Guatape by Scooter

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My love for two-wheeled adventures is not limited to leg-powered bicycles. No, I’m a fan of any adventure or excursion that involves riding any sort of ‘bike’.

So I was thrilled when I saw a shop in Guatape that rents scooters by the hour.

Most people who come to Gautape come for two things: to see the colorful zocalo in the center of town and to hike up the steeps steps of La Piedra for an amazing view over the lakes and islands that make up this part of Colombia. Most, in fact, just make Gautape a day trip from Medellin.

But before coming to Guatape I had done some research and found out that there is much more to this area than a colorful plaza and a big rock. There are cascading waterfalls, beautiful rivers with sandy beaches, off the beaten path Colombian towns, and lush, green coffee country to explore.

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So I decided to spend three nights in Guatape and dedicate one full day to exploring by scooter.

The guys at Gautape Motos are super friendly and helpful and on the morning I showed up they made sure I had everything I needed before setting off into the unknown. They gave me a laminated map with points of interest clearly marked, a pre-paid phone for ‘just in case’, and a surprisingly brief overview on how to operate a scooter. Then they sent me off with a wave and probably more confidence in my abilities than I had for myself.

My mighty steed for the day was a little red Yamaha Fino that was perfect for my limited motorized bike experience, but after a few miles I began to feel pretty silly as Colombian men, women, and kids passed me by on their beefy motorbikes. Needless to say, I got quite a few funny looks. A solo gringa on a bright red scooter is probably not something they see every day.

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My ultimate destination for the day was San Carlos – a small town about 70 kilometers or two hours away from Guatape. Yep two hours one way. The road (which is actually quite good and not heavily trafficked at all) plunges over 3000ft into a lush, tropical valley with Rio Guatape running through it.

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The views are stunning and I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road less I veer off over the side.

After about 45 minutes I passed through the bustling town of San Rafael where my newly found scooter skills were put to the test as I navigated the busy streets and the funny looks multiplied tenfold. An eccentric old woman tried to strike up a conversation with me – something about my shoes vs her shoes and the scooter…. I just smiled and nodded. Then it was open road to San Carlos.

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My destination: a waterfall right outside of town. It’s a locals hotspot for sure and there were several families splashing around in the pools, but I have a feeling very few tourists come to visit. I was definitely off the beaten path.

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There are two tiers to the waterfall. The lower falls cascade over a giant slab of rock and is quite an impressive sight, but there isn’t much opportunity in the way of swimming. The upper falls, however, tumble down into a deep, clear, inviting plunge pool ringed by mossy rocks and giant ferns. Go even farther up the river and there are some beautiful, quiet pools that you’re likely to have all to yourself. I chose the secluded pools and lounged on the sunny rocks for awhile until it was time to make the two hour return trip back to Guatape.

This was definitely one of my highlight days in Colombia for sure.

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Biking Through Medellin

Give me a choice on how to explore a city and I’ll pick ‘by bike’ every. single. time. For me, it’s the perfect way to get to know a place. By bike you can:

  • Cover more ground than walking
  • Go where cars can’t go
  • Lock it up and continue to explore by foot
  • Get some exercise!
  • Impress the locals (or piss them off depending on your biking skills…)

While today’s ride wasn’t my first rodeo when it comes to biking through a city – I’ve biked through Ecuador, Bangkok, Barcelona, Seattle, etc…) it may have been the wildest, in the best sense of the word.

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One of the first things I do when researching ‘things to do’ in a new city or country is to google ‘bike tours’. More often than not, I get a hit and for Medellin it was no different – Medellin Bike Tours looked legit.

After spending a day getting acquainted with the city, I met my bike guide, Dan, and Liam, another crazy adventure seeker, in the neighborhood of Laurales, about a 15 minutes by taxi from where I’m staying in the ever so trendy and way too touristy neighborhood of El Poblado. Had I known better, I definitely would have booked an Airbnb in Laurales to 1: save money and 2: not be immediately identified as a tourist. Next time, I guess.

But anyway, I met Dan and Liam in the basement of a high-rise where Dan has set up his tiny one-room, bike-bedecked office. After signing waivers, getting fitted with bikes and gear, and swapping emergency phone numbers ‘just in case’ we hit the streets of Medellin. Right off the bat we were thrown into a crisscross of swiftly moving cars, bold pedestrians, and other bikers attempting to muscle their way through the mess. It was chaos! Thankfully I’ve had plenty of experience navigating busy roads, but I think poor Liam was a bit taken aback at first. All three of us made in through intact, though, and found our way to a pleasant two-way bike path that paralleled the busy street. Only for a short while, of course, then we were back on the defense.

