Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Recovery Ride—And Retrospective

The Copper Triangle left both of us a bit trashed. The day after the ride was the worst we both felt after a cycling event in some time—legs of cement and that no energy feeling. There literally wasn’t any strength left in the legs, especially for hiking or climbing. So, we opted for a nice relaxing day of exploring Frisco and Breckenridge. The next day, however, things were back to normal and we both felt surprisingly well. We decided to have a nice leisurely breakfast in Copper Village, let the temps warm up a bit and then go for a ride. The original plan was to drive down to Frisco, take the bike path back to Copper Mountain and then return the way we came. That would give us about 15 miles or so for a nice recovery ride, and our last ride in the high country. Feeling pretty good, we changed plans in Frisco and decided to follow the bike path back over to Breckenridge. We figured this would be a much more scenic ride, as the bike path back to Copper Mountain just follows I-70…As it turns out, we made the better decision.

You couldn’t ask for a better day for a bike ride. The air was cool, the sky was a brilliant blue and dotted with white puffy clouds, and best of all, there was very little if any wind. We parked the car at the Frisco marina on Dillon reservoir and went in search of the bike path over towards Breckenridge. After some meandering about, we finally hooked up with the path. The initial portion of the path that follows along Highway 9 cuts back into the Aspen forest just above and to the west of Hwy 9, and eventually drops you out again paralleling Hwy 9 towards Breckenridge. This is where you get your first view of the vast Breckenridge Ski area. I was struck at just how close to the tree-line you are over on this part of the valley. Focusing back on the path in front of me, I was impressed as to how many people of various cycling flavors you see on this path. It was just plain cool seeing so many people on bikes!

Frisco Bike Path Video

A long straight shot takes you right into the heart of downtown Breckenridge and along the Blue River. It was fun to stop and watch everyone just taking it all in by the shore of the river. Bobbie even got to dip her toes in the frigid water. Hanging around for awhile, we got to talk to the “flower” lady whose job it is to keep all the pots of flowers fresh and nice looking for the tourist—and there are a ton of these flower pots all over Breckenridge. Reluctantly, we left Breckenridge behind and retraced our pedal strokes back to Frisco where we would dine on some yummy New York, Colorado hot dogs.

Colorado is definitely one of my favorite places to visit. The high-country, however, does take bit of getting used to and I recommend about 5 days of acclimation, especially if you are going to do any strenuous activity above 9,000 feet. Maybe next time we can get a little more time off and get here a little earlier for some Copper Triangle preparation.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Copper Triangle — 1 Aug 09


Bobbie Sports the Coveted Copper Triangle Jersey

Almost every mile above 9500 feet mean sea level. Who woulda thought? I’m not sure if I realized what I got us into by signing us up for this one, but it sounded like a real good idea at the time and besides, it is Colorado—one of my favorite places to visit on this planet. So, off we go at 0615 in the morning accompanied by about 3000 other hearty soles to explore a mountain paradise devoid of oxygen. Appropriately, Bobbie and I sported our Club Hypoxia jerseys to let everyone know that we, indeed, willingly picked altitude today, over oxygen.

The Copper Triangle ride is in its 4th year and was started as a fundraiser for the Davis Phinney Foundation to help its quest to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease. This year, the ride raised over $105,000 for the foundation. That’s a pretty hefty amount when you consider the ride was limited to around 3,000 riders and also considering the costs of putting on such an event. Thanks to a host of volunteers and sponsors like Cliff Bar, Colorado Cyclist, and Copper Mountain Resort the ride was a huge success, and I’m sure will continue to be so well into the future.

