Category Archives: Bike Touring

Lessons Learned From My First Tandem Bicycle Tour

This week I had the opportunity to reflect on my very first tandem bike tour with Felkerino, an eight-day, 775-mile excursion from Rockville, Maryland, to Niagara Falls.

I wrote about our 2005 tour experience on The Bicycle Story (an excellent blog, and not just because I have a guest post on it). You can see my story here.

Checking the map en route to Niagara Falls

Checking the map en route to Niagara Falls

Our Niagara Falls bike tour continues to inform the touring we do today. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned. Most of these are taken directly from the notes I jotted down immediately after the tour:

  • You do not need four panniers to credit card tour in the middle of summer.
  • Guest laundry at hotels is exciting, and so much better than hand-washing the day’s clothes in the bathroom sink and squeeze-drying it in a hotel towel.
  • When riding loaded, consider shorter days than 100 miles. During our 2005 Niagara Falls tour, we averaged 97 miles per day. In general, when Ed and I now tour we ride a few days that are close to a century, and mix it up with shorter days. I wrote in my notes from 2005, consider two days hard, and one day lighter to recover. Now I would revise that to ride a century one day, and ride the next couple of days at, say, 60-80 miles. It helps keep touring a treat.
  • If you ride long days (100 or more per day) with bags, you will not get to stop very much. (Insert sad face here.)
  • Sleep is bliss on a bike tour.
  • The fourth or fifth day on a tour are emotionally tough as tour legs start to set in. (I wrote that in 2005, but have found that if we keep our mileage less than a century per day, this does not happen to me as intensely.)
  • Plan out lunch and other food stops before leaving on tour.
  • Take photos and notes of the places you’ve been. They are fun to revisit later. In 2005, I took terrible notes and took no photos. While I have no regrets about that, I take notes and photos of our trips. I like seeing where we toured each day and having some photos I took that help capture each day.

So that’s my short list of lessons learned about bike touring. Feel free to add anything I left out or that you’ve learned from your own experiences on the road.

Taking a break to soak in the view.

Taking a break to soak in the view.

Despite our follies, Felkerino and I had an unforgettable adventure in 2005 that made us want to take time every year to bike tour. Bike touring… it’s the best!

Tara and Simon’s RAGBRAI Part 4 of 4: Unexpected Joys, Lessons Learned, and a Look Ahead

What better way to spend a Friday than spending a few minutes with Tara and Simon as they wrap up their RAGBRAI trip. Read on to find out the unexpected joys they encountered, lessons they learned through the week, and their pondering of the question– would we do it again?

Unexpected Joys

As coffee drinkers, our discovery of the Iowa Coffee Company tent brought us great joy. For the first few days, we suffered with watered-down coffee with a side of powdered creamer served at most of the pancake breakfasts.

The Iowa Coffee Company tent was usually set up somewhere along the route in the first 20 miles of the day and featured good strong coffee and, just as importantly, real milk.

Iowa Coffee Company

Iowa Coffee Company

We didn’t initially understand just how thrilled towns were to have RAGBRAI visit. Each town posted “Welcome RAGBRAI” signs and decorated their town, often with decorated bikes hung from street lamps or lining the streets. Almost always we would be greeted by an emcee, often the mayor of the town.

Our favorite was the town of Runnells, about 20 miles east of Des Moines. Runnells had a “Christmas in July” theme, complete with house decorations, wristbands, and a giant hay bale snowman. Tiny Packwood, Iowa (population: 223) advertised itself on volunteers’ t-shirts as “God’s Gift to Iowa.”

Christmas in Runnells

Christmas in Runnells

Simon’s impressions of classic Midwestern town architecture were first formed by Hill Valley, the town in the 80s movie, Back to the Future. His expectations were met towns like Oskaloosa and Knoxville, with green town squares bordered by storefronts and local restaurants.

The RAGBRAI rider is treated as a celebrity: little kids asked us to sign their t-shirts and posters for their bedrooms or school show-and-tell. We marked our hometowns with pushpins on world maps set out in restaurants and were invited to sign our names on barns and buildings.

