Living in Colorado, we are spoiled by impressive, awe-inspiring natural scenery. But when I trundled across the Golden Gate Bridge on a fat-tire, aged rental, I was dazzled by the immensity of the bridge and the breathtaking coastal scenery below. It had to be one of the most scenic rides I have ever been on. We rented bikes at Pier 29 in San Francisco and rode over the bridge to Sausilito. We were having such an awesome time, fueled by yummy tacos and margaritas that we decided to keep riding to Tiburon and then catch the ferry back. It was a wonderful reminder that you don’t need special kit, even a decent bike to go exploring and be moved by the natural and man-made world around us.
A few weeks ago, I discovered this amazing hike up past Lyons called Ceran St. Vrain. It’s a great little hike: tree-lined, rushing water nearby and an elusive smell of Colorado conifers. After one hike, it quickly became my favorite hike of the summer. It’s pretty easy to get too, as well. Just take Left Hand Canyon up to Jamestown and keep driving until a sign says to take a right. The drive up is beautiful and you can watch the dusky mountains rise up in you rear view mirror as your car strains to take you up and over the mountain pass. The sound of the engine working hard to accelerate through some of the switch backs should have been an early warning that cycling up this behemoth would be no small undertaking and should only be attempted after months of training, appropriate snacks and beverages could be carried on the journey and an overnight stay arranged somewhere. With all that in mind, I decided to try it last weekend with a Kind bar, two water bottles and a change purse with money.
The ride up to Jamestown was pleasant, the weather was cool and I kept my eyes open for fall
changing leaves. I met my hubby up the near the Merc, where we organized our approach to the “Super James” portion of the ride. The agreement was that we would each ride our own pace, which really meant we would ride alone. But the idea was that he would ride to the trail head, turn round, meet me coming down and we would ride together back down. I didn’t know how long it would take me to do the whole ride and I didn’t want to spend all afternoon away from the furs.
Off Frase went and I settled into an easy pedaling rhythm that lasted for…oh…about 20 yards outside of Jamestown when the road kicked up like a rearing rodeo horse. And it never really leveled out, it just became less steep and then more steep.
I actually enjoyed most of the ride. It was obviously very challenging and I was on the edge in some parts, where I wasn’t certain I could actually keep turning the cranks. But it was quiet and serene, broken only by gunfire (I guess you can shoot up there so long as you’re not in a residential area). I made it within 3 miles of the peak-to-peak highway before hubby collected me as he came shooting down (no pun intended). It was actually a good place to turn-around as I was beginning to make square shapes with my pedal strokes and still had to get home. I didn’t make it to the off-road part but from what I understand the road kicks and twists, all with the added fun of loose gravel and sand.
I so badly wanted my pictures to capture the unexpected beauty of that ride but whether from vertigo, exhaustion or just plain bad composition none of them do the scenery any justice. I may have to go back up and retake a load of pictures but it may take me some time to recover.
It doesn’t usually rain in Boulder. When it does it causes all sorts of panic on the roads as the same drivers that plow through snow storms with reckless delight, slow to a creep when there’s a hint of mist in the air. Which is why when I saw this floaty, misty stuff hanging around the Flatirons, I was not entirely convinced that a) it would actually rain down here in the flat lands b) if I did get caught how wet could I possibly get?
I rolled out towards Goose Creek path and cycled down past 55th, heading towards what looked like a sliver of blue. I figured if I could head out east quickly enough I might outpace the rain clouds and perhaps they’d peter out and lose interest in heading east.
But then the wind picked up and rain clouds stitched up the seam of blue and I thought, “hmmm…maybe I have some misplaced confidence and I should head home before I have to figure out how to ride in the rain”.
I turned my bike around but it was already too late. The floaty, misty stuff I had dismissed earlier in my ride had blown hard, cold rain down the mountain. I had on high-summer clothing, sunglasses and sun block. The rain approached me sideways, bounced up off the pavement and drenched me within moments. It was the type of rain where it seemed like my wheel was kicking up as much moisture as the clouds were dumping. The water was pouring into my shoes. Fortunately, I hadn’t gone out too far so it didn’t take long for me to get home and peel my drenched clothes off of me. I did not outpace the rain but I did get some great pictures of the clouds rolling down and that delicious feeling of warmth after a cold, outdoorsy experience and it only took 15 minutes.
