Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The ABCs

Day 247
Time: 2 Hours
Distance: 10 Laps
Avg Speed: Climbing
Terrain: Rock Gym
Location: Fort Collins

We’ve been in a holding pattern the last few days. Chris’ bike ended up in the shop and the weather was pretty wet and cold. We have the time so we extended our stay in Fort Collins.
Since the trails are pretty wet we decided to hit the climbing gym today. It’s the first time in quite awhile that I’ve strapped on my harness and done some laps. I started with a climb called “The ABCs” and then worked my way through several different routes. It felt good to get some repetition in and not have to worry about some of the things required of an outdoor climb. You see, I’ve struggled with my climbing in the last year. It wasn’t related to my ability or an injury, it has to do with confidence, fear, and obviously, lack of time on the rope. I had a few climbing goals planned last summer before our bicycle trip began. I only accomplished a fraction of the list and somehow, my mind began to turn on me. Not only was I frustrated, I felt like I was letting down my climbing partners. For one of the few times in my life I wasn’t able to accomplish everything I set out to do. Little did I know that our trip abroad would take me through the process of tearing down and building up several times over.
Fast forward about eight months to Wednesday May 28, 2008. Many things have changed; no job, no house, no car. In addition to those tangible things, my persona has changed as well. To me, the most significant change is that I have much more clarity. In other words, I feel like my mind has slowed down to a pace that allows me to be very present. I can see much more simplicity in everything. A year ago, I overwhelmed myself with the responsibility of climbing. Today I started over at the beginning. And all I had to do were my ABCs.

Sharing is caring,

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tijuana Toaster

Day 241
Boulder to Ft. Collins
Time: 3:57
Distance: 47.7 miles
Avg Speed: 12.1 mph
Terrain: flat to rolling

After a little respite and some time on other bikes, we got back on the road again. We conned Leslie’s dad into taking us to north Boulder. We weren’t too keen on riding the highway between Golden and Boulder again. We got on the road under sunny skies and only the slightest peek of storm clouds coming down from the mountains. The ride up from Boulder was uneventful, but we were waved at by quite a few cyclists on the roads. That was quite the opposite from the introduction we got to Boulder cycling a few weeks ago. The storm clouds blew all around us by the time we turned off from Longmont to Loveland. The weather was a little more stable today (yesterday there were a few tornadoes in the area) but the rain was threatening. We made it to Loveland with only one little unintentional detour (not lost, just misplaced) and went on the search for lunch. We found a great little sandwich shop called Daddy-O’s Green Onion. Leslie got the Turkey Rueben and I just had to get the Tijuana Toaster. I didn’t even care what was on it; I just wanted to have a sandwich with that name. You will have to go to Daddy-O’s to see what it was all about. We are now hanging out in Ft. Fun for the holiday weekend and attending my cousin’s high school graduation.
We had a good day back on the road, stayed dry, and ate some good road food. We are looking forward to checking out Colorado and all the weather it has to offer. When we leave here, we will probably have a few days of snow camping as we head over the passes. Yeah for Colorado!!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Goin’ Native

Day: 240
Terrain: Yellow B.O.B Trailer Bag and a Whole Lot of Gear
Location: Littleton, CO

The break is over. I’ve got my sleeping bag, down hoodie, some bicycle shorts, a couple of t-shirts and a pair of flip-flops. I’m goin’ native. I was born and raised in Colorado and I’m really excited to get an up-close and personal look at my home state.
I really have much more gear than that (I am the “chronic over-packer”, you know). I’m actually carrying a few additional pieces of “community” gear this time. Packing has been a little more efficient and hopefully I will keep unnecessary items to a minimum.

And now for the geography lesson…
Colorado is the 8th largest state in the US in size (104,185 sq mi.) and 22nd in population (4.8 million, 2007 estimate). Located at roughly 39 N and 105.5 W, the state is in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. With an elevation range of 3,315 ft to 14,440 ft, Colorado has a very diverse landscape. The climate is also variable and has been known to be very unpredictable at times. Any Coloradoan will tell you “if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes”.
The history of the 38th state dates back to the Native Americans and tells us that the region has been inhabited for over 13 millennia. The boundaries of Colorado started to form in the early 1800s through the Louisiana Purchase but weren’t finalized until 1875 due ongoing conflicts with the US and Mexico (who was in the midst of gaining independence from Spain). Finally, in 1876, Colorado was declared the “Centennial State” as it was admitted to the union 28 days after the centennial of the United States.

