The Emergency Commute

I frequently commute via bike to my job…it’s only a 3 mile trip, so there isn’t really a good excuse not to ride to work!  Because North Table Mesa sits between my house and work destination, sometimes I’ll take the dirt around the base of the mesa.  When I opt for this route, I usually select either my mountain or cyclocross bike.  Most days, however, I ride my road bike in the hopes that I’ll have the opportunity to tack on some additional mileage to my commute.  I’ve written in other blog posts about how I like to be prepared for the unexpected when I ride.  However, I found myself dreadfully unprepared last week when my phone rang and my husband informed me that he was on his way to the Emergency Room at St. Anthony’s Hospital.

a + cMaybe I should clarify… I was prepared to fix a flat tire, or to use the multi-tool I keep in the pouch under my saddle to adjust something, or to ride for 40 miles if the opportunity presented itself.  I was not prepared to go to an ER.  Where would I put my bike, especially since I didn’t have a lock with me?  Would it take longer to ride there than to pedal home, get the car, and turn around and drive right past where I was sitting to get to the hospital?  The biggest question of all was whether Motoman was experiencing a blood clot in his lungs and if so, could I get there in time?  My mind was racing with questions.

I quickly used google maps to find a bicycling route from where I was to the hospital where Motoman was going.  Fortunately for me, I had chosen to ride the road bike on this day.  I knew my way through Golden by bike just fine, but riding through Lakewood was completely new to me.  I got a general idea of the way I wanted to go and good ole Google was showing it would take me an hour to ride there.  I was confident that on this occasion, Google was wrong.  I stuffed my crocs in my backpack so I’d have something besides cycling shoes to wear when I arrived at the ER, strapped on my shoes and helmet, and pedaled away.

I arrived at St. Anthony’s ER 42 minutes later.  Security was kind enough to watch over my bike for the few minutes it took to track down Motoman and get the key to the car he’d driven to the ER.  I’m sure they would have held onto the bike indefinitely, but I’ve never trusted complete strangers with any of my babies.  I locked the bike in the car and spent the next couple of hours with Motoman.  He was later discharged with a diagnosis of Atelectasis – a complication of the surgery he’d had two days before.

Since that day, I’ve toyed with the idea of carrying with me a locking cable no matter what kind of ride I’m taking – leisure or commute.  But the reality is that I’m not sure I want to be prepared for a trip to the ER.  So for now, the lock will stay in the garage until my next commute to the grocery store.

The Importance of Researching a Ride Route

While Colorado is my home, I remain a Montana girl at heart.  Every year I make it a priority to visit my family in Montana, where I spent most of my adolescence.  This year I brought my Cannondale Evo along to ride during my visit.  Billings is just large enough that there are parts of the town that I’m not familiar with.  I grew up on the west side and rarely ventured to the other parts of town.  Therefore, I wasn’t exactly sure where each of my rides would take me.  This “from the saddle” discovery is one of the funnest parts of riding and has the potential to turn each ride into a fun adventure ~ or not.

The view from Molt Road.  The wild turkeys didn't make it into this pic.

The view from Molt Road. The wild turkeys didn’t make it into this pic.

On my first ride, I decided to take the Molt Road out of Billings.  I was planning to ride out and back and expected at some point I would see a sign indicating how many miles it was to Molt.  Since there was no sign- or because I missed it – I just rode until it was time to head back to Billings for other commitments.  I could see Molt in the distance, but would have to save the complete ride for another day.

On the next ride, I went to the Billings Heights part of town.  I happened upon a bike lane and followed it until it ended.  I ended up riding in a big loop.  I then came upon a pretty nice bike path along Alkali Creek Road and decided to see where it went.  After a few miles, I caught up to three women out for their morning training ride.  I rode with them for a few miles and it turns out one of the gals was on the committee that plans the Billings bike path.  She was a wealth of information on the bike path system and gave me some helpful directions and ideas about where to ride in Billings.

The route for my next ride was inspired as I drove down Highway 3 northwest of Billings. IMG_4388 It had been a long day in the car because we had decided to drive from Banff, Canada back to Billings all in one day.  As we neared Billings, we passed a street sign out in the country that read “Alkali Creek Road”.  I had just ridden on the bike path along Alkali Creek road the other day when I rode through the Heights.  At that time, I had wondered if it connected with another road, and here I had just driven by the intersection of Highway 3 and Alkali Creek Road.  My ride route for the next day was planned!