For a time, when I rode I rode to train. Long rides on very hot summer days to get used to riding long on hot summer days for events, like the Elephant Rock ride or the Santa Fe Century. It was fun and exciting to be part of a large moving mass of cyclists, all riding towards a goal. My only regret from those times is that I never took any pictures. I was more focused on miles, RPMs and eating horrible-tasting GUs (the thought of eating one of those now, even makes me want to gag). So I missed out on taking pictures of some of the amazing places, people and scenes on those great rides.
Today, I always ride with a camera slung over my shoulders. It’s a little cumbersome on climbs and I’m a bit wary to take it on very steep climbs in case I’m moving too slowly to turn the cranks and end up landing on it. That’s one of my biggest fears. Hitting a super tough climb, barely turning the cranks and toppling into the path of a car coming up beside me. It’s irrational as the only time I’ve ever toppled off my bike is when I’ve come to a stop light or sign, forgotten I’m clicked in, and slowly flopped to the side.
Recently, my rides have been closer to home and it’s really amazing what you see.
Granted, the pictures may be a little out-of-focus and most likely framed a little off-angle as I attempt to keep balance. I am thinking of taking the extra time to dismount and get a decent shot and I’ve been doing that more lately. It’s just a little more difficult when the road shoots straight up, like the one taken just at the start of Flagstaff Road.
On July 4th, hubby and I had the day off so we made loose plans the night before with a friend to tackle Ward. Here it should be noted that the decision to undertake one of the hardest local climbs was made at the Lucero concert at the Boulder Theater, when everyone was feeling strong, young and healthy. Needless to say, once the concert had ended many of us were feeling feeble, old and and a bit pukey; staying up really late sometimes gives me an upset stomach.
The goal was a 7am start to avoid the blistering, suffocating heat of the afternoon. Colorado NEVER used to get this hot, so this early so planning to avoid the heat of the day has become a priority. Considering how late we got in, we were only a half hour off schedule when I left the house at 7:30. I decided to leave a little before the guys and expected them to catch me towards the top.
But that never happened. At the turn-off to Ward from Left Hand Canyon, we each entered our own private world of woe. I know it has been a few years since my last ride up to Ward but I cannot believe how much cycling fitness I’ve lost in that time. That’s not to say, I have not been working out, I just haven’t been getting the miles in on the bike and it showed, I felt it and I’m sure casual observers noted my struggle. For each of us, the ride challenged us for every mile, especially the last 6 and particularly the tight, abrupt turn to the right where the road rose up and up and up.
First off, I couldn’t drink enough and was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t have enough water to get me to the Ward spigot, located randomly on the side of the road about a mile from the Ward general store. It may surprise you that you can hop off your bike, casually remove a hose from its rocky resting place and use it to fill up your water bottles without concern of some sort of flesh-eating bacteria. But you can and I have.
I have to admit that the first 10 or so miles, up Left Hand Canyon, were not bad. And
early in the morning, the weather was cool and it was relaxing to hear the creek splashing along just below the road. It was just the remaining 6 or so miles that left me feeling ragged and trashed. I also thought it would be pretty quiet once I got up there. Nope. It was like the entire cycling community of Boulder had had similar ideas and had left earlier, been faster and probably had not stayed up til 1am listening to Lucero (wouldn’t trade the concert experience tho’, they were superb!)
Once I arrived, exhausted and with a slight Elvis twitch to one of my legs, it began to rain. Initially, it felt wonderful and then enjoyment turned to concern when I realized I would have to ride down the steep hill I just climbed, in the rain, on a slick road. I stood under a few leaves to avoid the rain. I didn’t feel much like moving and waited for hubby to arrive. He did, saw me looking like pained and drenched, and intelligently made the choice to go inside the store, buy something and warm up a bit. Savvy man.
I waited for a bit and thought “I’m not getting any warmer, might as well start on down”. I made what I thought were very clear hand gestures to hubby and started my slow, water-spraying descent. It was raining pretty hard by this point and I wasn’t at all certain if descending was such a good idea, after all. But in time, we put enough distance between ourselves and the rain clouds, that the road became dry and we dried off, as well.
We threw complete caution, remaining strength and ego at getting over the back side of Old Stage. I hobbled over the remaining climb and coasted nearly all the way home. After inhaling a vast expanse of mexican food, I was supremely happy and impressed with ourselves. There were so many times where my internal, lazy-ass commentator almost had me convinced to turn back. But I didn’t. Now, I’m just trying to figure out a time to try it again.
