Tour of the Moon – A Ride Review

Tour of the Moon – A Ride Review

I have ridden in a fair number of cycling events, such as the Triple Bypass, the Yellowstone Cycle Tour, and the Copper Triangle.  While each of these events has it’s own unique characteristics that have the potential to lure me back for a second ride, the only cycling event I’ve done twice is the Icon Tour of the Moon.  The ride starts and finishes in Grand Junction, Colorado each fall.

The ride organizers have conveniently created two registration options for riders.  The first option is the Classic Loop from Grand Junction through the Colorado National Monument and back to Grand Junction for a total of 41 miles.  The other option consists of the Classic Loop plus an additional ~20 miles through the farmlands around Fruita and then returning to Grand Junction. The result is a metric century ride or 62 miles.  When my friend was asking which option we should register for, I described it as the pretty part that you’re paying for vs. the afterthought.

What I mean by that is one lane of Rim Rock Drive (the main road through the Colorado National Monument) is closed to non-ride event traffic during the ride.  This means that you only have to lookout for oncoming vehicles, and most of those are SAG vehicles or motos anyway.  This makes for a fantastic way to experience such a majestic place!  In exchange for your quiet riding pleasure, all that is required is lights on your bicycle.  Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this!  After exiting the Colorado National Monument, you have the option to return immediately to Grand Junction or take the tour around Fruita.  While the country roads offer their own charm and views of the Grand Mesa Book Cliffs, the scenery in the Colorado National Monument is hard to beat.  The race organizers have created a segment of road called the “King/Queen of the Flats” to add some excitement to the metric century portion of the ride.

All ride entry fees include a jersey and post-ride lunch.  The lunch is typically salad, pasta, and desert.  The aid stations throughout the ride are very well stocked with fluids, bagels, cookies, fruit, trail mix, and energy bars.  The volunteers are friendly and helpful.  Law enforcement is attentive.  Overall, if the weather cooperates, this ride is a wonderful way to cap the cycling season.

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20th Wedding Anniversary Adventure Ride

20th Wedding Anniversary Adventure Ride

As our 20th wedding anniversary approached, Motoman and I talked about all the different options we had to commemorate our special day.  We could throw a big party.  We could spend a quiet weekend somewhere special.  We could include family.  Ultimately, we decided to mark the occasion with a motorcycle ride.  We were already planning to drive to Kimberley, British Columbia in late June to pick up our daughter from school.  We decided to add on to that trip by bringing our motorcycles with us and taking a 4-5 day tour around Alberta and British Columbia, sticking primarily to gravel and logging roads.  We’d spend the night wherever we ended up on any given day.

Day 1 – Kimberley, BC > Banff, Alberta

We departed from Kimberley mid-morning under overcast skies.  The planned route was to take logging and Canadian Forest Service roads northeast from Kimberley to Banff.  However, within the first two hours, we encountered our first road block.  The road we planned to take was blocked and closed for “eco-system regrowth”.  This meant a detour to our route, and that more of the day would be spent riding on paved roads rather than dirt.  In the process of finding our way through the forest, we ended up on top of a mountain.  The clouds parted just IMG_0033long enough for us to snap a few pictures.  This was one of the funnest days of riding because we crossed numerous streams and mud puddles, saw bears, deer, and places that many Canadians probably haven’t seen.  The route went from Kimberley on Highway 95 to Wasa Lake Provincial Park >  Canal Flats > Kootenay National Park > Banff.  After dinner in Banff we  spent our first night at Two Jack Lakeside Campground.  The views did not disappoint.IMG_0036

Day 2 – Banff Area Touring

We packed up our camp and rode to Lake Louise.  After taking the obligatory selfies, we hopped back on the motorcycles and went to the Moraine Lake road, which was blocked to traffic.  While cars were turned away, we were waived through and had a very traffic free ride to Moraine Lake.  Next, we took the Trans-Canadian Highway west to Highway 93 AKA Icefields Parkway.  We rode north on Highway 93 to the Columbia Ice Field. By the time we arrived at the Visitor’s Center, the sleet was coming down hard and fast.  We had hoped to make it to Jasper and camp overnight, but we both agreed that the weather simply was not cooperating.  We turned around and went back to the Banff area in search of  a campsite.  We got lucky and ended up sharing a site with a young French man making his way across Canada on foot.

