Friday, September 22, 2017

Bike to Blue Ridge and trek to Big Sandy

I did a couple last longer training days around Lander.  The first was a rather challenging bike ride up past Sinks Canyon, up the long switchbacks, and onto gravel to see how far I could get.

I'd been meaning to take a picture of this colorful scene, so I finally stopped along the field that morning to capture it in the morning light:

Another brief rest for a shot of Sawmill Campground and the high cliff back behind it:

Riding up the switchbacks took a while, especially with weight in my pack, but it was worth getting to the top for a chance to see more Wind River Mountain scenery:

The best reward was reaching the Blue Ridge lookout tower.  And getting off the bike for a short hike to the top:

Love these steps built into the tower!  I believe this was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Nice solid altitude gain that day, starting around 5400 feet in Lander.  Also playing around with the altimeter so I would remember how it worked:

The afternoon rains were coming a bit early that day:

Guess I should head back down:

I rode just a bit further but got hit with some rain and wind so I wussed out from a longer plan.  I told myself that in exchange for turning around early, I would need to ride down the Brewer's singletrack trail.  Just in case that might come in handy during the race.

I don't know why, but this seemed like the photo to take at the trailhead parking lot.  It does remind me that I didn't have the Pika saddlebag installed on the bike, and I was really feeling the weight in my pack (on my shoulders, on my butt, in my lower back, not to mention some saddle sores that cropped up that day), and this ride sold me on the concept of moving as much weight as possible out of the pack and onto the bike.

The cattle guard near the start of the trail:

One more brief pause to get a picture of the beginning of the singletrack.  It turned out to be a good ride - around the end of the hill, across a saddle, and down a big field to find the trail I'd previously hiked up.  Mostly rideable, even kind of fun in places, and the only real singletrack I could locate as potentially part of the race course.

50 miles and 4800 feet of elevation - not too shabby.

I had been playing around a lot with the "Logistics Outline" document that the race sent out which detailed the order and mileage/elevation of the legs.  It also included % of pavement, gravel, and singletrack for the bike legs.  I found the elevation numbers to occasionally be confusing (e.g. 1000 feet of drop for the leg 3 paddle would put us at least one state away or maybe inside a sinkhole) and the aggregate from start to finish didn't add up.  So I used the elevation specs to help with my guesses but didn't worry too much if they didn't work.

Same with the percentages on the biking surfaces.  Those gave me fits trying to shove them into my working guesses, until I gave up on that and mostly focused on the mileages and what would make sense for a good course.  OK, so there might be more pavement than they specified, no problem.

I also suspect there were planned routes that got changed as the race got closer, most specifically the later packraft/trek legs, which affected some of the details.

I have a bunch of notes where I try to link legs 4 (first long trek, 38 miles), 5 (first bike, 83 miles), 6 (second long trek, 40 miles), and 7 (opening piece of the huge bike section, 36 miles).  I was betting that leg 8 (rappel) would be based in Sinks Canyon.  Working backwards, I figured leg 7 would be similar to the 2014 Cowboy Tough race that started in South Pass City.  Oh joy, that section looked pretty awful (lots of steep, steep hills and rocky roads).  I called it "Hell Bike" so the team would have an idea what we might expect.

So maybe South Pass City would be one TA location.  Working forward on leg 4 from the Snake River takeout, I used online maps to come up with a possible TA spot for the trek-to-bike transition (and nailed it, thank you very much).  That left one big mystery - where would we transition from bike to trek at the end of leg 5?

I kept trying to put us at the Big Sandy trailhead, but it just wasn't working out.  Maybe a little further down the road where I could see a camping area on satellite view at road 857?  Or how about this?  My first view of what would turn out to be the actual TA, a big field next to Dutch Joe Creek (by the creek close to those trees over there).

This was the start of what turned out to be my best scouting day.  I was looking to do a long training trek and this seemed like a good place to do it.  I parked near the possible TA spot and hiked up the road.

One of my other possible TA spots; we did end up biking through here at least:

I didn't quite get this next part right - I turned south instead of circling around to the north.  Good thing, because the trail is blocked off  :)

I was really hoping to ride by this in the middle of the race - it's even stocked with toilet paper.  But alas, the course detoured around it:

Here's one part I'm glad we didn't have to do on bikes - a huge open field called Lamreaux Meadows:

There's supposed to be a road across the meadow, but it's mostly just grass that's been beaten down a bit here and there.  Irish Canyon Creek crosses through the middle of the field so there's no avoiding wet feet.  And it would be an interesting navigational challenge in the dark trying to hit a specific spot on the other side.

After that I wasn't sure what I would find going down the "pack trail" near the creek, but sure enough, there was an actual marked trail.  It wasn't always pretty, but it was way better than bushwhacking:

Occasionally it took a bit of trail finding to stay on track, so I snapped a bunch of pictures:

Message to the team - expect some deadfall and bike carrying if we come through this area:

Popping out on a nice road at the bottom, an area that looked well-traveled and easier to follow:

I did a bit more exploring to verify that this was indeed the right route (going up the trail near the creek), if the race put us through Irish Canyon.  Starting back up the trail, I noticed a bit of aspen graffiti:

More trail study:

Back into the open fields, these birds caught my eye:

Don't know what they are, but they were neat to watch:

Glimpses of the mountains in the distance.  I had learned that we wouldn't be allowed in any wilderness areas during the race, so no close-up views of these, ah well.

Back down in the area of the TA, I set off to the east to try to figure out the start of the trek.  I wasn't right about this part of the course, but I did learn a few things when testing some cross-country travel.  For example, some of the woods are wide open and easy to travel through:

A few fallen trees but not hard to step over:

Then there's some really dense stuff that is a pain in the butt and ridiculously slow to push through:

An occasional nice view of the plains down below the foothills:

I took this from the truck while driving out, and it came out so nice I figured I'd share:

A quick drive through (well, out-and-back to) South Pass City, where I caught a glimpse of the mine:

It seemed like some of these roads were really steep, but apparently things can look worse from inside a car than on a bike:

Checking out the Miner's Grubstake restaurant in Atlantic City:

Well, that was perhaps a productive day, certainly a good few hours on my feet at least.  If nothing else, I did enjoy trying to figure out the race course and see some country I never would have otherwise.

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