Friday, June 26, 2009

The Bock Route

Today Ben, Steve, and myself caught a ride up to La Cumbre with a Gravity group that was going down the WMDR. Instead of doing our work ride we rode and hiked for over 2 1/2 hours in the mountains up to a scree slope we have been eyeing from the road. It was a major mission of fairly epic proportions. Hiking while carrying a 20 lbs. pack and pushing a 40 lbs. bike is no small feat at an elevation of 16,000 ft.

Alright, so my bike officially weighs 39.6 lbs. not 40 lbs.

There were a few sections that we could ride down before pushing up another ridge; it seemed to break the hike up a bit and made the uphills bearable.

Ben resting before a downhill section.

Steve and Ben (and me) catching our breath after yet another push. Our destination was the peak just over the top of Ben's right shoulder.

If you could only see the pain (and joy) on my face.

Steve leading one of the downhill sections with Ben close behind.

A different perspective on the photo above. I came last and Steve shot this from below. As you can see it's hard to do certain sections justice unless you show multiple angles. (Thanks Steve for the extra photos and video!)

Near the top of the peak we pushed up a steep ridge, and quite literally every 50-100 ft. I was stopping to catch my breath.

Steve and Ben on the last push to the top.

At the top we rested, ate some food, and drank a beer. At 5,000+ m. beer hits you pretty hard and we all laid down for a short rest. Steve and I had a Bock, which is a local Bolivian brew, and Ben coined our trek The Bock Route.

The namesake.

We're pretty much living the life.

After we rested up we went to scope out our descent down the scree. It is an extremely steep face (we estimate 50+ degrees) and after our exploration we decided not to ride the top part for fear of gaining too much speed and not being able to stop.

Ben, perfect guide pose.

From our resting place, a bit of perspective, notice how the mountain seems to just drop away in front of Ben.

Even though we didn't ride the top Ben wanted a hero shot of him trying the first 25 ft.

And another.

And, oh yeah, steep. I didn't even try this top part. Ben walked the rest of the way to our designated starting point.

We convinced Steve to guinea pig it for us.

Steve sliding out.

And 25 seconds later, Steve as a speck.

Then it was our turn. I wanted to tandem it with Ben so Steve could shoot some video of both of us. However, after coming down off my photo spot I realized it probably would be better for one person to lead and another to follow. I was going to let Ben go but he seemed somewhat unsure of the steepness (for those who have been following my blog, this scree is MUCH steeper and longer than the slope in Sorata), and maybe the slide-out just up the slope made him somewhat nervous, so I went for it.

Ben found his footing!

Kicking up rocks for the camera.

And stoked!

My shot of the same fist pump. You can sort of gauge the angle of the slope... but not really.

You can see our tracks from the road, quite a ways away.

Ben and I checking out our tracks.

We finished off the ride with really steep singletrack (aka llama paths) and then jumped onto a dirt road. After the dirt road we hit the highway and bombed through La Paz back to our house. Riding in La Paz = more scary then any mountain biking! However, once you get the flow of traffic it's not all that difficult to ride in the city.

It's steep, I'm dabbing.

Another shot of the singletrack.

To sum our day up, if a picture's worth a thousand words, then...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Random Rides and Unrelated Topics

I’ve been ridiculously busy over the last week and a half. In less than ten days I’ve guided the WMDR 4 times and the Ghost Ride 2 times. Pretty damn busy considering my workday essentially begins at 5:30 AM and usually doesn’t end until 9 PM, or later.

Guiding the Ghost Ride has been fun (there is actually real mountain biking on it), but it is disconcerting guiding people who haven’t ridden downhill, much less Bolivian single-track. The stuff is gnarly, and while you can bypass it everyone wants to test themselves and see if they can ride it; good if you know how to take a fall, bad if you don’t. I had one client lose their balance and fall the wrong way on some steep single-track; she landed on her head from about 6 feet up and then somersaulted another 6 feet. Luckily she was an experienced downhill ski racer so falling came pretty naturally and all she did was knock the wind out of herself (I told you I’d mention you Alyson!).

You can crash and still have a great time!

