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.

 

Habitat  500: Century Day 

A man receives help after 100 miles

 It stopped raining long enough to squeeze in a century (100 mile) ride. In place of rain we had wind and clouds. We had LOTS of wind. Here in the Midwest we don’t have mountains to challenge us…we have wind. Stories are told of settlers (not those who settle for cable) who lost their minds from the endless howling of prairie winds. Hence, there are two seasons: cold and windy or less cold and windy.

If you want to train for mountain riding, ride into a stiff headwind until you lose your mind. It doesn’t take long. 

I decided to do just that, and pulled like a mad man for 22 miles after rest stop #2. In the process I used myself up with 25 miles to go. Call it a tactical mistake…or call it dumb, but that’s what I did. No amount of food can cure this. You just have to limit your losses and ride with empty legs, while simultaneously trying to think of something else. ANYTHING else.

The next best thing is to find a group and ride in their draft – way in the back, where you don’t have to do much.

This I did.

Habitat  500: Day 3

Good days often end with pizza

The bicycle is quite an amazing invention. It strings together moments of hard work, elation, tiredness and awe: and weaves them into a unique daily tapestry. There’s not much predictability in cycling…the road sees to that.

Pedaling indoors has great training value do to it’s  sameness. You can isolate one skill and work it until it becomes second nature. But the storyline is limited…the carpeting and pictures never change. For that, we have the undulating cadence of the open road. Stories are written; memories are made.

And so it was again today. I greeted several roads I’ve known on many other days, except it was TODAY. It was my one shot to enjoy the gift of the right now. Instead of trying to get it over with, I received 80.1 miles of impossibly blue northern  skies and following winds.

Today was a good day.

Riding In High Places: PROLOGUE

Please turn off all cellular devices in preparation for departure.

The kid across from me is texting madly with an amused look on his face – fingers flying with practiced speed. It reminds me that my daughter tells me I’m the only person she knows who uses complete sentences and punctuation when texting. I am a slow texter…but I’m okay with that.

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We’re two hours late departing for Denver. They lined us up for boarding at 8 am, but the crew had come in late the night before, and was nowhere to be found. There was an audible say-it-ain’t-so groan from the group at the announcement; but being a fan of flying in an airplane with well rested pilots, I was tickled to wait for one to show up.

I’m on my way for a week of hill training (well, large hill training) in and around the Front Range adjacent to Denver. I’m staying with kind friends who must believe that the benefit of seeing me outweighs my early morning disappearances on the bike. Maybe it’s because I won’t be around enough to annoy or grow stale?

It’s something of an adventure since I’m not riding with anyone, and will be doing a fair bit of exploring in unfamiliar areas. Go up some, go down some, and repeat as needed seems to be the general idea. Regardless, I have a fine week of vertical ahead.

A Southern Pilgrimage

I’m writing this account a few months after the fact. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead is purely intentional.

Sitting in the Greenville – Spartanburg airport, I’m doing my best to grasp the epic scale of the last few days. I’ve just completed 213 miles and 23,399 feet of climbing over four rides in the vicinity of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In early September my friend Mike and I hatched the idea. He was going to be here anyway racing the Hincapie Fondo, so why not come on down? After a season foreshortened by a bout with mono, back problems and numerous work interruptions, I saw the opportunity to close it out on a high note, and air tickets were purchased.

blue-ridge-parkway_2The area between Greenville, SC and Asheville, NC is a maze of rolling valley roads and climbing scenic highways. The cyclist friendly Blue Ridge Parkway and it’s feeder roads offer numerous options. Many rides begin with a long climb and end with a bombing descent – the middle part being a stretch on the Parkway. It’s no wonder that World Tour and Pro Continental riders live and train here.

FIRST DAY. We woke up to pouring rain, and decided it was ill-advised to go for a ride. Instead we headed out for a recon drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy some peak foliage and pay a visit to the Appalachian Folk Art Center. Part store and part museum, the center sells the work of local artisans and displays virtually priceless examples of regional craftspeople – including period black and white photos of frowning women churning butter and their men standing by in patched overalls.