The interaction between riders and locals was also overwhelmingly positive. Each morning when we left a town, a crew of town residents stood along the road waving us good-bye and genuinely wishing us a safe ride.

The feeling got even better as we descended into Ft. Madison, as people on their front porches and lining the streets greeted us with applause and cheers and motivational signs. A special “thank-you” to the person who thoughtfully put out a “Three miles to go” sign in their front yard.

Dallas Center, Iowa

Dallas Center, Iowa

The other unexpected positive was just how well our bodies held up to the challenge. RAGBRAI organizers recommend riding 1,000 base miles to fully enjoy the week. Although we hadn’t hit that magic number before we left, we had several hundred miles under our belt, and we had done a few 60-80 mile rides for practice.

We could not prepare for how our bodies would feel day after day of riding. At home, if we weren’t feeling great, or if it was really hot, we’d often use that as an excuse reason not to go riding or to cut our ride short. We didn’t have that choice at RAGBRAI.

After a few days of riding, our legs start out stiff and tired, but the tiredness would work itself out after about an hour of pedaling (and a hearty breakfast). We were surprised at how well our bodies not only survived, but performed well, particularly considering we were getting only two to four hours of sleep most nights (as discussed previously). We definitely left RAGBRAI stronger riders than when we arrived.

Lessons Learned

  • Never ride by a port-o-potty (or kybos, as Iowans call them) when there is no line.
  • Pick a fun goal for each day. Usually, this goal involved eating some type of food. One day, we set our sights on homemade pie. Another day, we stood in line for 45 minutes for the mythic Mr. Porkchop pork chop, served unceremoniously in a piece of wax paper and eaten by hand.
  • Always carry emergency food. Other than a big breakfast, we weren’t too methodical about what we ate throughout the day’s ride. We had been told that getting enough food and drink was never a problem due to the abundance of vendors along the route. As we learned the hard way, a smoothie vendor up the road is of small comfort if you start bonking two miles from it.
  • Everything costs money at RAGBRAI. I was shocked, as we stood in line for a mobile shower in Harlan, to learn that we would be charged $5 for the privilege (another dollar if you hadn’t brought your own towel). Even road-side signs advertising “free water” or “free indoor bathrooms” would usually request a donation to a charity.
Free kittens-- more false advertising.

Free kittens– more false advertising.

The Ultimate Question: Would We Do It Again?

A definitive maybe. There were definitely sleep-deprived moments during the ride when that I thought we had made a mistake in coming. Other times, I’d marvel when the pedaling, a cool breeze, and a pastoral view would all come together for us. As we’re now mostly recovered from our fatigue and sunburn, and our duffel bags are mostly unpacked, the accomplishment of completing RAGBRAI is starting to sink in.

One guy we spoke with explained that RAGBRAI is what you make it to be. You can paceline your way to Strava glory, roll leisurely and chat with people you meet, or you can turn RAGBRAI into a beer-soaked week-long adult summer camp experience.

Now that we have the experience of one RAGBRAI, I think we could better tailor our ride next time. While it served our basic needs, we probably would not use the same charter service. We would do more advance planning to ensure a home-stay, hotel room, or dorm room for most of the nights.

Aside from ensuring a better night’s sleep, the other advantage to having a hotel or place to stay would be having the opportunity for a lie-in in the morning. Starting later in the day gives you more of a mindset to take it easy and enjoy the ride, rather than trying to rush to the overnight town, only to then stand in long lines for a shower.

We didn’t relax as much as we could have, particularly in the early part of this trip. Now that we know we can finish the ride, next time we’ll focus more on enjoying the experience.

Tara, thank you so much for sharing Simon and your RAGBRAI story. I read your posts a few times this week, and I loved reading your perspective of Iowa, RAGBRAI, and how you fared throughout the week. Congratulations on this bike touring milestone, and I look forward to reading about other tours you do the future.

Have a great weekend, all!

