African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Along the Way #2

Lincoln, Nebraska. First stop of the trip as we drive towards the start of the tour in Loveland. We arrive at dinnertime and, after checking in at the hotel, go in search of a Nebraskesque culinary experience. What comes to mind here? Corn. Steak. After rejecting a Mexican restaurant (not for its non-Nebraskaism, but for its no-beerism) we head downtown to the "Historic Haymarket" area. The first place we see there is called Crabby Bill's Seafood. Crabby Bill's. Nebraska Seafood. That's wrong in so many ways. We opt for a Mexican restaurant (slow learners?). This one turned out to be OK, but not much more than that. We are left to ponder the antilogy of Nebraska seafood. Maybe next time.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

No Place to go but Down

Monday, June 23
Estes Park to Granby ...continued

He makes me as surefooted as a deer, leading me safely along the mountain heights.

It wasn’t long (OK, so it wasn’t FAR) to the water stop at Rainbow Curve and I was glad for the chance to officially get off the bike and relax. Nothing special here, just another vista to take your breath away. Not that I had much breath left to give to the cause. And what breath was left was assaulted by the fragrance wafting from the truck pumping out the restrooms. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the truck had pulled up right next to the water coolers set out by Cycle America. Odors apparently do not rely on oxygen for transport from source to olfactory receptors as that process seemed to be working just fine here in the thin air of Rocky Mountain National Park.

After about 15 minutes I decided that I was as rested as I was going to get, save for just setting up camp and spending the night, so I mounted up and took off, continuing the search for the high point on Trail Ridge Road. The view changed suddenly and dramatically, like the appearance of a new slide in a PowerPoint presentation with the transition effects set to "appear". The tall trees were gone and what vegetation there was to be seen was of the hale and hearty type, hunkered down against the cold, gray, rocky surface.It was hard riding and more than a little tense. I kept one eye on the storm looming ahead, the other on my mirror. Cars would come by and I would need to drift back to the white line, just a bit too close to the edge; not just the edge of the road, but THE edge. You know the one, like in this picture showing a closeup of a typical Colorado guardrail...A few times I would have the thought that if the sag wagon came by I might just raise my fist in the air, the signal for it to stop. Then I would tell myself, “No, it’s too close. Months of training before the tour. Yesterday’s climb to Estes Park. Hours of climbing today. Just a little farther.” I talked to myself a lot. The test of endurance had become mental as well.

Eventually the road wound around so that I wasn’t next to the edge nor riding towards the storm anymore. There was a great view of said storm, parked on the next mountain over, from a pull-off so I did. Pull off. As I was taking a picture, a lady came up (there were a large number of cars in the parking lot and a lot of people at the overlook) and asked about the ride. I told her that we had started in Estes Park and were riding to Granby. She then inquired, “Are you going to turn around and come back this afternoon?” What I said was, “No, that’s not in the plan today.” What I was thinking was, “There is no universe, known or unknown, in which I could imagine riding from Estes Park to Granby and back in the same day.” She might have sensed that was the case. I’ll never know.

During this part of the ride, I was actually starting to feel better. I continued on to a rest area where I put on my heavy jacket and tights. It was getting colder. I was really close now, my altimeter showing almost 12,000 feet. But there was this hitch. Trail Ridge Road teases with TWO peaks, this being the first (in the direction we are riding) and the lower of the two. I began the mini-descent right after the rest area and very quickly gave up maybe 300 feet. As the climb started again, I could see the road above me. It looked daunting, but turned out not to be so bad. Up to a sharp hairpin to the left, up some more to a sweeping right hand curve and then, there it was. Just ahead. No pull off. No sign. Just a point on the road where, when you get there, it is downhill. In both directions. My biggest climb ever was over.To be continued...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Real Time Interlude #3

After nearly a week at Purdue University, I am extending my not riding time here in Atlanta. This afternoon I went over to Turner Field, entering when the gates opened at five. My plan was to check out the ballpark before the game. But first, something to eat. I noticed a big display when I entered that said, "All You Can Eat Seats." I wasn't really THAT hungry, so I opted for a barbeque pork sandwich. Seats?

* The Braves won, 7-6 and the game was followed by an excellent fireworks show.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Real Time Interlude #2 (and an Announcement)

I've just completed the "Rising Up" post below; it's fun going back to the ride and trying to find ways to share the experiences. Some of the events of the ride stay vividly in your memory. And some hang on in real time. I developed saddle sores during the last day and a half of the ride (no, this is not the announcement). And they have not yet moved into the memory category.

I was pretty sore after a 31 mile ride on Thursday. Things were much better Saturday, although I was "aware of the problem" when we stopped at Coon Valley; so, I decided to turn my ride towards home while Bill went looking for climbs. I swung back through Chaseburg, went up Wrobel Road, getting in another 22 miles. It turned out to be a 51 mile ride. In just a couple of hours, I will start my trip down to West Lafayette, Indiana and Purdue University. A week at the 2008 International Compressor Engineering Conference with 500 - 600 other engineers. I know, you wish you were going too! Really, could it get much better than this? After the conference, I'll fly on to Atlanta for two Braves' games and a visit with Shirley's family. This all amounts to about 10 days out of the saddle, during which time I expect I'll put the current problem behind me. OK, so it's already behind me, but you know what I mean!

