Tag Archives: Bicycling

Hitting Goals

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Some people thrive on goals.  They are always working towards something, and always working towards something that can specifically be measured.  Sometimes it’s something along the lines of a specific marathon time.  Other times it is a major life event, such as earning a promotion, or being able to afford a house. Sometimes it’s even something a bit more unusual, like trying every ice cream flavor at a local ice cream shop.  But, in all cases, there is a goal, and a clear measurement.  At any given time, they know whether or not they have achieved their goal, and, in most cases, how close they are to reaching it.

Sometimes I envy these people.  Being driven by reaching specific, tangible benchmarks like this fits quite nicely into our present day results-driven society.  Tons of people writing about what makes people effective, or successful, stress the importance of making and achieving goals on a regular basis, both from the standpoint of improving your confidence and demonstrating your ability to achieve to others.

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Unfortunately, I tend to be driven by ideas and concepts that are more big-picture and abstract.  I am more interested in knowing that I am generally in good health and feeling energetic than reaching a specific weight target.  As a person who believes in flexibility and individuality, and shuns rigidity, I will often look at something like wanting to buy a house, and say, wait a second, is there some kind of way I could be just as happy in a condo, given certain circumstances?  Do I need to make a specific commitment to some sort of a budget, when circumstances in life often vary, and adhering strictly to a certain number might even cost me opportunities that could go a long way towards some of the most important goals of all, which I see as happiness, purpose, satisfaction and the like?

I do, however, have to acknowledge some of the reasons we operate in this fashion.  After all, we do live in a complicated world where we all have thousands of things competing for our attention at any given time.  The easiest way to grab someone’s attention is to say something specific.  Vail Ski Resort will tell you it has a 3450 foot vertical drop, or that it gets 348 inches of snow per year.  They do not try to get your attention by saying that skiing will provide an exhilarating experience that will often improve one’s happiness as well as physical fitness.

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In 2015, in addition to my big picture goal to “feel more energized and be in better shape”, I attached a specific goal.  I was going to bicycle at least 1500 miles this year.  Now, I do understand that this is not that high of a number.  The most hard-core cyclists will often ride 10,000 miles in one calendar year.  One bike ride across the country is more than 3000 miles. But, 1500 miles would make this my biggest bicycling year yet (2014 was previously my highest at 1385 miles), and it would be an easy number for me to point to as a way to indicate to others how much bicycling I do.

There were a couple of obstacles that got in the way of me reaching this goal.  The first was a wet early season.  In May, Denver recorded measureable precipitation 19 out of 31 days. This was followed by 13 rainy days in June.  Ironically, one of those rainy days included a hailstorm, on bike to work day!

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Later on, job/career related issues took some of my attention away from cycling.  And, finally, although this one is definitely not a bad thing, during the second half of summer and the first half of fall, a lot of my plans took me places where cycling was simply not possible, including travel, visitors, and social events.

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However, despite all of this, on Sunday, November 1st, 2015, I reached my goal, and pedaled my 1500th mile of the year.  And, I decided to do it in style.  I didn’t want to get to this milestone just anywhere, biking on some random road in some neighborhood that doesn’t mean anything to me.  I wanted to go somewhere iconic!  I wanted to go somewhere appropriate, for both the day’s conditions, as well as a place where I had significant experiences during the first 1478 miles I rode this year.  Really, there was only one true choice; Red Rocks amphitheater.  At exactly 22 miles from my home, I would hit that 1500 mile mark somewhere along my final ascent to the top of the road.  Red Rocks is an iconic place, both beautiful and full of memories for mankind.  And, it is a place I have ridden my bike to over half a dozen times on previous rides.  One of my favorite half day rides is to go to Red Rocks, and then into Golden for lunch, followed by a nice quick ride on the Clear Creek Trail back to Denver.

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Yet, the story of me and my bike in 2015 cannot simply be summarized with a number; 1500, or 1600, or whatever I get to in two months when the year is complete.  It is so much more than that.  It is the exhausting three day, 230 mile ride through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  But, it is also the countless treks over the same roads in town, to and from work, and to all of the other places I went to on a regular basis.  It’s the improvements I made in climbing, something I am weak at due to living in Chicago for several years, but also all the flat tires I got and had to change.

Outcomes are best communicated to others when they are demonstrated both qualitatively and quantitatively.  Behind every story, there is a number, probably multiple numbers.  I can say I biked 1500 miles.  I can also figure out how many vertical feet I climbed, how many times I biked certain roads and trails, and even how many tires I changed.  But to just say the number, without answering that all important question, why I am doing what I am doing, would also not be effective.  I bike to improve my health, spend some time outside, visit interesting places, and to save some money on fuel.

More importantly, bicycling contributes to my larger scale goals of being happy, healthy, unique, and true to myself.  How much different would it be to have biked 1475 miles vs. 1525 miles?  Not too much.  The same way a .301 batting average is not too different than a .299 average.  So, I guess while I am happy I reached the mark I set out for at the beginning of the year, I still need to recognize that it is not the end all, be all.  While it is good to have a goal, or a target, to stay on track, and provide a construct for how far one wants to take a certain activity, we all must keep mindful of the big picture. And, if reaching a certain number would cost us more than it is worth, we should be willing to adjust.

July 2015 Bicycle Journey Day 3: Yellowstone’s Grant Village to Jackson, Wyoming

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What a difference a day makes!  After the most exhausting bicycling day of my life, day 3 seemed like a breeze.  Everything seemed different, even in subtle ways.  Whereas on day 2 I felt like I had to struggle, even on the flatter portions of the ride, certain segments of this day seemed to breeze by.  It was almost as if there was some kind of invisible force that had been holding me back on the previous day, but now was helping me along.

