Cycling

Ready for the warm-up

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This is my third winter in Colorado, and it’s been the most brutal, though I still can’t complain. We’ve had plenty of days in the 50s and 60s. But we’ve also had pretty consistent (weekly) snowfall. And a LOT of single-digit mornings. I’ve bike-commuted my 35-mile trip to Boulder MANY times, with tons of layers, hand-warmers, foot-warmers, and eventually completely frozen water bottles. The last time I did the commute was a week ago during the first of several 15-degree “freezing-fog” days. It was maybe the coldest I’ve ever been. Honestly, it broke me a little. I’ve had no urge to do the morning commute since. In fact, I may not ride in the morning until it’s solidly in the 30s or 40s. Something about that frozen moisture got to my bones.

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Cycling in the cold is different from any other activity in the cold, in my experience. Just a few days ago I ran 9 miles in 0-degree (but sunny) weather. It felt great! And I can ski for several hours in wind and snow and not really be bothered. (Though, I’m spoiled as a gear-tester for Backpacker Magazine to get some of the best ski jackets that money can buy…for free). Cycling, though, especially with a headwind, is something entirely different. Overall, what I’ve learned this season is, sun changes everything — sun plays by a different set of rules. Anything is possible with full-sun and low wind. And grey skies with headwind will always crush your soul.

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But we’ve made it to March. The days are more than 11-hours of light. And the recent dumping of snow means phenomenal spring flowers are in the making. I’ve still got 2 trips to Eldora on my pass, and am looking forward to some of those classic spring bluebird days. Soak it up, Colorado. Only a few more weeks and we’ll barely remember the cold, dark, mind-numbing commutes of the winter. Despite the intensity of the weather, I still can’t imagine not biking year-round. There’s always something to be gained from being outdoors. I’ve (almost) never regretted getting out in it. Anyone can ride a trainer in front of a fan and a TV inside. Climbing slick streets to see the Flatirons and pine trees dusted with snow — that’s something special, every time.



Backroads & Bikeways: Loveland to Denver

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My brother and his wife recently moved from Brooklyn, NY to Denver, CO. They invited us down for a cookout and swim (their new apartment has a nice little pool). I figured this would be a good opportunity to see what it was like to bike from Loveland to Denver. The short version is: 50 miles of fun, 7 miles of not the best roads for biking. But! I'm determined to learn the city trail system better. 

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I started at 6:30am in order to beat the Sunday cycling crowd and the car traffic, and because I love starting at sunrise in the cool starting-to-feel-like-autumn air. The first 20 miles were familiar and easy. Then I went through Niwot, Lafayette, Louisville, and Broomfield, all on low-traffic, country roads. There were several hot-air balloons trailing me for about an hour. 

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Next I got on the I-36 Bikeway, which goes from Boulder to Denver, and is generally amazing. Every mile or so there's a self-service bike station, with tools and air. I continue to be impressed with Colorado's bikeways, and how well used they are. Lots of people out, all ages and abilities. 

The trail ends (as far as I could tell) around Westminster, and you can jump on another trail: Little Dry Creek, which is a little strange. Like being on an irrigation trail in LA. Definitely not as nice as the 36 Bikeway, but still away from cars. The last few miles were a little shady: from Dry Creek to downtown via Pecos Street. Nothing went wrong, and I'm obviously spoiled by never having to bike in traffic, but I'd still like to find a better way to downtown. 

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Overall, a fun ride, and one I'll look to improve on. Anyone who hasn't tried the 36-Bikeway: get on it!

Do it: Old Fall River Road

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Old Fall River Road has been on my list of rides since I got a gravel bike, and it did not disappoint. Built in 1920, Old Fall River was the first road through Rocky Mountain National Park. Very little has been updated to this road, which makes it extra special. Mostly dirt/gravel, there are no guard rails, and very little signage. The road is one-way...straight up, with 16 switchbacks, and not much room, even to pass a bike. At times the grade is up to 16%, though most of the time it's more like 7%. The last push is the toughest, as it climbs to nearly 12,000 feet. 