Our first stop was at the top of Cerro el Volador, a small mountain in the middle of Medellin. Cerro el Violator was apparently the go-to place to off poor citizens in the Pablo Escobar era. Not a pleasant history at all, but it had pretty views of the surrounding city.

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From there, we cruised back down the hill and made our way to the Botanical Gardens, but not before tasting the delicious and so very refreshing taste of guarapo – a Colombian concoction made solely of sugarcane and lime juices. Dan has his go-to lady for the best guarapo in Medellin and even though it was my first taste of the stuff, I have to agree. It was the best. Think margarita without the tequila. I know that probably sounds pretty disappointing, but after we had been out biking in the hot sun for a few hours, fighting through thongs of cars and motorcycles, it tasted pretty magical!  Half the fun was also watching her press the sugarcane and limes through her industrial looking guarapo machine.

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After we had our fill of the sugary stuff, we walked our bikes into the Botanical Gardens, which was a great reprieve from the busy, noisy streets of downtown Medellin. It was almost like we had stepped into a different world. Inside, we stopped at a quaint little lake where larger than expected iguanas sat up high on thick tree limbs giving us the cold stare, birds of all sizes strutted and flitted about, and turtles basked one on top of each other in the middle of the water. Families, lovers, and individuals alike enjoyed the peaceful setting as the city whirled around outside the walls.

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After the Botanical Gardens, our ride evolved (or devolved?) into even more of a chaotic whirlwind adventure. Dan, apparently impressed by our intracity biking skills, decided to take us into the heart of downtown where the streets were even more crowded with cars and smoke-billowing motorcycles, sidewalks were filled to the brim with people and things, and pickpocketers were on high alert for inattentive gringos. Despite all these potentially day-ruining factors, though, I honestly felt safe. The drivers were all respectful of our space, pedestrians gave us the right of way (most of the time) and as long as we didn’t flaunt cameras or iPhones, I didn’t feel threatened in the least by opportunists.

Somewhere amid all that craziness, we emerged onto the Plaza de Botero – a large square studded with a handful of Botero’s famous and proportionally challenged sculptures. There was a large horse with a small head, a curvy woman with huge thighs and a tiny waist, a soldier man with a six-pack and microscopic you-know-what… the sculptures were both evocative and puzzling and I would have liked to have spent more time wandering among them, but we had a schedule to keep.

 

 

Continuing on our way, it wasn’t long before we emerged back onto sane – or what we now called sane – streets and made our way to our last few destinations of the day: Parque de la Luz with its iconic tall pillars that light up like hundreds of beacons at night, the EPM building (and business) that has helped shape Medellin into what it is today through hundreds of forward thinking community projects, and finally the cute but touristy Pueblito Paisa that sits at the top of Cerro Nutibara, another small hilltop in the middle of the city. As we sat on a stone bench and recuperated from the hot climb up, we treated ourselves to another delicious Colombian concoction – salpicón de frutas – basically a delicious tropical fruit gazpacho with chunks of papaya, banana, and watermelon

The afternoon thunderclouds were rolling in and it was looking like it was going to rain, so we sped back down the hill and navigated our way through traffic one last time. At one point, I heard Liam behind me exclaim “I’m getting the hang of this!” And then we were back at the start – tired, thirsty, hungry, sweaty, sunburned, but throughly delighted over the days adventure.

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Monthly Recap: November 2017

I have been traveling the world for far too many months (and years) to count correctly, but I’m only just getting serious about writing about my adventures. Whereonearth (my previous blog) was written mainly to keep friends and family up to date on my whereabouts as I traipsed around the world, but in truth, I didn’t really put all that much effort or intention into it. I wrote posts in 15-20 minutes max, slapped up some mediocre photos (at best) and called it good. Whereonearth was admissible enough for then, but with Forever A Wanderer, I want to be a bit more thorough and deliberate about the content that I create. In one sense, I want to inspire people to get out into the world and travel (particularly by bike) and in another sense, I want this blog to be my personal travel/life narrative. I’m not quite sure how that is going to look – getting back into blogging is still very new for me (I stopped writing Whereonearth in 2012), but doing monthly recaps seems like a good way to inspire and reflect at the same time. We’ll see how it goes!

