Bikepacking…I fondly remember snuggling with Jody one cold night in the mountains of Idaho on our two week bikepacking trip this fall. We’d just finished eating our five star meal of noodles. The best ramen noodles that money can buy. I’m dozing off when Jody rolls over and grazes my scratched and bleeding legs. Ouch! Fully awake now, I painfully recall the day’s nightmare.
Jody had convinced me that the road, reportedly washed out by a spring flood, was actually passable by bicyclists. Accordingly, we confidently pedaled to the end of the road. Past the official sign proclaiming, “Danger – No Way Across.” Then the road ended. Completely. At a river. The other end of the road barely visible ¼ mile further ahead. A path snaked tenuously up the eroded hillside with foot impressions careening precariously across the nearly vertical face. Goats, maybe. Loaded bikes, no way! A hand scrawled sign at the start of the path read…”Sucker.”
I look over to Jody with a pained expression. The sensible thing is to “retreat.” But this is NOT an option with Jody and I know it. Turning back would mean three days of biking to the reroute that Jody didn’t want to take in the first place. Predictably, she is already devising Plan B. The river is still high from the recent rains, but Jody points to a possible route across the river rapids. She thinks that I can “probably” get the bikes across to the other side. The other shore presents an invitingly smooth track that disappears around the bend. There is no point arguing.
I am indeed able to port across our bikes and packs without drowning and briefly think that, just maybe, this is going to be easier than I thought. That’s about when the ‘inviting’ shoreline becomes quicksand. After floundering around like pigs in mud for a half hour, we fortunately discover that we are able to trudge upriver sinking only to our knees on the river’s edge. Unfortunately this is where the sticker bushes live which snag any exposed skin. Pretty soon, I feel like a pincushion and am bleeding freely.
Then I hear a frightful scream – not my own. Jody has just spotted the biggest bear track we’ve ever seen. Huge fresh imprints in the oozing mud. In the back of my mind, I absently wonder if bears are attracted to blood like sharks. We quicken our pace as much as can be quickened considering the quicksand.
After two hours and a distance of about ¼ mile, we find another shallow section of the river where we can re-cross and reclaim the other end of the road. I sigh my relief with the end of the ordeal in sight. I look over to Jody and see her beaming. She enthuses, “Isn’t this the best trip ever?” I pull a sharp thorn out of my shoulder and reply dutifully “Yes Dear”. As I settle back into a doze, I hold her tight and smile. The memory of her cry “Hey Bear, Get Away Bear” softly ringing in my ears.
Family… I’ve come to believe that my 21 year old niece Maria STILL holds some bitterness over the results of a family water fight in her mom’s house many years ago. Doesn’t a youthful grudge ever expire? Heck she was only 8. I may have been a bit overzealous when I brought the garden hose into the living room but I was simply adhering to my strong belief that kids these days need a good walloping while they’re young to be better prepared for the challenges they’ll encounter later in life. I was able to dry the house in a few short days, but Maria’s grudge apparently endures. Please note, and certainly related to the topic at hand, I’m taking credit for Maria being accepted to Cornell University with a full scholarship to pursue her master’s degree in geophysics. Her achievement is a direct result of how I honed her mettle while she was growing up. She’d probably be flipping burgers otherwise.
This past winter and to my surprise, Maria eagerly accepted my offer to enjoy a ride on my new snowmobile near Molas Pass. We are heading up a steep hill when the machine unexpectedly skews off course and tosses us both downhill. When everything comes to rest, I am buried deep in the snow with the 500 lb. machine upside down on top of me. Maria stands confidently on top of the machine peering down at me with exaggerated concern. After a pause and a smirk, she climbs down to help me out. She exhibits earnest effort, but the machine doesn’t budge a millimeter. Under her breath, I hear her mutter “Sucker”. It is then that I realize that this is just another extension of the water fight. She now has the upper hand and is going to savor every last moment of my discomfort. Maybe this is now my lot in life as our nieces and nephews get older. I suspect there are many family grudges that remain unresolved. You may be sure I won’t be taking any of these family members on snowmobile rides.
We’re Famous… After a lifetime of scrapes, sunburn, mud, and grit, we’re famous. Bikepacker Magazine interviewed us in October 2014 and the author and our friend, Michael Ackerman wrote a glowing and beautiful profile of our biking calamities achievements over the years. Though we’re happy to accept applause, we caution anyone trying to become famous in this manner to be prepared for many hardships. By way of example, on a planned 20 mile ride down the Hermosa Creek Trail, Jody was responsible for packing our riding gear. On the drive to the trailhead, I was relaxing in the passenger seat in my bathrobe & ‘furry crocs’. When we exit the truck, I can’t find any bike gear whatsoever. As she rides off, Jody hollers that I am responsible for my own gear. I’m relegated to riding after Jody…in my bathrobe and furry crocs. Let’s not even discuss undergarments. I’ve tried to forget the derogatory calls made by the many hunters we passed.
Another example is my 30 mile birthday bike ride on the Colorado Trail from Stony Pass to Lake City. The route is a gorgeous high altitude ride which means slow travel and lots of pictures. Afternoon brings lightning and rain… and then predictably night. Jody and I make it to Lake City near midnight. And then only because our friend, Luke Angel and my dear niece, Maria, awaited our arrival at the trail end 20 miles from town.
It later turns out Maria’s birthday present was to have me buy a new clutch for my truck. I swear that clutch was in mint condition when she started out that morning at Stony Pass, but after she got done with it in Lake City, it was clutch toast. I’m convinced she is still recollecting that water fight.
Last but not least (sound the trumpets) Jody is royalty. After ruthless research at the Salt Lake City genealogy center and “Ancestry.com,” Jody discovered that she’s a 37th generation granddaughter of Charlemagne, the 7th century A.D. Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Jody has claimed the title “Queen Buttercup of Durango” and anointed Thomas the Tom Kat “His Royal Kittiness”. I put the kybosh on the need for curtsies in their rarefied presence.