I can deal with falls like that. However, I don’t like it when someone has no experience and takes a fall and then lays there for 10 seconds without moving; that is when I tend to get a bit freaked out. I guess it goes with the territory; but take note, downhill is not like riding flat single-track on your hardtail. You have to turn your brain OFF and feel every subtle balance and weight shift somewhere deep in the sub-conscious awareness of your body. If you start thinking, you will crash and hurt yourself.

Yup, I'm at work right here.

Other highlights of the Ghost Ride have been yet another hero photo (thanks Ben); and meeting an older gentleman on the trail. Ben is practicing, and getting better, at speaking Aymara; so he chatted the gentleman up. I gave the old guy some coca leaves I had in my pack and in return he let me take a photo of him. It was Ben’s day off so I took the group ahead while Ben stayed behind and talked to him some more. It turns out the guy even knew some English because he used to work in a mine and they spoke English often when he was working. It’s pretty cool to guide this ride because the Campesinos are friendlier along the trail and we are more of an anomaly to them.

Pretty cool guy who was glad to get some coca.

In other news the re-built fork exploded because one tiny spring seal got mashed when the lowers were put back on the stanchions, so I had to re-rebuild it; however, now it is bombproof and working great. Yet, after using Gravity’s bikes for a few days while mine was down, I can definitively say I’d like something with more travel and more plushness; but 5 inches front and rear will have to do for now.

I’m also itching to get a new, better, and faster camera but that is a long shot here in Bolivia. I don’t make enough money to buy anything like that, especially in Bolivia where electronics seem to be roughly double what they cost in the states. From what I can gather electronics and motorcycles are the only things that cost more here. So if anyone wants to kick me a Nikon DSLR with a FF sensor I happily take donations.

I also just watched Zeitgeist: Addendum again. You can find it here. While parts of it, especially the last 2 minutes, can be quite cheesy I think it would benefit everyone to give it a view. Especially if it means spending 2 ½ hours watching something intellectually stimulating instead of the disposable reality/sitcom/drama crap that permeates television. Fundamentally I agree with most of what the film says, although it will take a significant shift in the ideology and paradigm of thought before visible large-scale change can happen. I think one of the most interesting observations the film makes is the inherent ethical flaw in our current conception of society and the system it adheres to. Negative ethical characteristics and considerations are built into our conceptions and are necessarily given a shade of grey so, in my opinion, we can sleep well at night while people around the globe die of starvation and disease. And the ultimate point of the film is it doesn’t have to be like this.

It looks like I may have tomorrow off so I’m going to try to do some more songwriting; possibly a sneak preview of my album may be forthcoming in the next few months. At the moment I have one song down and the entire album, it appears (because I’m in Bolivia), will be recorded with the mic built into my MacBook Pro. I’m using an acoustic guitar to record the rough tracks (and sing along to) and then I’m adding MIDI software instruments, mixing, and mastering in Logic Pro 8, with a few rough tracks put down in Garageband. I’ve recently discovered the beauty of Logic, and since I forgot my Digidesign hardware in the states I can’t use ProTools. It seems to be a blessing in disguise because I’m forcing myself to learn a new DAW and I’m not tied to ProTools’ archaic GUI and terrible hardware (although the built in mic in my laptop isn't any better than my mBox's junk preamps). Still, I have to give ProTools props for engineering one of the fastest work environments for straight recording; but I am getting better at Logic, and control of MIDI and composition is leaps and bounds better than ProTools.

And if you haven't checked it out the article I wrote about guiding the WMDR can be found here. It's had over 25,000 views which is kind of crazy. I never expected that many people to read it but I'm happy so many are enjoying it... or maybe they're just falling for the catchy headline!

In a nutshell, Bolivia is still amazing and life is great, so come and visit!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

From Extraordinary to Something More Mundane

I'm pretty sure nothing will be able to top the amazing time I had last weekend for quite awhile. So to put down something on the side of the less than extraordinary I offer up some of what I did yesterday.

Above is a photo of all the parts that have broken and/or had to be replaced since getting to Bolivia. From left to right: Fork that I broke in Sorata last weekend. Hub, I rebuilt my fork with new sliders and now have a 20 mm through-axle, so the old hub had to come off. Bottom bracket that was toast before I even got here. Brakes that were half way to being junk when I arrived.