So what did November look like for me? Here is the month in a nutshell:

Where I Was

  • 5 nights in Crowley, California housesitting for a friend
  • 11 nights in Sunny Slopes, California at my brother and sister-in-law’s
  • 1 night in Las Vegas
  • 5 nights in Hurricane, Utah
  • 1 night in St. George, Utah
  • 1 night in Cedar City, Utah
  • 6 nights back in Sunny Slopes

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Highlights

  • I’m going to Colombia! A big perk of working for Lindblad is being able to plan one forced layover when we book flights to and from the ships. So since I’m going to be flying to Panama in December for a 4-week contract on board the Quest, I thought why not have a forced layover in South America? Colombia is just beginning to emerge on the travel radar and it seems like an intriguing place to check out, so while booking flights to and from Panama, I added in a three week ‘layover’ to Medellin. Stay tuned for some fun adventures!
  • My dad’s visit to California. Shortly after I returned yet again to my brother and sister-in-law’s place after my last contract on the boat (I’m feeling a bit guilty about crashing at their place so often these last few months… thanks guys!), my dad came out for a visit from Vermont. It had been awhile since I’d seen him – over a year I think – so it was great to catch up and have some family time. He’s the kind of person that can’t sit still, though, so we caught up over chores around the house like cleaning hair out of the drains and changing lightbulbs…

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  • Our top to bottom Rock Creek ride. As a family, the Timbers’ have a tendency to go on some pretty epic adventures, mostly unplanned. One of my favorites was when my parents came to visit me when I was living in Hawaii. My dad and I headed out for a short bike ride, but somehow we missed a turn and ended up biking around the entire east wing of Maui – not an unreasonable feat when properly prepared, but that we were definitely not. I had to work that night, too, and after eight hours of biking I showed up at Paia Flatbread all sweaty and still in by bike clothes. Oops! Our Rock Creek ride definitely wasn’t of that caliber, but it was still pretty epic. My brother scouted out the route on a GPS map and we headed out without really knowing what to expect. Thankfully, the ride was more than spectacular. We started out at over 10,000ft and descended 3,000+ft over the next 20 miles on a good mix of technical and well-build trail. It will definitely be a regular ride during the summer months.

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  • Manny! This month we welcomed the newest addition to my brother and sister-in-law’s menagerie: an adorable 5 month old husky name Manny. I, and I’m sure more than a few other people, were a bit skeptical of this decision given the fact that Will and Louisa are expecting their first kid in April, but man, oh man is Manny a perfect fit! He’s cuddly, he gets along great with Loba (husky #1), he doesn’t chase the cats (although Rocco, who has never warmed to Loba, is less than pleased to have another dog in the house), he hasn’t chewed a thing, and he seems to be great around kids. Score! Plus, he’s ridiculously cute, don’t you think? Welcome to the family, Manny.
  • By far, the biggest highlight of November was my mountain bike trip with friends to Hurricane, Utah. It was the first time I’d ever done a dedicated multi-day mountain bike trip and it definitely won’t be the last. We spent 8 fun-filled (albeit exhausting) days in and around the Hurricane area exploring the vast network of trails and having loads of fun. Gooseberry Mesa and Guacamole are top-notch rides! In between hours in the saddle, we camped under the stars at night, toasted bagels over the campfire, ate way too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, used obscene amounts of baby wipes to clean the sweat and dirt off our bodies, and perfected the panorama cloning photo. Good, good times!

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  • Winning at the slot machines in Vegas! Woohoo! On my first ever venture into Sin City, I managed to leave $35 whole dollars richer than I came. Now I know that $35 is pretty insignificant (ok, very insignificant) when it comes to potential gains in Vegas, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I won something and didn’t turn around and lose it all again, which is probably what would have happened if our table at the buffet restaurant wasn’t waiting for us, haha.