Lynx vs Bunny… One would think that a PHD of Biology, especially one with published articles in esteemed scientific journals & the New York Times would be able to discriminate between the local creatures. But for reasons unknown, this phenomenally trained scientist and professor quickly discounts Jody and Lisa’s joint exclamation in sighting a “bunny hopper” crossing the road during a summer camping trip. Erin academically explains that they had just sighted a rare white tailed lynx outside of his normal habitat. Lisa and Jody (mere mortals & admittedly not distinguished biologists), look at each other in quizzical silence. As Erin is just completing her lecture, the “lynx” hops back towards the three of them, stands on his rear legs and wrinkles his nose in a most bunny like manner. In the ensuing silence Jody tentatively ventures, “Maybe lynx have learned how to hop”. With a sinking sensation, Erin realizes she is wrong. Knowing the potential to be featured in this forum, she immediately directs “That CAN’T go in the Christmas letter”. Oh yeah? :)
Biker Bar Pull Up Contest... Imagine a biker bar all pumped up for the annual Snowdown celebration pull-up contest. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to simply enter such a bar to buy a drink in a teeming landscape of tattoos on a swarthy mass of well-muscled arms. Now dismiss all rationality and imagine a lanky professional with nary a tattoo entering the pull-up contest… dressed in nothing but his wife’s slinky black lace panties and a ski helmet. The women in the crowd were still whistling their appreciation before the ensuing brawl developed. Thankfully the exit to the fire escape was clear. I was there and I still can’t believe it. It wasn’t me! I have pictures to prove it that I’m prepared to sell at a reasonable price. :)
Yard Art… I thought I crossed the line with Bullwinkle, Puff and Ellie. For those of you not in the neighborhood, these creatures are life size to scale replicas of a moose, a dragon and an elephant. But when Jody suggested the idea of a mounting a big black buzzard in our cottonwood tree…I couldn’t resist. Using ropes, I somehow managed to affix an 8’ wide red headed buzzard above our driveway. Our friend Carrie, visiting from Moab this fall, drives up, shakes her head and while rolling her eyes, shouts “OK you even have a buzzard.” Yes indeed. When I told her my next project was to paint a dead Wile E Coyote on the pavement below the buzzard, she drove away. The good thing is now we have no friends who don’t think we are crazy.
Wanda’s Wedding… Jody was invited to Wanda’s wedding to be her sister’s bridesmaid. As brother-in-law, I figured I’d get to sit around and drink free beer. Instead I was tasked to be the primary wedding photographer. I have no experience in this arena but game for nearly anything, I tried to prepare by watching You Tube videos on how to compose wedding pictures. I cringe to admit that most of that time I spent viewing funny kitty cat videos. All in all the wedding was beautiful…the bride glowing, the food and wine plentiful. Much to the bride’s dismay, I presented her many excellent compositions of the local cat population.
Nevertheless, the audience had its biggest collective chuckle at the reception when JP, Wanda’s 16 year old son, offered his mother a toast “To the best Mom ever! You’ve been with me from the very beginning!” Ha Ha. Ya think? :)
Ashbaugh Aches… Jody’s mom, Donna, figured that as long as we’re in town for the wedding, we could spend a few days with her and Norvell at her ranch. With wedding glow on our minds, we gladly accepted. Once our guard was down, we were trapped. Helping Donna and Norvell paint their barn last year may have been a bad idea. This year Donna had her list ready: paint a couple houses, replace a deck, cut & chip several dozen trees, and “whatever else you have time for.” She also added, if you don’t mind, please also bring your Espresso maker to brew some latte’s. We had two days. Given the time constraint, Donna was somewhat less concerned about non-essentials…like sleep and sustenance. When midnight rolled around each day, I’d croak out my request. “food & water please?”
Outpost… Jody has cut my hair for years and years. We’ve got a professional quality trimmer and she takes the task very seriously. Over the years she’s had to adjust the trimmer length. A few years ago, it was 2 (medium) & 1 (short). Now she is just down to using 2 because if she only uses 1, I’d look like a Bruce Willis stunt man knockoff. But what gives me great pain is the death of ‘Outpost’. Let me explain. After each trimming for the past decade, there would be one proud hair low down on my forehead (where my hairline used to be) that grew in without fail in defiance of the surrounding desertification. Sort of like when you see a healthy tree growing out of a small crack in a huge boulder and think that this is “just not possible”. Anyway, last week, Jody was trimming my hair and inexplicably ‘Outpost’ was gone. We were devastated. Outpost has been with us for years and we considered him part of the family. It is truly the passing of an era. To console ourselves, we held a funeral and wished him well in hair heaven.
Screwy Thingy… I’ve somehow become the “Fix it guy” for all the neighborhood professor geeks. I rather enjoy the role, so no worries. But I had to shake my head in exasperation when PHD Brian asked, “Can you bring that ‘screwy thingy’ to help me install some racks in my garage?” Did he mean a drill, a screwdriver, screws??? To give him a hard time, I dropped some Twizzlers off at his house. How do these nerdy academics survive?
Jane Fonda Workouts… Jody is embracing her internal iron woman. She is on a mission to be in the best shape possible for our upcoming two month bikepacking trip around New Zealand starting March 2015. And she is dragging me along on the trip …and also to her workouts. I was a bit startled when we arrived at a new class at our local gym. We arrived late to find the room filled with 30 beautiful women in their cute little Jane Fonda workout clothes down to the matching legwarmers. I was the only dirt bag guy. I hadn’t received the memo about proper dress & so arrived in my typical worn sweats, stained t-shirt & mismatching socks. The teacher, with apparent mischievousness, proceeded to set up my equipment…in the front…the only space available.
