Winter Riding and Summer Planning

Ah, a three-day weekend. Better yet, on Sunday and Monday the weather was mild and dry. This is the time of year I find myself of multiple minds: trying to keep up the miles on the bike to get ready for the upcoming spring randonneuring brevets, and fretting over our summer tandem tour. A long weekend let me indulge both.

Friday morning started out pleasantly as always at the weekly Friday Coffee Club commuter cyclists gathering. The pre-work meetup is nearing its five-year anniversary, which we’ll celebrate later this month.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for the reopening of our original FCC location at Swing’s Coffee on 17th & G NW by the White House. It now looks like July or later according to the Swing’s site. A Baked Joint at 440 K St. NW has been a welcome temporary spot and we’ll continue there.

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

 

Saturday

A typical cold and rainy January day met us. I got out for a nice midday Freezing Saddles ride for a coffee visit with Jerry and Carolyn at Chinatown Coffee.

Rainy Day in DC

Rainy Day in D.C.

 

The rest of the day I worked on our summer tour. This year we’re returning to Colorado, but starting in Albuquerque and finishing in Boulder! The route is here – we start for Santa Fe on July 1 and finish on the 13th, about 950 miles later.  We haven’t ridden in New Mexico before, and in both states we’ll see some new terrain and towns, notably:

  • Santa Fe, Taos and Chama in New Mexico;
  • the Black Canyon of the Gunnison;
  • Monarch Pass to Gunnison;
  • Independence Pass;
  • Aspen and the Rio Grande Trail to Carbondale.

We’ll also return to some favorites: Durango, Silverton, and Kremmling, and another go at hauling the tandem over the wild & wooly Rollins Pass from Winter Park on the final day. This time, big tires are going on the tandem for that doozy.

The route was already drafted – the real work was making hotel reservations and buying our airline tickets. I always feel a little nervous locking down our July trip in mid-January, but it’s also nice to have everything lined up. I’ll make up cue sheets in the coming weeks and figure out the coffee places, bike shops and restaurants in the new towns.

Sunday

The skies cleared and we rode the Spectrum tandem to Frederick, Md. to one of our favorite area shops, the enchanting Gravel & Grind. Mel and James have created something really special and we always enjoy ourselves there. Everything is good (the coffee, food, bikes, stuff, and scene), but especially their welcoming vibe.

James, Mel and Mary

James, Mel and Mary

 

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

 

Mary, James and Me

Mary, James and Me

 

A randonneuring friend of ours has been talking to James about staging a fall randonneur brevet from the shop, so everybody could get some food and drinks and hang out afterwards. I hope it comes true.

The ride was a good one for us, at 117 miles without any extended climbs – perfect for winter when the wind isn’t blowing. Here’s the route on Garmin Connect or you can check it out at Strava.

The ride home was uneventful except for this very cool hawk on the side of River Road, near dusk. It calmly let us take photos. Thanks hawk!

A Hawk Surveys Its Domain

Hawk Surveys Its Domain

 

Monday

Mary and I each had dentist appointments and the skies were gray. I rode my Rivendell Bleriot, which sees far too little use these days, up to Clarendon in Arlington to turn in a very old Mac Mini for recycling (the PowerPC generation, if that rings a bell). The bike, unlike that old Mac, is just as good as ever, though it needs better fenders.

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

 

From there I rode down to the Mall and went to the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, which was busy with visitors — appropriately so on this day.

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

 

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The Feeling Returns

When inspiration strikes, the feeling is magical. After this weekend, I’m enthused about spending more time out on the open road, now that summer is ending.

How so? Last week Mary and I decided to ride a DC Randonneurs 300K course, the “Contrary Mother of All 300Ks,” as a two-day, no credit tour. We’re randonneurs in the spring, but the rest of the year, we veer more toward touring and centuries, and this one is a beauty.

The West Virginia town of Romney, nestled in the hills, is at mile 102 and has a good hotel and dinner options. The second day would be about 90 miles, just as hilly but not as long. See the routes: Day 1 and Day 2.

We also put out the word on the DC Randonneurs listserv to see if anyone wanted to come along. To our happy surprise, another tandem team joined us – Gordon M. and his wife Kay T., on a lovely black Co-Motion tandem.

Gordon and Kay

Gordon and Kay

 

I’ve known Gordon for 20 years but only recently met Kay, a very active rider who has a successful masters-level bike racing pedigree. They were married just three months ago and are enjoying newlywed bliss.

We met Saturday in Middletown, Va. in the Shenandoah Valley, and pedaled off to the north and west into the rolling hills. Mary and I stuffed the Carradice with a few essentials, while they carried lightly loaded panniers.

The weather cooperated wonderfully with bright skies, low humidity, and moderate temperatures in the 80s. This after forecasts earlier in the week talked about possible rain from a tropical storm moving up the Atlantic coast. For once, the storm moved away and we were left with perfectly clear late summer weather — whoo!

This route is rarely flat and we were a bit quicker up the hills, but Kay and Gordon came on fast on the descents and flats and were rarely far away. We stopped to enjoy the orchard views and lingered at the rest stops, including a well-deserved late lunch in Capon Bridge.

Riding along the Capon River

Riding along the Capon River

 

Dinner at a local place that shall go unnamed in Romney was slow and kind of odd, but it gave us time to get better acquainted and learn more about each other’s bike collections. I’m afraid I took the prize for boring everyone with the nuances of 650b bikes vs. gravel grinders vs. singlespeeds, and so on. (See? I’m doing it now!)

Day 2: Sweet and Scenic

 

Sunday dawned a little overcast and cool. Mary and I rode by ourselves down into town to the Sheetz for a coffee-type drink and breakfast sandwiches, while Gordon and Kay lit out on the course toward Lost River ahead of us. The motorbike guys at the Sheetz asked us about the tandem and I found out a little about Honda Gold Wing touring motorcyles. Word is, the engines last forever. “The Cadillac of motorcycles,” one guy said.

A brief derailleur adjustment and photo stop

A brief derailleur adjustment and photo stop

 

On the way to Lost River we rode over one hill after another on quiet roads, with just the occasional herd of cows and sheep looking on. One little dog came out to chase us, but I was certain the chain would stop it at the road’s edge. Then we noticed the chain wasn’t anchored! It gave a hearty chase, dragging the chain. That pup won the day’s prize for spirit.

