A Labor Day Trifecta – Colorado Style

Eric is home….for good…for his second (and “final” he says) retirement. So what better way to welcome him home than to give him a sampling of activities near our new home. No, our weekend did not include horse racing as the title might suggest, but it did include road bikes, mountain bikes, and hiking shoes

Day 1 – Roading Biking near Aspen (46 miles, 4,242 ft)

Smooth roads and little traffic make cycling to Ashcroft a pleasure.
Smooth roads and little traffic make cycling to Ashcroft a pleasure.

A short two-hour drive from our house brings us to beautiful Aspen, Colorado. We parked our car at the HHS “free”(on weekends) parking lot near the Aspen Hospital. From there we cycled uphill towards the old ghost/mining town of Ashcroft. The gradual 12 mile uphill on a beautifully paved road heavy on scenery and light on traffic must be a cyclists’ favorite as we passed and were passed by many cyclists. The sound of the stream rushing over boulders on our right, the smell of pine and the sound of the rustling aspen leaves in the slight breeze were welcome contrasts to the Egyptian desert that Eric had recently left.

A view near Ashcroft
A view near Ashcroft

After arriving at the quaint “ghost town” of Ashcroft we stopped to snap a few photos but didn’t linger because dark, puffy storm clouds were appearing over the peaked mountains. The possibility of being caught on our road bikes in a mountain thunderstorm did not seem fun.

The downhill ride from Ashcroft to Aspen is fantastically fun and fast bringing us back to the parking lot before we knew it. Our stomachs were grumbling so we took the paved bicycle path passing the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching  and beautifully-restored Victorian houses on the way to downtown Aspen. The town itself was bustling with tourists and locals alike celebrating the end of summer by dining at one of the many restaurant patios, strolling through the Saturday Farmer’s Market, shopping at one of the many designer stores and/or art galleries, or like us, sipping a beer and munching on a brat at beer garden.

After refueling and meeting another couple who said their “favorite” road bike ride is from downtown to the Maroon Bells, we decided to see the iconic Bells for ourselves. Although this ride was no more difficult than the morning’s, it felt longer and harder…beer?…too long of a rest?…out of share??? … all of the above?

Our slow climb uphill actually worked in our favor for great photos. As the afternoon sun dropped behind the peaks the reds, purples, and blues of the mountains were accentuated. But, with the setting of the sun, the temperatures dropped motivating us to hurry.

Because the Maroon Bells are one of the most photographed mountains in Colorado, they are heavily visited. If it weren’t for the amazing view, the busloads of people and number of cars parked at lake would have been a disappointment.

Putting the crowds aside, the downhill ride was a blast – smooth, fast roads, straight enough to require little braking!

A day worth repeating….

Day 2 – Hiking Craig’s Crest on Grand Mesa (7.6 miles , 878 feet)

The view from he top of Craig's Crest on Grand Mesa.
The view from he top of Craig’s Crest on Grand Mesa.

Less than an hour from home is the beautiful Grand Mesa, the largest table-top mesa in the United States. From fishing, jeeping, hunting, hiking, mountain biking and camping to snowmobiling, all-types of skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping, this mountain/mesa has it all.

With another fun day in our forecast, we needed to fuel up before we started. Taking advantage of a $10 off coupon from our “Welcome Wagon” packet, we tried out Starvin’ Arvins, a local truck stop at the Fruita exit of I-70. Both Eric’s choice, the Green Machine (green chili with pork, biscuit gravy, eggs and hash browns) and my simple Two Eggs and Bacon came with salad-plate-sized homemade cinnamon rolls before the meal. By the time our meals actually came we were buzzing on the sugar/carbo load and feeling pretty gross. But, we assured ourselves that the hike would burn off the calories.

The rock I carried down the hill for our rock garden at home.
The rock I carried down the hill for our rock garden at home.

Craig’s Crest Trail is a fun hike that starts in the scrub oak, meanders through dark pine forests filled with fir and the famous Colorado Blue spruce trees, switch-backs across rocky scree fields, and rewards hikers with a grand 360-degree vista as the climbs along a rocky spine near the top. We found a beautiful, sunny, rocky ledge where we enjoyed our sandwiches until rain drops and a darkening sky indicated it was time to get away from imminent lightening danger.