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I parked at the Fall River Visitors Center on 34 just before the park entrance. I clipped in at just before 8am on a Friday. There was no line at the gate, and I was probably only passed by 6 cars for the 11-mile dirt climb. The sky was blue, the wind was calm, and the pines smelled amazing. The road passes back and forth over Fall River, and you can always hear the water and a few small falls as background music. I only saw small critters: beaver and chipmunks, and could hear the pikas chirping. 

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Once I got to the Alpine Center, the wind turned up. The climb to Rock Cut (at 12,090 feet) on Trail Ridge was a little scary: gusts were pretty significant. But after I passed Rainbow Curve, the descent was fast and fun. When I set out for the ride it was 51-degrees. I'd estimate it was probably around 40-degrees at the top, and by the time I was back down to 8,000 feet, it was nice and warm. 

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The next time I do this climb I want to leave even earlier: truly have the dirt to myself at sunrise. 

Broadmoor Pike's Peak Hill Climb Gran Fondo

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12.42 miles, 156 turns, start elevation 9,390 feet, finish elevation 14,115 feet = 4,725 feet of climb at an average grade of 7%. 

We got an Airbnb and stayed about 30 minutes from the start, which was good considering my wave went off at 6:15am. Sunrise in the mountains was amazing. The weather was perfect: almost no wind, mid-40s at the start and mid-30s at the top. I wore light gloves and a super light wind jacket. I packed a heavy jacket and heavier gloves for the descent (a shuttle took drop bags to the top) and was pretty much perfect for the whole experience. 

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There were only about 20 women in the fondo, which I still don't really understand (why isn't this climb more popular?!) There were over 100 guys. I had no real expectations for my time, though I've been training on hills quite a bit (mostly because I just love to climb). For the first 5 miles I was back and forth between 2nd and 3rd place. Then for the rest I was back and forth between 3rd and 5th. I think I came away with 4th place, but mostly I just had a great time. The switchbacks are awesome. The last two miles are by far the toughest: not only are you nearing 14,000 feet, but it's got to be above 9% at that point. 

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I'm definitely ready to do this again. My time on the climb was 2:03:47. So, obviously I need to get sub-2. For a first-timer, I couldn't have asked for a better day. 

Go There: O'ahu

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In graduate school, my MFA thesis dealt with three characters on three islands. I researched several areas of the Pacific, and spent a lot of time thinking about island life. Like, all my time. But this is the first time I've actually been to an island in the Pacific. Honestly, it was even better than I imagined. 

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Friends of ours who live in Honolulu announced that they were having a 10th anniversary party a year before the event, to make sure everyone had enough time to make plans. And as soon as they made the announcement, we knew we were in. We spent one night in Honolulu before heading to the North Shore. Our first morning in Hawaii, we woke around 4am because of the time change, and were anxious to get going. I found a high school track and ran a fast mile just because we were at sea level. We did a swim at Ala Moana park and met up with friends for breakfast at Koko Head Cafe. Then we were off to the Ke Ike Beach Bungalows for 5 days of swimming, biking, SUPing, hiking, and relaxing. 

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In general, O'ahu is not bike friendly. Or, not after living in northern Colorado for 2 years. I rented a road bike, but really just stuck to back roads. I had hoped to explore more on bike, but was happy to at least find a loop with a lot of climb away from the traffic. I learned the hard way that Hawaii roads are almost always rain-slick; I took a speed-bump wrong and avoided a trip to the hospital only because I was wearing a helmet. Bruised but still determined, I barely let it slow me down, climbing over 12,600 feet on the bike in 94 miles on the week. 

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One of the highlights of the entire trip was the North Shore Swim Series 2.3 mile swim from Ehukai Beach Park to Waimea Bay. It's awesome to have friends who do cool things. 

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We ended the trip with an intense hike up Kealia Trail (including "Oh Shit Hill"): 1,600 feet of gain in 2 miles! We may have been at sea level, but we did a lot of climbing throughout the week! I definitely want to visit other islands, but O'ahu was absolute paradise. 

