Geez, we’re a long way from home!

I will preface this blog post with an apology for all of you who have been sitting on the edge of your seats for the last six months waiting for this entry. Once back at home, my blogging priorities were pushed aside by more mundane things like work, walking with Bruno and spending time on the sofa.

Now, back to Idaho….

We had projected the 3500km return commute from Ketchum, Idaho to Erin, Ontario to be approximately four Clifford-days. Even though this was the return leg of our six weeks and change journey, we were excited for this part of the trip. Although we hadn’t exactly been training hard or had any-pre-race jitters for Rebecca’s Private Idaho, there is always some strange relief when the race season comes to an end. No more thinking about the training ride you were about to embark on, or regrets about the one you missed. Just the comfort and safety of Clifford, cruising across the continent.

We left Ketchum and headed east on US26 towards Wyoming. The day was non-eventful, we enjoyed the changes in scenery throughout the day. Early in the day, we were bewildered by the lava rock formations as we drove by the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. But, with much ground to cover, there was little time to hang around. Bruno had a quick #1 and #2 and we snapped a pretty picture.

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The drive over the Teton Pass crosses from Idaho to Wyoming and is “only” 8500 feet at its highest elevation, but the long stretches of 10+% grade were especially tricky on the descent. We were quite comfortable with the 2nd gear ~25mph climbing by now, but we hadn’t encountered such long/continuous descents without a chance to cool the brakes on our trip. Oh well, what’s an adventure without a soft brake pedal once in a while?!?!

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After our last mountain pass of this wonderful journey, we drove through Jackson along US191, nestled between the National Elk Refuge and the Grand Teton National Park. The scenery was most epic, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.

We pressed on to Dubois, Wyoming for the night. As this was a “transit day”, we were quite content in selecting the local KOA for our accommodations. Before arriving in Dubois, we found a nice mountain plateau for a little outing with Bruno. Warm, windy and full of prickly growth – but so much fun for the little man after spending most of the day in Clifford. Sadly, we did miss the Wyoming State  Chariot Racing Championship by ten years or so.

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The KOA was relatively nice, and mostly empty. The hosts were getting ready to shut things down for the season and head to Arizona for the winter.Robin and Bruno enjoyed the company of the larger four-legged creatures at the campsite.

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The next morning, we pointed Clifford toward the much-underrated state of Nebraska. The drive through the eastern portion of Wyoming was made more exciting for us by what appeared to be Clifford’s first mechanical fault in the six weeks we had been on the road. About an hour into the drive, the fuel pump would cut out intermittently, causing a momentary lack of forward thrust from the trusty 2.1L Wasserboxer. I pressed on, deciding that I was not going to replace the pump until it quit. The condition lasted a few minutes and wasn’t bad enough for us to come to a stop. This symptom would repeat itself a few times on this day, but I had little interest in getting under the van for arm and facefulls of fuel to replace something that was kind of working. I’m sure Robin and Bruno didn’t want to travel with anyone covered in Eau de Unleaded either.

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Although the drive across eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska wasn’t bad, the plateaus of the great plains just weren’t as magnificent as the mountains we had become accustomed to. We drove through the sparsely populated northeastern Nebraska along the historic US20, also known as Bridges to Buttes Byway. The towns were somewhat frequent, but many of them were almost completely deserted, with population signs reading numbers as low as 20 or below.

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It was a hot day and it was tricky to find any shad for a daytime walk with Bruno. We stopped along US20 and did a short walk on the Cowboy Trail, a rail trail built along the old Chicago & Northwestern Rail line. Apparently cattle are not welcome on the trail.

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We made it as far as the Cottonwood Lake recreation area for the night. The recreation area was nearly completely deserted, so we commandeered a nice spot by the lake and settled in for a little frisbee fun. We had spent ten rather hot (at least it was a dry heat!) hours in Clifford, and the setting sun brought along nicely cooling temperatures for a little R&R.

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In the morning, we packed up quickly and pointed ourselves east once again, towards the more congested parts of this great continent.

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This day’s drive took us across eastern Nebraska and into Iowa. We had reached the part of our journey where we had no choice but to travel on the Interstate to get us home and avoid the congestion in populated areas. The fire roads and small rural highways quickly became a distant memory as we coaxed Clifford to speeds of 70-75mph for extended periods. Thankfully we could split the driving duties, for once the monotony of the bigger roads sets in, travel isn’t quite as fun in Clifford.

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We drove another long day, and decided to simplify our stay for the night by staying at the Des Moines KOA, the very same campground we had stayed on the second night of our outbound journey six weeks earlier. We did a quick/light setup, went for a little hike with Bruno and settled in for a decent night of sleep.

