Category Archives: Cycling

Many Ways to Get Outside

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As autumn approaches I cannot help but be concerned. With each passing year, there is greater and greater evidence that the lives we live in our present day culture are out of balance. Obesity rates continue to increase. Anxiety, stress, and similar mental health related concerns suddenly seem to be everywhere. Perhaps most alarmingly, opioid addiction has recently skyrocketed. It is now estimated that in the United States about 100 deaths per day can be attributed to opioids. Heck, even the fact that 90% of Americans consume caffeine, a far less risky drug, everyday is certainly a sign that something is off. For what reason are so many people dependent on caffeine, a stimulant, just to conduct a typical day’s activities?

The conclusion I have come to is that most of us spend too much time in the following three states..

  • Alone
  • Indoors
  • Seated

Many people spend most of their time in all three states. A lot of service sector jobs require that workers spend nearly all of their time at a desk, in front of a computer, alone. Outside of work, Americans now spend an average of about five hours per day watching TV, and are spending more and more time on their mobile devices. It’s no wonder 70% of the US population does not meet its daily recommended intake of Vitamin D. Vitamin D has but one natural source, the sun.

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Luckily, there are many ways to get outside! When many people think of the outdoors, they think about camping trips, long excursions into the wilderness, and other things that are far far away and require large amounts of time and planning. It is easy for those living in a major city to think of the outdoors as something only available during those special times, usually only several times a year, when their schedule permits.

However, it appears as if spending time outdoors is more important than many people realize. It may even be the answer to some of our society’s currently problems. This entry from MyWildEarth, a blog from the other side of the world that encourages adventure, outlines all of the health benefits, both physical and mental, of spending time outdoors.

In one weekend, I was able to identify several ways in which to get outside that do not require large amounts of time or advanced planning. And, as this photo suggests, these activities can be social as well.

A moderate difficulty 30-50 mile bike ride is an activity that can be fit into a weekend morning, and shared with others. For many, it does not require driving at all, just hop on a bike straight from home!

Many people are able to drive a short distance to somewhere that autumn is going to show its true beauty. The leaves on the trees here in Colorado turn a bit earlier than they do in most other places. In the coming weeks, there will be great weekends for viewing spectacular fall colors in the Upper Midwest, New England, and eventually places like the Mid-Atlantic, the Smoky Mountains and parts of the Southeast.

For those whose time is extremely limited, there are ways to get outside without even leaving the city or town in which one lives. Gardening is an outdoor activity that can be done on one’s property or in a community garden. As an added health bonus, the fresh vegetables can be used to produce fantastic meals that are both healthy and conducive to social events. Also, nearly everyone should have access to a local park a short distance from home. This will more important in the coming months, as the days get shorter, the weather less consistent, and the opportunities to get that vital time outdoors become more limited.

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I write about a lot of adventures on this blog. Each entry is not just a description about the places I go and things I do, but also a personal narrative.

I had a recent discussion with some good friends about the digital era, social media, and the manner in which we conduct ourselves online. To many, it feels as if people post about their adventures primarily in order to show off and seek attention. It is my hope that the narratives on this site make it about more than just that.

It is my hope that by sharing these stories with others, more are encouraged to seek activities that improve our health; mentally, physically, and spiritually.

We need to interact with others, and do so in a manner that is meaningful. Our bodies need movement, and they need sun. We also need time away from the digital world. Many did get that time during the summer, on trips, at summer camp, etc. Now that all the kids are back at school and the days are getting shorter, it is imperative that we look for opportunities to get outside. Luckily, even without traveling too far from home, there are a lot of wonderful options for all of us.

Celebrating Our Accomplishments

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Life is full of events, both events in which we have control over and events which we do not.  This is true for everybody, from the most successful and confident people to the most disillusioned.  It’s also true that all people will experience both positive and negative events.

There are a lot of cheesy sayings out there that get to the same general point.  The one that sticks out in my mind is…

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Every time I’ve ever read this statement, I imagine the author primarily referring to those “negative” events- the kind of events that can cause anxiety, and, when not properly handled, have long lasting negative consequences, including a reduction in confidence and self-worth.

However, I feel as if this statement can apply both ways.  The same way the impact negative events can have on our lives can be minimized through the proper response, the positive impact of certain events can be truly realized, both with regards to life circumstance as well as confidence and self-worth, with the right response to a good event.

That is why it is important to celebrate accomplishments whether major or minor.  When celebrated properly, a person’s accomplishments can reinforce positive perceptions they have about themselves- without doing so at the expense of others, the way so many mistakenly do.

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I wanted to reach the 2,000-mile mark, celebrating the biggest cycling year of my life, at a location that is iconic as well as meaningful.  I might have selected a place right in the middle of the Central Rocky Mountains, had it not been for the basic fact that it is November.  While the weather has been warm, to the point that it doesn’t feel like summer actually ended, the month of November still comes with constraints.  70 degree temperatures will not change the fact that by 5:00 it will be getting dark.  And, in the mountains, there is more risk for trouble, in the form of precipitation, wind, and chilly mornings.