Speaking of dragging chains, we kept dropping ours past the small front chainring on uphills, and had to stop a few times to pull the chain up onto the ring and fiddle with the front derailleur. The hills were steep enough – one was 16 percent – that we really needed to use that ring, and were glad when we got things working correctly. Relieved is more accurate, actually.

The Lost River Grill was supposed to stop serving breakfast at 11:30 AM and we arrived right then, trailing Gordan and Kay by 20 minutes. He talked them into keeping the breakfast menu going a little longer for us. I had purchased a little bottle of maple syrup at the South Branch Inn in Romney and was thrilled to order a waffle to justify carrying it over the hills. Unfortunately I left it there by mistake, still half-full. Oh well. It was delicious syrup and worth having it.

We climbed up Wolf Gap and the Garmin GPS unit went haywire trying to route us, beeping madly about a turn that did not exist, and finally just shut down at the top of the climb. No matter, we’ve blasted down that descent a few times and know the drill. The Spectrum tandem handled the sharp turns with aplomb and we got down to the Larkin’s Store in Edinburgh with smiles on our faces.

The smiles turned to frowns when we discovered the store was closed for repairs from a fire. We read later that a drink cooler caught fire and the owner saved the structure by getting everbody out and closing all the doors to limit oxygen. They’ve promised to re-open, I hope soon. That place is a main stop for the randonneurs and other riders in that part of the valley. We made do with some pocket food and didn’t need water, so all was well enough.

Larkin's is closed, but repairs are underway

Larkin’s is closed, but repairs are underway

 

Back Road never fails to entertain and was lovely and challenging with its many rollers and wide views. I just wish there was a crossing of Rt. 55 without having to ride on it for a few miles first – fast traffic and no shoulder make it a little scary. We got back to Middletown in good shape, and greeted Gordon and Kay who looked fresh and happy as they rolled into town.

Yes, that was fun!

Yes, that was fun!

 

Mary and I went to dinner at Roma Italian at Stephens City, which made for a satisfying end note to the weekend.

Sometimes things just work out well without drama. I took a lot of inspiration from Gordon and Kay, who thoroughly enjoyed themselves – and Mary, who rode strong as always.  This weekend was a great finale to a fun and active summer.

Coffeeneuring 3 and 4: Mary and I Go Running in Harpers Ferry

Coffeeneuring No. 3

Destination: Lost Dog Coffee, Shepherdstown, W.V. Oct 10.

Beverage: Espresso.

Distance: 11.6 miles. See my route from Harpers Ferry here.

Company: Just me.

Bike Friendly? No dedicated bike parking outside, but there are racks along German St., or just lean your bike somewhere, it’s a mellow scene.

Observation: Lost Dog is a funky small college town place that makes really good espresso. There’s not much pretense. I’m a fan.

Early Saturday morning outside Lost Dog in Shepherdstown

Early Saturday morning outside Lost Dog in Shepherdstown

This weekend, Mary and I repeated a bike & run trip we made last year, again to Harpers Ferry, W.V., so she could participate for the third time in the Freedom’s Run Marathon on Saturday. In an unexpected turn of events, I decided to end a decades-long absence from running and signed up for the 10K option.

I ran quite a lot in high school and some in college, but gradually quit in my 20s and then got into cycling in my 30s. (Ha ha, see that I’m not telling you how long since then?)

As a New Year’s resolution, I set a goal to get my running legs back in shape, and complete a 10K in the fall. I ran two or three times a week, up to 4 miles at a time, and this was the run I targeted. Freedom’s Run is a smaller event with a lot of charm and support, and we like Shepherdstown — where the 5K, 10K and half marathon were staged — and where the point-to-point marathon finished.

Mary rode out Friday afternoon on the C&O Canal Towpath. I rode out the 67 miles after work on the alternate route, via the paved W&OD Trail to Leesburg.

From there I took back roads to Brunswick, Md., and then the C&O the last few miles to Harper’s Ferry, arriving at 11:30 pm.

Early Saturday I rode just before dawn to Shepherdstown, and arrived at Lost Dog as owner Garth was setting up inside. Two other runners were also waiting. He opened at 7:30 and I had a delicious espresso and some banana bread.

Then I went over to the run check-in at Shepherd University. I managed to finish the 10K in 54:27 (track is here) without injuring myself — I think/hope! My left knee has been achy but I got through without any pain.

Gathering for the 10K

Gathering for the 10K

A nice bonus was seeing Kirstin C., also known on Twitter as @ultrarunnergirl, who is a regular at Friday Coffee Club and an experienced ultramarathoner. She and husband/ultramarathoner Tom where there with her parents. Kirstin ran with her mom on the 5K course and we greeted each other as I stumbled past.

This was a big accomplishment for me. Thanks to Mary, of course, for the guidance and encouragement this year, and Kirstin, her parents, and Tom for the congratulations at the end.

Afterwards I went back to Lost Dog for another espresso and another treat, then rode out on the course and caught up to Mary as she hit mile 22.

Mary was smiling and having a good run. The day was perfect for running — dry and slightly cool, with bright sun.

She finished in 4:42, which is what she hoped, and looked great coming into the finish.

Nearing the end, mile 23, running strong.

Nearing the end, mile 23, running strong.

After some celebration and lunch at the Bavarian Inn, Mary took the shuttle bus back to Harpers Ferry and I got a third espresso (!) at Lost Dog to revive me before riding back to our hotel. I was tired, but the day was so nice and I decided I could manage the 11 miles. It was worth the effort.

Coffeeneuring No. 4

Destination: Beans in the Belfry, Brunswick, Md., Oct 11.

Beverage: Soy Latte.

Distance: 68.4 miles from Harpers Ferry to D.C. Our route via the C&O Canal Towpath is here.

Company: Mary, and lots of touring riders and runners and walkers and their dogs and kids.

Bike Friendly? Yes. BITB has space for bikes out front and a hose for spraying off the dirt from the unpaved C&O.

