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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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…


My recent foray into road cycling is changing the way I think about all kinds of biking. Mountain biking is such a grind: climb up over rocks and roots and hope the dusty, rutted-out trail is forgiving when it turns steep so you don’t lose all your momentum. When climbing on a mountain bike, it’s not unusual to have hikers passing you. It’s a tad demoralizing.

But slow and steady finishes the ride in mountain biking, and it’s a mantra so many mountain bikers need to adopt if they are to succeed in the mountain biking life. Seven uphill and technical miles on a mountain bike can take up to two hours, especially if you stop for food and rest. Think about it: most anyone can walk faster than that.

But mountain biking, except when you’re racing or blowin’ out, is not a speedy sport. It’s a sport with lots of work and little reward, and enjoying the scenery rarely happens, except during those much-needed breaks.(Note: there are people who do not stop for breaks during a ride and honestly, I don’t know what kind of VO2 max these folks have or what kind of macho trip they’re on, but riding with them is not really all that fun.)

Enter road biking, the opposite of mountain biking. You can road bike for 15 miles and not even break a sweat. You can ride for 30 flat miles, pedaling almost the entire time, and not pass out at the end. In fact, any reasonably fit mountain biker can put in 50 miles on the road bike (as long as they’re not mountainous) with relative ease. The biggest obstacle is the butt-numbing that happens somewhere around hour three in those hard saddles.

Adjusting to a hard saddle is one transition hiccup; handling a squirrely, ridiculously lightweight bike is another. Mountain bikers with competent technical skills in the way of balance and the ability to change directions while doing a trackstand and on rocks adjust with a little practice. That mountain biking skill allows fat tire folks to handle tight turns on a road bike while descending.

And there’s the rub, readers. When you work hard while you can (i.e., when you’re young and able), then challenges that you take on later in life will feel less like challenges and more like new, cool things that you do. This is true of sports, studying in school, and succeeding in the workplace and job market. Work hard as much as you can and while you can so, like a road biker who’s reached the top of a tough hill or mountain, you have earned the right to coast.

SheSpoke has also written about life lessons learned on the mountain biking trail for TrailsEdge.


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