Luckily, there was a reasonable place to host this event; Davidson Mesa, a moderate sized hill, that sits about 600 feet above town, roughly six miles East of Boulder.

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The view of the Flatiorns to the West on a clear day is magnificent enough to warrant the Colorado Department of Transportation putting in a scenic overlook, which is particularly popular among tourists to the area driving from Denver to Boulder.

As is the case at the top of Vail Pass, the rest area is shared between motor vehicles and bicycles, as there is now a bike trail that follows highway 36 between Denver and Boulder.  As a regular visitor to Boulder, I have ridden on this trail about a dozen and a half times over the course of 2016.  So, it felt both scenic and meaningful to celebrate reaching this mile marker at the most scenic location along the trail between Denver and Boulder.

What makes events like this truly special is sharing them with others.  For me, this meant even sharing the event with someone who had a more significant accomplishment, mileage-wise, than I did.  In fact, I know that there are a lot of cycling enthusiasts who ride far more miles than I do, some even topping out at over 10,000 miles in one year!

2016 was a memorable cycling year for me, and the fact that I hit this milestone, 2,000 miles is only a small part of it.  When I look back upon the year, that is now almost over, and think of the cycling I have done, it is about way more than numbers.  It is pedaling around Niagara Falls

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The Adirondacks

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Over the mountain passes of New Hampshire

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And reaching the ocean, after six days, to have a fresh lobster.

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It is treks to places like Cheyenne and Castle Rock.

It is countless rides long the Platte River, Cherry Creek, and Route 36 bike trails.  It is even commuting for work.  This celebration for me, was about all those experiences way more than it was about reaching a milestone.  In a way, I was celebrating a year’s worth of positive and healthy experiences on my bicycle.

And I got to share the event with others, some of whom joined me for the 25-mile ride from downtown Denver, and some of whom joined me along the way.

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I even shared the event with a friend who was celebrating a more significant accomplishment than mine, 3,000 miles.  The true way to celebrate our accomplishments, both big and small is to do so in a way that does not take away from the accomplishments of others.  Knowing there are people out there who accomplish more, ride 3,000, 5,000, even 10,000 miles, and have gone to more destinations, some even riding across countries or continents, does not take away from what I have done.

I know I am not a super hero, or someone saving the world because I do some interesting bike rides that add up to 2,000 miles a year.  And, I know my life will have some more significant accomplishments.  But, I also know how to properly harness an event like that.  And, it is certainly not by using it as a means in which to compare myself favorably with some people for an artificial self-esteem boost.  Nor is it by dwelling on how much more others have done.  It’s by simply being joyous, celebrating, being happy for others, but most importantly, allowing myself to be happy for myself.

Cycling from Denver to Cheyenne

IMG_6854On the evening of July 3rd, having just finished an exhausting six-day bike ride, including four days of cycling over one hundred miles, my body felt a bit relieved.  I was actually ready to rest, ready to sit in front of a computer again!  Clay, however, told me that I was going to wake up the next morning, realize I was not biking 100+ miles and not know what to do with myself.

The truth ended up being somewhere in the middle.  I could not have pictured cycling at all the next day.  This was literally how I felt.

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The next day, I biked six miles, to and from Union Station from my home.  And, I was perfectly fine with that.

However, I did eventually get antsy, despite two other, closer to home adventures.  By Tuesday July 19th, I posted this picture on Instagram, stating I was bored and wishing to get on my bike and explore again!

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I ride the new RTD A-Line train, which connects downtown Denver with Denver International Airport, roughly three days a week for a gig I am currently working at the airport.  At Central Park Station, one of six intermediate stops between downtown and the airport, this curious piece of potentially symbolic artwork sits atop a pillar.

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Whenever I am on the train, and not trying to sleep for efficiency sake, I see it, and sincerely wonder what its purpose is.  It seems to depict a person running to catch the next train, but headless.  But why headless?  Could it actually be a satire on the futility of the rat race?  Could the artist who created the sculpture have had an alterior motive?  Could he or she have created this sculpture with the secret hope that a few commuters each day would look at this sculpture and be prompted to ask; what am I doing and why am I doing it?  Is this the life I wanted?  Is this the natural state of human condition?  Etc.?

I, however, had other plans, actually for the next Friday, and, they once again involved my 2012 Bianchi Cyclocross bicycle.  The Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo was starting, and, I was going to ride my bike there!

The prior evening, I spent the night in Broomfield, after a softball game in Boulder.  So, even before this next 100+ mile bike ride, I was already spending some significant time on my bike again.  Knowing it was going to be hot, we got an early start.  I actually wish we had gotten an earlier start.

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A lot of people hear about my bike adventures and immediately sounds perplexed…

Is there a trail there?