Lowlights

  • Getting bitten by birds while housesitting. I housesit a lot since I don’t actually have a home of my own and for the most part, all of the animals I’ve taken care of have been lovely. Dogs, cats, horses, even goats. But birds, apparently, bring on a whole new challenge. They like to bite and they have sharp beaks. After a week of housesitting for a friend in Crowley, my fingers were covered in small, but deep (!) lacerations curtesy of Lucky, a little green parrot with an attitude. His friend – Isa, an African Gray parrot, was less nibbly, but I still kept a wary eye on his every movement.
  • Searching for affordable international healthcare. What. A. Headache. Why can’t the healthcare system enter the 21st century and actually be easy to understand and navigate? Furthermore, why isn’t healthcare actually affordable!? I won’t go on a tirade about my opinions on this matter, but lets just say that I am more than a little disgruntled about the lack of affordable and comprehensive options for nomads…. Get it together America!
  • A bike crash in Utah. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries during our trip to Hurricane (although Adam should have gotten stitches for the pedal strike on his shin), but I did have a crash on the last day that left me with a super sore shoulder, a deeply scratched up pinkie, and a body that definitely felt like it had just been tossed from a bike traveling at high speed. I was going around a corner when my right handlebar caught a stray tree branch and sent me flying a few feet down the trail. Thankfully it was nothing serious! I do love mountain biking, but man, it can mess you up.
  • Avianca flight changes. After hours of playing with itineraries, dates, and times for flights to Colombia, I finally pushed the submit button to finalize my trip. Or so I thought. As it turns out, Avianca likes to change their flights and time schedules A LOT. I’ve gotten at least 5 emails over the past few weeks informing me that my flights to and/or from Colombia have changed and one change even caused me to miss a connection. So I’ve had to spend quite a bit of time talking with the nice people at Egencia (who Lindblad books our flights through) to sort out my ever-changing flight schedule. Frustrating!
  • Being too scared to climb the last leg of the Angel’s Landing trail in Zion National Park. Yeah, it’s hard to admit, but I chickened out on finishing this hike. To be fair, though, I went with zero expectation on what the hike would be like and I was more than a bit surprised (and intimidated) at the last section: it’s super steep, super narrow, and super high up – not something taken lightly for a person with a fear of heights. From afar, the final chunk seriously looks like a trail up one of the floating mountains in Avatar. If I had known what was ahead, I think I would have been a bit more prepared to throw my life on the line. Perhaps next time…

What’s next

Colombia! I’ll be spending about three weeks in and near the city of Medellin. For Pablo Escobar fans, Medellin was the drug lords home turf, making it one of the most dangerous cities in the world during his reign in the 1980’s and 90’s. Now, thankfully, the city has made a tremendous rebound and is definitely becoming a traveller’s destination. I think it’s still a bit under the radar, so I’m excited to explore! After Colombia I’ll be meeting the National Geographic Quest in Panama on December 23rd for a month of work. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve been down there, so it’ll be great to get back.

Mountain Biking Hurricane, Utah

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When most people think of mountain biking in Utah, what comes to mind are the classic red slickrock trails of Moab. But while there is undeniably some fantastic mountain biking to be had in Moab (I’m looking at you Porcupine Ridge), there are tons of other epic mountain bike destinations in Utah. Enter Hurricane – pronounced ‘Her-ah-kun’ by the locals. (Don’t ask me where the name or pronunciation came from).

I’d actually never even heard of this little town before until I met my friend Adam this past May while visiting my brother and sister-in-law just north of Bishop, CA. We met, of course, on a ride (via a mutual friend) and after a few fun jaunts together down Lower Rock Creek and some high speed downhill at Mammoth Mountain, I was initiated into his little circle of mountain biking friends – his girlfriend Jessi, Cal, Marsha, Lane, Lindsay, his sister Deanna, Rick, Amanda, Rachel… Hallelujah! Mountain biking is not really a sport to be done solo (depending on your style of biking, it can be pretty high stakes), so it’s alway nice to make new mountain biking friends that can call 911 in case of a crash. Just kidding. Kind of.

Anyway, every year Adam and co drive out to Hurricane for a week of mountain biking fun over the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, he invited me along and of course I said yes! I was a bit nervous at first because I’d never done a big destination mountain bike trip like this before and I was still pretty new to the close-knit group of friends that do all sorts of adventures together. But holy moly, I’m so glad that I went. It was a blast! The riding was epic, the people were amazing, the weather couldn’t have been better, and I definitely level-upped in the skills department. Goat lunges, reasonable jumps, and moderate drops are all easy peasy now. All around, it was an amazing week and I can’t wait for our next adventure: Sedona, 2018! Before I break the week down into what we did each day, here are some highlights (and lowlights, because everything can’t be all berms and kickers):

Highlights:

  • Winning $35 at the slot machines in Vegas, haha!
  • Two downhill runs in Cedar City: a C Trail link-up and Blowhard. Both awesome rides!
  • Gooseberry Mesa and Guacamole. Aside from the downhill in Cedar City, these were my favorite networks of trails
  • The crew. So many good, inspiring, fun, and generous people. I can’t wait to go on more trips with these guys
  • Roasting marshmallows stuffed with peanut butter cups over the campfire
  • Gaining skills and confidence. I definitely feel like I leveled up over the course of the week both in technical skills and in fitness. I just gotta keep it going 😉

Lowlights:

  • Changing camp spots every night. I was the only one in a tent and it got a bit tiring to take it down every morning and set it back up every night. Sleeping in a car is definitely the way to go for mountain bike trips.
  • Thanksgiving dinner at the Black Bear Diner. Huge portions, but definitely not the best Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever had.
  • Feeling sticky and gross for most of the trip. I took one shower over the course of the week and then relied on baby wipes to keep myself looking (and feeling) at least a little bit presentable
  • Final day crash – my right handle bar caught a tree and I landed on my left shoulder, which is still a bit sore. I also busted up my right pinkie finger. Good thing it was the last day!

DAY 1

Adams sister, Deanna, graciously offered to shuttle me to, from, and around Hurricane since I don’t have a car of my own (yet!). She picked me and my bike up at my brothers house just south of Mammoth Lakes, where I’ve been shamelessly hiding out in between ship contracts. Then we drove 2 1/2 hours to her aunt and uncles place in Las Vegas for a quick overnight stop before continuing on to Hurricane. I’d actually never been to Sin City before, so I was excited to see and experience a bit of the hubbub. Almost immediately upon arriving, we were whisked away to the Aliante Casino + Hotel + Spa where Deanna’s aunt insisted we have a go at the slot machines before digging into a buffet dinner of crab legs and prime rib. I was a bit disappointed to find out that you don’t actually pull a lever to spin the slot machines, but my disappointment quickly faded as the coins started piling up. I ended up winning $35 dollars, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a first time casino-goer it was pretty exciting! Poor Deanna only won 10 cents, lol. Then, after a messy and mediocre dinner of crab legs, we made our way downtown to drive the strip. Despite never having ever seen it in person, the strip unequivocally lived up to my expectations – ungodly amounts of lights, many of them flashing, extravagance everywhere, live shows on the streets, and a general sense of excitement, drunkenness, and splurge permeating the entire 4.2 mile strip. For some crazy, odd reason, though, this non-clubber, non-partier, definite introvert, loved it. I’m excited to go back and really dive in to the scene!

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Image taken from Wikipedia

DAY 2

After a semi-early start and a stop at Trader Joes for groceries, we said goodbye to Vegas continued on our way to Hurricane. Several others in our group were already there – Cal, Marsha, Lane and Lindsay – and we met up with them in the afternoon for an easy loop around the Jem Trails. It was a good warm-up for the week, but I’m not sure I would ride these trails again. They’re pretty flat and don’t have much in the way of a challenge. The surrounding views are great, though!

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DAY 3

On our second day in Hurricane, we met up with two more members of our group – Adam and Jessi – at Wire Mesa, thus making our group a party of eight. This network was a bit of a step up from the Jem trails we had done the day before, but truthfully not much of a challenge. Still, we had a blast cranking along the winding trails, scouting alternative routes, and taking in the stunning vistas of the surrounding red rock mesas and cliff faces. After we finished the 7.5 mile loop (clockwise), Adam, Jessi and I decided to hit up another section of nearby trails: Show Me The Money to More Money and then back up the Grafton Mesa Road. These were super fun! And definitely a lot more technical than our first couple of rides with some tricky rock features, narrow squeezes, and a lot more vertical descent. My kind of riding.

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DAY 4

This was a big day. We did the Guacamole network in full: Margarita to Salt on the Rim, back on Margarita to the Guacamole Loop to the Holy Guacamole Loop and back to the parking area via Margarita and Salt on the Rim again. Phew! We were tired puppies after this one, but it was totally worth it! What a great network of trails with tons of diversity both in terrain and technicality. The only bummer was that Adam got his shin good on a pedal strike. He probably should have gotten stitches, but…

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Photo by Lane Dumm

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DAY 5

Gooseberry Mesa! My favorite trail of the lot (so far). Lots of riding on big rock slabs, goat lunges up onto small boulders and ledges, amazing 360° views especially at Gooseberry Point, and huge cliffs to try not to fall off of. Our route was the Secret Trail to South Rim to Gooseberry Point, then the White Trail briefly to the North Rim to Bowls and Ledges and finally to Practice. By the time we got to the last two trails, though, we were pretty tired and didn’t really get to take advantage of their natural playground potential – fun rollovers, little drops, wall rides, etc… I could definitely have spent another full day exploring these trails. Next time!