Tomorrow we start pedaling and our trip will focus on the northern and central part of Colorado. We estimate the planned route to takes us through about 750 miles of the Rocky Mountains. We’re looking forward to seven weeks of awesome sunrises and sunsets, steep climbs and long descents, beautiful wildflowers, fabled history, and friendly locals.

See you somewhere in Colorful Colorado,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Wild Rose

Ruth Louise McKenzie
November 22, 1917
to May 14, 2008

My grandmother passed away this evening. She was an amazing woman, someone who has had a profound influence on my life. She loved life and everything about it. Her spirit is very much alive in me.
She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and, to me, most importantly, she was my grandma. In her ninety years, she was many things to many people. She was gentle and kind, but always confident. She was spiritual and blessed, but never boastful. She was spontaneous and whimsical, a bright light for those around her.
My grandma was a Colorado girl through and through. She grew up on the plains but her heart was in the mountains. She spent lots of time there on picnics, church retreats and family gatherings. She always seemed a little bit happier in the alpine air.

I feel very lucky to have had so much time with my grandma throughout my life. Looking back, I don’t feel like a missed anything with her. From my earliest years to the last few weeks, I have had some special moments with her. Some of my favorite memories; camping in the backyard in the little red tent, staying with us while my parents went on vacation, Christmas shopping trips downtown, examining books at the Tattered Cover, afternoon tea at the Brown Palace.

When we decided to go on our trip, I was most concerned about her health and the possibility of not seeing her again. It was actually difficult to tell her we were leaving. She didn’t think anything of it – she was the most excited. She had done her share of traveling and had even aspired to “travel the world” with her best friend Roberta after high school. She was very thrilled for us. Despite her failing eyesight, she kept up with our travels with a bright lamp and a magnifying glass. Her thoughts and prayers gave me strength while we were gone on the first part of our journey.

Since we’ve been home I’ve had some cherished time with her. I was able to recount some of our adventures firsthand and read her a special book. Even though she was in a great deal of pain, she listened intently and never complained.
Although I feel a wide range of emotions at this moment, I draw great comfort knowing that she suffers no more. I now see what the universe had in store for us.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ready or Not China, Here We Come…

Day 230
Bluesky Trail to Coyote Ridge
Time: 2:45:00
Distance: +/- 20 miles
Avg Speed: Slow
Terrain: Ancient Sea Beds
Location: Fort Collins

Another day, another singlespeed ride. We had another epic and this time it was accidental. Three plus hours and one flat tire later we arrived back in town. Our route took us south of the cuty and we combined the Blue Sky Trail with Coyote Ridge Natural Area. We underestimated the distance a bit, but it was all training and the extra miles will help us this summer.
Now for the exciting news (drum roll please)…
Our passports have returned and we are now the proud owners of Chinese visas. It was really anticlimactic since we employed a visa service. It was definitely worth the few extra dollars to have the experts work through the process.
We’re scheduled to travel to Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan Province, at the end of July. All of our summer riding should pay off since this part of Southwest China is home to some high elevations and hilly terrain. In addition, we’ll be looking forward to the cultural diversity as the Yunnan is home to over 50% of China’s ethnic minorities. All in all, we are very excited for the next phase of our international adventure.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008