Observation: Beans in the Belfry is about all you get for decent coffee along the C&O south of Shepherdstown, and they have good sandwiches and other lunch fare. We always stop there. You’re better off getting a latte (my choice today) or cappuccino rather than an espresso.

Leaving Harpers Ferry on a cool fall morning.

Leaving Harpers Ferry on a cool fall morning.

Mary and I got up tired on Sunday morning, but it was another cool, dry and clear day, so no complaints. We trundled the bikes across the bridge over the Potomac River and down the C&O to Brunswick for coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

Back at Beans in the Belfry, everybody's favorite stop in Brunswick, Md.

Back at Beans in the Belfry, everybody’s favorite stop in Brunswick, Md.

A bunch of C&O touring riders came in, leaving their hybrid-y mountain bikes with camping gear outside. We gratefully sat for a good while, pulled ourselves together and updated our social feeds.

Mary sports her marathon T-shirt. Well earned!

Mary sports her marathon T-shirt. Well earned!

Back on the trail, we made our way back to D.C. with a stop for snacks at the White’s Ferry store.

Rest stop under gorgeous skies at White's Ferry

Rest stop under gorgeous skies at White’s Ferry

The C&O Canal Towpath was busy with camping riders.

The C&O Canal Towpath was busy with camping riders.

The trail was pretty active with walkers around Great Falls, but otherwise we had smooth sailing.

Mary manages to keep smiling on the C&O, despite tired legs.

Mary manages to keep smiling on the C&O, despite tired legs.

My bike started making a weird ticking noise just as we rode into Georgetown for a celebratory stop at Baked & Wired, our regular haunt when we come in from C&O. With both of us having Columbus Day Monday off from work, we enjoyed the prospect of a full day to recover from the big weekend on and off the bikes.

There is definitely something satisfying about riding out to our weekend adventure — especially in the fall with the great weather we had.

Until next week!

Our 2013 Colorado Tandem Tour: Part 2

I started writing this post Saturday at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, waiting for a flight back to Washington with MG and daughter DF after a week of visiting family and hiking around Sedona.

We like to take one trip a year together without bikes, instead choosing to hit the trails for day hikes. I was struck by the beauty of Sedona; it was reminiscent of Colorado and took me back to our trip last month.

I posted the first part of our tour recap here, covering our start from Boulder and segments to Kremmling, Glenwood Springs and Paonia.

Also, our photos and routes can be seen at Flickr: mine here and MG’s here.

All of our routes are at my Garmin GPS page here and all but the first day at Ridewithgps here.

In this post I cover two of the most incredible and remote days of the tour in the central high mountains, to Crested Butte and Leadville.

Day Four: Paonia to Crested Butte via Kebler Pass
Mileage: 51.2
Road Surface: Paved, hardpack gravel
Difficulty: Medium
Conditions: Sunny, hot — low 90s.
Route and elevation profile: here at Garmin Connect, and here at Ridewithgps.

MG and I left the Fresh and Wyld B&B at 7 a.m., early enough that we missed the gourmet breakfast included with the stay that started at 8:30.

I felt like we were giving up one of the benefits that contributed to the somwehat costly room price, but we wanted to get to Crested Butte early in the afternoon to take advantage of our short day.

The overall loop we chose for this tour made it impossible to take a full day off the bike, which we find is good after three or four days. We compromised by taking Gunnison out of the route to stop in Crested Butte, for a 51-mile day over wooded Kebler Pass.

Leaving Paonia.

Leaving Paonia.

After breakfast at the downtown diner — accompanied by Neil Diamond’s greatest hits playing on the jukebox, we ambled over to the fancy and friendly Backcountry Coffee for morning espresso and treats.

The owners told us of the newcomers, like them, who had moved there for the organic food lifestyle. The dynamic was not without its tensions, but the influx had kept Paonia vibrant, unlike so many other small towns in America.

A local woman whose husband was away on a traveling forest fire crew gave us the lowdown on the construction of new homes in remote wooded locations in the West that were being consumed by the summer’s fires. She remarked how they couldn’t expect those structures to be saved from fires if they chose to live amidst so much dry timber.

We extricated ourselves from that conversation and pointed the tandem north, back the way we came the previous day, past the coal mine in Somerset. We then turned right at Paonia State Park (which had very nice restroom facilites) to begin the climb up Kebler.

Kebler Pass Awaits.

Kebler Pass Awaits.

The day beckoned, clear and bright, as the pavement gave way to smooth hardpacked dirt. The pass was not the highest of the trip, at 9,992 feet, but it may have been the prettiest.

County Road 12 rose over a set of switchbacks to join snowy peaks and grazing lands to an initial summit of 9,029, then dropped somewhat over rolling hills through woodlands. A second climb brought us to a high point 10 miles before rolling down into Crested Butte.

Was this one of those tour moments — where we become fully immersed, thinking only of our companionship, the clear sky, the soaring mountains and the miles ahead? Indeed. This is why we tour.

On the way up to the first high point.

On the way up to the first high point.

MG and I stopped often for photos on the way up, and again to capture the trees and meadows. A couple on mountain bikes appeared on a rise as we neared the top of the pass and we rode up to them just as they stopped to admire the view back toward the west.

The top of the pass is nothing more than a sign on the side of the road. We put the tandem into a downhill gear and swooped down the final miles into CB, arriving under hot sun just after 1 p.m.

Over the top of Kebler Pass, now down into Crested Butte.

Over the top of Kebler Pass, now down into Crested Butte.

CB is a ski resort town that has made itself into a rocking summer destination. The main street was humming with tourists.

After pizza and a coffee stop, we paid a visit to the strip’s bike shop, Big Al’s Bicycle Heaven, where we got some helpful local knowledge about the next day’s route and suggestions for dinner.

We found bike shops made for good information sources and the people were very nice in all of them, which made it easy to spend a few dollars on something small.

That evening we walked back into town from our room at the value-oriented Old Town Inn for Mexican food and a stop at the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. The hall is just an exhibit tucked into the old gas station/general store that serves now as a tourist gift shop and local history museum.

It wasn’t much, but we learned about some well-known MTB pioneers and racers and checked out interesting old bikes.