Are there safe roads to bike on there?

There’s a lot of trucks on that road.

I would never ride my bike on those roads, you could get killed.

Etc.…

There is some risk, no denying it.  When I was a child, one of my favorite bands, the Offspring, told me “Back up your rules.  Back up your jive.  I’m sick of not living just to stay alive.”  More recently, Drake told me, “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”  The truth is that there is the possibility of death doing nearly everything.  People die on the slopes.  People die rafting.  But, people also die commuting to work.  And, due to the health risk factors such as cardiovascular disease and such, sitting around watching television can be deadly!

That being said, I still considered risk when choosing a route, and am still willing to go a few extra miles to reduce my risk.  I am just not willing to miss out on opportunities altogether out of fear.

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The first part of the ride was pleasant, 95th St. from Broomfield to Longmont is a road I knew had bicycle accommodations in the form of bike lanes or wide enough shoulders.

Longmont was a little bit tougher to navigate.  Like many towns, their bike route network was designed primarily with travel within the town in mind.  I stared at their bike map for a good half an hour to figure out the best route through town, but it ended up being a fun route.

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I particularly enjoyed all the sculptures along the Saint Vrain Greenway!

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One thing people miss when they drive along I-25 between Denver and Fort Collins is how many lakes there are in the area.  On the interstate, there are none.  On this route between Longmont and Fort Collins, through Berthoud and Loveland, we actually saw a lot of lakes.

I’d been pondering riding my bike from Denver to Cheyenne for years, even going as far as thinking about some of the details, such as what time of year to go and what route to take.  As soon as I started thinking about routing, there was one segment I knew I was going to do, the combination of Taft Avenue and Shields St. through Loveland and Fort Collins, roughly half a mile west of highway 287.  This straight shot through both towns has a bike lane the entire way, and made navigating through Loveland and Fort Collins was easier than navigating through Longmont.

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This is where I started to feel the heat, which was right around 10:30 or 11:00.  The temperature probably hit 90 sometime while we were in Fort Collins, making me regret having not left even earlier than we did (we departed at about quarter to 7 in the morning).

Also, the wind had a slight easterly component that day.  This made the next two segments of the ride, first from Fort Collins to Wellington, where we stopped for lunch around noon, and then from Wellington to Nunn to reach U.S. highway 85, quite possibly the most challenging segments of the ride.  I had this nagging feeling about entering Weld County.  I do not know why, I just felt as if something bicycle unfriendly would happen to me in this county specifically.  It was mainly just a premonition that bore out to be true, just not in the way I had anticipated.

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Upon entering Weld County, the road we were following switched to newly paved blacktop, while the temperatures had climbed probably into the mid-90s.  This lead to the closest thing to heat exhaustion we would experience during the ride.

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By the time we reached Nunn, we were desperate to get out of the heat for a few minutes and get some water.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that Nunn has a water tower that says “Watch Nunn grow”, I’m 100% sure that my calf muscles were growing faster than Nunn that day.  The only place we could find to fill up our water bottles was the police station/town hall, and the only reason that option was available to us is because we were riding on a weekday (Friday).

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We followed U.S. 85 for the last 30 miles of the ride.  We ended up having to wait out a mid-afternoon thunderstorm near the Colorado-Wyoming border, at the only building within a 10-mile radius.

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The storm was, however, neat, and I felt as if I were storm chasing on my bicycle (even though in real life that would have been a disaster).

We arrived in Cheyenne during rush hour, which was a little nerve racking as this is the only part of the ride where the shoulder on U.S highway 85 disappears, the last couple of miles before entering town.

After 109 miles of riding, we were there, Cheyenne Frontier Days, miraculously with enough energy left to party, parade, and rodeo!

Day 6: The Finale

The last day of a long bike ride is always a strange day.  Not that any of the previous five days were similar to the others, but this day was especially different.  As is the case with many journeys, on the last day two things happen.

First, the specifics, the details such as route decisions, stop locations, timing, daily milage and the like all sort of gradually drift out of my mind.  In its place come grander thoughts about the trip as a whole, the accomplishments, the disappointments, the lessons learned, and everything else that has been going through my mind.

The second thing that happens is reality starts to set in.  For six days, July 5th, the day I would go back to work, and return to my “normal life”, may as well not have existed.  It did not cross my mind once.  It’s like my mind suddenly re-realized that this day was coming and that, in less than 24 hours I’d be on a plane heading home, and within 48 hours I’d be back to regular old work.

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Another thing that made this day different than the first five days is that we had two additional riders join us.  Riding with a group, and riding significantly less miles (67 today as opposed to over 100 most other days) made the ride take on a significantly different feel.

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We entered Maine only about seven miles into the ride.  I guess the previous day I pretty much rode across the entire state of New Hampshire.  And, I got my sign!  The one I had been hoping for the last two times (last two days) I crossed a state line.

