Mt. Evans – A Road Review

Mt. Evans – A Road Review

I’ve written race reviews. I’ve written ride reviews. I’ve written some equipment reviews. Now, I respectfully submit my first ever “road review”.  I recently had the opportunity to ride my bike up the highest paved road in North America. This wasn’t the first time I’ve made the ascent; I’ve done the climb a handful of times. Once when the road was closed to traffic because of a bike race, and the others when the road was open to motorized vehicles.

What made this ascent special was that the road was closed to vehicles because of the Coronavirus. If you’re a person who will only experience North America’s highest paved road from car windows, then this is yet another thing to add to the list of what’s been taken away by the pandemic of 2020.

Let’s begin with a little history lesson. First, Mt. Evans is the most prominent peak visible to the west of Denver.Denver_at_a_Glance___VISIT_DENVER It is one of Colorado’s iconic 14ers. 14ers are peaks whose summits are at or above 14,000 feet above sea level. Colorado is home to 53 such peaks. Construction on Colorado Highway 5 began back in July of 1923. After about eight years of construction, the road opened to the public. The road is about 14 miles long and begins at an elevation of 10,600 feet at Echo Lake.  It winds through the Arapahoe National forest with trees 900 – 2,000 years old. Beautiful scenery of alpine lakes, the continental divide, wild flowers and wild life abound. 

Enough about the spectacular scenery, let’s get to the road conditions.  As the highest paved road in North America, there are some challenges that go along with maintaining the road.  Winters are long and harsh and take a toll on the road.  Let’s face it, at that elevation, most cyclists are pedaling along slowly enough to easily avoid the larger holes and cracks on the ascent.  And there are many cracks in the road, particularly from mile 9 to the summit.  There are also some wheel eating sized holes along the way.  

However, on the descent, these bumps, cracks, and holes present a danger to cyclists.  I’ve witnessed bike crashes resulting in broken bones on the descent.  The best advice I’ve received for the descent is to let some air out of the tires.  The next best thing to happen is not to have to contend with vehicles on the descent.  Without cars, cyclists can really take advantage of finding the smoothest line for the descent.  In many instances, this is right down the middle of the narrow road.

Perhaps the most exciting side effect of closing the road to motorized vehicles was the abundance of mountain goats and big horn sheep at the summit.  There were so many standing on the road, laying beside the road, playing just off the road. I wish that everyone could witness that, but I suspect the cars have a tendency to drive them further away.

It may be selfish, but I’m voting to keep the road closed to vehicles indefinitely.  Having the mountain to yourself on the bike was such a treat!  I saw all forms of bikes being ridden by riders of all ages.  One fine gentleman that I spoke with was on his second ascent of the day, and he was probably 20 years my senior.  I saw two kid trailers being pulled along by brave (and strong) parents.  What a memorable family outing that would be!

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To the West of Mt. Evans

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The Mountain Goat King

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Can you see him?  And yes, the sky is really that blue in Colorado.

3 Tubes Later

I was lucky to welcome the month of February with bare arms – not something that typically happens while riding a bike in February in Colorado.  The ride got off to a slow start.  What I thought was a defective valve core turned out to be a stubborn thorn embedded deep into my Gatorskin tire.  Three tubes later, I was finally off for a joy ride.

Just a couple of miles into the ride, I approached an elementary school. I observed a very old car exiting a trailer parked in the school parking lot.  Old cars tend to catch my eye and this one was almost like a buggy; I guessed that it was early 1920’s.  I continued to pedal along on my way.  Before long, I heard a car coughing and sputtering as I climbed a nearby hill.  I looked over my shoulder and saw it was the buggy.  I chuckled to myself as I pedaled along and continued to hear the buggy struggling up the hill.  It occurred to me that perhaps that buggy was providing the soundtrack to how I felt (and potentially looked) on so many hillclimbs during my riding tenure.

As the buggy and I crested the top of the hill, the driver gave a blow of his horn. It was the kind that makes that “ah-oooh-ga” noise.  You know that sound.  As he went by, he shouted that he thought about racing me, but he couldn’t catch me on the uphill.  It wasn’t until we started the descent that his buggy gathered enough speed to 1914_cars_-_Google_Search.pngpull ahead.  When he got in front of me, I saw his license plate.  It had 4 digits on it: 1914.