 

Do it: Century Ride (7,200 ft of climb)

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Sometimes you've just got to do something epic. It's been several weeks since I've done a ride over 60 miles, so I decided to do a full century. I got up at 5am and was on the road by 5:30. My favorite breakfast in the world is a Clif bar on the spin. The road to Brainard Lake has been under construction for several months, and just reopened last week. Anyone who bikes in the Boulder area knows that the ride to Ward is a long, tough climb, and then adding Brainard Lake is 6 more miles and about 1,200 more feet of gain. This last push is all above 10,000 feet, and has a dizzying effect. After a sunrise spin around Carter Lake, I got down to business. I took Highway 7 (Peak to Peak) from Lyons through the canyon. (I especially love the detour that goes through Raymond: this is my favorite route in the fall when the Aspens are changing). Then came the climb to Ward, and that extra push to Brainard. 

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I find that breaking a long ride into little pieces helps me enormously with the mental game. For me, this ride was: Home to Lyons, Lyons to Raymond, Raymond to Ward, Ward to Brainard, Brainard to Boulder. It's been super warm in Colorado, but I thought it would be nice and cool up above 8,000 feet. It was cooler, but not cool. This was still a sweaty, sweaty ride. 

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I assumed I was over-packing when I stocked my pockets with 2 Clif bars, 3 gels, and a pack of Shot Bloks, in addition to 2 water bottles with Skratch. I ended up eating both bars, 1 gel, and the pack of Bloks over 7 hours in the saddle. I ran out of water entirely around the time I was starting the Brainard stretch (mile 56). I've hiked this area before, and remembered that there are some camp faucets. Luckily, I found one at the campground about 2 miles in. I was pretty dehydrated at that point. I kind of love the feeling of going so hard that nothing in the world is better than water.  

All in, this was an incredible ride start to finish. The views at Brainard are truly a reward worthy of 7,200 feet of climb, serious sweat, and dehydration. And the descent on Lefthand is like pudding. As soon as I got to Boulder, I took a dip at the pool, showered, and drank a LOT of seltzer. Stay epic, Colorado!

Something I Learned: C02

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I ride between 120 and 170 miles a week: usually a mix of country roads and mountain roads--sometimes dirt and gravel roads--and many of my miles are done in the early morning and out of cell-phone range. Yet, I'm still less than comfortable when it comes to changing a tube. I can do it. I've done it several times. I'm actually pretty good at it. But anytime I hear or feel an indication of a flat, I get a little panicky. A few weeks back, I had a front flat coming down after a decent climb. I got it changed without much trouble and was on my way. The very next day I had a rear flat. It seemed to be a slow leak, so I just inflated it with C02 and hoped it would last the rest of the ride. Two miles later, totally flat. I changed the tube, and tried to use the rest of the C02. As I was releasing it, the tube literally froze and crumbled. I've heard that this can happen: I've talked to people who have gotten frostbite from C02, and who are generally weary of it. So, at this point I was stuck. I had a tube with a puncture, a completely ruined tube, and zero C02. 

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Luckily, it was a brilliant day around noon, and several cyclists were out. As I was attempting to phone a friend, a man rolled up and introduced himself: Chuck. He sat down and patched my not-entirely-ruined tube. Kind people exist everywhere, but I've been especially impressed with how willing cyclists in northern Colorado are to lend a hand. It took Chuck a while to properly patch my tube, but we talked about retirement (his), local music, and the toughest climbs in the area. After patching me up, he hand-pumped air into my fixed tube, and sent me on my way. The next day, I invested in a hand-pump of my own, and now carry 2 tubes. I'll still pack a C02 cartridge, and have nothing against it, but if I had been any farther out: up a mountain or in the country, and someone as kind (and prepared) as Chuck hadn't come along, I would have been out of luck. It's a tricky thing when the only way to learn is to practice, but the best case scenario is not to have to practice. I feel a little more equip now, and a lot more grateful for kind people.  

