Friday, December 21, 2012

Trail of the Week: China Wall

I do not recommend running with guys this fast... ouch!
This week's post is likely to make some people a bit angry, and that's fine, because the trail I'm posting is somewhat of a hidden gem in the Owyhees that quite a few people know about but seem to have a difficult time finding or figuring out a way to enjoy it.  The route I'm posting up is a very mellow (as much as possible in the Owyhees) 7.4 mile round trip loop to the amazing "China Wall" trail.  Some would prefer it be kept a secret, but I think spreading the word to get more trails and interest in the area would be beneficial and so here we are... To the Canyon and Back.

Go to the left of the pointy rock feature from the parking lot.
Getting the the China Wall is a bit tricky because there is no one trail that takes you right there from the main trail head at the Wilson Creek parking area.  There is quite a few trails that take you in that general direction, and it is easy to get off course and turned around if you are out there for the first time by yourself.  I recommend trying to find a buddy that can show you around if you can.  From Nampa, go south on HW 45 and turn west on HW 78.  Take a left on Wilson Creek Road and proceed south until you are about ready to enter the feedlot.  Just before the feedlot, veer right onto gravel and travel about 1 more mile to the main trail head parking lot where a couple of restrooms are available and a signboard has a map posted.  Upon my last check, there were many free copies of the are map available, but they are not of great detail so use caution to not get lost.

From the parking lot, head east toward the large rock formation.  I recommend that you stay just north of the  feature and follow trail W300.  This is a nice piece of trail with some undulations but is generally flatter than many of the other trails around the area.  W300 will dump you off onto Pigeon Road and you will drop down a small hill and follow the sandy road north.
The view from W300 to the north.

After gaining the small 4WD road you will notice a steep little run-up off to the right that becomes trail W310.  This is a common way to get over to the Reynolds Creek canyon where the China Wall is but I also liked staying on the road and running up and over the small but steep hills on the way there.  You can't really miss the entry into Reynolds Creek canyon and the trail (W600) is really the only way through the steep walled Reynolds area.  Once dropping into the canyon keep a watch out for wildlife high up in the rugged surroundings.  I've seen multiple bighorn sheep down in there and it is truly a sight to see.

From a run in March, looking up the canyon.
Running or biking along the trail at this point is technical and there is some minor exposure as you traverse the canyon on the built up trail surface (hence, the China Wall name).  You will be jumping over rocks and pushing through some minor brush, but all-in-all, it is a truly awesome trail.  At the end of the canyon you'll see a trail leading up to the right and over the rocky, rough, and steep canyon wall.  This exit is a tough little grunt and can be a bit of a hands on the knees pushing endeavor to get up unless you're like the two guys I was running with; in which case, you just slightly slow down and glide right up.

The "China Wall"

This picture is also from the run in March, but this is the way out of the canyon.
After getting up the canyon wall, you'll soon be on the same road you took around to get into the canyon, but you will be at the base of the main Wilson Peak land feature.  You'll take the road back down to the north and follow it until you reach the camp/parking/whatever little area where W400 goes off to the west.  Follow this uphill trail for about 2 miles and you'll soon be back at the trail head and you're car.  I've mapped this route out on Garmin Connect and you can easily combine this with the Wilson Creek and Bingo! loop I mapped two weeks ago.  Click on the links and plan your adventure.  Show me the Trails!

As always, if you take a trip on one of my suggested loops, please post comments and provide any feedback you may have about the usefulness of these trail of the week features.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Morning sky over Skyview... I was speechless.
It was hard to go to work on Monday morning.  Most Mondays are a bit on the rough side, but this Monday was worse than normal.  It was of course, the first day back at school since the Newtown massacre and I have been taking it a bit rough.  To top it off, our school lost a student over the weekend, not one I knew, but it is always hard on the students.  I felt it was silly to try and hide the reality of what happened from the students, I explained that I was feeling pretty sad about the kids in CT and that it was OK and even "normal" if they were feeling the same way.  In the midst of finals and the end of the grading period, as well as the excitement of Christmas break coming, the students were bound to be feeling a bit confused about how they should go about their lives with so much negative things going on.  