Adventures… It’s true. Jody has spent hundreds of hours developing a 25 page detailed itinerary for our upcoming suffer fest trip to New Zealand. A self-supported bike ride covering 1,500 miles, chock full of sand flies, rain, head winds and uncertainty. Because two months simply isn’t enough time, Jody has done away with any rest days to make sure we “experience everything”. We’ll see how that goes. What’s more astonishing is we’ve convinced four other intrepid souls to join us. One of whom is Dan Read, our companion on the Great Divide bike trip a couple years ago. We were having breakfast with a friend just the other day who had met our friend Dan Read shortly after completing the Great Divide bikepacking trip. He remembers Dan’s sorrowful gaze and haggard features. We excitedly said that Dan had agreed to join us again. Without missing a beat and with a completely straight face, our friend asked, “Does he have dementia?”
ENJOY OUR SMILEBOX SLIDESHOW LINKS BELOW:
BIKEPACKER MAGAZINE AND BIKEOVERNIGHTS ARTICLE LINKS
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Queen Buttercup, His Royal Kittiness and Seth Furtney
11 Molas Drive, Durango, CO 81301
Jody Cell Phone: 970-385-5567 / Seth Cell Phone: 970-385-5547
Black Bear Pass:I know better. I really do. Jody has schemed up a plan to ride our mountain bikes over Black Bear Pass from Silverton to Telluride in late fall. I’ve been on this 4WD road before and am prepared for the sign which reads: “YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE CRAZY TO DRIVE THIS ROAD - BUT IT HELPS.” Then again, crazy would convert to foolhardy if there had been an early snowfall. Which is the case this year… of course. As we’re driving to Silverton, Jody looks at the peaks draped in a blanket of white snow and says, “It doesn’t look so bad. It’s likely to melt by the time we get there!” As I start bawling, she swears to me that if we encounter unsuitable riding conditions, she’ll be sensible and turn back.
I stop crying, but deep in my heart I know better. Jody hates to back track. We ride our bikes to Black Bear Road at 11,000’ near the top of Red Mountain Pass. Whereas the road over Red Mountain Pass is considered dangerous, Black Bear Pass is justifiably notorious. It crests at 12,840” on a twisty 12 mile 4WD road.
We’ve ridden our bikes for only two miles when we see a hairpin turn where the vehicle tracks stop. At this point, the most aggressive 4WD vehicle tucked tail and got the hell out of Dodge. The snow has become too deep to drive further. There are still ten miles to go. With a pleading expression, I look over to Jody. As expected, she abandons her pledge and hoists her bike on her shoulder. Thus begins our 6 hour journey through deep snow…wearing bike shoes. The snow grows to several feet thick and we get lost when the roadway becomes invisible under the deep snow. We limp into Telluride at dusk, wet, tired and hungry. We spend over an hour thawing ourselves in a hot tub before we stop shivering. Jody gushes about this being the best trip ever. One wonders if I will ever learn.
Rowan: What is it about ‘parents’ that make them unable to accurately see the qualities of their pet? Our dear friend Erin seems to believe her big black 150 pound wooly mammoth Newfoundland is sweet, well behaved, and unintimidating. And this is true but only when our sweet, well behaved and unintimidating kitty is nearby. Thomas the Tom Kat (TTTK) may be only 10 pounds of kitten, but he doesn’t tolerate miscreants in his house. Exhibit 1 to my case is when Erin visits our home with Rowan and Rowan nonchalantly plods downstairs to TTTKs kitchen where she promptly inhales his entire meal. TTTK can’t seem to prevent the theft, but does then block the doorway to trap Rowan inside. After being imprisoned for an hour, Rowan will whine until a human arrives to release her from kitty captivity.
Though I might forgive Rowan’s routine assault on TTTK, I can’t so casually dismiss the “Godzilla Episode” as it has come to be known around town. This is Exhibit 2 in my case so let me paint the picture. Jody and Erin are walking along the popular river trail in town. Erin holds her 10 pound pug-nose dog, Indie (Rowan’s sister) and hands Jody the leash to walk Rowan. They are passing by a group picnic at a park when Rowan embraces her inner monster. Rowan launches at the picnic fixings. She gallops through the gathering, swallowing hotdogs, snapping up chips, inhaling burgers, quaffing beer, knocking people down. She’s having the time of her life! Standing there in shock, holding the broken leash, Jody is clearly responsible for the chaos. Uninjured picnickers give Jody the stink-eye. Rowan is finally stopped when two police officers arrive to dive tackle and cuff her. Jody is taken to the station for questioning on a charge of public picnic disruption. You may ask, what about Erin? Erin is hiding behind a tree the entire time. What are best friends for? At least she posted bail! :)
Bike Trip from Vietnam to Thailand: Lasting impressions from our bike ride starting in southern Vietnam, through Cambodia to Thailand: Scooters everywhere carrying anything and everything (including a 500 pound live pig); Feeling like a parade marshal as hundreds of kids run out with cheerful cries of “Hello, Hello, Hello” to watch the foreigners bike past; Fresh market vegetables and seafood; The grandeur of ancient Angkor Wat; The cool rush of jumping in a pool after biking all day in the heat and jungle humidity, Seeing Nemo while snorkeling in Southern Thailand, The vibrancy and bustle of Bangkok.
We hired local guides for this trip and were very glad we had someone who knew the ropes and could speak the language. The primary reason we hired the guide is because, as best we can determine, he had the entire route memorized. There wasn’t any other way to tell where we were. Without apparent reason he would simply turn off the road onto an unmarked dirt path. We’d follow him without hesitation, not certain if he just needed to stop to pee. Instead, we would continue some distance on the jungle trail to arrive at another junction…and do it again…and again. For several days we hop-scotched across the network of embankments separating miles upon miles of rice fields and jungle landscapes.
