Children of the Corn: Road Riding 50+ Miles


Readers-

I know I owe you the final installment of Day 3 of my snowboarding, mountain biking, exploring, and hot springing trip down to and through the San Luis Valley last month. But before I wrap that baby up, I wanted to interlude with a recount of my first-ever 50+ miles on a road bike. Since I began road riding six months ago, I have been looking for the kind of pain and gain that I get from mountain biking. I was able to find such pain/gain in late September at the Colorado National Monument, but until two weekends ago I had yet to feel the aches in my backside, groin, hamstring, and calves that tells my body it’s getting worked, and worked good.

Well, the nice young lady who lent me my road bike knows I like pain. So she invited me up to the farmlands of eastern Colorado, to ride the Poudre River Trail, a network of trails in and around Greeley, Windsor, and skirting just along the southern edge of Ft. Collins. (Note: at the time of this riding, the trail was closed due to fallen branches from the latest snow storm.)

The 50 miles were flat miles, so the distance was going to be the thing. We got a mid-morning start and headed out with water bottles and things that pack calories but don’t actually taste like food. These are the staples of road riding, as it is not cool to actually wear a Camelbak or pack too much when road riding. Someone wrote somewhere the road bikers are overly concerned with their silhouette and pesky water supplies just ruin your otherwise divine outline against the sky. Whatever.

The thing about road rides is unmarked, unseen obstacles can really ruin your day (or week), so we dismounted where the tracks dictated that we had to.

Them's cornfields ahead

Now folks who didn’t grow up in a state the size of a national park cannot appreciate the wonderment with agriculture and ranching that those of us who did have. So I insisted that we stop, play children of the corn, and frolic a bit among the decaying vegetables. 

 

Farms this big just don’t exist in Rhode Island, and I couldn’t pass up even this tiny little offshoot adventure.

My playmate frolicking around

 

Grasshoppers were covering the ground, crunching beneath our cleated feet, so we got back to our original adventure.

Now flat and brown is not usually my idea of fun. I’m from roly-poly, leafy New England and that topography and those colors have framed my aesthetic. But since moving to Colorado 16 years ago and since spending two of them in ranchland, I’ve allowed my aesthetic to be bended and molded by my more recent surroundings. Nuances of yellow, brown, taupe, tan, and other neutral-farming colors I have come to appreciate as beautiful. How mature and accepting of me.

Pretty, huh?

Back on the well-paved but sparsely populated bikeway (was it really a Saturday?), we wended our way through new developments with their curvy streets, overpriced cookie-cutter dwellings with oversized garages, and plenty of white folk and little else. These are the places that beg me to poke fun–the realization of the American dream has apparently culminated in hues of our least favorite color–brown and has been completely stripped of personality and vivacity. My mind was going on and on thus, until I saw the beach.

That’s right. The beach on the plains of Colorado:

The beach

 

Now making fun of how they imported sand, cattails, reedy things, and rocks just to keep the vegetation grounded during the next flood is also too easy. It smacks of the The Truman Show or Celebration, FL . There’s something insidious about these ready-made communities, and insidious is just too easy of a target.

Truth is: I would totally surrender my sanctimony regarding what it means to live well to be able to kayak or swim or fish or sunfish out my back door. Seeing the beaches put a big ol’ pang in the stomach as I remembered my recent, awesome kayaking adventures last fall at Worden Swamp and this summer at Point Judith Pond. How amazing would it be to end each day instead of being limited to a bike ride or one of those horrible jogging things and instead have the opportunity to paddle, swim, contemplate and fish, balance, sail, or oar it up?

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The cycling pace had been quite leisurely as we stopped for a few minutes to stock up on caffeine. The idea of lunch was bandied about, and as secure as I am in how I look, the thought of sitting down for lunch in Spandex was beyond my comfort zone. And this is a comfort zone I think everyone but dirty old men are glad exists.

My cycling partner promised we would click in and never leave the big chain ring for the last ten miles, which meant more power with each stroke and (finally!) some soreness.

Hours later I was joking about how tired I wasn’t. Until I tried to walk up the stairs and my leaden legs needed to be coyly coaxed up every step.

Thanks, road biking, for getting difficult. And thanks, Windsor exclusive community for having a beach and making me rethink before I make fun. Sort of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with America’s Got Talent Cyclist Jeremy Vanschoonhoven


Photo by Devin Graham

Do ya like watchin’ the boob tube and that reality TV stuff? Last fall’s cyclist extraordinaire, Jeremy Vanschoonhoven, who made bouncing around on his back tire and rolling up on cars and taking huge jumps look easy, took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about competing on America’s Got Talent,  bike trials, and his mesmerizing video that was shot in the Utah desert outside of Moab.

