My name is Jason and this blog is about bikes and biking, plain and simple. I don't claim to be a gear head, a former pro, a hipster or an afficionado. I just like to ride my bicycle.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Meat loaf beat Loaf. I hate meat loaf."

And to think that I thought my entirely asynchronous interests in bicycles and organic food would never align. Sure there were some connections, but the thread between Zipp wheel-sets and fish emulsion fed veggies is a tenuous one at best; that is until I got on VeloNews this morning.

The story on MSN of all places actually caught my eye before I even got a chance to get to VeloNews to read the real coverage of it: Tour de France champion Alberto Contador tested positive for a scant trace of clenbuterol. The lithe Spanish cycling virtuoso alleges the steroid found its way into his system via contaminated beef that his friends brought him while visiting him on one of the rest days during the tour. And indeed his Yellow Jersey, daily samples confirm that the steroid was not present (even at such microscopic amounts) until this point when it theoretically could have been ingested with his tasty burger or what have you. Head hunters, vigilantes and Lance supporters are clamoring for his ban from the sport, but I could really care less. The significance of such an announcement means so much more to me personally and professionally than anything that could happen to some brilliant bike racer I’ve never met. I’ve now discovered that my mission in life is to market hormone and steroid free meat and veggies as sponsors for continental ProTour cyclists. Finally cycling can resonate with something truly American: prime rib. Mark the time, note the location: this is MY idea.

Picture this:  the new Schleck powered Luxembourg team sponsored by some high profile Euro-bank and…Cascadian Farms home of certified organic fruits, veggies and granola. No chemical sprays, poisons or CERA on those lovely leaves. Or how about the new power house: Garmin-Cervelo-USDA Certified Free Range Angus Beef…the team cars could be black and white spotted like a cow! The guy who runs alongside the TDF riders on massive hill climbs with his antler helmet could now be sponsored to wear ‘hook-em’ Texas Long Horn-horns. "Texas the land of beef"…some raised with chemicals like yucky Spanish meat that losers like AC ate (we don’t like losers)…but some is raised in the good, natural way off grass and pasture before the steer is shot with a bolt to the head like in No Country for Old Men. Cue son of Texas…that’s right, the big L.A. himself.

Rather than the gravely voice of Sam Elliot or some other such Hollywood Western namesake, Andy Schleck in his broken English could pitch “Beef…steroid, antibiotic and hormone free that is…its what’s for dinner.” Then he and O’Grady could switch over for Anheuser Busch and ‘pedal’ some of that as they clearly share a need for some good brew (not that AB is good brew per se but we’re talking market share here folks. And when the almighty dollar talks you better believe the cheap beer is flyin’.) This might be the big break that cycling needed; a crack into the meat and potato crowd of American consumers. And speaking of cracking breaks: “Need a little excitement?” Well snap into that Slim Jim says scar faced Jens Voigt and Christian Vandevelde…who lately in grand tours have looked more like snapped Slim Jims than anything. Maybe Hank Williams Junior could work on a new jingle for the Versus, “Are you ready for some time-trial? An early morning tape delayed time-trial…all my rowdy friends are coming over for fat-free low carb salads, whole grain rice, pasta and some freakin TIME TRIAL!!" (Cut to cheerleaders, cause nothing sells men in spandex like women in lingerie; cow walks across the screen led by none other than 4-time Fabian himself.) Holy shit, what NASCAR loving blue-blooded American wouldn’t tune in for that!?!

So AC passes into the mire and skepticism of his second modern-day doping scandal, but through Operacion Puerto-Meato-Oh-No and his plummet from grace he’s opened a great wide door for potential meat fed marketing to just walk right in one hoof at a time. I for one will be there to cash in on that great cow of opportunism and financial boon.  I just hope its not tainted with something that gives me indigestion.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Golden Cruise September 2010

Ill-equipped with my 'flashless' camera I wasn't properly outfitted to capture all of the sights of last night's cruise. The appallingly early onset of dusk and nightfall really shook me out of my denial that winter is indeed on the way.  So I have only a few pictures from before the ride and none of the actual flannel-pant clad PJ processional; sorry.  Regardless, it was yet again a great evening to be out in Golden riding a big fat tired bike. The route wound through the Clear Creek path area and around downtown avoiding many of the longer road stretches of previous rides either due to the practicality of navigating a couple hundred cruiser riders around Golden in the dark or due to pressure to keep the ride off the road (that's my bit of speculation and I was not alone in the rumor mongering amongst fellow cruisers last night.) In any case no one seemed to mind the change of scenery and everyone seemed to have a good time. As per usual the beer and pizza afterwards at Woody's tasted great and seemed to compliment the evening of hanging out and riding bikes perfectly. I still didn't win a free bike in the raffle but there's always next time I suppose. Speaking of next time, its going to the last ride and Halloween Costume themed, so if you've not made it out for one of these cruises October's final ride of the season might be a good place to start. Then you'll be all pumped up for April when they start back up again: all hail the summer cruise.

Choice curbside parking for Cruisers only

Note the welded tools on the top tube complete with shell casings.

When I think cruisers I often think New Belgium too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bike Tuesday

A double stuffed Oreo of bike fun, the last Tuesday of the month is bus Tuesday and its Golden Cruise Tuesday as well…wholesome fun for the entire family. Bus Tuesday occurs the 4th Tuesday of the month where I get to hop on the bus with my bike and ride out to Golden for a recurring committee meeting. A couple months ago I was selected to serve on a committee for work. On some levels getting the nod to serve on a committee can be compared to getting into a car accident: it is bound to happen to just about everyone at some point and when it does you only pray that you’re able to stand up and walk away from it. So while I was ‘voluntold’ to be on this committee, the meetings have been effectively organized and astoundingly on-topic to the point of being productive (shocker for a committee I know), and the real plus has been the once monthly opportunity to flee my gray walled hole during the middle of the day.

Riding to work and traveling to a committee meeting can be a challenge by bike. In the past I’ve managed to only get the call to serve on committees within a mile or two from my office: easy bike to meeting range. A couple years ago I had the pleasure of serving on a group that convened out in Aurora. Fortunately they met early in the morning so I was able to get up and bike down to the main bus depot and hop the express out to the location. Getting back to work was an easy express ride to Denver. Faced with the proposition of an afternoon meeting in Golden I found myself again busing it once a month with my bike. While the commute via bike and bus takes about 15 min longer than driving, I find the time on the bus to generally be more productive work-wise than sitting in a car. I can get caught up on email, read docs or reports and actually prep for the upcoming meeting (which otherwise wouldn’t happen if I went straight from office-to drive-to meeting…there’s just no time for luxuries like effective preparation.)