CB is known as a summer MTB mecca, and we saw a few full-suspension bikes being ridden about. But what we really noticed more was the ubiquitous townie cruisers that everybody rode around and parked unlocked. Hotels would have a few leaning outside for guest use, and we’d see families soft-pedaling around town. The original bikeshare, in a way.

We had been told CB was something of a special summer place. They were right.

Day Five: Crested Butte to Leadville via Cottonwood Pass
Mileage: 100.7
Road Surface: Paved, hardpack gravel
Difficulty: Hard
Conditions: Sunny, hot, low 90s.
Route and elevation profile: here at Garmin Connect, and here at Ridewithgps.

After espresso and breakfast sandwiches at Camp Four coffee on Elk Avenue (excellent!) our second-longest day began with the brief descent of 10 miles south from CB. We turned on Jacks Cabin Cutoff to begin the 48-mile ascent over Cottonwood Pass via Taylor Park Reservoir at Almont.

Camp Four in CB. Good stuff.

Camp Four in CB. Good stuff.

Jacks Cabin turned to gravel and MG urgently informed me that one of the couplers was loose — as in, completely unscrewed. Not good!

I immediately halted the bike and got out the S&S coupler wrench. Besides the loose one, three or four of the other five were less than fully tight, and I gave them all a good turn.

Back on the go, we got back on pavement near Harmel’s Ranch Resort, a dude ranch/fly fishing desination on the Taylor River. We stopped at the ranch store for Gatorade to take up the hill, and had a nice conversation with the fishing concierge (is there such a thing?) who lives in the offseason off the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.

He noticed my AT bandana that I wore to protect my neck from the sun and we talked a little about the West and the East.

Taylor Park Reservoir

Taylor Park Reservoir

The road was paved all the way up to Taylor Reservoir and we enjoyed a fairly easy climb through the forested canyon. At the Taylor Park Trading Post MG and I decided we better eat something solid and had a full breakfast at the Nugget Cafe.

The reservoir is a haven for ATV riders and there were signed trails for the little four-wheelers that zoomed around like Tazmanian devils, traveling in their own whirling dust clouds.

Second breakfast at the Nugget Cafe, Taylor Reservoir.

Second breakfast at the Nugget Cafe, Taylor Reservoir.

Next stop was Cottonwood Pass, a 13-mile climb on dirt among forests to 12,119 feet. As a well-used road between CB and Buena Vista/Breckenridge and Interstate 70, the grade was quite pleasant without any steep sections. We had acclimated to the elevation by this day and rode up to the top without any drama.

Nearing treeline on Cottonwood Pass.

Nearing treeline on Cottonwood Pass.

A nice woman from northwest Arkansas took our photo and talked about the nearby cabin she owned with her late husband. They spent summer vacations there with the now-grown kids, and she talked a little sadly about how she planned to sell it as there wasn’t the same appeal for their grandkids.

12,119 ft. elevation, summit of Cottonwood Pass.

12,119 ft. elevation, summit of Cottonwood Pass.

After photos and snacks, I was looking forward to the 19-mile paved descent to Buena Vista. It started out fantastic — including a sighting of a touring cyclist — nearing the summit on his way up. The switchbacks came fast, indicating the grade was steep on the east side of the Cottonwood.

Soon the headwinds picked up, some quite violent, and the riding became a challenge. Cars started backing up behind and we pulled over at trailhead parking lot to take a break. We’d been lucky with updrafts so far, but today they were a handful.

Buena Vista was a bustling town, hot and windy, as we arrived around 3 p.m. They had a worthy local coffee shop, Buena Vista Roastery, a friendly bike shop, Boneshaker Cycles, and a handy brewpub, Eddyline Brewery, where we ate pizza and salads.

The folks at the welcoming Boneshaker did us a big favor by getting into the unpacked stock to find some Chomois Butt’r lotion. We liked their whole deal, very laid back, and MG bought a little T-shirt to take home as a souvenir.

After all that we had a 30-mile gradual ascent to Leadville, which we began under threatening skies, with distant thunder booming. A little rainsquall came over us north of town and we put on jackets, but it stopped in a few miles and off they came.

The shoulder was wide enough on US24 to make the trip comfortable and a gentle tailwind negated the ascending grade. We made good time north, with views of the Arkansas River to the east side of the road and the Sawatch Range to the west, which features a number of 14,000 ft. peaks. This range includes the highest elevation in Colorado, the 14,433 ft. Mt. Elbert. Read more about this range at 14ers.com.

Headed to Leadville. Courtesy MG.

Headed to Leadville. Courtesy MG.

Imperceptably the road steepened as we neared town. MG and I slowed to a fast crawl over the last 10 miles and rolled hungry and spent up to the shabby Super 8 on the south side of town.

There are better accommodations in Leadville but they were sold out before we could grab a room. I learned later one of them was hosting a Leadville 100 bike race training camp.

We walked to downtown at dusk and everything looked well worn — the houses, the cars and trucks, the businesses. Not all was discouraging: the bike shop, Cycles of Life, looked pretty cool from outside, and there was plenty of Leadville 100 signage around, which made us feel like we were somewhere special.

At the historic Quincy’s Restaurant, one of the few places still open at 8:45 p.m. that was not a gas station, the choices were just two: steaks or lasagna. The lasagna was good enough and we actually got a good night’s sleep at the Super 8, so all ended well.

In Part 3 I’ll wrap up our final two days on the road.

Our 2013 Colorado Tandem Tour: Part 1

MG did such a good job posting on Chasing Mailboxes about our progress during our July 4-12 Colorado tour (see her posts here) that I waited until we got home to put down my own thoughts about our experience.

We had a great time on this tour, and it marked a new step forward for us as a team: it was the first self-contained touring trip we had done far from home.

We have taken the tandem to randonneuring events in other parts of the U.S. (and France) and ridden self-contained in Virginia and surrounding states near home in Washington, D.C.

Going to Colorado to see friends and ride by ourselves was a new experience. Many questions had to be answered: where to stay, where to ride, how to get the bike to and from our start and end point in Boulder.

I’m happy to say all went well. The time we’ve spent randonneuring and touring helped us a lot in terms of determining the right distances and limiting our gear to the essentials. Our new Co-Motion Java tandem performed flawlessly, the weather co-operated and we were treated well throughout by drivers. In sum — a very fun and satisfying trip.

