Friday, August 21, 2009

TRIPS: Nothing like it in the world
Moab, UT

Thanks to my wife, who surprised me with all of the coordination for this surprise birthday trip! Like Durango, what do you say about Moab that has not already been said? Although much of the high-desert terrain is reminiscent of Glade Run rides in Farmington, N.M., (see the Road Apple Rally), the scenery is unmatched by any ride in the world. Of course, the Slickrock Trail was everything I had anticipated all of these years; clearly the most unique terrain en masse I’ve been on.
However, what made this trip phenomenal was a relatively new bike tour company called
Sol Fun. Aside from New Zealand, this was the only time I’d ever used a tour guide to get to know the trails quickly, and it was worth every penny. It wasn’t just about the riding (although my guide Heidi Rentz was a phenomenal athlete and a terrific person overall), but recommendations for the scenic-route drive route from Grand Junction’s airport, accommodations, massage therapists and eateries were all right on target. The bike provided was also perfect for these rides, and convinced me that a Kona Dawg can compensate for poor riding even better than my Prophet already does.

I did a two day tour, which Heidi nicely laid out to both warm me up and see if I’d actually survive Slickrock. Day one was a morning ride at Dead Horse Point State Park (above photo by Heidi), which at one time – long ago – appears to have been a peninsula into the ocean. More recently – still long ago – tourist guides say it was used as a natural corral for wild horses since the sheer cliffs on three sides to the Colorado River below would challenge the resolve of any stallion, I suppose. The afternoon was the Bartlett Wash (right) just north of Moab, and was a great Slickrock primer with tremendous views.

Day two, of course, was the
Slickrock Trail, which was completely incredible. Because so much has already been said about this trail, I’ll allow the curious to explore. However, I’ll mention that Heidi was kind enough to talk Acme Bike Shuttle owner and "best downhiller in Moab" Kyle Mears into showing us how to REALLY ride the first 2.5 miles of the trail. A very encouraging young lady, she did a pretty convincing job of allowing us to believe she was actually tired too as we took on the remaining eight miles (apparently there is some debate regarding the distance).

One of the best features of these tours, especially when showing up sans pals, is meeting other riders in the group. We actually only had one other rider each day, but both were terrific. On Day one we had Colin, a 16(and ½)-year-old downhiller from New Hampshire who was ecstatic just to have people to talk to about mountain biking. Day two brought 21-year-old Joe from London, who really just hammered the trail although he hadn’t ridden for two years (not a lot of trails in London). Joe and his dad Roger had also been riding the day before with Sol Fun co-owner Allen Poertner as part of a whirlwind tour of the U.S. for Joe’s 21st birthday.

After the ride, we all had a tremendous dinner at the
Desert Bistro (Heidi, Kyle, Allen and Pat Poertner – very genuine people and avid cyclists/guides, Roger, Joe and me) and they even remembered my birthday.

Here are the facts (and recommendations from Sol Fun):

> Lodging:

The Adventure Inn; family owned, light continental breakfast, wireless, across the street from the renowned Poison Spider Bicycles and practically next door to the massage therapist. Oh, there’s a Redbox $1 video rental across the street and you can easily walk back to motel from downtown if your overload with liquid-based carbs.

> Food & Beverage: The
Moab Brewery (great beer an great, moderately priced food); Pasta Jays (great, covered outdoor dining, moderately priced – try the dinner salad with gorgonzola and the Alfredo Williams); Desert Bistro (beautiful outdoor, evening dining, higher-end price range, terrific menu items include elk, antelope, seafood, duck and rabbit).

> Thrift Store: For the best price in town for the gear you forgot, visit the
Wabisabi Thriftique at 411 Locust Lane.

> Massage: Check out
Felix Tatarovich Massage on the north end of town, just a few doors down from the Adventure Inn.

Almost forgot: Either get to Moab early or get out after a ride to see
Arches National Monument just two miles north of Moab – you won’t be disappointed! The first photo below is the "Delicate Arch," which is beautiful to hike to for sunset, and the second is known as "Park Avenue" (no, I didn’t steal their photo; I actually only looked at their website as I wrote this) .