Tara and Simon’s RAGBRAI Part 3 of 4: Other Riders and Unexpected Challenges

RAGBRAI is a sprawling event with more than 10,000 riders criss-crossing the state of Iowa over seven consecutive days of riding. Today’s post features Tara’s observations about some of the other RAGBRAI riders as well as unexpected issues that Simon and she confronted.

Finishing in Ft. Madison

Finishing in Ft. Madison

Observations on Bikes, Riders, and What they Wore

RAGBRAI attracts just about every kind of rider and every kind of bike you can imagine. From high-end carbon fiber racers with aero bars to department store mountain bikes. We saw a few Sevens and Rivendells, one or two folding bikes, but mostly Trek and Specialized.

We saw hand-cranked recumbents, trikes, triples, and even two guys on unicycles. Although the majority of riders were on road bikes, a surprising number used hybrids and even mountain bikes with knobby tires.

The tandem pairs were also interesting to see: spouses, of course, but also several dads with small kids, as well as tandem teams of a disabled stoker paired with an able-bodied captain.

While I don’t see it in D.C., the male to female rider discrepancy was apparent at this event. Based on our observations and some discussions we had with other riders, for a lot of men in their 40s and 50s, RAGBRAI is their week away from home life to bond with buddies, drink beer, and let loose. While we saw impressively chiseled calves on some riders, most riders we saw looked like reassuringly average people.

RAGBRAI riders in Dallas Center, Iowa

RAGBRAI riders in Dallas Center, Iowa

Clothing choices provided a constant source for conversation. Simon’s Heinz Beanz jersey seemed to draw every British ex-pat to chat with us on the road. We saw a lot of RAGBRAI jerseys of varying vintage, as well as a fair number of beer-themed jerseys (even a Miller High Life jersey, which we can only hope was worn ironically).

A surprising number of riders were fully kitted out in replica Leopard-Trek RadioShack gear, which we thought was an interesting choice of a professional team to adopt. Terry and Moxie apparel were well represented among women riders.

We did see some funny outfits, particularly on the first day: a Hello Kitty themed team; a tandem bride and groom (with top hat perched on his helmet and a veil fluttering off of hers); and a group that attached fluorescent-colored zip ties to their helmets for a spiky effect. We brought one Ibex wool jersey each, but did not see another single other Ibex jersey.

While waiting in lines or on shuttle buses, another frequent topic of conversation with riders we met was the elusive “Lance sighting.” As he has done a few times previously, Lance Armstrong came to Iowa to ride the first three days of RAGBRAI. We never saw him, but we met several people who shared stories (and photographic evidence) of riding with Lance Armstrong.

Rolling hills

Rolling hills

Unexpected Challenges

Being out in the sun all day wears you out, and we learned early on that we needed to re-apply sunscreen and lip balm often, given the full sun and relative lack of shade throughout most of the ride route. After the first day of riding, the more sun-sensitive of the two of us bought sun sleeves to wear for the remainder of the week, which helped immensely.

Although we had been warned that the biggest danger on RAGBRAI was other riders, there is no real way to prepare for sharing the road safely with 10,000 other riders. On the third day, when riding to Des Moines, the crowds swelled to perhaps as many as 34,000.

It felt chaotic to be on the road with that many people, and it was hard to settle into a steady rhythm. Particularly in the mornings, we spent more time trying to avoid crashes with inexperienced or distracted riders than enjoying the scenery.

One frustration was that often the crowds were such that getting to the side of the road to take a photo of a scenic vista just wasn’t worth the trouble. The later in the day it got, and as the ride travelled further east later in the week, the crowds thinned out and it was easier for us to ride along at our own pace and really enjoy the ride.

The underlying theme of our whole week, however, was the complete and total lack of sleep we were getting in camp. We had every form of nightly disruption you can imagine: car alarms, heavy snorers in nearby tents, hail and thunderstorms resulting in wet tents, freight trains, and the din of the nightly concert only blocks away.

Bikes along the railroad tracks in Knoxville

Bikes along the railroad tracks in Knoxville

Despite wearing the recommended ear plugs, we would wake up after about an hour of sleeping, and then be unable to fall back asleep. By far the worst night of sleep was in Knoxville. Our tent was no more than ten feet from a freight train line.

