Usery Pass Century

Usery Pass Century
Usery Pass Century Profile
Usery Pass Century from Paradise Valley. 102 miles overall, 2,300 ft elevation gain.

Finally! I have a ride to talk about on this blog!

Yesterday I went out on only my second century since recovering from injury a few years ago. In doing so, I helped a friend complete her second century overall — a big accomplishment for her.

When asking if I’d help her do a long ride at the end of April, my friend said she wanted to  (1) do a century, and (2) go out to Usery Pass, so I concocted the easiest, flattest route I could think of, but one that was more than just an out-and-back. I have a lot of experience with most of the roads in the east valley, and the roads shown here really are the best roads for cycling. This route features bike lanes almost the whole way, and for an urban ride is about as safe as you’ll find. But being an urban ride, you do have to put up with more stop lights than a person would like. C’est la vie.

The Easy Way to Do Usery

We approached Usery Pass from the south, and did the loop around the Bush Hwy in the CCW direction, which is by far the easiest way. From the south, Usery pass is 2-4% grade, and never much more than that. There is a steep hill after you swing back south onto Power Rd, which I’ve heard called King Kong. Don’t know why it’s called that. I didn’t tell my friend about it beforehand. I let her experience its steep slopes (10-12% grade) as a surprise. She conquered that surprise with aplomb.

After reaching McDowell, we swung west and then south to Gilbert, in order to add enough miles for a full 100.

Though a windy, blustery day, the temps were pleasant, which made for a nice outing. I pulled my friend through all the headwinds, and we lucked out in having a nice tailwind most of the way back.

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My co-conspirator of the day. We’re at a small farm in Gilbert which served as a rest stop.

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Belly fat, b-e-l-l-y fat, what are they feeding you?

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A peacock at the farm displaying his feathers. I know, kinda hard to see behind the fence.

I’ve got that old feeling

I feel my endurance legs coming back after a long hiatus. I was not tired at all when we finished. I could have easily done another 50 miles. This is the way it used to feel on century rides, and it’s good to get that feeling back. After lunch in Gainey Village at the 93 mile mark, my friend wasn’t terribly tired either, and I probably could have talked her into another 20 miles, but rain was threatening.

Bonus Miles

After we reached the 100 mile mark on the way home, I joked to my friend that each mile after a 100 was a bonus mile, worth $100. We finished with 102 miles, so someone owes her $200.

I never once said I’d be the one paying out the $200. Honest!

Which brings up an interesting scenario: If someone said they’d pay you $100 for every mile after a 100 (has to be all on the same ride), how far would you go?

 

Runner’s High and Kundalini Energy

A few years ago, I blogged about the cycling “sweet spot” — the amount of cycling distance/effort needed to produce the effects of “runner’s high”, that feeling of well-being (and even euphoria) that athletes sometimes get. While normally associated with running, cyclists can experience this high too, and for me, when I’m in good shape, I get this effect after 30-40 miles or so of “training” — training here meaning a mix of steady, moderate effort intertwined with more strenuous hill climbing and/or sprinting intervals. The reason I use the term sweet spot is that too little exercise doesn’t do the trick. Neither does a really strenuous or very long workout. The latter just makes you tired.

While I can experience this high while cycling,  (and in my case, this usually means after 40 miles I’m raring to go for even more miles while others want to go back home to their Lazy Boy recliners), it’s more often the case that the feeling comes afterwards, after I’ve cooled down and showered. It’s a great feeling, and can leave me buzzed for hours.

Well, It’s B-A-A-C-K!

After not cycling as much as I used to — my fitness having taken a nose dive from too much time off due to injury, I haven’t experienced much of this runner’s high the past few years. Until recently, that is. This spring I’ve been helping a friend train for century rides, and my fitness level has been steadily improving as a result. So much so that my runner’s high is back — in a big way!

This week, after participating in the Tue/Thu morning Tri-Scottsdale training rides, which for me amount to 30-40 miles of the aforementioned mix of effort, I’ve had intense feelings of euphoria afterwards, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. On Tuesday, the effect lasted all day long. Wow! Talk about a buzz! And on Thursday, it also lasted all day, but in an even more intense form — so intense I was bouncing off the walls, so to speak. My whole body was tingling.

What the heck is going on?

Endorphins?

Your body produces endorphins under certain amounts of physical exercise. These endorphins are pain-killing, euphoria-inducing chemicals that are somewhat like morphine, to put it simplistically. It’s been long suspected that this is the cause of runner’s high.