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We left the Grant Village campground having done none of the activities that are typically associated with camping (other than putting up and tearing down a tent).  We did not set up a fire.  We did not cook anything.  We did not even spend a significant amount of time at the campsite other than sleeping. The next morning, we got some breakfast, and headed South, towards Grand Teton National Park.

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The day started with a climb, albeit a very small one, and one that event felt easier than a similar sized climb would have felt the previous day.  Only four miles into the ride, we crossed the Continental Divide, and immediately started headed downhill.  The next eight miles flew by as we reached our last major stop in Yellowstone National Park; Lewis Falls.

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I feel like I got a fairly exhaustive tour of Yellowstone’s waterfalls.  And, while I had seen several waterfalls while in Yellowstone, each one was different in characteristics.  Undine Falls, which I saw yesterday, was skinny and tall.  Lewis Falls is much wider, with a smaller drop.  It is shaped much more like Niagara.  At this point in my journey, 12 miles in, I was energized!  I felt almost as if I could have handled anything on that day.  In fact, I am 100% sure that I had more energy at that point in the day than I would have had I been resting over the last several days.  There is just something about getting through a really rough day of riding, and then riding downhill.

Until this trip, most of my riding had consisted of day trips.  Before moving to Colorado, those trips were pretty much about how many miles I traveled, as Illinois is flat.  Since then, I have begun to tackle some climbs.  In each of these rides, there is a similar theme, I go up, and then I go down.  There is a climb, and it is followed by a “reward”, a chance to go fast.  This almost felt like a way more stretched out version of this.  I spent an entire day pretty much climbing.  The previous day was my climb, and this day of primarily descending was my reward.  Therefore, the feeling of guilt that usually passes over me when I descend without having climbed first did not manifest.  The whole time I knew that I had earned this day of rapid riding through the exhaustion I had endured on the prior day.

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By the time we left Yellowstone National Park, we had already descended a significant amount.  That descent was interrupted by the days only climb, in the 6 mile space that separates Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  This is a strange place.  Although you are technically in neither National Park, signs posted along the road remind motorists that National Park speed limits and enforcement are still in effect.  Also, there is no official entrance into Grand Teton National Park from the north, at least not along US-89.  It is pretty much assumed that all motorists (and I guess cyclists too) had already paid to get into Yellowstone and do not need to pay again.

After climbing for a little bit, there is a rapid descent towards Lake Jackson, and the heart of the Grand Tetons.

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This lake is gigantic, and one of the defining features of the National Park.  And, as one travels farther, into the heart of the Park, one can sometimes get some of the most stunning views of the Tetons from the other side of the lake.

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The Grand Tetons are the most photographed location in Wyoming.  The primary reason they are so photogenic is that this particular mountain range not only has a prominence (how much higher in elevation the peaks are from the area around them) of over 7,000 feet, but there are no foothills to obstruct one’s view of the mountains.

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There really is nothing like experiencing the Tetons, at a nice comfortable pace of 15-20 miles per hour, from the seat of a bicycle, up and down some gentile rolling hills, as the afternoon progresses. As was the case in Yellowstone, I decided not to push myself and hurry through the park.  Only this time, on a day that had been mostly downhill, it felt way more comfortable.  I wasn’t climbing up a major pass, putting my legs through all of that exhaustion.  I was just gliding kinda.

The final part of the trip into Jackson took me on a bike trail, where I encountered the last wildlife of my journey, a coyote.

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In the end, I once again rode over 80 mies on the final day of my journey.  However, the last part of the ride felt quite a bit different for me on day 3 as it had on day 2.  At some point, I came to the realization that on my final day’s ride, it wasn’t the energy I had left in my legs that was limiting the number of miles I felt like I could do, it was other intangibles.  It was how my butt felt about getting back on the seat.  It was how many times my right fingers had been used to shift gears, as well as the amount of weight I had placed on my forearms in general over the course of many hours on the seat.  In this case, I wonder if the strategy of biking a bit faster, but taking more frequent stops to get up and off the seat may be a better strategy for handling these long distance rides.

The last five miles of my ride, on the trail, headed into Jackson were counted off by little markers in the trail; white lines labelled 5.0, 4.5, 4.0 and so on, counting off the distance from Jackson at the end of the trail.  These markers countered down, pretty much, the end of my trip.  So while I was excited to make it all the way into Jackson, and really anxious to take a shower and have a coca-cola, it still felt bittersweet to me, knowing that this bicycle trip that I had been anticipating for so long was quickly coming to an end.

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Two days earlier, at Chico Hot Springs, I had refrained from eating chicken wings, as I was unsure if the choice would negatively impact my bike ride the next day.  Now, with no more bike riding ahead of me, it was time to finally fulfill that craving.  So, after showering and changing, we went to a place called Local, right in downtown Jackson, and, yes, I had my wings.  Oh, and they were amazing.  One thing I learned the first time I attempted bike travel, ten years ago, was that wings always taste better on a bike journey.

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That evening, we stayed at the Anvil Motel downtown, and watched the 4th of July firework show.  As I watched the fireworks light up the night sky, I thought to myself about how I had celebrated our Nation’s independence by traveling through some of the most beautiful places in the country.  I cannot think of a better way to honor The United States of America than that.

The only regret I really had was that the haziness of the day had seriously impacted the images I had taken of the Grand Tetons.  This regret was remedied, as we spent another day in Jackson before headed home, and got to see some more sights, including different images of the Tetons, under different weather conditions, both Sunday and Monday, as well as the iconic images that one encounters in the famous Mormon Row settlement to the east of the National Park.