Though I cringe to admit it, I came to most appreciate our guide when I needed his help to extricate myself from a difficult position after I (apparently) ordered a “happy ending’ massage. This wasn’t my intent. Really truly. Don’t let your imagination get ahead of you and try not to misinterpret, but I was in a bind. Though I still had my tighty whities firmly in place, the masseuse was demanding payment for the full suite of services. I didn’t have that much cash with me…and she had my pants. Let me cut this short and caution you (based on my extremely personal experience) to be very careful about what you agree to buy when you are in a foreign country and communicating without a common language. Though I’ll admit that the overall experience wasn’t bad (that may sound worse than it should), I’ll stop now as I can’t seem to climb out of this hole I’ve dug. :)
Friends and Follies: I was prepared to accept the disappointment when Dan (our ride partner on the Continental Divide) rejected our invitation to ride in Asia. His excuse was an appointment for a root canal. Though this be a solid excuse for Dan, I had to reflect when nobody – not one single person - accepted our invitation. Possibly one of these stories holds a clue:
In July some friends (memorialized in our Christmas picture) from the Front Range stayed with us in Durango. Captain Jode scheduled three days of trail riding to deliver Durango in all its beauty. The weather was glorious. There was plenty of food and drink. Regardless, everyone mutinied on the third day under the rally call of “Durango Rollers”. As her husband, I must defend Jody, but she did describe the ride series as “mostly flat with rollers.” Our first ride was the final 22 miles of the Colorado Trail from Kennebec Pass to town. Most guidebooks use terms like “epic” and “unrelenting”. We broke our first bike that day. The next day started with a 3,000’ foot climb and went up from there. Can you really fault the group for rebelling on the third day with a choice to instead float down the Animas River with a case of Budweiser and 2 water cannons?
In August, we agreed to mountain bike a 20 mile trail above Coal Bank Pass with two young whippersnappers Amanda and Ben. About 1/3rd of the way into the ride, we were devastated by a severe high-altitude hail storm. The deluge was awesome. I was carrying not just one but two space blankets and we were able to huddle together under a tree during the onslaught. In less than an hour, the storm passed, but with the trail full of hail stones, we decided retreat was our best option. Amanda then shared what she intended as a compliment, but nonetheless hurts. “My friends think it’s really bizarre that I ride with middle age folks, but this was great.” I didn’t hear a thing beyond “middle age folks”. Heck, we can’t be middle aged? Jody talks to our garden plants in baby voice. When we join friends with kids at the park, I jump around on the jungle gym like all the six year olds. To support our self-delusion, we’ve decided that Amanda was really remarking upon our “mature” level of preparation. I’ve since bought a dozen space blankets and will be giving them out for Xmas.
Yard Art: I must make another admission. In addition to having trouble communicating in Vietnamese, I’ve become an addict to yard art. I hoped my binge would end after I installed three dozen colorful windows along our fence. But then I found that I could affix animal silhouettes on top of the fence. There was plenty of room to fasten: a bunch of green turtles (“Herd of Turtles”), several orange kitty cats (“Pride of Kittys”), a couple blue squirrels (“Rocky 1 & 2”), some purple jays (“Birdies”), a 12’ red dragon (“Puff”), an 8’ grey elephant (“Ellie”) & a full-size moose (“Bullwinkle”). We are one big happy family! I enjoy seeing people young and old smile and point at our house as they pass. I may have crossed the line however when I presented “Big Bird” to Joel for his birthday. Yes ‘that’ Big Bird. Joel is a tall guy. Big Bird is quite a bit taller. With a lot more yellow. I hear through the grapevine that Joel now uses Big Bird to scare away potential burglars and unruly neighbors. Hmmm, I’ve been wondering why we don’t get invited to any of our friend’s birthday parties anymore???
White Trash: What is it about America that makes instantly recognizable the amalgamation of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Chewing Tobacco, Wife beater T-Shirts, and Firearms? I ask you because our neighbors (ostensibly sophisticated, PHD educated, Prius driving folks) have embraced this ensemble. I need guidance on how to respond when invited by this couple to join them for drinks… and a round of shooting. Like them, I recycle religiously and compost my eggshells. I think I can refuse a few more times before they get suspicious. The undeniable problem is that I’m jealous. I can’t stop visualizing a target on the front of that old refrigerator. The line of bottles sing me a sirens song. I’m tired of resisting my natural impulses. The next time they ask, I plan to pop a Bud and chamber my first round.
Handyman: This summer I helped my brother Dave & his wife Sue prepare their Boulder, CO home for sale. We spent an entire week repairing, drilling, replacing, painting, cleaning, cutting, caulking, etc. The effort appears to have been worth it as they had a solid purchase contract just days after listing the house for sale. Immediately thereafter I travelled over to Jody’s mom’s ranch to help Donna and Norvell with a couple chores. Remember this is a ranch so a chore is really a CHORE. The first day, we stained the huge barn, corral, and two sheds - with Norvell driving the tractor to serve as mobile scaffolding. The next day we re-built the chimneys with new mortar. Thereafter was a blur. Donna was an incredible effective leader. She enforced discipline by withholding any food until the chores were finished. Whew! It was a busy (and hungry :)) couple of weeks! I’ve gained a reputation as a “fix-it” kind of guy. Friends in the neighborhood routinely drop off things for repair and I can’t stop myself until they are screwed, glued, snapped, riveted, or whatever. Jody calls me a freak, yet she also routinely avails herself of the “fix pile”.
CAREER: Jody has been working for Bank of America implementing new systems for regulations established by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She has been glued to the phone for months with barely an opportunity to eat. I have become chief cook and bottle washer, fix-it guy and artist since I was laid off by SAIC. I hope to return to contract management / preparing price proposals once that market picks back up. We’re planning a new adventure for when Jody’s gig ends. To be safe, I’ll be sure to study the local language, particularly surrounding massages!
