Saturday, August 28

Bike-packing Dreams

Touring or bike-packing...what is the difference?

Well, I guess I'd distinguish between the two by saying bicycle touring is riding on the road over long distances while bike-packing is like backpacking, but with a bike. Bike-packing utilizes trails to get from campsite to campsite.

Today was a lazy day as we recovered from our epic yesterday, so I had plenty of time to research some trails to bike-pack on. Here is the short list:

1) Medicine Bow Trail, Wyoming: 21 miles north from Mountain Home, WY.

2) George S. Mickelson Rail Trail, South Dakota: 108 miles north to Deadwood.

3) Katy Trail, Missouri: 230 miles west from St. Louis

4) New Santa Fe Regional Trail, Colorado: Between Castle Rock and Colorado Springs

5) The Cowboy Trail, Nebraska: Will be 321 miles (and the longest in the US) when completed.

We need to get Mandy set up with a good mountain or hybrid bike, racks and panniers. But by next summer we should be ready to go do the Mickelson trail for sure.

We can do some training runs along the Switzerland Trail and others around the area.

Friday, August 27

Nothing to Write Home About

It was ambitious. I know it was.

Three bikes, a bike seat on the back of Mandy's borrowed bike, rack and panniers on mine with the kid trailer loaded with camping gear behind...

It was all loaded in the car, we drove two hours south to the Cheyenne Canyon Trailhead at Gold Camp Road just west of Colorado Springs. We got into the parking lot at 11:00am and at 11:30 to my surprise I had everything loaded and we were ready to head off into the unknown. Thirteen miles yonder we knew we'd find Wye Campground, a free USFS campground high in the foothills south of Pikes Peak.

Three miles up Gold Camp Road we turned back. But I'll get to that.

When we started off I discovered that pulling the immense load up a slight grade was not really as difficult as I had anticipated. Oh, I was creeping up the road, but I didn't feel like I was gonna have to stop before nightfall. But we did stop...a lot.

Gold Camp Road follows an old railbed contouring below Stove Mountain and St. Peter's Dome. Man, those trains must have been nuclear powered...

The grade reminded me of the Virginia Creeper Trail, but on that one we coasted downhill for 17 miles in about an hour and a half. On Gold Camp we were grinding slowly up the old railroad path at a steady 0.1 mph.

The first problem was that the trail surface was at times deep pea sand-ish stuff. Boone couldn't get going and once he finally did he'd lose it in the heavy stuff within a few pedal strokes. The poor little guy, he really wasn't feeling good anyway. He's had a runny nose but has insisted he's felt fine and he really, really wanted to go camping and do the bike ride to the campground. He just really wasn't having fun fighting the gravelly sand.

The second problem came in the form of a natural obstacle (on account of our ob-stacles). I had read that there were old tunnels you would ride through along the trail and that sounded really cool. After a mile or so we encountered the first tunnel. It was barred. Closed. Sealed. Oh, there was a trail that bypassed the tunnel. It was a steep, root entwined, rocky goat path up and over the ridge spur that the tunnel had been cut through.

On the far side after we had labored over the crest we found a rocky creek crossing just before a steep and rocky path back down to the road/trail.

After dragging my bike and the trailer over the torturous path we stopped at the small stream to filter some cold water into our water bottles. We rested a bit and then moved on.



Immediately after our detour/ordeal Boone started whining about lunch. Well, it was 1:00. So we went a few hundred yards on up the trail and stopped in some deep shade. It had been scorching all day and we had been sweating and baking for over an hour and a half.

I waved off a second PB sandwich that Mandy offered, knowing I'd just puke if I filled my belly too full before dragging our rickshaw deeper into the foothills.



Once we were back on the trail the grade seemed to ease, but despite the relief Boone seemed to drag more and more. We encouraged and aided him as we went along. At one point I even draped his bike across the top of the trailer and labored on entreating him to walk along side as I snailed my way onward, but even walking unencumbered was too much for the little guy.

Mandy and I were beat. We were frustrated with his frustration and we knew we'd never make it to the campground at the pace we were setting. We struggled on for another quarter hour before giving up. We had tried. We had seen some amazing scenery and realized that as a day ride or as a Chris and Mandy No Kiddos kinda trip it would actually be pretty fun.



Boone was bummed that we weren't going to be camping, but he had a grin on his face as we turned the bikes back east and cruised back down through the heavy gravel/sand to the tunnel and the climb back over the ridge.

We stopped at the bottom of the goat path and stopped cold.

