In preparation for our upcoming 447 mile, one-week Ride the Rockies, we’ve been seeking local opportunities to chalk up training miles. Recently, we had a lot of fun participating in the Rose Hill Rally, a local 62 mile benefit ride. The ride itself was nice but what really made the day fun was the wind… or, to be more exact, the wind and the group we rode with.
I’ve written about wind before and you know I’m as big a fan of a strong tail wind as the next cyclist. But, what I’m calling “fun” here is an experienced group and a strong head wind.
The leaders of our group,
, is planning a fall cycling trip to Spain. These leaders are very experienced at drafting, probably even had some racing experience in their background. Their experience, coupled with some commanding leadership skills, forced Eric and me to get on the “train” so to speak, and do our fair share as part of the group. Our fair share included leading the train, falling back when another cyclist took the lead, maintaining a pace in the train, and then working ourselves again to the front to share the burden of the wind.
Although I’m not a big fan of group cycling and drafting because I have to concentrate and can’t enjoy the scenery, the speed of this recent ride along familiar terrain was thrilling . One of my favorite parts of the drafting experience was when our “train” caught the draft of a tandem group. We felt like we were flying along the road until a downhill where the tandems took off and we were not able to catch them again.
After a great week road cycling in training for Ride the Rockies logging close to 200 miles, Eric and I took advantage of a beautiful, sunny Monday to cross train with the mountain bikes on the Western Rim Trail near Rabbit Valley.
Feeling strong, confident and probably a little cocky (embarrassing but I am being honest) we started cycling the 4-wheel drive road towards the trailhead. Let than a mile out, I had two options for climbing a short section of the road – a sandy, rutted tire track, or a rock ledge. I’ve been climbing little ledges more and more frequently and this innocent-looking 6-inch ledge appeared to be the perfect place to challenge myself.
The reality is, this ledge stopped my dead in my tracks. But all that forward motion had to go somewhere. In slow motion I flew elegantly over my handlebars, arms out at my sides like a 747 just after take-off. I soared for what seemed like hours until I hard-landed with my right knee taking the brunt of the impact like a jetliner hitting the runway on one back wheel.
At the time, the most pain I felt was the embarrassment of being on the ground. My knee a felt little banged but my pride suffered the most damage. I carefully extricated myself, from the bike resting on my hamstring, dusted myself off and hopped back on.
Several miles further down the road I realized my knee was really started to swell, so I used my favorite purple bandana to stabilize my knee and create compression to slow the swelling, and finished the 14 mile ride.
By the end of the day I could barely walk.
I waited several days and I finally got X-rays to confirm what I felt, that it was just a really bad bruise (“contusion” to quote the doctor.)
I’m feeling very thankful that the fall wasn’t worse. My awareness of the numbers of people who have had mountain biking accidents – just this week I’ve seen a broken arm and a broken femur – has humbled me and made me more cautious.
In the meantime, I’ll be back on the road bike saddle today for some limited training.
This morning, while sitting on my favorite chair, reading the Sunday paper, sipping my coffee and thinking about bundling up for a day of cross-country skiing, I came across a short article about the history of cycling.
Austin writes, “The idea of women on bicycles enraged certain conservative elements of society. Cycling was said to make women oversexed, ill-behaved or infertile. “Have you ever seen anything more off-putting, uglier, meaner than a wench on a bike?” asked the German magazine Youth in 1897.”
Austin’s paragraph reminded me of a time I was admonished by a father of a colleague of mine in Eastern Turkey. “You will be the first and last women to ride a bicycle in this town,” he said.
I remember wondering if his comments were 1) a threat, 2) a joke, or 3) translated incorrectly. However, after he made those comments, I made sure I covered head-to-toe including wearing dark glasses and gloves and always cycled in heavily populated areas.
Several months later, while sipping a cup of Turkish coffee and sampling fresh Turkish delight at a lovely apartment, a woman in her mid-fifties told me that she watched me ride my bicycle every morning on my way to the school where I taught English.
She said, “That bicycle represents a LOT of freedom.”