We’ve created a musical slideshow for most our recent adventure in Asia. Enjoy!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Jody and Seth Furtney & Thomas the Tom Kat
11 Molas Drive, Durango, CO 81301
Jody Phone: 970-385-5567 / Seth Phone: 970-385-5547
The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Ride:
Our picture for this year shows Jody and me jumping for joy in the San Juan Mountains after successfully finishing our mountain bike trip on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). We’d recently completed our self-supported 1,000+ mile trip from Banff Canada to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and we are thrilled to be off the bikes. Off to the right, you’ll also see our friend Dan Read. He was also on the bike trip.
Let me introduce Dan. You may correctly perceive that Dan is trying desperately to maintain an aloof & reserved public image, though our antics did manage to get him to crack a smile. To his defense, he normally resides at sea level, and thus at >12,000 feet he is seriously oxygen deprived. In any case, my opinion is that he’s “uptight” and trying to mask that under a “reserved demeanor”. My opinion is based on the routine behaviors he displayed on the trip (i.e. cantankerous, irritable, grouchy) all to which I find my head nodding in the affirmative.
Nevertheless, it caused me a moment’s pause when, just before engaging in flogging him for the countless insults and discomforts that I experienced during our CDT ride, he sent Jody and I (what appeared on its face to be) a thoughtful and appreciative letter thanking us for inviting him on the trip. Not a tweet, not an email, but a real 20th century letter sent via US Post on bond paper. I’m a sucker for age old graces like this. Fortunately he threw down the gauntlet:
“Let's face it, you both have lots to give thanks, not the least of which is your great friend Dan Read who immeasurably enhanced the quality of your CDT ride this year. One has to wonder if the two of you would even have made it home safely without me.”
I’m pleased to respond to this insult in this forum since he’s unable to retaliate. :)
Let’s start with the beginning. Jody and I spent most of 2012 preparing & planning for our “Ride the Divide” adventure. Nearly a year ago, we’d invited Dan to come along, but despite that he didn’t have any schedule conflicts, he wouldn’t commit until a short sixty days before the ride. Along with his last minute declaration that he would like to join us, he admits to not having a lot of experience with long distance self-supported mountain bike travel. Who does? But in this case his inexperience is breathtaking. Let me put this in perspective. Our first recommendation to him is “Buy a bike.” Our second is “Learn to ride the bike.”
Imagine, if you will, a California city slicker clicking his heals and dropping magically into Canada to ride 1,000+ miles on a dirt path to Wyoming. Now realize that Dan didn’t have anything to start this trip. No bike. No tent. No sleeping bag. No outdoor clothing. Nada.
We had to explain to him that it was not wise to bring any of the “camping” things that he expected. Do NOT bring your: pistol, hiking boots, nor your cast iron Dutch oven. We’re planning to travel light, so he’s well behind the curve. Jody and I have lightweight gear that we’ve acquired over past years. Some loved & some unloved, but appropriate enough that we can’t defend leaving it behind and purchasing expensive new stuff. No such hurdle for Dan. He starts out by purchasing an absolutely gorgeous lightweight carbon fiber full suspension bike. He concludes a few weeks later with the purchase of a $15 titanium spork. Truly.
Seeing his list of brand new gear, I begin hoping that Dan will collapse on the trail, thereby granting me a complete 21st century gear upgrade at no expense. Unfortunately my hopes fade somewhat when he hires a fitness instructor to develop his training program. He dedicates himself and trains daily. A couple weeks before the start, he asks “When are you tapering?” We found this so funny that we nearly spilled the beer we were drinking.
Though we never “train” in the traditional sense for any of our trips, we do embrace the practice of “packing light.” We first encountered this movement 20 years ago when a lightweight packer asked if we could help him repair a rip in his pack. I did have a sewing kit to offer but (to give him a little grief) told him I only had heavyweight thread. He was alarmed and actually hesitated before performing the sewing repair. We now embrace the lightweight ethic (though not as zealously) knowing that packing light does introduce certain realities. When it gets cold outside…you’ll be chilly. Meals won’t be gourmet… rather rehydrating the food that you’re cooking. If you misplace something…it will be a critical loss. This leads us to the knife. What knife you ask? Let me explain.
Despite 20 years of faithful service, my well used camp knife disappears part way through our month long ride. Mourning the loss, I gratefully accept Dan’s offer to use his modern new knife. Imagine my horror when his knife also disappears suddenly after I borrow it. We’re packing light, so from this point, we have no knife. I’m using sticks and rocks to cut things. But then, on our final day of riding, what do I find in a pocket of my backpack? Dan’s knife, pretty as you please. Although my misery of having to replace his knife ends, in its place grows distrust & suspicion. Was the knife just hiding in my pack the entire time? Not a chance. On the other hand, could Dan have been so wicked as to have “retrieved and then returned” his knife in order to cause me this despair? Oh yes. After substantial thought, disturbingly likely. It seems that our travelling partner is both a thief and a sadist. I lay plans to set the rascal to task.
Stick with me here. Jody isn’t fond of bears. Actually, she’s terrified of them and especially the dangerous GRIZZLY bears you find up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. On our first day riding, we pass a group travelling in the opposite direction that had just seen a massive male grizzly and counsel us to be very careful. We maintain vigilant attention on the surrounding woods and make lots of noise when approaching any blind turn. Jody’s continuous yell of “Hey Bear…Get Away Bear” rings in my ears until her vocal chords fail entirely. Jody has also prepared in advance by purchasing a canister of “bear mace”. According the canister directions, a quick response can be important and she has mounted the canister on her handlebars for easy reach. Nevertheless, the ranger in Banff said it’s mostly a placebo because who can aim straight when a 1,000 pound grizzly is bearing down on you???
About three days into the ride, Jody complains that there’s something wrong with her eyes & her breathing is restricted. Dan and I aren’t experiencing any such effects and imagine she’s just tired and voicing an excuse to rest. Typical males. After riding another fifteen minutes, Jody insists we stop. We investigate and immediately see that Jody’s bike headset has worn a hole through her canister of bear mace and the contents have completely emptied themselves into our tent mounted under her handlebars. We realize now that Jody has shown extraordinary resolve in riding directly into a fog of bear mace. Just for your information, Scoville Heat Units (SHU) rates the intensity of different products. A Jalapeno pepper is rated at 7,500 SHU. Pepper spray is 25,000 SHU. Bear mace is 2,000,000 SHU! Ouch!
