Let’s Ride!

ImageWith the encouragement of several friends, I have decided to start a blog. I do a lot of bicycling, and I think my friends are getting tired of my lengthy Facebook posts about bikes, so I’m going to put stuff out in the blogosphere.

Most of my cycling is commuting these days. I ride 6 miles each way from my home in East Windsor, NJ to the Princeton Junction train station. I then stash my bike in its locker, change my clothes, and hop on a train for the ride to my office in Manhattan. In addition to commuting though, I do a fair amount of bicycle touring, fast rides (solo and group) and I especially enjoy sharing my love of the sport with my wife and three children.

I’ve been commuting by bike for about 15 years now. The ride has varied quite a bit. I used to live in Michigan, then Indiana, and moved around a bit in each place. My daily commute has ranged from about three blocks to close to 15 miles one way. I’ve always enjoyed riding year round, but I’ve been most consistent since moving to New Jersey in August of 2012.

I’m not entirely sure what this blog will contain, so we’ll enjoy this journey together. If there is anything in particular you’d like to read about, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

Brian

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Gear Notes

A few pieces of gear deserve mention from this tour. Most of what I used worked great and, of course, a few things didn’t perform as well as hoped.

A few years ago I purchased a nice little tent from LL Bean. I had seen this review from Backpacker Magazine for the 2 person version, caught a good sale, and assumed the 1 person model would be just as good.

https://www.backpacker.com/videos-photos/editors-choice-2012-l-l-bean-microlight-fs-2-tent

I’ve used the tent for a few trips now and, in general, it has been a trusty shelter for summer nice-weather camping. However, what I discovered on night two of this trip was that there are not enough guy points on the rain fly. It was quite breezy and cold that night, and there was no way to secure the fly closer to the ground and keep it taught such that the wind wouldn’t come up and under into the main shelter. I’ve camped in the rain with this tent and not had a problem, so the lack of guy points really is just an issue when the wind kicks up. I do, however, like the light weight of this tent, the features, quick and easy setup after a hard day of pedaling, etc.

My Garmin Explore 1000 was fantastic. Before purchasing it I read many review on the Edge 1000, Edge Touring and Touring Plus, and other models. I owned an Edge 705 for several years as well. The Explore 1000 was reliable and never steered me wrong, literally. Garmin has recently switched formats such that the .fit files are the most reliable for navigation. In preparing the route for this trip I created the entire route as one long loop on RideWithGPS.com and stored it as a .fit file in the device. For turn by turn navigation each day, I would simply tell it to ride that course, NOT to navigate to the beginning of it, and off I went. Additionally, I downloaded the digital files from the Adventure Cycling Association, so I had all the services stored as POIs in the device in case I needed them. I never did, but I did look a few times to make sure they were listed and the device could guide me there. Battery life was great. I turned off all extra features (Bluetooth, wifi, emergency alert) and lowered the screen brightness to conserve battery. The only “extra” that I turned on was the handy little remote that I attached to the inside of the right brake/shift lever. It was great to be able to switch screens without having to move my hands from the controls.

Here is the link to the route file on RideWithGPS: CO Overall

Especially fun on the Garmin is the ability to customize the fields on each screen. My “home” screen had elapsed time, speed, distance, elevation, and heading. My elevation screen had current speed and percent grade. The temperature function was also handy.

My MSR Whisperlite International deserves mention simply because of it’s long-term reliability. I’ve had this little guy for more than 20 years and it never fails. I keep looking for excuses to replace this with a fancier more modern stove but I just can’t justify it. It was easily the best $100 or so I ever invested on a piece of camping gear…back in about 1995.

After almost 10 years of solid service from my old Axiom panniers, I finally replaced them this summer with brand new Arkel Orca 35 bags. These things are rock-solid – the fabric is sturdy and waterproof, the mounting system is great, and they look really classy. I think the only drawback could be that they don’t have many pockets for organizing. It’s not a big deal, but it would have been helpful to have specific places for some specific items so I didn’t have to dig each day. I found myself essentially completely unpacking and repacking them each night. Not a big deal, but when you’re tired and/or you just want to get going it can mean a few extra minutes of work that could have been saved. Admittedly, I also just need a better system.