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By completing this journey, I feel like I have entered a whole new league when it comes to bike riding, and bike travel.  Before this trip, I could only speculate as to what rides I would one day love to take on.  I could only respond to people’s own bicycle travel stories with statements such as “wow, that seems incredible”, or “good job”.  I was not truly belonging to the group.  Now, with this trip behind me, I have finally earned the right to consider myself a bike traveler.  I have earned the right to actually chime in with my own anecdotes, about biking long distances, road conditions, places to go, pannier setup, and all sorts of other topics bicycle tourists typically discuss.  I have reached the pros- sort of.

And, because of this experience, Montana and Wyoming now have a special place in my heart, something that someone born on Long Island, New York would never have expected.  I almost feel like Teddy Roosevelt this weekend, New Yorker in attitude and mannerisms through and through, but lover of the West, lover of America’s beauty and lover of the National Parks.

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As I rode home Monday, July 6th, it suddenly occurred to me how little I missed my regular life.  I think I missed some of the people and some of the socializing.  But I really didn’t miss the kind of stuff that many would assume.  I had yet to watch a single minute of television, and had yet to use the internet for anything other than looking up the weather and writing a blog entry on this site.  I certainly had not looked at the news or anything.  I definitely did not miss either TV or the internet at all.  As of the time of writing this blog, July 9th, my TV total for the month of July still does not exceed one single hour.  And, the odd thing is, I also knew that if I needed to get back on that bike again and ride more distance, I was more than capable of it.  Maybe that is the way I truly know I have reached a whole new level with regards to bicycling.

Bozeman, Montana; Where My Journey Begins

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“I had always known that we had the best downtown in all of Montana.  And then last year, we were voted the best downtown in all of Montana.”  At least that is how Bozeman was described to me by one of the locals, while giving me lunch recommendations.  He eventually told me that every place downtown was good, and to only avoid chain restaurants.

The first person I interacted with in Bozeman was the cab driver that drove me from the airport to the REI, where my bicycle had been shipped to, reassembled, and was waiting for me.  He described Bozeman as a “town full of expert skiers”.  With all of the other observations I had made while in town, and with the other interactions I had with people from Montana, it feels to me as if Bozeman is like a smaller and more extreme version of Denver or Boulder.  The cab driver indicated that the town almost shuts down on powder days, as everyone is headed to the mountains.  And, the people coming in and out of the bike shops appeared to be people that could ride a fair number of miles in challenging conditions.

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Bozeman is only 50-some miles from Big Sky, one of the most famous ski resorts in the country.  Locals, however, appeared more proud of their local ski resort, Bridger Bowl, only 16 miles from town, as indicated by this sign.  It was also described to me as “the only non-profit ski resort in the Country”.

However, my mind was not on skiing at the time.  My mind was on bicycling, as this was the beginning of a 3-day bicycle journey that would take me through some of the country’s most amazing natural features.  And, it would be the most challenging ride I have ever attempted.

After picking up my bike, as well as all of the necessary supplies I needed for my trip at the REI, I rode the first 1.3 miles of my journey, to the Bozeman Inn, where I would spend the evening.

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Having my bike shipped to the REI and assembled there worked out quite well for me.  The price to assemble the bike from the box is $40, and they pretty much made sure that nothing was wrong with the bike, which is something I really wanted for a bicycle journey that would take me through long stretches without bike shops.  They even checked the spokes, trued the wheel, and made sure everything else was working.  And, when they realized they still had my tire lock key, someone from the shop brought it to me downtown.

It would be nearly 10:00 P.M. before the sun went down that evening.  I had already checked into the motel, but was looking for some information about the town, maybe a bike map, or even a restaurant guide for the time I would be in Bozeman.  Instead, there was just a bar and grill located adjacent to the motel.  “Lights” by Ellie Goulding was playing quite loudly where people were drinking inside.  It was a clear reminder of what evenings were like on a normal night during my “normal life”.  So, I had the instinct to go inside, drink a little, enjoy the music, and try to meet some locals.  But, I knew better.  I was on the verge of something special.  It would be a challenging ride, and I needed my energy.

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I loaded up my bike with all of my supplies packed nicely into the panniers I had carried with me on the flight into Bozeman the previous evening.  I looked around me and saw mountains in all directions, reminding me that, yes, I was in for some challenging climbs in the coming days.

Spending the morning, and mid-day, in Bozeman gave me some time to mentally prepare for the challenge I knew I had ahead of me.  I decided to check out the attraction I had heard about the most; The Museum of the Rockies.

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This museum has somewhat of an interesting local take on geological, biological, and natural history.  Like the Field Museum in Chicago, it has an exhibit that displays how life evolved over time, starting with the single celled organisms that dominated the earth for Billions of years prior to the Cambrian explosion, through the time of the Dinosaurs and beyond in chronological order.

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This museum’s exhibit was way more dinosaur centric than the other life over time exhibits I’ve been to.  Their main attraction is the “Montana T-Rex”, the biggest T-Rex to be discovered inside the State of Montana.

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The museum is quite locally focused.  The exhibits on geological history contain a lot of information specific to the geographical area around Bozeman.  Most of the dinosaur exhibits are displayed along with a map of Montana which show where the bones were dug up.

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Seeing some of these specific exhibits actually changed the way I look at scenery.  Exhibits like this one, about the Beartooth Mountains, don’t just show how pretty they are, but show what rock formations can be seen, and how and when they developed.  The geological history behind all of these processes, from plate tectonics to atmospheric composition changes, and even processes involving air pressure changes and erosion all help explain why everything we observe is the color and shape that it currently is.  And, ultimately, for people who study natural history, all of these rock formations that we observe provided clues to Earth’s past, and helped these scientists discover what we now know.