However, studies done in the early 2000s seem to disprove this theory. See this New York Times article for example. The conclusion reached is that it’s probably a mix of things, and not any one particular substance.

One thing I don’t like about the study mentioned in the NYT article is that they claim it’s “hard to experience this high” and so they did the study on rats.

Rats!

Ummm, maybe I’m unique, I don’t know, but if I’m in shape it’s very easy for me to experience runner’s high. Like I said, a brisk cycling workout of 30-40 miles is all that’s needed. So they really should have experimented on me, not rats. Ha! And I can tell them that the effects can last for hours — all day even.

Some theorize that the endorphin chemicals are too large to pass through the blood-brain barrier, so even if the body produces endorphins in the blood stream there’s no way for it to get to the brain and thus it can’t be the cause. One psychobiologist, Dr. Huda Akil, claims that “endorphin[sic] in runners is a total fantasy in the pop culture.”

Now, I’m no psychobiologist, but this sounds a bit dismissive to me. Yeah, it may not be the endorphins directly being the cause, but they certainly could cause a chain reaction of other chemicals that are. It’s up to you to decide whether this difference — that is, whether endorphins are the direct cause or not — matters. Doesn’t matter to me, for runner’s high is very real. I can attest to that.

It turns out that your body produces another natural chemical called anandamide, from the Sanskrit word for bliss. It’s supposedly similar to THC — the chemical in marijuana that produces its high. And the hypothesis is that there are brain receptors that respond to both anandamide, (a natural chemical produced by your body), and THC. So there is the possibility that this is where the runner’s high comes from. A study done by a Dr. Arne Dietrich seems to confirm this.

The only problem for me is that I don’t think this is the “high” I experience. I don’t get the somewhat drowsy, mellow and laid-back feeling of a marijuana high, (but I wouldn’t really know, for I’ve never partaken of that substance at any point in my life.) No, the feeling I’ve gotten lately is very much an intense feeling of euphoria and bliss that doesn’t make me drowsy or mellow at all. Quite the opposite, I’m very much alive and “on fire.”

Kundalini awakening?

And this last description, of being “on fire” leads to another, wilder hypothesis. My two intense feelings of runner’s high came about under the following conditions: (1) A solid vinyasa (flow yoga) workout of 1-1/2 hours in the evening, followed by (2) a moderate to hard 30-40 mile cycling workout the next morning.

Yes, this combination of yoga and cycling did the trick for me twice this week.

Hmm… yoga …

There’s a form of yoga called kundalini yoga whose main purpose is to awaken the so-called kundalini energy in your body, that supposedly lurks, to put it simplistically again, at the base of your spine. This energy, sometimes called the serpent energy, can “uncoil” and flood your body, causing all sorts of sensations.

Some think this form of yoga is dangerous, having nasty side-effects. I don’t know. I actually practiced kundalini yoga for a brief period back in the late 80s. In fact, it was the first form of yoga I was exposed to. We did a lot of poses that involved a form of breathing known as the breath of fire — a rapid in and out breathing pattern, done in such a way as to not cause hyperventilation.

I only practiced kundalini yoga for six months or so. I don’t remember why I quit, but I think I lost interest, or got busy with other things. At this time I did get exposed to the more conventional forms of yoga, and went to such classes for a while, something I wouldn’t start up again until 2008 when I joined the Yoga Pura studio here in Phoenix. These days, I really enjoy the sun-salutation sequences of vinyasa class.

But anyway, the descriptions I’ve heard of the kundalini energy have me wondering if that’s not what I’ve been experiencing this week. Could it be that through a combination of being at the right level of fitness, and doing consistent workouts of both vinyasa yoga and cycling of just the right intensity, that I have inadvertently awakened this energy?

Of course, most scientists poo-poo that any such energy exists. That doesn’t bother me in the least, even though I consider myself a rational, science-minded guy. There are probably a near infinite number of things that scientists have yet to discover. It only stands to reason. The scientific discipline hasn’t really been around that long, in the grand scheme of the universe. And the universe is large and mysterious and filled with wondrous things, more than science has had time to figure out. And I also note that the discipline of yoga has been around for thousands of years longer than western science.

Now that my curiosity is piqued, I see I’ve got more research to do, both of the runner’s high — and of the awakened kundalini.

I have no idea if I’ve really awakened this energy. Chances are, not. But it’s something to ponder. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing both the yoga and the cycling — and see where this potent combination of exercise leads.

Okay, I’m off for another round of yoga, cycling — and bliss! Ha!

 

 

 

Surviving vinyasa class

As we get older our backs tend to be one of the first things to notify us of the passing years.

