Tuesday, June 30, 2009

JEM & Zion

Up early on Thursday to go & ride before it got too hot on the JEM trail – one that came highly recommended. At the trail head just after seven, a couple from San Diego (of all places) – Mike & Annie – pulled up & had the same riding plan as I. I waited around a little so I had some riding company & we took off up the first part of the loop – Gould's Rim Trail. This climbed a bit up on to a plateau & as the sun was still rising (no daylight saving in Utah) the spectacular scenery was cast in even better light than I had previously seen it. 

While the map we had was great, unfortunately some of the trail markers were annoyingly absent. We skirted around the side of a canyon & it was mostly nice twisty, but not too difficult single track. 

There was one really rocky & gnarly downhill section – Annie must have been feeling it on her hardtail. As we got closer to the highway, we lost the trail again – we split up, they went down & I went up a dirt road trying to find the JEM trailhead. In the end, I did a few extra miles uphill & couldn't make it across to the highway so had to backtrack – unfortunately I never saw Mike & Annie again. I made it up the highway & hit the JEM. What a fantastic trail! It was on another exposed plateau, but overall it lost altitude. It was more of the same great single track that weaved around, but it had plenty of little rises to hop off, plenty of bermed corners & was generally a big chainring flowing singletrack. The most difficult bit was when it plunged down in to a small canyon with a series of very tight & rock singletrack.

As I was beginning to discover & appreciate with a lot of the riding I was doing in the Southwest & California, babyhead rocks could appear at anytime & completely change the trail. One thing I will say about the fireswamp – it definitely keeps you on your toes. Near the end of JEM, I joined the Hurricane Rim Trail – it basically followed the top of the gorge formed by the Virgin River back to Hurricane.

It was starting to get a lot warmer by now & there was quite a bit of climbing considering I was following the river down – but there was still the odd cool downhill & rocks to negotiate (they always make the climbs more challenging than back in NZ – it's always nice to conquer them). Due to my little detour, I ran out of water with about four or five miles to go – how I wish they were the much shorter kilometres! I eventually made it back to my car – another great high-twenty mile ride under my figurative belt. Back to the motel to clean up & then off to explore Zion National Park.

Once again, I joined the masses at another popular national park. Due to its popularity, the park has a great shuttle bus system – you park your car at the bottom & hop on & off for free as the whim takes you. The day had clouded a bit (when I left the motel, I couldn't believe the amount of cloud that had come from nowhere & how much the wind had picked up), but the canyons on either side of the Virgin River (upstream tens of miles from where I was riding earlier in the day) were still vividly red-brown. Every twist in the road or path showed a different side to them & I was enthralled. I went on a few little walks, some only five minutes or so to get a bit of elevation to look out at something, one about an hour loop that took visitors up a side stream to a series of rather tranquil ponds & stunning waterfalls. Completing all my little walks, it was back in the mighty Avenger to drive to the east edge of the park. The geology here was a little softer, with some nice patterns in less steep cliffs. There was also a very impressive 1.8 mile tunnel that was blasted out in the 1920s. As awesome as the Grand Canyon was (& I really liked it) – for some reason, Zion was that little bit more enjoyable – perhaps because at Zion you are in the bottom of the canyon looking up at the immense rocks above you. Back to Hurricane to do some much needed washing & have an early night – big drive the next day to meet up with some more MTB internet friends back in California for a weekend of camping & riding.

A day of a big drive & big cliffs

Taking some time out from driving & doing anything really – sitting in a small park in the centre of a small town with a nice breeze blowing through the trees waiting for some more mountain bike buddies to show up for a weekend camping. Anyway, back to Wednesday.

It was up to early again, breakfast, car packed & gassed up & on the I-15 North shortly after eight. LV was going for another scorcher & it was already in the high-nineties by nine o'clock. Probably because there isn't any at home, I still find desert mildly intersesting – I'm sure this will wear off after a thousand miles or so. There was plenty to look at – mostly hills & mountains of various sizes & rather large mining & quarrying operations sort of in the middle of nowhere, but close to the freeway all the same. As I was driving by myself & on the freeway, any time I saw anything worthwhile I got to practice my point, don't look & shoot photography technique. As I had forgotten to clean the windshield when I last filled up, there was little success.