Not accustomed to hiking downhill, our legs were aching and our thighs were shaky. We both agreed that we need to keep hiking in our repertoire of activities to cross-train our muscles.

Ibuprofen and an early bedtime assured us we would be ready for day 3 of our Labor Day Trifecta.

Day 3 – Mountain Biking at the new Ridgeway Area Trails. (RAT)

The 90 minutes drive south towards Ridgeway, Colorado is beautiful with the snow-capped peaks of the San Juan Mountains appearing like a picture through the front windshield of the car during much of the ride south.

I love the "cheesy" trail names.
I love the “cheesy” trail names.

The new RAT trails are located across Highway 550 from Dennis Weaver Park (yes, it’s the Dennis Weaver of the TV shows Gunsmoke and McCloud). The parking lot was almost full with cars and young children riding their pint-sized mountain bikes around the gravel lot while waiting for their parents to join them. The children were a good indicator to us that the trails might be at our level.

As we began our ascent uphill on “The Big Cheese”, we were delighted to note that the trails were perfect for us – not too rocky, hilly, or technical – and very manageable except the sharp switchbacks near the beginning. Once we got to the top of the plateau, exploring trails like Ratical, Rat Trail and Maze was a blast! We enjoyed continuous riding without hopping off our bikes every few minutes to navigate rock ledges or loose-rocky downhills typical of the rides closer to our home. The Ridgeway trails meandered through sage brush and piñon pines with occasional views of the Ridgeway Reservoir below in the distance.

One of Eric's first days on his mountain bike.
One of Eric’s first days on his mountain bike.

After several hours of riding, we headed into the town of Ridgeway and enjoyed a late lunch at the 66 Diner, a funky establishment located in an old Airstream trailer parked on Main Street.

If this “Trifecta” is any indication of the outdoor paradise near our home, we are in for a fun retirement.

Being a “Retirement Champion”

The story behind filming “Being a Retirement Champion.”
The way connections are made in the blogosphere still amazes me. About a month ago I received a very long “comment” that appeared to be a casting call for a documentary-type film being made for a financial company. At first I thought it was spam.

But curiosity got the best of me so I “Googled” the name of the casting company, checked the email address at the bottom of the note, and visited both a Facebook page and a website to make sure this comment was not spam. It was a real company with a real request.

The “casting call” asked for answers to several questions and several pictures. I provided a link to my Wall Street Journal article (June 1, 2015),  which answered all their questions and attached a couple of pictures.

Several days later I got an email saying, “Congratulations! You’re one of several finalists.” I still didn’t know what I was a “finalist” for, but my interest was piqued.

The email stated that a film company would call me  to make arrangements to come to Colorado, film me cycling and interview me. The email also wanted to know if my parents might be available for an interview as well.(I would ask)  I was still skeptical and actually a bit worried that I might have gotten into something I might regret later and now I was involving my parents, too.
Another few days passed and  I received a lengthy email from the production company  asking for possible filming locations, a list of  interview questions, and the filming schedule. This “casting call” apparently was no joke and I was going to be on camera. This was getting exciting…

I knew exactly where to cycle – the winding switchbacks of the Colorado National Monument were perfect. And I was only stumped by one of the interview questions-  “What is retirement?”

To make a long story short, two days later, the film and production crew arrived promptly at our front door at 6:30 AM.  I had the pleasure and fun of cycling for and interviewing with the nicest group of people I could ever have imagined. They were excellent at putting us (my parents and me)  at ease and making us feel like life-long friends.

Click on this link to see some beautiful cycling roads and learn the answer to the question “What retirement means to me.”

N.B. I never did learn how the casting company found my blog…but I’m sure glad they did.

Mind Meets Monday on the Monument

The sunrise in the east makes great early morning shadows.
The sunrise in the east makes great early morning shadows.