I’ve looked at a lot of mountains, and a lot of natural scenery over the past few years.  It occurs to me that the scenery that we observe means something different to everybody.  Some people focus on the aesthetic nature of what they see, a beautiful mountain, a beautiful lake, a scenic overlook.  Others focus on the adventure.  Wow, this mountain would be great to climb, or this river would be crazy to kayak in.  But, still others are trying to deduce how this scenic view in front of them came to be.  They are the ones that see red rocks and see the process of rusting, which occurred over the course of 2 billion years, as early photosynthetic life gradually increased the oxygen content of the atmosphere, lead to the chemical reactions that made some rocks red, so long as they have had significant above ground exposure.  They are the ones that look at the rocks and see as story, a progression of events.

I almost felt bad, walking around the museum in my bicycle clothes, looking kind of like a bad-ass, talking to people about my bike trip, when the truth is, that I had only biked 7 miles so far, from the REI, to my hotel, and then to the museum.  It was the guy at the ticket window that had told me that Bozeman’s downtown was the best one in Montana.  He informed me that the museum and downtown were the two places to really see in Bozeman, so I decided to ride my bike downtown, get some lunch, and wait for my friend to join me.

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I was impressed by the downtown, particularly the bike parking.  After eating lunch at a Co-op (the kind of place that looks like a grocery store but sells fresh made lunch food to workers in downtown areas), I had some time to kill.  I was excited, getting kind of anxious, and my mind was active!  Maybe it was the 10 miles I had already ridden, enough to get my blood moving.  Maybe it was knowing what was to come.  Or, maybe it was the downtown, the vibrancy, and the unique-ness.

From book stores, to local shops, everywhere I went seemed to put me into an active process of deep thought.  For example, I saw a book.  It was titled “Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are incompatible.”  I thought to myself how ironic it is.  People become attracted to either Science or Religion, but usually do so due to the positive aspects of it; science and it’s intellectual curiosity, religion and the hope and purpose that it brings.  Yet, so many people, after choosing to love one or the other, spend more time focusing on the negative aspects of the other one, as opposed to the positive things that brought them to love either science or religion.

Just like that book, everything I saw brought me to some weird intellectual thought pattern.  I should go back to Bozeman sometime under different circumstances, and see if this is just the way the town works.  Is there something about the energy of this town that makes people just think in unique ways?

Many Montanans refer to Bozeman as “Boze-Angeles”.  In this part of the country, I am guessing this is not meant as a compliment.  That evening, after riding to Chico Hot Springs (more on that in my next post), a woman from Butte, MT would describe Bozeman as “pretentious”, and the place in Montana where one is most likely to be judged.  And, although I did not necessarily feel judged, I definitely sensed the pride here, consistent with what the cab driver, and others told me.  Still, I enjoyed the feeling of being adventurous, intellectual, and on the verge of a major adventure that would also be a major challenge, a major accomplishment, and open me up in a whole new way.

Cycling in Summit County

The Appropriately named Summit County (Colorado) sits right in the heart of the Central Rocky Mountains.   With multiple mountain ranges extending into the County on all sides, anywhere you will travel within the County, you will be pretty much surrounded by mountains in all directions.  In fact, Summit County is one of only six counties in the entire nation with a mean elevation of over 10,000 feet.

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All six of these Counties are within the State of Colorado.  Outside of Colorado, not only are there no counties with mean elevations greater than 9,000 feet (Colorado has a total of 15), but only three counties outside of Colorado have mean elevations exceeding 8,000 feet (Colorado has 24).  Those looking to “go to the Mountains”, would be hard pressed to find a more suitable place than this one.

Summit County is probably best known as a skiing destination, with five popular ski resorts, including the incredibly popular Breckenridge and Copper Mountain.  However, it may also be one of the best places in the world for high-altitude cycling, which is important for those who train at high altitude to increase lung capacity.

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Due in part to a series of rail lines that were created during gold and silver rushes and later abandoned in subsequent bust years, the county has an extensive network of recreational pathways.    The re-purposing of abandoned railways as recreational trails is actually the source of some of the nation’s best bicycling trails.  For those interested in seeing these rails-to-trails well maintained, and seeing more created, there is an advocacy group called the rails-to-trails conservancy leading this effort.

These recreational paths connect almost all destinations within the county.  Within this network of trails, one can find relatively flat rides, as well as intense climbing, all with a variety of amazing scenery.  The network is largely centered around the town of Frisco, a town of roughly 2700 people at an elevation just under 9,100 feet.  Located just off of Interstate 70, it is a relatively easy place to get to (when there aren’t traffic delays), and as good of a place as any to use as a home base for a weekend of high altitude cycling.

My first ride of the weekend was also the toughest one, from Frisco west to Vail Pass.  This ride involves two trails, the Tenmile Canyon trail and the Vail Pass trail.  Heading Southwest from Frisco, the first few miles on the Tenmile Canyon trail includes a fairly significant amount of climbing.

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Indicative of how recreation-centric this part of the country is, the entire trail network is well marked, with signage indicating which trails lead to which towns, and a significant number of signs like this one, indicating mileage.

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This sign denotes the halfway point between Frisco and Copper Mountain.  And while the total mileage to Copper is 7.4, a cyclist that has reached this point has already done most of the climbing from Frisco’s 9,100′ elevation to Copper’s 9,800′.