SECOND DAY. I don’t often think of riding in the rain as an opportunity to find something special. Mostly I avoid it. But we didn’t travel this far to sit in a hotel room – so we headed out to do Caesar’s Head and Mt Sassafras. The mist and occasional rain showers provided a neutral palette that made the foliage really pop. Through this tunnel of color we settled into the CAT 1 climb leading up into the state park, and reached the summit welcome center in high spirits. After Mike stuffed some glossy brochures into the front of his jersey – for warmth and possible later reading – we descended toward Sassafras.

sass3The final climb rose in two steep walls separated by a short flatter section: both walls averaged 15% and hit 21% briefly. The storm  had pasted a layer of wet leaves on the pavement, and let it be known for future posterity that this made for a supremely slick situation…going up AND down. I’m fairly strong, and was able to climb the first wall seated. On the second wall I got up out of the saddle only to feel my tires spin out beneath me. It was time for walk. Mike was kind enough to capture the moment: yep, that shadowy figure is me. He also captured the moment in verse:

With the final high point made, at the overlook they peered
No fall colors or great views they saw – Instead, the grayness sneered

After picking our way down from the summit, we descended down to Rocky Bottom. As the sun began to peak through the clouds we finished our plunge to the valley on drying roads through a section of technical curves. As we rolled back into Pumpkintown, SC, it was evident that we had indeed found something special in the rain.

burnerTHIRD DAY. There’s nothing like consecutive days of hard cycling to kindle faith. For example, it is a supreme act of faith to get out of bed – never mind getting kitted up and heading out the door. This is why I favor week long point-to-point tours or riding with friends that I don’t want to disappoint: both effectively sabotage any laziness on my part. And, so, off we went to Transylvania county to ride the legendary Rosman Half-Burner. The 18 mile HC climb up to the Parkway unfolds in two parts. First there’s a steady climb averaging maybe 5% that leads to a flat section that has undoubtedly broken the hearts of legions of cyclists who thought they were done climbing. NOT A CHANCE. The final eight miles were sustained double-digit grades.

On the way up the final section I had trouble overheating and had to stop twice to cool off. After another heartbreaking false summit, I got to the summit fully cooked, and headed off with numb legs to find Mike…which I did. He was standing on a bridge drying his clothes in the wind with a big grin on his face:

How ya doing buddy?!’ ‘BLOWN‘ I replied. [e.g. wrecked, trashed, wasted]  After devouring an entire Pro Bar and half a bottle of water, I recovered and we proceeded to a curvy descent that put a smile back on my face. With an impatient driver creeping up from behind, I surrendered to gravity and hit the first hairpin going 30. I don’t recall seeing that vehicle again. A few minutes earlier I asked Mike about the terrain ahead. He must’ve sensed a bit of desperation in my voice, so he replied, You know, it goes up some and down some. I’m pretty sure he wanted me to be pleasantly surprised by this ripping descent.

Later that evening we discussed the next day: Mike talking animatedly, and me lying on the floor answering in three word sentences. With the cold temps forecasted on Mt Mitchell, we agreed to do two climbs adjacent to the Parkway, and finish up with a long CAT 1 to Craggy Gardens. The forecast was for bright sun.


mikeonmitchellFOURTH DAY
. Mike and I were both feeling strong as we headed out toward Ashville. My resurrection from the dead was complete after my recovery routine of the night before. I felt down-right sporty as we headed for the top of Town Mountain, and it’s gorgeous descent through banked curves down into Ashville, NC. After a water stop we picked our way through residential neighborhoods to the start of the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway – a perfectly lovely CAT 2 climb ascending through switchbacks back up to the BRP. As it turned out my adventure was just beginning.

Somehow I misunderstood which Craggy Gardens I was to meet Mike at. There’s a picnic area and a visitor’s center – I visited both and added another 500 feet of climbing to further build my character. Now, we often say that a hard effort is ‘worth it’ – whether we believe it or not. Sometimes what we really mean is that we’re thankful the ordeal has come to an end. But I’m here to say that every bit of that 7631′ of climbing was worth it. We stood at the top of a 17 mile long descent.

IMG_0233Endurance athletes chase an endorphin-laced transcendent dream who’s fulfillment lies eternally beyond the next hill. And in keeping with this, a ride has the capacity to move us deeply. After the first tunnel I let my bike run: simultaneously attending to speeds approaching 75 Kph, setting up for each curve and taking quick glances at mountain top views to my left. I was moved: in equal parts of awe, gratitude and joy as I swung through the turns and tucked along the straightaways on the way back down to the Folk Art Center.

FIFTH DAY. Today answered the question of what to do with a limited amount of time and a plane to catch:

Get packed…get dressed…and go for a bike ride.

