Tag Archives: Cycling

Ride the Rockies Day 5: The Optional Day Around Ridgeway

Day 5 was optional, and when I first signed up for this ride, I was convinced I was going to take the day off. The ride in its entirety is very challenging. The final day is possibly the most challenging and the most iconic of the ride, along Million Dollar Highway from Ridgeway to Durango. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a day off and feel well rested. Plenty of people did chose to rest that day, as evidenced by conversations I had with other participants and the number of people I saw out at the brewery the previous evening.

When it came time to decide my instinct told me not to take the full day off. I decided to ride on day 5, but to skip the part of the ride I had already ridden on day 4, up Dallas Divide.

I also determined that, since I was staying in Ouray, I could make day 6 a little easier by riding the first 12 miles of that challenging 85 mile day after looping back to Ridgeway. I’d still get to see all the places included in the ride.

By the fifth day I began to notice…

  1. Regardless of the circumstance I always woke up around 5:45. On a “normal” weekday I sometimes struggle to get myself out of bed before 7! This was likely because I was getting exercise and sunlight, but could have also been related to the anticipation of each day’s ride.
  2. I also got in the habit of watching the morning news in the various hotel rooms I stayed in.

Since I was busy most days cycling, with my hands on my handlebars, I was not checking the news on my phone (or a computer) throughout the day. Instead, I watched the news for half an hour or so every morning as I prepared for the day’s ride.

I realized that, with respect to how we consume the news, I had essentially reverted to the way things were three decades ago, when it was common to watch the news in the morning or the evening, but our exposure to the news was confined only to that half hour or hour each day. I determined that I liked it better. 99% of all news stories are not emergencies. They can wait until the end of the day or the following morning.

The ride started on a trail that connected Ridgeway with Ridgeway State Park, a place where a lot of people take part in water sports.

The 17-mile descent went quite fast and before I knew it I was in the tiny town of Colona.

The second half of the loop pretty much embodied what Ride the Rockies is really all about. It was a challenging 2,000 foot (600 m) climb on a dirt road, but, the challenge ended up being worth it!

I spent some time in Ridgeway before tackling the final 12 miles of my day.

It was good to have a nice meal and then relax by the pool for a while.

I was concerned about the heat, which was starting to build in Ridgeway, but luckily was able to take advantage of some clouds that had built in the middle of the afternoon to take on the ride from Ridgeway to Ouray.

From the standpoint of off-roading, this was quite possibly the most challenging part of the ride. Here, highway 550 is fairly heavily trafficked and has no shoulder. The official ride follows parallel gravel roads that were a bit tough for me on the cyclocross bike I ride.

I did not love all these rocks

In Ouray, I got more time to relax, as the total ride for the day was still less than 50 miles.

I soaked my legs in the cold water of the Uncompaghre River.

And had a nice meal at the Outlaw Saloon, where I got to meet the man who plays all those old west sounding tunes on the piano.

This piano player makes a living playing old west style tunes at bars in both Ouray and Silverton (both towns with an old west vibe). I loved hearing his story!

Sometimes it feels like everywhere I go I see people that feel trapped in jobs they don’t like and are not passionate about. Some combination of fear and the need for security keeps them there. For the unfortunate ones who end up working long hours and enduring a lot of stress, it does not feel like much of a life, regardless of how much money they are making. Whenever I hear about people who decided to do what they love to do and actually find a way to make it work, I feel happy and encouraged.

The day ended with a gaze to the north and a reminder of the challenge that lied ahead on the following day.

Just looking around town in all directions, it feels like the hardest place in the world to bike. There is no easy way in or out!

Ride the Rockies Day 4: Telluride to Ridgeway

It was after the challenging third day of the ride that my legs started to feel like bricks. On one hand, I felt somewhat relieved that the day 4 ride was only 40 miles with only one climb, up Dallas Divide. However, as I ate my breakfast, casually in Telluride (as the shorter ride meant I was in no hurry), my legs certainly felt like they would rather just sit.

It always feels strange to me to begin a day with a downhill. After the four mile spur out of Telluride, the highway turned downhill for nearly 20 miles.

A good portion of the ride traversed through areas with red rocks, something that always seems to appear and disappear somewhat haphazardly whenever traveling around western North America.

Turning up highway 62 meant, once again, pedaling uphill, exactly the opposite of what my body had been desiring to do.

As is typically the case on multi-day trips, after a few miles of pedaling, I felt way better than I thought I would. That heavy brick-like feeling in my legs kind of melted away as my body adjusted to the fact that it was once again being asked to pedal up a hill.