Today I was able to check some email and get caught up from some lingering items outstanding from last week’s time out of the office, and I got to enjoy the company of some of my fellow bus travelers. Most of the afternoon’s conversation centered around a fellow with macular degeneration who talked at length about how he rides his bike downtown to Golden frequently much to the dismay of his wife who gives him a fair bit of grief about it. When pressed about his route he indicated that the roads are in fact smoother and more direct than the path, which got a chuckle out of everyone around him now listening to the conversation. “I usually take the road down, and then the path back he said,” which made perfect sense to me I suppose; as he had in fact already acknowledged his inability to effectively see either. He also told us a funny story about how he got a call indicating that he was qualified to win a scooter: he just had to answer a few questions. His response to the caller was “Well hopefully the first question isn’t: can you see to drive the thing!” This again got a pretty good laugh from the other riders. He got off at the same stop as I did and cane in hand made his way down the sidewalk. It goes to show how far one can get on sheer willpower and strength of character (if not a bit of stubbornness as well), even despite seemingly limiting obstacles. People all the time say, “Oh I’d probably be able to ride my bike but this and that and such and such.” Well this man could barely see and apparently had a nagging wife: that didn’t stop him!

Home at last from all my biking and busing in a professional sense, its time to load up the bikes for the monthly Golden Cruiser Ride. Tonight marks the second to last installment of this wonderful summer institution. The theme tonight apparently is PJ Party…which is not a theme I can really get behind. I don’t really P or J and I assure you that no one wants to see the alternative. So its shorts and a shirt tonight but for next month’s Halloween Costume Cruiser Ride we’ll be pulling out all the stops. Stay tuned for more on that front!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

CO Trip: The Aftermath

Well I'm home once again safe and sound. After some initial miscommunication with my pick up rendezvous, Kate found me out in the desert standing next to that Utah Line pillar. We drove back yesterday stopping in Palisade for lunch.  When all is said and done my trip amounted to about 522 miles ridden in just under 41 hours spread over 9 days.  Of course these are high level estimates, but should be pretty close. Either way you slice it that's a fair amount of work when you think about it.

So I'm cleaned up once again and well rested. Seven nights of sleeping on the ground, even with a nice Thermarest Pad tends to wear you down after a point. I got all my gear aired out and packed away; the nice thing about a bike trip is that there's not much gear to clean up and put away, so it took all of 15 min. I think Kate will still be finding Kebler mud on her panniers for some time. I'm not going to wash mine off, kind of like a badge of honor...or stupidity. My knees feel pretty good; glad to not be pedaling this morning.  Its Sunday, the day of rest, and then back to the salt mines tomorrow. Fun times. Thanks to everyone for following along on my little journey. I'm glad to have been able to share it all with you. Keep checking in on the SpokedInTheEye blog from time to time for more exciting cycling updates or the usual griping and complaining about Denver motorists. Or check in with me at JasonEtc, also on blogspot--link to the right, for more of my rambling thoughts on all kinds of things.

Until next time...I'm thinking Montana...that should be fun...2-3 weeks...600-750 or so miles of wide open big sky country...maybe some mountain that could be cool...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day 9: CO Monument to Utah Line

Miles traveled: 27.6
Ride Time: 1:36
Avg Speed: 17mph

The Utah and Colorado border along highway 6 lies out in the middle of nowhere marked only by a stone pillar and a cattle guard. The pillar, in true American fashion, has been vandalized by spray paint and shotgun shells. Little is sacred for us these days. But to me this past week has been somewhat of a sacred event, an exploration of physical, mental and emotional limits. No I didn’t climb Everest, and no I didn’t ride across the country, but I did venture out in a spirit of discovery and find new places, meet new people and learn a bit more about myself and my home state.

One gains an intimate appreciation for the landscape traveling by bike. When not racing by at 75mph on an interstate one can appreciate both the largeness and smallness of our more remote places. While many of the little communities along my route are in decline if not outright extinguished, there is a life to these places and a history still vivid in the structures and faces that call them home. I think we take these small places for granted in our rush to convenience and ease, sealing ourselves up inside our small, perfect neighborhoods. A hard scrabble folk still make their living from the land in our country and others, closely tied to this existence, support them by running and maintaining stores and restaurants, shops and services. These small communities are ones of a quaint interconnectedness. People who still say good morning and wave as they drive by, who know each other by name and have a general concern, if not direct dependency, on each other’s well being. There’s a lack of anonymity in these smaller communities, which makes it harder to hide as well as harder to avoid the interpersonal contact one has with everyone else in the town. That person you snub or cut off on the road may very well be the person teaching your child or ringing up your groceries. Its harder to just brush off the casual stranger as someone you will never meet again, and in that sense an accepting welcome greets those who would take the time to head out of their way and venture into these rural locales. For those who drop the pretense and sense of expectation, one can find a more rewarding destination in a small community than in some 5 star hotel or resort. And yet for all the smallness of the back corners of this state there are great vast expanses to behold as well.

The enormity of our great mountain ranges, the vastness of our plains really only sinks in when physically confronted by them. The landscape of Colorado is formidable and at times hostile, yet it offers a rich and diverse range of scenes and climates for everyone to explore. I started on the plains, traveled through great wide, dry hills to stony mountains cut by roaring streams. I climbed high peaks and saw the ferocity of the high plateaus and windswept valleys and have now descended down to red rock desert vistas and sweeping prairie of tumbleweed and junipers. I saw all these things and soaked them in over a single week of pedaling my bike.

