Views from North Scottsdale – Third Annual McDowell Sonoran Challenge

McDowell Sonoran Challenge, examiner.com, phoenix mountain bike examiner
This is a look I call “Blue Steele”

I was hanging around having a hot dog at the Weenie Wagon; then I heard the phrase of the day from a guy who works at Sunday Cycles in Phoenix:

"I felt like I was getting seasick!"

It might sound like a complaint, but it wasn’t. Having just finished the 20-mile bike course of the Third-Annual McDowell Sonoran Challenge, I knew what he meant. The course is filled with big rollers made by years of use from off-road motorcycles. They’re part of what makes the trail network running through the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and bits of State Trust Land one of the best outdoor recreational sites in Scottsdale.

Big Bumps, Lots of Challenge

McDowell Sonoran Challenge, unicycle
Yes, this madman’s ready to rock a unicycle!

But boy, there was an awful lot of these rollers. How many? So many that I often had a hard time finding a long-enough stretch of trail to drink from a water bottle or slurp down an energy gel. Each time I took a gel, I’d wind up riding for a few minutes with a half-empty package of Chocolate Outrage-flavored Gu clenched in my teeth, waiting for a chance to finish it off.

And that is better than riding flat, straight, way-too-wide trails. This was real desert mountain biking, with the occasional steep pitch and super-hard turn. There was also so much sand that I suspected David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson were course volunteers – not so much fun, but that’s mountain biking for ya.

McDowell Sonoran Challenge
Numero Uno Cinco Cinco

I also loved the really complete, thorough, clear trail markings. I was never in danger of veering off-course. Gotta love that! After the race, the expo area was not the usual explosion of commercial hoopla – just a few vendor tents and people hanging out. I also liked the swag bags. My favorite bits were the t-shirt with the event logo and the reusable shopping bag with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy (the event was a fundraiser for the conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving open spaces as part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve).

McDowell Sonoran Challenge
Nice scenery

Smart Set-up at the Starting Line

The starting area was pretty cool. There were chutes for each event. Course marshals asked everybody to do a reality check and line up accordingly – that prevent fast people from getting stuck behind the newbies. Good thing, since it’s a narrow course without a lot of room to pass! Another great idea: Riders "launched" in a fashion similar to a time trial. Two riders would leave every 10 seconds. It really prevented the angst, drama and frustration of a mass start.

Here’s what I can’t figure out: There’s a place in the plaza where organizers had the expo called Rare Earth Wine and Coffee Bar. I had an hour to kill before the race started, and I locked onto the words "Coffee Bar," anticipating a nice americano to warm me up. But no – Rare Earth is apparently far too leisurely to be up at 8 a.m. Not until 11 a.m. most days, and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Huh?

McDowell Sonoran Challenge, Sunday Cycles, hot dogs, Weenie Wagon
Questionable for all the right reasons.

Other Stuff

I guess it was a show of solidarity for people doing cool things for outdoor recreation and preserving open space: Rand Hubbell, supervisor of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, was out spreading the word.

Without meaning to, I’ve put together an unprecedented-for-me streak: I’ve done three races in the past few months: The McDowell Dust Devil series race, the Four Peaks12 Hours in the Papago and the McDowell Sonoran Challenge. And I’ll be in the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo later this month. That’s a lot of racing in a short time -- for me, anyway!

See results for the Third Annual McDowell Sonoran Challenge.

Scenes from Fountain Hills, Ariz. – The McDowell Meltdown

EDIT: If you’ve come here looking for photos of yourself, I probably have about 100 other shots. Let me know your race number and I’ll see what I can find!

On Jan. 22-23, the MBAA Arizona state championship mountain bike race series got started at McDowell Mountain Regional Park just north of Fountain Hills, Ariz. The park is one of the best outdoor recreation assets in the state, and the weather cooperated to make it a great time for racers and spectators. You can read my recap at Examiner.com or just check out these photos. Find out what you missed – even if you were there!

Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
Too fast not to blur a bit
Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
Racing with a smile.

Miguel from Adventure Bicycle Company hangs out at the team tent.
Continue reading

The Iceland Diaries РDay 5 (Skaftafell, Fallj̦kull, J̦kullsarlon)

Falljökull
Sarah is ready to demonstrate her ice ax prowess.

It’s not easy to rattle Icelanders. But I’ve just figured out how to get a sure-fire rise out of an Icelandic glacier guide while hiking on Falljökull: Tell them you’ve been on New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier.

"People die there!" Gisli exclaimed, sounding dismayed that we’d go there.

How’d this come up? Well. I’d guess it was my polished crampon and ice axe technique. And maybe knowing a few tidbits about glaciers – like what makes the ice turn blue. After talking to me for awhile, Gisli’s fellow guide Robert said something like "you’ve done this before."

Falljökull
Gisli is ready to lead us onto the glacier.

Darn tootin’, we had. Nearly five hours on the ice at Franz Josef. That thing’s a monster. Apparently, a tourist-eating monster that just weeks earlier had claimed a few more lives. To be fair, it’s not the glacier’s fault. Don’t do stuff your guides tell you not to do.

Falljökull
We’re thrilled to be back on a glacier.

So far, the crew at Glacier Guides had found Sarah and I to be pretty much model glacier hikers. We take care of our gear, we pay attention to their instructions and we have one helluva time. (See more info about Glacier Guides at the end of the post).

It’s easy for us to have a great time on a glacier. We loves the things. This time, we were on Falljökull (pronounced Fall-yuck-cultl), which means "falling glacier." That’s because of the way it seems to spill over the nearby mountain, plunging down the cliffs. It’s a seriously beautiful glacier, with an epic, sweeping view of the landscape. I could’ve sat in the same place all day and just looked at the landscape.

