The Unintentional Century

On Saturday big crowds were expected in D.C. for the protest march, but I’m in the news business and had no related assignment, so I was looking for an escape from the city. The forecast was for a mostly dry, mild day, and a long bike ride in the country was in order.

Mary graciously agreed to join me and we set off from Marshall, Va. on what was to be an 85-miler, though it ultimately turned into a longer and harder route than we expected. See the final ride at Ridewithgps. The route we intended has a shortcut via the low water bridge over the Shenandoah River that is usually passable – but I should have checked beforehand.

The day was gray, with some light mist, and lots of fog. Temperatures were in the upper 40s, though, so no worries. I always keep the generator front and rear lights running in daytime, but I was doubly glad for them today because of the fog. (Tech nerds: our setup is a Schmidt SON 28/disc 36-hole hub, running a Busch & Muller IQ-X headlight and a B&M Toplight rear light mounted to a Tubus rack).

Wool blend jersey and vest kind of day

Wool jersey and vest kind of day

 

This route features one big climb, Snickers Gap, but otherwise is made up of rolling hills. The temperatures warmed up into the low 50s.

Bluemont Store. Snickers Gap ahead.

Bluemont Store. Snickers Gap ahead.

 

Snickers Gap was shrouded in fog.

The fog on Snickers Gap

The fog on Snickers Gap

 

We had an early lunch a few miles before Snickers Gap in Middleburg, which we thought would allow us to get around the course with just store stops.

Time out at the luxe Millwood store

Time out at the luxe Millwood store

 

All was going well until we got to the low water bridge at Morgan Ford Road, only to find it gone, with a new bridge under construction. This sad turn of events came later in the afternoon, which was a bummer. The only options were to backtrack over Snickers Gap, or go on to Front Royal and cross the Shenandoah River there.

And thus ended our plans to finish in daylight

And thus ended our plans to finish in daylight

 

We opted for the Front Royal option to keep things in a loop. Our thought was initially to take Rt. 55 straight back to Marshall, but that road is pretty scary leaving Front Royal and I talked Mary into taking Rt. 522, which took us over Chester Gap in thick fog and added a few more miles. Traffic was light and gave us plenty of room.

Our generator light did a great job on the descent, supplemented with a Light and Motion battery light, and we got off onto Hume Road without any issues.

From there it was quiet roads all the way back to Marshall, in and out of the fog banks. We never got really cold or wet, but it was still a relief to get back to the car, well after dark at 6:30 p.m.

Today (Sunday) I felt pretty tired but our pal and fleche captain Jerry S. talked me into a 35-miler out on the W&OD Trail out to Caffe Amouri in Vienna and back. The rain held off and it was a pleasant outing, and made an afternoon nap pretty sweet.

Jerry leads the way back to DC

Jerry leads the way back to DC

 

Next week: The DC Randonneurs club has their annual meeting and 68-mile populaire next Saturday, and that’s likely going to be plenty for us. I’ll make my 600-mile goal for January sometime this week and my legs are starting to feel it.

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

 

Coffeeneuring No. 5 and No. 6: Weekends in Motion

We were busy on all of the weekends last month, taking advantage of October’s waning daylight and warm afternoons. That’s my introduction for this flashback post to rides a couple of weeks ago as I try to get caught up on my coffeeneuring reports.

For most of us, the last day to complete the challenge was Sunday Nov. 15. The completed submission reports are coming in fast to Mary from all over the world, so I better get cracking.

On the road to Poolesville under a bright October sun.

On the road to Poolesville under a bright October sun.

 

Coffeeneuring heralds both the start of October and gives us excellent reasons to get out on the bike as the night comes earlier each day (before the hammer drops and we turn the clocks back) and cold weather sets in.

On Sunday, Oct. 18 we combined coffeeneuring with a delightful impromptu ride that came together late in the week via word of mouth at Friday Coffee Club and on the interwebs.

I mentioned that we should undertake the latest irregular French Toast Ride. A number of folks thought this was a good idea, and by Sunday it was a real thing.

This is a simple out-and-back jaunt from D.C. to Poolesville, Md., a staple destination for local riders via River Road in Montgomery County. Then we put a theme on it by going to Bassett’s Restaurant in Poolesville and ordering french toast (or pancakes). Voila — concept ride!

The French Toast Riders. Courtesy Mary Gersemalina.

