The following is a true story, only the names have been changed, to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Training Day

Cave bacon anyone ?
 I've been a member of the Minnesota Speleological Survey going on four years now. In that time I have had a lot of fun heading underground exploring, digging, getting muddy and doing things a little out of my comfort zone. It's also been fun to get to know a great group of new friends.
Canada Scott
 Most of my caving has been in Mystery Cave State Park in southern Minnesota.  In order to get in this cave a plan needs to be formulated and paperwork needs to be submitted to the park by a recognized trip leader. You also need keys, the cave is locked. Over the years, as trips came up I got on as many as I could, usually with "G" Man, my son. He has been caving nearly as many times as I have, and is a good caver. Due to the small 6 person limit in a caving party, Super Y, Big D, and Mrs Death Rider have not been on many good trips. Most people think my youngsters can't handle anything more than walking passage and don't want to give up a day to go see some clean, run-of the-mill tour guide stuff. My kids want to crawl around and get dirty. On the flip side, other trips are in fact, too dangerous. I can't blame the leaders, getting access to the cave is not something that happens all the time and no one wants to waste it.  Subsequently they have not done anything "fun".    Bottom line.... I needed to become a leader, and get the rest of my crew caving.
The Dragon's Jaw

Mr Savage at Mystery Pool
  It just so happens that the day of the Almanzo 100 was the same day as cave leader training. This has not come up in the four years I've been with the club and I figured I was ready. I skipped the Almanzo in favor of getting leadership status and get my kids caving. I showed up at Mystery Cave at 10 am to go over the basics in trip planning, paperwork submission, gear requirements, and general rules. After all the talking it was time to get down to business and get in the cave. Being a leader in the cave really just boils down to knowing your way around and exploring it in a safe and careful manner. The careful part meaning to not break or damage anything in the cave itself.  "Pretties" in a cave take forever to get that way , the saying often passed around is...Break bones, not formations.
Yours Truly

Nadsters at the jump off. It's about 30' to the bottom of the 3' ++ slot she is crossing
 The size of the total group for the day was 8. We had two leaders, K-Haug and Mr Savage. Four of us, Jkellberg , Canada Scott,  El Presidente' and myself, were vying for leadership status. Nadsters and Sh-Sean were just along for the ride. Once inside K-Haug gave a list of places in which we were to safely, and successfully, lead the group to. I took the first turn since I was holding the map. Honestly the map doesn't mean a whole lot. Single, black, two dimensional lines on a piece of paper hardly mean anything when they are supposed to convey all manner of passage from city-bus sized bore holes, all the way down to routes my kids could barely fit into. Add to that the fact that the cave is not on a level plane and often intertwines at different elevations. Although every passage is named on the map, it's not like there are a bunch of street signs in the cave letting you know where you are. It all really comes down to knowing the cave and paying attention to the leaders of previous trips.
Back in the Straddle Galleries

This is one of my favorite spots in the cave located in the Straddle Galleries
  First up was Dragons Jaw Lake, I've been there plenty of times almost to the point that I'm tired of it. The water level was really low so crossing it was not going to happen today. Next we headed to Sand Camp, The Culverts, and The Incline. The Culverts and the Incline are a real ball-buster requiring a massive amount of strength, contortion-ism, some bruising, and pain to pass through. At the end of the culverts is The Incline, a 20 foot chimney. Both of these must be done in order to complete the Door -to Door Route, and is somewhat the "crux" of that trip. The Door-to-Door has eluded me for several years due to bad timing so I wanted to see The Incline and what all the fuss was about. It definitely was tough going through The Culverts, down The Incline, back up, through The Culverts again, then finally slumping down on the ground in Sand Camp. I was pumped out and cooked ! Break Time.  Next was Enigma Pit, and Way the Hell an Gone. I opted not to cross the pit and took pictures instead. I've been across a couple times and we were turning around there anyway. At this time we were joined by Thleen who was doing some survey work in the Labyrinth nearby and wanted to do some sport caving with our group. I think she wanted to spend some time with K-Haug too, either way she's a good caver and fun to have along on a trip.
Don't touch