Each class I taught received the same speech; that is, in the midst of sadness and negative situations, we can only worry about what we can control.  That in the middle of a negative week, they cannot dwell on the negative things, but acknowledging them is good for the mind, and then letting them go is the only way forward.  There are a lot of bad things going on around, but they should keep their eyes fixed on the good, and fixed on what they need to do so that one negative action from a person does not become more negative by their allowing it to dwell inside them for too long.  Finals are important and one of the things you can control, so focus on doing your best and remember that while we see and hear about the negative things a lot, there are far more good things going on around us that we can see if we are looking at the world in the right way.

I compared this weekend to the attack on 9-11-01 and recalled that our country was facing a difficult time then.  Most of my students were too young to remember much about that event, but I recalled for them the feelings I had that day.  It seemed like there was so much evil, and I kept asking, "WHY!?" but the reality is there is often no satisfaction in knowing why, because actions such as these are so senseless that we cannot be comforted by knowing why.  There was a great deal of questions that followed 9-11 and the overall feeling was that if we let the terrorists control our lives through fear we are letting them win.  In the same way, if we allow the murders of the 20 children and 6 adults to continue to stay in the front of our mind and allow the murderer's actions to effect our actions negatively, we are giving him another small victory.  The goal is not to ignore the negative action, but to acknowledge it, sympathize with the victims, help if we can, and move forward in life taking care of our needs and lives without surrendering to the evil.  

Satan is lurking, waiting for his ploys to bring him another broken heart or lost soul.  God is reaching out to us, to comfort us, pull us up, and cry with us.  He also is still in control, although mourning the attack on the innocent, He can restore us and uplift our hearts if we only reach out to Him during these rough times.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Trail of the Week: Three Bears Trail, Boise Foothills

Judging by the overall success of the first "Trail of the Week" feature, there are quite a few people who want to know where to ride and what they're getting into when they head out.  Today's trail review is another one of my favorite trails, one that until this year I hadn't ridden all that much because it requires a bit of commitment to aim your bicycle that direction in the Foothills.  Three Bears Trail is one of the ultimate downhill rides in the area.  It can be very high speed, but there are enough technical features to keep you alert and off the back of the saddle.  It is rocky in many places, and involves climbing up 5 or 6 miles before you plunge back down to Boise in an adrenaline filled rush.  Three Bears is on the Eastern side of the Foothills main trail sections, and is accessed through the Military Reserve area.  On the Ridge to Rivers map, you'll find Three Bears marked as trail number 26 and it is listed at 4.35 miles in length (almost all of it thrilling downhill riding).  Now how do you get there?

Gaining the top of the Three Bears Trail is no easy feat.  It is most easily accessed via the Rocky Canyon Road but who wants to ride a boring road up to the beginning of a high speed mountain bike roller coaster ride?  My favorite way to get to Three Bears involves starting at the parking area in the Military Reserve and taking the Central Ridge Spur (#22A) to the Central Ridge (#22) and then over to Shane's loop (#26A) which drops you off less than a couple miles from the Three Bears Connnector on Rocky Canyon Road.  Climbing is going to happen, so dig in for a decently long climb up the Central Ridge area until you reach Shane's.  Shane's Loop connects with the lower portion of Three Bears, but I'll get to that later...  I usually continue heading East on Shane's until reaching a signpost that directs you further East to Rocky Canyon Road.  The Shane's Loop segment offers a brief break from the climbing, and the drop down to the road is a bit technical.  Once on the road, you continue climbing for about 1.5-2 miles until you reach a steep access trail identified as the Three Bears Connector.  This is a nasty little slog up to the actual Three Bears Trail and it can be loose at certain times of year which makes it even nastier.  I usually settle in on my granny ring and drop my fork down to steepen up the head angle (one of my bike's many cool tricks) so the climb is a bit easier.  After climbing some very steep sections you finally reach the trail of the week, Three Bears.
Rocky Canyon Road