The ride to the top of Dallas Divide turned out to be more than worth it.

For some reason, it was on this day I also decided to become obsessed with the tradition of holding up my bicycle.

This also turned out to be one of the most scenic parts of the ride – a reward for the multi-day effort.

The instinct to give my body a rest when my legs felt like bricks could not have been more wrong! Luckily, I knew all along not to think about things from the narrow, or short-term, perspective of only considering the exhaustion I was feeling at the time. Sometimes what we think we want in the moment is not the path to get us to what we really want.

The instinct to pursue the momentary, fleeting desire seems to be heavily impacting some areas of our culture today. Many people at some point in their lives have had the unfortunate experiencing of feeling like part of an “out group”, whether it be not fitting in with the popular group in school or feeling like some part of their identity is rejected by mainstream societal standards. The answer to all of these situations is for each person to assert their individuality. Then, as a whole, we become more comfortable with what is different and more accepting of people who look, act, and orient their lives in a manner that is not what we are accustomed to seeing.

Like the instinct to stop riding after an exhausting day, feeling left out leads to the instinct to satisfy the immediate need to feel validation and belonging. This often leads people to look for a new group identity rather than assert their individual one. As would have been the case had I gave into my immediate instinct and skipped this ride, focusing on the immediate needs filled by establishing a new group identity does not lead to the most favorable outcome. It either leads to just switching who the “in” and “out” groups are (not getting to the root of the problem) or more mental energy spent lamenting about being in the “out” group.

For reasons I do not understand, this is the portion of the ride where things started to get emotional.

I arrived at the second, and final, aid station of the day, with pretty much the same mountain scenery in the background. A van was playing music, first Rocky Mountain High, then more recent songs like Party in the USA came on. These particular songs probably would not have made me emotional had it not been for the fact that I had not listened to too much music on the first few days of the ride.

The thoughts about the current state of the world and how to make the best choices for long-term satisfaction suddenly shifted to more spiritual thoughts. Phrases including “love in infinite” and “there is enough compassion for everyone” popped into my head and lingered. Descending 2,000 feet (600 m) from Dallas Divide to Ridgeway I felt prepared to embrace every other human being I encountered, regardless of their flaws.

It was the easiest day of the trip, but the consequence of a mostly downhill day is a return to the heat.

With the campgrounds in a hot dusty fairgrounds where some participants needed to go down to the river to get away from their overheated tents, I was more than happy to have opted to pay for the hotel package, even if it meant taking a shuttle to Ouray.

Ride the Rockies Day 3: Cortez to Telluride

When I signed up for this ride, it was the third and the sixth (and last) days that intimidated me. The first two days were both about 70 miles (115 km) with about 3,600 feet (1100 m) of climbing. These would not be considered “easy” or even “moderate” cycling days by any stretch of the imagination. However, they still pale in comparison to these more challenging days. The official ride for day 3 was 102 miles (164 km) with 6,500 feet (2 km) of climbing. The first 62 miles (100 km) were a fairly steady climb from Cortez to the top of Lizard Head Pass!

The first 20 miles, from Cortez to a small town called Dolores were pretty similiar to the first two days.

It was after passing through Dolores that, for the first time in this ride I truly felt like I was in the mountains. The ride followed up the Dolores River into a canyon that felt far more reminiscent of my many other Rocky Mountain experiences.

The further I went, the more amazing the scene in front of me got!

I was genuinely in a canyon, once again encountering random buildings and imagining what life would be like living in a house like this.

Only this time, I was not focused on the fact that these people lived so far from the nearest town. I was focused on the scenery. Does a person who was born in a place like this understand how spectacular the place the live is? Or is it just all they know? Or, do they think the grass is greener on the other side and stare at images of skyscrapers and other big buildings in their spare time?

A little over halfway through the climb, along with many of the other ride participants, I stopped to get Ice Cream.

This Priest Gulch Campground quite possibly gave me the best deal on ice cream I could imagine. For $2.50 I got a vanilla swirl that went pretty much as high as any vanilla swirl could go. I was almost worried I had consumed too much!

With the level of challenge on a day like this, it is hard not to pay attention to the little things that may make the ride easier or harder, even if they occur on a very small scale. Would this ride have been more or less challenging had I done it alone? On one hand, when riding with a group of people, there is often the opportunity to “draft”. This is when you ride behind someone going the same speed as you, letting them push against the wind. It makes the ride easier for those in the back of the pack. This is how cycling teams work.

