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

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I do a lot of sports, and there a lot of sports I don’t do. The sport that I don’t do and don’t really ever plan on doing is climbing. ‘Fraid of heights and ‘fraid of dyin’. Other sports on my bucket list, which I have just not gotten around to yet, include downhill skiing, scuba diving, and now paddleboarding. Would that I had world enough and time, these coy mistresses would not continue to elude me. Carpe diem.

Then there are those sports I only get to do a few times a year–surfing, kayaking, cross-country skiing–because the weather and geography gods, hands wringing together gleefully, deem it so. The last time I went surfing was Christmas ’09 (it pains me to type that), and the surf rental and wave nymphs seem to be conspiring as well.

But kayaking I get to do at least once a year. Because at least once a year I head home to Little Rhody to see the fam, inhale some clam chowda, and hit the water. A high school friend of mine, an avid kayaker, is always up for an epic kayak adventure. Two summers ago we paddled to Greene Island from the Edgewood Yacht Club and collected shells on a shipwreck of an island. Last year we explored the nooks and crannies of the the Great Swamp.

This summer it was Point Judith Pond, a saltwater collection across the way from the Block Island Ferry. (Now in hi-speed! Only half an hour!)

We put in at the boat launch and paddled our way northward, hugging the middle-west of the pond after ducking underneath the bridge.

Picture-perfect briny day

We gave the quahoggers plenty of berth, as they were busy with their rakes, and floating buckets, digging up some bi-valve mollusks for dinner or sale. I wouldn’t know the difference.

The water was just a few inches deep, and we took our time, picking up shells with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for elementary school children, which we felt like, at that moment.

Booty full of beauty at the bottom of the boat

We were concerned, at the beginning of our shell-collecting adventure, with razor clam shells, so named for their elongated , somewhat elliptical shapes. After that we were digging with our fingers and coming up with scallop shells, mussel shells, and quahog shells. Almost all of them empty but pristine.

Then we headed for the shallow, wild blue yonder, with islands smattered here and there and boats passing on the western edge because by now the eastern edge was only inches deep.

Point Judith Pond opens up to adventure

We paddled past a family picnicking on pizza and a huge fruit tray, and they were kind enough to share in that special way only natives know how: “Come ova heyah and git sum pizza now.” We had packed a full lunch of oversized spring rolls from the farmer’s market in Pawtuxet and a special treat for when our journey was almost over: cheap champagne and cranberry juice, with which to drink poinsettias. Christmas drinking in July for all our hard work. More on that later.

So we paddled, paddled, paddled, fighting this current, sailing with that current, laughing giddily at the beauty of the day, the simplicity of it all. We

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spotted the killer beach house we would never buy, all 500 square feet of it, with its own breakwater and dock. Asking price? Just over half a million. We snaked through some inlets, passing yachts and Donzis and killer homes, the kind where you could just wade out and dig for dinner. Sigh.

We zigged when the rest of the boats zagged and landed in a southerly cove, with nothing but a few houses and some egrets and osprey.

Skittish little things, these egrets

Osprey nest in the distance

Osprey were continually flying overhead, with their massive wingspans, and at one point we could see one bringing another prime stick to the nest. We put our ornithologist caps on and just watched the aviary dances around us. S took some photos and marveled, and not necessarily in that order.

Eye spy an osprey nest

We lally-gogged our way through the quiet cove, talking in old-school library whispers, and feeling very, very lucky. And then….mud and a dead end. The dead end marked the portage, which we knew was coming. S wanted to turn around and head back. But I knew such a move would spoil the magic of the day, the sense of discovery, and the challenge of getting a kayak, and a person and a very important cooler full of cheap champagne to the other side. Plus, there would be no Poinsettia Island if we turned back now.

Mud marks the end of the cove

There was no getting out of the kayak because the mud was feet deep and smelled strongly of sulfur–not very friendly. So I began pelvic lurching the kayak through the mud, arching the back forward and, using the pelvis as a fulcrum, forcing the kayak forward, about six inches at a time. Still, progress was being made. S looked on from twenty feet away, still convinced that turning around was the better option. But we could see and hear the cars passing on the road that marked our portage. I was not giving up Poinsettia Island.

Muddy mess

The pelvis lurching was a great ab workout, so I’m expecting that six-pack from my 30s to re-emerge from the fridge any second now.

The lurching also left a trail, better known as an imprint.

Gives new meaning to stuck in the mud

The only solid ground was reeds attached to mussels, and I faltered a bit heave-hoeing myself onto those marine hillocks. Suction almost stole one of my sandals, but stubborness prevailed and using the muddy paddle I coaxed the kayak up and onto the closest thing to land I’d seen in 20 minutes. S was motivated by my success and followed suit. We were on our way.

We dragged the kayaks through ten-foot high reeds and eventually onto the asphalt. I have never been so happy to see asphalt in my life, except for that one time on cross-country skis. We scoped out the other side, noted the poison ivy growing everywhere except where we had been (how lucky!) and made a plan to portage the boats over to the rocky section of beach instead of plunging once again into the mud. The second half of the portage was downright cushy as compared to the first.

Deceptively calm

After re-entering the water, we returned to that blissful state we had known while collecting shells. And Poinsetta Island was just ahead. We paddled with our legs out of the water so the mud would dry.

Sorry about the mess

We shorelined for Poinsettia Island, being careful not to alert the neighbors (probably landowners) to our arrival. We attacked the champagne and spring rolls, and laughed at our good fortune. Then we went for a swim in the warm, quahog-filled waters, enjoying the sunshine and full bellies and slight light-headedness.

We were six miles into our eight-mile journey by then, and during that long rest period someone had hung barbells onto my arms. Drag. Actually, we dragged our fingers through the shallow water, and listened to the feedback: unnnhhhh, nnnnvvvv, ththththuh, nuhhhhh.

Stupid English phonology. None of those is right. Think dull roar meets trickle. Back at the boat launch, we were sad and glad the journey was over. But! Still friends:

The disheveled ponytail braids tell the real story

And it was over, six hours later. Favorite quote of the day, directed to me during the portage: “I can’t hear what you’re saying over your big brass balls clanging together.” Not brass balls. Just determination.