That wasn’t even the worst part, since only one freight train went by that night. The campsite was also across the street from a bar with a DJ and pulsing dance music that vibrated our air mattress. The party went on until 3am, when the police finally shut them down. Without our one quiet night of sleep in a hotel in Des Moines, I’m not sure we would have survived the entire week.

We were not the only ones caught out by record low temperatures at night. Coming from the mid-Atlantic, it was hard to imagine that a sleeping bag would be needed on a July evening, but our thin sheets and sweatshirts we brought were not enough to keep us warm, adding to our difficulty falling and staying asleep.

Next: Despite some of the discomforts, RAGBRAI also has a lot to offer a rider. And the ultimate question: would they do it again?

Tara and Simon’s RAGBRAI Part 2 of 4: The Ride

What is it like to be a rider on RAGBRAI, the largest cross-state bike ride in the country? Tara takes us there with her vivid recount. 

Tara and Simon in Council Bluffs

Tara and Simon in Council Bluffs

The Ride

Because we had to be out of the campsite each day by 7 a.m., each day’s ride began early. The first morning in Council Bluffs we stood waiting to turn from the campground, looking for a gap in the steady stream of riders already on the route.

A passing rider yelled, “If you wait to the end of the line, you’ll never get started!” Point taken.

We joined the steady stream of riders, rolling through Council Bluffs’ historic district, and then quickly up what turned out to be the second hardest hill of the week (although we didn’t know that at the time).

The first thing we had to immediately get used to was riding on the same road with 10,000 other people, something we couldn’t have prepared for.

For our own survival, we quickly learned to shout out “Slowing!” and “Rider off!” when we pulled to the side of the road, and to yell “Rider on!” when attempting to find some gap in the pack of riders pushing down the road.

Each day had five to six towns that we passed through, creatively called “pass-through towns.” Due to the crowds, we ended up dismounting our bikes and walking them through town.

We parked our bikes by leaning them against a building, on someone’s lawn, or hooking our handlebars over a cable laid on for the occasion. Although we carried a bike lock with us, we never used it.

Impromptu Bike Parking in West Des Moines

Impromptu Bike Parking in West Des Moines

Once off the bike, we would grab something to eat from a vendor: burritos, smoothies, corn on the cob, and other delights. Slices of homemade “church lady pie” (apple, rhubarb, cherry) were in high demand, particularly if paired with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

There was usually a beer tent. Disappointingly, it never offered any local Iowa brews, although we were able to try a few at the Peace Tree Brewery in Knoxville, Wednesday’s overnight town.

Some riders seemed to be taking full advantage of beer tents and beer gardens wherever available, but between the heat and the limited choices (Bud Light or Michelob Ultra?!), we stuck to one beer during the riding portion of the day, and often skipped it altogether.

We fell into the same rhythm most days: on the bikes between 6 a.m. and 7a.m., far earlier than we would normally start when at home in Maryland. We would ride out of the town for a few miles, find a pancake breakfast sponsored by the local Kiwanis or Knights of Columbus, and then ride another 10 to 15 miles before stopping at the next little town for a bathroom break or to top up our water bottles.

We almost always picked up something to eat or drink in the pass-through towns, and looked for shady spots on people’s lawns to sit in and relax for a while. Riding an easy pace and stopping to walk through all of the towns easily took us to mid-afternoon.

When we arrived in the overnight town, we would search out a friendly town volunteer or follow signs pointing the way to our campsite, which was still often a couple of miles away.

We usually waited until the overnight town to have our big meal of the day. About half the time, we ate at a restaurant. Otherwise, church spaghetti dinners provided a good carbs-for-dollars ratio.

Iowans delight in telling out-of-staters that Iowa is not flat. We found that the gently rolling hills suited our riding style. You could get some good momentum going down the hill that took you most of the way back up the next bump without exerting too much energy.

