2017 Habitat 500

 

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A rainy day rest stop in 2016

The signature fundraising for Minnesota Habitat for Humanity is the Habitat 500 bike tour. Each July we ride – you guessed it – 500 miles over seven days in support of decent and affordable housing.

This is my 5th ride, and I’m thrilled to say that we’ve just passed $5000 in early fundraising. Our goal is $7500, and I think we’ll blow past this in a few more weeks! Each year we ride in a different part of the state. We stay in school gymnasiums, and eat meals prepared by local churches. Along the way, we are fed every 20 miles or so at rest stops that serve up the kind of high energy foods cyclists need. The cold pressed coffee at rest stop 2 is heavenly. This year’s ride is July 9-15.

mebikecoldTraining in early spring is a bit…uh…adventurous in Northern Minnesota. You need to wear a LOT of clothing: insulated tights, insulated jersey, neoprene booties like scuba divers wear, and a windproof insulated shell. On cold days I add a layer of under armor. You don’t want to forget to put duct tape over the vents in your bike shoes.

I’d like to think this makes us mentally tougher, since the best part of a cold ride is when it’s over. It’s a yearly rite of passage on the frozen tundra. But take heart! In the words of our Viking forbearers, that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Once the days grow longer, the sun higher in the sky, and the winds calmer; we are ready to ride in earnest…maybe with a hint of Viking aggression.

The online donation site is up, and can be found here.

A final thought. As the pastor of First Lutheran in Grand Rapids, MN I’m super pleased to say that we’ve been supporting Itasca Habitat for Humanity for several years. Behind me are more than 200 volunteers and donors who bang nails, serve meals to 150 hungry cyclists, and give generously.

 

Getting a New Bike

img_0583Purchasing a bike is one of the great rights of passage in life. 50 years ago I had butterflies in my stomach on the way to Bill & Andy’s Bike Shop, in downtown Concord, MA. I remember feeling a bit weird about getting out of the car facing a graveyard filled with revolutionary war heroes. I think I was still a little freaked out after learning about Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman who loped through dark graveyards in New England lopping off heads of the poor residents of Sleepy Hollow.

My mom and dad were in the front seat of the car, while I sat in the back waiting for the 30 minute drive to  come to a merciful end. I was about to get my first bike. It was a 1968 Schwinn with a red sparkly banana seat and monkey bars. A few days later my dad surprised me by replacing the rear tire with an honest to gosh racing slick. I bombed around two neighborhoods with friends in two different states constantly competing for the two best things in the world of seven year old riders: RIDING NO HANDS and LAYING RUBBER. How long a black skid-mark can you leave by jumping on the coaster brake while going fast?

It’s a holy moment when you get on your first bike, and every other first ride ever after. I will admit that its a torturous thing to buy a bike during winter in Northern, MN – where it immediately goes on your indoor trainer. You can’t know the truth of your first ride for two more months. [Historically, this has triggered spending far too much time staring  Weather Underground long-term forecasts, and cursing the temperature for not being average.] But the day does come. Likely it will be a sunny day in the hi 30’s when the shoulders are free of black ice…that’s my criteria.

I’ll tip-toe across our snowpacked driveway with my bike on my shoulder, and set it down on dry pavement, kick my leg over the saddle, and clip-in to my pedals. And then the beautifully mysterious equation of centrifugal force + forward motion comes into play. That first ride will be all about discovering and appreciating the nuances of personality wrapped up in a this new frame. Yep, first rides are DA BOMB. In my mind they’re best celebrated with a craft IPA and fresh guacamole and blue corn chips…

c5_9070_1_0001_1-c5_9070_7It’s a Cervelo C5: gravel and long distance road rolled into one. After a tough season cut short by over-training syndrome [OTS], I needed to reinvent myself as a cyclist. My riding had grown grim and exhausting…the fun drained out of it. So, I’m ramping up the fun with a helping of northern gravel roads to explore this year. With the blessing I will ride the southern MN classic gravel race called Almanzo on May 20.

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I walked out to the car from Billy & Andy’s bike shop, watched my dad put my new steed in the back of our Ford station wagon, and brought it home. Through a series of dares and double-dog dares I was inducted into the neighborhood pack and learned to lay down some respectable rubber. So began my astonishing 50 year two wheel journey.

I’m still working on riding no hands.

The Pactimo Ambassador Experience

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Don’t worry, I get jokes about drafting a lot

Howdy, I’m Greg. The fine folks at Pactimo asked me to write about my Brand Ambassador experience. I just finished my second year in the program.