The French Toast Riders. Courtesy Mary Gersemalina.

 

The air was crisp with our first dose of fall cool, but no matter, the sun was out and our group of nine had a fun ride. We also had the pleasure of hosting Pittsburgh duo Noah and Sarah, who came to D.C. to ride the C&O Canal Towpath and GAP Trail back home.

Cool enough for layers and gloves.

Cool enough for layers and gloves.

 

Also along were mileage eaters Ted, Rachel, Eric and Rod, and our regular compadre Jerry S. In sum, a mix of friends new and old — that’s my kind of bike ride, folks. Some of us ended the ride at Room 11 in Northwest D.C. (see below) for some very good espresso drinks.

Back in Rock Creek Park. Courtesy Mary Gersemalina.

Back in Rock Creek Park. Courtesy Mary Gersemalina.

 

The weekend of Oct. 24 Mary saved her legs for the Marine Corps Marathon and was not up for a ride, so I coffeeneured on Saturday when I met up with Jerry, and other randonneur pals Eric (The Wise), Eric (The Younger), and the debonair Roger H. for a long permanent ride from D.C. to the Antietem battlefield.

Our randonneur group, at Gapland.

Our randonneur group, at Gapland.

 

We began and ended at an outlet of the Mermaid-logo coffee chain, about six miles from home, and I had  soy “latte” before we started — quotes because their version is a big sugary concoction with a dose of harsh burnt espresso thrown in. Anyway, I could claim it as a “not part of an event” coffeeneuring ride.

However, I’m not counting it because there are much better locally-owned spots in D.C. to publicize.

I’m going to count Sunday the 25th instead — sorry guys! Mary successfully completed her fifth MCM (way to go, whoo!) and we went coffeeneuring together. As we have arranged in past years, I rode the Co-Motion tandem to the finish line with her Sidi shoes and helmet.

On the 14th Street Bridge, Mary stops for a picture.

On the 14th Street Bridge, Mary stops for a picture.

 

After crossing the finish line and getting her medal, we pedaled up to Eastern Market for lunch and coffee. I find it romantic that Mary comes back from her big triumph with me.

Medal earned, Mary is ready to do some coffeeneuring.

Medal earned, Mary is ready to do some coffeeneuring.

 

I still have to comply with the coffeeneuring bookeeping rules, so here are the details.

Coffeeneuring No. 5

Destination: Room 11, Washington, D.C. Oct 18.

Beverage: Soy Cappuccino.

Distance: 76.4 mi. See my route here.

Company: Mary, Jerry, Noah and Sarah from Pittsburgh.

Bike Friendly? There is a rack outside on the sidewalk, and a window view of the bikes from the small room by the espresso bar. Thumbs up.

Observation: Room 11 is another repeat visit from past coffeeneuring. It’s a small place but they make some seriously good coffee drinks (from beans by D.C.-based Madcap and San Francisco-based Four Barrel roasters) and sell awesome bakery items, with a dinner menu in the evenings.

The cappuccino was terrific. I like an espresso or espresso drink after a long bike ride as a little reward. The cappuccino here and the company really made for a lovely end to the day. I just wish Room 11 was closer to our house.

 

Mocha. Cappuccino. Cookie. The good life.

Mocha. Cappuccino. Cookie. The good life.

 

Noah and Sarah, tourers and coffeeneurs.

Noah and Sarah, tourers and coffeeneurs.

 

Coffeeneuring No. 6

Destination: Peregrine Espresso, Eastern Market, Washington, D.C. Oct 25.

Beverage: Espresso.

Distance: 12 mi. See my route here.

Company: Just me and Mary.

Bike Friendly? Good. Sidewalk racks nearby and lots of poles and fencing. If you sit outside, your bike is within arm’s reach.

Observation: Peregrine is one of the premier espresso shops in D.C. and is a regular stop for us at Eastern Market. They serve strong, super-short shots and I normally get a triple (or, “triplo” if you are Italian). I like going there, but I’m glad they are a bit out of my normal orbit as I’d end up hanging out too much.

It was great to coffeeneur there with Mary, who was enjoying the glow of finishing her marathon (her third this fall).

Next Time: Coffeeneuring Finale in Philly!

 

 

A Brevet in Amish country

Sometimes a change of scenery makes all the difference. MG and I have been riding familiar roads around Washington these last few weeks after our summer Colorado tour and thought it might be good to ride somewhere else within driving distance.