Winter weather has put our long-distance cycling temporarily on hold. Sure, we continue to bundle up and cycle to the local tap room or yoga class, but the proximity of deep snow and excellent cross country skiing trails just an hour from our home has forced us to dig through trunks and plastic storage containers in search of warm layers and “called us” to the cold, snowy mountains to play.
There have been some changes since our first nordic days over 35 years ago. The equipment has gotten more specialized: nordic, back-country, alpine touring, telemark, and skate-skiing to name a few types of skis.
The clothes have gotten more specific and colorful. Gone are the days of throwing on a pair of Levis and and pulling a pair of gators over our boots to keep the snow out. Today, skiers are sporting everything from cycling-type spandex to bright orange snow pants and everything in between.
Equipment and clothing aside, the biggest change we’ve noticed in the number of skate-skiers racing along the smooth corduroy-like packed snow adjacent to the traditional nordic tracks.
Eric, plodding along on his 32 year old nordic skis, looked longingly at the “freeway” of skiers racing along side us and said,
“I want to try that!”
As from the fact that his pride might have been hurt when one skier stared at us on our near-antique nordic skis and boots as if we were a living museum modeling as soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, Eric really was pumped up about this “new-to-us” sport.
“We’ll rent equipment tomorrow and if we like it, let’s buy a set!”
I wasn’t 100 % sure that I wanted to try skate skiing. After all, my 32 year old nordic skis had been steadfast in providing what I had considered to be the perfect dose of nature and fun for over three decades. And, like cycle touring, I like nordic skiing for the slower pace and solitude that it provides.
Skate-skiing seems more like road cycling where cardio, competition, and equipment are the focus. But, in the effort of being a good sport and trying new things in retirement, I agreed to be open-minded and rent skate-skis for the day.
Lucky for us, the weather and snow for our first attempt on skate-skis was picture perfect – temperatures near 30 degrees, no wind, soft-packed snow, and bright blue skies. Clicking boots into the bindings was simple and familiar. Getting our gloves into the pole straps was another story. The straps are designed to fit so snugly that our puffy downhill ski gloves and mitts barely fit. After five minutes of struggling we decided it was easier to remove our hands from the mitts and leave the mitts in the pole straps.
Once our gear was secure we watched a few skate-skiers glide by watching their technique and saving the $68 each for a lesson. After several wobbly attempts to start moving forward we discovered one very hard truth.
Skate-skiing is HARD work.
I mean really HARD work. To make the skis work their absolute best they must always be moving. And, to keep them moving with with the least amount of wobble, they must be pushed in a skating motion. And, because there are lots of hills on Grand Mesa, they skis must be skated UPHILL which takes a boat-load of energy. And, because Grand Mesa is situated at 10,000 ft., skate skiing takes a lot of energy with limited oxygen.
After about 50 yards of what I felt what pretty good technique, I came to an abrupt stop, bent over and held my sides all while trying to suck in air and catch my breath.
We practiced skate-skiing for several hours which was about a long as we could physically handle it. As we improved we found pleasure in the rhythm and glide of the skis. Going faster was also kind of fun. The downside was not being able to look at the scenery except when we stopped because whenever I took my sights off the trail in front of me I would fall.
we justified the purchase of skate-skiing equipment with the idea that learning something new was good for our brain and working so hard was good for cycle training.
And, yes, I kept my nordic skis for those days when, like cycle touring, I just need a slow, peaceful day in nature.
My cycle for retirement has been downscaled a bit after taking a teaching a job in August, however Eric is enjoying a full retirement and finding local cycling groups to keep him busy. Aside from the joy of being with students again, one bonus of teaching in Western Colorado is the Fall Break. It’s like a Spring Break only better because the weather is so nice. Eric and I took full advantage of the week off by exploring southern Utah. It would be amazing to cycle tour or bike pack the entire trip, but the limited time made it necessary to connect the adventures with a car. Here is a synopsis of the fun and beauty we found: Day 1 – Drive Fruita, CO to Moab, Utah. (Mountain biking Moab Brand Trails— 16 miles)
After loading our car with camping gear and 4 bicycles (2 road and 2 mountain) we headed toward the mountain biking capital of Utah, to see what all the hubbub is about. At just over an hour from our home it was easy to set up camp and be cycling before 2 pm.