I don’t know all that I have gained from this experience on a personal level. There is a tremendous amount of physical accomplishment and understanding at what all I can endure and persevere. But there’s also a point at which the noise and distraction in my head finally shut off and quieted itself. I don’t know at what point this occurred, perhaps when being baked by the sun on the plains near La Junta, or battered by the winds in canyons and valleys towards Gunnison or maybe it was the cold and wet of Kebler that wrung it out; in any case it eventually stopped. And this noise, this incessant chatter which continually provides the background track for my thoughts left in its absence a calmness. Last night sitting out under the stars in the cool wind of Colorado Monument my head and my thoughts were clear and simple. No anxiety for the future, no questioning of decisions in the past. Just a cool wind and wide open sky. I know that as soon as I delve back into the ‘real’ world of obligations, expectations, anticipations and stress my thoughts will again cloud over with self-conscious chatter and obsession; my compulsiveness fed by an unsettled state of being. And yet perhaps when this starts to happen I’ll think back to that night on the red rock with all on earth at that moment exposed and opened wide to the star filled heavens. And I will contemplate the lone serenity of that cool, desert night and I will remember. With the impressions of this trip so richly felt and intimately experienced, in truth I believe it will be difficult to forget.
My cyclist flag and manifesto to motorists.

Day 8: Hotchkiss to Grand Junction, Colorado National Monument

Miles Traveled: 77.5
Ride Time: 6:24
Avg Speed: 12

Along the North Gunnison River valley the temperature plummeted last night. I woke to not only a heavy layer of condensation on everything, but to temperatures easily in the low 40’s. Needless to say I packed camp quickly and got on the road in a hurry to generate some heat. Once atop Roger’s Mesa the highway finishes its tour of small farms and orchards before dropping down almost instantaneously into the dry arid landscape of the western slope. Not even reminiscent of the eastern plains, this landscape more closely rivals the moon for its unnatural barrenness.

I came through Delta but didn’t stop, I kept moving, now northward, and again along HWY 50. A wind blew out of the north west making my progress a bit slower but I kept going over one rolling hill after another. Outside of Whitewater I came across a couple shooting documentary style footage of bike touring of all things. I’m not sure of the intended format or distribution method, however my beloved Surly makes a grand appearance in their footage as a deluxe touring rig. Scott and Dina (might be spelling that wrong) caught me a couple times along my route and actually stopped me in Grand Junction to introduce themselves and look at the bike more closely. As I left Grand Junction and made my way up through Redlands they bumped into me again and kindly gave me a bottle of water. It was sorely needed at that point in my ride, so many thanks to them for happening past. And who knows this trip might make me famous.

I stopped in Grand Junction for lunch and requisite daily updates to the blog from yesterday’s journey. It felt good to stop though I remained up in the air about where to go next. One option was to shoot for Highline State Park out by Loma, which would add nearly another 20-25 miles into the same headwind as the morning‘s ride, or try and head out towards Colorado National Monument and camp there. Again joyful headwind but a considerably shorter route, by about half, however including a hefty bit of climbing akin to Lookout at home: about 1100 feet of gain in 4 miles--ouch. As you all know my exploits on Lookout (recall the 12 days of Lookout…) I certainly wouldn’t back down from pillar to post style riding even if with 65 more pounds of gear than usual. After wandering down the Main Street area of Grand Junction, and topping off my tires at Brown’s Cycles on Main, I began heading west again. Without making much of a conscious decision about it I got onto Route 340 and pointed the Surly towards the Monument. In truth I could have bailed and kept on going to Fruita and out to Loma, but after checking with the national park guard about the availability of sites and water at the top decided to go ahead and do it. This was the right choice. I’m sure Highline is nice, but the Monument is AHA-SOME.

Balanced Rock, Colorado National Monument

The climb up wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I went slow, stopped to take some pictures and generally took it easy. My knees at this point don’t do hammer anymore…particularly on the hills…so easy was my destined speed by default. I got to the top and found one of the few remaining exterior sites (on the outside loop of the campground area) and pitched my tent still wet from the morning Gunnison dew in a wonderfully western slope sunny spot. I wandered around, first behind my campsite, which leads right to the cliff wall, and again around the campground to the Book Shelf Cliffs and overlook. The landscape of the monument reminded me of Moab…like a slice of Moab slick rock right in the middle of the grand valley. You could almost expect Wile E Coyote to come screaming by with a rocket car or something. I went up to the Visitor Center and watched a movie about the geology of the area. It amazes me how much people have been able to figure out about the landscape and unique features around us, especially given all of the natural phenomenon which conspired to create such forms and monoliths.

Looking down on the road coming up to the top of the mesa.

Tonight I ate cheesy noodle surprise…the surprise is that it tastes freaking AWFUL… Fortunately I still pocketed some snacks and Starbursts to help eradicate the lingering taste of foul. I sat out late to watch the stars….well as late as I could stand to be out in the wind and cold with the clothing I packed with me (pretty much everything on at once). The rangers at the visitor center think it will get down to at least 40 tonight if not colder…brrrr. At least I have good eastern exposure for when the sun pops over the Grand Mesa in the morning. Tomorrow I head down through Fruita and out along HWY6 to the border. Should be about 25-ish miles I think and then that will be the end of my journey. Seems very odd to have started a week ago and now finally be here, nearing the end. I’m sure I’ll have more cogent reflections on this whole experience in the morning. At this point I’m tired and still surprised to be here.
Camp Colorado Monument

On the edge, Colorado Monument

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day 7: Paonia to Hotchkiss

Miles traveled: 12 Ride time: A while
Average speed: Slow

Today I took a break. In theory this trip constitutes ’vacation time.’ And not wanting to be one of those people who come back from a trip and exclaim, “I need a vacation from my vacation” I decided to take a day off from riding around. I still ended up riding around, when traveling by bicycle you don’t get much of an alternative unless you want to push your bike, but for my part I didn’t ride hard and I certainly didn’t ride a considerable distance.

Today in the North Fork Valley the weather was gorgeous. The wind was really howling from the west, good thing I wasn’t riding, so it made for a blustery afternoon but all in all a nice change of pace from the rain. I took a back route into Hotchkiss which is a smaller town than Paonia situated along highway 92 and 133. Saying it is a smaller town is much like comparing microscopic to infinitesimal, at a point you’re splitting hairs. There is a City Market and a Family Dollar, I presume more fixtures of the proximity to highway, and thus highway travelers, but there aren’t really many other noteworthy establishments. I did go by The Creamery, which is a really well renovated milk creamery building turned local artist co-op. The gallery spans two large floors and boasts a pretty diverse collection of art from local and regional artists as well as kids who participate in the Art After School program. Quite the standout in what is otherwise a typical, small Colorado town like many that I’ve ridden through recently. What really stood out more than the ‘city center’ was the surrounding landscape of farms, orchards and gardens. The river valley spans a wide distance at this point between mesas on both the north and south sides. The resulting plains in between must be quite fertile and productive to support so much agriculture. While Paonia sat closer to the West Elk Wilderness and Mt. Lamborn the land around Hotchkiss is more open and expansive leading west towards Delta or south towards Crawford and the Black Canyon.