Buzzzzzz…A 5:15 am alarm woke me from a deep sleep. I didn’t know where I was or, for that matter, why I’d set the alarm. I slowly slide the quilt off my face, forced my eyes open and looked around the room. It was still dark except for the faint glow from the screen of my phone.

After reaching over to my night stand, grabbing my cell phone and swiping the screen to shut off the alarm, I closed my eyes, pulled the quilt back over my head and dozed off.

All of a sudden, the reason for the alarm came to me. I sat up. I checked my phone to see how long I’d overslept. I stumbled out of bed.

Bike ride…helping friend train…need coffee…I’m so tired…I promised…could text and cancel…if I hurry I can gulp one cup….that Saturday ride wiped me out…my bike shorts are dirty…18 minutes to departure…you can do this…sleep…need more sleep….fill water bottles…is the coffee ready…cancel…no, don’t….

I did eventually get myself on my bike, clip into my pedals and start pedaling. My joints and muscles rejoiced with the slow spinning and stretching almost like warming up the pistons of a car on a cold day. The beam of my headlight on the pavement reminded me of Eric and my 4:45 am rides in Malaysia two years ago. It’s been a long time since I’ve needed an alarm.

Another few minutes of pedaling and the shroud of sleep lifted, my senses awakened to the predawn beauty of The Colorado National Monument. White-tailed bunnies hopped across the road in early morning playfulness, ravens called in laughter to wake the desert, emerging sunshine cast blue, pink, and red shadows on the sandstone rock formations.

Thanks goodness, mind won over my sleepy, achy body. The early ride was great start to a morning…to a Monday….to a week.

Cycling Greece – 4 Day Cycle Tour in the Peloponnese (Part 2)

Day 3 – Nafphlio to Epidavros (31.9 miles, 2361 ft.)

Looking out from Palamidi Fortress to Nafplio.
Looking out from Palamidi Fortress to Nafplio.

Saying goodbye to Nafphlio was hard because it was such a fun place to be.  Luckily,  better road conditions with less traffic, a larger shoulder, and new pavement plus stunning scenery with cobblestone paths on the edge of the seaside, rolling hills speckled with olive groves, pinkish, rocky cliffs, and were our rewards for pushing on.

Riding along the stone path surrounding the Nafplio peninsula.
Riding along the stone path surrounding the Nafplio peninsula.

By noon we were baking hot and looking for shade.  A road sign advertising a hotel 200 meters off the main highway was our excuse to take a detour for shade and water.  This “detour’ as, we’ve found many to be during our travels, ended up being the bonus for the day. After sipping Coke and chugging waters in the breeze-filled, cool shade of the grape arbor at the hotel, we then cyclied a few more kilometers down the road to Ligourio where we had a choice of cafes for lunch and a cool place for Eric to “hang out” while I made the extra 4 kilometer ride to see the world famous  Epidavros Theater, surrounding archeological site, and museum. I’m so glad I did and, as a result, seeing a Greek play performed at Epidavros is now on my bucket list.

The Epidavros Theater is still in use and has seating for 13,000.
The Epidavros Theater is still in use and has seating for 13,000.

This ancient theater, built in 300 BC, is still in excellent condition . With seating for over 13,000 people, excellent natural acoustics, and a full program of excellent summer plays, I’m only sorry that we were not going to be in Greece over the weekend. After seeing Epidavros with my own eyes and hearing the acoustics from traveling student groups clapping on stage to their friends high up in the stands, I am  impressed and it awe of  those ancient Greek builders.

A typical view while cycling the Peloponnese.
A typical view while cycling the Peloponnese.

After visiting Epidavros, I cycled back uphill to the town of Ligourio to meet up with Eric. We found a old, less traveled, mostly downhill road to the town Ancient Epidavros, our stop of the night.

A perfect place to sip fruity drinks and relax after a hot day of cycling.
A perfect place to sip fruity drinks and relax after a hot day of cycling.