However, on this day, there were a few incidences where one of the teams would be passing by me on the left while I quickly caught up to a slower or stopping rider in front of me. On several occasions I had to hit the breaks, which is always heartbreaking on days that feel like they will require nearly all the energy you have.

However, I would still say, overall, the big group is an advantage.

It was also after this ice cream stop that the tall peaks began to appear on the horizon.

After two days of hot lower elevation riding, I felt like I had entered a different ecosystem.

Two things I was not impressed with on this ride were…

  1. Serendipity Catering: The morning of the third and first extremely challenging day of the ride, I arrived at headquarters for breakfast at 5:45 A.M. only to find out that the catering service the ride had hired had essentially flaked on providing breakfast that morning. At the time, the organizers were unsure if they would return. As far as I knew, they didn’t return and I still do not know what happened.
  2. The town of Rico: I arrived at the aid station in Rico a little bit before noon, 50 miles into the ride. I had hoped to grab a quick bite to eat at one of the local shops only to be told the power was out in the entire town. I guess this is one town I will never explore.

The final ten miles of climbing were kind of a mix between flatter sections and sections that were really intense.

But the top of Lizard Head Pass was amazing!!!

I had worked hard all morning, pedaling from 6,100 feet (1.85 km) to 10,200 feet (3.1 km) in elevation. That hard work made this unbelievably beautiful setting in front of me so much more sweet!

As an added bonus, I finally got to eat lunch, although I did have to wait in a pretty lengthy line to get it.

I did not follow the official route all the way into Norwood. Instead, I rode right into Telluride to my hotel. This ride started with a descent from the top of Lizard Head Pass.

Required another climb.

And then a descent into town.

Despite having lived in Colorado for nearly nine years, this was my first time in Telluride, a town with a unique flavor.

Many other riders had done more miles and gone faster than me. If I had to guess, I would say 70-75% of the participants had done “better” than me that day. But, for many, rides like these are not about competing against each other, they are about the experience. At the end of the day, I was still quite happy having completed the first of two extremely intimidating days. This ride is special. Being barely in the third quartile of ride participants here still likely puts me in the top 2-3% of the population as a whole when it comes to cycling. But, for me, it is not about feeling better than anyone else. It is about getting to the top of that mountain pass under my own power and experiencing the world from the seat of a bicycle rather than behind the glass of an automobile or airplane.

Ride the Rockies Day 2: Durango to Cortez

Day 2 would be a day of adjustments and surprises. The day started with a pretty significant hill climb.

Continuing the theme from day 1, much of this ride went through some very unpopulated areas. The only thing I remember about the towns of Breen and Klein were a fairly long descent and an aid station in a high school parking lot. This was followed by a gradual 17-mile climb on a dirt road.

I was somewhat confused as to why this ride incorporated some dirt road sections. Van supported rides tend to attract a lot of riders who like to ride fast. Apparently, cycling on dirt is a trend of some sorts. As someone who likes to determine for myself what to do, listen to and wear, trends have never interested me too much. However, I can see the appeal in some ways. On the transition from pavement to dirt, one cyclist announced that he was glad to finally be in a place where there would be little vehicular traffic and that he had become tired of riding on highways. I had felt the roads we were riding on were plenty quiet, but I have always lived in and around cities and know that experience is informing my perspective

Along this dirt road local ranchers came out to give us lemonade!

After talking briefly with the ranchers, I found myself wondering what life was like in a place like this. They are six miles from any paved road, ten miles from the nearest town, and thirty miles from Durango, the closest town of significant size. It must be so much different than anything I have ever known.

I feel bad because in the past I had cast judgement on life in rural areas as boring. Other metropolitan people can be harsher. While this is not likely the life I would prefer, we should all have the option to have the life we want. Being able to accept people having different preferences without feeling insecure about it is a sign of maturity.

Travel opens our minds to new perspectives. It makes us realize that the way we do things is not the only way. It gives us things to think about. Maybe these ranchers in the middle of nowhere have happier lives. Maybe they have better communities. Maybe, in a place like this, it is much easier to just enjoy activities like having a friendly conversation, reading a book or watching a movie without always worrying about what else is going on.

As the ride continued uphill on this dirt road, I found myself continuing to adjust to my surroundings. It grew hot and the next aid station had very little shade.

The people I was riding with represented a different type of crowd than the ones I typical find myself in. Mostly veterans of cycling trips of this type, many of them are accustomed to having better aid stations. I heard some grumbling.