Looking east towrds Paonia and Mt. Lamborn

Apples, ripe for the pickin'
So I made my way to town, wandered around the sites to see in the city. I got my first flat, which is surprising given the miles traveled and crap ridden through in the past week. Other than those events I spent the majority of the afternoon in a park reading and loafing about the place. While capable of taking time to ‘do nothing’ I don’t frequently do it. Even this trip somewhat conspired against that agenda with its day to day itinerary of key mileage points and destinations. Yet it felt good to make time to simply let it pass by and be for a moment in the moment. While I’m sure my knees haven’t recovered enough to not scream at me yet again tomorrow when I get back on the bike I do feel refreshed and relaxed. My spot here tucked back behind the Delta County Fairgrounds towards the river is secluded enough to be quite peaceful given my proximity to the surrounding hub-bub of Hotchkiss. Which is really a round about way of saying this is a pretty quiet spot in an already quiet little town.

Tomorrow I leave the small town valley behind and head towards the ‘big city’ of Grand Junction drawing towards the end of my trip. It will be a pretty long day so hopefully the winds don’t return.
At camp in Hotchkiss

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day 6: Kebler Pass to Paonia

Miles Traveled:  47 with some tooling around town dodging raindrops
Ride time: I don't really even know. It didn't take long
Avg Speed: 16 on the descent and now I'm just chillin' out.

Many thanks to Overgaard Bicycle Repair, John Eckert proprietor and bike doctor, for getting my Surly re-lubed, tuned and ready for more on the road adventure. Now you may be saying to yourself, “Golly gee Jason, why did you have to have the fine folks (really its just one guy but I like to be dramatic) at Overgaard Bicycle Repair work on your Surly Long Haul Trucker?” That is a fine, astute question and it definitely warrants the telling of the tale.

Dear readers recall last night I left the friendly and accommodating confines of Crested Butte to dine on freeze dried Mexican Spicy Chicken and Rice atop Kebler Pass. It was delicious like the apple in Eden, yummy, yummy and then it hits your tummy and you're blasted out of paradise and on your own. Ok it wasn't that bad, it was better than the Honey Chicken a bag. But I digress, you will note my harrowing stories of dodging construction implements, eating dust and breathing the grit of passing moto-tourists. If you caught all of the details of that story (posted earlier today as my Day 5 recap) you’ll remember that I went on a wonderful hike in the woods, saw some birds, could not photograph them because of the bad lighting of impending meteorological doom and made it back to camp just before it started raining.

So guess what happens to 24 miles of dirt/gravel National Forest road after an ENTIRE night of light to moderate rainfall? Well it goes straight to hell my friends, it goes straight to hell. Was I expecting such a fate? Well I must admit to you, or I’d be a liar, that I feared exactly such circumstance. It was such fear that drove me to concoct my back up plan of heading west through Sapinero and up to Hotchkiss on 92. It was a call best made from Gunnison and not Crested Butte, and as it was sunny and clear when I made the game day decision to head to Crested Butte, and sunny and even more clear (its higher up in elevation so I think it could actually be more clear) when I got there, I can't really second guess myself too much. But as I lollygagged and loafed around town clouds did indeed form on the horizon. They did look like rain clouds. And I did see them and knowingly ride up the hill anyway not really thinking that it would rain. Well my friends, I was wrong.

It actually rained pretty much all night and even all day today at various intervals and forms: mist, drops, big fat rain, and even rain that seems to come straight up from the ground...Gump. But it definitely rained last night and left the roads in a really sorry state for my descent down to the actual blacktop 24 miles below my camp. My Surly looked like it lost a pudding fight. I had mud on everything…the bike, my bags, my gears, my legs, my face…just about everything. So needless to say I arrived in Paonia early today in somewhat a sour disposition. I had to wash my bike at a car wash…not advised but I didn’t have a choice. I had to spray my bags, hang up my tent, dry my sleeping pad, clean mud out of my ears, try and get mud stink out of my clothing. Its been real swell. Needless to say after all my cleansing and rinsing my bike was sorely lacking in lubrication and had suffered much in terms of grime and grit that it sounded like angry hamsters from hell running around in large steel wheels kind of like something out of American Gladiator or Mad Max and the Thunderdome. Fortunately John was around and gladly took care of my bike with his tools of cleansitudeness and now the Surly sounds and shifts like the day I got it. He did as much for little to no payment and couldn’t even be gratuitized with beer. So this is my way of thanking him in terms of the good karma of cyberspace. If you are ever in or near Paonia and needing a bike anything, please stop by Overgaard Cycles on Box Elder Ave and pay John a visit. He’s good people.

So the long story short is I’m in Paonia. I’m caught up on my tale of woe and adventure and I’m feeling better about things…being both dry and clean. Paonia is a pretty cool little place. Small town, lots of gardens and fruit growing just about everywhere. Kind of an odd mix of old guard farmer/rancher and eclectic, young odd folk. I hope that the weather improves a bit so I can tool around and enjoy the scene in this town and Hotchkiss down the road.
That headbadge should say "S" for Surly. Instead it says "Brown" for covered in sh*t.

A traveling side show of sorts...note the unwrapped tent, it supposedly aides in my theory goes...didn't really work in practice like so many brilliant theories.