As the noxious fluid starts to evaporate, I notice the bear mace can has a cautionary note stating, “Do not proactively apply bear pepper spray to clothing, tents, etc. as it then may become an attractant.” Great, I think. While sleeping in our pepper spray soaked tent, Jody and I are now going to smell like a nicely seasoned bear morsel. I don’t mention this to Jody. If we are going to be bear pizza, it is better she not know about it. I mount a stuffed surrogate Kitty Kat on Jody’s handle bar to give her a small sense of comfort. We continue our ride through bear country without any remaining weaponry. Still retaining hope for a gear upgrade, I slow down to grant Dan our lead rider position. I figure the rascal deserves it.
I think that the bear mace may have addled Jody’s brain a bit. Jody’s been planning backcountry trips like this for over 20 years. She planned this trip thoroughly. She has every map of the area, knows all the campsites, grocery stores & bike shops and is good with numbers. Over the first week, we’ve travelling at a luxurious pace with plenty of time to set up camp, skinny dip in mountain lakes, cook “gourmet” ramen noodles and cuddle in our sleeping bags through the night. The weather has been sunny and mild with light tail winds. The riding has been absolutely flawless. We’ve been averaging 25 miles per day.
I NEVER look at a map. Our rule is Jody plans…I pack the bags. However, in a weak moment, I take a peak. I know that we have to ride 1,000 miles in 25 days. As these numbers come into focus, I start to feel queasy. We should have been averaging…40 miles per day! At the rate we are going, we will end up 400 miles short of our destination. Furthermore, to add insult to injury, we now need to average 50 miles a day to make up for “Miss Calculation’s” error. Still, a spark of hope goes off in my cerebral cortex. I remember that Dan was adamant before the trip that there was NO WAY he would be able to average 50 miles per day. “Ah Ha” I think to myself, Jody’s miscalculation presents the perfect way by which I can acquire Dan’s shiny new bicycle and his titanium spork to boot! I approach Dan and tell him he should sit down. He takes the news in stride. Not a word. He just gets on his bike and starts pedaling.
The man is a thief, a sadist and, now come to find out, he is also a masochist. I suspect he even knew how to ride a bike before he came on this trip. I didn’t acquire a single piece of gear despite what I would have thought were pretty decent odds. We all arrive home triumphantly to Durango, but I’m disappointed. Given my moping, a friend recently told me I should evaluate why no one ever seems to want to go on a “second trip” with us. :)
I’ve embraced my inner child. Whereas some people take up dancing or painting, I’ve embraced “tagging”. It all started when I saw a stuffed rag doll on the hood of a car - an epiphany event for me. As a result, my inner child performed his first tagging job, mounting a Tasmanian Devil on the grill of our truck. The smiles I saw from passers-by fueled his antics. He surreptitiously started collecting stuffed animals…chosen for their suitability for tagging. He proceeded to tag the cars of the neighbors. Although satisfying, that wasn’t enough. His behavior has grown out of control though I’ll admit that the carpet cleaner’s van looked great with an Elmo doll and my doctor’s car was very fashionable with a fluffy Big Bird. I recently saw the Fed-ex delivery guy drop off some deliveries at a dead run. Most recently the trash truck refuses to stop at our house. All good things come to an end.
Fortunately, my inner child has found a substitute by decorating the 300’ long tall privacy fence surrounding the back yard. Until recently, the fence was very long and very boring. He started modestly, installing a few ‘metal suns’ found at the nursery store. This didn’t satisfy his ambitious impulse, so he painted an old window frame bright yellow, and mounted it. The audacious colors were much more gratifying. So he did it again…and again…in bright orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, red. With 30 colorful windows mounted there are only a few spots left. Jody caught the bug and declared that she intends to mount window planters on the windows and run a drip system. I’m in full support. We are past being “eclectic” and accept that neighbors nod in our direction and whisper that we are “one of those” kinds of people.
Thomas the Tom Kat (TTTK) is as spoiled as a cat can be. We have a bird feeder on our porch and there are often a dozen birds flocking around without any mind to their own safety. TTTK sits immediately below the flock, mouth chattering and tail a thwacking in anticipation. He doesn’t seem to understand that the birds aren’t going to land in his mouth. He sits for hours. We realize that he’s bird challenged, but don’t say anything since we like watching the birds. Jody investigated sending him to hunting school but we searched the net and no dice…
Thomas also doesn’t like drinking ‘stale’ water from a bowl, so Jody adopted the role of cat servant by holding her hand under a running faucet to “drink him”. This became quite a burden since TTTK would jump into every sink that she approached. She spent many hours standing at sinks quenching his thirst. Don’t laugh. It was getting serious. Thankfully she found a solution. Our guests find it unusual to see our cat sitting in the kitchen sink licking at the drip-spout water bottle hanging from our dish drying rack, but we shush them and ask that they act casual. We don’t want to have to take Thomas to a kitty psychologist to remedy a potential hamster complex!
I finally proclaim our Silverton cabin a “completed” effort. The cabin is now a quiet retreat, rather than a mountain of unfinished work. Our final project was constructing an outside shower platform with an instant-on hot water heater. There is something magical in standing buck-naked high in the mountains looking over Colorado’s grand San Juan range with hot water showering down on you.
CAREER: Jody was interested in spending this past winter as a ski bum, but it was not to be. She found a great opportunity consulting for Bank of America helping to correct the excesses of the mortgage meltdown. I continue working as a consulting employee for SAIC as needed helping them with proposal development & contract management. We both love the work, the people, and largely get to work from our home offices.