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We left the Des Moines KOA at 8:30AM in the morning with a plan to drive to a campground in Michigan for our last night of the trip. As we approached the Greater Chicago area, we entered a large system of precipitation which, as our luck would have it, was moving east just as we were. All weather predictions pointed towards a wet evening after ten hours of driving.

Simultaneously, we were somewhat suddenly anxious to get home, the congestion and the noise of the interstates was not something we had encountered for a very long time. I was quietly doing the math in my head – what if we did non-Clifford thing and pushed all the way home on this day? I figured we could be home by 2AM, assuming no hiccups en route. Driving into the evening and the night would also give us relief from the suddenly more humid heat as well as the benefit of reduced traffic volumes.

I built up my courage and suggested the idea to Robin, and it was almost like she had been thinking the same thing. Driving 1400km in one go is far from a strange thing to us, but normally those types of days are completed with equipment somewhat different from Clifford. We decided to press on, making adjustments to our plan to include nice, but abbreviated, rest stops for a few minutes of leg stretching, frisbeeing and switching drivers.

Sadly, in hindsight, we didn’t really take any pictures after we left the Des Moines campground. But, we did make it home, arriving at 2:30AM totally exhausted, but excited to be home.

The trip had been absolutely epic, Clifford had performed nearly flawlessly through the punishing mountain passes and at times technical fire roads. Bruno had enjoyed almost every moment of the trip (just don’t mention the last day of driving…) and we had nothing but brains overflowing with positive memories from the journey.

The next day, well, it was back to work for me. I did manage to put together this snazzy summary of Clifford’s fuel consumption for the trip.

summary

Now, onto planning for future adventures!

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Idaho. It really is beautiful!

We had planned to arrive in the Ketchum area early, in order for us to do some camping in the Sawtooth Mountains, north of Ketchum. 

 On our way through Ketchum we stopped at an outdoor store to buy a trail map and a warmer jacket for me. The weather for the week was forecast unseasonably cold with lows below freezing and highs around 15-20C.

Southern Idaho hadn’t exact been visually memorable, but the area around Ketchum/Sun Valley was beautiful. Since we were coming back for the weekend and our “race”, Rebecca’s Private Idaho, we headed north to the mountains. The drive north of Ketchum was beautiful. The road climbed up to the Galena Summit and descended back down through the mountains and I wanted to keep stopping for more pictures. 

    
 We had decided to stay at a National Forest campsite in order to have the convenience of vault toilets and garbage bins for our planned four night stay. We found a quiet, beautiful campsite at the far end on Redfish Lake and set up camp.

The campsite was adjacent to the lake and swimming was only a short walk away. Bruno was super excited to have a chance for lots of swimming in cool mountain lake water. 

   
On our second day, we hiked around the lake. Robin, being in charge of planning these types of activities, led the way and Bruno and I followed. The trailhead was within a minute or two walk from our campsite and from there we started a long and winding climb up to a mountain ridge. Approximately halfway through the hike, the trail descended off the ridge to the lake, only to climb again to a ridge on the other side of the lake. And to descend again. Yeah, awesome hike, but long! Like something in the range of 22-24km of varying terrain, climbing and descending. The exact distance is unknown as my Garmin battery ran out at the 20km mark. 

    
   
The next couple of days were spent relaxing, throwing frisbees, playing in the water and fiddling with the bikes in preparation of the upcoming race. Robin, being the keener of the two of us, did go and ride her mountain bike for two hours one day. I chose to rest my legs. Or to just eat more cookies. 

   
The weather was mostly fantastic – sunny days with comfortable temperatures and cool crisp nights. Our last day of four was a little cloudy and at times rainy, but it did not dampen our love for Redfish lake.

On Friday morning, we packed up Clifford and headed to our house rental for the next three nights. It was a somewhat typical ski area condo, with ample space and, most importantly, a king size bed and running hot water. We also drove down to Bellevue to meet with Bruno’s daycare people for race day Sunday. Sara and Ned, who we found through DogVacay were super (as was their little pug, Roscoe) and we knew our little guy was going to be in good hands.

Saturday was a busy day. We had a nice civilized breakfast, prepped a few things for the race and Robin started unraveling the laundry. Afterwards we headed out to watch the Wagon Days Parade. This is the largest non-motorized in the U.S. The only non-walking participants were Rebecca Rusch and one of her charities, World Bicycle Relief, who help people in Africa achieve mobility through bicycles . The parade was fun, but after a couple of hours in the cold, sunny weather and a couple of good margaritas (did I mention Patron Tequila is a Rebecca’s Private Idaho sponsor?) we headed home for a little rest. 

   
Late Saturday afternoon, we headed downtown one more time to pick up our race packets and to wander the expo area for a bit. It also gave Bruno a chance to play a bit more outdoors and meet some celebrities like Rebecca’s dog Diesel, 205 DK200 champion Yuri Hauswald and photographer Linda Guerrette and her dog Levi.