Day 5: Gunnison to Crested Butte to Kebler Pass

Miles traveled: 28 to CB and another 7 to top of Kebler Pass
Ride time: 1:59 to CB and about :54 to Kebler
Average speed: 14.1

I got out of bed at 7:30, a comparatively late start for me. It took me a while to get my gear in order and carefully packed into the panniers. Today I found myself blessed with more leisure than I have thus far allowed. After talking with Amy and Caroline for a little while I left the hostel and rode towards Main Street in Gunnison: the road to Crested Butte. I found a helpful guy at a second hand outdoor gear store who let me use some chain lube; silencing the hamsters if but temporarily. I stopped back by The Bean for breakfast and blog updates. For the sake of diversity I probably should have gone somewhere else, but this repetition proved fortuitous for me. As I left the store and walked my bike north towards the street I passed another outdoor store and I suddenly realized that I could get another backpack meal for tonight’s camping near Crested Butte. I ate the ‘emergency’ meal I packed with me for dinner on Monarch so passing the store gave me an opportunity to replenish; Spicy Mexican Chicken and Rice is on the menu.

First I will say there was no wind. There might have been a bit of a tail wind at times, but really no wind or other atmospheric disturbance to speak of the entire ride up to Crested Butte. I enjoyed the reprieve immensely. Winding its way north along the river and through shallow canyons of rocky outcrops, the highway climbs gently towards the mountains. There are several large ranches along the route, each boasting a fresh cutting of hay now rolled into large round bales and stacked in massive piles in the fields. Caroline told me that the Gunnison area had experienced a wetter than average summer this year, the bounty of which clearly showed in the piles of hay, lushness of the grass and still green leaves on aspens and cottonwoods. The trees betray a faint hint of fall with a spattering of gold colored leaves. With the cool morning air and clear blue sky above it stands to be a rich season for aspen viewing in the Gunnison valley.

The Gunnison River valley looking towards Crested Butte
When I got to Crested Butte I quickly found the Visitor Center, changed clothes and sought the advice of the guy attending the office. He provided useful information about my intended route up Kebler Pass as well as advice on what to do in Crested Butte for 3 or 4 hours. He stopped short of suggesting mountain biking, given my obvious bike-ed-ness, but before I left did tell me where mountain bikes could be rented if I found myself interested. Apparently you don’t bike to Crested Butte, you come to Crested Butte (in the summer at least) to bike.

The main street in Crested Butte is home to many shops, eateries, bars and whatnot. There were people everywhere, and it was very difficult to discern local from tourist. Everyone seemed to know each other, and everyone was also very interested in talking. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a friendlier place. In fact here are some general rules of thumb on Crested Butte-ers:
  • A Crested Butte-er can generally be seen riding a bicycle around town. They seem to prefer cruisers adorned with plastic flowers or other such decoration, though I imagine many of them also keep a spare MTB or three for different occasions.
  • Crested Butte-ers will generally say “hi” to you and make eye contact.
  • Crested Butte-ers apparently like bike tourists. Some have a bad sense of geography as one thought the Kansas border was “like 800 miles away or something.”
  • A Crested Butte-er likes its beer. They can be found drinking them quite early in the afternoon.
  • I have a feeling many Crested Butter-ers work two or three jobs to allow them to live in Crested Butte. Seems to go with the territory.
  • Crested Butte-ers will pass a cyclist on a dirt road very slowly and will generally wave. This goes for Subaru driving, mountain bike toting Butter-ers or ATV hauling, Republican bumper sticker toting ones.
  • Crested Butter-ers are friendly folks, two construction guys held up 4 other cars traveling Kebler Pass just to let one bike rider through. There’s a lot to be said for whatever’s in the water up here. If only there were enough to go around.
When I was on the eastern plains and would tell people I was riding across Colorado they were quite impressed with the feat and seemingly couldn’t fathom the idea. In Gunnison or Crested Butte on the other hand the first question people would ask is “Are you riding across the Country?” In a hotbed of outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers my little trek barely raises the seismograph of awesomeness. Maybe if I fight off a bear or build a school for blind children or something it might make the charts. Nonetheless in Crested Butte people were very interested and excited about my trip. I got stopped on the street a couple times. I had some guy interrupt a conversation with a friend to ask me about my trip. Everyone wished me well and was full of helpful advice. I wandered around the town for a while, ate a really great sandwich for lunch (I foolishly forget the name of the place or I’d plug them here…natural bakery in CB) and stopped at the Oven for a beer on the patio. I soaked in the relaxed ambiance of the town as much as I could as it resonated greatly with the theme of my day. When the afternoon grew a bit long, and the clouds began to build, I decided to hit the road up Kebler Pass.

Jail turned theater in Crested Butte

The whiteboard next to the tinfoil covered bike reads, "We know you love our bikes, so do we. Please don't ride them."  I was tempted.

Mt. Crested Butte, resort is on the backside
I wasn’t sure what to expect in planning this option for my route across the state but was quite glad I decided to do it. Although most of the road is dirt, the road really is well cared for and compacted enough to almost feel paved at times. I was warned by the fellow at the Visitor Center about the dust…which proved to be an accurate warning. He indicated that tourists and more importantly construction workers would be the worst: he was dead right in his foreshadowing of my ride. I was passed by a couple construction or commercial vehicles who must have thought it their mission to choke me to death with dust. I also got some rude passes by obvious out of towners. I could tell the Crested Butters, they would always slow WAY down and wave.

I got up to the top of the pass quickly. One guy told me that it would be about an hours trip he figured giving the heft of my rig: he was right. The road never really climbed steeply, aside from the first half mile, so I made great time, and as was suggested found a nice camp spot near the road just along the top of the pass. I set up camp quickly, changed clothes and went for a quick hike. At this point the clouds were thick and promising rain. I hiked around the remains of the Irwin mining cemetery up here near the top of the pass and saw a number of different birds. They seemed to be everywhere, but with the absence of light I couldn’t get any decent pictures of them. I turned around and headed back to camp just in time for the first drops to start falling. I’ve more or less been in my tent relaxing and reading ever since. Now that I’ve run out of ambient light I’ve turned on the pc and plan to end my night with this post. Good night. Its on to Paonia in the morning.
Top of Kebler Pass looking towards CB...ominous rain clouds.
Road down from Kebler Pass towards Paonia

Monument at Irwin Cemetary at the top of Kebler Pass

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day 4: Monarch to Gunnison

Miles traveled: 54
Ride time: 5:14
Average speed: 9.48

When you spend several hours fighting a headwind with panniers acting as sandbags weighing you down, you can’t help but begin to think you brought too much stuff. That thought crossed my mind more than a dozen times over the course of the day yesterday. Why did I bring all this stuff? Why did I pack this, why that? Many of the things I second guessed yesterday as superfluous junk got called into action Sunday night. So while I might begrudge the weight I suppose it’s a necessary evil.