Also, the crowd was significantly older than I had expected for a ride this intense. At this aid station, my first instinct was to joke that the aid station “throws as much shade as an episode of Mr. Rodgers.” I stopped as I suddenly realized that this joke would only appeal to a very narrow age range of people old enough to remember the children’s show that ended just after the turn of the century but young enough to appreciate the comparison between the literal and slang definition of the phrase “throwing shade”. The joke would not have landed.

After the dirt road segment, the route turned onto U.S. highway 160, an extremely busy road for a two mile intense climb to the top of Mancos Hill. This road was busy with both cyclists and cars!

Getting to the top was a little scary, as cyclists were commonly passing one another, requiring them to get closer to the vehicular traffic. Maybe the guy who was excited about the dirt road section had a point! He must have been less than thrilled on this part of the ride.

Somewhere on this climb, my body started hurting. Generally speaking, our lives in the early 21st century are quite sedentary. Most of our jobs involve sitting in front of a computer all day. In their spare time, many people chose to watch TV, read, or spend it in front of a different computer! Going from this to riding 70 miles a day on a bicycle is a transition for our bodies which is going to cause some pain. Whenever on a multi-day trip where the pain sets in I can’t help but lament how sedentary our lives are and how many people chose lives that are far more sedentary than mine.

We descended into Mancos, a town I had visited and stayed at years ago to visit Mesa Verde National Park.

I’d get a chance to visit the local bakery which had a message I could not help but get behind.

Mancos is the perfect kind of town for cycling trips to pass through. It’s big enough to have interesting places to stop but doesn’t slow the ride down too much.

While I was eating my sandwich, it got even hotter! We rode right by Mesa Verde National Park along highway 160.

The combination of prolonged physical exertion with hot, dry and windy conditions lead to salt slipping into my eyes. I was having some trouble seeing until luckily I was able to stop and get sprayed in the face with a hose.

By the time I arrived in Cortez it was 96°F (36°C).

The ride ended with burgers and music in a park where we all stayed in the shade.

Ride The Rockies Day 1: The Durango Loop

When I first got interested in cycling long distances I would never have imagined something like this existed. I thought it was too obscure of an interest. In High School, I recall enjoying using a very basic bicycle to go to friends houses, stores, restaurants and movie theaters. Then I thought it would be neat to travel from town to town by bicycle, go further and visit interesting places. As a map enthusiast, I was motivated by looking at a map and seeing the distance I could cover by bicycle.

Now, I find myself in an organized bike ride with over 2,000 other cyclists.

They talk about the same things. Places they had traveled by bicycle. Which “climbs” are the most challenging. Experiences like foul weather and flat tires, the kinds of things only people who have traveled by bicycle can relate to.

Unlike any other bike tour I had been on, this one was organized. Each day had an official start and end point. Aid stations were set up to provide cyclists with food, water and restrooms. Routes were planned and signed and there was a headquarters in each town where the rides began and ended every day.

The six day ride would also be the biggest challenge I had ever taken on when it comes to cycling. The official route was 418 miles with over 28,000 feet of climbing. However, there were many options along the route for people to shorten their ride. Day 5 was completely optional.

One thing I realized about cycling a long time ago is that it is a very individualized activity. Everyone rides at their own pace and has their own style. Some are in it for the speed, to achieve the fastest time possible. Others are more about the scenery and the experience. Some prefer to take frequent breaks, while others are more slow and steady.

Throughout the week, I would regularly encounter cyclists that I would pass on the highway repeatedly, as I would move at a faster pace but stop more frequently to take photos or just get my butt off the seat for a while. I also tend to be faster going downhill but am a slow climber. I encountered some cyclists that would pass me going uphill but I would pass on the descent.

Events like these cater to each person’s individual styles. There is no one start and finish time. There is a range of times. Even then, many cyclists leave outside that range. On day 1, the “rolling start” was from 7 to 9 A.M. Yet, probably due to the anticipated heat, I saw many cyclists leave before 7. Before the ride I signed up for “waves”, indicating my departure time each day. I forgot what “waves” I had signed up for and it did not seem to matter too much. I just left when I was ready.

Riding in the Rocky Mountains is challenging because you are pretty much always either going up or down a hill.

The hills on day 1 were relatively gentle. It took me 18 miles to get to my first climb. This part of the ride entered the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, and at about the halfway point I found myself in the tiny town of Ignacio.

The roads here were nice and it was interesting to encounter far more bicycles than cars for pretty much the entire route.

The town of Bayfield, where we left the Southern Ute land was also quite small. It was here I realized that these large cycling events have different implications than the self organized cycling I typically do. When biking alone or with a few other people, it’s advantageous to find towns with amenities like gas stations and restaurants to stay fed and hydrated. On this tour, the organized ride just needed to set up aid stations in large parking lots. It changes the dynamics and potentially alters which routes are possible and which places can be explored.

