Tag Archives: bike touring

Cycling from Colorado Springs to Denver

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It started with a two hour bus ride, from Denver to Colorado Springs, on something called the Bustang. Bustang is a pretty good service for cyclists in Colorado, as each bus has bike racks on the front. It would be a great service with more schedule options. For anyone thinking of making this journey, the only real option is the 7:35 A.M. departure from Denver, which arrived in downtown Colorado Springs just after 9:30.

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Colorado Springs is an interesting town. People who think about Colorado Springs often think about one of two things; its affiliation with Christian conservative causes, as it is where Focus on the Family is headquartered, and Pike’s Peak, the mountain that towers over the city to the west.

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Pike’s Peak is actually only the 20th tallest peak in the State. Yet, it is often amongst the most visited and talked about because, compared to many of Colorado’s other mountains, it is relatively isolated.

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Perhaps most importantly, Colorado Springs is among the most active and fittest cities in America.

This was apparent as I began to pedal north from downtown Colorado Springs. The Pike’s Peak Greenway, was quite crowded for much of the journey, with joggers, packs of runners, and other cyclists.

At the northern border of Colorado Springs, the Pike’s Peak Greenway connects to the New Santa Fe Trail. Both of these trails are part of a long term plan to create what is being called the Front Range Trail, a network of trails that will eventually cross the entire state from the Wyoming border to the New Mexico border, through many of Colorado’s most populated cities. Sings for the Front Range Trail have already been put in place here.

For some riders, the New Santa Fe Trail has the potential to be the roughest part of the ride. Much of it is both uphill, and unpaved. It also runs right through the property of the United States Air Force Academy.

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Many sections of it are quite rough, probably more suitable for mountain bikes than road or touring bikes. Along this stretch, there were about half a dozen instances where I had to dismount and walk my bike for a short distance.

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It was still a beautiful place to bike. The trail cuts through fields of Piñon Pines, and Monument Creek creates some picturesque mini-cliffs in front of the mountains.

However, although the journey up the hill is actually quite subtle, with no switchbacks or steep climbs, it did take more time and energy than anticipated to get to Palmer Lake, the high point of the trip, at an elevation of about 7,300 feet (2225 m).

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The next part of the ride was my favorite, north along Perry Park Road. This section is mostly downhill, but with some rolling hills. It was a wonderful 25 mile per hour ride on a smooth road, with bright blue skies, wide open spaces, rock formations popping out on both sides around every turn, and a light cooling breeze.

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There are a few route options at this point, and following Perry Park Road as long as I did, a little over 10 miles to Tomah Road, does bypass the town of Larkspur. I found it worthwhile, as I was enjoying the ride, but it does mean a total of about 20 miles between towns.

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Turning East, Tomah Road was actually the most challenging climb on the entire ride. The total climb is pretty small, from about 6200 feet to just over 6800. However, that climb occurred in less than two miles, and can be unexpected, as Castle Rock is at 6200 feet and this climb came from one of the subtle terrain features east of the Rocky Mountains.

After climbing and descending Tomah Road, the route was follows the Frontage Road along I-25 for about four miles into Castle Rock. Despite it being right next to the interstate, the road was quite crowded, and with no shoulder. It was probably the least enjoyable part of the ride.

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This was also where I struggled the most. It was the hottest part of the day, and after the unanticipated challenges, I began to doubt whether or not I could complete the ride. In these situations, it is usually good to stop and take a rest. The additional time it took on the unpaved trail up Monument Hill had set me back at least half an hour, but I definitely needed a rest, a snack, and, most importantly, I had a coke.

Maybe it was the caffeine, maybe it was the sugar, but the coke re-energized me, and I was back on my way.

Crawfoot Valley Road, the road that connects Castle Rock and Parker was surprisingly crowded. It is a good thing there is a wide enough shoulder for bikes. This area is growing quite rapidly, and seems to get busier every time I ride this segment.

My next burst of energy was actually mental, which is usually the battle we are actually facing when we decide to undertake physical challenges like this. In Parker, the route connects to the Cherry Creek Trail, an amazing trail that is fun, well kept, and mostly flat.

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From here, it is 30 miles to downtown Denver. This sign (the Cherry Creek Trail has one every 1/2 a mile, but this is the first one I saw when I joined the trail) felt like a welcoming of sorts, to the home stretch. The final 30 miles of the trip would feel like a victory lap.

I knew there was only one real climb remaining, the part where the trail goes around the Cherry Creek Reservoir.

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It reminded me of this weird place we often find ourselves in life, where we know some sort of “victory” is coming. We can sense it on the horizon. We are anticipating it. However, it is not there yet. There is still some amount of work that needs to be done, and there is still some things that can go wrong.

Is it too soon to start feeling good about ourselves? Can we start celebrating something that is “about” to happen? Or, do we remain cautious and diligent, understanding that although we feel we deserve this victory, it has not yet happened, and it is still not yet time to celebrate?

That was how the final 30 miles felt for me. The first half went by fast. However, as I got closer and closer, anticipation increased, and this “homestretch” seemed to drag on.