Quite a bit of climbing through a gorge & it was back in to Arizona & then in to Utah. Here the mesas were becoming more pronounced & spectacular - & also a lot redder in colour. Got to Hurricane (SW Utah), where I was due to spend the next two nights at about ten, found the local museum & information centre – the charming old guy in there pointed me around the corner to the local bike shop. Here I met the first person yet to guess I was from Australia – she had just got back from there (which is better than the cop on the mugging night who commended me on my ability to speak English - “you speak English good” - shudder) - & got some good tips on what rides I might do the following day. Enough of that, it was time to hit the road again.

Crossed back in to Arizona (I later found out that I had changed timezones without realising it – Utah doesn't do daylight savings) & the next hour or so of highway was lined with more spectacular mesas. The road then hit the hills & climbed up to six thousand feet & I was soon in the Kaibab National Forest (designated so by Theodore Roosevelt, who used to hunt around there a lot). As the road got higher (7000 ft+) the forest turned really pretty & then opened up a bit in to big meadows. The superb road curved its way through these meadows & trees – I'm not sure I have done a prettier or more enjoyable drive for quite some time. 
It was straight from Kaibab in to Grand Canyon National Park. I was visiting the North Rim – the less visited side of the canyon (it only gets fifteen percent of the visitors) – as it fitted better with going to Utah & my time constraints & dislike of large crowds. I was surprised at just how many trees were around the top of the canyon – probably because most photos I have seen are from South Rim – the reason for all the trees is that it is getting up towards nine-thousand feet high, so isn't really desert like the North Rim. Of course the views were breathtaking & all the different layers in the rocks fascinating. I won't wax lyrical, although I could, but put some photos from my puny camera up instead. I took a short walk down part way in to the canyon (got passed by three mule trains – very dusty & smelly) to get a slightly different perspective. I only went down twenty minutes; on the way got chatting to some guy who was making hard work of the last bit of the climb to the rim. It turned out that he had started walking at four-thirty that morning from the South Rim, walked along the bottom & was almost at the top of the North Rim. What's more, he was planning on doing it all again tomorrow in reverse – crazy old guy! Feeling sickened by that, I promptly got back to the car & took off back to Hurricane (not before fixing the trunk lid that wouldn't close; the car is quite good for cruising on the highway & carrying all my gear – but the build quality is awful, for a two year old car there are so many buttons that stick or don't work first time & the vents are all stuck in the same position & so on). Crashed back at the motel – did just over four-hundred miles that day, was quite tired. What a great day though – what different scenery I had seen – desert, rocky mesas, forests, & the Grand Canyon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hot dam!

Up at seven & off to go riding (why else?) before it got too hot. After sorting out breakfast, making my way the half hour or so east to Boulder City (town was constructed to house those building the Hoover Dam). Managed to find the well constructed trail head – ample shade, water, showers & toilets – and was riding shortly after nine. Unfortunately, the trail map on the board & the signposting wasn't too great. I rode up a couple of nice rocky trails for about forty-five minutes, the grade was pretty good (middle ring the whole way again), but although it was still relatively early it was getting hot. Easily in to the nineties & then touching the l
ow to mid-hundreds (around 35-40 degrees Celsius – rather warm), I carried on up & was rewarded with great views of the desert, Lake Mead, Boulder City & then Las Vegas.

Definitely time to turn around – the downhill of the same trails (I liked the look of them on the way up, so decided to go down the same way) was fantastic. Some nice rocky switchback, some bits that flowed well, & all the rocky steps that I had had to lift the front wheel over or attack at pace made great drop offs. Half way I met a couple of local guys that had started the climb after me resting under the only shade I had seen – an overhanging rock. Happy to see some other people, I stopped & chatted for a while & the recommended a place for lunch in town before I headed to Hoover Dam for the afternoon. The next & last trail down was also fantastic & had big sweeping corners, berms that rose & lots of little jumps to pop off - & more rocks! A quick shower & it was off in to Boulder City to have a little poke around. A nice sleepy little town with bits of dam building history around. I had a great lunch at a cool little microbrewery - it turns out that any time anything is offered with a boysenberry flavour, I have to have it. This time is was a tripleberry beer, a few days ago it was boysenberry frozen yoghurt. Must be my way of dealing with being away from home.