And I am living testament to the fact that you can survive a whole vinyasa (flow yoga) class with a sore back. Yup, I tweaked said back the other day simply picking up a blanket, right before class began. Yet somehow I made it through all the sun salutations and warrior poses and runner’s lung twists and bridge poses of the next one and half hours. Exactly how I was able to do this, well, I don’t know!

I suspect that after dealing with serious injuries over the past few years, I’ve become an expert on carefully moving my body, and knowing just how far I can push things. After taking yoga classes for the last eight years, I generally know where those limits are in class.

I remember my physical therapist telling me once that the best way to respond to tweaking your back is to keep moving it afterwards. The tendency is to want to lie down flat and stay still for a while. But that usually just makes it worse, the stiffness longer lasting. You might be out for days in such a state.

Along with the aforementioned experience in yoga class, a few weeks ago I tweaked my back while pumping my bike tires just before a ride. Man oh man did that hurt! I thought my day was over before it began, but I defiantly went out and rode anyway, 77 miles in all, with no ill consequences, and by the end of the ride my back was only just a tad bit sore.

Just as it is for yoga, in cycling I guess I know exactly where my limits are. It’s a handy skill to have!

Sittin’ in the sun

During January the weather in Phoenix was cold. Well, cold by our standards anyway. Down to the lower 30s-40s in the mornings, I never felt much like going out on the bike. I’m simply not a cold-weather rider.

In fact, on the rides I did do, the only thing I was looking forward to was hanging out afterwards at the bakery in Gainey Village. They have an outdoor patio that’s south-facing. Now, during the summer this is the kiss-of-death. Nobody in their right mind would sit out there. But during the cold weather months, it’s just the ticket. I can sit in the sun, sip an ice tea, enjoy the warmth on my shoulders — and the company of occasional friends and acquaintances that might happen by. That south-facing patio is gold.

As the February days spin by, Phoenix is now slowly warming up to its natural self. The temps are ideal by mid-morning, and we’ve had some mighty fine, crystal clear weather. So now I’m enjoying the actual riding a bit more, and am enjoying “sittin’ in the sun” in a different way — on my bike. Due to the fantastic weather, the last two weekends I’ve ridden over 200 miles.

Relaxing in vinyasa

Basic joke at my in-laws:

Guy is lying in a hammock on a lazy summer day, sipping a brew.

Up comes somebody else who sees this and with hands on their hips, says to the guy, somewhat sarcastically,

“You need to learn how to relax!”

Ha!

Over the holidays my yoga practice was basically non-existent. Stiff as a board and hip hurting, class wasn’t enjoyable, so I didn’t go very much. Any little excuse was successful in keeping me away. After New Year’s resolutions I tried to fire the yoga back up but was only partially successful. The classes still sucked, but at least I was going.

All that changed towards the end of the January. I started taking magnesium every day, and almost overnight, I was breathing better, sleeping better — and vinyasa class (flow yoga) no longer sucked. Blood pressure? Down 20 points on average. (It sucked before.)

Yeah, I know, sounds like an advertisement for magnesium! But I’m here to say, it truly worked, and was a night and day difference for me. I am astounded.

Not longer after starting these supplements I went to class one day and the topic was “relaxing (into whatever you are doing.)”

For whatever reason, that message went straight to my body — my mind seemingly had little do with it. I was automatically able to relax during class, and the poses just, er, “flowed.” I felt very little stiffness. I could enjoy the basic sun-salutation sequences, and for the first time in almost two years, I could actually transition from three-legged dog into runner’s lunge and up to crescent pose on my right side without hurting — well, at least one time anyway. But even doing it once in a row seems like a minor miracle.

I’ve had solid classes ever since, and I have maintained a state of relaxation during the flow sequences. It’s made classes fun again.*

* I still can’t do half the poses — ha! But that doesn’t matter. Many of them I’ll probably never be able to do, and that simply makes no difference to me. What matters is getting looser, feeling better while cycling, and well, learning how to relax.

 

 

Addicted to Bike

 

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It’s memories like this (Grand Mesa, 2005) that keep me riding.

I thought after two bad injuries the last few years that maybe my cycling days were over. Oh, sure, I planned on riding every now and then, mostly as a “ceremonial rider,” but not at the frequency I used to (as in 4-5 days a week.) After starting prematurely to ride last fall (when I subsequently determined it was too scary and painful), I basically kept off the bike until February of this year.

Then I did a ride on a nice Saturday, another ride the following Saturday, and then another a week after that. The weather on these weekends was absolutely fabulous. How could I not ride?