Okay, finally, the bike. This was the perfect route for this bike, and this bike was the perfect one for this route. A big factor in riding Old Fall River Road was that I knew I had the right equipment for it, namely the bike itself. Also most campgrounds have dirt access roads, and some of the bike paths and shoulders were unpaved.

For the most part it’s a stock 2018 Trek 920 “Adventure Touring” bike. See the specs on Trek’s website. The modifications I made included adding fenders, changing the saddle (Bontrager Racelite Ti), and a change of tires. The bike comes with 2.0″ mountain bike tires. Knowing that I would mostly be using this on the road, I had them swap out the stock rubber with Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 700 x 40c tires. These were GREAT both on the dirt and the pavement. They had enough tread for solid traction in the softer stuff and on the dirt road, but were also glued to the road when descending the paved mountain road at 30-40 mph. Also, no flats. I had zero mechanical issues with the bike, and loved the hydraulic disc brakes on those long descents.

For my fellow touring pals and gear enthusiasts, I hope these thoughts are helpful. I always enjoy reading other people’s experiences with gear as I make selections for future adventures. If you are in that camp and have any questions about these items or any other things that I didn’t mention, send me a message and I’ll be happy to share my thoughts.

~rm

Logistics and Shout Outs

One of the first questions that I had to answer for myself after selecting the location of this trip was what to do about the bike and gear. Rent from an outfitter? Try and borrow from a friend of a friend? Or send and bring my own stuff. Ultimately I decided on the latter.

I used a great service based in Portland, OR (where else, right?) called BikeFlights. It’s super easy. You put in the type of bike, schedule the pick ups and drop offs, and pay the fee. They send you the shipping labels right away via email. There are options for additional insurance and such as well.

Having worked in bike shops for many years, and in preparing for other trips, I’ve done my fair share of packing bikes for shipping. Confession: I hate it. So I contacted my friends at Jay’s Cycles in Princeton. Jay’s is the shop that helped me through the whole Harrah’s ordeal, and they put up with a lot of crap from the resort and their insurance companies. The Trek 920 that I used for this trip was the result of that settlement, and I purchased it from Jay’s. They agreed to pack and ship it, and have worked with BikeFlights before.

So then I had to pick a destination in Denver for my bike. Given that this is a fairly unique bike, I decided to simply go on Trek’s website and look for a Trek dealer in downtown Denver. Elevation Cycle’s was the first to pop up. I called them, and spoke with their manager Ryan. It turns out he has the same model of bike and does a lot of bike touring as well. We had a good chat on the phone and he was happy to schedule the assembly of the bike.

I took full advantage of Southwest Airline’s two free checked bag policy. One bag was my suitcase for the family vacation, the other was my large duffel with my bike gear.

Once in Denver I dropped my bags at the hotel and went right to the shop to pick up my bike. Ryan and the gang at Elevation Cycles was GREAT! We talked about bike touring, new bikes coming out, and my route and plans. It was so great to know that the folks in charge of getting my bike ready truly understood what the ride was going to be like and could take personal interest in it. They even let me store my suitcase there until the end of my bike tour.

Getting to and from the start point in Idaho Springs was not complicated. A friend of a friend picked me up in Denver and dropped me off for the start. For the return I took the “Bustang” bus back to downtown and got back just in time to drop off my bike for the return shipment.

I know my friends at Jay’s are expecting to see my bike in a week or so and will take great care in assembling it for me. We’ve had a great journey, and it’s wonderful to be living in a time that logistics like this are relatively easy!

~rm

The Final Day – More Epicness

After pulling myself out of my relatively warm tent and into the cold morning air, I broke camp and got ready as quickly as my freezing fingers would allow.