Do It: 12,183 Feet

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High Point on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park sits at 12,183 feet, which makes it not only the highest pass in Colorado, but also the highest continuous motorway in the United States. More than 8 miles of the road are above 11,000 feet. Each spring, for a few weeks, Trail Ridge is open to cyclists and pedestrians, but not to cars. This time is spent readying the visitor centers, getting water pumping at the restrooms, and generally maintaining the park. It's also, obviously, the best time to be up there. 

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I recently biked from the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park (which sits at 8,400 feet) up to High Point, and around the top area--which is like being on another planet. The trees disappear, the snow on both sides of the road grows higher than can be seen over, and the air is thin. A little over forty miles and 5,000 feet of gain all in. There was some wind at the top, but I've driven the road when the wind was far worse. Overall, it was the quiet that impressed me. 

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The majority of other cyclists I saw at the top were women, which is not usually the case on the roads that I frequent. I met a group of 3 women who (like me) were biking it for the first time, and another woman who was going all the way from Granby to Estes on a bike that looked to weigh almost as much as she did. She had clearly been camping for a while. A thing I've learned is that women in Colorado are not afraid to do challenging feats alone. 

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I bought an annual pass for Rocky Mountain and all the rest of the national parks when I entered. Now more than ever, it seems vital that we maintain and support these treasures. I only live about 30-miles from Rocky Mountain, but every time I enter the park, it feels like such an escape. And any time spent above 11,000 is just automatically dream-like. It's important to be in these places: to feel small and get a little scare from the sheer size of everything else. 

 

Do It: Gold Hill, Colorado

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Ten miles outside of downtown Boulder, Colorado is a step back in time. Mapleton Avenue changes to Sunshine Canyon Drive; after about 6 miles of winding pavement, it switches to dirt, and then gravel. By the time you reach Gold Hill, you've climbed over 3,000 feet. A sign greets travelers with all the relevant statistics: Established in 1859, elevation 8,463 feet, population 118. There's a store and an inn and a school. There are old dogs wandering the road. There's probably some lingering snow piled up. Cyclists know to stuff a jacket in their pocket as it's usually 10-20 degrees cooler up top. 

There are several options up to the old mining town: a road from all four directions. I've climbed up two of the roads, descended one, and still have one on my list. Lickskillet is the steepest county road in the United States, and after going down twice on a road bike, it's still solidly outside of my comfort zone. Even riding the breaks the entire way, you slide and skid down the gravel. It's one-mile of between 15-20% grade. But, it empties onto the smooth-as-pudding Lefthand Canyon Drive, where coasting back to town at 30 mph feels absolutely luxurious. 

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I recently "raced" the pavement of Sunshine Canyon, which means I went all-out and had an average pace of just 8 mph. Then I meandered the rest of the way on the dirt to the top. I can't really explain why I love these mining towns so much. The thin air, the reminders of striking it rich, the old general store that's been selling coffee and treats for over 150 years: it all feels like a treasure--like I've done something impressive just in getting here. 

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I can't wait to keep climbing these roads. Eventually I'll make it up Lickskillet. Eventually I'll take the longest route and hit two mining towns in one trip. There's still gold up here: even just in the experience of the trip.  

Gear: Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon wheels

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I've got friends who seem to buy bikes more often than I buy running shoes (and I buy a decent amount of running shoes). I get the whole N+1 theory, and there are certainly bikes I'd like to buy, but instead of purchasing a whole new package, I decided I'd upgrade my current frame a little at a time.

Twelve years ago, I purchased my first decent road bike: a Fuji Roubaix 1.1. I studied up, talked to local shops, and then was fitted for it at a locally-owned store that I trust. Then...I moved to NYC. After less than a month in Brooklyn, my bike was stolen. When I went to the police, they essentially laughed and told me that professional thieves can pop a U-lock in between 2 and 8 seconds (they showed me how). Professional thieves? I was heart-broken: my first NYC scar. I bought an all-black $500 Fuji Feather single-speed with zero bells and whistles to commute on, and a $90 Kryptonite lock. I used my bike for transportation only. 