The pictures are cool, the link to video (all by Devin Graham) even cooler, and I put some words in there to tie it all together. The video has garnered 135K views, and counting. Join the crowd, readers.

Head on over to Trail’sEdge to read my interview with Jeremy VanSchoonhoven.

Your Bike, Your Personality: What Your Bike Says About You


Your only bike or your favorite bike is an extension of your personality: brightly colored bikes usually accompany upbeat personalities; stripped down bikes indicate a minimalist behind the pedaler; and high-end, unused components may point to a person with too much money and too little time to bike.

This week I wrote about what your bike says about what your bike says about you. And it all started with a Dorito analogy…

Road Biking Colorado National Monument, Take II


Readers-

Twas a good week for ol’ SheSpoke, whatwith her post on road biking Colorado National Monument being Freshly Pressed last Tuesday, September 27th. It was eerie watching my shespoke@gmail.com inbox fill up with comments, subscriptions, and likes. My first clue that my blog had been picked up and featured somewhere came with the comment from PCC Advantage, who congratulated me for being Freshly Pressed. The afternoon was punctuated by a series of low bells emanating from my Smartphone (not that smart, really), announcing the latest like, subscription, and comment, and sometimes all three.

But ya know, I kinda promised my editor a story on the very same topic, Colorado National Monument. That post went up today where I write about cycling for TrailsEdge, and what I’ve done is digitally remaster my memories and the facts I picked up along the way to come up with basically the same conclusion:

If you want an epic weekend of road cycling, head over to Colorado National Monument in western Colorado.

Read about SheSpoke’s epic kayak adventure in Rhode Island this summer.

Road Biking Colorado National Monument


After a decade and a half of strictly mountain biking, I’ve made the transition over to the dark side. A friend of mine lent me her neon yellow Trek from the 1980s, and I’ve been commuting and playing around the urban trails of Denver for a few months now, excited at how light and fast it is. I’ve been a spectating fan of road biking since the early days of Lance, marveling at how anyone can pedal for six hours up and over mountains for well over 100 miles. I’m now starting to get it.

Independence Monument, a beautiful product of erosion, in the background

These bikes are light, and the pedaling is continuous uphill and you’re coasting downhill. In fact, on the downhill all you’re really worried about is running over a frightened rodent who will then send you flying through the air like the Greatest American Hero(ine).

When I started riding 30+ miles on the road bike, (akin to riding 10+ intermediate miles on the mountain bike), I was looking for pain. I wanted to experience what Phil Liggett and Bob Roll and Paul Sherwen are always yapping about: the pain that comes with long hours in the saddle.

Finally! After a summer of commuting 15+ miles a day and a once-a-week 30+ ride, I finally got my pain at the Colorado National Monument.

The Colorado National Monument is located just south of the not-so-secret anymore mountain biking mecca of Fruita. Because Moab is being overrun by beer bellies inside monster trucks, the riding is getting less awesome there and those in the know are flocking to the pristine singletrack of Fruita.

This is my third trip to the national monument, whose entrance fees ($10 for 7 days) and camping fees ($20 night) have doubled in the past few years. These are your tax dollars not at work. (In other words, this is what happens when National Park budgets get cut.)

Our coffee nook

A little more than we wanted to spend, of course, but the promise of road biking up 1,500 feet in 4 miles and cycling along spectacular instances of erosion–well, the promise of that–along with 80-degree weather in late September–was too good to pass up. So we went for it.

And we ended up camping here–overlooking Fruita canyon and the west entrance of Rim Rock Drive. After a night of star watching and using Google Sky Map to locate Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune (so cool!), we headed to bed against all odds and the beer-noise that was coming from our scooter-riding neighbors across the street. I guess riding two wheels along Rim Rock Drive is cool, but I’d rather work for it and pedal any day. As with most things, the rewards are that much greater when you work toward something.

And although the views are spectacular from our camping niche, it’s just as stunning to see where we were sleeping from across the canyon.

 Camping here was like having our very own juniper and red rock estate, with little red ants for peasants (who honestly, did not seem to be contributing to the fiefdom at all. But we let them be.)

In the desert estate's kitchen

On day 1 we changed a flat tire, fiddled with the brakes a little, and thought about nicknames for our bikes. I decided upon Old Yeller. After a short hike to Window Rock and some excellent scenery, coffee in hand, we headed to the Visitor Center for some advice and Gatorade–well worth the $2 for its electrolytes.

Nature's paintbrush: Erosion

The speed limit along Rim Rock Drive hovers around 35 mph, although along some of the switchback it gets down to 10 mph.

