Riding the Beartooth Pass

Riding the Beartooth Pass

The Beartooth Pass is on US Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana.  The highway meanders along the borders of Montana and Wyoming high on the plateau of the Beartooth Mountains and eventually leads right into Yellowstone Park.  It’s closed in the winter and occasionally on other days throughout the year, given the right weather conditions.  The day before I pedaled up the pass on July 30, it was closed due to snow.  At its summit, this road is the highest elevation highway in both Montana and Wyoming.

I’ve driven over Beartooth Pass several times on my way to or from Yellowstone Park over the years.  The views never disappoint despite the wind and cool temperatures on top of the plateau.  When I started this cycling journey four years ago, riding up Beartooth Pass on my bike was  always a thought in the back of my mind.  I guess you could say it was on my “ride bucket list”.  Yes, cyclists have such a thing as I suppose motorcyclists do as well.  However, each summer when I returned to Montana, there was always some reason why I couldn’t do the ride: last year, I brought a mountain bike, the year before I was too busy… the list goes on.  This year I was feeling overwhelmed with all that is involved with moving from one home to another and felt a sense of urgency about returning to Colorado.  However, after seeing the weather forecast for the remaining week of my visit, I decided to stay just long enough to fit in the ascent.

I got up early on the morning of July 30, loaded my bike into the car, and departed Billings for Red Lodge.  As I

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

approached the mountains I realized there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I unloaded my bike, suited up, and pedaled away.  I had done better research for this ride than my previous ride on Alkali Creek Road and knew that I could expect to pedal for about 25 miles to the summit on a paved road.  I could expect the ride to take me approximately 2.5 hours based on the results of other cyclists I had seen on Strava.  I also knew that the climb to the summit would be gradual, at about 4% on average.

As I pedaled along, traffic was minimal on this beautiful late July day.  I saw many more motorcycles than cars.  The switchbacks started at nearly 7 miles into the ride.  As I approached the scenic overlook turnout, I passed 5 other cyclists, all of whom pulled off into the overlook parking area.  I kept going because I knew it was about halfway to the summit and I don’t like starting and stopping on prolonged climbs; it’s hard to get the legs going again.  Besides, there was no need.  I had plenty of fluids and food tucked in my pockets.

At about 19.5 miles into the ascent, I came to a place where I had to descend and then climb again to reach the summit.  I’m not going to lie, I was cold and considered calling it good and turning around.  But then that little voice in my head chimed in with “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now, especially when I can see the summit in the distance.”  I got as aero as I dared and

Elevation 10,947 feet

Elevation 10,947 feet

descended as quickly as possible, so as to minimize how much colder I would become before the final climb.  My garmin showed about 23 miles at the summit.  I took turns with all the motorcyclists taking pictures in front of the summit sign.  Then I slipped on my wind jacket for the descent.

What I didn’t realize when I had done my ride research was exactly how much climbing the ride would entail.  The total elevation gained was 5,262 feet… just 18 feet shy of a mile, give or take.  Hmmm.  That’s interesting considering the fact that I now reside in the “mile high city”.  A city known for more than just it’s elevation,  if ya know what I’m sayin‘.

On the descent, I stopped and took some pictures along the way…Enjoy!

So many motorcycles up there!

So many motorcycles up there!

IMG_4407

The Beartooth Mountain range. Look closely for the triangle shaped precipice on the horizon over the upper right corner of the sign. That’s the bear’s tooth. The next picture zooms in on it.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

Ridge at 38 Crit – a Race Review

Last year I missed out on this race due to a travel conflict, so I was very excited to race this criterium this year.  Wheat Ridge Cyclery and the entire Wheat Ridge community came together to put on a top notch race.  This was apparent from the moment I arrived early on the morning of June 7th.  I had pre-registered for the race and was able to quickly pick up my race bib from the registration tent.  I saw a couple of team mates on the way back to my car.  Just as I pulled my bike out of the car, one of my team mates pedaled over and mentioned the course was open for a quick pre-ride before the next race began.  I quickly grabbed my helmet and set off to ride the course with her.

The start/finish was right in front of the Wheat Ridge Cyclery main entrance.  From there, the course went south up a shady, Ridge at 38 Course Mapslight hill and then took a left.  There were two more left turns that brought racers back to 38th Avenue, followed by a quick series of right, left and left turns that brought you back around to the front of the store again.  This course was sure to be fast and fun with all the corners.  The pavement was smooth and swept clear of gravel.  Aside from the occasional man-hole cover, you couldn’t have asked for a better race course.  It was a clear, sunny morning (finally) so wet streets would not be a factor in today’s race.

Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty

Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty

I lined up at the start line with 16 other category 4 women and 7 women from the 50+ masters division, for a field total of 23 racers.  We were scheduled to race for 40 minutes.  When the whistle blew, we took off in a sprint up the hill.  I knew if I didn’t stick with the peloton, I’d get dropped shortly after that first turn as the speeds increased on the downhill.  I put forth whatever effort was necessary to ensure that the peloton didn’t pull away from me on that first corner.  After a couple of laps the peloton began to settle into a very fast pace averaging 23 MPH.

In the midst of one of these laps, we heard a noise reminiscent of a shot gun blast.  I had heard this sound one time before when a tube popped mid-ride, which is precisely what had happened to one of the racers in our peloton.  Fortunately, she didn’t go down, was near the outside of the peloton, and was able to safely pull to the side of the road and stop.  Eventually, the race officials put up the number of laps remaining and the countdown began.  I tried to find as much shelter as I could as often as I could during the 15 laps of the race.  My team mates had not been able to stay with the peloton, so I didn’t have anyone I knew to work with.  When we lapped the gals that had been dropped, my team mate slipped back into the peloton on the second to the last lap.

The speed picked up for the last lap to close to 30 MPH and I began to drop off the peloton with a half a lap remaining.  At this point, my team mate pulled in front of me and led me back to the peloton, enabling me to have a sprinting pack finish.  The tactic was executed flawlessly and I’m so proud to have been a part of it.  Thanks Jen!!

This race was by far the funnest of the season.  The course was fast and curvy, just what this gal needs to fulfill her need for speed!  Well done, Wheat Ridge Cyclery, well done!

2014 Cycling Year in Review

I was recently inspired by Heidi Rides Bikes to take a look back at my 2014 racing season.  I competed in 12 races:

1 Road Race

Carter Lake Road Race - photo credit to Shawn Curry

Carter Lake Road Race – photo credit to Shawn Curry

2 Hill Climbs

2 Criteriums

2 Circuit Races

3 mountain bike races

2 cyclocross races

All but one race was finished – see more about that here.  I was involved in two crashes.  The first crash was in my first crit of the year.  After the injuries healed, I did another crit and was involved in yet another crash.  Smashing into the pavement was beginning to take a toll on my body, and I wasn’t interested in totaling my new Cannondale ride.  By this time it was nearly June, so I turned my attention to other kinds of races.  I did the Guanella Pass Hill Climb again, which is one of the few races that make a cyclist feel bigger than life.  I did my first endurance mountain bike race on Independence Day.  I finished off the racing season with two super fun cyclocross races.

Strava stats indicate that I put nearly 3,500 miles on my Cannondale since I got her in January.  While I rode outdoors in every month of the year, I raced in 8 of 12 months of the year.  On the non-racing side of the fence, I participated in my first Triple Bypass.  I also started using my bike as a mode of transportation rather than solely as a recreational or training vehicle, all be it sporadically.

While the racing season didn’t turn out as I had hoped in the criterium category, I was pleased with my results and the number of races overall.  But most importantly, I’ve come to respect what my body is capable of and learned to listen when it tells me it’s time to try something different.  I’m the first to say that it’s important to have a plan; but it’s equally important to allow those plans to change when the time is right.

For 2015, I’m looking forward to more crits and more commuting; to continuing to improve my cycling fitness; and to sharing cycling joy wherever and however I can!

2015 bike

What’s that Noise??

I was out for a ride on July 6th on my Cannondale SuperSix Evo, when I began to hear a clicking noise emanating from the bottom bracket.  I recorded this video:  and sent it to my personal mechanic for his input.  After watching the video and doing some online research, his conclusion was that the bearings in the bottom bracket were going bad and would need to be replaced.  Having just gotten the bike in January (less than 6 months ago), we were shocked that bearing replacement would be necessary already.

The next day I went out and turned the cranks on the bike and there wasn’t any clicking.  So I decided to go for a ride.  25 miles later, I returned home without any clicking from the bottom bracket.   On each ride that week, the clicking would sporadically appear and disappear.  I finally decided that I needed to get the bike in to Treads for service.  When I called, they were unable to fit my bike in until the following Monday.  This was unfortunate because I was riding in the Triple Bypass on Saturday.  I went ahead and scheduled the appointment and decided to take my chances on riding the Triple Bypass.  The worst case scenario would be listening to that clicking for 120 miles… but because the clicking had been so sporadic all week, it was possible that it would not make any noise at all.  Fingers crossed!!