From the top of Three Bears you have a fantastic view of the valley, Boise laid out before you as the earth falls away towards the city.  In the dark morning hours of my normal riding time, this is a magical view, similar to the view of landing in a city at night on an airplane, except better because your not breathing in recycled air and stuck between two smelly passengers.  Descending on Three Bears is an exhilarating experience.  The trail never gets to that scary steep "omg" level, but it certainly keeps you on your toes.  The rock gardens are fairly regular, and braking bumps and sharp corners abound.  The descent of Three Bears is also broken up by a few uphills that are short and easy if you carry a lot of speed on the downhill sections. Throughout the entire descent, you are treated to views of Boise, if you can look up to view it with your speed induced watery eyes.  After a bit of descending, you'll come to another junction with Shane's Loop (26A).  It is here where you must decide if you want to continue down Three Bears and eventually jump onto the road that leads you back to the Military Reserve parking area, or take a left and go back to the original junction with Shane's Loop and descend via the Central Ridge trails.  I'm split on which is best, but I think I like the Three Bears all the way option the best.

Like so many trails in the Footies, the Three Bears Trail can be accessed through other options and can be linked to other trails.  One nice variation is to continue past the Three Bears Connector trail to 5-Mile Gulch (Trail #2 on the RtR map).  Once here you can climb up a more mellow grade, albeit longer, to Watchman's Trail (#3 on the map) and put together a really nice ride.  At the bottom of Three Bears you'll find a junction with trail #5, Freestone Ridge, which you can climb up (way up!) to another really fun trail called Fat Tire Traverse.  This will take you over to the more central trails like Sidewinder which you could hit and go to the Freeway and back towards Camelsback park or take a ride down Lower Hulls Gulch, or perhaps even go way over to Corrals, Bob's, or Hard Guy.  That sounds like a good one for next week..  Here's the Garmin Course Map, check out the Ridge to Rivers website as well and get out there.  Happy trails!
Screen grab from Garmin Connect...  Check out the link above for more info.

Some days its hard to find a reason to ride...

Like so many others this morning, I'm sitting here thinking about the events that unfolded just a little over 24 hours ago yesterday in CT.  The incredibly painful reality of the situation hit me last night at 9:00 as I watch the news.  I began weeping for the families, the children, the teachers, and the rescuers of that awful scene.  Even now, I fight back tears and choke down the feeling of sheer anguish for them.

Like many people yesterday, I had a normal, if even enjoyable Friday.  I taught my classes, chatted with students, and even got in a great little ride around the lake before going to pick up my kids at their daycare.  When I picked them up, Lisa, the care provider, could barely get out what had happened.  I was horrified but quickly forgot about it as the kiddos and I went out Christmas shopping for my wife.  At the store, the kids were going absolutely CRAZY and I was completely embarrassed as we left the store, my face still red from the frustration of dealing with 2-million kilojoules of energy crammed into two 3 foot tall bodies.

After dinner, we joined my wife at the hospital for a short Christmas party where we all decorated sugar cookies and laughed as my daughter dropped hers, frosting side down, on the table.  We went home and the crazy kids returned so it was off to bed for them and slowly, like frostbite, the reality of the sad news began to settle back in.

We watched the news and the more I watched, the deeper the agony I felt for those who lost their small children.  I asked myself why anyone would do this and I quickly came to the same conclusion that everyone else has, there is no reason.  The tears came full force now, just sobbing for the families, and praying that God was watching over those little ones now.  I hate that gunman, so cowardly in his action, chose to attack the most innocent of society, and then, the ultimate act of cowardliness,  took his own life.  I have no love for this person, my heart burns in anger and my mind is somewhat comforted that he will pay for his actions eternally.  However, it doesn't change the situation that we all are left here to face.  Why?

Still sobbing, I go upstairs and grab my children and the three of us lay in my son's bed, cuddling, me crying while the kids sleep.  My son, ever squirmy, wakes up and begins to think of excuses to get out of bed.  "Ssshhh, let's just lay here for a while" I say.  My daughter somehow can feel my sorrow and pulls tightly into my arms.  I begin crying harder now, wondering if God will protect my children from such evil in the future, praying that he does, and trusting that they are His to watch after, no matter what evil finds them in this world.  After 10 minutes that felt like 10 hours I tuck the kids back in bed and return downstairs.  The only thing to do now is go on with life, there is nothing else to do.  I turn on the TV again and Jay Leno is on.  He appears to be saddened as well, even remarks that they considered canceling tonight's program in light of the events on the day.  Thankfully, he goes on with the show, offering some distraction from the terrible onslaught of news.  After a few minutes, exhaustion finds me and I drift off to sleep.