Summer vacation!

Summer vacation!

First off: Photos! Ours are uploaded at Flickr mine here and MG’s here.

You can see our routes at my Garmin GPS page here.

Prologue

This tour started taking shape over the winter. We were inspired to return to the state after seeing the northern parts during the High Country 1200K randonnee with MG last summer. I previously rode the central mountains on the Bicycle Tour of Colorado in 1997, and wanted to see them again with MG on tandem at a more leisurely pace.

I contacted with our randonneur friends Tim Foon Feldman and HC 1200K organizer John Lee Ellis in Louisville, Colo., near Boulder, to talk over possible routes. Tim has drawn up the Haute Route 1200K randonner course, which I used as a template.

One of our goals was to take advantage of Colorado’s well-maintained dirt roads that the Java tandem would allow us to traverse with larger tires.

With their help I whittled the days into shorter versions with hotel stops. I included one of the six 200K-ish rides that Tim has made up from his 1200K: the 134-mile Trail Ridge 200K from Louisville through Rocky Mountain National Park to Kremmling, Colo.

It would be our first and longest day on the bike, going over the highest point on our tour at 12,200 feet of elevation with about 10,000 feet of climbing.

Route drafting led to hotel reservations, then vacation requests from work and airplane tickets. Colorado is a busy place during the summer — it was essential that we get everything locked in by early May.

We like Southwest Air to Denver because they allow two bags free per person and fly direct from Washington Dulles airport. The Java with S&S couplers broke down into suitcases that we could check without an additional fee.

From Denver a regional transit coach bus is available to Boulder, which lets one avoid renting a car.

We arrived late on July 3 after work. Tim would not let us take the bus and instead picked us up at DLA and took us to his and wife Donna’s lovely house in Louisville. They keep two cats, nice bikes, a lovely back yard and have a keen appreciation for good conversation, food and espresso. Tim likes to ride and ski, Donna likes to ski and hike.

We had a lot to discuss about the outdoors life in the Rocky Mountains.

Tim gets the shot on the Lefthand Canyon climb.

Tim gets the shot on the Lefthand Canyon climb.

After assembling the Co-Motion Java Tandem (provisional name: The Big Cat) on July 4 Tim joined us for a 50-mile checkout ride up Lefthand Canyon to the local holiday gathering. The bike came together well — it was our first time traveling with the Java. Later all of us went to a backyard party in Louisville and watched impressive local fireworks.

4th of July at Lefthand Canyon

4th of July at Lefthand Canyon

On Friday MG and I ventured into Boulder to greet our pals at Vecchio’s Bicicletteria on fashionable Pearl Street, enjoyed espresso at Ozo Coffee and at Atlas, and then rode out to Mary’s Market & Deli in Hygeine. This is something of a local cyclist stop and riders came and went often. Rain stopped us briefly on the way back and then dissipated quickly.

A year later, we're back: Vecchio's Bicicletteria.

A year later, we’re back: Vecchio’s Bicicletteria.

Saturday our tour started. Here’s our rundown, in a review format.

Day 1: Boulder to Kremmling via Lyons, Estes Park and Trail Ridge Road.
Mileage: 134
Road Surface: Paved
Difficulty: High
Conditions: Sunny
Route and elevation profile: here.

Day One: Off to Trail Ridge Road!

Day One: Off to Trail Ridge Road!

We rode this segment as a randonneur permanent ride — The Trail Ridge 200 — with a total time of 14:20 to complete the course. The challenge was to get to the Granby control on the other side of Trail Ridge Road, mile 107, in 11 hours 28 minutes. That seems like plenty of time, but we were on the button most of the day as we slowly climbed the first 70 miles from 5,500 feet to 12,200 feet.

We left just before 7:30 a.m. and Tim joked that we should leave Estes Park, mile 45, by noon. He was not kidding. The climbing to that point, at 7,540 feet, got us there at 11:20 a.m.! We found the long uphills on Rt. 36 very tough. After a quick lunch and drinks at the Safeway, we entered Rocky Mountain National Park for the big push to the top.

The ascent up renowned Trail Ridge Road was at once thrilling and nerve-wracking. Holiday weekend car traffic was heavy and with little shoulder, and dropoffs to our right, I kept one eye forward and one on my rear view mirror. I wanted to ride out in the lane but had to give way often as groups of cars would pass. All this made MG nervous about riding off the edge.

A rest stop on the way up Trail Ridge Road.

A rest stop on the way up Trail Ridge Road.

We stopped at turnouts to regain our composure and catch our breath. As we rose above treeline temperatures fell into the low 50s and the wind picked up — vests and jackets came out for each of us.

Air is getting thin up here. Courtesy MG.

Air is getting thin up here. Courtesy MG.

The mountain and valley views were spectacular! We had never gone that far into the sky on the tandem and the payoff was immense. The kind comments we got at the Alpine Visitor Center store just past the summit were very much appreciated.

A mile from the top. Courtesy MG.

A mile from the top. Courtesy MG.

It was all downhill to Granby, but we had to cover the 37 miles in a little over two hours to stay within the ride time limits. We pressed hard all the way down the twisty descent and through Grand Lake, and arrived with about 12 minutes to spare. There’s nothing like a deadline and a descending profile to get one to go fast!

On our way to Kremmling.

On our way to Kremmling.

After a rest stop in Granby, the rest of the 27-mile route to little Kremmling continued trending downhill. After the busy Trail Ridge Road, we had Highway 40 mostly to ourselves. We thought we had to get to Kremmling before 9 p.m. to get food at the local grill, so I called in an order for 8:45 p.m.

MG and I resolved to make it happen. After a day like this, we were going to be famished and did not want to go to bed hungry.

A soft evening sun bathed our faces as we shot west through Byers Canyon and over cattle lands. I got out my camera to photograph the passing freight train and the engineer blew the whistle and waved.

We saw a guy running with a follow van as part of a coast-to-coast cancer fundraising challenge. A car passed once every so often. Hills glowed.

A lovely early Saturday evening ride.

A lovely early Saturday evening ride.

Kremmling appeared in the distance and the clock struck 8:30 p.m. just as we rolled into town. Success!