I couldn’t find an exact image of the buggy, but this one is close.  I guess he was out for a joyride, too.  As he disappeared down the road, my mind was racing with thoughts of what biking must have been like back in 1914.

I envisioned the roads were primarily dirt and mostly not maintained. If that were the case, bikes were probably a better choice in getting from point A to point B. Interestingly enough, a quick google search shows that bike riders in the 1890’s were the first to lobby for road improvements.  It wasn’t until 1914 when the American Association of State Highway Officials was created.  This organization was where each state’s Department of Transportation began.  Roads have certainly come a long way in just over 100 years.  Yet they still have room for improvement.  The bike, however, hasn’t changed all that much during this span of time.  I’m just happy I don’t have to wear a dress when I ride.early_1900_biking_images_-_Google_Search

The Great Sand Dunes: Lessons in cornering, sand, and stream crossings

Recently, as Motoman and I watched the evening news, we learned that Medano Creek in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes was running at record highs.  I looked at him and declared that we had to go see it for ourselves.  We’d taken our daughter to the Sand Dunes as a little girl and had such fond family memories.  With that, a vague plan was formed to ride dual sport motorcycles the following weekend to the Great Sand Dunes and camp on a mountain top.  My only stipulation to Motoman was that we spend only one long day on the backroads either going there or returning home, but not both.

We departed on the dual sport motorcycles Saturday morning heading south from Arvada to Sedalia, via the big concrete slab.  After turning west at Sedalia, it was a mix of dirt and gravel roads for the next 134 miles to Salida.  The open roads presented ample opportunity for practicing cornering at speed… or “speed” in my case.  Motoman is so fullsizeoutput_4d42much faster than I will ever be on a motorcycle.  I’ll be forever grateful to him for riding in front of me to illustrate technique and for riding behind me to speak technique into my ears and guide me through corners via the Sena device broadcasting within my helmet.  There were enough miles and curves between here and Denver, that I believe the technique may have finally stuck.  My struggle with technique on the dual sport has been the simple fact that I ride so much.  I ride a road bicycle, a mountain bicycle, a cyclocross bicycle, a street motorcycle, and a dual sport motorcycle.  Each of these has a specific technique based on the terrain.  Using the wrong technique on the wrong bike on the wrong terrain can have disastrous results.  And truthfully, sometimes it’s hard to remember which technique to use because I forget which bike I’m on.

After all this fun cornering practice and dinner in Salida, we finally made our way to the Great Sand Dunes rather late in the day.  The original plan was to frolic in the creek and camp along Medano Creek Primitive road in the Preserve as we had done so many times years before.  This requires passing through a substantial sand pit to get there. In the past, we had done this in a 4WD vehicle.  On this trip, we would be passing through this sand pit on dual sport motorcycles.fullsizeoutput_4d45

Have I mentioned that I don’t like riding through sand?  It is second only to my dislike for riding through deep mud puddles.  I’m told that the technique to utilize when riding through deep sand on a dual sport motorcycle (or cyclocross bike) is to weight the back wheel and lighten the front wheel so that it sort of floats through the sand.  I found that by placing my body weight on the seat of my dual sport and pulling on the throttle led to a whole lot of nothing. I’m sure this technique works great for motorcycles with more aggressive tires than what I was using.  In order to move forward, I had to essentially ride my motorcycle like a stryder bicycle for kids  through deep sand.  I’m so proud to report that I made it through that sand pit and only dropped the bike a handful of times.  At least the landing was soft and I was able to pick the motorcycle up myself and carry on.

We soon found ourselves in the dark and at a place where we had to make the first of a series of deep stream crossing, or turn back and struggle through all that sand again.  As I sat on a log and waited for Motoman to return from scouting out the road ahead on the other side of the creek, a camper, AKA “Ranger Dude”, from a nearby campsite approached.  He informed me we could not camp where we had temporarily parked the motorcycles.  He went on to say he had seen 2 jeeps attempt the water crossing in front of us and turn back.  I honestly don’t know why he felt compelled to offer this unsolicited commentary.  I told him we were scouting out the situation and would not be camping there – especially if it meant we would be next to his unhelpful soul.