After Bayfield there was a climb that got intense for a brief period.

Still, on this day I did not feel as if I was in the thick of the Rocky Mountains. It felt more like rolling hills with the mountains off on the distant horizon.

The day ended with a major descent back into Durango and some pretty uncomfortable heat.

I ended the day feeling decent, but knowing that the hardest parts were still to come.

Peak to Peak Highway: The Perfect June Colorado Bike Ride

I started this ride just after 8 A.M. in Estes Park, Colorado, a town that has become so overrun with tourists due to Rocky Mountain National Park that they are now having visitors park at the visitor center and take a shuttle bus into town.

The town itself is surrounded by mountains still snow packed in the early part of June. Perhaps this residual snow at the highest peaks in the area is the reason this entire area would be less crowded than I had feared, and less crowded than it gets in July and August.

The first 8 miles of this 60 mile ride climb about 1700 feet (520 m), skirting by the Eastern and Southeastern edges of Rocky Mountain National Park.

There are even a couple entrance points to the park along the highway!

I liked the initial climb as a way to acclimate myself to the challenging ride and pace myself properly.

The ride as a whole does not have any flat sections. Some climbs and descents are long and others are short, but it’s always either up or down hill. The next part was mostly downhill, rolling through Allenspark and by one of the fastest sections of the highway (where I’d hit my top speed).

One of the things that makes this ride so close to perfect is the bicycle accommodations. With the exception of the first 8 mile climb out of Estes Park and another section of about 5 miles after Nederland, most of the highway has a shoulder so wide cyclists do not need to worry too much about interacting with traffic.

It is almost impossible to overstate how much this added to my enjoyment of this ride.

The entire ride is scenic in all directions. However, there are times when it is important to take a look back. The ride can be completed in either direction, from Estes to Blackhawk as I did or from Blackhawk to Estes. I decided to ride southbound, from Estes Park to Blackhawk to avoid afternoon crowds in Estes.

However, taking the ride in this direction did cause me to almost miss out on what turned out to be the best scenic overlook of the ride. Luckily, I stopped at the top of one of the many hills on the ride, this one about 20 miles in.

And decided to look back in the other direction, where those traveling in the northbound direction would be starting their approach towards Estes Park.

About 10 miles later and after another big hill climb, I would arrive at a tiny town called Ward.

It reminded me of a phrase I used to hear about smaller towns on road trips growing up, “You blink and you’ll miss it.” I remember sometimes being intrigued enough by such towns that I would follow along on the map and anticipate looking out the window at towns like these to avoid missing out on the momentary opportunity to see them. When traveling by bicycle, there is no danger of missing towns because I was reading, looking at my phone, or drifting off in thought.

The next ten miles would be a series of rapid descents into the town of Nederland.

Having been to Nederland before, I expected to find crowds. There were people out and about, but perhaps because some of the trails were not yet opened up due to snowpack, it was significantly less crowded than I had expected. One other advantage to riding this highway from North to South is that I arrived in Nederland, the best place to take a break for lunch, a little bit after noon with 2/3 of the ride behind me.

Then would come the next most challenging climb (after the first 8 miles) and the only other section of road without a shoulder.

The open road returned alongside a series of hill climbs interrupted by short descents.

Throughout the ride I was hardly thinking of anything else besides what was in front of me. It reminded me of the state of flow so many people have been talking about during these somewhat psychologically challenging times. Most people enter this state of flow when they understand the task at hand, are sufficiently challenged, have sufficient autonomy and avoid distractions. Flow is said to accelerate both progress and satisfaction and the quest to reach the state of flow is an important component in many coaching services.

There I was, rolling up more hills until I finally reached the top of my final ascent.

Before I knew it I was flying down the final five miles into Blackhawk completing the ride.

After everything annoying about the past year or so, I have been working hard to clear as much negativity from my mind as possible. Apparently, I am not alone, as studies show 80 percent of all thought are negative. Even on a couple of my more recent bike rides, I struggled to avoid negative thoughts. I found my mind drifting towards conflicts with people, frustrations with recent events and the state of the world and such. It amazed me that on this day none of these thoughts entered my mind. I was present. I did not even come out of this ride with some sort of lesson. Those realizations would come days later. Maybe this turned into some kind of five hour long meditation session in nature. Either way I wish to have more experiences like this one.