As a rider, I’m picky [my friends say tweaky] about my kit. If we dress sharp, we feel good…If we feel good, we go well. The proper cycling shoe color is white, because it’s Euro, and because the European continent is the Mothership of all cycling. Life is way too short to bother with bargain kit. Did that sound tweaky?

I should also say that I manage to ride around 6000 miles each year on Wisconsin and Minnesota pavement, in the Rockies, and increasingly on Lake Superior Gravel.

I came across Pactimo when riding the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour about 6 years ago. Their tour kit was really special, so I ordered a custom Ascent jersey. I really liked the fit and quality, and had a look at the Pactimo website. I eventually ordered two pair of the Raptor bibs, and was hooked. I still believe they are some of the best long distance cycling bibs manufactured anywhere.

When I applied for the Brand Ambassador program I wasn’t overly optimistic I’d be chosen. The only explanation is that there must be a late middle aged male Lutheran from northern MN demographic: for chosen I was. My first impression was how warmly we were welcomed. Josh Cook, who leads the BA program at Pactimo, has been cordial and fun to work with. One of the great perks has been being a part of a cycling community and sharing pictures on our Facebook page. It’s an instantly fun and supportive community. There was a stretch of months where a few of us were seriously injured on the bike, one hit by a car. We got to follow their stories in pictures and words. Add to that the accumulated experience of several cycling disciplines and bike knowledge, and it’s a pretty powerful social space.

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After a top 100 finish at the Copper Triangle

In my opinion, Pactimo is always evolving and improving their products. Each year’s iteration of the aforementioned Raptor bibs has gotten better. I can’t wait to get my hands on a pair of the Summit Stratos Bibs, since the Raptor 2.0’s were so exceptional. It’s worth saying that those bibs were the first ever not to be trashed by the end of my season. I will score bonus points with my dear, supportive wife when she spots me wearing them for a second season.

When I was training in CO last June, Josh Cook invited me over to the office to meet the Pactimo team. And that’s my final reflection. Josh and I had already chatted by phone a few times, and continued our conversation over espresso. Afterward, we went back to the office and I got introduced to the whole team: It turned out that they all rode their bikes to work that morning. I got a super friendly welcome, and a first-hand peek at the creative and socially responsible Pactimo culture. It was a great experience to put names and faces together. And since I had come directly from a two pass ride earlier in the day, and had some serious stink going on, I was ALL the more impressed they came out from behind their desks to chat!

The Pactimo Brand Ambassador program is one of the best out there. If you encounter any customer care issues, you can count on the team to respond promptly…usually within a few hours. Good luck!

 

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Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park at 12, 200 feet

CRMBT Days 3 and 4

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Cooked but not overdone

Though I try to avoid cliches, I am compelled to say, What a difference a day makes. After forgetting my GPS and going back to the hotel to find it, I was an hour late getting started on a day in the Gore Range with four significant climbs. It was one of those little mistakes you feel all day long.

I chased back onto the group and got to our first rest stop 10 minutes before closing time to grab some much needed water. By then the temps had warmed into the high 70’s with bright sun, and I lost the early morning advantage of shade. The south facing slopes became the oven; I became the main course. Nothing to do but soldier on and hope that your wonderful wife will pass by with an ice-cold coconut water. Thankfully she did.

I persisted to Gore Pass – doing all the climbing for the day, but passed on the rest of the miles. Instead I enjoyed the best breakfast burrito of my life in Kremmling, CO. 53 miles, 6000 feet climbed. Kremmling also has horse parking.

The next day was oh so different…

After sleeping on a solid recovery meal and breakfasting on my secret weapon [Naked Juice Blue Machine and oatmeal], we made the 7 am deadline to the park entrance.

tr2Last year my experience on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park included sleet, wind and a touch of hypothermia. Today was one of those days where you almost need to pinch yourself because it’s so good. You want to take each moment and freeze it in time. As we climbed through the many ramps and switchbacks to treeline we were swallowed by an immense deep blue sky. We rode across that sky to Iceberg Pass, and there began our descent 17 miles down to Estes Park. Nothing stood in our way except a large heard of elk, and we were only too happy to let them pass.

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CRMBT Day 1 and 2

I didn’t post yesterday because I was pretty wrecked. My bride described me as spacey – not referring to Kevin Spacey, in case you wondered – more of the speaking in three word sentence with long pauses in between kind of spacey.

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This must’ve been the start of the spacey thing

At the start I was nervous with pre-event jitters, and my legs felt like frozen lumps of man flesh as we rolled out on the way to Loveland pass. The first 28 miles was all climbing with no breaks for recovery, gaining 4400 feet in that distance. What’s a guy to do? KEEP PEDALING. It works every time.