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In fact, the final couple of miles of this trail, headed into Copper is pretty much flat.  But, even during this flat segment, I knew where I would be headed, which would bring me farther up into the mountains.

IMG_3474 IMG_3475With it not being ski season, and there not being an actual town there, there was not much going on in Copper Village.  Many places were closed.  The most notable thing I encountered while at Copper was a junction with both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which share the same path here.  Just the thought that anyone I encounter cycling or hiking could be headed as far as Durango, or the Mexican border, is just incredible!  At the West end of Copper Village is the Vail Pass trailhead.  Despite what is indicated in the signage, the trek from Copper to Vail Pass is actually only four miles.  Not only did I clock this myself, but a cyclist with over twenty years of experience cycling here told me that this sign has been “wrong for over 20 years”.

IMG_3476 IMG_3479The Vail Pass trail is kind of a mixed bag.  Over four miles, the trail climbs somewhere between 800 and 900 feet.  However, it is a mix of some fairly flat segments, and some fairly intense areas with switchbacks and such.  I would say there are three sections of this trail that are intense climbing.  One fairly shortly after beginning the climb from copper, one right in the middle, or about two miles from Copper (pictured here), and one close to the top.

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Strangely, most of this trail is actually in the middle of I-70, between the Eastbound and Westbound lanes, which are farther apart for much of the segment between Copper Mountain (exit 195) and the Vail Pass summit (exit 190).  The top of the trail is a rest area that cyclists share with motorists.  Here, a connection could be made with the Eagle County tail network, and cyclists could continue West towards Vail Villiage.

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However, my plans take my back towards Frisco, where, I not only encountered another sign indicating that the trail is six miles long rather than four, but a speed limit sign.  I am not sure if and how this speed limit of 25 is enforced.  But, it does provide those concerned with safety with a guideline.

The descent back to Frisco, just over 12 miles in total when one includes getting from the tailhead back to home base (in my case Hotel Frisco on Main St.) went rather rapidly, at a speed that must have averaged fairly close to that assigned speed limit.

After stopping for lunch, in the afternoon, I took on another ride to explore more of the Summit County trail system.  This one, a loop around the Dillon Reservoir.

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The ride starts out “flat”, as the trail stays at roughly the elevation of the lake.  However, “flat” here is a relative term.  Even the rides described as flat and easier, here in Summit County, can contain some rolling hills.  And, while significantly easier than a “climb”, these trails are nowhere near as flat as a trail one would find in a place like Illinois where there is pretty much no terrain change.  There are small rolling hills, as nowhere in Summit County is really flat.

After a fairly “flat” ride on the Dillon Dam recpath and the Snake River recpath, in order to traverse the entire loop around the reservoir, one must climb Swan Mountain, which is actually a 1200′ climb.

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After two significant climbs, and nearly 50 miles of exploring this amazing system of trails, I was ready to call it a day.

I did a little more exploring on Sunday, mostly on the easier trails.

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I came to really appreciate the portions of these trails that wind through the trees, often with small rolling hills.  While getting up to the top of a major climb provided me with a sense of accomplishment, these trail segments were just pleasant and enjoyable to ride through.  The smell of the pine trees reminded me of cabins, and camping, and all the things we do in life to get away from our day to day responsibilities.  The twists and turns just made me feel like I was on a ride of sorts, almost like a roller coaster in some places.  And, there were some other interesting areas, like these bogs.  In the end, I am glad I did both the big challenging climbs, and the gentler trail sections.

And, I was also glad to have experienced the town of Frisco a little bit more.

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Frisco is somewhat of an interesting place.  It has that Western feel that many of these towns have, with a Main Street lined with stores, and mountains in the backdrop.  It is somewhat touristy, but not overwhelmingly so.  It seems to occupy some kind of middle ground.  With bus service to Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Keystone ski resorts, they get their fair share of ski related tourism.  But, not as much as there is in Breckenridge, or any other town that is actually adjacent to the ski resort.  This appears to have created demand for a variety of different hotels and restaurants, but without some of the major crowds, or the dozens of souvenir shops that line the streets of many other tourist destinations.

Over the course of the weekend, I tried five different restaurants in Frisco; Boatyard American Grill, Begalis, Prost, Butterhorn Bakery and Cafe, and Lost Cajun.  All were within a block of Hotel Frisco, and each one provided a different experience.  Boatyard is a great place to get a burger, or bar type food.  Begalis provides a nice moderately upscale Italian dining experience.  The sausages at Prost were amazing.  Butterhorn is a very popular place for breakfast/ brunch.  And, I am particularly impressed by the free samples provided to customers at Lost Cajun prior to ordering.  And, I enjoyed the casual Louisiana style experience.

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Overall, it is hard for me to imagine a better place for high altitude bicycle training.  Right in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, there is a place with an extensive network of recreational paths that connect nearly every community in the area.

A 50 Mile Bike Ride in the Dead of Winter

I am not sure where the phrase “The Dead of Winter” came from.  In fact, I am not even 100% sure people still use that phrase (in 2015).  But, I do recall hearing that phrase growing up in both New York and Illinois, referring to the period of time from roughly New Years through President’s Day.

My best guess is that the phrase comes from scenes like this one appearing in many major Northern Hemisphere cities.  Trees having long since lost all of their leaves, the grass taking on a lifeless brown-ish color, and overcast skies combine to create a cold, lifeless image that can persist for long periods of time.

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No month epitomizes the depths of winter more than the month of January.  By January, most northern cities have already experienced a significant amount of winter.  Residents of these cities have typically been through a dozen or so days they would consider “very cold” (which does vary by city).  Also, by January, most cities have experienced their version of lousy winter whether, whether that be lack of sunshine, heavy snow, ice storms, that cold drenching rain, or some kind of combination of the four.  With the holidays over, if winter is going to wear you down, it will most definitely do so in the month of January, as it runs its course.