That led us to the Pennsylvania Randonneurs Silver Spring 200K brevet from Christiana, Pa. This loop tour takes in the rolling farm hills of southern Pennsylvania in Lancaster County, with a run into northeast Maryland.

Our route. We rode clockwise.

Our route. We rode clockwise.

See my photos here and MG’s here. The route and our performance statistics can be seen at my Garmin page.

Tom Rosenbauer and me. Tom was riding with us today.

Tom Rosenbauer and me. Tom was riding with us today.

Andrew gives pre-ride comments. Cool enough for warmers.

Andrew gives pre-ride comments. Cool enough for warmers.

The start was just close enough, about 110 miles, to drive up and back the same day. It was an early start — leaving home at 4:15 a.m. — but we got there in plenty of time to get ourselves organized and the tandem ready. Organizers Andrew Mead and George Metzler got our group of about 20 out on the road right on time at 7 a.m.

We wanted to finish in 10 hours but also knew this was a very hilly route, with more than 9,000 feet of climbing over short, steep rises all day. The toughest hills were in the first half, including the wall that is Douts Hill Road, but the second half was only rarely flat.

Our approach to keep moving was one we picked up from our cycling friend Josh S. and his wife Doreen: don’t sit down at the stops. It works well, in that standing around reminds one to depart soon enough.

C.J., Clair and those obligatory cows.

C.J., Clair and those obligatory cows.

The weather was just about perfect. We were treated to bright sunny skies, light breezes, low humidity and highs in the low 80s.

Just past the Conowingo Dam, not a cloud in the sky.

Just past the Conowingo Dam, not a cloud in the sky.

As for the ride itself, the first five miles trended down and we rode away from the group but were caught before the first control at Port Deposit, mile 31, by the faster riders. From there we spent the rest of the day leapfrogging with Bill Olsen, Clair Beiler, first time rider C.J. Arayata and Eric Dahl.

The randonneur lifestyle. Eric, C.J. and Clair.

The randonneur lifestyle. Eric, C.J. and Clair.

Bill just completed the Granite Anvil 1200K randonnee on Aug. 25 and is headed to Colorado this week for the Last Chance 1200K. He was in full get-there brevet mode and left us at the next-to-last stop at Mount Joy, mile 85, while we ate sandwiches in the warm afternoon sun.

As is typical being on the tandem, we’d fly away on the downhills. Our riding companions would catch us on the uphills. We’d all ride together on the flats.

C.J. and Clair on another quiet road.

C.J. and Clair on another quiet road.

During all this MG took photos of the barns with tobacco leaves drying and Amish farm families working the fields. We rode around the occasional horse-drawn carriage and shared the Sheetz convenience store patio with a number of Amish teenagers who ate pizza before piling back into a van.

Except for a couple of short stretches, the roads were not busy. That’s a testament to a well-designed route.

Cutting the grass, the old-fashioned way. Courtesy MG.

Cutting the grass, the old-fashioned way. Courtesy MG.

Tobacco drying. Courtesy MG.

Tobacco drying. Courtesy MG.

Andrew came out to meet us at the second control, a gas station that had closed, with some drinks and snacks. Thanks Andrew! We love roadside oasis support. The Coke was just what we needed.

Andrew and this cooler of cold drinks.

Andrew and this cooler of cold drinks.

We finished right before 5 p.m., and made our 10-hour goal. The hills took it out of our legs, so we were more than happy to be done. George Metzler generously grilled hamburgers and sausages for the returning riders at his house near the start.

We had a very nice time visiting with George and his family, and our fellow riders, before the drive home. Sleeping in our own bed was much nicer than a hotel.

Tom R. finishes at dusk.

Tom R. finishes at dusk.

One of the best post-ride dinners you could ask for. Courtesy MG.

One of the best post-ride dinners you could ask for. Courtesy MG.

Thanks to all the Pennsylvania Randonneurs for hosting us so graciously. We hope to see one and all here in D.C. soon.

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.

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.

Kelly Smith’s 2009 Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee

Intrepid tandem duo Kelly Smith and Mary Crawley took his tandem up to Massachusetts for the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee, the D2R2, and gave it a shot. Kelly wrote up their experience in a short story.