IN SUMMARY: We were camped just outside of Glacier National Park when for a brief few minutes we witnessed one of the prettiest alpenglow displays we’ve ever experienced. The mountains lit up like fire as the sun set. The river quietly rustled in passing. The wind blew softly through the trees. It is for days like this that we are thankful to be alive, healthy and happy. We know that one’s life can change in an instant and we feel immense satisfaction being in this place, in this world, surrounded by friends, family and beauty. If you live outside the region and find yourself in the Durango area, please be sure to give us a ring.
We’ve created a musical slideshows for for our Continental Divide Trail Ride. Enjoy!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Jody and Seth Furtney & Thomas the Tom Kat
11 Molas Drive, Durango, CO 81301
Jody Phone: 970-385-5567 / Seth Phone: 970-385-5547
COLORADO TRAIL: The Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango is arguably the most demanding mountain bike route in the country involving over 500 miles of trail with 80,000 feet of elevation gain. This summer we rode the Colorado Trail. Jody calls it the “Best Trip Ever.” Of course, if you know anything about our past adventures, the “Best Trip Ever” must involve some challenges. Each rider needs to have a sturdy bike and a complete camping outfit including: foul weather clothing, tent, sleeping gear, cooking rig, spare parts, and other essentials. As you might imagine, the mountain bike is THE single most essential piece of equipment one needs for such an adventure. Three days before the trip, I break my bike frame. Oops!
After some frantic calls, I find a Durango based bike frame builder who agrees to perform a rush weld repair. He’s aware of the forthcoming ride and carefully avoids offering any warranty. I resolve never to look at the weld, embracing the mystical practice that “If I don’t look, it can’t crack.” Unfortunately, about halfway through the ride we cross paths with a fellow Colorado trail rider who sees the weld and innocently asks, “How’s that weld holding?” As you might expect, Murphy’s Law immediately applies to such invitations. I anxiously look closer…to discover a large crack flanking the weld repair.
With total frame failure imminent, we have no choice but to limp into the nearby town of Salida, CO to explore potential solutions. Jody is crushed and begins checking on bus schedules to slink back to Durango. I cast my lifeline to the team at Absolute Bike Shop. They direct me to a welder they’ve heard about that works on aluminum.
I gingerly ride over to Willy the Welder’s shop and, seeing nobody, shout “hello” into the darkness. After some minutes, Willy the Welder saunters out of the shadows. I display my broken bike frame and sheepishly voice my request, ”I need a repair that will hold this bike together long enough for me to ride into Durango. I don’t care how it looks.” He spits a slug of tobacco juice on the ground while tapping on the thin aluminum bike frame. He explains that he’s never worked on a bike before and is only familiar with welding on bigger stuff like…oil rigs. I implore him beseechingly “Willy the Welder. You’re my only hope.” He chaws a minute, pulls at his beard, scratches himself, hitches his pants up, and after some long minutes responds ‘Okey Dokey.”
I have no place to go so I sit against Willy’s shop wall listening to the sounds of him hammering, grinding & welding. Two hours later, he emerges. I look down to see that he has welded what appears to be two building I-beams to each side of the frame. The bike now resembles a crossbreed between Iron Man & Frankenstein. I can barely pedal for the extra weight, but Willy has delivered on my request. Jody and I can continue on our trip!
On our second to last day, we significantly misjudged the difficulty of the “Indian Ridge” section and arrive at our camping spot on Kennebec Pass well after dark. We’ve been surviving on instant potatoes and Ramen noodles for the last five days and after walking our bikes the past few miles, are too exhausted to cook up yet another such unappetizing meal. We decide to go to bed hungry but, while searching for a spot to pitch our tent, we unexpectedly come across a family in the midst of packing up their picnic. Though we try to act sensibly, we are unable to pass by. We spy vegetables, cheese, meat, and wine…a veritable cornucopia of tasty sustenance! We stand immobile five feet away, staring at their picnic, drooling uncontrollably.
Thankfully, the family intuits our craving and graciously invites us to the remnants of their bountiful feast. We try our best to remain civil, but instead attack their picnic scraps with savage zeal. We grab, grunt, and shovel voraciously. The family displays great courtesy in simply backing away to allow us to excavate the spread on their picnic blanket unmolested. We’re licking our fingers and burping when they tentatively ask if they can get their blanket back.
The next day, we meet our friend Ben for the final ride into Durango. Thankfully he brings us Jody’s spare bike which - unlike the bike she’s been riding for the past few days - has working brakes. Besides my broken frame, Jody’s brake failure, (oh and my lost rain jacket), our three week trip has progressed flawlessly. Remarkably, we haven’t gotten seriously lost and, for us, that is an accomplishment for the record books. Note to self: having Jody navigate with good maps does make a difference.
The trip into town is awesome. We complete the ride into Durango with no major injuries. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. Baskin Robbins ‘super double fudge deluxe banana split’ is awaiting! The minor scars and unusual characters we met on the trip only serve to color the fantastic memories.
COMMUTING TO WORK: This day unfolds like a nightmare. Waking from a dead sleep, Jody and I race madly to catch the early morning 6 a.m. flight to Denver. We start the car at 5 a.m. after a quick bowl of cereal. We have barely an hour to drive twenty miles to the airport, park, pass through security, and board the plane. Though this timeframe would be completely unattainable for a larger airport, it is “possible” for the small Durango regional airport. Barely.
About a mile from our home, I reflexively check to ensure my smart phone is in its hip holster and, much to my dismay, discover it missing. Like many professionals today, I’ve come to depend on its power somewhat like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings. I’ve outsourced my memory of events, phone numbers & email addresses to the device. I evaluate the “possible” timeframe of catching the flight against the difficulty of working for a week without my smart phone …and decide I’m willing to push the threat level to “extremely risky” and race home to collect My Precious. I pull an illegal U-Turn and hightail it back.