We headed over to Paris Mountain and were given permission by the fine folks at Hincapie Cycling Clothing to park in their lot. After warming up on a bike trail through a swamp, we arrived at the base of Paris Mountain where I settled into my climbing cadence – reaching the top in fine form, even if I do say so. Everything seems easier on the last day of a hard bike trip – so I didn’t consciously take note of the steep sections on either side…I just pedaled along eyes and ears wide open, trying to catch every last little bit before we were done.

parisThe trees bowed over the road making golden a tunnel fit for a king. As we entered Paris Mountain State Park the road wound sharply up and down through hardwood forests until our turn-around. On the way back I could see Mike was letting go in his own way: repeating one of the climbs and descents to wring every last ounce of joy from the road. Then it was a quick trip back across the bike path through the swamp, tearing down my bike, jamming my sweaty kit into my suitcase in favor of a pair of jeans and my last clean t-shirt…and off to the airport.

Almost five months later I’m still pausing over the keyboard – lost for minutes at a time remembering. I love everything about the bike. I love the technical bits of carbon and titanium…going fast and long with the sun on my back…the quiet hum of a well adjusted drivetrain…the feeling of relief and accomplishment when summiting a hard climb…dousing my head with cold water on a hot day. I love all the places I can go. But more than this, it’s sharing it all with a friend.

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A Day of Extremes


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Trail Ridge Road is wholly contained within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. The alpine section of the road – which tops out at 12,095 feet –  is fully above treeline, and exposed to the elements.

wizardofOzTwisterRowingAs I pulled through the switchbacks on the mid section of the climb, it became increasingly obvious that it was quite windy up above. The patches of sun disappeared and the temperature dropped sharply as I rolled over Milner Pass. A sudden gust hit me sideways, and for a brief moment I felt the bike lift up beneath me. When I rolled out this morning I couldn’t possibly know that TODAY would be THE DAY I finally GOT the twister scene from the Wizard of Oz. You know, the two guys in a rowboat flying through the sky?

The winds continued to build as I ascended. I felt strong and relatively warm until I came to some road construction, and had to wait 15 minutes for the lane to open to uphill traffic. I couldn’t regain the warmth I lost, and the race against time began as I felt my core temperature drop. In the world of hypothermia shivering is on the mild end of the scale. My concern was that, on the severe end of the scale, my coordination began to suffer as I battled 40 mph winds that threatened to blow me off the roadway. Did I mention it was 42 degrees?

fun and hypothermiaI sprinted the last 100 yards to the Alpine Visitor Center and sought out my wife – who took one look at me and went to find a cup of hot cocoa. The National Park Service not only sells hot cocoa in it’s visitor centers, but also warm clothing…more specifically, really warm fleece jackets. This grateful taxpayer forked over the funds to purchase one. In the picture at the left you can see that very same jacket, and the beginning of my first smile in about an hour.

I left the summit in the passenger seat of the Subaru to get past the construction, and the potential of another long wait in the cold and wind. Two miles later I pulled the Grey Goose out of the car and finished the descent on an empty road. Few things are more fun than the freedom to use all of the traffic lane to set up for each turn – except maybe my wife following behind and taking video.

It was 77 in the valley, and after a quick stop to drop all my layers, I rode full tilt boogie the last 15 miles. [If you don’t know about FULL TILT BOOGIE it’s okay…it’s a 70’s thing that probably had something to do with Burt Reynolds]

In the last two miles I flatted and experienced two more of the aforementioned gusts to round-out today’s cycling experience.

It was a day of extremes.

Greetings Twice from 11, 306

IMG_0943I was feeling a bit sporty this morning, and got on the road at 630 dressed in full warmers and vest. The cool mountain air was purely exhilarating – as was the fact that my early departure completely avoided all the construction traffic. [Colorado DOT is completely repaving the north side of Berthoud pass, and the daytime traffic jams are not pretty.] After the initial 8-10% climb from the valley floor, it kicked back to a steady 5-6% grade all the way to the summit. I arrived feeling pretty good, talked to a hardcore cyclist who used to be from Duluth, MN, and then rolled into the descent. Being pretty early in the day, I passed through some bracing spots of refrigerator-like shade, and then back into the sun: thawing out in like 30 seconds.

After about 7 miles of exceeding the speed limit on glorious pavement, I got to the final hairpin and pulled off for a snack. The return climb didn’t have the steep faces of the north side, but simply ascended steadily at about 300 feet per mile. Coasting into the parking lot at the summit while exclaiming the words HOLY CRAP three or four times, I was high-fived by a person I’d never met. WHAT A CONFIDENCE BUILDER. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been on the bike, and super pleased to feel ready for the Copper Triangle on Saturday.

It’s probably worth mentioning that we’re still working hard at acclimating. It’s easy to get rubber legs in the first few days, and feel out of breath. Staying hydrated is a huge big deal, as well as eating lean protein, low carb meals with plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. At least in theory, much less taxing on the body’s energy resources than a diet of, say, spam and ice cream.

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Greetings Twice from Berthoud Pass