Archive for September, 2012

Pedal the Plains

Shortly after starting cycling as a new activity I decided to sign up for the 3-day Pedal the Plains event as a motivational goal. I wasn’t sure if I’d be up for the big climbs of the Rockies in my first season as a cyclist, so the flatter eastern plains of Colorado seemed like the perfect venue for my first organized ride.

By the month leading up to the the PtP, I’d increased my longest rides to 70 miles and two weeks prior to the event I did a solo century (100 miles) on the rural roads north and east of Boulder. My weakness was few long back-to-back rides, but I felt reasonably prepared for the PtP’s days of 28 miles (Friday), 61 miles (+ optional 22 mile out-n-back) and 84 miles (with optional century version).

Friday morning I left town early for the 3 hour drive to Yuma, catching a pink sun coming up right over the highway ahead of me. The fair grounds were easily located in Yuma and I registered, moved my car to the weekend parking and threw a huge duffel on the baggage truck.

A little after 10 am the rolling start commenced and I started with a small group around 10:30a. Rolling out of town was an experience, as every block had locals waving off the cyclists and cheering. I heard from more experienced riders that you don’t get that kind of reception at the mountain towns of the Ride the Rockies event.

After warming up for a couple miles I decided to pick up the pace and passed several other cyclists on US 34 until two cyclists caught up to me and invited me into their pace line. Riding quickly for a few miles and after taking a pull out front I decided I was moving faster than I really wanted to – as a big part of my motivation to be here wasn’t riding fast, but to take in the wide open spaces and atmosphere.

Half way into the ride I took the side route to Eckley and visited the aid station. I felt bad for the local fire department that was trying to sell beef sandwiches to cyclists who were on a fairly short ride and probably not that hungry yet. I may have been one of the few who fueled up so heavily at this stop.

Back on the road I seemed to be between the groups who started early and blew past the aid station and those who stopped. The cyclist traffic was quiet and I was mostly on my own to finish the miles to Wray, recording 29 miles for my first day’s ride. After a wait for the baggage truck I set up my tent in the growing “Occupy Wray” tent city on the high school football field.

After showering I checked my bike out of the corral and headed to downtown Wray to visit the beer gardens, charging stations, music and food as well as vendor tents and mini-petting zoo. I don’t think the chicken liked cyclists.

I left about sunset, fearing more time at the beer garden would be detrimental to tomorrow’s ride. Even with the building lights around the high school, the night skies in Yuma were impressively clear.

Before going to sleep I’d noticed my rear tire felt a little flat and had pumped it full of air. Woken up around 4:45 by the movements of others camped near by, I took my headlamp to the bike corral and confirmed the tire had lost pressure overnight. Doing my first tube replacement by headlamp in the morning cool was an experience, but I warmed up a breakfast inside the school then tried to figure out the right balance between starting early, but carrying more clothes that I wouldn’t need for most of the day, and waiting a bit for it to warm up.

About 7:45am I took off and passed a lot of other riders on the first hill out of town. All those lunch-hour rides up NCAR must have helped. At about mile six I made the decision to turn off and do the 22 mile out-n-back to Beecher Island. This road was far less traveled than 384, was quiet and lovely in the morning light and turned out to be my favorite part of the day’s ride.

After re-joining the main route I flatted almost immediately on 384 with a large thorn in my front tire. I’d finished replacing the tube right when the SAG wagon pulled up and I took the offer of their floor pump so I wouldn’t need to waste a CO2 cartridge. Continuing on toward Burlington the ride crossed a couple river valleys. Unfortunately a persistent headwind had come up and downhill speeds were limited by its resistance. I was actually enjoying some of the uphills, passing other riders and occasionally finding the climb in the wind shadow. However, cycling solo against the headwind on the flats was becoming tiresome.

By the big aid station in Idalia, my IT band was unhappy and I needed a long break to refuel and stretch out. I was also angry to find out that the Strava app on my phone had stopped recording my ride at Beecher Island and would eventually short me over 20 miles on my recorded distance for the day.

Back on the saddle and back into the wind where some of the 120 mile Grand Fondo riders started to overtake and pass us. I was taking advantage of all the educational stops by now to get off the saddle and stretch my IT band, as well as see cool things like an arctic gyrfalcon.

I was pulling into the last educational stop, a wind farm, only 8 miles from Burlington when my front tire went flat again. I broke out my last tube and replaced it, but never found a definite cause. Within a mile or so I’d gotten behind two other riders going at an easy pace and just sat back there and let them pull me into town about 3:15p. Having previously scheduled a 4p massage appointment, I had a rushed 45 minutes of finding the baggage truck, showering, setting up my tent and locating an ATM before just making the appointment. Kevin got to work on my IT band, then I was able to get out and enjoy another beer garden and hamburger.

Originally I had hoped to do the longer distances both days, but with my IT band bothering me I decided to opt for the normal 80 miles on Sunday and skip the century option. Starting early, about 7am, I was a little more bundled up for the wind at that hour. Unfortunately, whatever caused yesterday’s front flat was still around and only 1.5 miles out of Burlington my tire was dead. I replaced the tube and made it another half mile before it too was flat. Discouraged, I waited by the side of the road for the SAG wagon figuring he’d take me either back to the start or the first aid station to a mechanic.