The route went from Two Jack Lakeside Campground > Lake Louise > Moraine Lake > Columbia ice field > Lake Louise Campground

Day 3 – Lake Louise, AB > Trout Lake, BC

It was time to start heading West and making our way toward Kimberley.  We took the Trans-Canadian Highway from Lake Louise to Revelstoke.  Most of the day was spent riding in the rain, so we stopped and warmed up in one of many hot springs along the way.  After lunch in Revelstoke, we turned onto a logging road.  It wasn’t long before we came upon a small fallen tree.  We made it over this first tree and the second fallen tree without any trouble.  The third tree was much larger and we paused for a discussion about the obstacle.  I learned on this ride when someone asks the question “what’s the worst that could happen?” It’s important to really give that question the thoughtful reflection it deserves.  I also learned that Aspen trees are extremely slippery and do not behave at all like the dried up pine logs motorcyclists typically practice riding over.  (I hope someday to be allowed to write more about this because it will be a good read!) We decided that 3 downed trees within the first half mile probably meant for a LOT more further down the road.  We turned around and headed back to the paved road.  Due to IMG_0029the numerous lakes and mountains in British Columbia, ferries are part of the highway
system.  As we sat and waited for the ferry, we spoke with the worker on duty.  She mentioned a severe wind storm and passed through the area just a couple of days before and had likely blown down the trees we encountered.  Eventually they would be cleared, but other roads take priority over the logging roads.  It was getting later in the day and she recommended we make our way to Trout Lake for the night.  We found a secluded and beautiful campsite on the lake shore for our IMG_0032anniversary.

The route went from Lake Louise > Revelstoke > Shelter Bay > Trout Lake

 

 

Day 4 – Trout Lake to Kimberley

Our last day of riding and finally the weather was warming up.  We made our way down a fun and winding road along Kootenay Lake and stopped for brunch in Kaslo.  After ferrying across the lake in Balfour, we took Gray Creek Road to Kimberley.  All in all, we rode approximately 800 miles over four days.

Other Lessons learned:

Motorcycles are allowed to do things cars are not because they are badass, at least according to Motoman. For example, boarding and exiting ferries first (despite the sign that says motorcycles do NOT get special treatment), closer parking (because you can fit in little spaces), taking roads closed to cars, just to name a few.

People are more impressed with a KTM 1290 than a Yahama XT250; I’m not sure why that would be.

Things don’t always go according to plan; be flexible.

Gear used:

Yamaha xt250

Arai Helmet

Olympia jacket with two removable liners

Mountain Hardware monkey fur fleece

Klim gloves, pants, hydration system

Dainese boots

Mom’s silk scarf

Wildlife seen:

Deer

Bears

mountain goats

ticks

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Anniversary treats in Kaslo

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Trout Lake BC – the perfect place to camp!

The Ride When I learned a Skill After I Needed it

Riding from our house in Arvada, Colorado to the Rampart Range located in the Pike-San Isabel Forest just southwest of Castle Rock was one of longest distances I’ve ridden on my little Yamaha XT-250, AKA Dory.   The round trip (including the trails we rode) was approximately 120 miles.  After some discussion, Motoman and I decided to ride there because of the diversity of trails in the system and unlikelihood for mud.  It had snowed a couple of days before and we were hopeful that it would not be muddy.   It turns out that the OHV trails at Rampart Range are very similar to the mountain bike trails at Buffalo Creek in that they are covered with granite pebbles and sand, which tends to keep the mud to a minimum.

When we arrived at the Rampart Range Staging parking lot, I was surprised at how many vehicles were in the lot.  I became nervous about how many other riders I would encounter along a trail and how I would maneuver my motorcycle to share the trail.  Mountain bikes are so much lighter!  When Motoman asked me which trail I wanted to ride first, I picked a beginner trail, of course!  It was a twisty path through the forest with the occasional water puddle.  The trail was fairly smooth and the most common obstacle was tree roots, which are slippery when wet. It was an uneventful ride until we came to a 40 foot section of rocks on a downhill where I completely lost control of the motorcycle.  I had stood up for the descent and when I reached for the rear brake with my right toes, all I got was air.  I bounced down the trail, afraid to touch the front break for fear I’d go over the bars.  I had a death grip on the clutch and bars.  By the time I thought to release the clutch to slow down, I was at the bottom of the hill and came to an easy stop.  I don’t know how I didn’t crash.  We encountered only two other riders on this trail, despite that full parking lot.