Our first ride was at the Moab Brand Trails a short cycle ride from our campground. Little did we know that this weekend was Outerbike, a huge festival/trade show for mountain bikes and equipment. Dozens of vendors filled the parking lots and hundreds of cyclists filled the trails on demo bikes.
Because we still consider ourselves beginner mountain bikers we chose the Bar M trail and Easy-LZ. These trails gave us a lot of practice cycling up small rock ledges and slick rock. After a second loop of Easy, I could feel how much our riding skills had improved and the cycling became that much more fun. Day 2 – Arches National Park – (Road cycling – 60 miles)
Not only does Moab have great mountain biking, it also has a beautiful paved bicycle path that starts at the intersection of Highway 313 and 93 north of Moab. This bicycle path, also less than 1/4 mile from our campground made a cycling to Arches super convenient. With crisp fall air, clear blue skies and growling stomachs, we hopped on our road bikes and cycled the 9 miles into town for what we thought was a breakfast big enough to fuel our ride into Arches National Park. Little did we know that the breakfast coupled with a last minute decision to buy a sandwich for a picnic later would barely be enough food to sustain the mostly uphill ride to Devil’s Garden, the end of the 18 mile paved road.
Beautiful vistas, amazing sandstone sculptures, and geological surprises greeted us around every corner of the road. Even a quick, but heavy rainstorm waited until we were at the top on the climb and under a picnic shelter before it let forth its fury.
Day 3 – Dead Horse Canyon State Park – (Mountain Biking – Intrepid Trails— 16 miles)
A 30 mile car drive, which by the way would have been a beautiful road bike ride, took us to the Intrepid Trails, some really fun, perfect-for-our -evel, mountain biking trails. Slick rock, great rim views with minimal exposure, and just enough challenge to keep us focused and improving made this a super fun day. We also found great, hidden BLM campsites that will be our destination for the next trip. A lovely interpretative center with a convenient, coffee trailer outside were an added bonus. Because this park is located at a much higher altitude, temperatures were the perfect coolness for cycling.
Day 4 – Natural Bridges National Monument to Lake Powell (Road cycling and hiking – 16 miles)
It’s a long drive from Moab to Lake Powell but we did manage several stops along the way. Our first side trip was into Canyonlands National Park to see petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock.
We’d thought we might drive further into Canyonlands but realized the park is so big and isolated that we actually need to dedicate several days to do the park justice. So we made a decision to come back later. After another few hours of driving we did make the side trip to Natural Bridges Natural Monument which is TOTALLY worth the extra time. Our legs were feeling cramped after sitting in the car for so long so we unloaded our bikes and road the 14 mile park loop stopping at each bridge and hiking. Hiking by the Horsecollar Ruins and down to the valley floor underneath the bridges was really enjoyable.
It was getting late in the afternoon, the Natural Bridges campground was full, and the next town was a LONG drive away. Thankfully, the park ranger suggested we try Hite Campground at Lake Powell where we found a completely empty campground. Luckily for us (unlucky for the boaters) the water lever was so low at this end of the lake that we had the campground basically to ourselves. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and campfire with millions of stars twinkling overhead. The morning’s sunrise yielded glorious colors and shadows from the sandstone formations.
Day 4 – Lake Powell to Tropic, UT (Hiking – Capital Reef National Park – 4 miles)
After the strenuous hike we continued driving on America’s Scenic Highway 12 (it really is scenic) through Dixie State Park filled with golden aspen trees, tall dark-green evergreens, and huge panoramic views of Grand Escalante Staircase National Park. As daylight waned and temperatures dropped we thought we’d treat ourselves to a motel room in Tropic. Unfortunately, so did every French and Chinese tour group. There was not a room was to be had. Luckily, the local RV park had a tent site with a hot tub, bbq and live music. We had a very relaxing evening unwinding in the hot tub and listening to great country western and blues music in the cozy western-style chow house. But the temperatures were dropping quickly.