When Motoman returned,  we considered our options and agreed that continuing east on Medano Pass road and putting as much distance between us and Ranger Dude was our best option. It was dark. We were tired. We just wanted to set up camp and go to sleep. We’d lost count of how many water crossing there were, but our best guess is 10.  We made camp high on a mountain top, saw the spectacular milky way, and had an unrestful night’s sleep.

The next morning we awoke to birds chirping and not another soul in sight  As we continued east, we encountered maybe 5 additional water crossing that continued to get deeper and deeper. At each of the crossings, one or both of us would dismount and wade through the water to figure out the shallowest path through.  We were also checking for rocks or any debris that might create a hazard.  On the deepest of the crossings, we removed pannier bags from Motoman’s KTM and walked bikes through the water on the shallowest path.  Water was hip high on my small frame at its deepest.  Finally, the earth began to drop away as the descent began; the water was finally behind us.  Eventually, we made it to Colorado Highway 69, which is probably the smoothest stretch of road I have ever encountered.  It was smooth sailing until I ran out of gas a half mile from the Shell Station in Westcliffe.

Remember at the beginning of this story when I mentioned that the reason for this trip was due to the record high levels of Medano Creek in the Sand Dunes?  We’re still trying to figure out how two reasonably intelligent adults failed to consider that the ENTIRE creek would be running fast and high, not just the section in the Sand Dunes.  The road is now closed at the very first crossing due to high and fast water as the Spring thaw continues.

Click here to see our route via a relive video.

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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!

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?

Yellowstone Cycle Tour – A Ride Review

Yellowstone Park.  You’ve probably heard of it.  Established on March 1, 1872, it was the first national park in the United States.  Some consider it the first national park in the world.  It truly is an international tourist destination.  This is evidenced by the droves of tourists arriving by the car and busload throughout the park.  For this reason, I’ve been hesitant to travel through the park by bicycle.  Sharing a road with a designated bike lane doesn’t get a second thought from me.  But sharing a narrow road with someone who may not know the park rules, local laws, nor speak the language or be able to read the signs AND being distracted by the geothermal features and wildlife is another.  Quite frankly, it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take, no matter how beautiful the scenery.

When I heard that there was an organized ride through the park in the fall, a little spark of hope was lit.  Riding a bike in my favorite season, through one of my favorite places, with support and lots of signage alerting drivers of the cyclists was just what I needed!

I did some online research and discovered the website www.cycleyellowstone.com.  Registration for the 2016 Yellowstone Cycle Tour would open on June 15, 2016 and close when sold out.  The ride was limited to 300 riders.  I marked my calendar and began to consider who I would ask to ride with me.  The drive to West Yellowstone would be a very long day in the car from Denver, and perhaps best suited for two days.  The ride from

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Kimberly is the only woman who could pair cycling clothes with cowboy boots and make it look good!

West Yellowstone to Old Faithful was 62 miles round trip.  In October, it could be snowing there.  Of all my family members and friends, Kimberly was the one person who just might be crazy enough to sign up for this adventure with me… and she did.

We arrived in beautiful West Yellowstone, Montana on the eve of October 7th.  Kimberly is a local in Bozeman and was able to score us a very nice room at the Bar N Ranch just outside of West Yellowstone.  We had an excellent dinner in the dining hall at the ranch and got up early Saturday morning for breakfast before our departure.  The ride was organized to depart in two waves.  The first wave was for what the ride organizers referred to as “more experienced riders” and the second wave was for the less experienced.  We departed somewhere in the middle between the two waves.  We settled into a slight prolonged climb for the next fifteen miles.  The buffalo and elk wasted no time and made their appearance very quickly into our ride.

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Lots of this type of signage was placed along the ride route.