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Photo by Lane Dumm

DAY 6

After four big days of riding, we were all due for a rest day. But since we were car camping and Hurricane isn’t known for its city life, there weren’t many downtime activities to be had. So Deanna and I went to explore Zion National Park – not exactly a rest day activity, but fun nonetheless! We ended up having to bike into the park, though, because it was the day before Thanksgiving and apparently everyone wanted to explore Zion. The shuttles weren’t running and the parking areas within the park were full by early morning, leaving many people stranded at the gates. Good thing we had the bikes. Deanna had chosen to do the hike up Angel’s Landing, which proved to be a lot harder and a whole lot scarier than either of us anticipated. I am NOT a heights person, so I chickened out at the last part, but Deanna made it all the way up. Give me speed over heights any day.

DAY 7

This was by far my least favorite day of the trip. Our group (now down to 7, we lost Lane and Lindsay, but gained Rachel) shifted gears over to the trails outside of St. George, about 20 minutes west of Hurricane. The riding there is a lot different and, in my opinion, not nearly as good as the mesas above Hurricane – there’s more dirt, less rock, more sustained climbing, less shade… We (or I, maybe it was just me) suffered up and down the steep switchbacks of Suicidal Tendencies then some of us called it quits while a few others continued on to do Barrel Roll. I honestly would skip this one next time and stay around Hurricane.IMG_8019

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DAY 8

After riding the mostly flat (in terms of elevation gain/loss) trails around Hurricane for a few days, we (plus Rick and Amanda now!) ventured up north a bit to check out the downhill trails near Cedar City. Now, I love all forms of mountain biking, but zooming along well-built downhill track is probably my favorite of all. The first shuttle we did was to link up the C Trail to Highlands to Green Hollow to Lava Flow, which got better and better as we descended. The top half was mainly tight switchbacks with loose gravel (not much fun…) but the bottom half was filled with swoopy turns through a pretty forest, fun little jumps, a rock wall ride, and some mini rock gardens to bounce down. We were all smiles and fist bumps at the end. But our second downhill shuttle of the day was my favorite: Blowhard, a 7 mile downhill track that starts at 10,600ft and drops over 3,300ft through all sorts of terrain with some great views of red rock cliffs and bizarre looking hoodoos. It’s not the smoothest trail I’ve ever been on, but I like a challenge! The top was definitely the steepest (with a few snow patches to slip and slide through) and then came some tricky switchbacks, rutted and rooty single track, lots of rock gardens, and a few features to practice jumps. My forearms and thighs were definitely burning after this one! It was also the first time Adam and co have ridden the area, and they said they will most definitely make it part of their annual pilgrimage.

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DAY 9

Our last day! We definitely finished with a bang at Little Creek Mesa back in Hurricane. The trails are pretty similar to Gooseberry (lots of fun rock riding, little punchy ups, flowy singletrack through trees and shrubs…), but not as well marked as the other networks. We got turned around a few times, making the ride feel so much longer than it should have been. By the end I was feeling pretty fatigued and when I’m fatigued on a bike I tend to get sloppy… At one point, my handlebars caught a wandering tree branch and sent me flying a few feet down the trail. I landed on my left shoulder which is still quite sore and my right pinkie got banged up good. Nothing serious, though, thankfully! I think I found that seven days of good riding is about my limit 😉

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And that wraps up our week of mountain biking in Southern Utah! As I mentioned several times above, it really was a fantastic trip and I can’t wait for more adventures to come with these guys 🙂

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Mountain Biking Southwest England

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This past summer, I found myself spending 10 glorious weeks in magical and stunning Southwest England. I had somehow managed to land an amazing housesitting opportunity just north of Exeter in a small little town called Stawley. Actually, calling Stawely a town is a bit of a joke because it’s really just a few houses, some barns and lots of sheep. There’s not much else there other than stunning scenery and very (very!) narrow driving lanes. (Think bike path width. As you can imagine, it was a little stressful trying to navigate those lanes while driving on the ‘other side’ of the road. I put ‘other side’ in parentheses because really, there was only one side of the road unless an oncoming car necessitated a sharp veer into the hedges, thus making the bike path a two lane road. It’s amazing I didn’t bang up the mini coupe I was so generously left to use.)