When the alarm buzzed me awake at 5:30 for my morning workout, there wasn't much thought to the tragedy of yesterday.  I drank coffee, ate some cereal, and worked on a the blog post for my weekly Trail of the Week feature.  After finishing my coffee and clicking "save" on the post, I began suiting up for my ride in the dark cold morning, which for some unknown reason brought the horrible news back into my mind.  Just yesterday I was on a ride, completely unaware the that nation was being bombarded by horrific news of evil.  My mind went back to the images from the news and tears started to well up in my eyes again.  I put the rest of my gear on and went out into the cold.  The air was brisk, but I didn't feel it.  It seemed to match the feelings in my heart.  I made it 2.5 miles before turning around and heading back home.  I just couldn't ride anymore than that today.  Someday soon, we will all be back to normal, but families are crushed right now, feeling a loss that I cannot bear to imagine.  My prayer is for them today, Please God, be with these families.  Put your arms around them and help them to know you are watching these kids in Heaven now, where they wait for their parents to join them.  There is now no fear for them, no sorrow, just the purest joy that we can imagine, the kind of joy we want to feel right now but seem to be feeling the opposite.  Time will pass, hearts will mend, and God, mysterious in His ways, is still good and in control.  He hates evil, and His heart is breaking right here with ours.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Raleigh Furley Review: First Impressions

Its been a few months since I sold off my Surly Pacer and bought this black beast so I felt it was time to share my first impressions of the bike in all its glorious single-speededness.  Originally, I made the choice to purchase this bike with the idea that someday it would make a good gravel grinder and a decent light-touring bike.  I thought about going with another Surly, such as the Crosscheck but I went for the disc brakes and the fact that I could actually sit on this one at my local shop.  It also had some cool features that made me lean towards the relatively unproven bike versus the venerable Crosscheck.

First off that list of cool features was the price.  I was able to pick up the Raleigh for a really reasonable price and would have paid substantially more for a Crosscheck.  I also liked the overall parts selection on the Furley as I wanted to try out singlespeeding right away.  Surly bikes are equiped with OK stuff, but the fit and finish of the stem, bars, grip tape, and saddle were a bit nicer on the Raleigh.  The disc brakes were also a big plus (more on that later) because living in Idaho, I plan on riding up and down some big hills, and I don't want to worry about brakes while I'm going downhill at 30+ mph. 

One of my favorite pictures taken of any of my bikes... I just like it :)
Riding the Furley is fun, period.  It rides predictably, stable but not sluggish, and can carve a corner pretty well.  I don't want to make this a review about singlespeeding, but I will say that riding a singlespeed bike is quite a bit harder, I work harder on the flats than usual, and the hills are no longer just minor blips on the ride radar.  For one thing, the bike is heavy, 26 pounds out of the box.  I won't say thats a bad thing because the reason this bike is so heavy are the reasons that I like it:  burly wheels, steel frame, and disc brakes.  I lightened it up by removing the cheater brake levers and replaced the stock saddle with a bit more performance one that suited me.  Hills definitely are more of a challenge and that has actually been kind of a good thing for now.  I will say, that I think this bike is one that would really shine with a wide gear range drivetrain like the Sram Apex group or a Shimano group with one of the new 10-speed mountain derailluers and cassettes.  It really is a great bike to ride a long distance, and I can see it going on some really long rides in the future in some very mountainous places.

Now for some negatives with the stock setup:
Flatlanders will find the stock gearing pretty slow if they are speedy.  I swapped the stock 18 tooth sprocket for a 16 tooth one just so I could ride my "normal" speeds without spinning wildly in the saddle to go 18 mph.  Another thing to mention is that the brakes.  They are finiky and sometimes impossible to get silient.  The stock Kenda tires are really heavy with wire beads and have terrible flat resistance.  I got a flat every ride with them on, and since I dislike slime for the most part, I went with some Specialized Armadillo tires to use for my pavement commute.  I'd like to get some Schwalble Marathon's for touring this summer, but that's another time and for now its just base miles for fun and relaxation from the daily grind of teaching 9th grade science. 