After this event, we went home and had a big meal, watched a bit of television and relaxed with a bottle of wine until it was time to get to sleep. No pre-race jitters this time, we were going to ride together and enjoy the day as a “ride” with no pressure of results.

Next time – race day? Is this a race?

A kinder, higher Utah.

After driving through the harsh desert of southern Utah and a somewhat disappointing stay outside of Monticello, we were intent on finding a nice place to stay and hike for a few days. 

 With limited connectivity (and pricy data plans even when coverage is available), Robin did much research and we headed to the Uinta Mountains and the Uinta Wasatch Cache National Forest, located about 100km east of Salt Lake City.  

 We once again avoided the interstates as much as possible, taking secondary highways or even small gravel roads to get to our destination. The day’s drive was scenic and included everything from arid desert to thick coniferous forests and mountain lakes. 

 We arrived at Trial Lake campground, elevation ~10,000 feet and were welcomed by fresh mountain air and beautiful forests, making the desert drives of the past couple of days a distant memory. 

   
Our campsite was large and allowed Bruno ample space for playing. Although the campground was almost full, there was no noise and one could enjoy the silence of the mountains and relax. I did say “almost” full…for later in the evening, a group of people arrived at an adjacent campsite. They were a little bit louder than most campers and one couldn’t help but listen in on on their conversations. The son, in particular, was rather loud and reminded me of a male version of Honey Boo Boo (yes, I’ve seen an episode or two). Thankfully, as the entertainment value of their show grew more fatiguing,t hey also fatigued and retired to their tents for the night.

We had chosen this location for its lakes and mountains, and took advantage of this by doing a nice day hike from our lake to another lake and around it. The terrain was varied, from forest trail to rocky shores of the mountain lakes.  

    
 As always Bruno had a great time. He met a couple of new friends along the route, including Odin, a Lab Husky mix (whom Bruno met again later in the evening at the campground and played with until dark) and a 12 week old Kaya, a mystery mix who looked like almost like baby Bruno! Our hike had its downside – at some point, Bruno’s leash had fallen out of my backpack and as we approached our return to the campground we doing bad ourselves unable to leash up Bruno. He was ok with it, but we lamented having to buy yet another leash. We had previously lost a leash in April on a hike in North Carolina – this habit is getting pricey! 

    
 After a couple of enjoyable and relaxing days and nights, we planned out next move on our journey toward Ketchum, Idaho. The drive to the Ketchum area was going to take more than one Clifford day, so we made plans for a quick stay somewhere in southern Idaho. 


   
We left our mountain campsite and descended from the Uinta mountains to Wyoming and then back to Utah for a bit to reach Idaho (taking the roads less travelled is rarely the straightest route). Just before leaving Utah,  we stopped at Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border for a quick Bruno swim. 

   
Our initial hours in Idaho offered us more high feet vistas and wicked headwinds for Clifford. We finished our first day in Idaho in Jerome and found refuge at a KOA. Once again, a KOA offered two redeeming features; hot showers and WiFi. Beyond this, it also offers dust, noise from adjacent truck traffic, the smallest dog play area ever and many many rules. Oh well, we enjoyed the showers and the WiFi. 

   
We left the Jerome KOA early (early to us) the next morning and headed north toward Ketchum. We could see the mountains looming ahead, but the smokey haze from western forest fires limited our long distance visibility. According to those who know,we would find something other than high desert and lava rock fields.

Next time – Giddy up!

Desert Dog

Once Robin and I decided to stop in Sedona for a short stay, we had immediately agreed on three nights stay at the Red Agave. The price was super affordable (August is low season in Sedona) and the two full days bookended by half days would give us ample opportunity to ride some of the red rock trails, do some early morning (pre-desert heat) hikes with Bruno and, most of all, get all of our laundry done. We were also excited about what suddenly seemed like a luxury item: air conditioning!    
We accomplished all of our planned tasks. We did a few rides, some hikes with Bruno, including an awesome morning hike of Boynton Canyon. 