We were by no means the best riders out there, but we handled the hills consistently well. Mockingbird Hill in Springbrook State Park appeared about 50 miles into the second day. Incidentally, this was both the hottest and longest day. Touted as the steepest hill ever to appear on RAGBRAI, Mockingbird Hill was a half-mile slog at 10 percent grade.

As we approached the hill, many (if not most) riders dismounted and began walking up the hill on the shoulder. Given the density of riders already going up the hill, drifting over to the right and getting off safely wasn’t really an option. Neither was falling over or stopping, which would have easily taken out other riders behind us.

Fear and pride meant we had no choice but to drop into the smaller chain ring, knock out a steady cadence, and pray we didn’t go into too much aerobic deficit before reaching the top.

Rolling Hills of RAGBRAI

Rolling Hills of RAGBRAI

There were plenty of flat roads as well, with corn fields and the occasional farm house on both sides of the road. We crossed Red River Lake and the Des Moines River. We passed farm kids selling bottled water and cookies by the side of the road, and commercial vendors offering fruit smoothies, pickles, coffee, and of course, pork chops from the venerable RAGBRAI institution, Mr. Porkchop.

One thing we learned to be vigilant about was road conditions. An unfortunate few riders ended up in an ambulance on the second day after getting their tires caught in a particularly nasty crack in the pavement at the bottom of one hill.

Sometimes there would be smooth tarmac, which made keeping a consistent and high pace seem effortless, while elsewhere (notably, heading towards West Des Moines, and on the last day) we found ourselves repetitively hitting jarring bumps in the road. Ouch.

With the hardest day out of the way early in the week, we slowly began to relax on the following days. Given our relative slow pace (due in large part by the through-town walking traffic jams), we were nervous about the last day’s ride to Ft. Madison, located in the southeast corner of the state.

We needed to be done early in order to ensure we made it on the early charter bus to Des Moines. It was a 63-mile ride, with about 2,400 feet of climbing on the route. We began riding in the dark at 5am, with two tail lights and a Knog front light between the two of us. It was not ideal, but we followed a thin line of red blinking tail lights for an hour before the sun started to rise.

On the last day, we were hurting on many fronts. Neither of us could get comfortable on the saddle, we had muscle heaviness that wouldn’t go away, and we were experiencing hand numbness from the vibrations off the bumpy cement road.

Finishing in Ft. Madison

Finishing in Ft. Madison

Fear of missing the bus proved a good motivator, however, because our average speed was a good mile per hour faster that day than all of our previous days. We finished in Ft. Madison with enough time to have our picture taken in front of the Mississippi River, drop off our bikes at High Country, and grab some lunch for the bus ride.

Up next: Tara talks about what makes RAGBRAI such a unique experience, including some of the other riders she and Simon encountered as well as the unexpected challenges they faced throughout the week.

From the Captain’s Perspective: Our Colorado Tandem Tour

This week it’s all happening on The Daily Randonneur. Felkerino breaks down our recent Colorado tour by day and also discusses how our tour took shape.

Felkerino on Kebler Pass

Felkerino on Kebler Pass

He includes links to our GPS files that show the routes we followed each day. I know some of you had asked about the exact location and routes, and you will find those in his summaries.

Felkerino’s post will also connect you to each of our flickr photo sets  from our days of bliss on the road so what I’m saying is… you should hop over there and read it.

In case you can’t tell, we’re making the memories of Colorado linger as long as possible. Thanks for following along, Chasing Mailboxes buddies.

Seeing Changes

Co-Motion Java tandem

Instead of riding brevets and doing a 1000K or a 1200K this year, Felkerino and I focused on a weeklong Colorado bike tour, which included two days of riding around Boulder and a seven-day loop rich with hills and mountains. (Felkerino is writing a post of our routes and the gear we took over at The Daily Randonneur, so please stand by for that!)

As we were climbing Loveland Pass, Felkerino asked, “Do you think this tour will change you as a rider?”

After giving it some thought I responded that I did not view our tour this way. Rather, our riding in Colorado highlighted how we have changed both as riders and as a team.