Cycling up Mountains in a Storm

Loveland Pass on Sunday May 23, 2021

Colorado can be a pretty confusing and frustrating place in the Springtime. In most mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere places, Spring is a time of revival. It is the time of year where people who had mostly been indoors and inactive during the winter return to life. Here in Colorado, Springtime is a period of major weather fluctuations. In Denver, March and April are often the snowiest months. It can even snow in May. Sometimes it feels like we go from tracking the weather for snow to 90 degree heat with barely a week or two in-between.

Credit Channel 7 Denver

At higher elevations it snows quite a bit during springtime (Leadville is 10,200 feet (3.1km) above sea level), even as the snow melts into mud on most trails. It is probably the most inactive time of year in the mountains.

Image from Weather Atlas

Springtime in Colorado requires a combination of planning, adjustment and resiliency. The weekend of May 22nd and 23rd would test my resiliency because I kind of dropped the ball on planning.

On Saturday, I climbed Lookout Mountain, a ride in Golden, Colorado that climbs from 5500 feet (1675m) to 7300 feet (2200 m).

The day was somewhat stormy but also quite active. Paragliders took off from Lookout Mountain, flying over the town.

And the road was packed with cyclists. Only about 20 miles (32 km) from Denver, this is a very popular ride!

After noon, with even more paragliders taking off from the mountain, I encountered the storm.

Some cyclists chose to wait out the rain by finding a building to stand next to. I raced back home, into a fairly significant wind down the hill.

The next day, I went up to Loveland Pass to climb another mountain, this one at a much higher elevation. My ride began at the parking lot of Loveland Ski Area, which sits at around 10,600 feet (3230 m). I could already see that the storms had returned.

As is the case with going upwards in elevation, the weather was much colder, probably only around 45°F (7°C) at the start of the ride. From the very beginning, the ride felt like it was taking place in a different season.

Much of the ground was still covered with snow. Unlike on Lookout Mountain, I was the only one on a bicycle on the road up to Loveland Pass that day. The only other people I encountered were backcountry skiing. One joking asked me for a ride to the top of the pass on my handlebars.

Higher up the mountain, I suddenly found myself doing something I typically try to avoid, riding in the snow. It became scary as it was obvious that slippery conditions existed.

Near the top visibility continued to decline.

Finally, just to be true to the cycling community I belong to, I took a photo holding up my bike in front of the sign that indicated I had reached the top of the pass at just shy of 12,000 feet (3650 m).

There I stood, the only cyclist, almost out of place, like I was suddenly in the wrong season. It reminded me of how often we forget that different people in different places are often having quite different experiences. Two months ago, towards the end of March, while most places in North America were seeing people emerge from their winter dormancy and return to life, life in the Central Rockies was slowing down as the ski season was coming to an end. Now, there could not be more contrast all around me.

As the United States has mostly put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, countries with slower vaccine rollouts are dealing with some pretty bad case numbers associated with newer, more rapidly spreading, variants of the disease. This sits in sharp contrast to last summer, when other more prepared countries had much greater success in containing the virus through behavioral measures than we had. Heck, even the period of time westerners refer to as the “dark ages“, were not a dark time for everybody. The Tang Dynasty was remembered as a golden age for China. It was also a time of great advancement in the Islamic world. Finding myself on my bike in the snow in the second half of May reminded of the benefit of understanding that not everyone and not every place is having the same experience.

The Prescott-Skull Valley Loop

This 54 mile loop is a common ride for road bikers in Prescott. It is even an annual event. The official ride starts and ends in Prescott, which is called Arizona’s “Mile High City”. It’s official elevation is just over a mile at 5367 feet (1636 m). The official ride starts with a short climb and then a major descent into Skull Valley, whose elevation is closer to 4000 feet (1200 m). Then, the larger climb back towards Prescott is in the second half of the ride I, however, decided to start my ride at the ride’s low point, in a town even smaller, called Kirkland (not to be confused with the Costco brand).

From this side, the ride starts out with a relatively shallow grade up into Skull Valley.

Skull Valley is also quite tiny, feeling mostly like a randomly placed trading post along an old western trail. It is also where the climb starts to get intense.

There was a total of 20 miles of climbing along county highway 10. The road felt quite accommodating the entire time. There were not too many cars and with the exception of a couple of bridges, there is plenty of shoulder space.

Unsurprisingly, the other bicyclists I encountered were traveling in the opposite direction, the official direction of the ride.

The road reaches it’s summit at a place called Iron Springs Pass.

And then descends into the town of Prescott.

This was the other advantage I saw in parking in Kirkland and riding the loop in this direction. Not only does it feel better to do most of the climbing earlier, but it was great to stop in Prescott in the middle of the day and hang around the courthouse in the center of the city.