Falljökull
A view of Falljokull from the bottom.

We were also pretty enthralled by the rushing water pouring over Falljökull. You could drink it and enjoy some of the purest water you’ve ever tasted. Most of the guides had carabiners duct taped to plastic water bottles – they started the trip empty, and just filled them on the glacier. Silly me for showing up with a full Camelbak!

Falljökull
A view from the top.

As you can see in the photos, it was actually warm on Falljökull. It wasn’t what I’d call physically demanding. At the high point of the route, we ate the lunch the guides packed for us and headed back down. Yet again, Sarah looked sad when she handed her ice axe over.

Falljökull
A wall of ice.

Soon, we were back at our old school bus. We boarded and headed from Falljökull to Jökullsarlon, where we’d take a boat ride in the famous glacier lagoon. This was more fun than I expected. The lagoon and its icebergs will blow you away. And it looks different every time, too. So you won’t see the same bergs and growlers, but a whole new set.

And maybe your guide will fish a hunk of glaicer ice form the water and break it into chips for everyone to taste. It was a cool experience -- sucking on a thousand-year-old ice cube.

There’s also a place to grab a snack. Go for the seafood soup if it’s a chilly or windy day.

Glacier Lagoon, Iceland, Jokullsarlon
The Jokullsarlon, or glacier lagoon. Awesome!

After about 45 minutes in the lagoon, we boarded the school bus for the trip back to Skaftafell National Park. There, we gathered our packs from the Glacier Guides office, pitched our tents and caught up on our sleep. Some nearby backpackers also kept us entertained by singing Joan Osborne tunes. It was a most magnificent day on the glacier. I’d call it an essential part of anyone’s visit to Iceland.

Ice, guide, jokullsarlon
An icy treat that’s nice to eat.

About Glacier Guides: This is a very friendly, competent guide service. They gave us a lift from Skaftafell to Hof the previous day so we could get to our guesthouse (our bus didn’t go there). Then they picked us up for the Falljökull hike the next day and stored our backpacks while we were out having fun. They were accommodating and informative. I highly recommend Glacier Guides. If you see an Icelandic sheep dog named Hekla with one of the guides, give her a scratch between the ears and tell her Sarah and Justin say hello.

icebergs, glacier lagoon, jokullsarlon
Icebergs floating in the lagoon.
Skaftafell, camp, Iceland
Campsite, sweet campsite. Bring on the Joan Osborn sing-a-long!

A Day in Iceland: Kirkjubaejarklaustur – Hof

pseudocraters iceland Kirkjubaejarklaustur
Sarah and Dokna in the pseudocrater field near Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

Dokna could easily allow herself to be the world’s saddest dog. She loves sticks – but some cruel twist of fate has put her in Kirkjubaejarklaustur, Iceland.

Klaustur, as it’s often called, has as many sticks as Arizona has native species of whales. Trees? The people at the Hotel Laki Efri-Vik where Dokna lives have planted some, but that’s about it. They rarely shed branches. Those that fall to the ground are limp and perhaps a bit unsatisfying. When she does find a stick, she bounces side-to-side on her front paws until you throw it for her. This happens often enough to keep her happy.

Dokna – whose name I am probably misspelling and is the Icelandic word for "Spot" – also amuses herself by latching onto hotel guests and walking around with them. Continue reading

Surviving My First 12-Hour Solo Bike Race

Me headed out for another lap as the day wears on.

Saturday, I raced in the solo class of the Four Peaks "12 Hours in the Papago" mountain bike race.

Hang on – make the "Slowlow Class" -- as in slow speeds, and a low number of laps!

I was pretty excited about this race since it’s so close to Phoenix – and I think Papago Park is one of the best attractions around. The red sandstone buttes are close to Mill Avenue and a lot of other fun stuff. And having a 12-hour race so close to home took some of the logistical problems away.

There were many interesting things at play here: I hadn’t ridden my bike in three weeks, mostly because of fighting off some sort of plague that’s making the rounds here. This was the first weekend I’ve felt pretty much back to normal.

I pretty much treated this as training for the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race next month. I experimented with intensity, food and drinks to see what would work to keep my legs from cramping and stave off dehydration.

Mission accomplished: A combo of V-8, coconut water, Cytomax, Pro Bars and the occasional "toaster pastry" helped me put in 8 laps and avoid Dead Freakin’ Last place by a large margin. I also dealt with the cold pre-dawn temperatures pretty well.

Something else: I avoided caffeine the entire week before the race. I hate waking up early, so I decided skipping caffeine would help me fall asleep faster each night. Worked perfectly.

These are lessons I’ll apply next month when my bud Harry and I hit Old Pueblo as the duo team Bone Resistance.

OK, so how did Red Rock do in running and organizing 12 Hours in the Papago? Pretty well. Here are some points that stuck with me: Continue reading

The Iceland Diaries – Day 3

A valley on our way to Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

Wandering Justin’s Note: I’m woefully behind in my Iceland travel diary. No time like the present to start getting caught up!

I’m on a bus. It’s sliding backwards down a steep, muddy slope. Toward a drop-off, naturally.

I rarely think about my mortality. This is one of those times.

We slide to a stop before the precipice.

The driver drops into the lowest gear and guns the engine. And our backward slide resumes after we gain just a few feet.

Fat raindrops splatter against the bus. Droplets of mud have kicked up everywhere and obscured the view on the windows.

The driver halts are backwards descent again. If not for his nonchalance, I’d probably fetch my backpack and start walking. He produces a shovel from nowhere, Bugs Bunny-style, and gets out of the bus. I hear the shovel working against the ground. Continue reading