“Okay,” I thought to myself at the time. “I think riding one day a week is good. It allows me to experience the joys of cycling without exposing myself to too much risk. I sure don’t want to fall again.”

That philosophy worked for a while. But by April, the weather was getting even better. So I snuck in a weekday ride, testing the waters by joining the Tri Scottsdale group ride on a Tuesday morning. Felt so good that I went back a week later. And then the next. By mid-May I was back to four days a week — something I had told others I was trying hard not to do. “I don’t want to get into that trap,” I had said to them.

When the summer heat slammed down, I thought I’d lay low for a while, my new philosophy being, “I won’t ride unless the conditions are ideal. Why expose myself to all the risk when it’s crappy out, such as being really hot, or humid, or raining.”

Bwaaa-ha-ha-ha!

What I fool I be. Did I really think that kind of philosophy would hold up even during the hot summer months?

By the end of July, after riding the most miles per month since crashing a year and a half ago, it was clear that:

I might as well admit it, I’m Addicted to Bike.

(Yes, queue the “Addicted to Love” music right here.)

I don’t ride quite as regularly as I used to, though I often do at least 3 days a week. The difference now is that cycling is down in my list of priorities. Most anything else will pre-empt it.

Update: I wrote this post a few months ago, back when it was still warm in the early mornings. I never got around to publishing this commentary. Now that it is getting dark and cold on the early mornings, I find my motivation for wanting to ride has gone down right along with those temperatures. Guess my “addiction” has its limits. It’s not as strong as my body wanting to go into hibernation for the winter, apparently. 🙂

 

Ride the Rockies 2005

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Yes, the title says 2005, not 2015. Was just thinking the other day it’s been ten years since I did the Ride the Rockies tour. It was my first major cycling event. I just discovered yesterday that the 2015 version of the Ride the Rockies follows many of the same roads we did in 2005, including starting from Grand Junction.

Here’s a recap of that time, which now seems so long ago.

Day 0: June 18, 2005. Grand Junction, CO.

My friend Marc and I rolled into Grand Junction the day before the tour. We had driven to Breckenridge (the last stop on the tour) from Denver, and parked his truck so we would have a way to return back to Grand Junction and pick up my Jeep at the end of the week.

Herein lies the only thing wrong with the Ride the Rockies Tour: having to arrange for transportation at both ends of the week. The main competitor to this tour, the Bicycle Tour of Colorado, starts and ends at the same city, which makes things a lot more convenient for everybody.

I’ve never done the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. I know plenty of people that have. It’s a lot harder tour, covering on average more miles and more climbing per day, but I think of the Ride the Rockies as being more family friendly, and a gentler introduction to touring mountains on a bike. If only it weren’t for the inconvenience of starting and ending in different cities.

We chose to use the “indoor camping” option on this tour — staying mostly at schools along the way, sleeping in gymnasiums. That meant not having to hassle with tents and what not, or paying high prices at motels. But the gymnasiums were often hot and noisy which led to many sleepless nights. And the gymnasium in Grand Junction was no exception. It was a very warm and they had large, noisy fans running most the night. At one point, I got up and moved my sleeping bag outdoors on the school house lawn where it was much cooler and quieter — until I felt rain drops, that is.

Day 1: June 19, 2005. Colorado National Monument, 45 miles.

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Here I am with my riding companions for the week, I’m on the left, Dean from Montana in the center, and Marc from Colorado on the right. We’re at the entrance to the Colorado National Monument — a great place to ride a bike.

The morning was cool — just perfect for cycling. We were all excited to begin this journey. I had just purchased a road bike a month before, and it was 16 pounds lighter than my old mountain bike. I was a lot lighter back in those days as well. As a result, I zoomed along the route this day, feeling strong. I had plenty of time to stop and take pictures before the others caught up.

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Scene looking east back towards Grand Junction

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The views were stunning all through the park. Truly a great way to start a week long tour.

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Day 2: June 20, 2005. Grand Junction to Delta, “Grand Mesa Day”

The second day was the most grueling of the tour. It was 91 miles long, and 20 of those miles were up the relentless climb to the top of Grand Mesa, just east of the Grand Junction area. After this momentous day, we pretended every morning when we woke up that the radio was playing Sonny & Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe” and the radio announcers would say:

“Rise and shine campers … It’s Groundhog Grand Mesa Day!”