I ambled over with Lily to check out a little waterfall and then over to where Boone was examining the closed up entrance of the old train tunnel. I was delaying the inevitable.

It took much more effort to return our gear across the ridge the second time around. We shuttled, we grunted, we heaved and hoed. After quite awhile we managed to get everything safely on the other side...the same side of the ridge as our car.

A quick coast down the last mile brought us once again to Forester Gump, our trusty Conestoga Station Wagon. In another half an hour we were loaded back up and rolling for home.

I'm beat. I'm sore, stiff, tired, only slightly bummed that we didn't make it. I hate that my family was miserable, but everyone seems to be in pretty good spirits now and everyone is still talking to me. The kids wanted to go camping, but we've had to reschedule for next weekend.

I kept thinking that our futile endeavor today was nothing compared to the struggles of those that crossed this country on foot, horseback and in wooden wheeled wagons to settle the wild west. They couldn't order pizza at the end of the day to soothe their battered egos.

The whole affair was less of a bike ride and more of a hike with bikes. It reminds me of the time some friends and I tried to paddle the Upper Red River Gorge in July. It was a hot, miserable hike in wet shoes while carrying canoes.

Thursday, August 26

Ben Sollee's Ditch the Van Tour

Ben Sollee, a musician from Lexington, KY, is doing a bike tour. But its not just a bike tour, but a performance tour as well. He's riding his bike around to his gigs hauling his cello as he goes.

He calls it the "Ditch the Van Tour". Its a pretty cool idea and I know he's not the first musician to do this.

Might try to go see him in Denver on September 5th.

Tuesday, August 24

Bike-packing in Gold Country

Cooked up an ambitious scheme this morning...

I want to take the kids camping this weekend so I was looking for some place we could camp, ride our bikes, play in the water and maybe climb. Then I thought it might be cool to find a rail-trail to do. I was thinking of trying to find a good camping spot near the Switzerland Trail, and then I remembered the Gold Camp Road/rail trail near Colorado Springs.

It follows an old rail-bed and passes through Pike National Forest south of Pikes Peak. You could easily ride from CO Spgs to Cripple Creek with a good portion of the ride following a nice easy grade all the way.

It passes St. Peter's Dome and a few other high points and I'm sure there are views of Pikes Peak to the north.

Then I discovered that there is a USFS campground about 12-13 miles from the eastern trailhead and that's when the really dangerous thoughts began to brew.

What if i took the kids camping and hauled all our stuff in on the bike and in the trailer? It could work! It would work! It was working already! And I've also found a mountain bike to borrow for Mandy for the weekend. She seems willing to go and give it a try.

I know if we take our time and have plenty of snacks and diversions that Boone could do the ride.

This is gonna be fun!

Friday, August 20

Buying Upgrades, Not Riding Up Grades

For about $140.00 I can get the rear carrier rack, commuter tires and fenders to make my Cannonball more primary-mode-of-transportation friendly.

The rear rack I have now isn't working out. My pannier keeps rubbing the rear tires and its worn through the outside pocket. Kinda defeats the purpose of having the pannier if there's a hole in it. I tried to make due jury-rigging with a wire coathanger, but its just not stiff enough to keep the nylon off the tire.

I was hoping people would buy some of the stuff from my road bike from craigslist. Not sure what's up with that. haven't even gotten a nibble. Oh well...

Didn't ride a lot this week, but I've been fairly consistent and I'm actually looking forward to inclement weather (assuming I have fenders by the time the snow flies).

Haven't really ridden other than on the bike paths around Arvada and Golden lately, but I'm enjoying commuting and exploring the neighborhood with the kids.

Tuesday, August 10

Planning

Without planning, there is no journey. Unless you have a destination or a purpose you do not make passage through the world. Planning can be as simple as subconsciously thinking you need to move out of the way of a moving object or as complex as the process which will eventually put a human being on Mars.

But what of planning without a journey? We call that longing, daydreaming, wanderlust. It takes a great deal of energy to cycle across the continent. To hold that potential energy back is to build up a dynamo that may someday burst.

Purpose and destination sometimes coincide. When they do not they are much harder to justify.

"Why do you want to summit Grand Teton?" a friend asks. "I just do," is a non-answer.

"Why do you want to ride your bike cross country?" "I don't know," leaves the interviewer unsatisfied.

"I want to ride my bike cross country to the base of the Tetons and summit the Grand." That is a plan for adventure. There is much more implied in that statement than: "Just because."