Day: 229
Ft. Collins to Ft. Collins
Time: 1:35

We did a figure 8 of sorts this morning on our singlespeeds. The trail was packed with runners and walkers, but we were some of the only cyclists enjoying the crisp spring morning. We tackled a hill during our ride that provides us with challenges galore on our geared bikes. Riding it on our singlespeeds proved to be even more challenging having to grind up an over the rocks and roots while having your lungs hanging out. We finished up the ride by 10:30 and made it back in time to run down Denver to sell Leslie’s road bike. There was a little sadness as she let go of her baby, but she did find solace in the fact that the bike went to ‘bike’ people. They commute by bike and only have one car between them. They were fun to talk to and the deal was quickly closed. We jumped back in the car and returned to Ft. Collins to catch the main event of the day.
Ft. Collins started a criterium or ‘crit’ for short that goes down on Sunday nights. Tonight was the first night, and the competitors and crowd were a buzz with excitement. The event is being used as a fundraiser to help fund a velodrome in the Ft. Collins area. Currently the only velodrome in Colorado is located at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The first heats were straight up sprints around the oval at CSU. The races lasted from 1 lap for the 7-12 year old open division to 10 laps for the 18+ licensed road racer division. The second heats took on more of a track racing feel with a Danish format implemented to help riders enter the ‘pain cave’ a little faster. The winner of each lap got to drop out of the race and was awarded a prize. This gave the first 3 laps a lot of clout as the racers went all out to get the prize. What was the prize you ask? It was a can of Coke and a sandwich from a local deli. It is amazing how little motivation it takes people to get after it like that. I could do another musical blog by printing the lyrics to ‘Pretty, Pretty Pain Cave’ by Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World fame, but I won’t. The race series attempts to parallel another track race called 6 day races. The local series lasts 6 Sundays, but the track 6 day races take place on 6 consecutive days. Check out this Wikipedia link to give the race details; It used to be 1 man per team and that guy would try and get as many laps in as possible in 6 days. Due to it being outlawed in several states from racers dying of exhaustion it now incorporates 2 man team who take turns racing throughout each day. They are still held in Europe and I think they hold the occasional one in the eastern US. All in all it was a fun day riding bikes, selling bikes, meeting bike people and watching bike racing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Ups and Downs and the Bends in Between

Day 227
Ft Collins Epic Loop
Time: 2:37:00
Distance: 25 mi
Avg Speed: Single
Terrain: Everything from pavement to singletrack
Location: Circumnavigation of Horsetooth Reservoir

We’re back in Ft Collins again. We make excellent house sitters since we are currently unemployed. Our good friends have gone on vacation and we have taken over their house. We set up camp; laptop, books, and maps in the house, and bicycles in the garage. This time around we brought only singlespeeds. We looking to increase the difficulty of our training and these bikes are the simplest way to do it. One speed with varied topography and long distances equals hard earned fitness.
Our goal for the day was to circumnavigate Horsetooth Reservoir. By definition (in a free on-line dictionary) circumnavigation entails “to proceed completely around”*. We did just that by a riding 25 miles of paved and dirt roads with some singletrack mixed in. It wasn’t the first time we’ve completed the loop, it’s just the first time we’ve ridden with just one speed. Our gear ratio of 32x16 lent itself well to the ups and downs and the bends in between. A geared bike would have made things easier, but today was all about training.
Besides pedaling, we have spent a fair amount of time in the last few weeks on route planning. One of our mistakes last year was not having detailed information regarding the route at our disposal. As logistics planner, I relied more on time and a general region than on distance and topography. Starting on the North Island of New Zealand helped me realize the error of my ways. As we prepare to tour Colorado and then China, I have been consulting as many maps as possible. Not only am I looking for a sense of place, but distance and elevations as well. We have come to realize that a day of climbs is a day of shorter distance and visa versa. In addition to the procurement of maps, I have been working in my GIS program to create elevation profiles. These are neat little graphs that show the hills and valleys of a linear route. The X axis is the distance and the Y axis is the elevation. For bicycle touring it can be an indispensable piece of information.
There is more training to come in the next few days. The long climbs and exciting descents of the Rockies await – at least we know what we’re getting into this time.
Here’s to rise over run,

*Wikipedia defines circumnavigation in traveling around the world by boat or ship. For more details on that see this link.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Alternative to the Gas Tax Holiday

Day 224
Home Base to Golden and Back
Time: 2:43:08
Distance: 28.28 mi
Avg Speed: 10.4 mph
Terrain: Front Range Foothills
Location: American Alpine Club