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

TIPS: Watch for cars on the way to the trail

This entry is in no way meant to be funny. That said, the irony is remarkable as you look at this Associated Press photo by Jose Fidelino Vera Hernandez of a car colliding "into cyclists participating in a race in Mexico's northern border city of Matamoros" June 1. The crash killed one rider and injured 14 others at the scene (although I only count 8 in the air), while many roadies still tell me that they don't mountain bike because they're concerned about injuries. I've never seen a tree do this to anyone!

The12-mile ride to work has further convinced me that road riding might just take more courage than most other indulgences I can think of -- and you have to do a lot more of it to stay in shape. My prayers go out to these riders, their families and any of you brave enough to put a few ounces of titanium, aluminum, carbon or steel and a dinky plastic helmet up against a quarter ton of fast-moving fury. (Look at the photo closely; it doesn't look like the headless helmets or footless shoes -- not to mention the airborne bikes -- did these guys much good at all).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

TRIPS: Hell was colder than expected
Pinckney Village/Hell, Mich.

The Potawatomi Trail (aka “Poto”) is an incredibly fun 24-mile roller coaster ride that you can bomb in a couple of hours, or thoroughly enjoy taking your time with. It sits just outside Pinckney Village and butts right up to Hell, Mich., home of Survivor contestant
Erik Reichenbach, the ice cream scooper from Hell. The trail should not be confused with the more infamous Potawatomi Trail of Death from Indiana to Kansas.

It was two days before a business trip to Lansing, Mich., that the June/July issue of National Geographic Adventure landed in the mailbox. About halfway through it was a little blurb about a “bombing through glacial hills” in the Pinckney Recreation Area about an hour east of Lansing (or an hour west of Detroit) outside the small village of Pinckney, Mich. The story included a quote from local bike shop owner John Calvert saying the trail had everything from trees, to swamp, to sand (and some other stuff I can’t remember now that I gave him my copy), and that bike rentals were a mere $15 a day.

I also got this description from the
Michigan Mountain Bikers Association: “… you'll find three trails: the 17-mile Potawatomi Trail [aka “Poto”], the 5.1-mile Crooked Lake Trail and the 1.9-mile Silver Lake Trail. The routes are shared with hikers.”

After a few phone calls and visit to Village Cyclery
website, we (me, John and his shop dog Woody) met at the shop and he set me up with one of the standard rentals: a 25+-pound steel Pro Flex that was older than my teenage daughter. He even threw on some new Richey SPDs and a trail pump (which I forgot) at no extra charge before sending me on the 10-minute drive to the trail head.

MMBA calls the trails “intermediate & advanced,” but it ranks closer to “intermediate” in my book, although the roots and unexpected sand pits during descents demand some savvy. There’s a detailed and accurate description of the trails
here, And you can get an up-to-date map, camping information and more from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The park closes at 10 p.m., so you can even get a night ride in.

Although I get the impression that the trails (all shared with hikers) get crowded during the summer, only 4 hikers and 5 bikers crossed my path all day, which meant building a head of steam was never an issue. Both the scenery (all types as John described) and the wildlife (deer, cranes, chipmunks, foxes) were terrific, but the numerous lakes and no fewer than a dozen, twisting wooden bridges over marshes and waterways were the surprise of the day.

A short visit to Hell after the ride is a must before leaving the area. The good news is that you won’t starve there, thanks to fresh pizza (cheese bread’s the local favorite) from Hell’s Kitchen and dessert at
Screams Ice Cream, which also boasts the only 365-day Halloween shops I’ve ever seen under its roof. There’s also a pub – as one might expect – in Hell; but these three places plus a church with a question mark on top instead of a cross are about all you’ll find there.

Best of all there’s no hurry to get back even if you’ve rented your bike. Although John closes at 7 or 8 p.m. depending on the day, he’s got a convenient rack and lock out back for after-ours returns!

I almost forgot: It was 56 degrees in Hell today, and “yes,” Hell does freeze over here every year.

Check out more photos below, and enjoy the ride through Hell!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

TRIPS: Last Okinawa Entry (for real this time)

Thanks to Adrian, my previous "last ride" entry was bogus. He invited me out a few weeks ago for some rigid riding -- truly awesome despite my butt needing to toughen up a bit. It had been nearly a year and a half since I`d been on anything but full suspension and nearly three since a full rigid. He broke me in on Day 1 by letting me use his geared version until the downhills. Dumping about 10 pounds in bike weight did wonders for the climbs, and the downhills were fast and buttery (I only realized how much shock absorption my body took in my right knee a few days later).