We got our brevet cards signed at the Rocky Mountain Bar & Grill and they served us dinner. Turns out they did not close until 10 p.m., so we had time to eat there. I ordered dessert too.

Our hotel was the nearby Allington Inn, which was kind of pricey but new and very comfortable. It was a long day for touring, but one of our most memorable ever.

Day Two: Kremmling to Glenwood Springs
Mileage: 89.5
Road Surface: Paved, hardpack gravel, paved bike path
Difficulty: Medium
Conditions: Sunny, hot — low 90s.
Route and elevation profile: here at Garmin Connect, and here at Ridewithgps.

After breakfast and a passable espresso at the Moose Cafe in Kremmling, we tooled over the days only long climbs via the hardpack gravel County Road 1, which runs along the Colorado River. At Mile 27 we descended to the outdoor concert venue and river access point known as State Bridge Landing. After a few miles of paved road we turned onto the hardpack Colorado River Road to the 20-mile bike path into Glenwood Springs.

County Road 1: Next stop State Bridge Landing.

County Road 1: Next stop State Bridge Landing.

Along CR 1 views of the Colorado River and dry scrub land stretched in all directions. Trucks carrying inflatable boats and kayaks made a regular appearance as we mixed in with the river rat and fishing enthusiasts.

State Bridge, a little outdoor entertainment and camping enclave where the party crowd was just stirring at 11:30 a.m., offered the only notable rest stop. We feasted on tasty blackened fish sandwiches and sodas from a vendor truck and took some snacks to eat later.

Overlooking the Colorado River.

Overlooking the Colorado River.

Colorado River Road was hot and dry, but the river’s growing size and strength kept us entertained. There was almost no shade and we stopped to take advantage of the shelter at the Burns post office and then again at a bend in the road with some trees. We left State Bridge with three full water bottles, full 70-oz. Camelbaks, and Cokes for the Burns stop, which got us through this long stretch without services.

The Glenwood path took us into town but was a narrow in places and had occasional foot traffic, so we had to keep our speed in check. At Glenwood we went directly to our Courtyard hotel across the river from the tourist area near the springs and we missed the sights.

That was OK by us. After the big ride Saturday and the heat of Sunday, we were pretty tired. We stayed put in the hotel area for the evening and ate dinner at a chain place nearby. Next time I want to see more of Glenwood.

Day Three: Glenwood Springs to Paonia
Mileage: 77
Road Surface: Paved roads, paved bike path
Difficulty: Medium
Conditions: Sunny, afternoon headwinds.
Route and elevation profile: GPS at Garmin Connect, Route at Ridewithgps.

The first two days caught up with us this morning and we struggled to get in sync about breakfast. We went into Glenwood’s older downtown for espresso and food with a couple of pointers from Yelp.

But, nothing looked right at first and we (really, me, since I was on the espresso mission) u-turned a couple of times trying to decide what to do, while avoiding urgent Monday morning car traffic.

Finally we went into a touristy coffee & lunch place and got truly terrible espresso. This put me in a bad mood.

We found a good breakfast place next door, however, and noticed another coffeenhouse nearby, The Bluebird Cafe. It was the real deal and sold me a very tasty doppio.

A few years of touring has taught us that mornings can be stressful when we’re tired and hungry and have no exact place to alight. This knowledge helped us avoid a tandem team meeting, and it was all behind us soon enough.

The bike trail south of Glenwood Springs.

The bike trail south of Glenwood Springs.

After a few miles south on the bike path with some local roadie cyclists, we stopped in quaint Carbondale at Ajax Bike & Sport. Aaron and gang gave us some excellent local knowledge and encouragement.

A great stop in Carbondale.

A great stop in Carbondale.

Next stop: a second espresso and treat at lovely Bonfire Coffee. Next time we’ll consider overnighting in Carbondale if possible rather than Glenwood — much quieter and easy to navigate.

By this time it was late morning and we still had most of the day’s ride ahead, with 8,762 ft. high McClure Pass at Mile 38. Colorado Rt. 133 gradually ascended to the base of the climb, then pitched up more steeply for three miles to the summit.

"-- Job". We covered the same route today as this year's Bicycle Tour of Colorado.

“– Job”. We covered the same route today as this year’s Bicycle Tour of Colorado.

We hit the climb after one more stop in the little resort community of Redstone for snacks and drinks. One the way up we saw a few touring cyclists headed down, but did not find out their group. This climb was not bad and we enjoyed awe-inspiring views in all directions. After photos at the top we blasted down, convinced we could practically coast all the way to Paonia.

A tour group was coming down McClure Pass as we ascended.

A tour group was coming down McClure Pass as we ascended.

On top of McClure Pass. Big payoff for a relatively pleasant climb.

On top of McClure Pass. Big payoff for a relatively pleasant climb.

Not true, of course. While we had a downhill profile, there were enough hills and a strong southern headwind to keep us working. The big coal mine at Somerset loomed and beyond that was little Paonia, a community based on a mix of coal jobs, farming and the local/organic food movement.

Near Paonia, really bad railroad tracks on Bowie Road.

Near Paonia, really bad railroad tracks on Bowie Road.

Imagine a small town where the local businesses are still thriving and people move there to get away from city life. That’s Paonia. Our B&B Fresh and Wyld Farmhouse Inn was a lovely retreat from chain hotels and we had a terrific local food dinner at The Living Farm Cafe.

After getting an ice cream cone at a nearby parlor, we stopped at the pizza place to chat with some folks watching the Tour de France on TV and drinking beer. MG and I strolled a mostly quiet main drag before heading back for a great night’s quiet sleep. This was one of those touring days where we felt at one with the road, the sky and air, and found a community on the upswing.

Stay tuned: I’ll detail the final four days in Part II.

Colorado Tour Day 4: Paonia & Crested Butte

Two days later in our Colorado tandem tour, MG and I are seeing two different types of summer experiences in this unique state.

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Yesterday our 75-mile route had the high point right in the middle: McClure Pass, between Glenwood Springs and Paonia. It was a gentle uphill grade until a not-too-steep three-mile switchback climb to 8,762 feet, then downhill to Paonia for 35 miles.

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The downhill was fast at first but became less easy with some rises and a hot headwind. That’s normal on Colorado afternoons, when warm valley air rushes up the mountains.