For many, winter (and particularly January) is something of a metaphor for a rough period of time, or a low point.  In American history, the winter at Valley Forge is remembered as a low point for the American Revolution.  Winter is also used periodically to describe low points in people’s individual lives.  With the chill, darkness, and frequent inclement weather, there is not only commonly more hardships, but also more limitations.

This is true even when mother nature offers periodic breaks from cold and gloomy weather.  After a cold start to 2015, the middle part of January brought warmer conditions to Colorado, including several consecutive days with highs in the 50s or 60s here in Denver.  And, while today ended up being one of the best possible January days for a bike ride, the amount of riding I could do was still limited significantly by the sheer fact that it is January.

Even on a mild day, it is typically too cold to start riding at sunrise, the coldest part of the day.  As the day began with temperatures in the 30s, I waited until roughly 9:30 to begin my ride.  Even with this later departure, I still encountered significant amounts of water, and even ice on the trails.  In several sections, I needed to stop and dismount my bike for safety reasons.

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The mere possibility that ice like this will be present on the trail also makes it extremely unsafe to ride after dark.  With sunset occurring right around 5 P.M. at this time of year, the window of time for a bike ride is significantly shorter than it is in other season.

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Another major limitation to what places I can bike to in January is the wind.  In winter, wind can be quite unpredictable, and can lead to unexpected slow-downs.  Also, higher terrain can get quite windy, even on days where there is little to no wind in town and in the river valleys.

Therefore, I decided to ride up Cherry Creek trail, and make the 50-mile round trip ride from Denver to Parker, an exurb 25 miles to the Southeast.

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Despite the slow-downs associated with random standing water and ice on the trail, I was still able to reach Cherry Creek Dam in roughly 45 minutes.  Here, the only “climbing” portion of the ride appears in the distance.  For those with little to no “climbing” experience, the uphill sections can actually be a bit exhausting.  However, for anyone that has previously ridden up a mountain, or a large hill, the climb up the hill is quite tame.  With the mountains still appearing in the distance, there is a clear reminder that even after a mild stretch of weather, climbing too high in elevation would also lead to slippery conditions.  In essence, this “climb”, although quite tame, is the most significant climb one can make safely in the month of January.

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Behind the dam, the trail winds around Cherry Creek Reservior.  Only half covered with ice (and probably thin ice), I am relieved to see nobody trying to ice fish, or stand out on the lake at this time.

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With some amount of wind, and having not ridden a significant amount of miles in one sitting in quite some time, I ended up taking it a bit slower on the trail today than I normally would have in mid-summer.  As a result, it ended up taking me nearly another hour to reach Parker, where the 470 trail, another major trail in the metro Denver trail system, terminates at the 40-mile long Cherry Creek Trail.

And, while it took me a bit longer than normal to ride 25 miles, not exhausting myself to achieve a better time had it’s reward.  Neither overly exerting myself, nor traveling too slowly, the return trip flew by!  Mile after mile passed, almost as if I was living out a montage of my own life.  I passed mile 25, 24, 23, winding around, smiling at nearly every person I passed by as the wind, and my direction shifted back and forth.

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Before I knew it, it was mile 15, 14, 13.  On a typical ride, exhausted at the end of the day, I am anticipating each mile, and tracking how far I am from home.  Today, I achieved somewhat of a state of euphoria.  I almost feel as if I had achieved the “runners high” often discussed (albeit on a bicycle, as opposed to running).

In the end, despite my slower than usual pace, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and was actually only passed on the trail once!

For those wanting to take advantage of a mid-winter warm-up, and get on the trail (or roads), I offer the following tips

  • Plan extra time (maybe half an hour) for your ride.  There is a distinct possibility that mud, ice, or snow on the trail can slow you down, as well as unexpected winds.  It is not safe to ride at night, and it will get cold again.  You are better off taking on a goal that would be considered modest during the warm season than ending up in trouble.
  • Listen to your legs.  I know “shut up legs” is a popular poster to hold up at long distance rides, but often times a ride can be done more effectively if you allow yourself to downshift when the ride feels exhausting.  This may mean being on a specific segment of trail, or road, in a lower gear than what you would typically be in.  But, maybe that combination of the 5 pounds you gained over the holidays, and that 8 mph cross-wind is enough to warrant being one gear lower.  It is best not trying to exhaust yourself early just to be in your usual gear regime.  That being said, there also may be opportunities to shift up and go faster where there is an unexpected tail wind.
  • Don’t shy away from undertaking a major bike ride immediately after a hard day of skiing.  Cycling uses mostly different muscles than skiing, and I have been surprised by how little recent hard core skiing has impacted my cycling performance on rides like the one today.

The Last Chance Of The Year

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There is a saying that “old habits die hard”.  This is possibly an overstatement, and it might not apply to everybody.  But it is a powerful statement of inertia that applies to a large segment of the population.  A major stress factor, such as the discovery of a new food allergy or the loss of a job, can change people’s habits rapidly and decisively.  However, in the absence of some kind of major push, most people’s habits will change slowly or even not at all.  It is for this reason that bad habits like watching too much TV, engaging in frequent unprotected sex with strangers, and even smoking can persist for decades.

I would not consider the habit I am referring to as a bad one.  It is mostly just annoying to some people around me.  It all started in the 8th grade when I became somewhat obsessed with football.  A typically Sunday for me that fall I would not only watch a couple of NFL games, but I would also watch the pre-game show at 11 A.M., as well as NFL Primetime at 6 P.M.  On any given Sunday, I’d watch as much as 8 hours of football!