There were a lot of people out and about on a mid-April Friday and there seemed to be an interesting natural feature in the background in every direction I looked. As was the case in many other places I had explored in Arizona on this trip, there were definitely signs that a lot of ex-Chicagoans had settled there. I even had a true Chicago style hot dog.

The trip back into the valley follows state highway 89 through Prescott National Forest.

There was one last hill climb, of a little under 1,000 ft. (300 m). It was the last climb of the last ride of my weeklong trip down to Arizona.

There was still about 15 miles left in the ride, but it was all downhill. On rides like these, it is quite common for a feeling of accomplishment to set in around this point. The last true challenge was done. This rapid paced downhill part, with much of the same natural beauty of the climb earlier in the day, felt like a victory lap of sorts.

I could gaze out upon the mountains in all directions feeling like I was doing exactly what I had came out here to do.

Whenever taking on any kind of challenge, anything that requires doing things that are hard, that require effort and getting out of our comfort zone, a common question is why. This is a question we are asked by others but also ask ourselves.

On both the uphill and downhill portions of the Prescott-Skull Valley loop, my why once again became quite clear as this was the exact type of bike ride so many of us work towards. It is the feeling of using my own power to traverse beautiful mountainous terrain while feeling the air in my face and smelling what is around me. The immersion in these surroundings cannot be replicated inside an automobile. The experience also becomes far more special when one has the capacity to enjoy it rather than focus single-handedly on the pain they are enduring just to make it up these big hills. Rides like these are a reminder of how we “level up”.

And then, inevitably, we enjoy the rewards the come with it.

The Cycling Trails of Metro Phoenix

People tend to think of Phoenix as a sun-belt car centric city, and for the most part they are correct. While Arizona ranks fairly low in terms of miles driven per capita, biking and public transit are not widely used in the Phoenix area. As is the case in other sun belt places like Southern California and Texas, driving is the default way to get from point A to point B. However, this does not mean that the region has no bike trails, nor does it mean that the area cannot be explored by bicycle.

Maricopa County Bike Map

The bike trails are quite nice and not crowded at all. My visit to Phoenix came at probably the best time of year to bike around the city, in the middle of April, and I was commonly the only one on the trail.

There are also a good number of trails, all connecting most parts of Phoenix and the nearby suburbs.

The crown jewel of the trail system is the Arizona Canal Path, a trail nearly 70 miles in length connecting places as far apart as Glendale and Scottsdale.

The trail has a very unique feel. The canal is obviously not natural. Nothing about it feels free flowing like the rivers and creeks I am accustomed to seeing elsewhere. It was constructed in the late 19th century kind of as the towns around Phoenix were being settled and incorporated. They needed the water and the means to transport goods, which was then far more dependent on water then. Later, they built Arizona Falls to harness some power from the canal.

Still, none of this is what I typically envision when I think of riding a bicycle along a river and seeing a waterfall.

However, the ride is not without natural beauty. Mountains, cactus and palm tress emerge around every curve.

It’s such an interesting feeling. Little mini-mountains in the middle of a city with over 1.5 Million People. Natural beauty around every curve, but every curve was planned carefully by engineers. Some of us are so accustomed to thinking of natural experiences as being separate from human development. This is especially the case in places like New York and Chicago where our homes are surrounded by development but we travel a few hours to be away from that development in nature. However, here on all of the Phoenix area bike trails, there is both, right there in front of my eyes.

Along these trails, it is possible to visit a lot of the area attractions. From the kinds of places you’ll see in almost every major city.

To spring training facilities for baseball and softball alike.

To the college and professional sports stadiums.

While exploring, you also never know what kind of random attractions you’ll encounter. Right in the middle of town there is a castle, and just east of town there is this hole in a rock people like to hike into.

I even got to see Central Station under construction and the one light rail line downtown.

I also learned one other important lesson, the difference between cycling long distances in a semi-arid area like Denver and a full-blown desert like Phoenix.

Usa Map Of Köppen Climate Classification - 2018 Iecc Climate Zone Map -  Free Transparent PNG Download - PNGkey

In this part of Arizona, it was hard to drink enough water without even doing anything that involves physical exertion. Spending the whole day riding my bicycle felt like a constant search for water. I guess I now understand why the bike trails are empty and why they follow a series of waterways built to bring water into the area. It even facilitates some agriculture surprisingly close to the city center.

Still, there is nothing like the feeling of visiting so many tourist attractions traveling by bicycle on a day with sunshine and temperatures in the 80s (26-32° C).