We headed east from the Visitor’s Center, about four miles into the 23-mile long Rim Rock Drive. We joked about racing an older couple, who took off and whom we never saw again. They showed us I guess. Along the way we were wowed by the sandstone monoliths and laughing at the bright blue sky and perfect array of reds, browns, blacks, and awesomeness that surrounded us.

The temps crept perhaps into the mid 80s, and we were exposed the entire time, but it’s nothing that liberally applied sunblock can’t protect you from.

We rode and rode and rode mostly uphill until we reached the highest point of the ride, at which point we were feeling pretty frisky. An elevation of 6640 feet is not a problem for a couple of Denverites, who on a regular basis are frolicking above 7000 feet. But I’ve been on enough jaunts to know that when you’re only halfway there you’d better have a gas tank that is more than half full. Because even if the second half of the ride is mostly downhill (which it was), there’s always a chance that a little uphill will turn your legs into lead and break your spirit. So we played it safe after about 12 miles of riding, and turned around.

The ride back was picture-taking time! MC had the camera and we proceeded capturing awesome moments from the ride.

SheSpoke enjoys a well-deserved coast
Grrr!
Some scenery along the road ride

We finished up Day 1 with just over 25 miles, our vitamin D fix, a feeling one only gets when communing with nature while working your butt off. We headed into Fruita for supplies, and came across the little ranching town’s fall festival.  We pondered a shower but knew that our visit to the Glenwood Hot Springs the following day would feel that much more baptismal if we let the sweat salts accumulate. So we ditched the shower and headed to bed.

The next morning we had thought about hiking, but realized we did not do the most fun and exhilarating and scary of all the ribbons of road along Rim Rock Drive–the first four miles. So we ate a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and spinach with fresh tomatoes and peppers from my garden, and suited up again for another epic day.

Coasting!

We were going to ride the somewhat steep but completely rideable intro section of Rim Rock Road. I underpedaled, saving my energy for who knows what. MC beat me to the top by about 15 minutes. It was a pretty easy 45-50 minute pedal upward, and I found myself gearing up in the last mile. But during the last quarter mile, I felt that pain that the three sages of the Tour de France are always talking about–the cramping pain, the sore pain (egad, saddle, why you gotta hate so much?), and the pleading for the ride to be over. We reconvened at the Visitor Center and decided we had at least another ten miles in us before we screamed back down the drive. So we cruised along some of the same route we took yesterday, but the scenery never got old.

Ribbon of Rim Rock Road

Cycling Pain


With my new road bike (thanks again for the loaner, Ru!), I am out and about, trying to learn how to make tight turns and keep up my speed up and really push what my legs can do. I’ve done this for years on the mountain bike, and I know what it feels like to go over the handlebars or have my lungs scream for oxygen at 12,000 feet.

Trails Edge gave me the opportunity to write about pain this week, and it fanned out into seven different kinds of pain.

Photos from the USA Pro Cycling Challenge


Photo essay of the six circuits of downtown Denver from the final day of racing in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The day was marked by huge crowds, hot sun, and awesome racing. We are keeping our fingers crossed that sponsors will want to make this a tradition in Colorado.

I uploaded the largest version of these photos as possible, so click on each photo to see the full version and ready my witty captions.

My favorite shot of the day, taken from the corner of Broadway and Colfax with a Canon Powershot:

Speeding past at 30+ miles an hour
Riders complete circuit one of Stage 6 of the USAPPC
Civic Center Park in Denver in the background
Spectators were snap-happy that day
Are support cars a necessary evil of road racing?
Rounding the bend, again
Rush hour
And back the other way...
Rush Hour 2: Where's Chris Tucker?
Colfax and Broadway intersection, right before a short steep hill
Demoralizing short hill ahead
Unnamed rider, but a hero in my book
Here they come...
Look at the body language
The peloton heads up Capitol Hill, Colorado State House in the background
Winner Levi Leipheimer's protective posse. Great work, young man!

USA Pro Cycling Challenge Recap, Reflection


The human-created detritus is gone, but the cycling spirit remains. Although TV coverage of the event was less than spectacular (and the guys at Outside magazine would concur), the buzz behind the week-long cycling race through the mountains of Colorado was huge, as evidenced by the huge turnouts along the mountain stages and the more cow bell along the six circuits in downtown Denver in the final stage. The inaugural year of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was a hit; just ask winner Levi Leipheimer or anyone who lives in Colorado.

