Monday, February 12, 2018

Winter Migration

My Winter Migration: Riding in the Nevada Desert

Seasonal Affective Disorder aka the "winter blues." Is it a real thing? Yes, indeed it is, and it sucks. The days are colder and shorter, and all you feel like doing is hibernating inside catching up on some of your shows and reading your books. Yes I own a fat bike and yes it does extend the season, but even then riding is limited. Should I buy studded tires for even more coverage? After this year it is a serious consideration. For as long as I live in New England, it may be a necessity. I hit the gym and ride the stationary bike, but that sucks too. This time of year has a high suck factor. I could do only one thing to combat said suckery and that was to head West.

Originally, I had my sights on Arizona. I received a number of recommendations from JRA Cycles in Medford (Thank You Brian and Adam), as well as one of our teammates Glen Gollrad. Ultimately I chose Nevada, specifically Northwest of Las Vegas. Why Nevada? Honestly, it just felt right. No other way to explain it. The bulk of my research came from the forums of MTBR, Trail Maps from Trailforks (best app ever), and footage from YouTube. I picked a random week in the beginning of February and all travel arrangements were made through Expedia. 

I flew in on Jet Blue which was fairly easy. Lots of free snacks and who does not like free snacks?! The flight was a nonstop from Logan to McCarran and it was around five or so hours. Not too painful.  Hopped in my super sweet minivan rental and checked into the Luxor Hotel (not that expensive!). Sidenote, there was this really bad smell around the parking area, something akin to major swamp ass, that I could not find the source. Perhaps that was best. Other than that, the experience at the hotel was fine. The room was nice, the restaurants expensive, the Starbucks prevalent, and the Chris Angel Mindfreak show rather underwhelming. Noone cares about this though, it is time to discuss the riding!

After I picked up my rental (Santa Cruz Hightower 27.5 plus) from Las Vegas Cyclery I made my way to the Southwest Ridge trails for my first pedal. Las Vegas Cyclery, by the way, was AWESOME, especially Brian who gave me incredible intel on the trails. Here was my view on the way to the trailhead........

I knew at that point I was in for a hell of a time out here. The fresh air, the expanse, and the sunshine were certainly welcomed. I found the trailhead parking and immediately looked for snakes. Thank god, as Brian told me, it was a little too early for rattlers due to the colder temps at night. That is a win in my book. Using the trail forks app I pedaled a mile or so down this sandy rocky fire road until I found "Good Call." My climbing had begun as I forged upward to the top of the mesa. My winter legs were a bit shell-shocked as I was cranking out lactic acid faster than David Alden St. Pierre fires off the reasons he hates Donald Trump.  The terrain was quite unique to me, riding on sandy loose sections and seconds later rumbling over lava rock. I kept thinking how unforgiving it looked if were to say take a digger. So I climbed and I climbed and I climbed-my favorite thing to do. The view, however, was clearly the reward as you can see.

A quick recap of the trails all which can be found and navigated on trail forks. Good Call- a great climbing trail that was not too techy that brought you to the top of the mesa. Legalize It-a very nice flowy trail that mixed climbing and descending. Menny Thanks-fantastic trail with fantastic views. This trail had some gnarly sections with a fair amount of exposure (don't look down!). Finally-Bipolar, a super fun downhill with a number of huck friendly features that will have you smiling the entire time:

And big was right!!!

Day two and it was time to head to the Red Rock Canyon region, Cowboy Trails to be exact, for some technical climbing. 

I will be blunt and say that this first climb, Kibbles-N-Bits kicked my ass. It was almost five miles of twisty lava rock infested singletrack with larger technical features peppered in throughout. I was constantly switching gears to maintain chain tension while struggling to employ the correct lines and pedal position to navigate the nasty. This trail made Yellow Diamond at Harold Parker feel cozy. I had to stop a few times to take in the scenery and to allow my ST Segments to normalize. I even ran into Winnie the Pooh and friends enjoying a nice trailside beverage...

I needed several moments, plenty of water, and an inhalation of a nut butter filled cliff bar (the best) at the end of this climb to tackle the next phase of this soul-crushing expedition. I made a navigational error and rode down Cat in the Hat which had me white-knuckled and apologizing to my kidneys as I came dangerously close to going over the bars on a number of occasions. This trail is why God invented dropper posts.  When my heart rate and rhythm no longer met SVT criteria I began to climb again....sigh. As I was greeted with a sign warning of rattlesnakes I kept thinking "that beer is going to taste amazing if and when I make it back." It was up Fossil Canyon and back down Fossil Canyon and finally ripping down Bunny. More on a bunny later!