  The weather was cooler than our day of arrival, with highs (only) around 30C. For those of us accustomed to Souther Ontario humidity can seem muggy and uncomfortable, but trust me, the whole “but it’s a dry heat” thing is for real. Just remember, the radiation from the sun will melt you, so seek shade!    
Since the Red Agave is located in the Village of Oak Creek, we drove down to the water one late afternoon for Bruno to do some fetching in the water. He had become quite good and careful on our trail hikes in the desert, avoiding the various prickly vegetation, but we had completely avoided any fetching and free roaming in fear of a USD 500 vet visit to remove cactus thorns from his muzzle.     
Robin and I both enjoyed the luxury of a couple of days in air conditioning, a second tap from which comes warm (yes, who knew!!) water, and a television. Yet, we both felt somehow not completely relaxed I’m the evenings the way we do when we settle in for a quiet evening in Clifford, Robin reading her book, me staring at maps and Bruno napping away beside Robin on the bed.  
On the morning of our departure from Sedona, it was clear that the three of us had, in some strange way, missed our life in Clifford while he was parked at the hotel parking lot. Bruno immediately claimed his spot on the rear seat as we drove away from Sedona, back toward Flagstaff and once again across the desolate and harsh landscape that is northern Arizona and now onto Utah.   
We had planned our route to take us north from Flagstaff, through Monument Valley to some place with sufficient elevation to allow us to sleep in reasonable temperatures. Monument Valley was everything I had hoped, my expectation having been set high by John Ford directed westerns.  

  

 The drive across southern Utah was more than just Monument Valley, for it seemed that after each climb (usually ending in second gear, Clifford being Clifford), the following descent offered yet another variation on desert landscapes. I would highly recommend everyone visit this area once. The second time, probably not necessary.   
Robin had found a National Forest area just outside the town of Monticello for us to seek refuge for the night. Monticello was already at enough elevation that the temperatures seemed almost bearable, and once we climbed to our planned campsite at elevation 8,400 feet, not only were we out of the desert and there were plentiful trees and green vegetation, but the air once again seemed crisp and cool. We were suddenly confident that the we were not going to perish in the desert.     
Of the many USFS campsite we have visited, this one was again on the less populated side. The only campers at this campsite were us, the campsite host, and one other trailer, populated by some local type peeps who were out for a few days of bow hunting. Yeah, it is bow hunting season in Utah. We didn’t ask what they were hunting, but decided to lay low and stay close to our campground. We did attempt to look for a hiking trail close the campground, but had very little luck and the open range cattle had us a little bewildered at times. Thus, we returned to our campsite and proceeded to throw Bruno’s frisbee for a few hours in the safety of our campsite.  

   
We left our campsite outside of Monticello after just one night and headed north, hoping for a more hospitable environment in some other part of Utah. We drove through Moab without either of us desiring to stay for a day or two to ride the trails, for we had had enough of the desert for now. During our drive through Moab, we didn’t really see anything that would pique our interest to come back one day. It seemed like just another town in the desert with a selection mediocre-to-bad lodging and food. Maybe there is some other magic side of Moab that is far away from the main road and someone will convince us otherwise.  


We continued north, until hwy 191 met up with my least favourite interstate, I-90, and turned west on I-90. Thankfully for this short section, we had the pleasure of a gentle downhill. Clifford settled in at a comfortable 65mph and we watched traffic go by us at 80+mph. Soon we headed off the interstate, back on 191. Eventually the road became smaller and very quiet, as it climbed through some steep switchbacks (yeah, sub 20mph speeds for Clifford) and the road took a us through a long mountain canyon, first up and then down. A beautiful and quiet drive. We did pull off the road at some point during the climb to give way to a school bus full of children, thinking the kids likely wanted get home and 55mph would get them there sooner than our 20-25mph.   
We aimed for the Uinta Mountains, with a plan to stay a couple of nights and get some decent mountain air hikes in to us and Bruno. Mirror Lake Road climbs out of Heber City into the Uinta Wasatch-Cache National Forest. We climbed (yes, slowly) up to past 10,000feet of elevation once again and found a nice spot at the Trial Lake Campground. We were somewhat concerned about availability of space as it was a Friday and we had no reservation, but luckily found one of the few remaining spots to be good for us.   
  We set up quickly, once again enjoying thin mountain air and settled for a relaxing couple of days. 

Next time: More mountain hikes and is there a male version of honey boo-boo?

To the desert!

After a few days of dispersed camping at the ghost town of Alta, we packed up our campsite and pointed Clifford down the mountain, towards Telluride.  The descent on the forestry road was a certainly lot easier on Clifford than the climb had been a few days earlier.  Once we had descended the four miles or so to the paved road, the town of Telluride was only about ten minutes drive away. 

 Our plan for the day was to use the free Telluride gondolas to get us to the start of our hike and take a combination of gondolas to get us back to our starting point after our hike.  This free public transportation system seemed almost too good to be true, connecting the town of Telluride with Mountain Village on the other side of the mountain.  The passengers seemed to be about on even mix of hikers and mountain bikers with their bikes.  In the winter, the gondola bike racks are replaced by ski and snowboard racks. 

 Bruno was a little bewildered by his first gondola ride, but settled down to watch the scenery change as we ascended the mountain.  Once at the top, he enjoyed a drink from the complimentary water bowl (Telluride seemed super dog friendly!) and we were ready for our little hike.   