I went to bed early Sunday night and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Promptly at midnight I heard the tell tale tapping of heavy drops on nylon canvas: damn. As with the previous nights I didn’t put my rain cover on the tent. I also left all my bags out, whereas previously I stored them under a tent or picnic table. For a tired bike rider I moved pretty quickly to pull out the rain fly for the tent, assemble it and move all of my bags to its dry confines. I also got out the ‘superfluous’ tarp to cover my bike to keep its gears and chain dry; its already squeaking like a pet store worth of hamster wheels so I thought drier would be better. All that extra weight now called to duty, like the army reserves of miscellaneous gear. Shortly after I got everything properly stowed away the rain stopped…go figure. Thankfully (only thankfully because I like being right) it started raining again, this time with earnest, about 1:00am.

Despite my midnight revelries I was up promptly at 6:30. I wanted to be up and on the road to the top of Monarch before the Labor Day traffic crush started. I’m glad I made this decision, I enjoyed relatively free streets for my slow spinning and wobbling up to 11,000+ft. It took me 2 hours to go 10 miles up to the top of the pass, but I made it by god. I was thrilled when I reached the little parking lot at the top. I took some pictures, put on some more clothes and then started my descent. The first thing that hit me on the way down was the cold: bone chilling cold even with a jersey, arm warmers and jacket. The second thing was the wind: damned infernal wind. Despite the lack of physical comforts on my descent, I didn’t pedal once for 7 or 8 miles, with the exception of shifting my down-pedal leg for the turns. The Surly under duress handled the curves and steep grades with ease. I stopped briefly at Sargents to dance around in a circle for warmth and then set out on the road to Gunnison. It took 3 hours to cover 24-ish miles. I’d crest hills and have to stand up and sprint to keep the wind from shutting me down altogether.

When I finally got to Gunnison I came across a couple from Czechoslovakia who were riding from Denver to San Francisco. They were well outfitted with nice gear and lightweight aluminum bikes, but still were quite finished with the wind about as much as I was. I talked to them for a while about their trip, gear selection, weight of bikes etc. We then parted ways as they were heading onward out 50 west and I was planning on heading north to Crested Butte. They were the second group of bike tourists that I’ve seen. On Sunday heading up Bighorn Canyon to Salida I saw three riders heading the other direction. We exchanged quick hellos and that was it. The nice lady at the Gunnison Visitor’s Center gave me some information on national park camp grounds which were several miles away (no), the KOA out west past town (no thanks), and a hostel in town (bingo). I opted for a bed, warm shower and proximity to dinner.

The Wanderlust Hostel in Gunnison was quiet with no other guests, so I chose the dorm room option but ended up with the equivalent of a private room. The price was less than my cheesy Royal Gorge campsite, and while the scenery wasn’t quite as nice the comforts of home weren’t far away. The eclectic décor, hot showers, movie cabinet, wi-fi and stocked pantry made the Wanderlust an ideal destination for my halfway point. It was a great place to relax (sitting in the hammock in the yard) and recharge a bit. Amy, the owner of the hostel, and her mother Caroline run a really nice retreat for the weary traveler. I spent my afternoon in Gunnison lounging around, went out for pizza and a beer at Marios and then returned to a warm spot on the couch with Cole the dog as my attendee.

So now I’m in somewhat of a chill out mode of my trip. At 321-ish miles I’m more than halfway through and yet have a number of days to finish out my tour. My goal at the onset was to really push to get out to this part of the state and spend some time taking in the Gunnison area, Crested Butte and Paonia. At this point I don’t have to hurry and with the exception of one day (the push to Grand Junction) I shouldn’t have any day totaling more than 50 miles unless I get a wild hair. So as I finish this post, and sip my coffee, I’m contemplating all the options yet to come: wandering through Crested Butte, camping out near Kebbler Pass, perhaps a hike…its going to be a good week.
The long and winding road...looking back down the canyon.

The little pink signs in the background warn cyclists about parking their bikes on the walkway. As if that's the only thing to worry about at the top of a mountain pass...geesh.

Top of Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide!

Monday, September 6, 2010


So I'm at The Bean in Gunnison downing a turkey sandwich on some really tasty whole grain bread. I survived the climb over Monarch. It wasn't pretty but I did it. I withstood 3 hours of 8mph fighting against the high plains wind. It wasn't pretty but I did it. And now I'm glad to be here in Gunnison, off my bike and fed (at least temporarily). I'll write more about my reflections on the day's events, as well as post some pictures in another post. I got the post up from yesterday's travails so that will have to suffice for now. In the meantime I will say this about Gunnison. Its a small place but per capita, or per road mile, it must have more bike lanes than Portland. I can get behind that. Secondly, many places in Gunnison are closed on Monday. I don't know if I can get behind that exactly.

Tomorrow its on to Crested Butte.

Day 3: Royal Gorge to Monarch

Distance Traveled: 62 miles

Ride Time: 6:17
Average Speed: 9.89 mph

At this moment I’m sitting next to a stream at the base of Monarch Pass. I am tired. My trepidation about what lies in store for me tomorrow on the slopes of the pass however has dissipated. It may be hard but I know I’ll get over it. I’m just in that frame of mind now after today’s effort. Today was supposed to be an easy day. A casual ride up the canyon to Salida, about 47 miles total; a piece of cake. In fact the day started out according to plan. From the camp ground high up near Royal Gorge the highway took a screaming 6% grade descent down to the Arkansas river. It was 2 miles of downhill. I loved every minute of it.

From there I pedaled up canyon following the river through some of the most scenic terrain of my trip. Bighorn Canyon winds along the roaring Arkansas as a channel of granite and conglomerate stones. It reminded me of the area around Buffalo Creek and Deckers; in fact it should have because I was heading through the same general region of the front range. I felt like an actual bike tourist for the first time in my trip. No agenda, no real purpose or mission just pedaling and taking in the scenery at my leisure. I found scenic places to take pictures. I read information signs. I epitomized aimlessness in all its glory. Still enjoying my trek, I stopped at Texas Creek, about 20 miles up road from where I started and had breakfast. From my table in the café I could see the trees outside begin to lean and shake in the wind. I looked away for a bit back towards my pancakes and coffee and then a cloud of dust blew down the canyon and caught my eye. I looked up and saw a small dervish of wind and dust spinning past.