It was on to see the Hoover Dam after lunch - I've long wanted to see this product of a lot of engineering & pure hard slog. It definitely didn't disappoint. I was interested to see how much the building of the dam & the taming of the Colorado tied in to Imperial County's irrigation & the All-American Canal (this is relevant as I spent the weekend in Imperial County ten days ago). By now the day was getting really hot (eventually it got to 111 degrees) & there were a lot of people at the dam. I was impressed enough by the parking building - it was pretty big & tucked in where a lot of rock used to be. I did the tour of the powerplant & got a look inside one of the diversion tunnels. As expected, the whole place was massive & photos may be better than me rabbiting on about it

Intake towers

Lake Mead

To cope with all the traffic going down the road, this new bridge is being built - next year you will not be able to drive over the bridge.

Back in to Vegas, a short nap - this morning's early rise & early, hot ride had caught up with me.  I then went up the Stratosphere tower & admired the view - & saw my first wedding since I got in to town.  Also went on one of the rides at the top - Insanity - apart from dangling a few hundred metres above the street, it wasn't particularly thrilling.

I took the monorail to the far end of the Strip & got off at MGM Grand & proceeded to walk the length of the Strip looking around.  In the end it was masses of people, many casinos.  It was better & more interesting than the previous night & I could see how it could be fun - but all I managed to get was a blister on the ball of my foot from walking about four miles on concrete.  Bed at the respectable hour of midnight - big day of driving ahead.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Road trip!

Most of Monday was spent packing & organising & waiting. With the car loaded up & a vague idea where I was heading for the next ten day, it was off to the fateful corner (Felspar & Bayard) to meet with all sorts of people. There was the detective investigating our case & a police photographer, two or three people who are prosecuting the juveniles & adults, another victim (he got attacked just down the road from us - I was even more glad to have given up my $100 after seeing his seventeen stitches, the bat may have had nails in it), Andrea & me. We spent the next hour & a bit talking about the evening, having our photo taken from various angles & so on. Finally it was over, Andrea & I delayed my road trip by going back to where it all began for some food & a beer. Eventually I hit the road after five for the two hundred miles to Las Vegas. Apart from a few rush hour snarl ups, driving was a breeze & I arrived safely to check in to the conveniently cheap Stratosphere. I had a nice high (not in the tower though) & quiet room with a decent view of the north end of the Strip. After settling in, it was out for a quick explore.

Beverley asked me last week what I thought of the States or how I was enjoying it or something similar. I said that it was pretty much what I had in mind - everything was bigger, it was warmer, Californians love the sun & are pretty active, the scenery I had seen was quite different & there is just more of everything; consequently, I was loving it (mugging excepted). Las Vegas was similar in some ways - it was bright, it didn't sleep, the casinos were huge, it was hot (hottest day so far this year - 104 in LV, 110 a bit out of town), there were people everywhere, it was slightly sleazy. But walking around, I found I didn't really like all that & walking around parts of it by myself even felt slightly vulnerable (that may have just been all the bums or the mugging experience putting me on edge). Turned in nice & early at midnight to get up early for a ride before it got too hot.

Speaking of turning in early, I must go to sleep as I'm exhausted from driving four hundred miles today, I've lost an hour to Utah's decision to not go to daylight saving, & the JEM trail awaits tomorrow morning. The second day in LV was much better & today better again.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Up early for a ride.