The trail ended and we found ourselves on the Rampart Range dirt road, which travels through the heart of the trail system.  It was here that Motoman taught me the rear brake  skid technique.  It works like this: get your speed up to about 15 MPH, pull in the clutch, let off the throttle, and step on the rear brake hard enough to skid.  We practiced this over and over, eventually seeing who could leave the longest skid mark on the dirt road. I wish we’d had this session before that first trail!! [Sidebar: now I understand why Motoman is constantly buying new tires.]

The next trail we did was still relatively smooth, but much muddier and hence slipperier.  The climbs and the descents were also steeper.  We found a beautiful rock formation and stopped for a snack and pictures.  On this trail, we encountered only two other riders.

It seems every time I ride the motorcycle, I learn something new.  This ride offered three valuable lessons. First, the skidding lesson has already proven to be a valuable addition to the toolbox.  I used it non-stop for the second trail we rode that day.  Second, I don’t like riding in mud.  Third, speed is helpful.  If I’d applied the brakes during the rocky section in the first trail, I suspect I would have gone so much slower that I would have crashed.  The fact that I took that section at speed kept me from getting a wheel hung up on a rock.  I’ve replayed that section in my mind a number of times since the ride itself, and words from my fearless daughter keep coming to mind:

“Sometimes you just gotta give it gas and hang on.”

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Finding Dory

Long ago when I met Motoman ~ circa 1997 ~ he was riding a crotch rocket style motorcycle. He was into big adventures. Our weekends consisted of rock climbing in the mornings and jet skiing in the afternoons. Mountain biking was thrown into the mix between all the other fun activities. A few years later, along came Sierra and farewell went that motorcycle. He lasted about ten years without a motorcycle.

When he got back on the motorcycle, his focus turned to dual-sport riding with the kind of motorcycle built for riding on roads and dirt alike. His adventures became more exciting as he traveled to far away places.  Sierra and I would look and listen with awe at his pictures and stories. It wasn’t long before Sierra presented us with half the money necessary to purchase her own motorcycle. Together they rode off and returned with beautiful pictures taken from mountaintops across Colorado and memories that will last a lifetime.   I came to realize it would be impossible to visit many of these places on my mountain bike; and, more importantly, that I was missing out on some fantastically adventurous family time. This became particularly evident on a family trip to Lake City, Colorado.

After returning home from Lake City, the search began for a dual-sport style motorcycle that would fit under my short legs. The choices were few and far between. To top it off, I wasn’t willing to pay for a new motorcycle that I knew would likely take a beating as I learned how to trail ride. We finally got a phone call in May of 2016 that a motorcycle had arrived at Motorado that just might work. I quickly snatched it up since there weren’t any others to choose from.

I’m pleased to introduce Dory aka Little Bluey. You can find her in the picture below. Since I started this blog back in 2014, the posts have been about bike rides, bike races, bike gear, and lessons learned from the saddle.  That’s going to change. I’ll continue riding and writing as inspiration comes. However, the stories will now include experiences from a motorcycle saddle.

I hope you’ll keep reading and find yourself some inspiration.

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Nederland CX – A Race Review

Nederland CX – A Race Review

As I drove up Highway 72 to Nederland, I wondered just what the course for this inaugural Nederland Cyclocross race would be like.  The race flyer stated that the race course would wind through the heart of the town and include a mix of cyclocross features.  What exactly, did that description mean?  As visions or stairs and other urban cross features floated through my head, I parked and made my way to the registration tent.

The first feature I noticed was a very sharp, uphill turn onto a covered pedestrian bridge over a creek.  After retrieving my race number, I walked a bit more of the course.  I noticed another bridge and some railroad tie barriers.  I made some smalltalk with a woman nearby.  The topic of conversation quickly came around to the race course.  She mentioned on the other side of the course, that if you didn’t take the right line in one section, you were sure to end up in the lake.

At that point I decided it was in my best interest to get my bike out of the car and take a pre-ride of the course.  I didn’t mind getting dirty, but I certainly did not want to land in a lake astride my bike.  Once the current race was over, I pedaled on to the course.  I ended up behind another guy who must have already raced, because as we rode along, he told me about what was coming up around each bend.  In this section of the course that wound along the creek, the vegetation was so tall that you couldn’t see what was coming until you were there.  The first surprise was a sharp left turn.  The next surprise was a path of beaten down cat tails.  The mud below the cat tails was now being churned up by all the bike tires.  At the end of the cat tails was a steep run-up.