If you're debating getting a Furley, you should know that there are some negatives; however, if you're like me and value simplicity in a bike with some style and a bit of versitility thrown in, the Furley is one of the bikes on the short list to consider.  If you're like me and have a local shop that carries them, ride it and see if its for you.
"Mr. Furley," as I call him, all decked out with lights, fenders, and road tires to make commuting more enjoyable.  I've had very few flats with Armadillos, in fact, none in over a year of riding on the tires.  First on my Surly Pacer, and now on this bike.  No flats in Idaho with goatheads abound... that's a winner right there. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New Feature: Trail of the Week!

Giving my flighty nature and general tendency to move quickly from one thing to another, I hope that I can buck this trend and post a weekly feature one local area trails and loops.  One of the great challenges one faces when trying out the sport of mountain biking is finding suitable trails and navigating along them.  In Boise, its one thing to take on a trail and make a wrong turn, you'll have little trouble getting back where you need to be and often you can seek directions if you find somebody to ask; but in the Owyhees, you're likely to not see any other riders/hiker/equestrians so you'll be on your own.  In no way is this blog guaranteeing that you'll never get lost, however, by taking on routes I feature you'll at least know what you're getting yourself into when you head out.  Enough introduction... show me the trails!

Wilson Peak is at the center in the background.  The road to Wilson Creek is only gravel for a short ways.
I want to start by saying that when you head out on any ride or run in the mountains you need to be prepared and be self-reliant.  What will you do if you get a flat?  What if your bike breaks?  What will you do if you roll and ankle?  Do you know basic trail-side bike repairs such as: fixing a flat tire, repairing a snapped chain, or tightening a loose part?  Go see your local bike mechanic if you don't.  If you're in Nampa, Rolling H Cycles will show you basic repair skills if you ask and bring some cookies for the owner ;)

Parking lot at Wilson
Let's start off this feature with one of my favorite loops in the Owyhees; the Wilson Creek to Bingo Loop.  The overall difficulty of this loop is probably intermediate with some sections that experts will enjoy and be challenged by, particularly climbing up Wilson Creek.  For more information on Wilson Creek in the Owyhees of Idaho, go to the BLM page and click on the map link at the top of the page.  You start in the main parking area and immediately begin climbing on a trail towards the South where W100 exits the parking lot.  For about 3/4 of a mile you'll climb across a couple dips and up some loose sand to the top of a small ridge.  Its pretty steep starting out so if you like a warm up before you begin a climb you may want to consider riding down the road a bit and then coming back to tackle the first hill.

Last little section before gaining Wilson Crk Rd again.
Shortly after topping out the first climb you'll descend a short but fun section until you cross a small drainage and come to a junction where you must go left or right.  At this point you you'll turn left and follow a doubletrack trail East, still on W100.  There is a junction to the right that you'll go past first and then you'll begin the see the canyon carved out by Wilson Creek itself.  Ignore the sign that points to W140 and stay on W100 (Wilson Creek Trail).  This is where you'll begin to feel more challenged technically and if you can ride the whole climb clean to the end then you should stop, pat yourself on the back, and admire what a great mountain biker you are.  The Wilson Creek Trail takes you uphill mostly and you'll pop out back on Wilson Creek Road about 3.5 ish miles into the ride.  Once on the road, turn towards the North and head up the slight incline for roughly a mile until you gain the highpoint of the ride and come the a junction where W500 goes off to the right, downhill towards the East and the Reynolds Creek area.

High Point of the Ride/Run looking back...
Trail W500 is affectionately known as "Bingo!" and you'll see why when you start tackling the two steep, butt rubbing descents in the first mile or so down Bingo!  These are the two toughest challenges on this trail, but the rocks can be a bit sketchy too further down the trail.  If you're on a cross country or trail bike, avoid taking W501 partway down W500.  It gets a bit rough going down W501 and you'll have a bunch more fun on the fast, flowy, and skinny main trail.  W501 does come back to W500 eventually though, so if you take a wrong turn, you can catch back onto Bingo! soon enough.  Enjoy the descent on Bingo! until you come to a dirt road that is labeled Pigeon Rd. on most online map programs.  Take this dirt road straight downhill and stay left at a junction with a branching road that goes off to the right and towards the China Ditch.  After passing the junction to the right you will come to an area on the left side of the road that appears to be set up for camping or other such activity.