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At that point, there really is no choice but to pound out that final ten miles, with those mixed emotions. I knew I had persevered, ended up having to take on more than expected, and would arrive at home triumphant that I had ridden my bike from Colorado Springs to Denver. However, I would have to keep pedaling those last few miles before I could check that box off my internally kept bucket list.

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 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.

100 Miles of Rolling Hills Through Central New York

It’s the quintessential bike tour stop.  A small town diner.  A picture of the bicycle in front of it, the more panniers the better.  Highly decorated walls, with an old fashion sort of flare to it.  And, of course, the existential, thought filled, photo.  It feels like I am having that experience every long distance cyclist needs to have.  Of the many stories of bike travel I have read, particularly in the Adventure Cycling Association’s monthly newsletter, it always seems like there is some sort of experience at a small town diner like this.

I am not even sure, at this point in time, whether or not I am indeed following the Adventure Cycling Association’s Northern Tier route. I know it is somewhere close to here, in Wolcott, NY, a town I would pronounce incorrectly for the entire duration of the trip. But, I am still unsure of just how odd I look at this point in time.

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We rolled out of town on some quiet roads that were significantly hillier than the prior day’s ride.  The entire days’ ride would in some ways resemble this, up and down these types of rolling hills that dominate the landscape of Central New York.  Over the course of the next twenty or so miles (sometimes the brain works slower when the body is consistently physically engaged like this), I processed the interactions I had with the locals, both at the diner this morning and over the course of the day yesterday.   It suddenly occurred to me that my Long Island accent, which I had originally thought would be an asset while interacting with people in this area, is actually a liability.

It’s a familiar story that plays out in so many other states with large metropolitan areas, but also large rural/small town swaths.  People from “downstate”, which mainly means New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, dominate state politics, and call anything north of Poughkeepsie “upstate” despite its position well south of the center of the state.  This can sometimes lead to resentment from those in other parts of the state that feel neglected or even abused.

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The people at the hot dog stand in Fulton, NY, our next stop, were quite friendly.  They gave us the water we needed to refill our water bottles, and even gave us a couple of hot dogs to help us on our journey.  They also largely confirmed my speculation about my Long Island accent, and how they feel about the region I grew up in.  The discussion focused on state politics.  By far the most common political sign I encountered throughout my time in the state of New York were yard signs advocating the repeal of something called the NY Safe Act.  A rough map of which counties have resolved to oppose this act highlights a clear divide between the New York metropolitan area and the rest of the state!

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My friend Clay is originally from Texas.  Out of curiosity, I asked the two ladies at the hot dog stand which location, Long Island or Texas, would have a generally more positive reputation in this town.  They quietly giggled at me and told me “Texas wins”.

I’ve always had a strong interest in road networks.  I’ve actually memorized the routes of many interstate and U.S. highways.  People will often open up a map, name two roads, and see if I can guess where those two roads intersect.  I don’t have perfect memory, like that zip code guy that used to hang out in downtown Boulder.  But, knowing my road network, I knew getting to Interstate 81, in Central Square, NY, directly north of Syracuse, felt like a milestone to me. It meant that I was roughly halfway across the state.

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When I was 12 years old, about a year after my family moved from New York to Chicago, I made this mental connection between people talking about “going upstate” back in New York, and people from the Chicago area heading to Wisconsin.  While there are plenty of parallels, the analogy was undoubtedly an oversimplification.  After crossing I-81, I recalled that I was now within a several hour drive of New York City.  Before even hitting the Adirondacks, I saw tons of amazing places in this part of New York.

I was also fortunate to get to ride on some quieter roads. We took Moose River Road northeast out of Booneville to connect to state highway 28, which would lead to our evening’s destination: Old Forge.

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This was one of my favorite parts of today’s ride; 17 quiet miles through dense forests, going over periodic hills and passing by groups of vacation homes tucked away in the woods.  It feels like the kind of place where a lot of happy things happen.  It made me think of people having their weekend away from the crowds.  It made me think of sixth graders at their family vacation home having their first kiss down by the lake.  It made me think of people actually talking to one another as opposed to staring at phones, tablets, and other devices.

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The final ten miles of my ride were along highway 28.  This was kind of the opposite experience.  It was not quiet at all.  But, like many of the roads I had been biking on throughout the state of New York, it had a wide shoulder for biking.  Additionally, it had periodic signs labeling the road as a bike route.  I also saw some wild turkey- not too exotic, but something I do not see on a day-to-day basis.

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I arrived in Old Forge just before sundown.  We stayed at a hotel called Water’s Edge Inn, which, as its name suggests is next to a lake.

We sat by the lake, watching nightfall gradually creep up on us, reflecting on the experiences of the day.  I had now ridden my bike over 100 miles two days in row for the first time ever.  We were covering quite a lot of ground, but I had started wishing I could spend a little more time in some of these places, particularly Old Forge, a town with a lot of activities and natural scenery, and a town I would barely be in for 12 hours, 7 of which would be sleeping.  Still, I was enjoying myself, and finally broadening my view of what this entity known as New York really is; beyond the City and Long Island where I spent my childhood.