  

  

 This hike was shorter and easier than our long hike in Crested Butte, but offered some beautiful vistas of the surrounding area.

Telluride Hike

After our hike, Bruno enjoyed a little dip in the stream at the base of the mountain.  He may have enjoyed the dip more than the hike! 

 From Telluride, we headed south, towards the Four Corners area, where the borders of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet at a common point.  As the day was hot and we were getting a little tired of sitting in the heat (at least Bruno was), we did a little on the fly research and chose the McPhee Recreation Area (on the McPhee Reservoir) in Dolores, CO as our stopover for the night.  The campground was quiet and although not exactly dispersed camping, we couldn’t see a single other camper from our campground.  

  Typical of the National Forest sites, it was clean and well maintained.  Once settled, we were anxious to get down to the reservoir for a swim.

As we had done our planning on the fly, we didn’t realize that the trek from the campground to the reservoir was about 2km long through a nice enough trail through the almost desert like terrain.  This hike introduced Bruno to cacti and other desert vegetation.  We had to keep him on the short leash to ensure that we wouldn’t need to visit the local vet any time soon.  After the rocky descent to the lake, to our disappointment, we discovered that everything was built and geared towards boaters – no beach, no real good place for even Bruno to fetch his frisbee from the water.  We scrambled a couple of hundred metres along the rocky shore to get us to a spot where Bruno could at least get a little swimming done and then headed back up to the campsite, disappointed and still hot.  No pictures of this event exist, for it may be the best way to forget the “swimming” attempt.

Back at our campsite, we relaxed for a bit and as the sun set, the temperatures finally started dropping to a more comfortable range. We kept Bruno on his long lead all night as there was continuous traffic of wildlife, mostly deer and rabbits, through the vicinity.  Once darkness set in, I tested our new Nemo Helio camp shower, washing away the dust and sweat of the first really hot day of our journey.  If I had paws, I’d give the Nemo Helio two paws up! 

 The next morning, we did our best impression of a quick start as we knew that the temperatures would go from hot to hotter as we drove south, into the desert.  Our plan was to drive to Four Corners and from there a short drive in Arizona to visit Monument Valley before heading north to Utah, in search of some elevation and cool(er?) nights.  During the heat of the day, Bruno made good use of his Ruffwear Swamp Cooler jacket.  The evaporative cooling really works in the dry heat!

   

  

 As we crossed state lines and arrived in Arizona, a voice in my head kept saying – “you’re close to Sedona, go ride the rails in Sedona!”, and we made yet another impromptu change in our plans.  We chose to make the hot hot hot drive across the desert and ascend into Flagstaff for the night, where the arid desert of northern Arizona is replaced by beautiful Ponderosa Pine forests and mountain air.  We choose to camp in the National Forest outside of Mormon Lake, at yet another nearly deserted NFS campsite.  The lake, ironically, is currently completely devoid of water. Thankfully, Bruno accepted dry land frisbee action once again. 

  

 Only two of the approximately 30 sites were occupied, including us.  The $18 fee gave us toilets and fresh water fill up for Clifford, where as dispersed camping within the forest would have been free.  We felt the $18 was a small price for the few conveniences, especially since again, we could not see the other campers from our campsite and Bruno had free reign with his four frisbees and two balls for the entire stay.  A definite two paws up from Bruno! 

 In the morning, we aimed Clifford toward Sedona and started searching for camping or other accommodations.  The cost of house rentals in the area did not really fit our current travel budget, yet we were keen to find som accommodations that would offer all three of us air conditioning.  In the village of Oak Creek (kind of like Sedona suburbia), we stopped in at everyone’s favourite bike shop, the Bike and Bean, to pick up a couple of small necessities and to enjoy a nice ice coffee. 

We mentioned our desire for non-Clifford accommodations due to the heat and they mentioned that they co-own Red Agave, an old resort that is almost adjacent to the bike shop as well as the trailhead.  We decided to check it out.

Success! The studio rooms provided sufficient space for us, there was WiFi, A/C, a pool and a pet friendly atmosphere.  As August is the hottest month of the year in Sedona, the rates are at their lowest, and on a whim we booked ourselves in for three nights!  This would give Robin and I a chance to get a few rides in and maybe even get Bruno accustomed to desert walks.   

 The latter may be trickier, for the desert just doesn’t seem dog friendly. The view from our room was alone worth the price of admission.  

 After checking in, we unpacked Clifford, Bruno and I settled into the comfort of air conditioning and Robin headed out for a little ride to the adjacent network of trails. 

   
Next time – it’s a dry heat!

Hikes and more hikes!