Yes, we had fears we’d get stuck in a “Grand Mesa Day” time loop. It was that memorable — and not one we wanted to repeat anytime soon. Still, one of my most cherished memories, though at the time I wouldn’t have thought that would be the case. I think this was the toughest climb I’ve ever done, even to this day. A lot of that was due to the heat. It reached 106 degrees.

The route headed east out of Grand Junction to the town of Palisades, before dumping us onto Interstate 70 for a few miles. Except for seeing glimpses of the mighty Colorado river,  I don’t think anybody enjoyed riding I-70, but there was no other way to get us to where we were going — up Highway 65 to head south towards Grand Mesa, some 11,000 feet in elevation.

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Here, we’ve just left Interstate 70 and are heading east and then south towards Grand Mesa. At this point in the day I was feeling good, legs strong.

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A shot of Plateau Creek that we followed for part of the way

After following a winding river, the road eventually turned south and straight, and we began a gradual uphill. Looming ahead was the snow-capped plateau called Grand Mesa, one of the largest and highest mesas anywhere in the world.

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We have our target in sight, the giant plateau of Grand Mesa. I took this shot right after getting a flat. And for some reason, having that flat took the wind out of me. I was feeling good beforehand, but after getting back on my bike, I just couldn’t muster the energy to catch the group just ahead. I would continue to struggle all the way up the climb.

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Though feeling a little winded — and a little saddle sore, come to think of it — I was looking forward to the challenge of climbing Grand Mesa. The scenery wasn’t bad either.

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By halfway up the climb, it was clear that climbing Grand Mesa was not going to be an easy feat. It was getting hot, and the road upward was relentless, with hardly any hint of downhill to relieve legs that were now getting fairly taxed. I had to stop several times to recuperate.

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The rest stop at the mid-way point was a welcome sight.

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Looking back down the road. We’ve come a long way.

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Yours truly about 2/3rds the way up. The route we just came up is way, way down below. Though smiling here, I was actually feeling hot, tired, and sunburned. I had to get off and walk my bike for a while up a 10% grade — something I never had to do before.

The heat and the climbing were getting intense. I would find out later than out of 2,500 or so riders, 500 sagged this day. Somewhere along here, a truck passed by with a bumper sticker that read:

“Yes, it’s my truck. And no, I won’t give you a ride to the top.”

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It wasn’t more than a few miles before the conditions changed considerably. We saw our first snow! And the heat wasn’t near as intense — though the burning sun still was. We were getting up there in altitude — reaching 10,000 feet by this point.

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Now, this is more like it! The temps were much cooler here, and the scenery grand. Unfortunately, I stepped in some bubble gum or something, and it clogged the cleats of my left shoe, making it difficult to click in. I mostly used my right leg to climb for a while, before finding a convenient place stop and dig out whatever was in my shoe.

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At this altitude, Grand Mesa takes on a quite different look and feel, compared to the high deserts of Grand Junction to the west.

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Lakes at the top of Grand Mesa, near 10,800 feet in elevation. I reached the real top — just a mile or so from this point, by 2:20 pm, having started around 6 am in the morning.

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On the descent from Grand Mesa. I played the Good Samaritan twice along here. First, a damsel in distress had her chain caught rather tightly around her bike frame and inner chain ring, and it took me ten minutes or so to work it loose. Then, later, I gave another rider one of my spare tubes, hoping I wouldn’t need it the rest of the day.

Descending Grand Mesa was my first real taste of high speed downhill cycling — at least on a road bike. I hadn’t ever experienced the “wobbles” before  — the scary resonance that can sometimes build up in a bike’s frame, making you think you are going to lose control and crash. These wobbles sometimes occur at speeds over 30 mph, depending on weight, the wind, the phase of the moon (just kidding). I didn’t know it at the time, but it helps to relax your hands and not hold the handlebars so tightly. Holding a tight grip just aggravates the problem. The other remedy is to pull your knees in to hug the top tube of your bike frame. It’s quite effective.

After reaching the bottom, the next 20 miles or so featured a fast, flat ride to the destination for the day — Delta, CO. I had lost my riding companions somewhere on the climbs of Grand Mesa, so I was riding solo. It was hot on the flats  — as in 106 degrees hot. Now, being from Phoenix, that should not be any big deal. But back in Phoenix, we don’t have long, 20 mile climbs at high altitude to tax our bodies before slamming us with heat.

I put my hands in the drops and hammered along, sometimes doing 26 mph or more, even though by all rights, my legs should have been dead tired. Well, that would come later. Also, what would come later was that I was getting quite saddle sore, which definitely was a harbinger of things to come.