Somehow managed to wake up to hear the clock chiming five & suddenly remembered that I was to get up in five minutes for a big ride. Stumbled around the house - being the longest day, it was nice & light - getting ready & managed to force an extra piece of toast down & I was on the road before six. Met up at Chip's house & we loaded our bikes on to the borrowed old Volvo (it has racks). Annoyingly burnt my tongue on the liquorice tea, & we arrived at the trail head (down the I8 again, towards where I rode at Big Laguna last week) fifteen minutes early & waited for the others to arrive. In the end, there were seven of us - me the youngest (easily having less than half the years accumulated as the most senior), a couple of guys on singlespeeds - one a very nice custom titanium 29er.
Started off at 8.00 & it was a little chilly as we cruised along some singletrack not too far from the road. After a while we started to climb a little & I was impressed to see the singlespeeds leading the way - usually the case, I remember having to just go at hills & not being able to cruise. Found a big rock for first rest stop.
The whole area we were riding in was destroyed by wildfires in 2003, so there weren't a lot of sizeable trees around, but the scrub has had a few years to regenerate. It's a bit of a blur, but we did a lot of climbing (middle-ring the whole way for me, so not too difficult) on some nice singletrack - quite dusty, but otherwise fine. I think we started at about 3000 ft & eventually we crossed the Sunrise Highway (~5000 ft) & continued climbing on the singletrack. Stopped a couple of times for a rest & for the tourist to take photos:

By now we were looking out towards the edge of the desert (further north of the one we drove through to go camping last week).Some of us felt that we should leave the Perfect Cycling Trail & hike-a-bike up to the road. Unfortunately, this was twenty minutes of clambering, pushing, carrying through scrub getting very scratched legs. Probably the hardest part of the day for & somewhat draining. We rode up the Sunrise Highway for a few miles, down a bit & back on to singletrack. What followed was pure bliss - we must have had two or three miles of downhill & it started out nice & dusty (of course) & twisty & then proceeded to get rockier & rockier - it was great fun barrelling down there. The closest I came to riding off the side of the hill was looking up & seeing Billy two or three hundred yards down the trail & trying to work out if I could catch him. I put my head down after that & concentrated on staying on the trail a bit more - the rocks got bigger & combined in some nice chutes, where having suspension soak up the occasional poor line was comforting. Pleasingly, I managed to catch Billy right at the end of the downhill & we sat & waited under a tree for the others to turn up. Those few miles were fantastic & the riding (& perhaps, the) highlight of my trip so far.

Having regrouped & rested we begun the climb out of the valley on singletrack & eventually were riding up & down a meadow. The dust turned quite slippery here - I'm used to dry surfaces being grippy in NZ, but here I'd hit a switchback too fast (as it turned out) & my front wheel would just slide as if on slippery clay - I managed to turn front wheel inside out once or twice, but somehow stayed upright. One final rest stop before we hit the fire road down all the way to the car - it was quick. I'm still not a big fan of the High Rollers, there were quite a few instances during the day when I think the Nevegals would have helped me out a lot more. First puncture of the day for Cliff about ten minutes from the cars; once that was repaired we easily finished the six hour epic - 27 miles all up. That was about the limit of my endurance, up the last little rise (which was nothing compared to what we had already done) I found myself chopping back to easier gears & struggling up the hill. Got home & realised I was covered in dust - a great glove mark:& it was just as well I didn't get talked in to having a pedicure the day before - this is through MTB shoes & socks.Big nap & watched Master & Commander - as I had been on the HMS Surprise a couple of days before. Must pack & plan & organise a few things (rather, everything) for my road trip today.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ships - of various shapes, sizes & uses

With no bike rides planned, it was off to the San Diego Maritime Museum yesterday. The museum has eight historic vessels - the oldest being laid down in 1863. The main part of the museum (displays relating to the US Navy in SD, passenger ferries between SD & Coronado, fishing industry, navigation & so on) is housed in an old steam ferry. I easily spent a couple of hours looking at the displays & the upper deck, which was the main passenger seating area - for a twenty minute trip to Coronado, it was quite spacious & bordering on ornate. The next couple of hours were spent cruising around the harbour on a small pilot vessel (named Pilot, strangely enough) with a very informative talk from an ex-Navy guy. The much-mentioned "June Gloom" was in full force & for the first time since I arrived in SD the morning cloud didn't lift in to a brilliantly sunny & warm day - just as well I'm from NZ & I am in the habit of taking clothes along on trips on the off chance the weather may change. One of the highlights of the cruise was going past the USS Nimitz, at over 330 metres long it somewhat dwarfed our 52' vessel. An impressive sight to say the least.