Enjoying some pre-wind bike touring
For the next 32 miles I’d be plowing into some of the strongest winds I think I’ve ever ridden against. The bulk and heft of the bike with its 4 pannier sails on each side pushed and fought the wind with each surging gust. I couldn’t help myself but at times I just found myself yelling. Yelling at whom exactly I can’t say, but yelling and imploring the winds to cease. At times it was an effort to make 6 mph. At other times the winds would subside and I’d push hard to make up ground before the next blast hit. I started playing little games with myself, bartering breaks and stops at key mileage points. I passed Cotopaxi but stopped at the store in Howard to grab some cold water and a popsicle (one of my deals with myself.) The lady behind the counter commented on the wind and informed me that it is frequently blustery in the Bighorn. Why it was just the other day that “some guy came through on his way from Pueblo and said, ’I’ve fought a headwind since Pueblo. I can’t go anymore.’” Not wanting to be another one of those anecdotes I said my thanks and got moving again.

Eventually I neared Salida and was immediately uplifted. I rode into the downtown area and stopped at an outdoor store to inquire about options for camping in town. “Well you can go to Big Bear, just a couple miles east of here on 50.” No, I informed him, east wouldn’t do. What about west? “Well there’s not much until you get to Monarch.” He showed me on the map where a couple campgrounds were, all located miles off of 50 about 10 miles west of town. At that point I don’t know what it was but I just got on my bike and started riding again. It was still relatively warm; still windy as ever. I stopped at a gas station to get water for my bottles, ate a bar and some fruit leathers and kept going. It was early enough in the afternoon (around 3:00) that I guess I just decided I could keep riding. My plan was to head up towards the pass and find a spot where I could. I packed some freeze dried food for just such an occasion and with a pit stop in Poncha Springs for water and some breakfast items I pointed the Surly uphill.

So at this point I’m down a small off shoot of 50, a gravel road that leads to an old hydro electric station, now just a reservoir for fishing and place where people have obviously camped before me. I think I’m about a half mile from Monarch itself, with about 7 miles or so to go of climbing before the pass. I’m ahead of the game for tomorrow and which is good because I’m banking on wind yet again on the plains before Gunnison. I guess I deal with that when I get there, but in any case I think I’ll manage.
Monarch campsite...despite appearances a happy camper

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Day 2 Fowler to Royal Gorge

Distance Traveled: 88 miles
Ride Time: 7:15
Average Speed: 12mph

Honey moon is over. I got Chuck Norris ninja kicked to my head piece today. Everything started out pretty well. I rolled out of Fowler around 8:00 and stopped at a restaurant on the west side of town for breakfast. The food tasted great and after a few minutes of scarfing I was full and ready to go. The road between Fowler and Pueblo rolls slightly before hitting a very long, high plateau. It reminded me of the stretch of highway between 93 and Indiana (HWY 73?) north of Arvada…but 15 miles long. I came across a section of highway which for all intents and purposes could have been two lanes but was only one. So while the motorized traffic dutifully kept to their side of the rumble strip, I could ramble onward with my own private lane. I didn’t understand exactly why they would do this until I came across this road sign.

Heading into Pueblo I got turned around a bit and lost my bearings. I found a coffee shop with advertised free Wi-Fi so I could update my blog and check on directions. Well the free Wi-Fi was hit or miss and required a manual setup of the network, and a password and a bunch of other hoops. After I got it configured it kicked me out, so I left thereafter a bit annoyed. I decided to head north and after a fortuitous series of random turns hit HWY 50 on the west side of town. I poached some Wi-Fi from a Starbucks and finished my post and checked the details on the next bit of highway. It didn’t look great but I felt good. I made it to a Safeway and stopped for lunch.

At this point the ride started to slide downhill (while beginning to climb up hills.) The temperature had to be near 90 with no shade to speak of for miles. At this point HWY 50 just rolls west towards the foothills in a series of long undulating humps. If that weren’t bad enough my good-fortune-tailwind from yesterday left me by the wayside. I slogged the 33-ish miles to Canon City into a nice front range wind. I was near 75 miles by the time I hit Canon City and exhausted from the heat (94 at this point according to a bank thermometer) and from battling the wind at a whopping 10mph. I missed the hours at the visitor center but checked in with a bike store and sporting goods store across the street. The friendly guy working the small shop told me that most of the camping in the area is about 7 miles up ‘the hill’ towards Royal Gorge. With few other options I stopped at the Safeway to stock up and again turned the Surly west. The road rolled gradually for the first couple miles before turning left and becoming a series of mile long ramps. At this point I was just spent. My legs seemed to go but my head was throbbing and my mouth was completely dry. I tried to drink but my water was warm and disgusting to me; the Gatorade was worse. I checked the odometer, 2.5 miles to go, stopped to choke down a gel and some piss warm drink and slogged onward yet again. When I came around a bend unbeknownst to me I was at the top of the ramps and faced a long descent into the Royal Gorge tourist area. My spirits immediately lifted.

Supposedly there were roads where one could tuck away and camp for free but I either didn’t see them or wasn’t in the frame of mind to. Instead it was touristy RV campgrounds and other kitsch. So when in Rome… I checked in to a cheesy, somewhat overpriced, campground (with really nice tent spots) and set my tent up quickly. Settled into camp I made a beeline to the shower and stood under the cold water for 15 minutes or so. Leaving the shower I again felt refreshed and optimistic. The folks camped around me, Tim and Sheila, and big Aaron from Texas are all really friendly. Having faced the last of my plains riding I now turn my sights towards the hills and high mountain valleys all the way to Delta. Tomorrow’s ride is short…really short in comparison to the last two days (a very welcome short day) as I wind up the canyon to Salida. From there it’s the day which weighs most heavily on my thoughts: Salida to Gunnison, 64 ish miles with the long, steep climb over Monarch Pass sandwiched in the middle for good measure. As much as the climb intimidates me I find it hard to think it will offer more of a challenge than the efforts of today. Tonight’s sleep is well earned.
A picture of a happy camper...well sort of

Looking South Towards Royal Gorge

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 1: Kansas Colorado Border to Fowler