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Hard to believe this is from the same day as the last few pictures, but here’s Grand Mesa, as viewed from the south, on the way to the town of Delta. Edit: I now realize this was taken the next day, as we left Delta for Montrose.

I reached Delta in the late afternoon, hot and tired. I retrieved my sleeping bag and gear and looked for a place to lay down for the night — except the main sleeping areas were already full — a lot of people had sagged this day, and they apparently got here way before me. I spent a frustrating 30 minutes or more looking for any little spot in the hallways for my sleeping bag. I was thirsty, hot, sore, hungry, and getting grumpier by the minute. I couldn’t believe the organizers didn’t have the foresight to make sure there were plenty of accommodations for indoor camping. I was ready to quit this tour, so frustrated I was. But, I eventually did find a place, albeit in a building that was seemingly out in the hinterlands. Only saving grace was there was also room for my two friends, who came in some time after me.

An eventual nice shower and a later hot meal boosted my spirits considerably, and any nonsense of “quitting” quickly subsided. I did notice, though, that it was hard to sit down. I wondered how getting back on the bike the next morning was going to feel …

Day 3: June 21, 2005. Delta to Montrose, 34 miles

This was a sort of rest day, where the riding was easy and the miles short. We took the back roads off the main highway, and were even treated to a rare sight — well, rare for cycling anyway, the birth of a new foal:

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Yep, got there just after this little guy was born.

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The wee one’s first stand on all fours.

Though my legs were tired from the day before, they felt strong enough. I felt so good towards the end that I rocked the last few miles. My journal entries from the day read:

“Saddle sore, right side. Rode hard at the very end — dumb idea!”

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By 2005, cell phones were achieving total wide-spread popularity. Tables like this were a common scene throughout the trip.

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Many people opted for tent camping on the football / soccer fields.

Day 4: June 22, 2005. Montrose to Gunnison, 65 miles.

One of my favorite days of the route, though I can’t  pinpoint as to exactly why. Just a combination of things, I guess. We were well into the routine of early morning rising, and cycling a good part of the day. Ordinary life seemed far away.

Things I remember the most:

  • Them telling us to start early because it often got very head-windy on Cimarron Pass (the main pass of the day.
  • Not being able to sit in the saddle due to soreness. I rode standing up for the first 5-10 miles.
  • Feeling good, though, on the climb up the first pass.
  • Being robbed of any fast downhill on the other side, due to construction that left the road in a state of oily, tarry, gravely sub-surface. Very dicey descent. Still have tar on the underside of my bike from that day.
  • Many cyclists having flats due to the road construction. I helped not one, but two damsels in distress with flat tires, and got not even so much as a thank you.
  • Climbing the second pass of the day with confidence and strong legs. I was really enjoying this whole mountain-climbing gambit.
  • Having a crazy truck driver threaten cyclists and having the state patrol called to track him down.
  • Zooming along Blue Mesa Lake, hands in the drops, hammering hard in a pace-line all the way to Gunnison.
  • Revisiting these roads a year later with my wife, going the other direction, and being amazed at just how much downhill there seemed to be going from Gunnison to Montrose. It didn’t seem possible to do it on a bike going the other way. Yet I did it.

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Cyclists relax after a harrowing descent down Cimarron Pass due to nasty road construction.

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Many people had trouble with flats after the dicey descent.

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Scenic Blue Mesa Lake.

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Here’s a scene from Gunnison that evening. We had good riding weather the whole trip. Any storms came late in the day, after we had all finished riding.

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The campers may have gotten rained on, I don’t know.

Day 5: June 23, 2005, Gunnison to Salida, 66 miles.

This was the second toughest day of the tour, as we did the major climb of Monarch Pass. I was even more saddle sore than the day before, but that didn’t stop me from riding a brisk pace for the first 33 miles, including a lot of pace-line riding. My legs were feeling awesome.

And then the climb to Monarch pass started. Legs, not so awesome:

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At the bottom of the Monarch Pass climb. It was cool and a bit rainy earlier, and I still had my jacket on at this point, as some here did as well. But that was quickly dispatched not far around the corner from where this shot was taken. The temps — and the grades — were heating up.

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Halfway up the climb, I have a “Kodak moment.” My legs were definitely feeling the effects of riding too hard earlier in the day. Still, I felt proud I was holding my own up the pass.

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No mountain is going to conquer me! I’m at the top, at 11,300 feet.

My fastest (and scariest) descent ever

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Cyclists zooming down Monarch Pass at 50 mph plus. I stopped for a breather, and to let any panic reside from having semi’s pass so close by a few times. It was very windy.