How's your weather eye holding up? Well, you don't have to keep it out any longer - here's the promised announcement: The Next Big Ride starts when I depart on August 21 for Zurich and a 2+ week ride in Switzerland. Bill will ride the whole tour, starting in Basel about a week before I arrive. I'm joining the group at Zermatt and will then finish the loop back in Basel on September 6. More about this ride, and reports of the preparation for it, to come. You might want to keep that weather eye out a bit longer after all.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Rising Up

Monday, June 23
Estes Park to Granby

…and when they rose up, the wheels would rise with them

At the meeting at the end of this day’s ride, tour leader Greg observed that the ride was maybe “a little past fun.” At the meeting at the end of this day’s ride, rider Jack thought, “Oh. My. Goodness.” It was the defining day of the Rocky Mountain tour and one of the most amazing days that I have spent on a bike. Amazing enough that I plan to devote several postings to its description. Let’s get started...

Today is the day I rise up. In fact, I’ll rise up farther by just over 1,382 medium sized yaks than I have ever been before. Well, there were those times I was buckled into the aisle seat, enfolded in the Bose headphones and the music from my iPod’s My Favorites playlist. But this was to be alfresco. On a bike. It was at once a spectacular ride and, at least for me, a test of endurance, physical and mental. We rode over, I was told, the highest paved, through-road in the U.S. The sights were awe inspiring: forests, fields, rivers, the bleak landscape above the tree line where the snow is still 10 feet deep in late June.

The climb started even before we left Estes Park. Just west of town, we ride into the forested hills. A river, with more sense than us riders, was running downhill. Numerous Bed and Breakfast resorts were tucked away in nooks and crannies between (cue Pam Tillis) the river and the highway. This was much more my pre-trip image of Estes Park than the in-town experience of yesterday.

I arrive at the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance at the 6 mile point and pay the $10 entrance fee. It was just a couple of miles to Sheep Lakes, an area purportedly oft inhabited by bighorn sheep. But not oft enough. Bicycles are, apparently, effective bighorn sheep repellants. At this point, I think, “Only 17 miles to the top of Trail Ridge Road. Not even like a round trip to Stoddard.” I was right. It was nothing at all like a round trip to Stoddard. Looking up, I could see, just barely, the road winding around the forested mountain rising above the meadow.

There's the road. Up there. WAY up there.

From here on, the climb was relentless. It is never as steep as many of the hills we trained on around La Crosse, but it just keeps going up. At the 10.2 mile point, we get a choice: turn right onto Trail Ridge Road and continue the climb or go left on Highway 36, dropping back down into Estes Park. Perhaps one of the B&B’s has a comfy cabin? Oh, well, right it is. Up, up, up. The higher I go, the more I can feel the effects of the exertion in this place where oxygen only works part-time. I’d had a bit of a headache all along, but nothing that the distractions of the ride and the ibuprofen I take for my back couldn’t keep in the background. One of the symptoms is the feeling that you just want to put down the bike, find a comfortable rock to lie down on and take a nap. Sleepy-tired added to the fatigue of physical exertion. At a couple of points, I got a little “out of focus” and would weave around a bit. Not a good move in this state that both hangs roads on the side of steep mountains and disdains guardrails. So, I’d stop, unclip and put my feet on the ground, at which point my legs would tremor for a few seconds. The shock of suddenly not being required to propel me and the bike up the hill, I guess.

What a great road.

Getting nearer to the first water stop at Rainbow Curve, the road steepens a bit; assisted by the ever-decreasing oxygen content, this makes the climbing even more challenging. I stop at the 17.7 mile point to reflect on being, as noted on the sign by the side of the road, two miles above sea level. Only 8 miles and 1,600 feet of climbing and I’ll be at the top.

Two miles hIgh! And not at the top yet.

It was at about this point, Bill had told me, that his friend DIrk had stopped to rest on a ride several years ago. A couple on a tandem came up and asked DIrk if he happened to have a spare derailleur [spare DERAILLEUR?]. Fighting fatigue, Dirk's response was, more or less, "Derailleur? You can take the whole #*%@# bike!" I had thought he meant this to be a witty response to an unusual request. Now I see how he just might have been serious.

Soon enough, I'm back on the bike, rising up once again towards the summit.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Along the Way #1

Experiences on the drive to and from Loveland, in no particular order.

Driving down through Northeastern Colorado on the way to Loveland, we see signs along the interstate at exits where they appply that announce something to this effect:

Colorado Correctional Facility
Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers

Especially if they are wearing orange jumpsuits.
Or, for that matter, tight black shorts.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Real Time Interlude #1

Three rides since the return from Colorado have added 100.4 miles and 5,017 feet to my ride and climb totals, respectively. The latest ride was a short 25.5 miles on Sunday afternoon. I wore my new (since just before the Rocky Mountain ride) Jittery Joe's jersey. But when I got back home, I discovered a significant change, sartorially speaking. My jersey, arms, legs and face were decorated with a plethora of small, black insect carcasses. I was now gnattily dressed for sure.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

So it Begins

Sunday, June 22
Loveland to Estes Park

I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it.