Felkerino and I rode our first tour together in 2005, an eight-day jaunt from Rockville, Maryland, to Niagara Falls. Over the course of our trip, we averaged 97 miles a day. We carried four Ortlieb panniers on our old Cannondale tandem, and we toured on 700×28 mm tires. While perhaps not known for its mountains, that tour took us through the gnarly territory of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Finger Lakes area around New York.

What I’m telling you is this. On that first tour in 2005, we:

  • rode more miles than our dispositions could keep up with;
  • carried too much crap; and
  • chose tires that were what we would now consider way too narrow.

Co-Motion on Trail Ridge Road

Over the years, we have honed our system. For this tour, we completed 597 miles in seven days, an average daily mileage of 85. That seemed to be about perfect. We did not have to get up insanely early, and we could pause to take photos and stop to check out little towns along the way.

We ditched the four panniers, opting for a Carradice Camper on the rear of the bike and an Acorn Mini-Rando bag on the front. In order to glide over gravel sections and any rough pavement, we used Clement 700×35 “Adventure Tires.”

The changes I saw and felt on this tour were not just about gear choices and daily distances, though. I also observed increases in Felkerino’s and my mental and physical strength over years of riding together.

Until this year, a tour like this would have been unfathomable and I cannot imagine loving it the way that I did.

Randonneuring, because of its contrast to pure touring, is excellent bike tour prep. It makes 100 miles seem normal– on the short side, even. The brevets over the past years helped me understand and appreciate what it is to be completely in the here and now, as opposed to feeling the need to keep pushing ahead to the next control or the overnight. I hardly ever feel like I’m exactly in the place I’m supposed to be and yet, I existed in that state for seven straight days.

Kebler Pass

Kebler Pass

Ironically, we still began our tour with the Trail Ridge 200 RUSA Permanent and not a true tour day. We spent the day on the clock collecting signatures as we went, but it was alright and actually helped instill some good discipline into that as well as future days.

It also made every day that followed a little easier since Trail Ridge Road set the bar for our long steady climbs. It was the most difficult pass of our tour, due to its elevation, the time we spent scooting along the ridge, as well as the traffic we encountered going up.

In the past, if we had started out touring with a 134-mile day that included going up Trail Ridge Road, I would have been sluggish for the coming days as a result of the big effort. Instead, my body was well-conditioned and totally up to the task (except for the being afraid of falling over the mountain part). AND I thought if we could get up Trail Ridge Road, we could climb anything.

Our route invigorated me, and I awoke each day eager to see where the day’s ride would take us. Every day’s terrain was different. The day between Kremmling and Glenwood Springs was unshaded arid beauty throughout. McClure was a gentle up in between stunning rock formations. Kebler Pass shaded us with its plentiful aspen trees. The gentle switchbacks on the quiet road leading us over Cottonwood Pass took us up to incredible views. Yes, we tired along the way, but never did I wonder how I would make it through the day.

Loveland Pass

Loveland Pass

Felkerino showed how he has developed with routing, and we also received the expert and generous assistance of Colorado randonneurs John Lee Ellis and Tim Foon Feldman, who helped us create a perfect summer bike tour. We could not have kept going at the pace we were, but for seven days, it was bliss.

“Do you think this tour will change you as a rider?” Of course, every tour changes me in some way, but really, this tour showed me how much change we have already been through.

Final Day: Oh My God Road and a Rainstorm

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We were loathe for our scenic week in Colorado to be at an end, so when we met a cyclist at the top of Loveland Pass who recommended we route back via Oh My God Road rather than suburban roads we were intrigued and routed our 72-mile return from Georgetown to Boulder accordingly.

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We trended downhill from Georgetown to Idaho Springs. After an undrinkable espresso at the local coffee shop that then required an emergency run to a Starbucks (gasp!) near the I-70 interchange, we began our climb.

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Oh My God Road is technically Virginia Canyon Road, a road that rises from 7,500 feet to an elevation of 9,300 feet over about five miles.

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The road is gravel with steep dropoffs and no guardrails, with the exception of a short section near the top, which is also paved.

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This climb felt like an ascension into the past. We could see I-70 far below us while ahead of us were tangible reminders of Colorado’s gold rush.

