in retrospect, the fact that I still had an incredible weekend proves how important it was to escape the Wasatch.

As a little background, back in September, I bid on an off-peak Moab condo stay to benefit the Utah Avy Center. When we won the auction, I capitalized on Lexi's growing curiosity about mountain biking and planned the stay for her birthday. Moab was the first trip we made together and we hadn't been there in a while. Plus, I knew they had a much better selection of beginner trails in than when I had ridden there last. 

Still, as if it wasn't bad enough knowing there was incredible skiing happening in the Wasatch, I woke up Saturday morning and had to deal with the snow covered LaSals taunting me from Moab's eastern horizon. Like a summer flame at camp, skiing is that girl you know will be gone all too soon, but I also knew that with the girl, there was also clogged canyons, overloaded lift lines and lemmings lined up and waiting for patrol to drop the gates on Ballroom. I needed a break from that, a little slackwater amidst the whitewater rapids of the ski season, if you will. I've had some good ski days this year, so while all that blower was being tracked in the Wasatch, I was enjoying a birthday weekend with my wife. Instead of rousting her at 6:30 so we could get up the canyon before the horde, she had the privilege of sleeping in while I made her breakfast. I never felt flake of regret for giving up skiing, because ultimately, I was getting to mountain bike.
Pay no attention to that snow in the background!

Last weekend reminded me that mountain biking is a gateway drug for cycling-- because it's fun. It's ultimately why I got into cycling as a whole. I mean, I love road biking, but it's not fun. And with empty trails and a full-suspension 27.5" mountain bike, Lex probably felt the difference between mountain biking and road biking. She rode at her own pace without worrying about traffic. She struggled a bit, but in the good way. 

We started with the Moab Brand trails which were perfect for a beginner. The initial mile on the EZ trail had some novice "mountain bike" elements (embedded rocks and mild trail twists) where Lex got a taste of terrain without having to do a lot of climbing. The EZ trail runs below a low, rocky ridge that can be seen from highway 191 and I couldn't have picked a better primer for her first day of real riding. After nearly two miles on EZ, we got a break on some double-track heading south on Rusty Spur. Our 5 mile loop eventually ended on Lazy. The return route followed the low rocky ridge above EZ and provided additional single track punctuated with some sharper turns and little climbs before hitting some cruiser sections on the back of the ridge. 

Seeing Lexi struggle without excessive frustration was pretty rewarding and the next day she got challenged a little bit more at Klonzo. The weather was perfect late winter Moab: sunny with no wind. Even though our route up Borderline to Zoltar was shorter than Saturday's ride, the compression of climbing all within the first mile added a cardio element to her learning curve. But once we hit Zoltar, Lexi discovered the fun of riding slickrock. The short, mile plus stretch gained a little elevation while rolling over grey sandstone. A few quick drop and climbs required some ratcheting, but all in all, I was amazed at how determined Lexi was to improve. 

I was also kind of surprised with my instructional advice for her. Unlike skiing, I found myself actually trying to teach. With skiing, I've never really tried to help teach Lexi, mainly because  I don't know if I could really "teach" skiing. I started skiing around the same time I learned to ride a bike, and for some reason, the old, second nature adage about something being like "riding a bike" always seemed more applicable to skiing in my life. I just sort of feel what it takes to ski, unlike mountain biking, which is something I've scrutinized. And even though a lot of what I do on a bike is somatic, I found myself more able to translate my techniques to Lexi. With few people on the trail, we were able to stop, walk back, and have her work on tools like keeping the wheels moving while rocking your weight back and forth. I also realized that, much like skiing, movement and speed, are your friends.

By the time we closed our insouciant weekend with a short, Monday ride, she was already planning a bike fund. She was convinced that when the time came to buy a bike, she had to get the same one she rented from Chile Pepper. The rash idea of falling in love with the first bike you ride resonated with how I felt the first time I tried a full-suspension bike nearly 20 years ago. It made me made me happy, not just because I'm aroused by buying bikes, even bikes for someone else, but because she had ridden just three days and experienced the euphoria of mountain biking. 

So in a few weeks, Moab mountain bikers can swap many of the objects in the above flowchart with Moab specific entanglements: crowded trailheads, limited campsites, packed restaurants, but for one mellow weekend in February, Lex and I were able to focus on a single 4 letter word in the middle, RIDE. 

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