And So it Begins

looks like more suffering in the wilderness

looks like more suffering in the wilderness

This morning there was music. I got up, made a pot of stove top espresso, fussed over my bike a bit, and sat down to play some guitar. I played a few chords, and as I listened to the sweet decay of the notes, I heard some other music outside our window. The understated buzz of humming birds at work is a song that has welcomed us to the mountains of Colorado for many years. I listened to this concert for 15 minutes…the delicate breath of their wings rising and falling. Yes, hello to another Colorado mountain morning.

Our drive out was a humid, buggy affair. Iowa and Nebraska delivered clouds of insects that exploded [sometimes spectacularly] on our windshield. The aerodynamic properties of my bike on the roof rack did not spare her the same treatment. I spent an hour this morning scrubbing interstate bug guts off of every surface that faced into the wind. After a quick buff with Pedro’s Bike Lust, I think the Grey Goose is now presentable. I don’t know who Pedro is, but his product is top notch – and the silicone in the formula may help keep flying vermin from sticking to my frame.

burning carAs we entered Iowa, the traffic ground to a halt, and we could see billowing smoke up ahead. After emergency vehicles made their way through, we began to roll forward and came upon a car fire. Now I’ve seen a few of these in my time, and I’m here to tell you that this car was billowing flames. The most frightening part of the scene was, just outside the frame of the picture, two emergency workers who were WAY too close if the gas tank were to explode.

We’ve driven across Iowa from north to south, and east to west – and this takes the cake for excitement. Not even my turkey club from Arby’s just outside of Des Moines could hold a candle. Thankfully there were no passengers in the car.

The drive up out of Denver has always been something of a holy moment. There are so many rich memories associated with having lived here, and having come back so many times. We watched the thermometer fall from 98 to 68 as we gained elevation. Passing though Empire at the base of Berthoud Pass, there was a little storefront with a sign proclaiming: IT’S LEGAL…GET YOURS HERE. Judging from the number of glassy eyed folks we saw at the Safeway later on, gaining some extra altitude has become right popular.

Time to get dressed and head out for a ride, and get my altitude the old fashioned way.

Hello Winter Park

Cycling in Colorado is equal parts drama, suffering and slack-jawed wonder served up in a scenic, lower oxygen environment. So we’re heading back for more. Our base of operations will once again be Winter Park. A slope-side condo that costs $300 a WP_resort2night during ski season is around $80 a night during the summer. Priceless views from our balcony with nightly consumption of apple crepes and strong coffee in itty bitty cups in the base village: what’s not to like?

Big mountain riding has it’s own unique vibe – and not just because the climbs and descents are long. Altitude, 5% humidity and volatile afternoon weather each add a degree of challenge and adventure. By necessity I’ll need to ease into my first few rides to give my body time to acclimate to one third less oxygen. But then the playground is open for business: with the Peak to Peak Highway, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt Evans, and the surrounding high passes  beckoning.

mtevans

Aerial view Mt Evans auto road

On the menu [in no particular order] is the Copper Triangle event – three passes over 78 miles, and finishing with the long climb up Vail Pass. I’ll be riding Willow Creek Pass, a double traverse of Berthoud Pass, Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Independence and Cottonwood passes south of Summit County. After Indy and Cottonwood – both above 12,000′ –  the strategy is to rest a day and attempt Mt Evans. Climbing above 12K is a bit surreal, as the lower oxygen levels become painfully obvious to brain and body. The Mt Evans auto road tops out at 14,084…which why I use the word ATTEMPT. If I’m not caught in a lightening storm, don’t get hypothermic, throw up on my shifters or get run off the road by the local mountain goat herd…it should be fun. Some rides are so epic that they rent space in your head: this is one of them.

berthoudMy dear, patient wife does not ride, but is, nonetheless, smitten by everything else the Rockies have to offer. She loves to get rid of me early in the day so she can wander with her camera, sketchbook and water colors. But she also has a special gift for showing up with a frosty bottle of coconut water as I toil up an alpine grade. It’s a wonderful partnership that’s grown over 33 years.

On Monday we’ll be counting the familiar hairpin turns on the way up Berthoud Pass. Then comes the abrupt descent, and the heartfelt HELLO to this place we love so much.

Reviewed: Pactimo Breckenridge Vest

breckenridge_wx-d_vest-s14_black_white-frontIf you like to roll out on cool mornings, enjoy fall riding or find yourself on long alpine descents in changing weather, a vest is an indispensable piece of gear for layering. In my estimation a vest needs be wind and water resistant, breathable, and light enough to stuff into a jersey pocket. The Pactimo Breckenridge vest has these qualities and a few more.

To begin with, the construction is first-rate, with precise and durable workmanship. The zipper is substantial and has a silicone gripper for easy adjustment. The stand up collar gives an added bit of protection against the wind, and the mesh back helps immensely to prevent over-heating. This is not an ultra-light piece of gear, but the extra grams bring a higher level of water and wind resistance.