On the morning of Saturday, July 12th, I began the Triple Bypass in Bergen Park on Squaw Pass Road.  As I pedaled along, the only noises coming from my bike were the occasional sounds of shifting and the normal noise the chain makes as it moves along the cogs.  However, after remounting at the first Aid Station at the top of Squaw Pass, I heard a couple of clicks as I pedaled away.  I began the descent into Idaho Springs shortly thereafter and hoped that by the time I got to the bottom, the noise would resolve itself.  This was not the case.  As it became necessary to begin pedaling after the descent, the clicking continued to get worse; eventually it became more of a grinding noise.

The silver lining to having my bike make this noise was that I no longer needed to announce to anyone that I was “on their left.”  In fact, I had a few people actually begin to look around in bewilderment as I approached.  I was told on more than one occasion as I passed that they thought the noise was coming from their own bike.  How I wished that were the case.  That noise went on for 90 miles.  90!!!!  I had people make jokes about it as I went by, others just shook their heads in dismay.  Still others were certain that they knew just what was wrong with my bike.  One person suggested that I get off and check my cadence sensor because her bike once made the “exact” same noise and that’s what it was.  Another suggested I had a stowaway cricket.  My favorite was that I just needed to lube that chain!

The wonderful mechanics at Treads had my bike back to me within a couple of days.  The issue, you ask?  It was indeed the bearings in the bottom bracket and not the cadence sensor, not the chain in need of lube, and not a cricket.

 

Triple Bypass – A Ride Review

I signed up for a ride called the Triple Bypass back in January.  I’d heard about this ride for years; it’s been around for 26 of them!  It’s a 120 mile ride over three Colorado mountain passes, with 10,000 feet of elevation gain.  And for those who think that distance and elevation gain are simply not enough, there is the Double Triple Bypass option where you turn around and ride back to where you started the next day.

I had plans to pre-ride all the passes, but unfortunately, time got away from me and before I knew it, the ride was here.  I went into the ride knowing I was capable of the distance and elevation, but unsure of how long it would take me.  The other concern was the stormy weather we’ve been having in Colorado recently.  I knew the earlier I started the ride, the better my chances of finishing it.

I departed promptly at 6:00 AM.  As I began to pedal my way up Squaw Pass Road, I knew that I could go faster, but I intentionally kept a pace that would be sustainable for the entire ride.  The road had recently been repaved and was super smooth with a very nice bike lane.  I was surprised at how many cyclists insisted in taking up so much of the roadway.   The road was closed to all traffic but law enforcement and Sag vehicles, and apparently the meaning of the words “keep right” and “ride single file” were not clear to some cyclists.  One State Trooper actually pulled a cyclist over for riding on the left side of the road in the wrong direction.  I’m not sure what the outcome of that meeting was, but the conversation sounded unpleasant as I went by.  I stopped at Aid Station #1 (18 miles into the ride) and had a banana and bagel and refilled a half full water bottle.   I pulled on my wind jacket before leaving for the descent into Idaho Springs.

The descent into Idaho Springs went smoothly and the route through town was well marked by volunteers and law enforcement.  As we headed west, I found myself in a sustained climb for the next 28 miles.  When I came to Aid Station #2 (42 miles into the ride), I stopped to eat and refill my bottles.  The best snack of the day was had at this aid station:  it was a chocolate chip cookie sandwich with peanut butter and banana filling…mmmmm!  The weather this far into the ride was still perfect: blue skies and lots of sunshine. I hopped back on the bike and continued to pedal towards Loveland Basin where I knew lunch awaited me.

As I approached the third Aid Station at Loveland Basin Ski Area (56 miles into the ride), I could see it was quite crowded with cars and cyclists.  I found a place to park my bike and made my way to the food tents.  Here I discovered an extremely long line of hungry cyclists awaiting their turn to grab food.  When I finally got my chance at the food tent, I had the BEST ham and cheese sandwich ever, a handful of pretzels, half a banana, and a cookie.  The line was moving so slowly that I was able to stand and consume all this food before I had moved 10 feet toward the water table.  When I realized that I had already been there for 30 minutes and it would likely take another 30 minutes to fill water bottles, I decided to go with Plan B.  Plan B was relying on my one full water bottle to get me to the next aid station where I was hopeful I would find less of a clusterf@ck.

loveland passI began to pedal up Loveland Pass, which I can’t say I’ve so much as driven over before.  It was quite scenic and a rather short ascent of 4 miles.  On the other side of the continental divide, it was quite windy.  As I approached Aid Station #4 at Summit County High School (77 miles into the ride), I was nearly out of fluids.  I was delighted that there was virtually no waiting at the hydration station and lots of shady places to sit.  I picked up a small sack of trail mix, an orange slice, and a Cliff Bar and found a shady place to sit and eat.  Keeping a close eye on the clouds to the west, I didn’t sit for too long before hopping back on the bike.  I was thrilled to have made it this far into the ride and knew without a doubt that I would be finished not long after summiting Vail Pass.