This also caused me to put off too much of my schoolwork.  Then one November weekend, I suddenly realized that I had a major Science project due and I was running out of time to complete it.  That Friday evening, I came home from school knowing that I would have to scramble to finish this project on-time, and calculated that I would have almost no time for anything else that weekend.  My parents were disappointed in me, and actually feared that my grades would suffer because of it.

That weekend’s weather was especially nice, with high temperatures reaching 70 on Sunday.  Sometime on Sunday my father reminded me that this would probably be the last 70-degree day until April.  As a weather tracker from a young age, this was a fact that I was already well aware of.  But, it was something I had not been thinking about through all of this.  At this time, my father was just trying to be a good parent, and inform me that procrastination had consequences.  But the sudden reminder, that it would be at least three, and up to five months before weather like this would return prompted me to go outside that minute, even though I knew all I could afford was a 10-15 minute break from my work.

The previous winter was my first in Illinois, and it was quite harsh!  Not only had I just moved from Long Island, New York, a place with milder winters, but that winter was harsh for Chicago area standards too!  Temperatures were significantly colder than their long-term averages, particularly in January and February.  I recalled seeing a snowpack persist for over five weeks, something I had never seen before, and school was closed a couple of days due to extreme temperatures (below -20).  It was quite a shock for me, and something I did not enjoy.  Feeling that fresh air, and knowing that these ten minutes would be all I get for such a long time made me regret my obsessive watching of football in a way I had never regretted anything before.  It was that day that I realized that I cared significantly more about activities that I personally participate in than watching professional sports (or anything on TV).  I did not completely give up on watching professional sports that day.  But, since that day I’ve have had a clear understanding of where my priorities lie.

The winter that followed would be modestly mild for Chicago standards.  But, it was still colder than the ones I remembered in New York, and there were still very few days warm enough to be enjoyable for outdoor activities.  It was enough to cement in me the lessons I learned that November day.  I would spend seventeen more years in the Midwest, in either Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin.  Only one winter season would be more oppressively cold than that first one (and I was in Wisconsin- a colder place overall).  Many of the winters would be milder, some significantly milder.  Still, I would rehearse the same pattern every fall.  Starting around Halloween weekend, any day where temperatures were projected to reach the 60s or 70s would basically sound an alarm off inside of me.  I would start planning ahead of time how to take advantage of these particular days, and bill it “the last nice day of the year.”  Sometimes, I would even have some “false starts” in this process, where I would be prompted to enjoy “the last nice day of the year” only to have another stretch (or even two or three) of warm weather occur before winter set in.

Now that I live in Denver, this practice is not necessary.  Not only do sunny and mild days occur quite frequently in the middle of the winter, but winter is one of the most exciting times to be in Colorado- due to skiing.  But, we are also not in an ordinary weather pattern.  Today’s highs will top out somewhere between 60 and 65.  But, after this, an abnormally prolonged period of cold weather is expected in Colorado.  It might even be too cold to ski, as highs between 10 and 20, and lows below 0 are anticipated for Denver.  It will be even colder in the mountains!  So, that alarm in my head triggered me to take advantage of this day as if it were the last chance I would have this year to go on a bike ride, which I did.

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Of course, one of the challenge in taking advantage of the last nice day of the year is that in November and December, the days are quite short.  Today I also had an added time constraint, as I knew the winds around Denver would pick up around noon, making bicycling much more unpleasant.  So, I stuck to a much simpler ride, down the Cherry Creek Trail to  Cherry Creek State Park, a 25 mile round trip.  Most of the ride is flat, or slightly uphill on the way out and slightly downhill on the way back.  The first major terrain feature is a large hill near Kennedy Golf Course, which is followed by the climb up to the reservoir.

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The Cherry Creek Trail is one of the best trails I have ever ridden!  It follows the river, through all of the underpasses, and avoids nearly all traffic lights.  This makes it a perfect way to get somewhere quickly on a bicycle.  There is some terrain climbing up to Cherry Creek State Park, but overall, the ride here only involves three “climbs”, and each one is only a couple of hundred feet in elevation.  Therefore, this would be a great ride for people who are only in moderately good shape, or not looking for a major challenge.

It will be too cold for bicycling in Denver to be enjoyable for at least another week and a half.  But, in all likelihood, this was not my “last chance of the year” to ride.  Therefore, I probably did not need to be too concerned about taking advantage of today’s weather.  However, I am also not seeing any negative consequences in taking advantage of a day like this.  I did not miss out on anything important, and everything I need to work on I can complete in the later part of this week when the weather turns awful.  So, this old habit is going to “die hard”, and probably won’t change much until it leads to a poor result.

Denver to Boulder by Bicycle

Recent studies have shown that not only has bicycle commuting increased in popularity over the course of the 21st Century thus far, but so has bicycle traveling.  Maybe it is the rise in gas prices.  Maybe it is the increased interest in combating obesity.  Or maybe it is just some kind of generational shift.  But, the increased interest in bicycle traveling has even lead to the development of a plan to implement a national bicycle route system similar to the highway system already in place for cars.

Locally in Colorado, one of the most important corridors for medium distance bicycle travel would be connecting Denver to Boulder.  Given the fact that both cities are very health conscious and bicycle friendly, and that enough people travel between the two cities every day to jam up highway 36, I have quite an interest in finding an ideal route between the two towns.  Well, the ideal route for now, until the bike path following U.S. 36 is developed, which may take some time.