The next part of the course was the hard part: two- three off-camber ups and downs on loose dirt, and the steepest, loosest run-up ever.  This was followed by the steepest, loosest descent ever seen (by me!) on a cyclocross race course.  It was during this descent that I came upon the place where landing in the lake was supposedly a certainty if one were to take the wrong line.  My conclusion was that landing in the lake was only a remote possibility under the worst set of circumstances.  At the end of the lap, I began to question whether this race was something I could actually finish, let alone be competitive in.  I’d been nursing a sore shoulder all week and it would be impossible for me to shoulder the bike in any of the sections where it would make sense to do so.  I’d have to run the bike and lift it over the barriers when necessary.  I considered packing my bike in the car and going home right then and there.  Then my phone rang and Motoman wanted to know if it was raining in Nederland?  I looked up at the threatening skies and thought how miserable this course would become if the skies were to let go.

When Motoman arrived, I mentioned how hard the course was and that I was IMG_0925contemplating leaving.  His response was that it would be just as hard for everyone else as it would be for me.  As I pinned the number to my jersey, I thought to myself that I’ll just ride it; then I won’t have any expectations nor disappointment about how I finish.  Then we got a FaceTime call from our daughter who we hadn’t spoken to in a couple of days. It proved to be the perfect distraction.  When we hung up, I had only about 30 minutes before the start time to pedal around and half-heartedly warm-up.  Besides, who needs to warm-up for ride??

Promptly at 5:10 PM, the race started and we were off!  Racers were still rather clumped together when I reached the hard part of the course.  A crash in front of me forced me off the bike and to run more of the off-camber section than I would have liked.  However, as I trotted along, I realized that the women who were riding weren’t going any faster than I was.  I had started to run with my bike because I didn’t want to stop. But now that I couldn’t find a decent place to remount, I just kept going.  Two thoughts occurred to me as I finished that first lap 1) I did not want to run as much on the next lap and 2) this race was as hard for the other women as it was for me!

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Photo Credit: Cid Dennis

I dug in and settled into a pace I could sustain for five more laps.   I’m so proud to have finished such a difficult race!  Taking 2nd place was the icing on the cake!

 

 

 

 

Not only was this the hardest race I’ve finished, it was also the most expensive:

  1. Entry fee: $30
  2. Deductible for car repairs necessary from colliding with black bear on the way home: $750
  3. While tasty, the six pack of beer only drowned my sorrows temporarily.
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    Master’s Women 40+, 2nd Place Photo by: Cid Dennis

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    That’s black bear fur stuck in the wheel.

12 Bike to Work Days

Arvada is a wonderful place to live.  There isn’t much between my house and the foothills, although what’s there is gradually filling in with houses.  I love the rural feel of this community.  Seeing horses and other farm animals and wildlife on the way to the grocery store reminds me of my days back in Billings, Montana.  Many of the streets in this area are still two lane country roads.  All that quaintness gets tossed out the window, however, when you come to an intersection like Indiana & Leyden Road on any given school day at 7:10 AM. Those two lane roads can be backed up for nearly a mile in each direction as thousands of kids try to get to school at about the same time.  Combine that volume of traffic with sun glare and distracted drivers and it amounts to a risk that I wasn’t willing to take on my bike.  Like my daughter was counting down the days of school until she could sleep in, I was counting them down until I could ride to work!

Back in May, I set a goal to ride my bike to & from work 10 times before school restarted August 17th.  I rode to and from work once in May, five times in June, four times in July, and twice in August for a total of 12 commutes.  My mission was accomplished before August arrived.  What I didn’t expect when I started the commutes back in May was how many aggressive drivers I would experience on my 11 mile ride to Broomfield.  Here I had been thinking that the major safety concern was the volume of traffic at the intersection of Indiana & Leyden Road, when the real danger was the drivers I encountered on deserted rural roads before 7 AM.  In particular, Alkire Street between 88th and 96th Avenues and Simms Street north of Brocade Parkway to Highway 128 were where I experienced the most aggression.  I ended up calling in more drivers to the Colorado State Patrol in this two month span of time than I have in all my years of riding.  What was most frustrating about these encounters is that the majority of them occurred when there wasn’t an oncoming vehicle in sight…

Here’s the summary of my car vs. bike encounters during the last 12 weeks:

  • I was yelled at by a driver on Bike to Work day (June 27).  He informed me that I should be riding on a bike path.  When he finally took a breath, I interjected that I had every right to be on the road, to which he replied it was his right to run me over.
  • I was buzzed by a Federal Express truck driver on Simms Street just south of Highway 128.  I exchanged tweets with Fedex and like to think their drivers received a refresher on Colorado’s 3 foot law.  It didn’t happen again and there are MANY Fedex trucks in the area since they have a distribution facility right along that stretch of road.
  • I was honked at by a woman for taking the lane in order to avoid a three feet wide pothole in the road while descending at high speed.
  • I lost track of the number of drivers who insisted on sharing the narrow lane with me when there wasn’t another car in the opposite direction and they could so EASILY have given me just a few more inches. This particular behavior is most bothersome because it seems the underlying message is “I could get over, but avoiding a person riding a bike isn’t worth the energy it takes for me turn that steering wheel 2 inches.”

Surely, that’s not the case, right?  Maybe those drivers are new to the area and are unaware of Colorado’s laws; we do have lots of transplants here.  Here’s a little video that will help to educate you on the laws.  Oh, and when in doubt, give a cyclist more room than you think they need.  Sometimes we have to swerve, just like you do in your car.  Drivers don’t like it when other cars get too close to them, either.  Surely you can relate to  that?

Gowdy Grinder – A Race Review

I should have known how my race would end when I missed the turn off Highway 210 for Curt Gowdy State Park.  Or maybe I should have known when the friendly folks working the number pick-up table couldn’t find my race number, despite the fact I was “on the list.”  Or maybe I should have known how the race would end back on April 23 when my pre-ride was cancelled because the trails were covered with snow.  These are just a few of the signs as to how my race would end right up to the seconds after the race director yelled “go”.  However, this post is intended to be more of a race review than the excuses for my 8th place finish in the Advanced Women category.  On some level, they do go hand-in-hand.

I left the house very early on May 13 for the drive from Arvada, Colorado to Curt Gowdy State Park in southeastern Wyoming.  My race started at 11:01 AM, and I planned to arrive before 10.  I was grateful to have left enough of a cushion in my drive time to accommodate the missed turn off highway 210 which added about 30 extra minutes to my drive.  The signage within the park directing race traffic was obvious and easy to follow.  Because the number of race registrants is limited to just 325, there was ample parking as competitors arrived and departed throughout the day.

This race is self described as a “bare bones” race and as such, there were only a handful of tents setup at the Aspen Grove Trailhead, making it easy to figure out which one was the registration tent.  Despite a thorough search, the registration volunteer was unable to locate my number and waiver.  The race director quickly got involved and reassigned me to another number.  This left me with about an hour to kill before start time.  I busied myself with applying sunscreen, suiting up, checking tire pressure, taking in some calories, and a half-hearted warm up on and off the race course.  The Advanced Women’s race consisted of two loops, one ~5 mile loop, and another ~8 mile loop.  The two loops overlapped in part.  My goal was to finish the race in under two hours even though I’d never ridden the trails before.

The start line was situated on an uphill jeep trail so as to thin the flow of racers before arriving at the single track on top of the hill.  I was thrilled that mom’s were called up to the front of the 10 person peloton.  That thrill quickly passed when I realized that I was the only mom.  I knew all those other women had spent less time in a hockey rink and more time pedaling their bikes than I had.  I was even less thrilled when I got passed within the first 5 pedal strokes after the race started.  (audible sigh)

Because the April snow had foiled my plans at a pre-ride, I was very concerned about how I would find my way through the race course.  The Gowdy Grinder was quite possibly the best marked mountain bike race I have done.  There were signs at every fork in the trail as well as ribbons tied to tree branches.   Despite all this great signage, I made a wrong turn during the long loop of my race.  (I’d give specifics on exactly where this happened, but I neglected to turn on my Garmin at the start of the race.)  I back tracked and found the turn.  I’m still scratching my head as to how I missed it given the great signage.

At some point into the second loop I began to recognize the terrain from the previous loop and I knew I didn’t have too much further to go.  The terrain at Curt Gowdy was an interesting mix of flowy single track and funky rock formations that were incorporated into the trails.  It was more technical than I had anticipated, but very fun riding nonetheless.  I uncerimoniously crossed the finish line in eighth place of 10 racers and went directly to my car to change.

At the food tent, the race crew actually made sandwiches for participants.  Being that I am responsible for the cooking at our house, I was beyond thrilled to have someone build a sandwich for me.  It was quite possibly the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had!  They also had the best macarons west of Paris.  These alone would draw me back for the race next year! Thanks Pedalhouse and Laramie Racing for a fantastic experience!