Our destination was the Mouria Pansion situated directly on the beach in a peaceful, secluded cove. From the road, this hotel did not look very promising, but once we entered the lobby and passed through the dated restaurant, we found ourselves separated from the world with lush palms, oleanders, bougainvillea, manicured grass, clean beach and blue water. It was like a hidden paradise…

If ever there were a beachside bar at which to order a coctail, this is it. The bartender uses freshly squeezed oranges, lemons, and limes plus freshly grated ginger and other spices to make his drinks. I’m not usually a mixed drink fan but this marguerita was fresh, tart, and strong.

Luckily there was no need to worry about cycling under the influence because Mouria Pansion also has a restaurant. There is no menu and the waiter strongly suggests their “local cuisine” (it’s possible that’s all they had in the kitchen) but the food, like the cocktail, was tasty.

We went to bed early so we could rise early for a before-breakfast swim.

Day 4 – Epidavros to Poros ( 30.5 mi, 3182 ft.)

Today was my FAVORITE day of cycling in Greece! Hills, a good road with little traffic, beautiful views of the ocean, and a ferry ride across a beautiful bay to our final destination made this ride a joy!

As planned, we started the day with a swim in the calm waters of the bay in front of our hotel at the Mouria Panison. I loved the smooth-pebbled beach and prefer the small pebbles over fine sand because it is gentle on my feet and doesn’t leave grit between my toes.

I could have relaxed on the beach all day but it was time to move on. Leaving the town of Ancient Epidavros is a very steep, long uphill. It was so steep (or we were so out of shape) that we stopped every 100 meters or so to wipe sweat from our brows and catch our breaths.

Cycling together is NOT always a bed of roses. When Eric saw this sign he snapped, "I told you the friggin' road was less than 500 meters away!"
Cycling together is NOT always a bed of roses. When Eric saw this sign he snapped, “I told you the friggin’ road was less than 500 meters away!”

I’m convinced, however, that hills are worth it for the spectacular views and the thrill of the downhill. This leg of our journey did not disappoint. We were rewarded with azure waters, whitewashed Greek villages dotting the hillsides, and vistas of Greek islands just off the main coastline.

In the background and down the hill is the bay where we spent the night.
In the background and down the hill is the bay where we spent the night.

A great half-way stop for lunch was at Kalloni Royal Resort. The dining area on a breeze-filled patio overlooking a sparkling swimming pool filled with children’s laughter made for a refreshing place to rest and refuel with fresh grilled pork souvlaki and Greek salad.

The view from our breezy and cool lunch table.
The view from our breezy and cool lunch table.

We continued on towards the town of Galatas where we caught a short ferry across the bay to the tiny island of Poros. If ever there were an idyllic tourist picture of Greece, the view of Poros from the ferry is just that – a clock tower at the high point, white houses with red-slate roofs crowded together on the hills facing the sea connected by hidden narrow paths and stairways, and turquoise blue bay dotted with sailboats and yachts, and sandy beaches nestled in coves along the coastline – was the view from the ferry.

The town of Poros as seen from the ferry.
The town of Poros as seen from the ferry.

After cycling to our hotel, the Xenia Poros Image Hotel, we enjoyed late afternoon adult beverages, dips in the water, and several naps. We then showered, dressed for dinner, and cycled to a fish restaurant with tables strategically placed at the water’s edge for excellent views of the sunset. We enjoyed a romantic dinner, and toasted each other for this beautiful cycling experience.

The view from our hotel in Poros.
The view from our hotel in Poros.

Day 4 – Poros to Athens (10ish km – Hotel to ferry to train to bike shop)

We awoke early to catch the much-too-early 8:00 am ferry, the only ferry that would take our bikes during the busy summer tourist season, and slept on the short one-hour ride to Piraeus. We then cycled bikes to the Piraeus metro stop , rode until Theisse, retraced our ride around the Acropolis and returned our rental bikes to Athens by Bike.

This four-day add-on was a lovely compliment to our trip in Greece.

As always, there are some lessons learned and important notes about this trip.

1.It’s a little tricky to get to Corinth from Athens. The bicycle did NOT recommend cycling because of the traffic and drivers. Thus, the commute  requires a transfer from the metro to the suburban trains and the transfer is not clearly marked and involves lots of stairs because of broken elevators.