We slept fairly well in about three layers of clothes, socks, long undies and hats but the morning was COLD. I guess we’ve become wimps because we both jumped at the suggestion to hop in the car and drive two blocks with our heated seats to the local espresso cafe for breakfast and a pastry.
Day 5 – Bryce National Park – Cycling (16 miles) and Hiking (2 miles)
It’s a short 12 mile drive from Tropic to Bryce National Park. As we were driving to the park entrance I noticed a beautiful, multi-use bicycle path snaking through the pine trees on the side of the road so we parked the car and started cycling. Not only did we avoid the lines at the park entrance, we enjoyed the freedom and flexibility to explore the park without waiting in the long lines for the shuttle bus.
As a side note, this beautiful path actually starts at Red Canyon Visitor Center and would make a lovely day trip cycling park to park.
After hiking and cycling around Bryce for the morning, my goal had been to mountain bike in Red Canyon in the afternoon. Unfortunately, after a stop at the Visitor Center we learned that it was too late in the day to attempt the famous Thunder Mountain Trail. We opted for a shorter trail that we abandoned after only a few miles as it too hard for our skills. It would have been a better hike.
Enjoying the luxury of our first bed and heat in five day, we slept like logs at an over-priced motel in Panguitch, a small old one-horse cowboy town located near Butch Cassidy’s homestead.
Day 6 – Zion National Park (Cycling 25 miles and Hiking 3 miles, 1000 ft.)
After a late start and a breakfast of the BIGGEST pancakes I’ve ever seen, we drove towards Zion making a random stop at second-hand, antique shop brightly painted with American-flag colors on the west side of Highway 89. Eric is hunting for some second-hand cowboy boots or which many pairs were displayed in front of the shop. Although unsuccessful in finding cowboy boots, he did find a well-used, several-sizes-too-big, pair of Merrell hiking boots for gardening.
We arrived mid-morning at Zion about the same time as thousands of other people. The line to enter the park and the wait to go through the tunnel were long. But the drive from Mt. Carmel to Springdale was beautiful. All the parking lots in Zion were full and it took some creativity and patience to find a parking spot in Springdale. We then hopped on our bikes and headed into the park to enjoy the car-free road.
Magnificent and awe-inspiring is the only way to describe the thrill of enjoying the magnificent peaks of Zion from the seat of a bicycle on a smooth, wide road without the worry of approaching traffic. Although this would be a perfect road cycling ride, we used our mountain bikes with hiking shoes so we could stop when the mood struck. After a picnic lunch on the grass of the the Zion Lodge we hiked the Emerald Pools Trail, cycled to the Narrows, and then hiked up Hidden Canyon trail until the trail became too exposed, narrow and scary for us.
The perfect, sunny, low 70s Fall kind of day and the hiking and cycling justified a huge scoop of ice cream cone in Springdale before driving on to St. George.
Day 7 – St George and Snowy Canyon (Road Cycling 29 miles, 1500 ft.)
St. George was packed with senior citizens in town for the Huntsman Senior Games. (I’d never heard of them but apparently they are quite popular.) Seniors 55 and older from across the United States and Canada had converged on St. George to relive their team athletic days playing volleyball, pickle ball, tennis, bridge, and mah jong. Other seniors were competing on road bikes, mountain bikes, golf courses..you name it. If it involved leisure activities, there was a competition for it.
We got a kick out of the seniors but still don’t feel it’s possible that fit into that category. Our grey hairs, however, would tell us differently. Putting denial aside, we hopped on our road bikes and cycled towards Snowy Canyon. We chose the dedicated cycle path, which apparently, most road cyclists do not use because some of the hills are MUCH steeper (15% or steeper) than the highway with wide shoulders that it parallels.
As we struggled to get to top of each hill (even walking in several places) we saw dozens of road cyclists zipping by on the highway. Our consolation is that we got an incredible aerobic workout and enjoyed an amazing view through Snow Canyon on our downhill ride back to St. George.
Our Fall Break left me refreshed and really charged up about the place we’ve chosen for retirement. We live so close to many magnificent and beautiful places that we can’t wait to see more.