We heard that Paonia has become something of a destination for the organic food movement in addition to it’s roots in ranching and coal mining.
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This made for an eclectic mix of new and traditional. We rode past the big coal operation north of town, then entered past orchards to a main street featuring organic stores and restaurants.

We enjoyed a wonderful meal at the Living Farm cafe after walking in from the Fresh & Wyld organic farm on the edge of town.

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This morning we started the day too early for breakfast at the b&b so we ate at the local diner on Main Street followed by lovely espresso at Backcountry Coffee & Espresso.

The owner had only been in town two years. She told us people were moving to Paonia to get away from the city; but also that it wasn’t a way to get rich either.

Today we rode 52 miles to the tony ski and mountain bike mecca of Crested Butte, over the mostly-dirt Kebler Pass at 9,990 feet. A short day, but with 41 miles of ascent, no cakewalk.

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Kebler is just stunning with magnificent peaks, soaring aspen and flowering meadows. Cool clean air pushed us from behind. Never was extended climbing so enjoyable.

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CB was alive with tourists and locals when we arrived at 2 p.m. We had pizza and then hung out at the bike shop where the owner and staff gave us excellent info about our route to Leadville tomorrow.
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Tomorrow we will have espresso at one cool artsy coffee shop and breakfast at another neat joint. Crested Butte is funky and sports oriented, which is cool, but I think Paonia is the place worth watching.

Colorado Tour: The Ups and the More Ups

MG and I are in Glenwood Springs, Colo. tonight on day two of our weeklong tandem trip around the state’s central mountains.

After 223 miles over the first two days we are feeling like we are getting the full mountains experience. West of Denver this state is never flat.

Yesterday we started with a 134-mile ride from Louisville, near Boulder, over the iconic 12,200-foot Trail Ridge Road. We stayed overnight in the little ranching town of Kremmling.

We rode it as a randonneur permanent — meaning, self guided — with a time limit. Our host in Louisville, Tim Foon Feldman, came up with the route through Lyons, Estes Park, over to Granby and then Kremmling.

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This meant about 70 miles of ascending to gain nearly 5,000 7,000 feet of elevation and about 10,000 feet overall when you throw in the little dips.

I had always wanted to climb TRR on tandem with MG so it was a huge accomplishment for us to summit at mile 75, more so because this is one stunning and tough climb.

There is no shoulder and we had constant car traffic passing us. We were treated well by drivers but at 5 m.p.h. we were in the way more than I liked.
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The thin air at the top made it very hard to keep up momentum. And, MG was scared by the dropoffs and would lean left at times which affected the steering.

In sum, it took a real team effort to get the Co-Motion over the top. It was worth it. We felt like we had checked off one of those must-do’s as a tandem couple.

Of course, the views were spectacular.

The payoff for getting up and over came in the evening descending ride to Kremmling with little traffic and a classic western sunset.
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Today we rolled along the scenic Colorado River on a mix of hard pack gravel and paved roads under hot skies to Glenwood.
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No mountains but many little hills and tired legs made the 90 miles a solid challenge.
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Tomorrow we roll south to teeny Paonia.

Back to Back Weekend: Two Tandems to Monterey

This last weekend MG and I completed our second overnight tandem touring trip in as many weekends. The goal of our recent riding — and decision not to ride 400K and 600K brevets this year — has been to get our legs in shape for the big mountains of Colorado.

We’re planning an eight-day loop around some of that state’s iconic cycling high points. Think Crested Butte, Leadville, and Trail Ridge Road, among others. I’ll detail more of the route in the coming days.

Anyway, we have been focusing on getting in multiple rides of 150 miles or less, more often. The idea is to get ourselves prepared for the multiple days in the saddle.

Lucky for us in the training department, our tandem randonneur friends John M. and Cindy P. put out a call for company on a mountainous two-day ride out to the picturesque western Virginia Highlands area. It was created by Crista Borras, with whom who we have spent many a happy touring mile.

We were the only takers to their invitation, making it four riders on two Co-Motion tandems.

Two tandems at rest

Two tandems at rest

Day One consists of a 140-mile ride from Middletown, Va. through northeast West Virginia to an overnight stop at in Monterey.

Profile of the Splendor in the Blue Grass 140 mile ride from Strasburg, Va. to Monterey, Va.

Profile of the Splendor in the Blue Grass 140 mile ride from Strasburg, Va. to Monterey, Va.

Day Two is a 120-miler starting with three mountains climbs, then rolling hills on routes that parallel Rt. 11 up the Shenandoah Valley. We ended up at 115 miles because of our hotel start.

Profile of the 115-mile MMMM Ride from Monterey, Va. to Strasburg, Va.

Profile of the 115-mile MMMM Ride from Monterey, Va. to Strasburg, Va.

Crista has made these rides available as self-guided randonneur permanent and populaire events, with time limits. We chose to ride them casually, meaning not for randonneur credit, with a start from a hotel in nearby Strasburg, Va.

They are called Splendor in the Blue Grass and Many Mountains from Monterey to Middletown, or MMMM. One can also ride them in one shot, if you dare: see the 20,000 foot Devil’s Wicked Stepmother 402K permanent. You can see maps of the routes at Crista’s RidewithGPS uploads here and here.

Me at Strasburg

Me at Strasburg

MG in Strasburg

MG in Strasburg

Cindy and John were on their blue-green 650b-wheel custom Speedster that they bought for their Transamerica coast-to-coast trip next month. We were on our new Co-Motion Java with 700c wheels, which we have come to appreciate more and more as we rack up the miles.

See MG’s photos here, mine here and Cindy’s here.

Saturday started out cloudy as we made our way out of the Shenandoah Valley into West Virgina. The skies gradually cleared after a stop at mile 24 in Wardensville and got only brighter after our second stop at the brand new Sheetz in Moorefield at mile 48.

From there we ventured south to the sublime Blue Grass Valley.

Cindy and John over Rt. 55 into West Virginia

Cindy and John over Rt. 55 into West Virginia

The run down CR3/Sweedlin Valley Road was a pure delight, with all shades of green landscape bathed in moderate temperatures of about 80 degrees and light winds. Those are the conditions we wanted after some rainy days in Washington recently.