The descent down Monarch Pass was something else. There were heavy crosswinds, and lots of semi’s passing by. I reached 55 miles per hour, something I don’t plan on ever doing again. I know lots of cyclists who brag about going 60 miles per hour or more on their bikes, but seriously, it’s just not a good idea. There are too many things that can go wrong — and it only has to be a simple thing: a bump in the road, a gust of wind, a rabbit, a crazy other cyclist passing too close, and you’re toast.

That being said, this was an exhilarating descent. By the time I reached the “flats” (it’s actually downhill all the way to Salida), I was having the time of my life, and averaged, yes averaged, 29.5 miles per hour from the top of Monarch to the streets of Salida, some 22 miles away.

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Camping accomodations in Salida.

We had good time while in Salida. The town sits along the Arkansas river, and makes a pleasant place to visit.

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A kayaker hones his skill on the Arkansas River.

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The local “art.”

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More local “art.”

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We even had our own, er, banshee(?) show up.

Though the town was pleasant to visit, I can’t say the same for sleeping that night. For some reason, they left the lights on in the gymnasium all through the night. Even though I had eyeshades, they brought little relief. They were hot to wear, and didn’t block all of the light. So I got little sleep.

Still, when morning came I was somehow raring to go. It looked like a beautiful day was in store.

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In case you were wondering where all the bikes go, at each stop they have a guarded, fenced in area to leave your bikes. And yes, they could easily get rained on (and did.)

Day 6: June 24, 2005, Salida to Leadville, 60 miles

Though I don’t remember it this way, my journal entry for the journey from Salida to Leadville reads as follows:

“Very saddle sore, but able to ride in the drops to help alleviate it. Rode in the drops most of the way. Something clicked after the 1st hill, and I then had my best day of the ride — able to power up the hills with an efficient backstroke.”

The scenery along this route is quite spectacular, as we passed by numerous 14’ers. The only thing marring the way was having to ride through ten miles of fresh chip-seal somewhere north of Buena Vista (aptly named). Yes, the chip seal sucked.

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Views on the road just north of Salida. A near full moon hangs above Mt Shavano and Tabeguache Peak, both 14’ers.

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Not sure, but I believe this is Mt Antero, another 14’er.

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The Arkansas River, near Buena Vista. Looks a lot different here than it does in Kansas, if I might say so.

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One of the “Collegiate Peaks”. Mt. Princeton perhaps? Whatever the case, it’s another 14’er.

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Near the Twin Lakes area. Chip seal’s ahead, just a mile or two up the road.

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Don’t know why we all stopped here. A coed nature break? Or perhaps just the fabulous scenery. I believe this may be the backside of Mt Elbert in the background, the highest peak in the Rockies at 14,440 feet. Or maybe it’s Mt. Massive. I don’t know.

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Storm clouds threatened, but we’d be fine during the ride.

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The bike “dumping ground” in Leadville.

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It would storm later in the evening, so I’m sure the campers had a good time. I’m sure our bikes got wet too, though I don’t remember cleaning them off.

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Day 7: June 24, 2005. Leadville to Breckenridge, 42 miles. The last day

Leadville sits at 10,000 feet. And even though we had been climbed to that altitude several times during the trip, we hadn’t slept at that altitude (most of the way we slept at say, 6,000 feet, maybe 9,000 feet (?) in Gunnison). So I woke up at 3 am with a splitting headache and nausea. Felt terrible the rest of the night and into the morning. But being the photographer I am, I got up as early as possible to catch the sunrise.

It was a glorious morning too, as storm clouds from the night before still lingered in the area.

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A beautiful sunrise sets the scene for the last day of the tour.

Splitting headache or no, we headed out for the last serious climb of the week, up Fremont Pass, on the way to the famous ski resorts of Copper Mountain and Breckenridge. I felt like crap up the pass, and was very sore in the saddle. Still, I was sad that this would be the last day in the mountains. I wasn’t ready for it to be over. If I could spend the rest of my days just riding around in the mountains, that would be fine by me. My heart and soul belong here.

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Dean tops Fremont Pass.

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And here comes Marc.

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And here is Moi. I wonder, and you probably do too, who is the camera man? The same people that somehow manage to film the ascents on Mt Everest, of course! Actually, we staged these last moments. By this time, we had climbed 26,400 feet during the course of the week.

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A lake on the way down Fremont Pass. By now, we had gotten the whole descent gambit down pat. I zoomed along quite easily while snapping this photo. (Just kidding. I stopped first.)