The first part of the ride was nice, with a wide shoulder along state highway 113, following the Saco River.  After riding on a few back roads, and a little bit of time on a trail that was half paved and half rocky, we found ourselves headed into the Portland area.  The roads got significantly busier.  In fact, these were the busiest roads I had ridden on for the entire trip.  In some parts of the route, the shoulders all but disappeared, making these the kinds of roads I would not normally chose to ride on.

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We rode through the surprisingly hilly downtown area of Portland, and after the final seven miles along state highway 77, arrived, in the early afternoon, at our final destination for the trip, Cape Elizabeth.

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When we arrived at the Atlantic Coast, at Two Lights State Park, the day started to get emotional.

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This was, by far, the biggest bike trip I had ever been on, and may still prove to be my life’s longest bicycle journey.  But, for Clay, it was the culmination of a three year long effort to bike across the country.  In 2014, he biked from Denver to Chicago.  Last summer, from the Oregon Coast to Denver.  This year, from Chicago to Maine.  In three segments, he biked across the country.  Many members of his family made the journey to Maine to see him triumphantly enter the Atlantic Ocean, having biked across the continent, and, as a side note, also basically proven that you do not have to be some incredibly rich or extremely lucky person to do so.  He did it all while holding the same steady job!

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Of course, it is easier to be emotional when exhausted, and this picture sums up exactly how I felt the first fifteen minutes after completing the ride.  It was an odd combination of emotions that came over me.  Most of them were good, and most importantly, I felt gratitude for being able to play a small part in this whole mission by joining Clay, for three days last year in Montana and Wyoming, and for six this year.

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In the afternoon I got the meal I knew I had wanted upon completion of my ride; Lobster.  I love lobster, but I live in Denver.  When in Maine, well, really there was no other logical choice.  In fact, when biking over the last hill of the day, despite being tired, I actually increased my speed and simply yelled, “this is the last hill in the way between me and lobster”!

We ate at a place called the Lobster Shack Restaurant, which, on that day, had a 40 minute wait for service, as it is a popular destination where patrons can eat while overlooking the Ocean!

It got even more emotional after that.  That evening my main goal was to hang out with my friends, Clay and Liz, as much as possible.  They are in fact, leaving for a year long adventure, to go out and see many other parts of the world!  These adventures will be catalogued on their WordPress site.  I knew I would likely not see them for a while.

I also could not help but think about all of the things this bike journey taught me, whether it be specifically from the experience, or things that ran through my mind over the course of the long hours I spent on my bike.

Over the course of the week, I saw kindness everywhere I went.  Clay was raising money for charity.  His family volunteered to help with the ride.  Many of the people we met along the way were friendly.  I realized that, despite the amount of physical pain I put myself through, I felt happy the entire time, significantly happier than under normal circumstances.  Maybe the whole world would be happier if we all acted this way towards one another.  The most I can do, going forward, is strive to be the kind of person that gives more than I take, and do my part.

Having experienced being on mile 27 of a 100+ mile day multiple times reminded me not to become too obsessed with the destination.  This ride was about more than me laying on a beach in Maine and then eating lobster.  It was all of the places I saw while traveling from Niagara Falls across Upstate New York, through the Adirondacks and then Northern New England.  The rest of my life is not exactly where I hope it will end up at this point in time, but I can be much better off if I learn to obsess less over the destination and enjoy the journey, as I did this week.

The social media era has turned us all into avatars.  By that I mean we all have some kind of image of ourselves that we present to others, based on who we think they want us to be.  This week, I simply couldn’t continue to be my avatar.  On trips like this, our concerns shift, from the concerns of urban 21st century American life, such as getting a promotion or getting likes on social media, to more basic concerns, for food, water, and shelter.  I couldn’t put on a show for others, but I got by, and even thrived.  The others on the trip seemed to enjoy having me around.  So, I need to stop trying to be the person I think others want me to be.

Also, on the flight to Buffalo-Niagara, I was reading a book called The Happiness Project, about a woman who undertakes various initiatives aimed at improving life satisfaction and reports on the results.  She introduced me to the concept of “fog happiness”.  This is when the happiness related to an activity is not necessarily concentrated at the time of the activity itself, but spread out over a longer time period, both before and after the actual activitiy.  Once I determined I was going to make this bike trip, for the first time in my life, I thought of myself as a legitimate bike tourist.  For the first time, I felt the right to interject in a conversation about bike touring, and have legitimate opinions.  Essentially, I had added something to my list of activities and enriched my life.  We all should be more thoughtful when choosing activities, and, specifically avoid missing out on opportunities to create more of this “fog happiness”.

Obviously, anytime anyone completes an activity that requires a great amount of physical exertion, it is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to overcome fatigue.  This lesson applies to other areas of life too, but a journey like this can often be the best reminder that some of the most challenging tasks are the ones with the greatest reward.