2. There is a lot of truck traffic leaving Corinth and the road is narrow and/or overgrown with weeds, oleanders, and weeds. It’s rideable but not necessarily enjoyable.

3. The roads are hilly and can be steep and not for beginner riders. The rental bikes were adequate but geared more for local, city sightseeing, not really for long tours.

4. July is hot! May or October might be better months for a Greek tour.

5. We saw only four bicycles during our entire trip. 2 were farm workers and 1 was a cycle tourist from Albania who had just gotten chewed out for riding on the expressway (not allowed). In other words, it does not seem like drivers are accustomed to cyclists although this might be improving..hard to tell.

Cycling Greece – 4 Days in the Peloponnese (Part 1)

After spending a lovely week driving, hiking, and walking on the Greek Islands of Crete and Santorini, Eric and I were excited to hop back on bicycles and continue our tradition of integrating cycling into every vacation. We found a local bicycle shop, Athens By Bike, who rented us bikes and panniers and even suggested an itinerary for a 4-day cycle tour of the Peloponnese.

We cycled around the Acropolis on the way to the metro station Thissio.
We cycled around the Acropolis on the way to the metro station Thissio.

Day 1 – Athens to Loutraki (5 km of cycling plus metro, train and lots of waiting)

We rode the metro to Acropolis and took a short 10 minute walk to Athen By Bike, the local bike store where we’d reserved two rental bikes for our 4 day tour. Two workers, Dimitrias and Costas, met us at the shop at the appointed time. They were enthusiastic about cycling in Greece and eager to share their knowledge and ideas with us. They made sure our Orient bikes (more hybrid than touring) were equipped with panniers, a tool pouch, and some low intensity lights to be seen but not to actually see with.

After reviewing the bike basics, Dimitrias walked to the computer and prepared a route for us using and Costas made a route for us using Ride With GPS. He also made suggestions of towns to stay in, places to eat delicious ice creams, and tourist sites to visit.

We loaded a few items of clothing, toiletries and a bathing suit into the Tour de France panniers (That’s really what they are called) and left the rest of our luggage at the bike shop. Dimitrias handed us a paper map with directions to the Thissio metro station by way of cycling around the Acropolis.

The Mall of Athens is located near the
The Mall of Athens is located near the Nerantziotissa metro stop and the transfer to the Corinth suburban train.

Per Dimitrias’ instructions, we rode the metro to Nerantziotissa where we were supposed to transfer to the suburban train and ride to Corinth. (Korinthos). Unfortunately, the suburban trains were on strike and said to open after 4:00 pm (4 hours laters) so we killed time by cycling to a park, taking a nap on a park bench, buying an ice cream at the Mall of Athens and waiting another hour and a half because the 4:07 pm train arrived so full of passengers that we could not squeeze on.

Boarding the second train to Corinth ended up being better than expected. A fellow, local Greek cyclist boarded the train with us and directed us where to put our bicycles. He also helped pave a way through the crowds of commuters.

As we settled in to the 1 hour train ride, I became acquainted with the 96 year old man sitting next to me. We struck up a conversation and I learned his wife had passed away 3 days before, he was traveling with his live-in caregiver from Georgia (the country, not the state), he supported the BREXIT because he loves the proud British people and he thinks they did the right thing. He apologized that he could not host us at his home near Corinth, he’s disgusted with Greece – (“it used to be proud even though it was poor”) and the leadership is corrupt. He said we “must” visit the live theater at Epidavros (which I would have loved but, according to the lady on my right, the theater only runs on the weekend.)

Downtown Corinth.
Downtown Corinth.

Before we knew it, the discomfort and inconvenience of the train strike was over, we arrived in Corinths, rolled our bikes off the train, and cycled the easy 5 kilometers along the beautiful bay towards our night’s destination of Loutriaki. We found acceptable lodging at Hotel Bakos where we discovered Eric’s wallet has been stolen somewhere between the bicycle shop and Loutraki (let’s blame it on the rail strike and the ridiculously crowded trains) and then spent the next 2 hours canceling credit cards and making sure we had enough cash to finish our trip. Pizza, a bottle of wine at a restaurant on the beach put us in better moods and helped us sleep for the night.