As expected, it was just a wee bit chilly this early in the morning with the temperature hovering around 33-34 degrees. Here it is the first of August and we hadn’t seen temperatures like that since January back in Vegas. We came fairly well prepared, however, so the cold air early on in the ride didn’t affect us too much. I wouldn’t ordinary say this but the route actually helped keep us warm because right off the bat, you are faced with a monster climb of 11 miles at 6-8% to the top of Fremont Pass—all 11,318 feet of it. Now that may not seem like much starting at 9500 feet, but you gotta remember, there isn’t a whole lot of oxygen up there. So, we geared down rather early and set a pace that was actually quite comfortable. I will say this about climbing in the mountains: If you don’t have a triple chainring, or a well geared compact setup on your bike, you will suffer and spent a lot of needless energy getting over these high peaks. And, oh by the way, you will be mighty tired when it is all said and done with—go with the gears, trust me.


The "We made it!" Picture

With all “mombo” climbs come bomber down-hills and Fremont Pass did not disappoint. The major problem with these steep and long descents this early in the morning is you guessed it: wind chill. I think Bobbie would agree with me, that this was the only time all day we both felt chilled on the ride, especially the hands. The next bit of climbing seemed quite a bit easier and I would attribute the ease of climbing to our technique used going up Fremont. We passed uneventfully by Leadville (home of the Leadville 100) and were greeted with another long, but not so steep descent into a picturesque mountain meadow that lead us to another gentle climb into our second rest stop located at Tennessee Pass, and the 10th Mountain Division WWII monument. If you don’t like waiting in line; for the porta-potties, to fill your bottles, or to get food, these big rides are not for you. I’m always amazed that no matter how big they make the food tables or increase the number of volunteers at these stations, there are always throngs of people waiting in line. So, patience is always the order of the day. There was always enough food, water, and plenty of smiles to go around.


On Our Way to the Climb to Tennessee Pass

By this time, the air had warmed up quite a bit and we found ourselves, along with several others, peeling layers off by the side of the road. A long and rather speedy downhill dropped us at the base of the Battle Mountain climb where we still enjoyed enough coolness in the air to keep us from sweating as we inched our way upward. I was pleasantly surprised to realize just how much more one can enjoy by just slowing the pace down by a couple of miles per hour. I guess I was paranoid about “blowing up” rather early on these climbs because of the altitude more than anything else. As things turned out, discretion was indeed the better part of valor and that discretion added the additional bonus of letting me really enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Colorado high country—I’m sure Bobbie would agree with me on this one as well.


Bobbie at Tennessee Pass

The descent from Battle Mountain along Highway 24 was exhilarating to say the least. Unlike the previous very looooong downhills this one serpentined its way all the way down the mountain to the tiny community of Minturn. Flowing out into a valley we followed a delightful river all along Highway 24 until finally reaching the outskirts of Western Vail. It is at this point where you join the Vail bike path and where the last climb of the day begins. The route cuts right through the center of Vail where you are greeted with an enormous mountain vista on your left and right that is covered with mountain homes. We were both stunned at the enormity of some of these homes and couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could afford such castles. The town is amazingly clean and neat. There are no “in your face” signs anywhere along the way. So, at least, the town’s folks are keeping things quaint despite the obvious sprawl all over the mountain side.


The Road up Battle Mountain

We would like to mention the Colorado State Police at this point. Despite their efforts to curb these types of rides throughout Colorado and the number of participants, I found these officers to be very courteous, professional, and very caring for our safety. On numerous occasions, we were escorted safely through some busy intersections and protected from passing traffic on some pretty narrow highways—so, two thumbs up and a z-formation for the Colorado State Police.

At the second to last rest stop, the “beast” begins. I say “beast” because I think it was tough because of all the previous climbing we had done so far, especially at altitude. The route starts out tame enough at about 3-4% and parallels I-70 using the old road before I-70 was built. A steady climb drops you out on the bike path that eventually leads to the summit of Vail Pass at 10,660 feet. The path itself is not difficult, but the grade changes are numerous, and after all the previous climbing, these relentless changes took their toll on our legs. The path was not without merit however. There were numerous places along the way where the view was just spectacular. I only wish we didn’t have quite such a need to get “this beast of climb over with.” The key, again, was to select the right gearing and just settle into a nice comfortable rhythm. Something that is a bit difficult to do after an already long day of climbing in the legs. Reaching the summit was quite a treat so we stayed there for awhile chatting with other riders, as we knew the last 7 miles was literally all downhill. If fact, we wouldn't go back “up” again until we climbed the stairs to the elevator that would take us to our room.