 

I arrived at the summit [11,990′] having eaten enough gluten free non GMO enduro snacky things to fuel a steady cadence through the two ramps that hit 9%. My coach warned me to expect a 20% drop in power output above 10, 500 feet.

He was right.

But the 40 mph descent afterward was my just reward for all this effort. Rolling at the speed limit we were able to move out into the traffic lane and use the whole road surface to set up for the hairpin turns. Wowie, Zowie, Yupi, Woot, Woo Hoo.

One picture was all I thought to get. It was that kind of day. I spent the afternoon and evening working my recovery routine, whining and getting a lot of sleep: hoping for a more pleasant day to follow.

45 miles, 5802 elevation gained.

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You can bet the seat on the porta-potty was cold

The more pleasant day came to pass.

We did nearly 70 miles over Fremont, Tennessee and Engineer passes. The descents were stupendous, albeit a little sporty due to a grabby, constantly shifting wind. At times like this, grab the top tube of your bike between your knees and hold firmly.

The rhythm was back, and I was climbing with a hint of aggression, but I still had a nagging tightness in my legs. At rest stop three it came to me that I should try a bit of stretching. Which I did. It’s always the little things that hold the key that opens the door. Yep, it was a really, really good stretch, and a really, really good last 20 miles. Down in the thick air around 7500 feet, I hummed along at 21-24 mph.

I got the kind of day I needed to carry on tomorrow.

68 miles, 4395 feet ascended.

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What’s This All About, Then?

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The entire focus of my training during the last 3564 miles has been the CRMBT – short for the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour. It begins on Sunday morning: 438 miles and 40K of climbing. They advertise the tour for advanced riders. Fact is, I get butterflies if I stop and think about this ride for more than a few seconds. To call this ride ambitious is an understatement.

Without realizing what I was getting myself into I signed up the first time three years ago, and have been delighted ever after to say I lived to tell about it. It was overwhelmingly THE MOST intense week of riding in my life. There was a marked attrition of riders as the week unfolded – not to mention a close call I had with another rider who rolled out into the middle of a of a fast descent  without looking uphill. Three years later I have a lot of respect for what’s coming my way.

My preparation began in February with my coach Jordan [a pretty darn successful time trial specialist]. I started three months of power-building intervals on the indoor bike. [a euphemism for many hours of really unpleasant workouts] I  gained close to 50 watts by the time we could start riding outside, and continued building with another four one week self-imposed training camps. I finished the Habitat 500 charity ride with some highly appreciated feedback from  riders whom I respect as athletes. Bottom line: if I’m not ready now, I never will be.

So I’m going into this ride feeling strong and relaxed. On a ride two days ago I PR’d [personal record] all the Strava segments without really trying. I’m enjoying the taper: its been a good time of rest and regrouping. But what comes next will be a new story of adventure and adversity…very little of it within my control.

I have believed for quite some time that I find out more about God and myself during these kinds of rides. There’s nothing like discomfort and suffering to make me open to surrendering a bit of control. It’s a faith lesson that causes me to look outside myself for strength and inspiration. I often take strength for granted, but what about inspiration?  For me its not just about watts, but also the soul of riding.

Riding in faith, hope and love brings soul. Soul makes the miles breathe – taking them beyond just physical effort or the mechanics of riding. Soulfulness comes as I do what I do: mindful that this is God’s special gift to me. Nothing random…all very personal. No one ever explained this to me, but its been revealed by my Heavenly Father as the miles go by.

That’s all I’m going to say for now. I’ll continue the conversation in daily blog posts as the ride unfolds.

 

Colorado Calling

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The new bikemobile full of vacation gear

I am in Colorado for the third time in 2016. No complaints here. This time I’m accompanied by my awesome wife for two weeks of cycling and beauty chasing. I’ll be doing the cycling, both of us together will find the moments of beauty: Colorado calling.

We woke up this morning to cool mountain air wafting in through wide open windows. This is our first morning in Winter Park, and as such, these kinds of first mornings are worth celebrating with a pot of stove top espresso. Which we did while listening to Nat King Cole tunes.

We’re paying attention to the transition to life at 9000 feet with our well worn routine of rest, hydration, visiting high and sleeping low. I’m tapering for the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour…so there’s plenty of time where I can justify taking things slow. I have easy spins this week, and one short ride out and back to Berthoud Pass. It’s the best of all situations while we decompress and visit with friends.

It’s also a perfect antidote to my yearly post Tour de France let down. Yes, I will find purpose and joy apart from speculation and trash talk from Le Tour.

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Among the lakes above Rollins Pass at 12,200′