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Traffic was sparse, which helped my confidence and concentration.

After creeping our tired legs to the summit we ripped into Central City/Black Hawk. Black Hawk is the town that banned cyclists from its streets, until the Colorado Supreme Court overturned that decision this year.

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Black Hawk and Central City originally cropped up as mining towns, but after the gold rush petered out, they revitalized themselves as gambling/casino towns.

I thought it was interesting to see how these old towns had been formed into the side of a hill, but Felkerino was not as impressed. We had a quick drink at Ye Olde Convenience Store and climbed away from town. From here on out we stayed on pavement.

The climb over to Nederland and Boulder Canyon was slow going, but I tried to enjoy it knowing these were the last of the uphill miles of our Colorado tour.

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Clouds started to roll over us in earnest as we neared the end of the day’s climbing miles and Felkerino and I realized that our tour would most certainly include rain. Good thing we didn’t carry those rain jackets around the state all week for nothing!

We jacketed up and prepared to ride into the raindrops. Lightning and thunder initially waylaid our progress and we found an awning under which to shelter.

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The sky looked like it was clearing so we ventured out again only to be met with a serious downpour. We stopped again and hung out at the Stage Stop in Rollinsville, which appeared to be a popular motorcycle hangout.

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We decided to eat lunch and wait out the storm. Gradually the rain let up and we left Rollinsville to begin our descent into Boulder.

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The rains had washed rock and soil into the road at various spots so we had to exercise extra care on the already wet road surface.

Even though the day remained cloudy, Boulder Canyon was still a gorgeous swooping descent with imposing rock formations on either side of us. Water rushed quickly through the canyon, adding visual and auditory drama.

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Down down down into Boulder we went and bee-lined our way to the coffee shop– partly to make up for the morning’s disappointing start coffee-wise, but mainly to toast a special week together on the bike.

Thanks for riding along with us.

Fremont and Loveland Passes: From 58 Miles Per Hour to Carnivorous Flies

Rain falls steadily in Georgetown, Colorado, as I write. It feels lovely to be clean and dry in a hotel room after a sweaty warm day of 71 miles out in the sun.

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After a tasty coffee in Leadville, Felkerino and I warmed up the legs with a steady climb up Fremont Pass, which tops out at 11,300 feet.

It was a gentle climb out of Leadville, where elevation is already over 10,000 feet.

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And the downhill? Holy s@%#! It’s a straight rollout from the initial drop into Frisco and the lack of winds meant Felkerino and I were in for a great descent. The Co-Motion held between 53 and 54 mph before it quickened to 58 miles per hour.

No, that is NOT a typo. 58! The Co-Motion Java felt SO SOLID on the rapid descent. Way to ride, Java. We’re keeping you!

I feel like my tour posts are stuffed with numbers about daily mileage and pass elevation. These kind of heights are novel to me, though, and I still am in awe over all the stuff Felkerino and I have clambered over this week.

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East Coast climbs tend to be shorter and gnarlier. The tough grades of the east are a good strength training ground for riding in Colorado, we discovered this week.

The time to complete a climb out in Colorado has forced a mental shift. A 12-mile pass may take us two hours or more, while descents can rack up mileage in a hurry. Felkerino and I just roll with it all. We’re on vacation. We’ve got nowhere we have to be.

After our descent off of Fremont Pass, we reached Frisco via a cool bike path where Specialized was doing a photo shoot. They did not notice us so we are still undiscovered cycling models.

We ate lunch in Frisco, and ground our way into the midday heat and around some lake through the outskirts of Keystone.

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After Keystone the road abruptly shot straight up, announcing the ascent to Loveland Pass.

What a mean beast, at least in the initial three or four miles. We crept along at just over 5 mph. Our pace was ideal for the horrid biting flies that call Loveland Pass home. They ate so much of me. They’re probably having a canning party right now with all the flesh they got out of me today. I gave them enough sustenance to last a lifetime.

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Gradually the pass leveled out into 6 mph switchbacks and a few miles later we reached the Continental Divide at just under 12,000 feet. Bye bye flies! You’ll never catch me now!