The Elevation Profile

We topped the ride off with an outstanding free lunch of salad, chicken picata on wild rice, iced tea and a couple of “Fat Tires.” Then it was off to the comfy grass to lay around in the balmy sunshine and take in the free concert. A truly great day in the Colorado high country, indeed.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A Rocky Mountain Preview


It was an early get up at around 3:00 a.m. to catch the 6:30 a.m. flight from Las Vegas to Denver. Blurry eyed and coffee craving we start our journey. To our delight, it is 91 ˚F at 3:30 a.m. Yeah baby! Love the desert!

It is amazing how many Vegas cops we saw this morning, 5 in all, and all with someone pulled over for some reason. They even had a Cabi pulled over for some reason. Now why would you pull over a Cab driver at this hour of the morning anyway? Curious for sure.

Travel tip number one: never trust the little cart rental machines. Aaaah, only 4 dollars to rent one. So, in goes 4 dollars, machine thanks me very much, and says, “that will be 4 dollars please.” “I just gave you 4 dollars you low-life piece of shit, now give me my cart.” “No can do, that will be 4 dollars please.” So, I look around for someone to give me a refund and guess what? Nobody in sight at 4:45 a.m. Who woulda thought? So, I spie another cart-offering machine and try again, but this time with a 5 dollar bill. Well, I think. I’m gonna get suckered into this again. Much to my surprise and satisfaction, the machine coughs up a cart. Not bad.

We arrive into Denver without incident and are marveled at the size of this place. I would describe this place as, “one big-ass airport.” Anyway, we finally collect all our bags and load them onto another 4-dollar cart; scurry over to the shuttle area, and eagerly await the Enterprise Rental Car shuttle. Man, what a long ride to the rental counter…this is a big ass place! Turns out the attendant is a bike freak, kinda like me. I guess it was the Specialized, “Ride First, Work Later” t-shirt that gave me away. We talk bikes a lot and very little about the rental car. I think he forgot what upgrade I had asked for because he gave me a full-sized SUV for the same price that I was quoted for a smaller version. A nice little prize for us after all the early morning expenses we incurred.

Our first day at altitude was spent visiting Bobbie’s sister, Jean and brother in-law, Dave. It is monsoon season here in Colorado so the weather has been a bit on the stormy side. However, this day was perfect, scattered clouds, temps in the 70s, and the air had that cool, soothing, sleepy feeling to hit that you might expect from being in a Midwest forest in the early fall. Anyway, We all talked while they watched intently while I used their front porch as my personal bike shop. Since neither of them ride bikes per se, we struck common ground and decided to take up fly-fishing together sometime in the near future and plan a trip either here in Colorado or some place along the Snake River in Idaho. All in all, it was a great visit, but I was ready to get some miles in the legs at altitude.

Bikes packed and good-byes exchanged, we headed off to Ft. Collins for some riding and a visit with some Bike Journal virtual buddies we’ve made on-line. The weather wasn’t cooperating very nicely as the front range was covered with cloud adding the additional threat of rain. This didn’t look too good for our “mountain” training that we so desperately needed. As we cruised what looked like western Kansas for most of the drive, we finally arrived in Ft. Collins. We contacted our virtual friend Howard as the pitter patter of rain drops hit our hotel window. He assured us this rain spell would pass and that we could get in a couple of miles around Ft. Collins. Skeptical, we agreed to meet and give it a go. Well, the mountains were outta there for sure. So, we parked the car along the side of a road out in the country and hit the flat lands for a quick 18 miles or so. I gotta tellya, after living in 100+ temperatures and then riding in 53 degree temperatures takes a little getting used to.


Bobbie Getting Ready for the Horse Tooth Epic

Howard was so pumped up to ride, he said we had to go over and do the Wednesday night Hypoxian ride and take advantage of the situation to meet the other Hypoxians. Again, we were skeptical about the weather, and could have just sat around the room after a good dinner and some wine. But, we were glad we decided to join everyone.