There has been a lot of press lately regarding the price of fuel. Senator John McCain has proposed suspending the federal gas tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day to give drivers a break during the summer. See this article for more information.
This proposal has definitely worked its way into the latest speeches for the presidential candidates. Regardless of who does or doesn’t support the holiday, you have to question what “relief” the gas-tax really provides.
I put some thought into the issue as we rode our bicycles to Golden to return some library books today. My ideas drifted toward alternative transportation, not temporary financial relief through the price of petrol.
In 2004, Chris and I sold our second vehicle and relied mostly on our bicycles for alternative transportation. During that time we only had to rent a car once, relying on carpooling (with each other) or ride our bicycles. I’ll be honest; our main goal was to gain financially from owning only one car. What we saved in automobile costs was used to help get our finances in order for our ultimate goal (that we are working on now). In addition to eliminating fuel costs, we did away with insurance and maintenance costs as well. Furthermore, the health and environmental benefits we gained were very satisfying. We were able to get in workouts and immerse ourselves in the landscape while riding from place to place.
Some of you may be thinking at this point about the logistics of using a bicycle as a means of transportation. Going for a ride is one thing, but running errands and getting to work is another. What about the cargo; clothes, packages, etc? Conventional methods have included the use of a backpack, pannier system or trailer. Fortunately, there is also a newer and more innovative means for bicycle commuting. Read on.
As equipment manager, Chris is always researching the latest touring bikes and gear. While cruising around on the Surly Bicycles website he found the Big Dummy. This is a frame and fork designed to work with Xtracycle components. What’s Xtracycle you ask? It’s a sport utility bicycle company. Yes, sport utility applies to bikes as well – all of the function and none of the fuel. The Big Dummy is essentially a “long” bicycle that was built to handle a 400 lb load, 200lbs for the cargo and 200 lbs for the rider. It probably works better than panniers or a trailer due to its design. Overall, the bike is easier to handle, can carry a heavier load and puts less stress on the rider.
So really, what’s my point? Simple – let’s think outside the box (or pump in this case) when it comes to the gas tax holiday.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Vertical Ethiopia

Day: 218
Time: Evening
Location: Boulder REI

Wednesday was a well deserved rest day. Our legs were tired from the last few days of exercise. It was good to keep it going and will help us as we get ready for the Colorado tour.
Most of the morning was spent preparing for China. We now have plane tickets and a hotel reservation. Now we just need those visas. The applications are in the mail and we are confident that everything will work out. All of the news articles and discussion forums seem to contradict themselves – we’ve stopped reacting to each new report.
The evening took us back to Boulder – this time in the car. We attended an awesome presentation given by Majka Burhardt, a local climbing guide and writer. She is on a national book tour to promote and discuss her recently published book, Vertical Ethiopia. The hardback chronicles the journey of four women climbers (led by Majka) in search of new routes in Northern Ethiopia. Through both pictures and words, you not only get a feel for the climbing, but the culture and landscape as well.
The geography of Ethiopia is quite interesting and our speaker did a great job of hitting the highlights. The country was never colonized and is Africa’s oldest independent country. With a land area of over 400,000 sq miles, Ethiopia is twice the size of France. Most surprisingly, the elevation of the country ranges from 125 m below sea level to its high point at 4,550 m. The capital, Addis Ababa is actually the highest capital city in Africa at 8,000 feet. From a cultural standpoint, Ethiopia is just as fascinating. Christianity and Islam share equal parts of the population and Majka shared that each group attends the holidays and functions of the others. Not what one would expected in a region of the world where religion is at the very core of most conflict.
One part of the presentation really resonated with me. Majka spoke to the common misconceptions of Ethiopia, both from the world and her own. She shared that she found a country that was much more diverse and beautiful than what she had read and heard about. I think Chris and I feel the same about the countries we have visited. It’s now hard for us to believe all of the bad things we hear – you can’t really know until you go and experience a place for yourself.
The most exciting part of the night was when Majka shared that Ethiopia has a great potential for many outdoor sports, especially mountain biking. I think this country in the Horn of Africa might just find its way on to our list of “places we want to ride”.
Here’s to endless possibilities,