The area north of Crested Butte is famous for its beautiful vistas, wildflowers and amazing trails. After a stormy arrival on Monday night, we arrived to a beautiful sunrise (Bruno provides us with a complimentary sunrise alarm clock) and some cold weather. The frost was evident everywhere, so we bundled up, enjoyed our morning coffee and waited for the sun to start warming things up before venturing too far outdoors.  

 
Our site provided Bruno with ample play space, and we took advantage of this as we prepared for the hike that Robin had planned for us. This hike took us down (up, then down, actually) Rustler’s Gulch Trail toward an old abandoned mining site and some waterfalls.  

   

  

 After this five hour adventure, we enjoyed  some relax time, although Bruno still wanted to play more, as usual. 
The second evening was much nicer than the first and we had a chance to sit outside and enjoy the diminishing daylight before moving into Clifford for the night.   
We had decided to head out toward Telluride on Wednesday, but before packing up and saying goodbye to Crested Butte, Robin went and rode the famous 401 trail while I had a nice relaxing morning playing with Bruno and getting Clifford ready for another move.   
We stopped in the town of Crested Butte for a little tourist walk, searched for food for Bruno and even had lunch at a restaurant. How civilized!  
Our tourist stop had take a bit of time, so by the time we headed out from Crested Butte toward Gunnison we realized that the drive to Telluride would mean an arrival time much later than we prefer. This, we quickly searched out a quick and easy one night stay outside of Ouray at the local KOA. Not our thing, but an easy in and out, not to mention hot showers are nice…
After dispersed camping where you really have no boundaries and very few rules, being at the KOA felt restrictive.  

  

  

 Bruno was not super excited about spending time on his leash, nor was he happy to have no free roam exploration rights. However, once nighttime set and we all got indoors in the cozy comfort of Clifford, it all felt right again. 
In the morning, we packed up quickly and headed to Telluride. Another beautiful drive and some sub 20mph climbing, we arrived in Telluride. The view through the town was postcard picturesque and we spent a little time walking in town to stretch out legs and play tourist.   
Our camping destination was the area of Alta Lakes, only a short drive from Telluride, Robin and done some research and the site looked promising. Remote, high altitude lakes, a ghost town and lots of camping opportunities. 
The last part of the drive was a 4 mile climb on a steep switchback littered forestry road. Clifford chose to do most of the climb in first gear, until the last section where first gear wasn’t low enough (or Clifford’s power wasn’t quite sufficient) and we had to retreat very slowly backwards to the previous plateau and rethink our strategy. We ended up not attempting this last bit of the climb again and chose to camp about 500m away from the lakes in the midst of the ghost town of Alta.     
Alta is historically significant as this is where George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla first experimented with the use of alternating current in a commercial operation.       
More trails and beautiful scenery, albeit very different from the open vistas of Crested Butte. Bruno gave the lakes two paws up! We explored around the ghost town, but stayed clear of going indoors to the few buildings that are still standing fully intact.

   
   
Next time – Telluride hiking and more!

The award ceremonies for the LT100 are on the Sunday morning after the race, starting at 7:30am. We set our alarm for 6am to have a chance for breakfast and start re-packing Clifford. 

We joined our teammates and our most wonderful crew members at the award ceremony and after receiving our buckles we had one more chance to record a team moment before everyone headed off in their various directions. 
Our plan for the day was to pick up Bruno from Breckenridge adventure camp and then head over Hoosier Pass one more time to camp in the Salida area on Sunday night. 
Picking up Bruno was exciting for us, spending three days away from him had seemed like an eternity!
We arrived in Salida area and found a wonderful quiet camping spot on the Arkansas River at Brown’s Canyon. The landscape in this area was very different from the Leadville or Breckenridge area, almost desert like. 

 
   In fact, we found our first cacti of the trip here.  

  It was a beautiful sunny day, in fact it was scorching hot. If our vehicle was modern, I could tell you what the temperature was, but the only digital numerical display Clifford has is his clock. Let’s just say it seems desert scorching hot. At least until the late afternoon thunderstorms brought hail and rain upon us. 
The next morning we drove into Salida, a quaint town that appeared to have lots of character without the touristyness of many Colorado towns. Here we found Bruno a Ruffwear Front Range Harness, our current last hope of reducing his tendency to pull when on leash without resorting to a halti harness. Bruno was possibly less excited than we were about our purchase, but Robin and I were both optimistic within minutes of putting it into use.