While I felt recovered from the previous two days, my legs were definitely feeling the accumulation of miles and climbing. It was another daunting start to the day. The first 12 miles would be one very long grind up to 11,300′ over Berthoud Pass. I wasn’t as nervous this time, but I head a healthy respect for the route and knew it was going to be a tough day.

So, time to head back into the “pain cave”! It was indeed long. It was grueling. Fortunately it was a pretty consistent 2-3% grade with occasional kicks to 5% or so. Nothing terribly steep. I took lots of breaks, especially above 10,000′, and made it to the top (without having to walk any of it!).

The descent, much like a couple days ago, was equally epic in different ways. Going downhill sounds easy. It is easy, on the legs anyway, but flying down a mountain at 40+ mph on a loaded bike is tricky business. I passed a few semis on the way down, saw a fox jump in front of a car in the oncoming lane (without incident – the fox did not get hit), and enjoyed giving my legs a break.

After the initial descent of about 16 miles (right?!?!) it leveled off for the rest of the ride. Note to folks who haven’t ridden in mountains: loss of elevation on an elevation profile does NOT equal riding downhill. It’s like riding a false flat. Very strange. You can see the road going downhill and the elevation readout is showing a loss, but it feels like riding uphill.

So the final 8 miles took me into my finishing town of Idaho Springs. They claim it’s where the Gold Rush began. Cute little town!

I had some lunch and waited for my bus to take me back to Denver.

What a day, what a trip! I have a couple more posts coming regarding logistics and gear. But I have to say thank you to my amazing wife for suggesting I do this. I’ve never done a tour of this magnitude and couldn’t have done it without her support and encouragement. When I set out, I wasn’t sure if I should thank her or if she was trying to kill me! But indeed this was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m grateful she encouraged me to do it!

~rm

Camping at Idlewild

This was the best campground of the trip by far. So very scenic, nestled in the woods just south of Winter Park. I mean, you can’t go wrong with a campground that has a bike path running through it, right?

The hosts were very gracious and delivered my stack of firewood to my site so I didn’t have to carry it down from the main road. We bonded over their goal to be hosts at Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama, where my family has camped several times.

The site was so very quiet. The only sounds came from nature, including the babbling Fraser River that was just a few yards away. I stayed up later than usual, enjoying the fire, reading, and just staring at the stars. It was a perfect final night.

By 3:00 am it was down to 40 degrees. I shivered most of the night, as I had the rest of the trip. The drawback of such a nicely shaded site is that the sun never peeked over the horizon to warm me up. So, knowing I had to face a tough day of riding I eventually pulled myself out of the tent and started to get ready. Below are some pictures of this great campground!

~rm

Post-Epic Hard Day

The funny thing about using everything you’ve got to complete an epic day is that you pay for it the next day. I woke up with my stomach feeling better but unsure of what caused the problem yesterday. Looking at the route, the strategy became to take it easy and ride about 20 miles, stop for an actual lunch (not a packet of tuna or a clif bar), and then spin the last few miles and get to camp early.

Well, what one sees on an elevation diagram vs what one actually experiences on the road can be quite different. On paper it looked like 20 miles mostly downhill and the forecast called for a tailwind. In reality there were brutal climbs, my legs were completely spent from yesterday, the road was a freeway with very little shoulder at times, and there was no tailwind. It was a grind.

I eventually made it from my campground near Grand Lake to the town of Fraser, where I had decided I’d stop for lunch. Now running a severe calorie deficit, I very slowly enjoyed every bite of my salad and burger. And drank lots and lots of water.

The rest of the ride was in fact pretty easy, with only gradual elevation gain along a beautiful bike path. The path goes right through my destination campground for tonight just south of Winter Park. For the first time this trip I have a campfire, shaded campsite, and truly peaceful and comfortable surroundings. I rolled in early, hoping to give my legs maximum time to recover before tomorrow’s final ride.