Although a pro stage race modeled after what Europe has been doing for decades in races like the Tour d’Italia, this race was decidedly American–

Yellow in Quiznos

corporate sponsorship everywhere you pedaled, from the naming rights on the leader jerseys (I’ll never eat another sandwich without thinking of the Quiznos yellow jersey) to the schwag at the post-race event. The maillot jeune, the coveted symbol of race-leading, is now wrapped between two freshly baked pieces of bread and covered in chipotle mayonnaise. I have to wonder if these kind of deep pockets are necessary to put on a world-class pro stage cycling race? Maybe because cycling has been relegated on the same level as soccer and hockey that a deep injection of money and advertising was necessary to kickstart a world-class event such as this. I dunno. I just can’t imagine a Cadbury Manchester-United or a Bass Southampton.

But the American-ness, the brashness of the whole event, scaling and de-scaling 12,000-foot high mountain passes through rural Colorado, some of it on dirt, some of it on wet roads, some of it around tight corners–that made for some kind of new excitement. And the Americans in the yellow jersey all week–how often does that happen? Did the Eurodudes and the Aussies and the Colombians let the Yanks win, just for the drama and the international exposure?

And how about that attack on the yellow jersey in the final stage? I’m glad we’re finally breaking that rule. It’s time we revisited the tired old rules of calling it before the fat lady even steps out onto the stage. Enough of these symbolic stages, which don’t even make for good television.

This schwag, brought to you by Smashburger, who incidentally sponsored the spring jersey, came with instructions on how to bop others around you with it. Seriously.

Just grab and bop

 

More on the Tour


Although Alberto Contador hasn’t been looking the badass he is in this Tour de France, he is confident he’s going to start taking names again once the Tour hits the Alps on Thursday and Friday.

There’s no doubt that 2 days of riding in the Alps, after over two weeks of riding 100+ miles a day, is a feat few can accomplish. But I take issue with Versus Television’s claim that The Tour de France is the “Most Epic Race. Ever.” Because it’s not. There’s plenty of endurance races out there that kicks the Tour’s butt. And as my allegiance is firmly in the mountain biking camp, I had to write last week about the Great Divide Race, a mountain bike race that skirts the Continental Divide (mountains the entire way), lasts at least three weeks for most demi-gods and -goddesses, and is solely supported. This means no teams, no support car, no fancy GPS devices, no sponshorship money, and no television coverage. Just the participants and the bike.

Like the Tour used to be.

A friend of mine had this history-lesson response to the way the Tour has changed since its inception:

Back when the Tour de France started over 100 years ago, it was very similar to the Great Divide.  It was initiated by a newspaper company that wanted to expand its readership beyond the city of Paris.  So, the TdF was a publicity stunt to generate interest throughout France.  The paper had exclusive rights to interviews with riders, etc.  The front page of the paper was printed on yellow news-print.  Hence the yellow jersey.
As the race took on a life of its won and sponsorship dollars flooded in, the purse for the winner grew into a huge sum.  Thenm the inevitable happened.  The equation below sums it up:
Huge Male Egos + Millions of Dollars at Stake + Pressure from Sponsors + Modern Chemistry + Lack of Ethics = Cheating
It happens in every sport when there is enough money to support the cost of the drugs.
In the past, the TdF didn’t do ANYTHING to dissuade the riders from doping.  This is evident by the fact that the race promoters issued a statement to teams back in the 1930’s stating, “Amphetamines will not be provided by the race organizers.  Teams are responsible for providing their own.” 
We’re not sure of the

Tour de France. Pshaw!


It looks like the Tour de France has destroyed Team Radio Shack this year. What a shame. I was really pulling for Chris Horner.

About a month ago, a friend of mine gave me a loaner Trek 1200 from the 1980s. How do I know it’s from the 1980s? Because it’s neon yellow, that’s why.

I haven’t really done the road bike thing since the mid-aughts, when an ex-boyfriend roadie was like, yeah, now we can ride together both on and off the trail. But instead of helping me adjust to road biking, he complained that I was riding too slow. So I dumped the dude, sold the bike, and hugged the Yeti even tighter.

But then a girl comes along, a mutual friend, who’s keen into biking and patience and wants to spread the cycling love. So she gives me this, as a long-term loaner:

And I’m in love with bikes, all over again. This love is deeper because it represents growth and a move away from severe dislike and disdain for road cycling and -ers (apart from the Tour de France, of course) into a newfound love affair. My commute across town, which used to take 40 minutes on my Beloved mid-90s Bianchi mountain bike, is now under half an hour. (In comparison, driving can take as long as 20 minutes, but usually hovers around 15.) Easy. So easy, in fact, that I’ve taken to riding in delicate sandals and skirts.

The Trek is super lightweight in all its aluminum canness. Unlike the mountain bikes I own, the Trek roadie coasts. Pedal a little, coast. Pedal, pedal, coast, coast, coast. Sometimes the ratio feels exponential.

I’m not hitting the mountains or even the foothills just yet, but the tiny little SheSpoke universe will be the first to know when I do.

Vive la Trek!