The only aid station was located fifteen miles into the ride at Madison Junction.  We stopped for a bathroom break and visited the very well stocked aid station.  Ride organizers had provided an assortment of fresh fruits, candies, packaged bars, and liquids for riders.  The departure from Madison Junction was directly into a prolonged climb that leveled out on the top of a plateau about 500 vertical feet later at 7200 feet .  It was along this plateau about 7 miles from Old Faithful where the highlight of the trip occurred.  Kimberly and I were just riding along when we realized how quiet it had become because there was not another cyclist or car nearby.  The only thing nearby were the 20-30 buffalo bedded down maybe 30 feet from the road. This was the closest that I’d ever been to the giants and it was quite magnificent to see.  I very much wanted to stop for a picture, but did not want to stop for any wildlife near the road without having a car between us.

When we arrived at Old Faithful, the first order of business was to find the lunch tent.  The second order of business was to see whether Old Faithful was erupting or how long we might have to wait until the next predicted eruption.  We had about 45 minutes to wait and despite the fact that we’d both seen the eruption before, decided that it was worth the wait after pedaling for 30 miles.  We sat down to enjoy the lunch that was an option at registration.  Mine consisted of a very tasty PB&J, chips, an apple, and a cookie.  There were also other munchies available for riders at the tour tent.

After watching Old Faithful do its magic, we hopped back on the bikes.  Kimberly was vocal img_5681about her tushy not being very excited about being back in the saddle.  If she had wanted to catch the SAG wagon, she could have because they were plentiful.  But like all the Minkoff’s, she didn’t give up.   Eventually, we came back to the feed station at Madison Junction and stopped for sweets and coffee.  Much to our surprise, we found ourselves removing clothing because the weather was so warm.

On the drive back to Bozeman, we decided that despite our aches and pains, we had a fantastic time.  So much so that there is likely to be another cousins adventure next year.  Stay tuned!!

PS – Off road biking in Yellowstone is limited to very few (read: short) opportunities.  Check their website for details. Spots in the Yellowstone Cycle tour are limited and go fast.  We were essentially begged to ride single file to ensure that the event would be a go the following year.  If you are the kind of cyclist who is incapable of riding single file, don’t register for this event.  Don’t be the person who spoils this wonderful opportunity for others.  Just don’t.

 

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This is the Midway Basin Geyser area.  Yep, that’s a snow pole and it’s taller than me!

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Yep, those are buffalos laying in the meadow.  They were far enough away that I was willing to stop for a picture. (Madison Junction area)

 

Stay Calm and Take Calcium!

Have a conversation of any length with any cyclist and it will typically lead to a “JRA” story. A JRA story begins with “ I was just riding along…” Typically these words lead to an exciting or interesting cycling tale. A number of my JRA stories end with details describing how I was just riding along when I was thrown to the ground. While each of the stories is different in the circumstances of the crash, one thing remains consistent amongst all the stories, and that is my calm reaction following the crash.

After my first serious mountain bike crash, I remember being dazed and confused. One moment I had been upright, pedaling along with a gentle breeze on my face, feeling proud that I had reached the end of a long and technical ride, and in the next moment I found myself and my bike laying in the dirt. As I sat on the ground in a puff of dust examining my injuries, my radio beeped. I pressed the talk button and mumbled that I thought I saw bone. It turned out not to be bone, but was soft tissue that was not meant to see the light of day. It didn’t take long for my riding companions to return to my aid and get me to the ER for stitches. This crash happened so quickly and unexpectedly, that I didn’t have time to react with much more than surprise.

In my next serious crash, I had lots of time to think about the landing as I sailed though the air face first toward a boulder. At the last moment I curled my head backward to avoid hitting the boulder with my face and took the impact to my sternum. As I came to rest in the dirt, I remember trying to call out to my fast friend whom I was trying to keep up with. The exertion of attempting to yell hurt my chest and it came out as a whisper. It hurt to breathe and as I lay in the dirt, I wondered if this would be the crash that I was unable to pedal away from. After a few minutes had passed, I caught my breath, picked myself up off the ground, and giggled with joy.  I was joyful that I could get up.  I remounted the bike at about the same time my friend had come back to find me. Together we slowly rode back to the cars. An ER visit was not necessary, but a 6 week break from biking was.