Personally speaking, the most important lesson I have taken from this ride relates to something I have struggled with for nearly my entire life.  I seek significance in life.  I want to do things that matter and feel like I matter to others.  While with most of it my intensions are good, there is a dark side.  At times, when I feel insignificant and powerless, I succumb to anger, depression and other negative emotions.

This week, while a significant ride, and a series of significant experiences and accomplishments for myself, I was not the center of it all.  As previously mentioned, it was Clay’s ride.  He rode longer, harder, and raised money for charity.  Yet, I did not feel insignificant, as I have a tendency to feel in many day-to-day activities.  I realized, and this is important, that: You Don’t Have to be the Center of Attention to Matter.  I cannot stress this, to others but most importantly to myself, enough!

As I flew home, I drifted off to sleep, as Bon Jovi’s inspirational 2000 song Save The World played on my headphones.  Flying through moderate turbulence, I felt the plane gently shift, both upwards and downwards.  Running through my head, was an image of myself, from above, pedaling over hills, through the woods.  Nothing else was happening, I was just pedaling.

Cycling Northern New England

Selecting the best possible route can be a challenge on bike trips.  In an ideal situation, there would be a direct route, a road or a trail, safe for cycling, pleasant, providing a direct path from point A to point B, and conveniently jaunting by all of the point Cs that are of interest along the way.  In the sparsely populated West, there rarely is an ideal route, but there often is only one option.  I could not picture taking any route other than the standard cycling route when traveling from Portland, Oregon to Missoula, Montana.  When following one of the Adventure Cycling’s bike routes, the job of selecting the best possible route is already done, by experts with tons of experience bike touring.

Being in neither situation, we spent the better part of an hour looking over maps before settling on the ideal route from Greensboro, Vermont to Conway, New Hampshire.  Choosing a route in places like this can often be a matter of factoring in various considerations and determining how to manage priorities.  I’d predict that six different cycling groups would select at least four different routes for this particular ride.  Some people want to avoid adding extra miles to an already lengthy ride.  Others wish to avoid obstacles such as wind, hills, and towns with numerous stoplights.  Others still may prioritize seeing as many sights as possible, while there are probably some that just want to find the safest route.

We had imperfect information, as in we couldn’t find information such as whether or not certain small roads are paved, or whether roads like U.S. Highway 5 have a wide enough shoulder for cycling.  Still, we took kind of a balanced approach, and I believe the route we selected served us well.

The first 45 miles of the ride were in Vermont.  On this first segment, I got what felt like the full Vermont experience, in a way I never could have had traveling by other means.

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I stopped in one of those off the wall small town convenience shops that is sort of a grocery store and also sort of a cultural center.

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I rode by lakes.

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Over some rolling hills.

Got to stop in one of those cheese and maple syrup shops with the arts and crafts and all.

We went by a couple of houses with interesting designs in their front yard that made me simply say, “That’s so Vermont”.  They screamed some sort of combination of people having a lot of time on their hands, and also looking for ways to express their individuality.

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We even rode through a forest, along an unpaved road, where trees were being tapped for maple syrup.

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And finally, stopped in a quintessential small Vermont town, Peacham, settled in 1776, and even talked to some people in the cafe.

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We took a little bridge over the Connecticut River, and, once again, I was disappointed not to see the gigantic Welcome to New Hampshire sign.

For the second day in a row, I crossed a major river, entered a new state, and found myself feeling like I was in a completely different place, with different types of people with different attitudes.  Before taking on the major climbs I knew lied ahead of me, I stopped at the Walmart in Woodsville to get water and a quick snack.  I immediately heard different accents.  A stick of beef jerky and a candy bar cost me $1.79, with no sales tax!

The first climb began right away.  In fact, it began before even leaving town!  We saw a couple of covered bridges (Clay thought we’d see them in Vermont, but at least we finally saw one here in New Hampshire), and a home with a pet pig in the yard, and finally, entered the White Mountain National Forest.

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The climb was not particularly steep.  I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’ve had to climb steeper hills, achieving more elevation gain over a shorter distance.  But, it was long, lasting nearly 17 miles!  This made the climb quite exhausting.

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It felt like I was following a river called the “Lost River” the entire duration of the climb, on both the uphill and downhill sides.

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At this point, I may not have been as mentally sharp as I typically am, due to physical exhaustion.  But, this river, with its tan-ish hue felt like it was with me for the entire ride between Woodsville and Lincoln.

At Lincoln, I took another break.  Even though I had descended a bit, probably around 1000 feet from the summit of my last climb, I was still feeling delirious.  I first confused the tiny town of Woodstock on the other side of Interstate 93 for Lincoln itself, then it took me a while to find the place where the rest of my party had already stopped for lunch.  Exhausted and delirious, I entered the room and immediately exclaimed, “that ride was like a college affair gone wrong, beautiful, exhausting, and now I am just confused”.