Even Danish dogs go by bike.
We’ve all seen the glamor shots of gorgeous, Danish people cycling. Even Danish grannies move with speed and confidence down the cycling lane.
But do they have Rockabilly-inspired cruiser night rides on Thursday? I think not.
The only cycling route that may be more difficult and humbling than the first season’s ascent up Old Stage would have to be the first season’s ascent up Lee Hill (For the locals, yes, I know there’s Ward & Gold Hill but I have gotten to those yet).
On Sunday morning, I dragged myself away from reading about the dissolution of the European Union, to begin my efforts to get back my climbing legs. I used to love riding up hill. A few years ago, one of my favorite after work rides was up to Jamestown; I could power up Left Hand Canyon and o into Jamestown with enough energy to make dinner when I got home. Not no more. I guess age, a few pounds, and a steel frame I love have all conspired to turn these hilly assaults from a quick burst of spontaneity to one requiring planning and post-ride recovery time.
I wanted to get an early start because a storm was supposed to be blowing through Boulder and I don’t really like riding in the heat of the day anymore. But I didn’t get out of the house until 9am. I rode along 28th waiting until the right moment in between spurts of church-bound traffic to make my turn up Lee Hill.
Lee Hill road used to be fairly quiet but since a couple of big housing developments went in on either side of the road, traffic has increased. But that’s ok, because Boulder has done a great job with the shoulder. Of course, there’s not much of a shoulder when you begin the climb up Old Stage but there’s enough signs to remind drivers to be on the lookout for slogging, heavy-breathing cyclists.
Oddly, Lee Hill actually forks to the left instead of going straight, which turns into Old Stage. I took a quick breather before the left to gather my confidence and determination, because I knew this was going to hurt. And I was bit concerned about being unable to turn the cranks just as a car passed me and ending up under their wheel.
The thing about climbing, for me at least, is controlling my breathing. If I can control my breathing and still maintain a tempo so that I don’t fall off, then I can make it up just about anything. And that’s what I focused on as I climbed Lee Hill. Slowly. I thought about making it from one shady spot to another. Lee Hill starts off harder than Old Stage because there’s quick kick just at the beginning; you do get some relief during the switch back but it’s short-lived. I made it up the first ‘summit’, and then started downhill. The views on the descent were spectacular. Big fields, tight turns, and varying shades of green zipped by as I flew down the road.
The descent was fast and over in an instant when I hit the proverbial wall of the second climb. At this point, my calves ached. I don’t know why as that is one part of my body that has never ached from riding. My ass, my lower back, my upper back, all those have hurt in the past but never the butt. I finally reached the top of Lee Hill and savored the breeze and speed of the descent until turning right onto Left Hand Canyon.
You don’t realize how far you’ve climbed until you begin the descent down Left Hand. Nor do you realize just how many people are out cycling on a summer day in Boulder. There was a huge unbroken ribbon of brightly-colored spandex from the Buckingham Park turn off and where I had turned right onto Left Hand Canyon.
The night before I decided I wanted to ride up Lee Hill but then come back up over Old Stage. And as I made that right turn onto Old Stage, I considered it probably one the worst possible ideas I had had in a long time, including the extra slices of pizza the night before.
I turned the wheel up and just hoped that my calf muscles would remain in my legs and not explode down my ankle. I was briefly distracted by a huge mule deer sitting contentedly in a field. I was all but spinning in one place for some time, so I had the chance to see her courted by an enormous stag and produce offspring. Finally, I made it to the top of Old Stage, festooned with a dozen or so mailboxes.
The descent down Old Stage unnerves me for a couple of reasons: the mule deer, I mentioned earlier, do wander across the road and there’s a stop sign at the intersection with Lee Hill. Traffic descending Lee Hill don’t have to stop but you do and it’s difficult to stop when you are all but parallel to the road.
It’s a challenging, beautiful loop that combines great climbing, beautiful views and savory descents. There were a few times when I thought the effort was not worth the discomfort but as I crested each hilltop and made my way home, I was so thrilled to be back riding and riding up hill.