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Today marked my second attempt to find the ideal bike route between the two towns.  My first attempt was back in May, a month that tends to have more ideal weather for intense activities at these elevations.

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My journey to Boulder, of course, began in the city of Denver, eventually following a route labelled D1.  The city of Denver actually has a local version of the National bicycle route plan envisioned, with a bunch of bicycle routes through the city labelled D1 through D22.  While Denver has better bicycle facilities and route labeling than most cities, labels such as this one are still somewhat intermittent.  Cyclists in Denver would benefit from signs alerting cyclists to when the route turns.  This particular route made two turns while I was on it, and neither turn was specifically signed.

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Despite the fact that Denver and Boulder both lie East of the Rocky Mountain Range, the ride between the two towns is definitely not flat, and includes some challenging parts.  Periodic hills, followed by descents into river (or creek) valleys occur throughout the ride.  In fact, the ride in Denver begins with a significant climb from downtown through a neighborhood called “The Highlands”, which, as it’s name advertises, actually rises a couple of hundred feet in elevation higher than downtown.  On this ride, I continued to climb until reaching the Denver City Limits, near Wilis Chase Golf Course, where entering Arvada, I encountered a pretty good view of the mountains, followed by one of the steepest downhill parts of the ride, into Clear Creek Valley.

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In Clear Creek Valley, I got to follow two bicycle trails, the Clear Creek Trail, and then the Ralston Creek Trail.  Although the Ralston Creek trail is not the nicest of bike trails (less underpasses, more curves), it has one of the best bicycle bridges I have ever had the privilege of riding over.  Bridges for bicycle trails are rarely as elaborate as this one.

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Arvada is reasonably bike friendly.  There are the aforementioned trails, and there are plenty of roads with bike lanes.  On Pierce St., the main street I followed north through the town of Arvada, there is even an area where the road itself is discontinuous, but a connecting bike path is available for cyclists.  Quite nice!

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Unfortunately, the village of Westminster is not nearly as bike friendly.  To be fair, Westminster does have bike trails, but it does not really have bike trails designed to connect one place to another.  Their bicycle route system definitely indicates that the people of Westminster, at least at the time when they planned their town, viewed cycling primarily as a mode of recreation, and not as a mode of transportation.

My route through Westminster has always been to simply to take the sidewalk along Wadsworth Rd., a very major road with a lot of traffic lights, strip malls, etc.  This is already problematic as it is basically sidewalk bicycling, which involves a lot of bumps in the road, and the necessity of slowing down for every major intersection and being very careful for vehicular traffic.

In addition to this issue, part of the sidewalk was closed, and under repair.  In addition, there was no real alternate option, as most of the roads in that are are parsed out in subdivisions, not connecting neighborhood to neighborhood, and rarely traveling in a straight line.  So, I rode through the shopping centers on the west side of the road.  The roads were smoother than the sidewalk had been even when it was not under repair, but there were a significant number of speed bumps I had to slow down for.  In the grand scheme of things, whenever riding through metro-Denver, the entire village of Westminster can be thought of as a speed bump.  Although it is not as unfriendly to bicycles as some suburbs I have encountered in other metropolitan areas, it is definitely the least friendly in the Denver area, and progress is definitely slowed whenever cycling through Westminster.

Finally, the sidewalk ended abruptly on two occasions.  Once, I took a detour that took me out of my way.  The second time, I actually got onto the shoulder, which is fairly wide north of all of the shopping centers, but the road speeds up to 55 mph, making the experience not as enjoyable.  After cycling this stretch of road, and uphill some more, I finally entered the town of Broomfield, where I knew conditions would improve.

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Broomfield also has a lot of windy roads, but it is significantly more bike friendly, with bike lanes on a lot of them, especially in the office park area, known as “Interlocken”, and the area by the Flatirons Mall, where I cycled through today.  In that way, it reminded me of Colorado Springs, health conscious, bike friendly, with a suburban look and feel to it.

I had always considered Westminster to have closer ties with Denver, and Broomfield to have closer ties with Boulder.  However, I have no real evidence to back that up, only hearsay from those around me.  However, the towns of Superior and Louisville, which I biked through next, definitely are more closely tied with Boulder.  This is where I reached the summit of my trip, if you can call it that, along McCaslin Rd.

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This hill is only about 400 feet higher in elevation than downtown Denver, but with it being the highest point in the area, climbing to this peak actually offers some of the best views of the Flatiorns, and the Rocky Mountains.  The Flatirons are a series of formations in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, right outside of Boulder.  I believe they are called “The Flatiorns”, because the rocks actually form neat looking slanted sheets, as opposed to the smaller rocks, or more rounded terrain features more typically seen in this part of the country.  The Flatirons are a mountain feature that will always be synonymous with the city of Boulder, and the rest of my ride into Boulder was a rapid descent along South Boulder Road, directly facing this mountain feature.

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Four rapid miles, and something like ten minutes later, at an elevation over 300 feet lower than where I was on McCaslin Rd., I reached the Boulder city limits.  Once inside the city of Boulder, several things change abruptly.  First, in Boulder you can get anywhere by bicycle.  However, be prepared to be humbled.  From the time I left my home in Denver (South of downtown), I was passed once, only once.  Over the last three miles of my ride, inside Boulder, I was passed three times.

I was quite pleased with myself today.  I made it to Boulder in two and a half hours despite the slowdown that is Westminster, and was not nearly as tired as I was when I did this ride back in May.  Every single part of this ride, including many of the more challenging uphill segments, seemed easier, some significantly easier.  However, there is no place like Boulder, Colorado to remind you that there are people out there that are way better than you!