The last time I rode my bike over Vail Pass was during the Copper Triangle two years ago when I ascended from the west side and descended on the east side.  I was pleased to see that the east side of the pass had been repaved recently and was silky smooth.  The

At the Finish Line

At the Finish Line

ascent from the east went quicker than expected and I’m pleased to say that I passed, but did not get passed by anyone.  As I pulled into Aid Station #5 on the summit of Vail Pass (92 miles into the ride) I could see some dark clouds building to the west.  I grabbed just a few pretzels, an orange slice, and another bag of trail mix.  I had topped off one bottle with the Cytomax hydration mix at the previous aid station and had not had any gastrointestinal problems with it, so I decided to go full strength with the drink mix.  If any problems arose, I only had 18 downhill miles left.

As I descended into Vail I was struck in the lips by an insect with a very sharp stinger.  In my efforts to rapidly brush it from my lips, I nearly crashed.  As I sit and type this blog post two days later, I have swelling in both lips as neither were spared by the angry insect.  I’m just grateful that I had my mouth closed!  As I continued to pedal through Vail, I kept looking down at my Garmin to see how much further I had to go.  On the summit of Vail Pass, I had somehow mis-calculated that I had only 18 more miles to ride, but it was in fact 28 more miles to the finish.  Those last 10 miles, despite being flat, felt like the longest miles of the day.  At one point, I began to think I had missed a turn as the signage was not as prevalent in Avon as it had been along the rest of the route.

I did it!!

I did it!!

As I approached the final round-a-bout, I was greeted by Avon Police Officers with “Congratulations! Welcome to Avon!”.  It was the best news I’d heard all day.  By this time, I’d been listening to my bike make lots of noise for the last 90 miles and couldn’t wait to get off (check back for another blog post on that… I have video!)! Not to mention that my legs were a little tired.  As I pulled to a stop I felt a tickle under my jersey near my waistline.  I lifted up my jersey and saw what I can only conclude to be the little insect that had stung my lips 20 miles ago.  Now he was leaving his mark on my tummy.  I guess it’s my very own souvenir from the 2014 Triple Bypass!

You Just Keep Pushing

It’s no secret that I’ve just embarked on my cycling journey and the main ride for this journey has been a 13-year-old Cannondale that I like to call Ruby.  When I bought Ruby all those years ago, she came with Shimano Ultegra components.  At one point, those shifters worked like a dream.  Although now it has been so long ago that I can’t remember how that felt, or when it stopped feeling that way.  What I know now is that it takes a ridiculous amount of muscle tension and effort to shift one gear on either the big ring or the rear cassette. Post ride, I was frequently left with achy fingers for a souvenir.  However, at some point my fingers must have adapted and gotten stronger because I continued to ride and muscle through the gears, but the finger pain subsided.  Eventually, I came to accept that this is the way shifting was – effortful.

Then one day as I was out for a group ride through a clinic called “Ride with a Legend”, Alison Dunlap settled in beside me.  As we chatted and pedaled along over the rolling terrain in Golden, Colorado, I became aware of how effortless shifting was for her.  She extended her open hand down toward the shifters and sort of wiggled her fingers in mid air, as if she was tapping her fingers absent-mindedly on a counter top while thoroughly pondering whether or not she did, in fact, wish to change gears.  Then, with one finger ~ quite possibly a ring finger~ she quickly and lightly tapped the shifter. With one soft but distinct click, the process of changing gears was complete!  In that moment, I was certain of two things:  she very likely had never experienced achy fingers from shifting during a ride and that I, too, would one day shift gears effortlessly!

When it came time for me to research bikes and all of their options, I heard from many of my teammates who were vocal about not buying this or that component group because “they’re used to what they have”.  I decided to be open to whatever components came with the model of bike that I wanted.  I figured I’m a human, I can adapt….it’s what we do.  My only requirement was that I would be able to shift effortlessly.

The new Cannondale I got earlier this winter (see my blog post “the gift of a new bike”) has the SRAM RED component group.  It’s completely different from my old shifters.  The other day my husband stopped to admire my bike as it was leaned against the wall in our entryway.  “How do the shifters work?” he asked.  I replied, “You just keep pushing.  You have to push through shifting up to shift down.”

Isn’t that true about so many things in our lives?  You just keep pushing.  For my cycling journey, it has meant that I just keep shifting and pedaling regardless of how effortful or effortless each ride is.  Because I know that every time I’m out there pushing myself through a ride, I finish the day as a stronger, faster, and perhaps most importantly, happier cyclist, wife, mother, human being.

pushing