But anyway, having grown up in Vermont, I’m pretty accustomed to life in the boondocks so I was in my element. The old farmhouse was beautiful, I had two black labs to love, three goats to laugh at, two degus to walk by, and a neighbor about my age to befriend. Amy and I will actually be doing a California road trip together in April, which I’m so excited about!

I also had my mountain bike. It was my brothers suggestion to bring it (the thought haven’t even crossed my mind) and while it ended up being a big pain to lug all the way across the pond and cost me more baggage fees than I wanted to spend, it was totally worth it. Biking, in my opinion, is the best way to explore and southwest England, I found, has some great cross-country routes.

So how did I know where to go? Well, on my first venture into the big city of Exeter, I discovered a Southwest England Mountain Biking guide book a local bookstore and that was all it took to get me going. My intention was to try to ride every route in the book (there were maybe 20?), but that didn’t happen for various reasons: the rides were pretty long and I needed a few days in between to recoup, gas is expensive in England and some of the rides were over an hour drive away, the dogs couldn’t come with me so I did a lot of hiking as well. But the rides I did do were amazing! Below are a few recaps:

Lynton and the Valley of Rocks

Withypool Loop

Monkton & Brompton Ralph Ride

Quantocks Singletrack

My only regret is that I didn’t get any mountain biking done in Dartmoor National Park. I’ll just have to go back 🙂

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Mountain Biking England: Quantocks Classic Singletrack

This is post 4 of 4 for my mountain biking in England series. Read more here!

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I found the good stuff, woot woot! But to be truly honest, this was actually my second attempt at this loop. The first attempt went something like this: spend 15 minutes backtracking again and again at the start because I wasn’t really sure where the right trail began, huff and puff up a pretty mellow incline that felt like Everest, backtrack again, eventually find the first downhill but grumble and curse because it’s basically a rock pile, hike-a-bike up a ridiculous climb, climb some more, call it quits for the day.

Not my best outing to say the least… 

That was a few weeks ago, so why did I go for attempt number two? Well for starters, my goal was to ride every route in my South West England Mountain Biking book before I left England in August so I had to actually complete this ride if I was going to keep to my goal (which I didn’t in the end…). I also knew that I wasn’t in the best of moods that first attempt and my body was obviously tired; plus I knew that there is some good singletrack in the Quantocks and I was determined to find it. So fast forward to attempt number two, it was 150% better than attempt number one!

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The route pretty much consisted of three different loops: three climbs and three downs. The first climb (that felt like Everest on my first go) really wasn’t that bad. The top part got a bit steep, but the rest was pretty easy pedaling. The first descent – Smith’s Combe – came after a nice stretch along a grassy ridge dotted with wildflowers. It was probably my least favorite down of the day just because the first section was basically a rock pile that had me bouncing all over the place and holding on to the handlebars for dear life. I think I wore through half my brake pads just trying to maintain control. My forearms got a workout, though!

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After the rock pile, the trail transitioned into some fun, swooping turns before abruptly face planting into a steep, rocky climb (that I hike-a-biked). Thankfully the steep part was short, but the slow trudge back to the top on grassy double track was not.

The second descent of the day – into Weacombe – was much better. A super fast, curvy, well-defined singletrack led down through a narrow valley that was walled in by steep, grassy hills to each side. It was a bit too short for my liking (especially considering how much climbing was involved to get back to the top), but those couple of minutes were exhilarating. I had to remind myself to hold back a bit because it would have been easy to really let it rip. Riding by myself is great for a lot of reasons, but the idea of getting tossed from my bike without anyone around to help out is always a bit concerning…

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Another steady, leg burning climb that got the best of me at the end landed me back to the top for the final (and best) descent of the day. I really, really loved this one – Stert Combe into Somerton Combe into Hodder’s Combe. I met a group of hikers at the top who were ‘appalled’ that anyone would want to bike down that trail, but I assured them that it is quite fun. Their eyebrows rose. But what fun it was! Twisty turns, deep ruts up to the thighs, a few technical drops and rollovers, a mostly smooth track… my kind of trail. It was also the longest descent of the day and spit me out right back at the car without much pedaling to be done. 