A few weeks ago, before my trip to NYC and a cold that made my head feel as though it were filled with cement, I pointed my bike west for the first ascent of NCAR. NCAR is the acronym for the National Center for Atmospheric Research and it sits like a citadel of deep thinking above Boulder.
The NCAR ride is a great way to ease back into the joys and pains of riding hills. I know I can’t hit a ride to Ward right out the gate, so the NCAR ride is a gentle reintroduction to running out of gears.
One of the great features of the ride to NCAR is that I can ride the bike paths nearly all the way out there. I catch the bike path that runs parallel along
the ugliest road in Boulder Foothills Pkwy, take the flyover, and keep heading straight until I hit CU Boulder East. I continue onto Bear Creek Path. I can actually continue on the bike path(s) for most of the way until turning up onto Table Mesa.
The initial ride past Safeway and some of the residential streets off of Table Mesa are not a bad way to ease into the ride. It’s not that the NCAR ride is outrageously hard, like Old Stage, it’s just a bit short and tart for the first 1/3. But what I find distracting is how amazingly gorgeous the views are and I generally have plenty of time to savor each section because I am not moving quickly. But if I could create a road to Rivendell it would be the climb to NCAR. The blues of the mountain range in the distance, the dark greens of the short grasses that cover the hillside create this enchanting setting, where you can almost imagine Legolas and folk sunning themselves.
Sarai Snyder over at Girl Bike Love is promoting Cyclo Femme – a day to encourage women to get back into the saddle and ride. One of the ways she is promoting this event is to ask women, who ride, why they ride. Sarai asked me a week or so ago to contribute one, so I’ve been weeding through my memories to pick a story that’s both accurate and worth repeating.
One of the reasons I began riding was because I wanted to follow in the adventurous footsteps of my mother. My mom cycled quite a bit growing up in Liverpool. She belonged to a cycling club, which included people with all sorts of ranges of talents and bikes. One guy was all but semi-pro and went to the Tour de France one year. My mom rode a 3-speed, racing green, Raleigh Hercules. She said Liverpool had several clubs and many of the smaller towns nearby also had their own so the roads would be busy on a Saturday morning as all the clubs began their rides. I can just about imagine the roads clogged with cyclists after watching the string of vibrant colored spandex cycling out of Boulder on a warm morning.
A common ride for her club was to ride from Liverpool to Wales, stay overnight and then cycle home. It was a big ride for her. She was in her early teens and the route covered 50-odd miles round trip and involved a ferry ride. She said her younger brother, Bill, once fell asleep on his way home from one such ride. They would ride through Betws-y-Coed and rent space in barn from a farmer.
When I began to ride beyond my neighborhood streets, I imagined myself cycling down country lanes, passing into ANOTHER COUNTRY and stopping at quaint country pubs for rest. The reality, of course, was quite different. I grew up in San Antonio, which is ranch, truck and football country. It has changed tremendously since I was riding along but during the early 80’s and 90’s, there was nothing particularly quaint about my rides. But they were adventures in their own way. Some rides took me into the leafy, well-healed streets of Alamo Heights (a small, wealthy, annexed part of SA) ; others straight downtown past San Pedro Park (the oldest park in San Antonio) for a swing by Charles E. James bike shop (the oldest bike shop in San Antonio) and then past the Alamo and other major landmarks. I actually felt safer cycling downtown because there wasn’t a whole lot of activity going on down there; San Antonio’s downtown was quite vacant at the time.
Many years later, I live in one of the best cycling areas (that doesn’t have a cycling culture) in the country and get to experience more closely her stories of adventure. But it was her stories of riding with her brother, through the countryside that began my affair on two-wheels.
Sarai from Girl Bike Love and Chris from Pro Peloton put on a great learning event on Thursday. The theme of the evening was getting the most fun, efficiency and enjoyment out of your bike. And one of the ways you can work towards that goal is to get a bike fit BEFORE you buy the bike. Yes, you might see the total dream bike: right colors, sweet design, and after a quick cruise round the block decide this is IT. But before you plunk down the coin right there and ride home, take a moment. This an opportunity for you to dial in the little measurements: seat height, brake position, handle bar width that can turn your dream ride into a lifelong affair.
I, of course, have never actually done in that order: bike fit then bike purchase. But after hearing Chris talk, plus his obvious passion for helping people, I know that next time I’m plunking down a wad cash, I’m going to hunker into a bit fit approach to make the most of my investment.