As I set out on Alkali Creek Road the following morning, I started my ride on the bike path.  Eventually the bike path ended and the houses became fewer and further between along the road.  I wondered how far of a ride it would be until I hooked up with Highway 3 – a detail I had neglected to look up online before departing.  I came upon a man walking toward me and figured he was a local who might be able to tell me how far I had to go to Highway 3.  I slowed, said hi, and then asked him if he knew how many miles it was until Highway 3.  Instead of answering yes or no to my question, he looked at my bike and said “you’ll never make it on that bike with those skinny tires.”

“Really.” I replied.  He went on to say that the road turned to gravel around the bend.  The gravel was so treacherous that he had a difficult time with it on his mountain bike.  I told him thank you and said that I would go see this gravel for myself and pedaled away.  I was annoyed that I hadn’t done proper research before embarking on this ride and was left to ask a stranger a simple question that he refused to answer.  When I saw the gravel, I agreed that it was in fact deep.  Deeper than I would have liked to have ridden under normal riding conditions.  But I’ve ridden on gravel roads before, and if it was only a short distance, it was certainly doable.  But now I wasn’t riding under normal riding conditions; I had been challenged.  And  nothing makes this girl more determined to do something than a boy telling her what she can’t do.

Shortly after embarking on the gravel, I remembered to check the mileage on my Garmin.  After about two miles, I bagan to wonder if I might be better off turning back.  And then I remembered the challenge.  The gravel was unlike any of the gravel roads I had ridden in Colorado.  It was more like I was riding through someone’s deep landscaping rock, rather than down a dirt road with the occasional washboard and rocky sections.    I kept creeping along the road and thought I may have seen cars moving along Highway 3 in the distance.  As I pedaled along, I became more and more annoyed with my failure to research the ride more thoroughly; with the fact that I didn’t notice the road being gravel as I sped by the other night; and with my stubbornness that wouldn’t allow me to turn around.  I considered letting some air out of my tires so that I might have some traction, but I didn’t want to have low pressure for the remainder of the ride after reaching the highway.  Onward I went.

After about 4.5 miles had slowly passed, I finally reached Highway 3.  There wasn’t anyone around to witness my superior dance, so i kept right on pedaling onto Highway 3 and back to Billings.  Will I do better research for my next ride in unfamiliar territory?  Maybe.  Finding your way is a big part of the adventure.  And if it takes a little longer to get there… that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re on a bike.

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon.  More on that adventure coming soon!

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon. More on that adventure coming soon!

The Joyride

Spring riding can be so elusive with Colorado’s wild spring weather.  The last couple of days had been warm enough to melt some of the 18 inches of snow that had fallen nearly two weeks before; during that time, I’d spent more time on the trainer than I like to.  I had been out each afternoon this week doing intervals at Lookout Mountain in anticipation of the hill climb coming up Saturday.  As I sipped my morning coffee and contemplated riding into work, I heard the birds chirping outside and didn’t see a cloud in the sky once the sun came up.  I decided it would be a good day to ride – perhaps a bit chilly on the way in, but the ride would be worth it, especially on the way home when it was warmer.   I froze just enough to build a little character on the way into the office.

When it came time to ride home, I decided to take a different route just to add on some additional miles and be in the sunshine a little longer.   I needed a joy ride!  As I pedaled along, I saw lots of other cyclists, dog walkers, and runners out enjoying the sun just like I was.  I said hello or waved to everyone I encountered, just like I do on every other ride.  Sometimes I get a return wave, but most of the time I don’t get any response.

As I turned from the Ralston Creek Trail onto Virgil Way, my chain became tangled as I shifted from the big ring to small.  I was unable to take a single pedal stroke as I began to pedal up the hill and quickly came to a stop.  Here’s what I saw upon inspection:

An attempt to downshift resulted in this tangled mess.

An attempt to downshift resulted in this tangled mess.

Fiddle as I might, I could not get the chain unstuck.  During the few minutes that I was kneeled in the grass alongside the road with my bike upside down, three cyclists pedaled by ~ 2 men, 1 woman.  Not one of them said a single word or paused their pedal stroke as they went by to inquire whether I needed or wanted any assistance.  That annoyed me more than the fact that I might be walking home in my Sidi’s.  So much for my joyride… and just when I had been contemplating which detour to take next.