Enigma Pit. Note the water pouring from the left side. The next day a lot of the cave was underwater not sure if this area was though
  The last part of the trip/training was one I was dreading. We were headed to the Bear Crawl and The Flake. I hate the Flake! I scared the shit out out of me the first time and even more so the second time. Let me paint a picture for you...... After a leisurely crawl down a tight, one arm forward one arm back, laying on your side, head facing solid stone,cave pack tied to your boot to make room, please nobody fart,  for 150-180' you emerge at a junction known as Standing Room Only. This is the enjoyable part. Next comes some easy walking through a little underground stream in narrow but tall passage. As the floor starts to drop out, a small ledge emerges. You walk along this ledge for a while with your now muddy and slippery feet. As the floor drops further the space below becomes narrower, but not to the point in which you wont fit. In fact it's just wide enough to fall into but not wide enough that you can breath easily if it should happen. While suspended above this stone constrictor, feet pointed out, on the brink of slipping, the thru-passage comes in on the left side, perpendicular to the one your on. It's even worse, the small ledge disappears, the tall narrow passage is now slightly at an angle and even tighter. You now have to traverse the really narrow stuff by smearing on the walls to get to a point where you can drop to the floor to pass a constriction at your current height. Smear on what ? it's mud on mud and is much worse than it could be if you had not just been walking through the water.
Almost out 

Now the tough part begins, dropping down into the slot was scary, I fit before but it looks super narrow now. I can really only fit in one spot in which I can still breath freely. It's now time to climb back out of the slot at an angle, up to a ledge, and over The Flake. Being a bit of a fat ass makes this super fucking hard for me. I have absolutely no wiggle room and nowhere to leverage myself on the slimy smooth rock. With much effort, using snake-like moves, I mange to get my self off the ground about three feet. I now have to start traversing as the space above and below starts to narrow. I slip many times, and feel as if I will fall into the slot below and suffocate, there is just nothing to hold on to. Nadsters is right behind me and is able to use her hand and give me something to push off of. I get further up and further over the narrowing slot but still cannot reach the bomber hold that is taunting me just out of reach. I'm getting super freaked by now and pumped out. I keep sliding back down into the slot with the walls pressing on my chest and back, it's like a fear factor episode but I can't call uncle. Canada Scott now trades places with Nadster. I'm not sure where, or what body part I was standing on, but Scott is able to help me through the tight spot and onto the ledge near the Flake. I'm relived. It took everything I had just to go up 7-8 feet and over about 9. Once on the ledge I help Nadster over. She has a way easier time with it. Next is El Presidente', he goes over the top of Sh-Sean and Scott and gets help from K-Haug now standing on the Flake. I am tired and of no use so I move down the passage and hang out with the girls. All that can be heard is El Presidente' yelling and cursing as he moves through The Flake. He had a worse time than I, but still made it. Scott is next and requires some help but makes it through. Sh-Sean is a climber and seams to have made it through effortlessly. K-Haug was first through and made it look easy, he's like a cave super hero or something. Thleen was just in front of me and needed only my hand to push off of with her foot and a brief hand from K-Haug who was standing on the ledge just forward of the Flake. Mr Savage and Jkellberg are spared the nasty traverse by aborting just before the bear crawl and will meet us later, above ground.
  I vowed to never go back there again but probably will just to see if I can do it clean. I'm chalking that one up to being drained by the Culverts and the Incline I had done a few hours earlier. With everyone through it was time to get the hell out out of there. The rest of the cave was easy going compared to what we had just done. We reached the super easy tour route and exited the cave. Eight and a half hours in the cave and I was exhausted but happy I passed the test. I thought I was dodging a bullet by pulling out of the Almanzo 100 my friends had finished hours ago........ was I wrong!     Thanks    K-Haug and Mr Savage.  It was great caving with the entire crew, and I look forward to more adventures with all of them. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shred the Red