 
After our stop in Salida, we pointed Clifford toward Gunnison, Crested Butte and Gothic Road. We had high hopes of the scenery and the trails our next destination would provide. Again, the drive provided scenery that ranged from beautiful to really stunning. The high plains around Gunnison had me looking for John Wayne and his men, riding their horses in search of the villains.  
Crested Butte looked nice, but we pressed through toward our destination. The road climbed into Crested Butte Mountain, the resort centre built just north of the old town. Once we had passed the resorts, the perfectly smooth paved road turned to gravel. Clifford seems more in his element on the gravel back road than the four star resort road. 
As we got further and further on Gothic Rod, the surface became more and more challenging. The potholes and general unevenness meant that we crawled along in first gear, for the tall load on Clifford require for us to be extra careful. Here we also encountered our first climb that required a second effort before we made it to the top. 

 
Once we arrived in our planned camping area, we found the four official camp sites occupied. This was not a crisis, for dispersed camping with Clifford can be quite pleasant. We drive a short distance from the “campsite” down the rod and pulled in at a trailhead parking area, assessed it quickly and decided to make it our home for the next couple of days. 
The beautiful warm sunny weather had followed us all day, but as we were setting up, the weather once again turned nasty. This thunderstorm was more intense than any we had experienced previously. The lighting and the thunder were intense enough that even Clifford was trembling. Once again, we encountered hail, this time in conjunction with high winds. 

We bundled up inside Clifford and waited it out as evening turned into night the next morning would likely bring blue skies and sunshine. It is Colorado, after all.  

LT100 – a race to return to relaxing

Yeah, we raced our bikes last weekend at the LT100, and I’m just now getting around to writing about it. It’s one of those things where you leave everything out there and once the next day rolls around you don’t really want to relive all the moments over again.
After camping at Turquoise Lake for four days, we had rented a house in Leadville for three nights for the race to provide us with some good sleep, washing and laundry facilities. We had set up a play camp for Bruno in Breckenridge for the time we had the house, so we dropped him off after we departed Turquoise Lake and before going to the Leadville house. What’s a few more mountain passes for Clifford anyhow, he’s quickly becoming a veteran of the mountains.

We set up at the house on Thursday afternoon rather painlessly, for it was the same house as we had rented two years ago in our first Leadville Trail 100 adventure. After we had unpacked the necessities from Clifford to the non-mobile house, we settled down for some television. After nearly two weeks without any TV, it didn’t seem like it was any better than I remembered.

On Friday, the LT100 riders meeting took a couple of hours of time in the morning, including some classic Ken Chlouber moments (I always seem to shed a few tears during these, even when I know what is about to be said). After the meeting, Robin and I headed to the house to prepare our bikes. It seemed somehow unlike us to not have had the bikes cleaned, lubed and ready to go much earlier – almost like the race wasn’t the first priority on this iteration of the event. It was almost sad to empty stuff out of Clifford to live in the house for a few days. Not that I minded warm showers and clean laundry…

Friday afternoons afternoons we delivered the box with our bottles and other nutrition to our support crew who were staying at Sugarloafing campground. I recall there were ten bottles of Roctane and close to twenty Roctane gel packs in the box. Our most wonderful crew members were going to be there for us at the Twin Lakes area on our way towards Columbine Mine and again on our return from Columbine Mine towards the return to Leadville.

The evening before the race was pretty relaxed, Robin prepared some chicken, rice and some veggies for us to fill our bellies, we also shared a bottle of red wine. Why change habits that have worked for you?

Race day, Saturday, alarm went off at 4:30am. We had some scrambled eggs, rice and salsa for breakfast. I had a lot of breakfast. This is my thing before long races and that works for me.

After eating, we packed up our bikes, got dressed up in our chosen kits for the days and headed out. Two years ago, we had ridden to the start from the house, but it was dark and cold. It also took twenty minutes. This year, we had chosen to drive downtown, park (one of our team mates had offered us parking at his rental house) and ride two minutes to the start corral. Fantastic. Except…half way to downtown, Robin realized we had forgotten our start bottles at home! We turn Clifford around, go get the bottles and get to the start area a little later than we had envisioned.

Robin and I scrambled a bit to get to our respective start corrals and settled in, waiting for the shot gun that would set us off on the course.

The gun went off. We raced. We finished.

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It was a tough day as expected, and even tougher for Robin as she suffered some completely unusual challenges with nutrition. Her finish time certainly did not reflect the “dig deep” effort she put forth, for I think most of us would have called it quits after visiting the medical tent midway through the race.

For me, looking back, had I trained as I planned since the Dirty Kanza, the time result may have been different. However, I left every bit of energy on the course and finished in 9h39 and something. A long way from my sub nine hour goal that I had set for myself last year. But somehow, after DK200, training and the LT100 race itself seems somewhat anticlimactic and the result shows it.

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After the race, we had very little to no energy left for any post race celebrations. It was off to bed early after a little food and one beer.

Now we are going to enjoy a little non cycling holiday. Our plan is to head towards Crested Butte for a few days of hiking and relaxing. We’ll see how that goes next time….