I screech to a stop, frantically open the front door, and dive onto the dining table for my phone. But it isn’t there! I’m dumbstruck and begin stumbling around babbling possible explanations involving ghosts & UFOs. Jody starts crying. After a frantic but fruitless search, we jump back into the car for the twenty mile trip to the airport. We’ve lost ten crucial minutes in this unsuccessful recovery attempt.
As you might imagine, I’m no longer fully compliant with the speed limit. In fact, I’ve just opened the Nitrous Oxide Tank valve and pushed the “Go Baby Go” button. Fire is shooting out from our muffler. The front end of the truck has just touched ground when, in the pre-dawn darkness, I fly by the police cruiser parked on the side of the road. I briefly imagine outracing the police car to the airport and slipping into the plane before capture. My second fantasy is of Thelma & Louise diving off the bridge over the Animas River. Good sense prevails and I slow down to await my punishment. The consequences for taking up the ‘extremely risky’ plan is now clearly going to include an expensive speeding ticket & missing the airplane.
The next tense moment passes in slow motion. But miraculously nothing happens. No flashing lights. No siren. My adrenaline fades in a few minutes and with it the memory of the police car. Was there really a police car? Was I just having a nightmare vision? There is no spoon. I gradually edge the truck back up to Warp speed for the remainder of the drive and we screech to a halt in the airport parking lot. We have ten minutes to take-off. We run through the security line when the airline is calling for final boarding. We jump onto the plane just before they latch the door. We decline the coffee service on the flight as we’re already feeling a bit jittery.
The mystery of the missing phone troubles me all day. Jody sends a text message to our kitty sitter, Amelia, asking her to keep an eye out. Her reply solves the mystery, “I was wondering why you left the milk on the counter and your phone in the refrigerator.”
ITALY: This fall, we joined our friends, John and Kelly Parnigoni, on a road bike ride in Italy for two weeks through the Tuscany Valley. We biked from Florence to Rome. In a display of restraint, Jody did not take charge of planning this ride. But, she would like to make clear, we did get lost. Let me explain in some detail.
We’re riding our road bikes when the paved road becomes dirt. The road is uncomfortably bumpy, but the riding isn’t really too bad… until the incline grows to 15%. The gravel plus the steep grade now combine to make the ride exceedingly challenging, but the riding isn’t truly dreadful … until darkness falls. In complete darkness, the ride becomes essentially unfeasible. John, Kelly, and I silently take a vow not to “shake the baby” by vocalizing our collective worry within Jody’s range of hearing. Though we have no camping gear whatsoever, we scan the surrounding forest for sheltered spots in which we might safely hunker through the night. We ride “by brail” in the darkness on the weathered dirt road, holding the handlebars fiercely to avoid crashing when thumping over unseen potholes.
After hours of this punishment, we finally see city lights and enter a small town. It is near midnight and the town is completely asleep. At this moment Jody proclaims “This is the best trip ever.” We all look at her in astonishment! We’re tired. We’re hungry. We haven’t a place to stay. We don’t speak Italian. Then I have an epiphany. This is exactly how Jody likes it best. The bigger the challenge…the better the journey. It has taken me about 20 years to completely & fully reach this understanding.
WHITE RIM: We joined a group riding the White Rim Trail this October for a five day mountain bike ride in the Canyonlands of Utah. We’d ridden this trail about twenty years ago with some friends. I invite our friend Todd Langley to join us and he agreed immediately. I then ask him “Have you ever been on the White Rim before?” He looks at me oddly before replying “Yeah… I rode it with you.” I’ve been racking my memory to recollect if something took place during our previous trip to repress his memory. Then again maybe I am getting a bit more absent-minded. I’m committed to the former. :)
CABIN: This summer, Jody and I finished cutting and stacking the downed trees on our mining claim. We estimate 500 trees were scattered over about an acre of steep mountain hillside. Finishing the campaign against this daunting challenge became our summer obsession. We have both become accomplished ‘sawyers’ in the process. We would regularly depart Durango to drive to the cabin, wearing torn clothing with smelly chainsaws, fuel, and chaps in back. Mindless of how our appearance diverged from our mountain vision, we would wave to our neighbors, explaining that we’re en route to our “super uber cute” cabin. As a matter of fact, we now have a ‘coiffed’ wildflower filled meadow and an attractive entrance sign inviting you to the “Free Coinage Lode Mining Claim. We’re pretty proud of the whole affair.
We haven’t recently encountered the porcupine that was featured prominently in last year’s Christmas letter. We’re not disappointed, but we both feel a sense of unease. Perhaps he’s gathering friends for a replay of his stair eating extravaganza? Who knows?
CAREER: Our work lives have changed quite a bit. Traveling back and forth to work every week in Denver was very taxing and Jody decided to quit the company soon after the ‘misplaced phone’ incident above. This fall, I was released by SAIC as part of a company layoff. Jody and I are both consulting in our professional fields while we recalibrate our career paths.
IN SUMMARY: This year has felt like one of those priceless ‘endless summers’ from our youth. The glow may be visible to others, since when Jody told a new friend about her career status, the friend responded “Is your husband retired too?” :) Perhaps we are indeed young at heart. When preparing for my birthday party in July we splurged on a wide array of Spiderman house decorations & cake icing. The friendly cashier asked, “How old is the lucky birthday boy?” Jody gestured towards me while replying casually, “He’s just turning 46!”
We remain thankful for our friends, family, and health. If you ever have a hankering to visit the Durango area, please do give us a ring.
We’ve created slideshows set to music of our 2011 adventures. Turn on your speakers and enjoy!
Colorado Trail Mountain Bike Trip:
Silverton Cabin Before and After:
Fall Mountain Biking:
Yampa River Kayaking:
Mountain Biking With Canadiens:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Jody and Seth Furtney & Thomas the Tom Kat
11 Molas Drive, Durango, CO 81301
Jody Phone: 970-385-5567 / Seth Phone: 970-385-5547