Lincoln is a super touristy town, which I did not expect.  There is the typical arrangement of hotels, pizza shops, ice cream stands, souvenir shops, and outdoor outfitters I’ve come to expect from any town like this.  Unlike other tourist hot spots I’ve been to, everywhere I looked I saw outfitters offering Moose tours. Some of them even offered something like a 97% guarantee of a Moose spotting!  This sounds incredible given that I have always known Moose to be elusive and hard to find.

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In fact, as soon as I left town, to take on another climb, back in the National Forest, and to even higher heights, I saw a sign I’ve never seen before, urging motorists to be on the lookout for Moose.  So, well, I get the point, there are a lot of Moose here.

I geared myself up for this climb more than the last one.  So, while it was likely more challenging than the first climb, I felt more comfortable, as I had set my expectations for something even crazier than this.  I still took a couple of stops to take in the scenery, as I personally prefer stopping on climbs rather than descents.

It was the exhausting final mile of climbing up Kancamagus Pass.  I needed something, anything, to divert my attention from the fatigue that had come over me.  In my head, the phrase, “Live Free or Die”, New Hampshire’s State motto, played inside my head, over and over again, to the exact rhythm of my pedal strokes.  I did not do this on purpose.  It’s what just popped in my head, as I was just in New Hampshire, and the activity I was doing, climbing on one of New England’s most iconic roads, made me think of both living free and dying, at the same time.  But, I have been told that repeating a phrase in your head is an effective way to manage challenges like this.

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The descent scared me.  It scared me before I even made it to the top of the pass!

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I had looked it up prior to leaving Lincoln.  I knew that Kancamagus Pass was at 2855 feet in elevation, and Conway, our destination for the evening was at 465 feet.  The descent was  almost 2400 feet!  But, I also made a slight miscalculation when determining both how long my ride for the day and how frightening the descent would be.  While delirious, in Lincoln, my bike computer registered at 73 miles for the day.  I was told that the ride to Conway was 37 miles.  Normally, I am good at math, but for some reason I spent most of the ride thinking that my total ride would be 100 miles, even though 73 + 37 is 110.  So, when I reached the top, I thought I had only 11 miles to go (instead of 21), but also thought I would be descending a lot faster.

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The last part of the ride, a slow descent into Conway dragged on forever. I repeatedly saw signs indicating what highway I was on, New Hampshire route 112, one of New England’s most challenging and iconic cycling roads.  It started to feel like a victory lap.  Unlike at the Adirondacks, where I looked back upon what I had just “conquered”, at the end of my White Mountains ride, I looked forward, seeing the signs as a reminder of what I had just achieved.

The end of the ride was slowed down by one final annoyance, periodic poor road conditions, causing me not to get into Conway until nearly sundown.  Bumpy sections of roads like this are another piece of information that cannot be obtained while looking at maps and selecting routes.  Over 100 miles into a ride, these bumps became most unwelcome.  They offer the poor choice of either putting more pain onto my butt in the sitting position or relying on my exhausted legs to pull me out of the saddle.

Even had I known this, I still would have selected more or less the same route.  Today was a success.  It was among the most physically challenging rides I have ever done.  I also felt that we had successfully solved the riddle of route selection for optimal cycling experience.

Cycling Day #4: Out of Gas

A decade and a half ago, popstar Christina Agulera, recalling a situation that most of us have faced at some point in our lives, sang “My body’s saying let’s go, but my heart is saying no.”  This morning’s situation was the exact opposite!  My heart wanted to continue riding, and soak in every experience that I could out of this trip.  But, my body, soar after three straight days of 100+ miles of riding (including yesterday’s climbs through the Adirondacks), did not feel like going any farther.

Had I decided not to ride today, I would have cheated myself out of an experience, that being day 4.  I have two previous experiences bike touring.  One, in graduate school, was a three day ride across the State of Wisconsin.  The other, last summer’s ride from Bozeman, Montana to Jackson, Wyoming, was also a three-day ride.  This day would be my first day 4, and regardless of what amount of pain I felt, I had to have this experience.

The ride started northeastward out of Lake Placid, with a little bit of a climb.  This was followed by a descent, which follows the Ausible River by Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort, and several waterfalls.

A strange thing happens when the human body is this worn out, but is forced to start going anyways.  The first few miles, or first 15 minutes or so, are kind of rough.  In particular, my legs did not feel as if they had anything left in them.  After 15 minutes, the resistance abated.  It felt like my body finally, and begrudgingly, agreed to tap some kind of alternate energy source.  For my own sake, I hope this energy source is fat reserves rather than muscle tissue.