 

Leadville

After enjoying the Buena Vista area for a few days, we headed to Leadville on Sunday. Our plan was to camp for four nights at Turquoise Lake and follow that with a three day house rental in Leadville. Luxurious, yes, but with a big mountain bike race on Saturday, it seemed like the right choice. Get a week and a half worth of laundry done, prepare our bikes for the race and get a few good nights of sleep.  
We set up camp at the Molly Brown campground Turquoise Lake Recreational Area. Once again, the campground did not disappoint. In fact, it was most awesome. Large sites, quiet and a lake with beautiful vistas all around. Most importantly, Bruno gave it a solid two paws up.
 After setting up, we headed to the lake for some frisbee action with Bruno. After another warm day, he enjoyed the refreshing lake.

The campground was rather full, partly due to Leadville’s Boom Days taking place that weekend and partly with the Leadville Trail 100 racers starting to arrive for the race, now only six days away.

We spent most of Monday relaxing, with some hike/swim/play time for Bruno. Robin and I both got out for short loops on our bikes, just enough to remind the body why we were her at elevation of 10,000+ feet.

One of the main catalysts for our adventure has been the Leadville Trail 100 mounting bike race. Robin and I competed at this event in 2013 and a few days after finishing that event (body forgets pain quite quickly) we had decided to come back for a second time in two years time. In the meanwhile, a large group of our Toronto-based Lapdogs Cycling team members had qualified or otherwise gained entry to this event. As a result, we have six representatives of our team (plus quite a contingent of family members) here for the LT100.

 On Tuesday morning we me up with our teammates for a pre-ride of the Columbine Mine climb (and descent), one of the more famous sections of the 100 mile long event. This climb is approximately 1200 metres in vertical elevation and takes us mere mortals close to two hours to climb. This climb takes you up a typical Colorado fire road with the scenery changing as you gain elevation. The first half of the climb is a steady climb through beautiful aspen forest and as you gain elevation, the aspens give way to coniferous trees of various sizes and shapes. Finally, once you reach around 2/3 time point, you reach the tree line and enter the high alpine meadows.

  

We all enjoyed the climb at our own pace, gathered at the top for a team picture, and commenced a descent back down the same way as we had climbed. The LT100 is an out-and-back race, and the turnaround point is at the top of the Columbine Mine climb. This particular climb and return descent represents 20-25% of the total time we will spend on the race course this coming Saturday, hence a pre-ride makes sense, as long as you don’t leave it to the days immediately preceding the race.

 While the racer type people were racing, the supporting LapDogs family members were surveying the sites for race day support and also, more importantly, taking care of Bruno. He seems to be very good at adapting to new situations and from all reports it sounds like a he he had a great time while Robin and I were riding.

After the ride, we all went out for a group meal at the Tennessee Pass Cafe (epic hamburger), enjoyed a few laughs and some good stories as a group. After the meal, Robin, Bruno and I headed to the grocery store for some staples and then back to camp, now all of us quite tired. We spent a few hours relaxing and by 9:30pm, everyone was ready for bed. Actually, Bruno had been ready for a while…

 Next time – preparing for ten hours of racing

San Isabel National Forest

After restocking on groceries and beer, we departed Frisco for our next stop – Collegiate Campground in San Isabel National Forest, just outside of Buena Vista. Our route took us through Breckenridge and Alma up over Hoosier Pass (elev. 11,539 feet). The climb up to the top was steep and littered with a few switchbacks. This was the first the climb Clifford needed to revert to 1st gear at times. Needless to say, the four way flashers were busy.  

 Once we arrived in Buena Vista, we chose to pass through town and head for our campsite in order to get Bruno and us some quality hiking time.  

 Once set up, we headed out for some hiking, swimming and frisbee throwing.  

 During our stay at Collegiate Peaks, the weather was mostly fantastic, but a short but intense rain storm forced us indoors for one meal.  

 This was also the first time during our trip that Robin and I had a chance to ride our bikes. This is apparently significant as there is some sort of a race coming up soon.  

 The two days’ stay went quickly, and in addition to hiking, playing and a little riding, we all enjoyed some good relax time.  The days were warm, but the nights were cold, with morning temperatures just above freezing. It was apparent Bruno was getting cool by morning, as he wanted to climb into bed with Robon and me. Sadly, Clifford’s downstairs bed is barely big enough to accommodate two people, let alone two people and a dog. Thus, it was democratically decided that I should sleep upstairs to allow Bruno access to the warm bed downstairs.    

 On Sunday, it was time to pack up camp and point Clifford towards Leadville. Before making that short but scenic drive, we stopped in Buena Vista to pick up some food for Bruno and a sleeping bag for me.  

  Next time – Leadville!