 .....Well that's what the t-shirt said at the local bike shop anyway. This past Memorial Day weekend the family and I headed north to Cuyuna country to ride the sweet trails just out of Crosby and Ironton. We were joined by CJ, one of Super Y's friends, and his dad Chaz.

walking up some of the larger hills 
  The weather was iffy and called for a chance of rain all weekend. The rain held off on Saturday and Sunday and afforded us a weekend of prime trail riding. Saturday we didn't arrive until mid afternoon but still got in a couple hours of riding in the Yawkey Unit. My boys  headed straight for Bobsled and proceeded to run multiple laps as fast as they could.
Crash at high speed, they still don't know how to use the front brake

He made it with out help 
  We didn't ride there at all last year but they sure remembered the fast, swooping, banked turns of that run. Lynn and I did mange to pry them from Bobsled long enough to show them Grizzly, Skip, and Timber Shaft. I was amazed and frightened at times at how well they were able to rip those trails. It was great to actually go for a real ride with them. None of them are as fast as their old man, yet, but it won't be long before G Man is going to have to wait for me.Later that evening it was the usual campfire, pigging out and game playing in the campground.

  The next morning started a little on the cool side so we waited for it to warm up before heading out on the trails en masse. We left Portsmouth Campground to ride the bulk of the trails in the Mahnomen Unit. We stayed mostly on the lower trails along the lakes to make it a little easier on the youngsters. After a couple hours of riding snacking and stopping to collect rocks and sticks G Man and I broke off from the group. He was getting tired of riding slow, or riding ahead and waiting, so he and I moved to the more difficult trails where we could spread our wings a bit and fly. Fly we did, we blasted down Sand Hog, Screamer and Chute before tearing through Sidewinder on our way back to camp. I was a dream come true to see my boy haulin' ass down a MTB trail.

2 liter bottle half filled with water  on top of a piece of PVC and compressed air ......Rocket 

all sugared-up
  After our ride I headed back out onto the trail with Chaz to burn off any unused energy and just get some more riding on the fantastic trails. Sunday evening, after dinner and s'mores the rain finally came, forcing us into the tent for an early night's sleep (9:30pm). Monday was cold and cloudy, no one was in a mood to ride so we packed up and drove home.  So concludes another great weekend with awesome kids, wife and friends... hope to do it again soon.
The Gang

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2013 Almanzo 100

Sadly I was not able to participate in the Almanzo 100 this year except for the first three miles. I had other obligations that morning in the area about an hour after the start. I decided to kit-up and ride the first few on the Krampus and take some pics.
This is the sign I made for the Royal. Almanzo memorabilia is everywhere in my basement shop dating back to 08' 

Biggest start ever, just shy of 1000

The Man

Grassroots American cycling at it's best
 I was glad I did show up for the start, It was an amazing sight to see the massive group lined up and rolling out of town. I also enjoyed seeing all of my friends just before they headed out on a ride that was going to pulverize them, and know I would have, what I thought would be, an easy day :). (More on my easy day at a later time, CAVING)
Props for my team, Penn Cycle

The calm before the storm when that tandem the Eppen's are on will keep pace like a  1000cc motorcycle. 

Fancy Ray

Fat-Bike category ?
 Another reason for my visit was to say hello and drop off a little token for Mr Skogen. A couple months ago while riding, I came across an abandoned numbered sign. It displayed the number 162, immediately I thought of Chris and the Royal 162. I felt compelled to get it to him, and make it into some sort of a sign relating to the race that I have not yet mustered the courage to face. I found some thick steel letters laying around my workplace and fashioned them and the number plate to a piece of angle iron which could be driven into the ground as a marker of sorts. Chris is such a great guy, I'm humbled by his generosity and dedication to the point that I was a little nervous giving it to him. I wasn't sure if he would like it, I received a (manly) hug from Chris, I believe that meant he liked it.       Having done this race numerous times, I would like to thank Chris and all the volunteers for their hard work.  I would also like to thank Chris's immediate family for their hard work, direct and indirect. Thank you to my own family for allowing me to get out and do what I do.                          P.S.   Happy Birthday Jack
The leaders were long gone by several minutes and the pack kept coming, stretched as far as one can see