I’ve used lighter vests, but the compromise is that wind and water immediately blow through the fabric. A rider has to experience plummeting core temperature on a long descent ONLY ONCE [I’m thinking about a stormy afternoon on Berthoud Pass!] to appreciate the three layer Defense+ fabric used in this garment. That said, the Breckenridge vest still rolls up neatly and fits easily into a jersey pocket.

It’s a brilliantly executed and highly useful piece of technical wear – among my favorites. If you’d like to give it – or any Pactimo product – a try, contact me through this blog, and I’d be happy to send you a 30% off coupon.

The Road comes to an End

071My desire to return home to my family gave me speed on the final day of the Habitat 500. I took advantage of every tailwind and pulled hard into each headwind to average a tad less than 19.5 miles per hour. All told I pedaled 502 miles and climbed 17,444 feet – a splendid block of training to get me ready for our upcoming trip to Colorado.

Most importantly, by the end of the ride we we were passing $350,000 of fundraising, on our way to another [we hope] $500K year. That’s a lot of nails, and a lot of people touched: both recipients of homes and volunteers.

I exceeded my $3000 fundraising goal thanks to the fine folks from First Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, MN, family and friends. Special thanks also to members of the Grand Rapids business community, including: Northern Lakes Dental, the good folks at two Thrivent offices, my massage therapist Jo Hernesman, Rowe Funeral Home, the Eye Care Clinic, and Dr. Dajana Condos at North Lakes Chiropractic – who kept me healthy and…well adjusted. A final thanks to the staff at Itasca Habitat for Humanity for their administrative support, and Pactimo Cycling Clothing for keeping me comfortable on the bike every day.

072Now it’s time to rest and prepare for our next trip. These past few days have been about naps, food and early bedtimes! The Grey Goose needs brake pads, a thorough cleaning and lube, shifters adjusted and wheels trued. In a few days we’ll be back home in Colorado’s mountains. New challenges await in the Copper Triangle and an attempt to cycle to the summit of Mt Evans.

Wherever the road leads you, I hope that you’ll receive it’s gifts and unexpected surprises. Cycling, more than any other activity, puts my journey of life into perspective. Big climbs and long miles are humbling – but feeling small reminds me of my daily need for God and all he’s done and is doing for me.

Habitat 500 Day 6

image

What a difference a day makes. Sun is restorative. It’s good for  body and soul. All the best love songs must’ve been written on such days. After yesterday’s rainy epic [complete with semi  trucks roaring by in hurricanes of mist], today I felt  the love.

Our route has been varied and  interesting all week. Today combined fast flats, undulating rollers and the long gradual climbs that SE Minnesota is known for. Maybe I’ll come back in September for Ride the Ridges.

As the ride winds down, I’m feeling the familiar familial tug on my heart. Cycling has a limited shelf life compared to what waits for me at home. Cycling gave me back my health, but God and my family give me life. It’s been good, no, GREAT…but it’s time to return to my calling of daddy, husband, best friend to a pair of German Shepherds and pastor of a wonderful church.

Tomorrow I will drive home full of anticipation of hugs and the soft whack of wagging tails.

Thanks for sharing the road with me.

Habitat 500 Day 5

You know it’s been an epic ride when it takes 30 minutes to clean your bike afterwards. Eating a medium mushroom and sausage  thin crust pizza afterward is further testimony.

image

Don't I look disgusted? Well, don't I?!

We headed out of town after a spinach quiche breakfast served in the local  hospital  parking lot. The rain held off until rest stop number one, and began in earnest as we strarted our climb out of the valley. I was well equipped for the conditions, but my concern was for all those without rain jackets. Several riders got borderline hypothermic, and needed to leave the road. For  me it was challenging to stay warm…seems I’m missing the body fat that used to keep me better insulated…but I managed.

Rides like this evoke a strong response – almost primal. Driving rain, 25 mph winds and falling temperature made us feel rather small – certainly not in control of the conditions. They dictated our agenda today, and we traveled on their terms.

It was with great relief that I finished just before noon.

Habitat 500 Century Day

Prior  to doing a 100 mile ride I have a talk with myself about why I want to work so hard. Why do I want  to put my body  through this? Can’t  I find somewhere else to sit for five and a half hours than on my minimalist bike saddle? Seems like I always lose that argument.

I was on the bike at 6:50 this morning.

David and I teamed up and hit the first climb together. Because he weighs 160, and because I have gravitational issues due to my considerable mass, I fell behind. It took 15 minutes to catch him, and then we traded pulls into the forecasted LIGHT AND VARIABLE [really 20 mph] winds. The first 22 miles were unpleasant.

We did persevere and found our way to the descent into La Crosse Wisconsin – no doubt named after a native American sport involving sticks and balls made from animal skins.

image

Dave and I before descending down the bluffs

After picking up a nice tailwind [aren’t all tailwinds nice?] we ate up the miles – including the 14 mile climb that killed us yesterday. It’s a fine way to end a century ride. Sometimes a tailwind comes just when you need it.