You might say it began last June when I pulled in to the University of Montana campus in Missoula. Finishing that tour, I knew I would do it again. Or perhaps it began on January 5 when I started with the faux rides on the trainer to get ready for this tour. But then again, there was that first real ride of the year on February 24. But after all of these not-so-real starts, my ride through the Rockies began in earnest this morning in Loveland, Colorado as we got on the bikes for the 6.2 mile ride to Dorothy's Catering and breakfast. After that, destination: Estes Park.

It is 30.3 miles as the crow (using MapQuest) flies to Estes Park from Loveland. However, Cycle America's apparently directionally challenged crows managed to extend this to a 52 mile bicycle ride by following two diversional paths along the way. First, we rode around Carter Lake, this requiring a short but relatively intense climb. Upon reaching the top, I was struck by what seemed to me to be an odd contrast of mountain lake and a marina full of large, white sailboats.

Finishing the loop, it was back to Highway 34 and the start of the real climb up to Estes Park. It isn't long before I enter Big Thompson Canyon. Towering rock walls on either side as I pedal under the steel viaduct 20 feet above my head. A sign on the way up asks travelers to be on the lookout for bighorn sheep. I was. As was the case last year when similar signs offered the hope of seeing the bighorn in their native habitat, there was not a one to be seen.

The Big Thompson flood of 1976 wreaked havoc in the canyon, killing 144 people; the water had actually risen above the level of the large pipe I had ridden under at the canyon entrance. The Coloradoan newspaper online has a presentation about the flood ~ click here. The second water stop is at the 31.9 mile point in the ride and is located at a pullout where there is a plaque commemorating two Colorado policemen who died trying to save others.

Hugh Purdy & Michael Conley ~ Heroes of the Big Thompson Canyon Flood

Riding up isn't too bad as the road in the canyon is not all that steep. [It was like that a lot during the week; long climbs, but for the most part not so steep. I decided later in the week that when I got back to La Crosse, I would ride up and give the climb at the top of County FO a big hug!] As the day progressed, I developed a not-so-bad headache and felt like the road was a little steeper than my computer was reporting it to be ~ "Altitude," I speculated. The headache wasn't hard to keep in the background, being occupied as I was with the scenery in this part of the country which I not seen until this tour. My climbs are, by most measures, slow, and I was passed a few times by local cyclists on their Sunday rides. I stopped fairly often to take pictures and to stretch my back. It was not giving me any problems and I wanted to keep it that way.

Riding up Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon

At 33 miles, we take the second diversion away from the direct route to Estes Park. This brings us up along a narrower, but quieter road through the town of Glenn Haven. It is a good choice of routes.

Just before the picnic stop at 43.5 miles into the ride, I reach the "* steep climb 10%+ with switchbacks 1 mile" as noted on the route sheet. This WAS steep. As I started this part of the ride, I decided I would not stop for fear of not being able to get started again. I had to remind myself of this decision a couple of times along the way. The sweeping left hand turns entering the switchbacks gave opportunity for a short respite, as the road flattens here a bit (flatten being used in a very relative sense). But, the sharp right hand reversals leaving the switchbacks were altogether another story. Short but steep. Not relatively steep. Absolutely steep. Just as I was coming through the second (and last) of these, a motorcycle went by. Nothing unusual about this. Then, another. And another. Two more. Then three. About this time, one goes by and the young lady on the back hollers out as they go by, "Go, Jack. Go!" Cycle America gives us name tags to hang on the back of our bikes, by the way. Duly encouraged, I pedal upwards, the top of the hill and the picnic stop now in sight. And the motorcycles just keep coming and coming. And coming. They give me plenty of room, but the constant varoom, varoom as they whizzed by did get to be disconcerting. Shortly after the last one passes, I gain the high point of the ride and stop for lunch. We are ABOVE Estes Park, our final destination. One of the little tricks routers like to play on us from time to time. I'd like to route a ride for them, sometime. Actually, it was quite nice. We could look down on the town and would have a nice descent to finish the day’s ride. However, we were also looking out at a smallish but intense looking thunderstorm, so a quick lunch seemed in order.

Estes Park, Colorado

A little rain on the way down, but we are soon at the school. Tents set up and rain still a threat, we decide to get back on the bikes in search of refreshment. We go to the local brewery where the beer is good, the d├ęcor uninspired, the atmosphere noisy and the food so-so at best.

The Storm we didn't get at Estes Park

Estes Park seems a touristy place, very busy on this Sunday afternoon, and I am not impressed with what I see of it [this would change tomorrow as we ride out of town and see the cabins and B&B's in the forested hills]. Lest you think otherwise from the narrative above, I'll say that today was a hard day. I am tired and becoming aware of a part of my head that I missed with the sun block. Definitely harder than the first day of the Seattle to Missoula ride last year. [But not to be the hardest day of THIS tour.]

Today’s totals
51.8 miles
4,320 feet of climbing
4 hours 21 minutes ride time