When I crashed in late June, I was on a 25 mile ride beginning in Golden Gate Canyon State Park and ending in White Ranch Open Space in Jefferson County just outside Golden, Colorado.  It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the cobalt blue skies overhead as we pedaled away from the trailhead. Like an eraser on a chalkboard, enough moisture had fallen the night before to erase the tracks of trail users from the previous day. I could still feel the thickness of the humidity in the air. We settled into a prolonged climb on smooth, narrow singletrack. Eventually that smooth path gave way to rockier terrain surrounded by pine trees and aspen. It was on a rocky descent where I went down about 13 miles into the route. As I came to rest with my knee wedged between rocks and bike frame, I wondered how severe the damage to my bike and leg would be. I was grateful to be riding with a well prepared nurse because it was obvious the couple of bandaids tucked in my backpack wouldn’t be enough to handle the blood. There weren’t any broken bones, and I recognized from my first crash that soft tissue that isn’t supposed to see the outside world. Stitches would have been appropriate, however we were miles from anywhere without any cell phone signal. Walking or riding out were the only two options; it hurt less to pedal, so that’s  what I did.

MotoMan has been with me through all three crashes and he asked me the other day how I remain so calm afterward? It’s interesting he describes me as calm when I felt anything but calm on the inside.  Apparently I’m the only one who can hear my pounding heart. After some reflection on this question, I concluded that I stay calm because I like to be in control of what happens to me. If I’ve had a crash, it means I’ve lost control and, for me, that’s the worst part.  After the initial shock of the impact passes, I turn my attention to what I can control; like determining whether anything is bloody, broken or bent ~ on me or the bike. After that assessment, I take what action is necessary to get up and pedal away.

When it comes to stressful situations where others are hurt, I try to take a similar approach. If there is anything that I can control to contain the situation, I do that. At the very least, remaining calm can be comforting and contagious to the person in need.  I’ve heard that people are defined by their reaction to crisis.  How will you react in a defining moment?

Handlebars, headsets, and tunnels. Oh my!

Last year I did a couple of cyclocross races and got bitten by the bug.  I started shopping for a cyclocross bike in late July because bikes in my small size are few and far between.  I was scouring online forums and bike shop web sites for something, anything in my size so that I would be outfitted come race day in September.  It was suggested that I visit a certain bike shop in Boulder because it was known to be “the” cyclocross bike shop in the area.

I dedicated an entire afternoon to making the drive up to Boulder with the intention of test riding as many bikes as I could find to fit me.  The first (and only) bike that I rode was a Focus Mares CX Disc 105.  I rode along South Broadway in Boulder to some open space where I could take the bike on the dirt.  Overall the bike felt large and sluggish.  I gave this feedback to the sales rep who was helping me.  He suggested swapping out the stem so that I would feel less stretched out on the bike.  We went to the back of the store where he did this while we chatted.

He asked me to take the bike in a loop around the parking lot before departing for the open space just to get a general sense of whether it felt any better or not.  I gave him the thumbs up and once again headed south on the sidewalk parallel to Broadway.  I was bunnyhopping, jumping, and generally riding aggressively on the bike as I pedaled alongside the busy road.  By the time I reached the tunnel that passes under Broadway, it became evident that there was a problem with the bike.  As I entered the tunnel and it became darker, I became very confused about what was happening.  I realized that while I was still going straight forward on the bike, the handlebars were turning sideways.  I had absolutely no control over the direction this bike was going.  I gingerly placed one hand up to run it along the tunnel wall and bring the bike to a stop.  As I rolled to a stop in the dark tunnel, six kids came charging through the tunnel as they rode their bikes home from school.  I was subjected to bells ringing and verbal reprimands for stopping so foolishly in the dark tunnel, which only added to my confusion and fear.

After dismounting the bike and pushing it back into the light, I was able to confirm what had happened.  In swapping out the stem earlier, the sales rep had failed to properly tighten down the headset.  All the jumping and aggressive riding I’d done between the tunnel and bike shop had loosened the one bolt that he had tightened.  I started the walk back to the bike shop.  As I walked by all the obstacles I’d jumped, I wondered how it came to pass that I had not lost control of that bike and veered off into the traffic speeding by on that busy road.