In doing some reading about the history of the interstate highway system in the US I came across Dwight D. Eisenhower's account of crossing the country in a military convoy via the Lincoln Highway in 1919. Reading this account and some of the history of the Lincoln Highway led me to some information on the Dixie Highway, which I had traveled upon as a kid when we lived in southwestern Ohio.

Oddly, about the time I was reading about Eisenhower's Lincoln Highway adventure I heard a song by a band called the Tiller out of Cincinnati, Ohio called "There is a Road (Route 50)" and I watched the taping of a radio show where the songwriter told how he would turn out of his driveway onto route 50 and head east to work, but often he would wonder how far he could go if he turned west. Highway 50 used to be a major highway before the Eisenhower interstate system came into being.

And then one day my wife swelled my heart nigh to bursting when she said, "Y'know, in a couple of years when the kids are old enough for us to ship them off to stay with their grandparents for the summer we should ride our bikes cross country."

In my mind I was mapping as fast as my little mental map would allow. South from the Denver area to Pueblo to pick up Highway 50, then follow that sucker east til her hit the Dixie Highway. Detour south to visit the kids and family in Kentucky, then shoot up through Ohio on the Dixie to its intersection with the Lincoln Highway and pedal west on it all the way back to Colorado. It might work. It could work. It was working already, burrowing into my brain and into the smallest fibers of my being.

I had a goal and the purpose was quickly forming itself around the framework of the route. I would write a book.

And then of course the whole scheme fulfills my driving purpose: to fill in my mental map as completely as possible. My brain is wired to compulsively explore. My feet move with their own volition, my brain plans and strategizes on a subconscious level all the time. At any given moment I am ready to amend my daily plans to incorporate a new leg of a route or tick a new road or place off of one of my thousands of tick lists.

Journeys allow me some release. Taking a trip, seeing a new place…my soul is restored and strengthened. Planning some trek across the planet allows me to escape the humdrum of cubicle life. It gives me hope and something to aspire to. My secret maps and lists give me great pleasure.

Monday, August 9

Choices

My next bike will be sturdy. It will fulfill its purpose well. I want a bike that will be a solid every day commuter. But I don't want to walk into REI and announce: "I Would like to purchase a commuter bicycle," and then walk out with the first thing they stick under my behind. I'm a more discriminating cyclist than that.

Speaking of indiscriminate cyclists…we were at Walmart last night picking up a bunk-bed for Boone. The site to store counter is right by the bike section of Wally World. There was a lesbian couple shopping for bikes and they were sort of discriminating, in the fact that they were nit picking on the junk bikes the guy was hauling off the racks for them to "test ride" up and down the toy aisles.

"Well, I like this one, but the front tire is flat and the brakes are loose."

Lady, tires go flat over time. All tires. They were probably never inflated to the proper PSI anyway. To the person who put that bike together "PSI" probably sounds like a TV show, a punk band, or some kind of mind powers.

And the brakes are loose because they are the cheapest quality components you can get for the money and they were installed by some Walmart employee who probably couldn't ride a bike, much less properly adjust the parts.

Her significant other scowled at me, I assume because I was hindering her "test ride", as I shielded Lily from getting run over with my body, partially blocking the narrow aisle. Or it could have been because I'm a man I guess. Its funny because Mandy overheard the first woman make the statement that her partner used to race bikes. Hmmm…

Anyway, if you're buying a bike at Walmart the most important decision you can make is on the color, because no matter what else you might decide, the bike is junk and its going to perform like junk.

So when I make my next bike purchase I will not go to Walmart. And even if I go to REI or a local bike shop I'm determined that I will ignore any sales push to buy something I don't want or need. I will not look at the label on the tag because I know that "commuter" means grampa bike to a lot of people and that's not what I want.

I want a bike that will get me back and forth to work every day without fail but that will also carry me up Mount Evans or cross country should the opportunity arise. I truly do want a touring bike. I want to be able to load it down with camping gear or groceries, trek for a hundred miles across the prairie or up to Golden in a snowstorm.

Saturday, August 7

Family Tour

Since we were going to be in Golden most of the day at the church building working on getting ready for VBS we decided we'd ride our bikes over there.

We got a late start. It usually take me 50 minutes to get to work and I ride pretty fast on roads I'm not willing to take the kids on. It ended up taking two hours to go 9.5 miles. We gained almost 500 feet so the ride was somewhat painful at times, but we made it in one piece with relatively little emotional damage.

I pulled Lily in the trailer with all out stuff and Boone and Mandy rode their bikes. I had hooked up the tow-bar stuff to Mandy's bike and she ended up towing Boone toward the end of the ride to Golden. He had ridden at least 7 miles on an empty stomach, so we really couldn't get too mad at him.