As I mentioned before, I’m the kind of cyclist who greets and waves to other cyclists that I encounter on my ride.  I make a point of slowing and interacting with cyclists that are stopped along the roadside dealing with an obvious problem, especially if it’s a woman.  Most of the time I simply confirm that they have the tools they need for the job, but on occasion I’ve provided assistance.  At the very least, I can offer moral support or to make a phone call if I’m unable to help.

Clearly the standards I hold for myself are not shared by every cyclist.  As I started the long walk home, another cyclist pedaled by without a word.  Then my phone rang.  I got lucky that my husband (AKA Mr. Fixit) was nearby and able to come and pick me up.  When he arrived, he was able to untangle the chain so I could resume the joyride home.

On my way home, I came upon a little Asian lady who was holding an empty dog leash in the air and looking distraught.  I slowed and circled back to her, remembering ALL the people who had ridden by me without a word.  Through her broken English, I understood that her little yellow dog had gotten away from her and was now missing.  She would sit on the curb and wait while I rode ahead in search of the little guy.  Instead of the dog, I came upon my neighbor who was heading in the opposite direction back toward the Asian lady.  I asked if he had seen the yellow dog in the direction he had come from.  He had not and agreed to tell the Asian woman when he came upon her sitting on the curb.  I turned around and continued my joyride home.

Whether you decide to help another person clearly in need speaks volumes about the character of your person.  More importantly, I’m a firm believer that you get back what you put out there in the universe.  So I’ll continue to smile, wave, and offer help to those in need, even those that choose to ignore me.  It’s just the way I roll, even on this joyride.

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

Cyclocross Race Excitement!

I finally did my first “real” cyclocross race.  By “real”, I mean that I raced on a real cyclocross bike.  I don’t count the other two races I’ve done because one was on a mountain bike and the other on a cross bike that was much too large for me. The latter IMG_2461race resulted in the lovely sprocket punctures to my calf after a stair run-up.  I had a friend who offered me her old cross bike for a couple of races because she had upgraded to a newer model.  She’s very close to my size and I was able to use her bike with minimal adjustment.  I carefully selected which race I would do.  I didn’t want to race in a large field of racers or on an extremely technical course.  After all, the bike was new to me and I had only a few days to get used to its nuances.  I registered for the Green Mountain Sports CX Race.  After registering for the race, I felt something I’d never felt about a race before: excitement!!  Typically, my pre-race feelings range from dread to denial to fear.

My excitement level for this race was almost on par with the excitement I have each year in the days leading up to my birthday.  All week I looked forward to the race, counting down the days.  I was excited that my whole family was coming to cheer for me because most cycling races are just not spectator friendly.  Even my dad, who would be passing though town that weekend, would be watching me.  He had never heard of cyclocross nor seen the shenanigans that are involved with a cross race.

On race day, the women who had completed other cross races would be called up to the start line.  This is great for those receiving the call up because it means you get to be in the front of the pack when the whistle blows.  Those who do not get called up are left to line up behind everyone who was called up.  The bottom line here is that racers with call ups definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.  Despite the fact that I was near the end of the pack, I was happy and excited to be racing on such a beautiful September day.  The field was small and I felt confident that I would have a respectable finish barring any major crashes.

gmx

Photo credit: Gary Mullins

When the whistle blew, we took off.  There was much shuffling for position as we moved through the parking lot and took a sharp right onto a narrow sidewalk.  I was cautious as I didn’t want to crash before we even got to the dirt section of the race.  The day was very hot for September and I knew that pacing myself in the heat would be critical to a strong finish.  I was able to avoid a couple of crashes near me and kept going as fast as I could.  Hydration via water bottle hand ups was key.  I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently thrown a bottle at… I certainly wasn’t aiming for you.  Disposing of a water bottle when you’re sprinting through a parking lot sounds easy until you actually try it!

As we settled into the second lap, I lost sight of the race leaders and hoped that I would eventually be able to catch them.  There was a group of about 5 of us clumped together.    We played cat and mouse and continued to shuffle our positions for the next two laps.  I had a wheel slip out in a corner, which allowed the group to pass me.  I didn’t let them get far and eventually caught and re-passed two of the three cyclist, while the the third continued to pull away from me.