When I finally arrived back at the bike shop, a couple of their team members snickered as I walked by with the bike.  I suppose it was quite a sight: me in my loose fitting shorts, t-shirt, and shop-loaned helmet walking a bike with the handlebars turned completely to the side.  When I entered the shop, one of the sales reps looked at the bike in horror asking what happened.  I rolled the bike toward her and told her I was sent out with a loose headset.  As the gravity of that sank in, I retrieved my driver’s license from the sales rep who swapped out the stem.  He seemed as appalled as I was by what had happened and took full responsibility for it.

Later that night I received an email from the shop owner inquiring about the situation.  He assured me that this incident was the first of its kind at his shops.  We exchanged a couple more emails and ultimately he reassured me that he’s ridden for years and nothing has ever stopped him from getting back on a bike.  I knew it wouldn’t stop me from riding either.  I’ve had too many good experiences on the bike to let one incident like this stop me from riding.  I also knew, however, that a most basic level of trust had been violated.  The nightmares I’ve had about biking since this incident confirm that it affected me on a very deep level.  As I said before, it hasn’t stopped me from riding, but it has stopped me from returning to this shop.

Finding Peace on Two Wheels

There are 365 days each year, most of which pass us by with little to no fuss.  But there are a few days each year that we anticipate ~ be it with excitement or dread.  The days I look forward to are primarily happy days: my birthday, my husband’s birthday, our anniversary, June 21st (the longest day of the year), July 4th (who doesn’t like fireworks?), December 21st (because it means the days are getting longer and we’re halfway to June 21st).  Someone queue Bon Jovi.

Then there’s my daughter’s birthday on February 9th.  It was certainly a life changing day and is one of the happiest days of my life.  Next month she’ll be 13; a teenager.  January has been my least favorite month for most of my adult life.  It’s such a dark, cold month.  There aren’t many January days that are good for outdoor riding.  Combine that with back to work and school following the holidays and it’s simply dreadful.   However, after I had my daughter I found a new way to make the passing of January more tolerable.  I went into birthday party planning mode January 2nd.  Now that she is getting older, the party planning has dissipated and the January winter doldrums have returned.

In 2010, on February 7th after my daughter’s 8th birthday party, we returned to our home.  It was a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon.  At that time, we still had a “land line” to our house.  The phone rang as soon as we walked through the door.  When I realized my husband had picked up a call from my mom and she was inquiring as to whether we had received the birthday gift she had sent, my daughter and I quickly bundled back up into our snow boots, coats, and hats and ran down the street to the mailbox. After retrieving the box from Texas, we ran back home as fast as we could. My mom got to be “with” us on the phone as my daughter tore into the box. It was a joyful conversation.  Later that night after the Superbowl, the phone rang again.  This time it was my dad calling to say that my mom had collapsed and died just a couple of hours before.  February 7th officially became the saddest day of my life.

When I started riding the bike in the fall of 2011, it was one of the best things I did for my mental health.  In another blog post I wrote about how I was not a cyclist when I joined my team, but quickly started pedaling my way to becoming one.  While I longed for someone to ride with in those winter months before my first race, it was more therapeutic that I was riding alone.  I’m not going to lie, there were many tears shed behind those sporty Smith sunglasses.  As winter turned to spring and spring to summer, I began to notice the birds chirping as I pedaled along.  One day, as I pedaled along a familiar road,

I heard the distinctive song of the meadowlark.  My mom always loved that sound and would point it out to anyone nearby whenever she heard it.  I started spending more time riding on this road because it was one of only two roads where I heard the meadowlark.  Being out on those deserted roads with the sound of the meadowlark made me feel closer to her.

As I gained strength and endurance during that summer of 2012, I began to ride further and further from my home, and further from that road where the meadowlarks sing. But I’m frequently drawn back to that road.  Sometimes I hear the meadowlarks calling to me as I go by; sometimes I call out to them.  Riding on that road is where I found peace on two wheels.