The pain did not abate.  Sometimes the worst pain one experiences when cycling long distances is not muscle strain in the quadriceps, calves, or hamstrings.  Due to the long periods of time spent in riding position, other ares, particularly the neck and shoulders, often feel the worst.  In these situations, a little bit of Advil can help.  I usually do not advocate turning to pain medication, or any other kind of medication just to avoid a tough situation.  I even lament how many of us are dependent on caffeine to get through the average Thursday.  But, at least for me, eight hours a day hunched over a bicycle counts as that extreme situation where one can partake in pain medication without it becoming a regular occurrence.

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The first stop of the day, early on, was in a town called Wilmington.  This was an important stop for me, as it kind of represents the end of the Adirondacks.  On trips like this, I tend to spend well over 90% of my time looking forward, to the next destination, to the next activity, and to the next challenge.  In Wilmington, though, I found myself gazing backwards, back at the mountain range I had just “conquered”.  I have now already accomplished something.  Despite having significantly more distance in front of me, and some more amazing places to go, I’ve already had an amazing experience, one where I biked far greater distance than I have ever had before, and seen some amazing places I’ve never been to before.

The next segment of the ride followed back roads farther northeastwards towards Plattsburgh, a town along Lake Champlain.  Forests gave way to farmland, and finally town.

It ended up being a bit harder than I had anticipated to get across Lake Champlain.  First, I hit a wall.  It was as I got into town, just over fifty miles, and only about three hours, into my ride.  I was probably still quite exhausted from the previous three days.

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Then, the last several miles to get to the ferry ended up being more challenging than expected.  To get to the ferry from town, one must follow a trail along the Cumberland Head Peninsula that starts out heading East, but turns towards the South.  In this case, that was straight into the wind, the only strong headwind I had faced.  Although the trail was flat, the combination of wind and fatigue meant I could barely maintain a speed of ten miles per hour for the very last few miles of my ride in New York State.  I had literally run out of gas.

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Perhaps my biggest disappointment of the day was that when I arrived on the other side of the lake, from the ferry, there was no sign welcoming me to Vermont.  There was only this Fish and Wildlife Department sign, which I used as a proxy.

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The other side of Lake Champlain, Vermont, is a very different place.  The attitudes of the people could not be any more different.  In Upstate New York, I was told that Texas has a better image than Long Island.  When I first got into Vermont, I stopped at a local bagel shop and grabbed a sandwich.  I overheard a conversation where one of the locals mentioned “extreme political differences” with Texas.

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I doubt that these difference with Texas corespond to any kind of affinity for the New York metropolitan area.

The family that hosted us that night in Greensboro told us that the town, and probably most of the area, was quite homogenous- politically.  They recommended that anyone who had a differing opinion “bite their tongue”.

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To me, though, Vermont felt like the reciprocal of Texas.  Current political considerations put the two places at odds with each other.  However, as soon as I got into Vermont, I saw signs and heard rhetoric that stressed individuality, and Vermont’s “Independence”, both current and historical.  This felt to me, honestly, reminiscent of Texas.

I decided to take the afternoon “off”, which meant returning to my backup plan; riding in the van that was following Clay’s route.  I came into this ride knowing that I would not be able to keep up with Clay’s pace, often well over 100 miles per day, for the entire ride.  Before booking my flights and such to join on this trip, I made sure that I would have a backup plan when this moment of utter fatigue would eventually set in.  I figured this would be the best time to rest, as the weather turned a bit questionable (that afternoon, it became windier, and it would eventually rain in the evening).

Riding in the van also allowed me to see a couple of additional sites, most notably the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory, which is not along the bike route, but not too far out of the way.

One thing I was told to expect from Northern Vermont, was to see a lot of red barns.  After all, the quintessential Vermont image is of rolling hills, possibly cheese or ice cream, and a red barn.

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During my time in Vermont, which included both the time in the van today, and the time I would spend on my bicycle the next day (before reaching New Hampshire), I would see a total of 80 barns!  During my entire time in New York State, a much longer distance from Niagara to Plattsburgh, I saw only 54.

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Clay arrived at our destination literally minutes before the sky opened up, and started to pour.  Had I continued cycling that day, not only would I have hit a large amount of rain, I likely would have slowed Clay down, causing him to unnecessarily get wet.  This was the last time I had to invoke my back-up plan, but, based on weather considerations, the opportunity to take the Ben and Jerry’s factory tour, and this dirt road, I think I made the right choice.

Cycling the Adirondacks

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I woke up in Old Forge not knowing exactly what to expect for the day.  I knew the generalities.  The Adirondacks are mountains.  There will definitely be some terrain, some climbs, and some fantastic scenery.  This would be my first day of riding through a truly mountainous area.  The first day of my bike trip had been flat, mostly following the Erie Canal through Western New York.  There were rolling hills on the second day, through Central New York, but no significant climbs.  A ride through the Adirondack Mountains from Old Forge to Lake Placid would definitely be more of a challenge than the previous two days.