You'll find a trail (W400) going up the hill at the end of this circled off area that takes you back towards the start of the ride.  Overall, this loop is about 8.25 miles and is a ton of fun.  It easily can be made longer with different options that I'll post up in future Trails of the Week features.

This is a Garmin course for those of you with a Garmin, however, this particular route is for the W501 option, which is fine on foot but by bike it can be a bear.
Garmin Connect - Wilson Creek to Bingo (501 option)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Darkness is setting in as the Fall fades.

Fall bike riding is by far my favorite activity.  The temp's and the colors all around make it unlike any other season.  Exploring the Owyhees has been on my list of things to do for a while, so with the trails dry and the colors amazing, I was fortunate to experience some of my favorite riding ever.  The Wilson Creek area south of Nampa and just west of the Melba area is accessible and quite rugged.  There is a certain wild-west aspect to it when compared to riding in Boise's relatively tame and over-crowded foothills.

Even the approach to the trails is rugged, at least more so than Boise where your ride often begins with a pass behind the local tennis court and ride through someone's backyard before climbing onto the sandy-sidewalk wide path that takes you further up where the real trails are.  When at Wilson Creek, you pedal out of the parking lot onto a singletrack climb riddled with sand-traps and washouts before taking on some of the rockiest riding one would sanely take on.  You are also more likely to run into a herd of wild horses or even the occasional Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep than another mountain biker.  It makes risk-taking less attractive since the likelihood of someone coming along to help you out is pretty low.  I generally hike-a-bike a bit more than usual even if it is something I'm fairly certain I can ride.  This timidity, however, does not diminish the fun factor, and a more relaxed attitude is sometimes nice.

Just before Thanksgiving, I was able to meet up with a few other riders and show them a loop out in the wilds of Wilson.  We had a great time on our 16 mile ride.  Two of the more roadie-centric riders fell back in love with mountain biking, despite me putting them through a ringer of a ride that highlighted some of the more technical trails in the whole area.  Gary Jenkins and I chatted quite a bit as we primarily rode together and I was quite impressed by his singlespeeding skills and fast descending on a rigid bike.  He's the real deal in terms of die-hard mountain biker.  I felt sheepish with my dual-suspension and 27-gears.  At least he made me feel better by stating that his next bike will probably be a full-squish 29er such as mine.  They at least said they had fun, we'll see if I can actually get them to go back out there again in a few weeks... :)
Gary rocking the rigid SS!

Colors were full still full on.

Gary and Michelle.  Dan joined us, but I didn't come out with a picture that would post online correctly, so he's left out...
The end of Summer was also marked by the sale of my road bike in exchange for a Raleigh Furley single-speed cyclocross bike.  I still don't exactly know why this felt right, and at times I question my thought process, but as a result of down-grading the road bike I've been fortunate to be able invest in some parts for the nearly decade old 29er, my Gary Fisher Sugar-293 courtesy of a great dude name Hal.  Although I was first a bit apprehensive about putting much into the bike, it has shown me that it still has a lot of miles left to give.  This blessing was unexpected and I've certainly been loving the dirt and mountain riding its been providing me.  The sale of the road bike also allowed me to get some quality lights for riding any trail in the pitch black.  I don't really want to endorse them, but they came off of Amazon for a reasonable price but are clearly a Chinese copy of an American brand of lights.  I do have my morals, but when it comes to lights that will allow me to keep riding during these dark mornings, I can't argue with over 1600 lumens for $80.

My old Maglite XL50, 139 lumens.  Runs on 3 AAA's
New light system, one floodlight on the bars and a spot on the helmet.
1600+ lumens with rechargable lithium-ion battery packs.  3 hours of battery life
Night riding has opened up a whole new world of riding, as I no longer have to wait for the day when nothing else is going on so I can make the journey to the hills for a ride.  I can also take on longer pre-work commutes.  These lights are bright!  I highly recommend the investment in some bright lights if your a busy rider with commitments at home and work.  Even though its colder, and the scenery is much different, I am having the most fun on two wheels since the kids arrived and my life changed forever for the better.  It is moments like these below that keep me looking forward to the day my little buddies are ready for their first mountain bike ride.