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In all, it was a pretty fun loop. I did miss the flowyness of well built mountain bike areas that at least have switchbacks for climbs rather than straight ups, but I can’t really complain. I was England for the summer, exploring by bike. Life is good 🙂

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Mountain Biking England: Monksilver & Brompton Ralph

This is post 3 of 4 for my mountain biking in England series. Read more here!

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Well, what an ill-fated ride this one was! First of all, I wasn’t really ‘feeling it’ when I headed out that morning. I was tired and honestly didn’t feel like exerting any energy which I knew I definitely would be because there isn’t a flat mile in south west England. But I pushed through those excuses and headed toward Monksilver (where the ride was to start) because I usually find that the sluggish feeling dissolves once I’m in the bike saddle.

Not this ride.

Here are a few things that went amiss

  • As I was unloading my bike from the car, an older couple walked by and the elderly gent stopped for a chat. I usually enjoy a pleasant conversation with a stranger, but this guy WOULD NOT STOP TALKING. Holy moly. He asked me about cats and camping and what I do for work and why I’m in England for the summer. He told me about his daughter who is a hair dresser and how he once held two goats for a woman so she could milk them. He shared that he and his wife lived in a camper van for six years and he was a retired plumber and his last name is White so people call him Whitey. Interesting stuff, for sure, but my god it went on and on. After trying to convince myself during the drive that a ride would be fun, this guy made me ecstatic to get on my bike just so I could get away! Thankfully his wife (who probably had years of practice) was able to coax him along.

 

  • Stupidly, I forgot my guide book with the map of the route and written directions at home, so I was just relying on the digital map I created on ridewithgps.com which I then imported into the maps.me app. This system honestly works really well – all I have to do is check my phone to see if I’m on the right track – but I feel better when I have a physical map and directions with me. ‘Just in case’. I started the ride with a slightly doomed feeling because I knew I shouldn’t be heading out by myself into the back trails of Exmoor National Park without an actual map…

 

  • It started raining just as I was riding away from the car. I know this isn’t a big deal – people ride in the rain all the time – but with that doomed feeling in my stomach already the rain just added another layer of gloomines.img_7110
  • The hills! Oh the hills. Maybe I was just tired and hadn’t given my body a good break for a while, but I felt like these hills were seriously out to make my ride and day miserable. I know it’s not their fault, but many curses were thrown at them anyways

 

  • Much of the trail was so overgrown that I could barely ride it. It was kind of fun pedaling through tall grass at first, but that got old pretty quickimg_7115
  • This was the real kicker. With 3.5 miles to go I got a flat tire and I 100% wasn’t prepared for it. No spare tube, no pump, no repair kit, nothing… At this point all I could do was laugh because this ride had already been so hapless. I had a chuckle then started pushing my bike through the field trying to avoid stepping sheep shit as much as possible.

 

  • I laughed until I discovered that the last three miles were composed of awesome downhill single track through a narrow tree-and-stone-wall corridor. Gah. It would have been epic.

     

  • As I was walking down this amazing single track, cursing the ride all over again, somehow I managed to strike my pedal against my shin which resulted in an immediate half dome swell and numbing pain radiating through my shin and calf. More curses.

 

  • When I got back to the car, I checked Strava to see how far I had ‘ridden’ and of course it had failed to track.

Ok, so it was a pretty ill-fated ride, but I also like to think of the positives. So what didn’t go wrong (because it’s hard to say that anything really went ‘right’)?

  • I had created and downloaded a digital map of the route and imported it into the maps.me app before the ride, so at least I knew where I was at all times. And my battery didn’t die nor did I have any technology issues, thank god.

 

  • It didn’t pour down rain, it was just a light drizzle and then the skies cleared up midway through the ride lifting my mood a notch or two

 

  • The flat tire happened three miles from the end of the ride, not at the beginning or in the middle.

 

  • Maybe if I had ridden the awesome downhill single track I would have gone over the handlebars and split my chin open (again). Or worse.

 

  • I had enough food and snacks to avoid the disastrous hand of hangryness

 

  • I learned some valuable lessons: always be prepared for a flat tire (or other mechanical issues), listen to your body, and go through a checklist before heading out for a ride so you don’t forget anything! And don’t talk to strangers.

Onward and upward!