The whole way down I was praying to the serpentine gods that I would not cross paths with a rattlesnake... and it worked. My dream of levitation surely would've been achieved otherwise. After four-plus hours I was gassed. No not the baseline level of flatulence that I normally harbor, but exhausted, smoked, destroyed, you name it. I haven't had that experience in a while and I was truly grateful. After eating in a smoke infested country bar call the Timber Grill in Summerlin (cool town), it was time to retire for the evening.

The following morning I made my way to the Starbucks in the lobby for two shots of espresso this time. I enjoyed reading my kindle as I admired the number of prostitutes at five am working the casino preying upon the weak, the weary, and the really tall drunk man dressed in a leprechaun suit holding the biggest bud light I have ever seen. God, I love Vegas!  

With near seizure-like activity in my thighs and fire in my soul, I fired up my steed (Dodge Caravan) and made my way to the Cottonwood Valley.

 I will start off by saying day three and four were spent in this trail system where the views were breathtaking and the ever-changing dirt and terrain were beyond cool. This Valley also threw me some surprises as well. 

South of Route 160 is where I ventured off to first. My journey began climbing up Badger's Pass- a trail that served up a long but gradual climb with a side order of vastness and tranquility. The landscape was a far departure from the lava rock moon-like grounds I conquered yesterday. It was more of a prairie-like scene making me feel as if a covered wagon and a bunch of cattle were just over the horizon. 

I skipped past White Rhino and took a hard right onto a highly recommended trail called Techno.  After the steep punchy climb to the top, insert audible I and E wheezing, I was treated to one of my favorite views of the trip.

This really put things into perspective as I looked down and saw the singletrack (middle of picture) that I pedaled up to get to this point. I took pause and thought of how lucky I was to have had this opportunity to do this. Now it was time to drop that Reverb post and hang back as I flew down the "techno" part of the trail. Halfway down the trail, I gave a shout out to the Shimano SLX brakes, and their lack of modulation, for locking up my rear wheel and causing a near-death experience. 

Next on the list was Three Mile Smile. It was indeed a smile on the way up and all the way down. As I motored up this climb that visually seemed like a giant ass crack, the dirt started to turn red. Way cool.

After a much-needed break, I was ready to turn around and head back down, but something told me to keep climbing. For those of you who know me, I never get that voice that says "keep climbing." I am so glad I listened because another mile or so in I had a few friends join me on the trail!!

Talk about a gift from the Universe!!! I was awestruck. To see wild horses in their habitat was perhaps once in a lifetime for me. I stopped and froze and took it all in. I respected their land and turned around grinning. How lucky was I?! Now I got to enjoy the fruits of my climbing and flow down the red dirt nirvana. Day three came to a euphoric and peaceful close. 

Last but not least day four did not disappoint, arguably my favorite day of riding. All I can say is WOW. This area was fast and flowing. I was high as kite baby (my urine drug screen is negative by the way). The dirt changed from tan to yellow to dark brown to red and to this awesome shade of purple all on the same trails. There are too many to list but I'll throw out the highlights.

Late Nite Trail:

Mustang Loop:

Rubber Ducky:

So then I took my last water, cliff bar, pee break somewhere around the Old Spanish Trail. As I looked around and gawked at the mountain range behind me I wondered if I really was the only jackass out here? Turns out the answer was no!

AND, not only was I accompanied by jackasses (burros), but a jack rabbitt too!! WTF is that?!

Creepy isn't even the word. If you zoom in on the eyes it looks like this thing is evil. Probably is, but I was not sticking around to find out. I mounted the Hightower and climbed one last time back to the trailhead. I was officially spent, but not without some great moments, thoughts, and emotions.

The next morning I flew back home only to be greeted by rain ice and twenty-eight degree New England goodness. It is home after all.

What I learned from this trip:

1. The cold sucks
2. Short days suck
3. Riding the stationary bike sucks
4. Seasonal Affective Disorder sucks
5. Having to give an elderly patient a soap suds enema that the Doctor/PA ordered sucks 

Riding in Nevada in February does NOT suck. In fact, it was blissful. It was magical. It was downright awesome!!! The views, the fresh air, the sun, and the isolation will certainly bring me back again. Oh, I almost forgot, by the grace of God I never did see any snakes.  Until then my fellow Racer X-ers, keep it classy and keep it real. 

Peace and Love,

Jason Fitzgerald

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