On the trip down the famed Ten Mile Canyon, between Copper Mountain and Frisco, I was not having the best of times. Sure it was downhill and the scenery glorious, but I was suffering in the saddle. I was glad when Breckenridge came into view — and then sad that it did! For it meant the end of the trip.

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Marc hauls his gear back to the truck, where we would then have to drive all the way back to Grand Junction. At least it was a straight shot up I-70.

My journal entry for the last day reads:

“Looking back, I rode hard every day except Day 3. Legs never failed and never got cramps either. I was well-conditioned for the trip. But didn’t feel fulfilled at the end, just saddle sore and tired.”

That feeling of lack of fulfillment wouldn’t last of course.

It dawned on me that this long post is kinda like the proverbial “Slide show of uncle’s trip to Europe.” Boring for everybody except those involved. But I’m sure those of you that have participated in events like this will concur, these adventures are some of the best of your life.

Sitting here, I’m wondering why I never went back to do tours like the Ride the Rockies. Sure, I’ve gone to Colorado and ridden the one-day Triple Bypass ride multiple times, and have gone to other more challenging feats such as completing numerous double centuries in California. But somehow, the memories of those events didn’t leave as much of an impression on me. They didn’t reach as far into my soul. It could be that by having less of challenge each day, but more days of it, left more time for the memories to form.

Maybe it’s time to switch gears and enjoy the fewer-miles-per-day events like the Ride the Rockies again.

 

Is this the fabled connection to Fountain Hills?

 

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Whole lot of road construction going on at the end of Eagle Ridge in Fountain Hills

A few years ago cyclists lost access to the Hidden Hills area, (to the west and down from Eagle Ridge in the picture here) even though the street through the area, 145th Way, has a public easement. We were told at the time that the restriction was “temporary” until a fabled connection to Fountain Hills from Hidden Hills was constructed. That connection was supposedly between Hidden Hills (Scottsdale) and Eagle Ridge (Fountain Hills) though that has always seemed vague to me.

Well, today I happened be out on my bike climbing Eagle Ridge, and was shocked to find bulldozers out, busily grading a path for a new road. Turns out that the Adero Canyon development just broke ground here a few weeks ago. It’s been in the planning works for more than 15 years.

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Here’s the northwest portion of that development as seen from the top of Eagle Ridge. The Hidden Hills area is just to the left of the picture, and you can see a small paved street that led to trails into the area. I believe this is where the connection to Fountain Hills would start, if there ever is a connection. But the details are vague about this.

A quick visit to Mr. Google and Mr. Bing brought up several articles from the Fountain Hills Times about this development. Here’s a link to one of them. Looks like there’s going to be a mix of single family homes, townhomes, and condos.

Of interest to us road cyclists is whether this means there will be public access to this area, and more importantly, a paved connection between Hidden Hills and Fountain Hills. The article states that in the master plan is public access to hiking trails in the area — access that has been unavailable from Fountain Hills for a long time. Is this access going to be from Eagle Ridge, as shown in the first picture? Will this be a public street? Will it be paved? It would seem so. And will there be a connection to the Hidden Hills area? Will cyclists be allowed? The article doesn’t say definitively, but does talk about the public trails being both “hiking” and “biking” trails.

I did find this briefing from the Scottsdale Transportation Commission from October, 2012 that talks about the plans in this area concerning bikeways and access. More importantly, it came after the easement on 145th Way (aka Hidden Hills) was “temporarily closed” to cyclists, (which happened in February, 2012). So there is some hope.

Why does this matter to us cyclists? Well, currently, there is only one way to get out to Fountain Hills, and that involves riding on Shea Boulevard for a mile or two. Not the safest route in the world (though it’s okay in the early morning on the weekend.) A connection from the Hidden Hills area would be most welcome, as it would mean not having to ride on Shea.

The Scottsdale briefing does mention the extension of a bike path along Shea. That bike path already exists, starting from 132nd St (or 136th St, depending on how you wish to look at it), but it unfortunately ends a half a mile or so up the road, and then you are dumped back onto Shea. The bike path extension would continue the path a ways further, almost to the top of the climb.

This alternative would be most welcome as well, though the Hidden Hills connection would still be preferred by most. No one wants to ride on Shea if there are alternatives.

Questions remain: Is this connection really going to happen through Hidden Hills? (It seems like it.) Will the closing of the “public easement” in Hidden Hills be lifted? (Let’s hope so.) Will the connection to Fountain Hills be to Eagle Ridge, or somewhere further to northeast (like Sun Ridge perhaps)? It doesn’t matter, as long as the access exists.

So, let’s keep our fingers crossed.