Miles traveled: 117 (+3 miles of tooling around Fowler and such)
Ride Time: around 7:25 (I rode around Fowler for a bit and forgot to check the time)
Average speed: 15.25 (I guess, see above)

The crowd of morning “regulars” at J.R.’s in Holly barely noticed the couple walk into the store; guy dressed in a bike jersey wearing socks and sandals (very German of him) and his female counterpart dressed in a blue merino wool sweater and jeans smartly rolled to Capri length. A pair of thumbs couldn’t get more sore unless you hit them with a hammer. The morning’s conversation carried on; so-and-so got a new Guernsey someone was wrestling with a dry patch in his hay, another discussing his winter wheat which is already coming up. I imagine outsiders typically come in, make their purchases and then leave sleepy Holly, Colorado in their dust. The couple today however sat down in an empty booth, and it didn’t take long for one of the regulars, an older fellow in a camo ball cap and flannel shirt, who’s contribution to conversation earlier centered on dove hunting, inquired about the words on the young man’s jersey.

“Share the road? Don’t you get scared with all them cars on the road. I know how people drive.” And with that the thread of conversation for the regulars, conversant on topics pertaining to weather, agriculture, field sport and other rural affairs, turned instead to cycling. “If I were to want to ride more than the next block I’d have to get into shape. Round is a shape, but its not the kind that’s going to help me anywhere,” chimed a younger fellow who soon left to tend to other business. Another offered insight on distances, the man in the camouflage hat an anecdote about a new story about bikes. Apparently a high value bike relates well to the cost of a high value shotgun. No one entreated a dismissive remark. No one suggested cyclists should get off the road, or that cyclists don’t pay taxes. They were interested and welcoming.

When I told folks about my plans to ride across Colorado many offered missives about the eastern plains; about how flat it is, how boring it would be. Well I fancy myself of a pseudo agrarian at heart (or at least a wannabe) so the trip through farms, fields and rural landscapes was actually quite an enjoyable one for me. I’ve walked into what has to be several dozen eateries in the Denver area and probably could count on one hand the number of times anyone has struck up a conversation with me. Perhaps I give off an air of distance or aloofness…or perhaps there’s something to say about old-fashioned courtesy.

I certainly appreciated the slower pace of life, and driving, out here on the eastern plains. I could tell an out of state plate coming up behind me just based on the sound of the gunning engine (that excludes some of the local grain trucks…my idyllic pastoral scene really took a turn for the negative choking down the dust of passing grain harvest for miles.) On my way west today I met a number of very friendly and interesting individuals who stopped to chat about my ride. Everyone I spoke to about my trip wished me well and a safe journey. Its nice to have complete strangers be empathetic and concerned about your well being. I talked to some folks at the visitor center in Lamar, which is a beautifully restored train depot. I talked to a fellow and his daughter outside a convenience store in Las Animas. He too assured me he couldn’t ride even a block, and when I suggested practicing, he said he couldn’t practice either. But he was more than intrigued with my bike, the gear shift leavers on the bar ends, the number of speeds, the speedometer and my clipless pedals. I met a biker (motor that is) outside of another convenience store in La Junta. He was extremely interested in my plans, practically down to the mileage of each day. When traveling by bike one can’t help but be slow, especially when laden with over 50lbs of gear. So the going is slow. But it seems that many of the people I met today weren’t in a hurry either. They wanted to stop, take a moment from their day and spend it chatting with me. They were almost moving at bike speed too, even though not on bikes themselves.

Ok, shifting gears to some of the specifics of the day. We got up at 5:00 and quickly showered, loaded the car and got on the road for the 30 mile trek to the border. We stopped in Holly to eat and then were quickly on the state line and prepping for the ride. It was hard to see Kate and Bean leave both because I know I will miss them and that their departure signified the solitude in which I now find myself in on the road. I made pretty good time with a bit of headwind into Lamar. I stopped, fueled up, visited the visitor center and then was on the road and enjoying a nice cross to tail wind. I made much better time at this point and enjoyed the scenery more than the beginning. I felt really good until I got close to Las Animas. The heat was really on at this point and I was getting a bit fatigued and hungry. I stopped for lunch and fluids. This helped get me going again and I felt strong for a while in route to La Junta. About 8 miles out of La Junta the shoulder all but disappeared. This unnerved me and I pushed the pace to be done with it. Pushed to the point of exhaustion I rolled into La Junta and took another break. Now facing the 29 mile home stretch I got going. I did well but had to stop in the shade of some trees just outside Manzanola to cool down and hydrate. The last 9 miles to Fowler I was in ’the zone’. Not the stupendous, performance zone: the tired and beyond caring about much zone. The last 9 miles kind of flew by thankfully and my spirits lifted when I found the Fowler city limits and a Loaf and Jug to get ice water. I’m now camped in Fowler at kind of a crazy place. Its an RV campground with a tent area, run by a crazy old codger and his wife. Very nice folks but kind of in their own world…which includes two semi shaved Pekinese and a lot of old, disassembled farm implements. I got a cold shower (by choice) ate a hearty and very manly dinner (convenience store Dinty Moore) and then went over to the Fowler High School for some Friday night lights. I sat on the bench and cheered the good plays, texted Kate and watched the crowd root for the home team. I rooted for Fowler too, my temporary home for tonight. Starting to yawn I’m now back at camp, typing this update before hopefully what will be a nice, well deserved rest.

Day 1, ’The Long Day’, in the books.

At the border: The Grand Depart

A very welcome sign

Visitor's Center in Lamar, CO

Fowler at last

Fireworks at the Fowler HS football game

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cow Palace Here I Am

The scene at the Cow Palace Best Western here in Lamar, CO is one of anticipation...and gear. For the second night in a row I've amassed my pile of gear and now stare at it contemplating all of the options, considerations and hopes that everything that needs to be here is finally here and not sitting at home on the dinning room table.  I don't know if the magnitude of what lies before me has fully set in yet, but amidst my stack of stuff and an odd smelling hotel room its starting to hit me. Tomorrow I'm going to be dropped off in the middle of no where along the border of Colorado and Kansas and I'm going to ride west:  wow.  I guess I should get packing. Tomorrow I'll let you know how the massive 100+ mile day one goes...maybe the scene in Fowler will be different.
Chillin' at the Cow Palace, Kate, Bean and Bike