This was right after I presented my gift to Mr Skogen.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lee's Ferry and Beyond

After a good night's sleep in the middle of Horseshoe Bend the group woke early and got busy making breakfast and packing up. By 8:30 am we were on the water headed for the take-out at Lee's Ferry. It was a little cloudy so the walls of the canyon weren't as spectacular as the day before but amazing none the less. The clouds ended up being a great benefit in keeping the temps relatively cool (75-80 deg f). It was roughly nine miles to Lee's Ferry but it went quick as the current pulled us along.

Oh yeah

On the way up Water Holes
Midway to the big rap

This is O'Neil and Young Tim's first taste for what they might encounter in the slots were going to in a couple days. AF can't help but down climb high-traction red rock 
 Approximately four miles from Lee's Ferry is the mouth of Water Holes Canyon. This canyon has been gnawing at me for a while as a canyoneering route and I wanted to go see it from the bottom to get a better idea of what to expect. From what I have been told/deciphered,  the canyon is dangerous and many people have been rescued form it. The crux consists of a 440' rap that is done in two parts and involves a hanging belay station. This doesn't sound so bad but "the rope eating crack" has been known to do just that, and strands the rappelling victim several hundred feet above the ground. I talked to a group that has done it before and said it was "no problem". The National Park Ranger we talked to later that day said he has rescued quite a few people including a ranger performing a rescue. Despite the "unknown" of this route I still want to do it, but just need more info so I can descend it safely some time in the future. On the other hand the walk up canyon was rewarding and beautiful.
The big rap and the rope eating crack lie within the V-notch in the sky before us. We cant actually get up close due to a short 30-40 ' drop that blocks our way 

Desert Flora
Leaving Lee's Ferry.

Old relic of the ferry, for more info on the area go here

Spencer Trail

Top of Spencer Trail

 After reaching our take-out we stopped for a lunch break, and to reshuffle our gear for the long hike up the Spencer Trail and into the desert beyond. The Spencer Trail doesn't mess around, it gains roughly 1700 feet in a matter of two miles, mostly up a scree slope. A.F. described it as "Pleasant". Once on top we took out the GPS to get a rough idea of where we left our bikes. I really don't like GPS, but this time I was happy to have it. Onward into the desert we marched through sand and rocks, around small stone outcroppings and all manner of cacti and pointy vegetation. We picked up a road that eventually led us right to the hidden bikes. Navigation was really quite simple, having left the bikes near the only power line in the area, the logical choice was to find it and follow it. The hike was a little over seven miles,with the cloud cover and cooler than normal desert temps it only felt like six and a half.  :)
The canyon in the background is what we just paddled through

3-4 miles of this

Getting ready for the ride back to the van

Spirits were way up when we could actually ride our bikes instead of pushing them

This was the end of the line, the van was a couple miles away on a fast downhill. This gate across the old highway was  the thorn in our side that had us walking and driving all over hell the previous day for the bike drop
 Getting to the bikes was a good feeling, we were going to make the loop! Having made-up this route 1500 miles away, via the internet, incomplete maps, and hearsay, and not previewing any of it other than a out the window of a truck passing through Page AZ, was a damn good feeling. I didn't want to let my friends down, and as we cruised the last ten or so miles back to Page, I knew I didn't. We arrived back at the van around dark, completely satisfied with our trek. We took time to reassemble and put away gear in the fading light before heading into town for some dinner. The last two days were so action packed they seemed to last a week, but we were just getting started. After dinner I drove on into the night until 3am to get us set up for the next round.
Using the last bits of precious light to reorganize for the next day