On Day 2, I took the rigid singlespeed for the time of my life. The best news was that I blew the rear tire at nearly the same time as the bearings in Adrian`s other bike completely gave out -- these light rigids were a dream to walk out with (a little over a mile) compared to my Prophet that completely lacks "reach through" or shouldering spots because of the shock. It was actually not a bad peaceful ending, since the rigid singlespeed had given me a thrill I had forgotten.

Thanks Adrian.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

TALES: Spiders & Bikes in Art

I just noticed this piece by
Kevin Nierman while glancing through Dirt Rag's galleries the other day. It's an unusual find, but I thought it was fitting for this blog.

If any of you know of bike pieces that reflect our unique relationship with arachnids here on Okinawa, then don’t hesitate to post a link in the comments section.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

TALES: A Sister Club Complete with Giant Spiders? Unbelievable!

A Florida rider who had recently moved to Okinawa saw my road bike in the van yesterday, and we started talking. He said he’d been out to “Spider Kingdom” a time or too on his mountain bike, but that it was pretty technical for him. Obviously, he was spot on with the technical nature of Okinawa riding, and I thought it would be inappropriate at the time to correct him that it’s actually “Spider Loop,” so I just listened ...

I soon discovered why he got the name wrong, but I could not believe my ears. He started telling me tales of giant spiders sticking to his face and making him scream like a girl (which eventually happens to all of us), but then he continued on about Florida and Spider Kingdom. It was at this point that I realized what he was saying: The
Ocala Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) where he'd previously ridden had trails rife with Golden Orb spiders, which are remarkably similar to the Banana Spiders across the trails ridden here by our Okinawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) “Spider Riders.”

As we continued our verbal walk through the twilight zone, he described the Ocala club’s logo (shown here), which is similar to an old Okinawa club logo that co-founder Tom showed me a while back. To top it all off, the Ocala club’s trail system is dubbed “Spider Kingdom,” which of course is close enough for government work to our “Spider Loop” trail system in Okinawa. A final coincidence from my brief research is that both clubs started up at about the same time: 10 years ago.

I’d heard of sister cities before, but never sister clubs. I sent the Ocala president a note introducing our club thinking, although it’s a bit of a stretch, that there may be some merit in fostering an international relationship between the two clubs. I'd encourage any of the Okinawa riders who consider themselves ambassadors to make contact as well.

In the meantime, I’ve already torn up the singletrack in Tampa’s
Alafia State Park, so I guess Bellview, Florida, is next “must see” if I’m ever in 'gator country again. Can’t wait to see what “Spider Kingdom” has to offer!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

TALES: The Final Stretch of Dirt in Paradise

It was a sad day for me today, as I took my last MTB ride in Okinawa for a very long time (thanks to Alex, Jeremiah, Matt and Joe for making it a good one!). Not bad at all at 20+ miles, but still far short of what’s needed for the Shenandoah Mountain 100 with Tom in September! I’m not too proud to say that the prospect is incredibly intimidating while tremendously exciting at the same time. I’m anxious to see how we hold up (actually, it's me and not Tom that I’m concerned about).

Despite my SOCAL and Durango heritage, those who know me know that Okinawa is where I fell in love with mountain biking in 1998, so it’s been nostalgic this go-around. It’s also a bit tougher to say goodbye this time, knowing that I’ll likely never return. I must say that I’ll even miss the
banana spiders!

I spent the afternoon boxing up my baby for advance shipment this week. It's been a great 3+ years here, and the guys of
OMBA are a fantastic group to ride with (I hope this blog has done them and the association justice). Riding here has been technically challenging and rewarding, and what I've learned here has already paid off on short trips elsewhere.

I'll be moving to KC, where I'll do my best to replace the fun riding with
OMBA by riding with the crew at Earthriders Mountain Bike Club (100+ miles of singletrack within 30 minutes of home – never thought it of Kansas).

Looks like skinny tires only in the meantime, and there’s plenty of Okinawan coastline along the highway to explore in my spandex before I leave! I look forward to continuing this blog once our tornado touches down in the land of Dorothy and Toto.


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