Mingus Mountain: A 3500 foot climb in Arizona

A view of Mingus Mountain from the edge of Clarkdale, Arizona

My day did not start out well. It may have been poorly planned. To train for Ride The Rockies 2021, a very challenging organized bike ride in mid-June, I decided to travel to Arizona in April where the weather would be more hospitable for mountainous bike rides. I looked at lists of Arizona’s top bike rides and determined that Mingus Mountain should be on my itinerary. However, upon looking at the specifics of the Mingus Mountain loop, I decided to shy away from a ride that would involve cycling on the interstate.

Instead, I came up with a plan that turned out to be unrealistic. I would park in Prescott and bike from Prescott to Sedona (and then back). I figured I wanted to push myself, and this long ride would enable me to see all of Central Arizona’s top spots in one day! I would start the day at beautiful Watson Lake.

Almost immediately I encountered problems. Highway 89-A is busy, and in parts of Prescott it is a limited access road much like an interstate highway. The alternate road I planned to bike on turned out to be closed.

Determined to find a way to continue with my original plan, I spent about an hour pedaling through neighborhoods under construction only to continuously be re-routed by dead ends and roads that were either closed or still in the process of being built. I ended up in a spot where the only reasonable course of action would be to follow an unpaved trail back to my vehicle.

First, i figured I would just drive around 15 miles down the highway, find a place to park and continue on my path. However, the road continued to be heavily trafficked without a shoulder to accommodate bicycles.

Also, this parking spot that I had just imagined to exist never actually materialized. Before I knew it, I was driving over Mingus Mountain.

So, I figured I would drive to Sedona and pedal up the mountain from the East side. Then, I encountered Clarkdale and Cottonwood. Riding through these towns, would have involved five or six miles, both ways, of riding on suburban feeling sidewalks.

My “plan” was never a good one. It involved too many assumptions about things I failed to fully research, including parking, bicycle accommodations, etc. Doing this due diligence is a lesson I had learned but somehow forgotten during the pandemic. How frequently lessons have to be re-learned can be one of the most frustrating occurrences in life. A “re-lapse” is not just a drug addict that starts using again. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people who had improved things like their habits and mindset to slip back into their old patterns that were not serving them well.

I was fortunate enough to find a tourist information center.

Where I was told I could park at the gas station on the far West end of town to ride my bike up Mingus Mountain.

The ride itself is beautiful right from the start, and, although I had a delay I was doing exactly what I had come to Arizona to do, ride my bike up big hills in nice weather.

Clarkdale sits at only 3545 feet (1080 m) in elevation. So, it is already a significant climb just to get to the ghost town of Jerome.

Jerome is a unique spot! Like many ghost towns of the West, it boomed in the late 19th Century due to mining (copper) and then went bust.

However, unlike other ghost towns, it is now a popular tourist destination with a lot of visitors.

Evidence of its past, as a lawless “old west” town can be seen everywhere.

Sitting on the side of a cliff, it also takes on the feel of a Mediterranean town.

Pedaling uphill through Jerome ended up being one of the hardest parts of the entire climb!

A scenic overlook a half a mile up the road from Jerome

Above Jerome the climb continued to be intense, but the amount of cars drops off significantly making for a quieter ride.

One thing I would grow to love about Arizona’s highway system throughout the week was their elevation signs. Their highways commonly have signs denoting the 1000 foot increments in elevation, providing a fantastic reference point!

The highest 1000 feet (300 m) of the climb was stunning. The panoramic views provided an almost instant reward for level of muscle exhaustion I was experiencing.

This is perhaps why I love cycling so much. When it comes to physical exercise, it is quite rare to be so immersed in the core motivating factor for the hard work, exhaustion and pain. Typically during workouts people remind themselves they are building endurance, improving their health, losing weight, etc. to keep their motivation. Here in the mountains on my bicycle, all I needed to do was continue to look all around me, feel and smell the fresh air and I knew exactly why I was willing to endure so much.

It is always exciting to reach the top of a climb. Seeing the signs and the road turn downwards for the first time in over an hour is a sweet feeling that one must experience to truly understand.

It is a great place to rest and enjoy the beauty of the place I had worked so hard to get to.

As is the case with all other components of our lives, it is crucial to savor moments like these, enjoy them while they are happening. It would have been a huge disservice to myself, as well as the natural environment around me to dwell on my prior setbacks. After all, the world is in a constant state of flux. We never know what experiences will no longer be available to return to.

Yes, that day I actually saw the forest rangers update the fire risk to high on the grounds that the humidity was 8%.