Coming soon: Pictures of my bike with a ton of new parts! I still need to replace my drivetrain, but since I just spent $180 on my fork and hub the drivetrain will have to wait for awhile. Take my word though, she is looking pretty nice.

So after spending about 4 hours working on my bike I then went home and did my laundry... by hand. I decided to start doing it myself (instead of taking it to the laundry lady across the street) for two reasons: 1) I get charged 10 bs. per kg. of laundry, this doesn't sound like much but it's really easy to spend between 50 and 100 bs. every time I do laundry. 2) Every time, and I mean every time, inexplicably she doesn't have my socks done and I have to pick them up the next day or several days later because I have to work. I'm totally done with having my socks in limbo all the time!
Some may ask, well why not go to the laundromat? If you can find me a laundromat in Bolivia I will... so far I haven't seen one anywhere. So for about 22 bs. worth of detergent (that I can use for at least 10 laundry sessions) and some sort of laundry soap bar, I did my laundry in the outside sink of my house. Not too bad actually, I put on the iPod and had a mini dance session while I worked... it only took about half an hour.

So basically I just saved $10 that goes to the "my bike broke again" fund. Sweet!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sorata: Quite Possibly the Best Weekend Ever

On Friday I didn’t have to work so I took the opportunity to sleep in… until 8 AM. When I got up I went to the workshop to replace my severely worn bottom bracket. Next I hastily packed; or more like threw riding gear, clothes, camera, iPod, and a sleeping bag into my pack. Then it was off to Sorata, a small town about 3 hours from La Paz.
Me. I handed my camera over so I could get a hero shot.

The mission? Tag along with some Gravity Bolivia guys (such as the owner) and Marco Toniolo, a professional photographer; all this while riding with Joe Schwartz, René Wildhaber, and Rob Jauch. Three sick professional mountain bikers, just google them, you’ll see.

Top of the mountain on Friday.

Sorata by far has my favorite type of riding; long, fast, steep, and for the most part “flowy” downhill with a great mix of single-track (some super exposed on the edge of 600 m. cliffs) and a few open grassy bowl type sections. On day two there were also some jumps, drops, and a steep section of scree that sent me tumbling the second time around when I tried to carve too much.

Single-track that flows.

However, the highlight, by far, was getting to see professional mountain bikers at work (riding) and being able to shoot photos over the shoulder of a pro mountain bike photographer. I don’t claim to be an expert mountain biker, although I’m definitely not a punter; however it was remarkable to ride with guys like Joe, Rob, and René. And by ride I mean ride with them for about 20 seconds before they blew me away and then catch up a few minutes later at the next stop. Coupled with the most fun terrain I’ve ridden in Bolivia so far, this weekend may go down as one of the best ever.

Rob airing it out.

Joe making the most of the approaching darkness.

René + air = magic.

Not to be outdone Joe stepped up and hit a home run.

I'm pretty sure Marco's version of this shot is going to end up in a magazine.

On Friday we rode an upper section called Loma Loma that yielded great photos with a rising moon and alpenglow hitting the mountains in the background. The general plan for the rides seemed to be go down once, figure out where the good shots are, then make it back to the top in time to ride down during magic hour. After the sun had just set, we were still on the trail trying to make it to the road in the dusk and moonlight. It was one of those surreal moments that are really hard to put into words. Riding an amazing trail during twilight with professionals who were as stoked as I was about the riding and atmosphere; simply amazing.

René pulling a sick manual because he can.

We made it to the road and decided to ride to our destination in the moonlight; this mainly consisted of us bombing down a winding ribbon of asphalt (and a bit of gravel). It was a high-speed thrill with the mountain, lit by moonlight, shining brightly down on Sorata.


That night we stayed at Altai Hostel, a funky little place a few minutes outside of downtown. They have a laid back feel, great food, and the best wine I’ve had since getting to Bolivia. (Note: When you can, order a bottle of 2007 Casillero del Diablo, it’s an extremely tasty Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, and at just over $9 US it may be the best deal ever). Couple that with the biggest t-bone steak I’ve ever seen and you too may be in heaven. Plus, Altai has everything from camping (by a rushing stream) to a nice little cottage for couples. And, they have an assortment of animals, including a very friendly horse that just wanders around the grounds.