With some other riders in the SAG who wanted to go back to the start and drop out, that’s where we headed. I took my problem bike to the mechanics who first gave me a lecture on using my hands as much as possible instead of the tire levers to avoid pinching the tube, then replaced the tube. While waiting for the SAG wagon to take a ride to aid 1 (by now I’d missed enough time and figured my IT band would be happier with only 60+ miles anyway), I noticed the front tire was again loosing pressure. Back at the mechanic’s tent they checked the rim strip, thought that might be causing my issues and loaded me up with a new tube. Soon I was back in the wagon and headed for station 1, realizing I missing the worst part of today’s ride (a slight uphill with strong crosswinds).

At Stratton, I again found my front tire was far from full, and the mechanics there easily sold me a gel tube filled with sealant. With a bit of trepidation I headed off to Yuma. My worries soon started to fade as the tire seemed to be holding well, the wind was at my back, and the hills enjoyable. More easy spinning today with less hard cranking on the pedals appeased my IT band and helped my mental attitude. Even the short jaunt west around the town of Joe with that pesky crosswind went fine and the dark thoughts I’d had that morning of putting the bike away for the year vanished. Even the several miles of expansion joints on 59 weren’t enough to kill the rediscovered joy I had from today’s ride.

I was disappointed in only doing 66 miles today, but with the out-n-back to Beecher Island the day before I at least equaled the base mileage for the 3 day ride and can say I quite enjoyed my first organized ride.

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30 minutes after finishing work for the week I met Pete at Chautauqua where were left the trailhead bound for the Second Flatiron. He’d never done the Freeway Route (class 4-5.0) before so that was our goal.

With just helmets, rock shoes and chalk bags this makes a quick and fun tour of a flatiron. The main (psychological) obstacle is the diving board – jump or look for a down climb?

After reaching the end of the route and a hiking trail we switch shoes and motored back to Chautauqua. Pete leaves to bike up NCAR and Tara enters stage left. We’ve got tickets for the Reel Rock film tour tonight and first hobnob at the American Alpine Club’s VIP pre-party. At least with having just gone up a flatiron I felt a bit more like a climber than I have of this year.

Saturday morning I head out for a short bike ride, made a little longer by somehow biking farther north on 4th street than I’d planned, but then made my first journey up Sunshine Canyon, to connect with the dirt Poorman road, then some nice downhill on pavement via Fourmile and then more squeezing the brakes on the dirt path down Boulder Canyon. My hands almost had more of a workout than my legs on this ride from their death grip on the brakes.

Arriving home I had just enough time to change and pack a lunch and Tara and I took off for the Denver area and an orienteering meet being held at Cherry Creek State Park. We’d signed up to do the medium difficulty (orange) course individually and placed 3rd and 4th (my better half besting me on this outing when I overran a couple controls). After resting a bit we decided to stick with our original plan of doing the green (short, but difficult) course as a team and walking it. Despite walking, our navigation was far more accurate and we finished top-10 for that course too. results

Sunday I went out for another bike ride, but keep it flatter than yesterday’s ride. About 35 miles long, it was a great 2 hour tour of the rural roads north east of town and a good reminder that exploring new roads is a big part of what I enjoy about cycling.

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Neither of us had the energy to deal with I-70 traffic on a holiday weekend so we’d made plans to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park and stay in Grand Lake for the long weekend. Possibly inspired by an earlier stay at the Estes Park YMCA, I’d planned a weekend packed with activities to make it look like we were staying at an adult summer camp. After arriving at our reserved site near the Shadow Mountain dam in the Green Ridge campground and fighting for some sleep between a RV generator and someone chopping wood ridiculously early in the morning we eventually hit the East Inlet trail for the short stroll (.3 miles) to Adams Falls. The falls were interesting, but the meadows above were more scenic and far less crowded.

Had we more time it would have been interesting to hike further to one of the near-treeline lakes above, but we had reservations for a 2-hour horseback ride with Sombero Ranches.

Most of my horseback riding experiences haven’t been all that pleasant, but the trail guide finally taught me something about steering a horse that all others seem to have neglected. For once I finished a ride not dreading the next time I’d be on a horse.

After a relaxing afternoon and dinner in camp we returned to Grand Lake to join in the Rotary Club-led bingo night.

A more restful night at camp followed and our first activity for Sunday was a couple-hour canoe rental on Grand Lake. Grand Lake was a little over-populated with motor boats for our comfort or pleasure, but we did survive the activity to wander around town afterwards and regain our land legs.

Back at Green Ridge we decided to hike the East Shore to Ranger Meadows Trail loop, which unfortunately was no where near as spectacular as the East Inlet Trails around Adams Falls.

Another restful evening was spent at camp then we drove to the Hot Sulphur Springs for a couple hours of soaking in their pools.

In the morning we packed up and headed out but made more of an effort to stop along Trail Ridge Road and do some of the short hikes above treeline on the way back home.

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