Getting ready to ride, the weather loomed ever so close to the teetering point of misty rain or an outright downpour. It was getting darker by the minute as well, and the whole situation made you feel like crawling inside your now dry cycling clothes, walking inside, and curling up to a fire. But as the Nike slogan says, “We just did it.” All of us enjoyed a nice ride of about 20 miles along the rolling hills of the front-range, and even got to experience a little of that cool rain that returned from earlier in the day. I must say, it was great to meet Deadhead, Bike Princess, and Baltic Tiger. What great folks! Thanks for the hospitality guys, we really enjoyed the New Belgium recovery drinks and our conversations with Bogey the parrot! My only regret was that I didn’t take the camera with me that evening. Live and learn.

Day 2 in Ft. Collins was nothing less than spectacular. Once again, the threat of rain in the mountains curtailed our training plan up in Estes Park so Howard suggested we take a “Tour de Ft. Collins.” I had mentioned earlier that the Horse Tooth Reservoir loop sounded good to us, so unbeknownst to me, that is exactly what Howard had in mind.


Howard, Our Gracious Ft. Collins Tour Guide

Ft. Collins has to be one of the coolest bike cities I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. There are bike routes, parks, bike friendly conveniences all over the place. According to Howard, Ft. Collins is one of the “Platinum” rated bike friendly cities in the United States. I can certain see why. I mean, the bike paths throughout town actually go under the streets around here! That means you don’t have to cross busy intersections anywhere in the city. How cool is that? Well, after down and around, here and there, we end up at the front range where the road turns up. Not just up, but up for a long way. We have now entered the Horse Tooth Epic, as Howard calls it. The first of three stinger climbs up to Horse Tooth reservoir.

Partly cloudy skies and cool temperatures made for perfect climbing conditions and spectacular scenery as we made our way skyward. The vastness of eastern Colorado could be seen to our right and the breathtaking views and depth of the Colorado Rockies was to our left. Cresting the first climb gives one the first peek at Horse Tooth reservoir, and what a peek it is. This reservoir seems to go on forever, both north and south. Words don’t describe the scene adequately so I’ll just provide some pictures. We stopped at the summit of all three climbs just to take it all in. With all big climbs, come bomber downhills and this ride did not disappoint. I watched Howard disappear in front of me on the final descent and came to find out he hit, in his words, “a disappointing 56 mph” on the way down. He said, “my best is 63 mph!” YGBSM.

The Horse Tooth Epic concludes with join up of the Poudre River bike trail system that ultimately leads you back to Old Town Ft. Collins. Old Town Ft. Collins is a must see for anyone traveling here. Folks here have preserved the flavor of the older part of Ft. Collins and the resulting atmosphere is just something to experience.


Looking South on Horse Tooth Reservoir


Taking a Break after Lotsa Climbing!

After a fantastic lunch at Rasta Pasta (I highly recommend the curry chicken dish) we headed over to the New Belgium Brewery to sample a few of cycling’s best ever recovery drinks. Every time I go visit a place where people work, I say, “gee why can’t I work here?” I’m sure people say the same about my place of employment, but I’d be willing to bet they don’t say it as often as they say it about this place. Just to give you an example, if you work for New Belgium for a year, they give you a bicycle! Not just a bicycle, but a Fat Tire bicycle! How cool is that? And, if you work there for 5 years, they give you an all expenses paid trip to Belgium for brewery training. How cool is that again!


The New Belgium Cycling Recovery Center

As guests, we were entitled to select 4 types of recovery drinks. My personal favorite is 1554. I’m not sure what that means, but it sure does taste good and I won’t forget the number, that’s for sure. Satisfied and fully recovered, we made our way back to the bike path and to our hotel for a little recovery nap. What a great day. Thanks Howard. You made our stay in Ft. Collins a memorable one! Now on to the Copper Triangle…