Day 2 – Loutraki to Nafplio (48.5 miles, 2506 ft climb)

Our plans for an early (before the heat of the day) start were thwarted when we both overslept. The heat and stress of the day before really knocked us out. I have to admit, I was contemplating bagging the entire ride and cutting our trip shop because the first day of riding got off to such a bad start. Thank goodness, Eric woke refreshed and ready to ride.

The start of our ride along the coast from Loutraki to Nafplio.
The start of our ride along the coast from Loutraki to Nafplio.

As always for me on a bicycle, as soon as my legs start pedaling and I feel the breeze on my face, all cares blow away. Yesterday’s train strike and wallet theft no longer matter. The beauty of the Mediterranean and the fact that we were in Greece together on bicycles made everything else seem unimportant.

The Corinth Canal separates Corinth from Loutraki.
The Corinth Canal separates Corinth from Loutraki.

Even so, after a few kilometers on our rental bikes it quickly became apparent that the bikes are geared for leisurely riding. From the git-go we knew riding was going to be slow, hard, and hot…not SE Asia, humid and hot..but Greece, hot, dry …windy…exposed hot…

We waited here to let several large trucks pass on this narrow stretch of road.
We waited here to let several large trucks pass on this narrow stretch of road.

And, my beaming smile was gradually fading as the first 20 kilometers leaving Corinth towards Mycene (Mykine) were filled with large industrial truck traffic Although there is a shoulder on the road, it is often overgrown with olive tree branches, oleanders, and thorny weeds. Luckily, after we passed a large rock quarry (Eric jokingly suggested the quarry had been in use since the building of the Parthenon) , the truck traffic subsided and the scenery improved: large olive orchards and orange groves were interspersed with vegetable gardens and peach trees as we climbed in elevation.

This 10-year boy in Mycene was helping his grandfather see trinkets and teaching me to speak Greek.
This 10-year boy in Mycene was helping his grandfather see trinkets and teaching me to speak Greek.

About 10 kilometers before the ancient ruins of Mycene we found a wonderful bakery where drank (the spoons were too small and dainty to satisfy our hunger) two cups of traditional, warm rice pudding with cinnamon. Hard to believe that hot pudding on a hot day could taste so yummy. We also bought a large piece of spinach pie and what looked like a sesame covered bagel (or a simit in Turkey) filled with ricotta cheese for a picnic later.

Our Greek picnic of spinach pie and sesame and feta stuff bagel.
Our Greek picnic of spinach pie and sesame and feta stuff bagel.

Visiting the ruins at Mycene is a short but very steep detour of about 2 kilometers off the main road. Luckily there is an air-conditioned museum at the site and a refreshment stand with homemade orange juice for rehydration.

The famous lions gate at Mycene. These tourists are probably in lots of photos besides mine.
The famous lions gate at Mycene. These tourists are probably in lots of photos besides mine. The didn’t move while I hiked to the top and back for over 30 minutes..

 

More ruins at Mycene.
More ruins at Mycene.

The final 20 kilometers to Nafplio is generally downhill towards the sea. It’s also very exposed and hot making so what we made up for in easy riding we taken away with the heat.

One of the cute town squares in Nafplio.
One of the cute town squares in Nafplio with a view of the Palamidi Fortress on the hill in the background.

Nafplio is a really cute town with a fantastic fort at the top of the hill, a lovely walk along the seashore, a great little beach, and wonderful shops lining the cobblestone pedestrian paths in the center of town.

A view of the Nafplio peninsula as seen from the Palamidi Fortress. The climb itself it fun and beautiful.
A view of the Nafplio peninsula as seen from the Palamidi Fortress. The climb itself it fun and beautiful.

Our hotel, the Athena Hotel was lovely and centrally located.   If you have the time, spending an extra day here would be fun.

Part 2 – Nafplio to Poros to be continued…