Eventually I caught my teammate – the gal who loaned me the bike on which I was racing.  You can imagine the mental conundrum this created as I debated whether she’d loan me her bike for another race if I passed her.  We eventually came to a steep hill run-up, where I uttered encouraging words as I ran by.  This was the last lap and I wasn’t able to chase down anyone else.  I was thrilled to finish 11th out of 25 racers, particularly since I’d started in the back of the pack.  Best parts of the day:

* Having a bike to race on – thanks to Linda!

* Hearing my family cheer for me.

* Water bottle hand-ups on such a hot day and dusty course.

* Not crashing.

* This awesome picture from Ryan Muncy Photography.

* This awesome video from my honey that makes me look really fast!

muncy

Photo credit: Ryan Muncy Photography

Lessons From Dude #4

I went for a mountain bike ride today with a friend.  As I loaded the car, I was sure to pack a variety of clothing.  We were driving to the trail head and it sits about 2,400 feet higher in elevation than where I live.  I wanted to be prepared for wind, rain, and the potential for a hot ride as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I packed a variety of food.  Some of which would be eaten on the go as the trail (and my one-handed dexterity) permitted, while other food would require a stop to open and consume.  Lastly, I’d want something more filling for the drive home post ride.   Maybe I do this because I don’t like to be cold, or maybe it’s because I’m a mom.  Whatever the reason, I just like to be prepared.

I go through the same process in preparing my bike for the ride.  Tire pressure is checked and adjusted to the characteristics of the trail to be ridden.  The chain is checked and lubed if necessary.  The hydration pack is filled with water and checked for a multi-tool, tubes, pump, patch kit, and compressed air.  Having experienced a variety of mechanical problems along the trail, I like to be prepared to address the issues I may encounter or lend a hand to anyone else in need.  Ultimately, however, I’m there to ride and not push my bike back to the car.  The people I ride with seem to share this philosophy of preparedness.

As I was riding along a 12 mile loop called Centennial Cone, I encountered 3 mountain bikers from the same team* with matching lycra.  The third guy told me that I could expect one more dude wearing the same kit.  These were the kind of guys that like to go fast and I was concerned that I might meet Dude #4 on a blind corner.  There is some cliff exposure along the particular section of the trail where I was expecting Dude #4.  I kept calling out as I approached blind corners in the hopes of alerting anyone who might be flying along the trail to my presence.  Nearly two miles passed, and Dude #4 still had yet to make an appearance.

As I approached the crest of a hill, I stopped to wait for my buddy and have a snack (the kind that requires two hands to open).    We both took the opportunity to remove excess clothing as all the climbing coupled with the sunshine was warming us up.  At this point, we were roughly halfway ~ 6 miles~ into our ride.  As we began the descent into Elk Creek, we soon came upon Dude #4 who was pushing his bike up the hill.  As he limped along, I could see he had a rear flat, no water, no tools… nothing but him and his bike.  I asked if he needed a pump.  He replied that he also needed a tube.  I suggested that he could  use a 26″ wheel tube in his 29″ tire, but he declined.  He went on to say that he was the one who came out to ride unprepared, so he would continue walking the remainder of the way.  I suspect he had about a 2.5 mile hike ahead of him, based on where he had likely parked and began the ride with his buddies.  And his buddies probably still hadn’t realized that he’d crashed out miles before.

At the next stop as I waited for my friend to catch up, I continued to think about Dude #4.   How could anyone even consider riding this loop so….. unprepared??  The loop is 12 miles long with 1,850 feet of elevation gain.  At some point, even the best of riders will want at least a sip of water.  The climbing is strenuous.  Once again, at some point, even the best of riders will want a mouthful of energy.  I’ve seen broken chains and flats on this trail.  Mechanical issues can and do happen to bikes, no matter how well they are cared for.  Crashes can and do happen, even to the best of riders.

As I reflect on today’s ride, I’d like to thank Dude #4 for the lessons and reminders.  First, thanks for the reminder of why I prepare for a ride the way that I do.  I’m thankful that I carry all that extra gear that I don’t need 99% of the time, because I’m there to ride and not hike.  I’m thankful that the people I ride with wait for one another at periodic intervals and circle back when it seems to be taking someone too long to appear on the trail.    Lastly, thanks for owning your decision to ride unprepared and not interrupting my ride to fix the issues you could have addressed yourself, had you been properly prepared.  I suppose all that time hiking with your bike gave you lots of time to think about your ride.  I hope it was fun before the crash.

*  The team that Dudes 1-4 represent shall remain anonymous.

cone 1

Views from the Centennial Cone trail.

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!