~rm

Day 3: Epic

I was physically anxious in the morning. I didn’t sleep well, knew the stats of the challenging ride ahead, and had no idea of the reality of how difficult it would be.

I woke up to a magnificent sunrise. I broke camp relatively quickly and headed out by about 8:40 am. The legs felt good starting out, but my nerves affected my stomach pretty badly. It was the same feeling I used to get before competing in a time trial. Pro cyclists call riding a TT riding in the “pain cave”. So to was this epic journey. I knew it would be a day of hurt.

But, this was a truly amazing route. By taking Old Fall River Road up the mountain, I avoided heavy tourist traffic on the popular Trail Ridge Road. It’s one way up for all vehicles, and it is 9 miles of dirt and extremely steep in sections. I knew I’d have to walk my bike a fair amount, which I did, but I ended up pedaling much more than I expected. The views were SPECTACULAR, and fellow travelers were courteous, curious, and expressed lots of respect.

Eventually I made it to the top and spent some time at the Alpine Visitors Center at nearly 12.000′. I took lots of pictures, but between the stomach problems and starting to really feel the affects of altitude, I didn’t want to spend any longer up there than I had to. Plus it was very cold and windy.

The descent was nearly as epic in its own way. My bike handles really well at about 40 mph, but any faster than that and the gusty winds on the mountain start to make things overly interesting. Down down down I went, eventually enjoying a level road and a tailwind until I found my campground.

It was a long and very rewarding day. My stomach pains persisted and I didn’t eat in the evening, and didn’t feel very well. Altitude, nerves, dehydration, the food…probably a combination of all but I was careful to get as much rest as possible, turning in by 8:30 pm.

~rm

Day 2: Gordon’s Gulch to Mary’s Lake Campground at Estes Park

Today was a great day on the bike. I was a little nervous, as I used pretty much all I had for the final climb yesterday. Given the unknowns of altitude, longer climbs than I’ve ever experienced, the very heavily loaded bike, I didn’t know what the first few pedal strokes would feel like.

While I can’t say I burst out of the starting gate, I felt good, despite the fact that I began the day climbing. In fact, the first leg was ascending from the campground at 8800′ to today’s high point at just over 9200′. Ouch. But after that came a screaming descent. Up, down, right, left. I made steady progress to get to the Ward, where I desperately needed to stop to fill my bottles. Surprise! This town is down several hundred feet from the route. Down I went, and I discovered a regular rest stop for road cyclists from Boulder. It was quite busy, but they weren’t really up for talking.

More up and down and I eventually made it to a nice little oasis in Allenspark. I stopped there to eat lunch, refill bottles, and use the WiFi for a bit. The last leg was pretty steadily uphill for about 5 miles. The road was narrower too, and no paved shoulder. It was pretty sketchy at times but I pedaled through without incident.

Finally, when crossing 9100′, I enjoyed a 40+ mph twisty turny descent into Estes Park. It was outstanding and a great reward for the day.

I’m camped at a much less primitive campground tonight. I’ve already enjoyed running water, a shower, picnic table, and the bear locker. It’s going to be another very cold night but I now know how to keep as warm as possible.

My riding strategy has paid off so far. Conservative mileage, of course, but I’m actively trying to conserve as much energy as possible. I go slow. Super slow. 3-4 mph uphill on these 5% grades. On the flats I’ll go only as fast as the bike wants to go, and put as little energy into motion as possible. Tomorrow is a massive day, and I don’t know if I can actually pull it off.

So far I have not suffered any significant effects from altitude. This was my biggest fear (besides getting eaten by a bear). My first evening in Denver I had a slight headache. I’ve been very conscious to drink lots of water. Last night, camping at 8800′, I did feel some effects that reminded me of when I have minor asthma issues. But it cleared up by morning and I’ve been fine all day.

Tomorrow is the toughest day. Fingers crossed!

~rm