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Felkerino and I spent a few celebratory moments at the Loveland Pass summit. We’ve been so fortunate with weather, our health, and the bike this trip. We’ve enjoyed excellent support and encouragement from our friends. Also, with the exception of the occasional “eggs vs. espresso” debate, we’ve been pretty in sync with one another this trip.

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We descended rapidly off the mountain and onto one of the fastest and most forested bike paths I’ve ever ridden. This was no urban mixed use path. I can’t quite define these cycling-specific paths Colorado has made to keep cyclists off major roads. Cycling byways, maybe?

After 71 miles of riding, two passes, 58 mph max speed, and about one thousand bug bites later, we quietly arrived in Georgetown– little bike riders doing big fun things together.

One more day.

100 Miles: Cottonwood Pass to Leadville

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Yesterday’s ride was an excellent reminder that not all centuries are created equal.

It was also the first day where I settled into “tour mode,” where I did not worry about the miles or how often we stopped. I was just in the present moment.

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Our scenic and peaceful ride started in Crested Butte and wove us over Cottonwood Pass at 12,100 feet. Cottonwood Pass was a sublime winding climb on gravel.

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Wildflowers flanked much of the roadside. Few cars passed us and those who did gave us plenty of room.

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I loved how we could see all of the gentle switchbacks ahead. I tried to strategically plan my bathroom breaks so they coincided with good photo moments.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the mosquitoes did not allow us to linger long in any one place.

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After cresting Cottonwood Pass, we descended to about 8,000 feet through Buena Vista, a cute town with a good bike shop and an excellent coffee shop.

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We left Buena Vista to ascend 2,000 feet over a nicely spaced 30 miles to Leadville, Colorado, which sits at over 10,000 feet. Leadville residents must have lungs of steel.

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So it was not a flat day, okay? Felkerino and I are doing pretty well with the altitude now but rapid descents with a big elevation drop and twisty turns consistently make me gaggy. I am prone to motion sickness so this is not surprising; it just cuts into the awesome factor ever so slightly.

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The climb to Leadville was surprisingly easier than I expected. A helpful tailwind on a gentle grade over a smooth road made for good pedaling.

Felkerino and I pushed our way into town and soon after our arrival, I felt pretty bad. Felkerino thought it was a bonk so he ordered me to drink a Sprite, which brought me back to some semblance of my former self. One vegetarian lasagne and a baked potato later, I was ready for another day of riding. What a relief!

Kebler Pass: 10,000 Feet High with Neil Diamond

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I loved listening to Neil Diamond when I was little. My parents owned Tap Root Manuscript, which I was pretty certain was a kid’s album.

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In early elementary school my musical tastes changed and that Neil Diamond album began to collect dust.

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This morning I had the chance to make up for decades of not giving this 70′s crooner the attention he deserved, as the diner where we ate breakfast this morning was all Neil Diamond, all the time.

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And, because his songs are so catchy, they stayed with me throughout our fifty-mile ride from Paonia to Crested Butte, Colorado.

Fifty miles may not sound like a long day, but forty of them were the ascent over the 10,000-foot Kebler Pass. On a tandem. Going between 6-8 mph for much of the morning.

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That means plenty of time for silent singing of all the Neil Diamond songs I’ve ever heard. And you know, he had a fairly prolific singing career.

I tried to fill my Kebler Pass soundtrack with other artists, bur Neil was having none of it, always bringing me back to him with the Cracklin’ Rosie chorus.

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Good thing it was such a sunny day in the mountains with ideal temps and the sweetest of tailwinds on the climb.

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Good thing the roads were quiet and the views from all sides never ceased to amaze.

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Good thing the noble Aspen trees offered shade along the way and kept a watchful eye on me.

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Without them, I might have gone mad after hearing “I’m a Believer” pop into my mind at the summit.

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Good thing the descent shot us down into Crested Butte like a rocket ship. We went so fast that Neil Diamond could not keep up with us and my mind was free and clear of everything but the exhilaration of the present moment.