I started the day wondering how challenging the ride would be.  I knew that the mountains here, or anywhere in the East, are not as tall as the mountains in Colorado.  But, I also knew that I had covered quite a bit of distance the past two days, over 100 miles each day, so I could be a bit exhausted.  I had read blogs and such about cycling through the Adirondacks, but it’s hard for anyone to deduce how their body will respond to a bike ride based on a blog entry.  The same more or less holds true for other activities like hiking and skiing.

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It barely took a mile or so of riding, northeast on highway 28 out of Old Forge before I began to encounter the splendid lakes surrounded by forests and hills that make the Adirondacks so appealing to so many people.

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It was about 30 miles into the ride, at a place called Blue Mountain Lake, where the terrain started to become more challenging.  The mountains were becoming taller, as I had entered the heart of the Adirondack Mountain Range.

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Leaving Blue Mountain Lake, heading north on highway 28-N, I encountered the first of a series of challenging climbs.  This one was likely the steepest, but throughout the entire ride, each time I passed through a town, I would have a climb after leaving town.

I was already a little tired from the first exhausting climb when I stopped in Long Lake, at a farmer’s market I randomly encountered.  One of the beautiful things about bike traveling is that, while traveling at slower speeds, it is harder to miss these kinds of random events.  Six years ago, while cycling the I & M Canal trail along the Illinois river, I randomly encountered the Grundy County Corn Festival in the town of Morris, IL.

At this farmer’s market I talked to the people manning the booth while eating an ice cream sandwich.  One thing I notice while bike traveling in general, is that people tend to be interested when they encounter people traveling long distances by bicycle.  One of the vendors even told me she had a friend that had graduated from the same high school, on Long Island, as my father (7 years earlier, so no mutual acquaintances or anything like that).

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The next part of my ride, along state highway 30 from Long Lake to Tupper Lake, was the most challenging for me.  Turning towards the Northwest, for the first time on this bike tour, I was facing a significant head wind.  And, there were a few segments with significant climbing, including the climb to get out of Long Lake.

This was also the part of the ride when negative thoughts started to creep into my head.  Anyone that has taken on a large scale physical challenge understands this phase.  The body starts to get overwhelmed.  It starts to resist.  That resistance creeps into the mind through some kind of combination of messages to oneself such as, “you should quit”, “you’re not gonna make it”, “it was a crazy idea anyways”.

How to respond to this is always a challenge.  From my experience, this occurs anytime anyone truly tries to stretch themselves, and do something that amounts to a serious challenge.  There are some that never overcome this phase, repeatedly giving in to that voice telling them to quit.  Overcoming this internal pressure, born out of fatigue, builds character.  It teaches us all how to endure fatigue and negative pressure in other areas of our lives.

I also learned a valuable lesson about understanding what my body needs.  I was cycling through this challenging segment at roughly 1:30 P.M., and had yet to eat lunch.  The previous day, I had also made a relatively late official lunch stop (around 2 P.M.), but I had eaten a hot dog at 11, something that kept me going.  The ice cream sandwich I had at Long Lake was far less substantial.  It is likely that by 1:30, my body did not have the nutrition it needed.  It’s important to keep in mind that, when traveling by bike your body is your engine, and that engine needs fuel to keep running!

After stopping for a full meal, at a place called the Skyline Drive in, which was recommended to me by the woman at the farmer’s market back in Long Lake, I felt refreshed, and realized I had just over 30 miles to go to my final destination for the day, Lake Placid.  My mindset did a complete 180!  I went from questioning myself at every pedal stroke, to knowing I was going to make it, and finish this beautiful ride.

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I knew I was getting closer to my destination, Lake Placid, where the Olympic Winter Games were held, twice, when my route diverged from the Adirondack Trail and started following the Olympic Trail.

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After a brief stop in Saranac Lake, and eight miles along state highway 86, which featured a surprisingly high traffic volume (but also a wide enough shoulder to accommodate bicycles), I arrived in Lake Placid, and gazed upon the mountain that had hosted some of the greatest athletes from around the world on two occations.

What a gorgeous town, and what a gorgeous ride, all the way through!  It was an exhausting ride, once again clocking in at 100 miles, but this ride through the Adirondacks is a ride I would recommend to anyone.

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After a nice meal at Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, across from the Hampton Inn where I would spend the night, I spent the rest of the evening soaking in the sunset over Mirror Lake, gazing at the reflection of the mountains in the water below them.

I thought about life.  I thought about how to live better.  How to be better to people around me.  How to overcome challenges.  I also thought about what I had experienced over the past three days.  The New York portion of this ride was nearly complete.  Through this ride, from Niagara Falls to Lake Placid, I saw a good portion of the state, much of it which I had never seen before.  Having been born on Long Island, and spent much of my childhood going into New York City for various events, museums, shows, etc., I am familiar with the phrase “I love New York”.  Having now seen the roaring falls of Niagara, the majestic lakes of the Adirondacks, and many points in between, I can now say “I love New York”, and know I mean ALL of New York.