After we got there I ran to King Soopers and got donuts for everyone there and had three myself, plus a Dr. Pepper.

For whatever reason I volunteered to weedeat while we were there and drained myself beyond my reserves and almost shut down. I think I basically had a sugar crash.

I ambled around for a couple of hours, useless and spent. I wanted to sleep, and in fact, I reclined on the cool concrete by the bikes with the crazy creek chair for a pillow, but I didn't sleep.

Around noon I scarfed down some nice cold watermelon which gave me enough juice to ride from the building over to King Soopers again and the second time around I got some salami, cheese and bread for sandwiches. After a couple sandwiches and glasses of ginger ale I was sort of ready to head back home around 3pm.

We opted to return via the same route and since we weren't running late to get anywhere we just took our time and it went very well.

The first few miles we were running from some ominous clouds, but by the time we reached the Wheat Ridge Rec Center we had escaped the worst of it.

It was nice riding along Clear Creek, the gurgling whitewater and the wind through the grasses in the wetlands.

Of course on the return trip we lost the 500 feet of elevation. We stopped at Anderson Park along 44th and while the kids played at the playground I climbed the last mile and a half up Garrison to our house and got the car.

Mandy fixed chicken and broccoli alfredo which was just the thing to replenish the energy stores after our 19 miles of touring Arvada, Wheat Ridge and Golden.

Boone did great, especially on the return trip.

Thursday, August 5

Share the Road!

Benefits to motorist by having to share the road with more cyclists:

1) More parking spaces free for cars.

2) Less congestion/traffic - bikes take up less room on the road and typically cyclists stay out of the worst traffic and congestion, not to mention staying off of limited access highways.

3) Less pollution.

4) Shorter lines at the gas pump when there's a shortage.

5) Shorter wait for repair and maintenance at the local auto shop.

6) Conversation starter - "I'm tired of all the %$#@& cyclists on the road!!!"

LATER

What Kind of Cyclist Am I?

So I was reading from Ken Kifer's webpage yesterday and I came across this:

"...so what is touring? A tour is a trip from one place to another, and touring also implies travel as a form of exploration. Touring cyclists, then, are people who wish to explore the world around them via bicycle. However, just as a tour does not have to explore remote areas to be enjoyable, the trip does not have to last more than a few hours to qualify. Usually, touring consists of riding out in the countryside for the purpose of enjoying Nature."

I would not necessarily have called myself a touring cyclist before reading that, but that really does seem to classify my cycling. When I was a kid I rode all over the countryside, anywhere I could squeeze my 20" wheels I roamed just to see what I could see.

Before moving to Colorado most of my cycling as an adult was specifically to explore and enjoy the roads and trails around the places I lived. I did short stints as a commuter in different places, but mostly I rode for recreation and exploration.

Of course now my primary use for the bike is commuting, but I still love to get out and enjoy, and I often incorporate a bit of exploring on my commutes when I get the inclination.

Wednesday, August 4

More Musings About Bikes

I think for now I might just work on converting my Cannonball into a good solid commuter. It needs skinnier tires, fenders and a rear rack that gets the panniers off my heel (tried again last night to fix that but it just won't work with the racks I have); those things along with a touring handlebar set would make it actually a nice commuter bike.

I wish I could paint it. The paint now is dinged up pretty bad from my years of abuse. I don't have the luxury of stripping it all down, painting it and then reassembling it. Wish I did...someday.

But I think the Cannonball could be the exact bike I need. Oh, it would be stellar to have a new touring bike to ride to and from work, but the Cannonball just needs some tweaks and it will be perfect. The touring bike can come later when I get a chance to "tour."

I'm gonna try to sell some stuff from the Giant (RIP) to fund my upgrade...

Tuesday, August 3

Still Researching...

Ok, so I like the Cannondale Touring 2 and the T800. I also have been looking at the Surly Long Haul Trucker.

I have really loved my '93 Cannondale M300 mountain bike. I've never had another Cannondale. Might be time to give one a whirl. Need to find a dealer where I can test ride one.

Oh, BTW! This is like porn for touring cyclists: http://www.pbase.com/canyonlands/fullyloaded

Monday, August 2

Worth It

I took the kids out mountain biking on the Switzerland Trail near Boulder yesterday. We got rained out pretty soon after we got there, but Boone really seemed to have a good time as we explored the few hundred yards of trail on both sides of the trailhead.

As we were driving back down toward Boulder Canyon Boone piped up from the back seat: "Thanks for bringing us here Dad! I had a great time!"