Saturday morning we headed up to another trail called Choo Choo that begins at about 4,200 m. A quick breakdown: single-track, a huge scree slope, some more single-track, a rock playground, dirt road, and then a short but steep and exhausting hike up to my favorite riding of the weekend. It followed a grassy ridge for a short way and then led to several open bowls that were covered in grass. Good traction (I’m not an expert, remember?) led into little hips and drops that were super fun. This went on for a while before we hit tight and narrow single-track that wound down through dense trees and then over roads and past small farms, houses, and enclaves of residences.
The guys slashing scree.

A better perspective on the steepness of the scree.

Once at the bottom we headed back up to do it all over again. Unfortunately for Marco, someone had set a small part of the mountain on fire and the smoke interfered with the light. Then a large cloud rolled in from nowhere and effectively ended the photography. However, in between the smoke and the cloud I had a couple crashes within the span of about 15 minutes that had me scratching my head. The first happened when I was trying to carve the scree back and forth, somewhat like skiing. Riding extremely loose and steep terrain like scree can be rather unnerving. The technique used is lock your rear wheel and literally plow down the mountain with almost all your weight on your back tire. I was getting a little too comfortable and instead of going straight with a few shallow turns (executed by shifting your weight) I was trying to make more pronounced slashes. On one of these I was going too slow and buried my front end; somehow I came off the bike upright and facing the slope. When I landed my momentum carried me ass over teakettle and I effectively did a back somersault, and came up on my feet again. No big deal; all the pros saw me, but hey, I’m not a professional!

Marco in action.

A little bit farther on I came off a small jump too fast and landed just right of the single-track that I needed to be in. I got on the brakes hard and tried to crank the bike left to no avail. The bike went down and I went over the handlebars. I was beginning to think I must be suffering from exhaustion and loosing my focus.

René, not just a downhill champion.

Another little downhill section, past the rock playground (where I thought about hitting that rock René is coming off of), and I was out on the road. As the group came together I looked down at my handlebars and noticed they were cocked off to the right. I thought my stem or headset must have come loose in one of the crashes so I got off and cranked on the bars while holding the tire. There was a loud pop and then everything lined up and the bars felt stable again. I thought that was weird so I took a closer look at the fork; sure enough, I had broken the fork arch clear through sometime during the last 20 minutes. Did it happen during one of the crashes? The jumps? Whatever it was, much to my chagrin, it effectively ended my riding for the weekend.

The upper short section of scree. Way steeper than it looks.

Sadly, I missed my favorite grassy section. But a large plate of alfredo with mushrooms and a couple glasses of Casillero del Diablo cheered me up. I can’t complain about such an amazing experience; even though it was cut short.

21,000 ft. Illampu and Janq'uma peaks.

This morning I caught an early morning ride into Sorata with the guys. I said goodbye to René, Rob, Marco, and Joe; instead of riding I took a microbus back to La Paz. Which is an experience quite unlike any other as well.

On the way to (or from) Sorata you pass within sight of Lake Titicaca.

At first I had an Aymara woman sitting next to me with her little girl strapped to her back. After about half an hour she took off her wrap, slung the baby around, and set the child down in her lap. The little girl was quite shy and spent most of her time under the blanket, but occasionally she would doze off and part of the time she was resting her head on my leg. Sorata, being mainly a country town, naturally has mostly country folk and everyone in the bus had the slight stench of animals on them. Yet it didn’t really bother me; and it was interesting to see people come in and out of the bus. Some rode to another town, some got on along the road; it was a free-flow of bodies coming and going.

The farms surrounding Sorata.

Sunday traffic was quite heavy in La Paz this morning. I caught a taxi from the microbus drop-off point, and nearly 4 hours from the beginning of my journey I arrived back at mi casa. Looks like I’ll be learning how to rebuild a fork (this time with brand new sliders) sooner then I thought. However, I couldn’t really ask for a better weekend. So many new sights and experiences!