The view for much of our afternoon.

The view for much of our afternoon.

We also met curiously lost Max, a determined cycletourist from the Ukraine on a mountain bike who was taking a break from his ride from Washington to Denver. He asked us at the Sugar Grove store stop, as he smoked a cigarette, how he might ride around the mountains.

John and I tried to impress on Max that he had to go over them; no other way. “Just look around you,” I said, pointing to the mountain ridges surrounding the store, especially to the west.

John urged him enjoy the spectacular roads and views, and just ride. Max wasn’t so sure.

Us and Max the cyclotourist

Us and Max the cyclotourist

We left him there to ponder his next move. Max: if you read this, let us know how things worked out.

The afternoon was capped by the ride up the lovely, steep Moyers Gap, and then a truly stunning ride along Thorn Creek.

The view from Moyers Gap

The view from Moyers Gap

We finished the day with a stop at the Blue Grass Country Convenience Store (maple candy!) and then the climbs into the too-green-to-be-true Blue Grass Valley and over Monterey Mountain to Monterey for dinner and sleep.

Blue Grass Country Convenience Store

Blue Grass Country Convenience Store

Finally! Dinner in Monterey

Finally! Dinner in Monterey

Sunday came way too early but we got on the bike by 6:15 am for the big climbs out of Monterey and then the rolling hills in the Shenandoah Valley back to Strasburg.

Cindy and John cresting Shenandoah Mountain

Cindy and John cresting Shenandoah Mountain

Rain fell in the afternoon but did not develop into a storm, and by the end of our last rest stop the skies started to clear again.

Lingering rain on Back Road (courtesy MG)

Lingering rain on Back Road (courtesy MG)

By the end we all had 255 miles for the weekend. That’s a 400K, but over two days — and two very enjoyable days.

A good tired, in the Shenandoah Valley

A good tired, in the Shenandoah Valley

Many thanks to Cindy and John, and good luck on your trip! And thanks to my great partner and stoker MG, who kept me going.

Two Day Tour Return: Martinsburg – D.C.

We woke up a little tired today after our big ride yesterday and we never seemed to shake the fatigue on the return from Martinsburg, W. Va. to home in Southwest D.C.

That didn’t stop us from having a good day, it just meant that we took more stops and spent more time off the bike.

Shepherdstown Farmers Market

Shepherdstown Farmers Market

See all my photos from the weekend here and MG’s here.

One of the goals of the back-to-back long rides is to get the body to adapt to that second-day effort, so that it’s not a shock when we get on the bike day after day during our Colorado tour next month.

The overnighter is also a good way to make sure you get in that followup ride. We had to get home, and that meant riding there. No sleeping in and going for a shorter ride!

We hauled ourselves up before we’d rise on a workday and got going from our hotel. The roads were quiet, the skies were a little rainy. Sharing the countryside on a Sunday morning ride with your true love is a fair payoff for the early getup, for sure.

After a short 12-mile run to Shepherdstown, W.Va., we lingered in town for nearly two hours at the Sunday farmers market, the Lost Dog Coffee shop, and the famous-to-randonneurs Shepherdstown Sweet Shoppe. We bought fresh strawberries and espresso, and did our best to enjoy the laid-back summer vibe. A fair number of cyclists rode through on group outings and asked us about our little tour.

Strawberries!

Strawberries!

Our other stops included the Appalachian Trail headquarters in Harpers Ferry, and Beans in the Belfry coffee and sandwich lounge in Brunswick, Md. after a six-mile jaunt on the C&O Canal Trail.

AT Headquarters in Harpers Ferry

AT Headquarters in Harpers Ferry

The short way towards home, on Point of Rocks Road, is very hilly, and we ended up turning off on a road we had not used before to rejoin the C&O for the ride to Whites Ferry near Poolesville. Back in Harpers Ferry we saw a couple of younger guys on touring bikes and then saw them stopped on the trail. When we stopped to fix a flat tire, they came steaming past, and then we saw them again at the Whites Ferry store.

They were making the full run from Pittsburgh to D.C. on the Great Allegheny Trail and the C&O in two days — a huge outing. It was motivating to hear about it!

Monocacy Aqueduct on the C&O Canal

Monocacy Aqueduct on the C&O Canal

We trundled off via the gravel section of River Road towards Potomac, Md. under darkening skies. By the time we got to Potomac, about 17 miles from home, we were riding hard trying to outrun a storm behind us. In Glen Echo, 10 miles out, a huge downpour hit and we took refuge in a bus shelter until it passed.

On the gravel section of River Road, before the rain

On the gravel section of River Road, before the rain

Edwards Ferry on the C&O

Edwards Ferry on the C&O

As we arrived got home at mile 97 a bigger storm was brewing and we rushed into the door minutes before the deluge hit. We were damp, tired, indoors and satisfied.

Tonight we’ll sleep well. We have another big weekend set of rides coming up and shuteye will be high on our priority list this week. That, and cleaning the C&O dirt off the tandem!

Two Day Tour Out: Martinsburg, W.Va.

MG and I are in Martinsburg, W.V. tonight after riding a hilly 122-mile route from our home in D.C. Today was the first hot ride this year and everything went pretty well.

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Our route took us north for about 90 miles which gave us a tailwind — a good thing — except it made for some really warm climbs. Those of you from the D.C. and Frederick area will recognize our major ascents of Marlu Ridge, Meeting House Road/Harp Hill and Brandenburg Hollow.

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Just getting to those climbs meant many smaller hills through the Catoctins, as we went to Middletown and then Smithsburg before turning west to Shepherdstown.

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The highlight of the day was seeing the D.C. Randonneurs 600K brevet riders at Shepherdstown. They were at mile 158 and looked pretty hot but sounded optimistic about the cooler evening temperatures ahead. Go riders!

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Tomorrow we have a century planned to get home. We start by riding back to Shepherdstown for the Sunday morning farmers market, then Harpers Ferry and Leesburg before re-joining our outbound route.

We love these overnighter rides. They let us get an away without a lot of planning. Last time we did this one our pal Lane G. joined and designed the routes.

He could not accompany us this year and we miss his calm presence and awesome climbing ability.