After a few more years in the city, I decided to look into road bikes again. I tested several out, but really just wanted my Roubaix. I found a Fuji dealer in Manhattan and they got me my bike. I vowed never to let it out of my sight: never to lock it at all. If I had to go indoors anywhere, I carried it on my shoulder. I started doing some bigger rides up 9W and with the local Rapha club

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When I moved to Colorado, though, that's when I really started biking. That's when I fell in love with big, long climbs. I live between Fort Collins and Boulder, which means access to some of the best roads/hills in the Front Range. I met some great people via Strava, and got some advice on parts. Over the past several months I've added the following: SRAM Force Outer Ring, SRAM Powerglide Inner Ring (34Tx110mm), Shimano Ultegra RD-R8000 Rear Derailleur, Shimano Ultegra CS-8000 11 speed cassette, Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon wheels, Specialized Power Expert saddle. This setup is like a new bike, but with the frame I've come to, and continue to love. I can't recommend the Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon wheels enough. Fully carbon wheels are insane. Basically, no matter what bike you buy, unless you're spending more than I did on my last car, you're probably going to get crappy wheels: it's how bike manufacturers save/make money. Straight up: the wheel upgrade is the best thing you can do for any bike. 

Mild Temperatures and Masters Swimming

Dirt roads, snow-capped mountains

Dirt roads, snow-capped mountains

I must have done something to please the weather gods, because the fall has continued to be amazing. The thing that Colorado is really good at is the 30 (and sometimes even 40)-degree temperature span. These last few weeks have been mornings in the 30s and afternoons in the 60s. Save for the sun beginning to set at 4:30pm, it's basically perfect. 

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I've done a few morning rides in lobster-claw gloves, and even more afternoon rides in short bibs. The afternoon sun is glorious. I've also been riding a lot of dirt, which means almost entirely empty stretches with incredible views. There are ways for cars to easily avoid these roads, so they do. Seeing the snow-capped Rocky Mountains has not gotten old. 

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But, winter is coming. Ski season starts next week. The magazine that I test products for is sending me waterproof, heavy-duty gear. I should, in reality, be praying for precipitation. So I joined a US Masters Swim club. Approximately 30 people, ranging in age from 28 to 70, gather at 5:30am at a (really nice) high school aquatic center Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Some are religious about it. Others show up once a week at best. I'm averaging twice a week for now. I have to say, these folks can SWIM. I did my first 3K test and was humbled at how fast some can swim that far. I've got some new goals, for sure. 

Sky on fire, post-swim

Sky on fire, post-swim

And, it's not bad walking out into the sunrise after swimming 2-miles of drills to start the day. You get to see the sunrise, for one, and have that good-exhausted feeling going into work. If I can hang with my lane for the entire winter, I think I'll be a lot stronger come spring. And, what else is there? 

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ColoRADo Fall

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It's full-on fall in Colorado, and I'm once again reminded that this is my favorite season. I think I truly fell in love with the end-of-summer transition into colder weather when I ran cross-country in college. Days started with early-morning miles at sunrise--just for the sake of miles. Practice was at 4pm, which meant hills, drill, sprints, and race strategy, followed by huge team meals. I was running more than 70-miles a week back then, and didn't feel stretched thin. I just loved going as far as I could go.

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These last few mornings in Colorado have felt like those CC days. You pick up the pace because the air is crisp and clean, and you just want to go faster. This morning I ran tempo--10x(2 minutes up, 2 minutes down). I tried to keep my ups between 7-flat and 7:15. The humidity was right around 30%. Weather like this makes it easy. 

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The first ski slopes open this weekend. As much as I'm looking forward to winter--to becoming true Colorado and getting on skis more than twice this year (AND FAT TIRE BIKING)--I could hang onto fall for at least an extra month. Maybe I'll get my wish. The next 10 days look to be sunny with a high around 70 and a low around 40: literal perfect weather. Hopefully even faster splits. 

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Thanks for spoiling me, Colorado! I just raked a few huge piles of leaves, and plan on playing in them with the pup!

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