Also neat to go around the other naval & commercial vessels (not as many in port as in Portsmouth last year) & under the Coronado bridge - this bridge was the death of the commuter ferries & is really quite tall to let the war ships pass underneath.
The guide also pointed out the San Diego Toolbox - sky scrapers that resemble common tools if you use your imagination a bit. There were two flat-screwdrivers/chisels (depending on which way one's imagination went), a Phillips screwdriver & a set of hex wrenches. I was impressed that such an effort managed to be coordinated.

Back to land for a brief moment before checking out HMS Surprise which was a replica & was used in the film "Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World" - this was OK, but nowhere as impressive as HMS Victory. I was however impressed by going on B-39, an ex-Soviet submarine. As far as I remember, I have never been on a submarine - this one was 300 feet long, diesel powered & commissioned in 1974. Naturally, it was all very cramped & the watertight doorways were difficult to get through with a backpack on. I was suitably baffled by all the controls as they were in Russian & thought it must have been quite difficult to cope with only three toilets on board when there was a crew of seventy. Apparently vodka was banned on board (is this really a Russian sub?), but the crew was given white wine instead - when the museum took possession of the sub, about three-hundred bottles of vodka were found secreted in various places around the sub.

Torpedo tubes:

Making my way out of the sub (it's a lot harder to get lost in a submarine than parts of SD Zoo it turns out), it was off to the Star of India:
This 1863 ship is the oldest vessel that is still sailed - & was one of the first iron hulled ships. She started life as a cargo ship sailing from Britain to India, then spent over twenty years transporting emigrants from Britain to NZ (21 circumnavigations), at the end of the 19th century it was off to bring salmon down from the Bering Sea to California until 1923 - she has been in San Diego since then. Of course, it was of most interest to me that she had carried thousands of Britons to a new life in NZ. I was fascinated & somewhat humbled to see & read about the small cabins & life on such a voyage that Pheasants, Montgomeries, Wallaces (& others of which I forget the surnames) must have endured as they made their way to NZ. That concluded the maritime museum, & it was quite a walk to go & find some lunch. But well rewarded, with my first bagel in the States - delicious. After that very late lunch, there was just enough time for a very rushed tour of the USS Midway.

So after the confines of the Russian sub, the USS Midway seems even larger than it normally would appear - that is, it seems bigger than huge. Commissioned at the end of WWII, it went on to serve until 1992 (was flagship of Persian Gulf air operations in Desert Storm - I thought that quite impressive for a WWII era ship). Unfortunately, I only had the two hours before closing to get a quick glimpse at most everything - but it was fascinating. Just a few numbers to try & convey the vastness of it & because that's the kind of guy I am:
  • 220000 hp
  • 69000 tons total weight
  • 2000 electric motors
  • 1500 telephones
  • 20 ton anchors
  • 4 acre flight deck (three inches thick)
  • 3400000 million gallon fuel capacity, 100000 gallons used daily, 260 mpg
  • Crew of 4500
  • 10 tons of food a day - 225 cooks & so on
But of course, all that doesn't really compare to walking around the hangar & flight deck, up to the bridge & then down a bit the galley, wardrooms (officers' facilities), laundry, sick bay & ICU. Pleasingly, there were also 25 historic aircraft on board - fighters, bombers, choppers, fixed-wing radar. I'm still amused every time I see a Skyhawk here that they are described as being very useful in the 1960s, yet NZ used them until the combat air wing was discontinued in the last ten years & still has some sitting in an glofiried garage somewhere.

Out for dinner Friday night as Anna-Marie is shortly off to Norway & England & other parts of Europe for four weeks. Italian fare was great - almost a year since Tuscany (which must mean my bike turned two a couple of weeks ago). Nice big sleep in Saturday & then chilled out, finished reading Tom Sawyer, due to the "June Gloom" setting in - I don't know how many times I've heard that phrase in the last two weeks - just as well I missed "May Gray" weather. Five of us drove up to Orange County, Google Maps has been blamed for getting us lost, four came back - Anna-Marie should be well on her way to Norway by now, it's a little quieter around here :( Back home & in bed by midnight, eager to get up again in five hours for a big ride.