2009 Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee
by Kelly Smith

(see photos at Kelly’s Photobucket page).

I have mentioned to many in the group that Mary Crawley and I were doing the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee: http://www.franklinlandtrust.org/randonee.htm. This sounded like the most unusual and difficult ride of it’s length around, and the pictures linked from the website were fascinating. Mary was up for it so we signed up and I began to plan how to rig the tandem.

I removed the fenders and mounted the largest tires I could fit: 42mm in the front and 40 in the back. I chose smooth centers with side knobs, running 70 psi in front and 90 in back. Comfort was not a problem, and they handled well. I also replaced my granny ring with a 26 tooth to better tackle the unbelievable grades promised.

Last week we met at Michaux State Forest in Pa for a test ride on the dirt forest roads and ATV tracks there. This was a blast and a tough ride on its own, but uncovered a problem. Riding the brakes on a super steep descent resulted in the rear tire blowing with a blast that made our ears ring. Fortunately I’d brought a spare and we were able to finish, and I called around the LBSs to find a drag brake. Larry Black had one, they are out of production, and he generously offered to mail it to me on faith that I’d send a check.

So, set with big tires, low gears, and a drag brake I set out Friday at mid-day. I picked up Mary a little after 4 and we headed up to Deerfield. Naturally, trying to cross the New York metro region in late afternoon and evening didn’t go well – we got in a little after 11.

We often say we a ride is an adventure, but assume we can do it. Well, a real adventure can go either way :-) In a nutshell, the D2R2 170 km course is unbelievably hard. I’ve ridden some rides that claim to be climbing challenges, and some of those on the tandem, but this just puts them all in the shade.

The start was at a big tent in a field on the outskirts of Old Deerfield, a Williamburg type restored area of town filled with beautiful 19th century buildings. The start opened at 6 and we rolled out at the back of a group of a hundred or so bike. An amazing number of people were riding regular road bikes with 23mm tires and standard gears! Also saw many people on cross bikes but using skinny road tires, don’t know why.

We were slow on the climbs, of course, but for the first half we were still among riders who looked like they had it under control. I wasn’t confident enough to descend quickly, which cost us a lot of time. The new drag brake I installed was a godsend for making it down the extremely steep dirt descents, but about 1/2 way into the ride, it began sticking frequently when released. For the rest of the ride, we had to stop many times to release the brake manually.

We also began having chain suck trouble about 1/3 of the way in and had to stop repeatedly to clear jams. By mile 86 the chain was so bent that I had to replace a link; after that, we were not confident to continue riding the steep hills with it. Since we were looking at 1/2 hour or more of night riding and missing the finish cutoff — even assuming that we had no more problems — we decided to cut the ride short.

With the ride back to Deerfield in the valley, we had 96 miles total in just over 12 hours. Without the mechanicals we would have had time to finish, but it would have been very tough, as there were several more hard climbs to go, including a 20% section.

Some details:

There was a fun section of maybe 1/4 – 1/2 mile that was all torn up by heavy logging equipment. They had dumped soil in to fill and then driven over it so you had huge puddles, rocks, branches, steep sided mud holes, etc., wall to wall. It was double track, but so ripped up that it rode like single track. Sometimes you could feel the rear end slip sideways. You had to stand and shift your weight to maneuver. We were pleased with ourselves to clear that section without stopping. At the next intersection we met a group of rides on skinny tire bikes that had ridden it without putting a foot down. Amazing!

We had to walk one climb, about 200-300 yards the organizers described as 27%, and it looked like it. Don’t know if we could have handled the grade, but it was also narrow with deep gravel in the center and on the sides. There were piles of dirt and gravel here and there where cars or trucks had spun out and dug holes. People were walking too. We had to cross the center ridge a couple times, then tried to dodge a walker and came to a stop. No starting back up on that grade!

Amazingly we saw people riding up the hardest bit. Not everybody for sure, but some. We saw a couple walkers on the next one, not as steep but over a mile long. We made that one.

The cue sheet is interesting in its own right. Check out some of my favorite lines:

0.25 9.05 LEFT onto Pine Hill Rd – dirt, ignore Road Closed sign
0.00 9.05 Caution: pigs, dogs, etc. often in road here

0.00 28.80 CAUTION: wicked downhill next mile – steep, rutted, narrow, stony

0.90 34.05 RIGHT onto Mountain Rd – 15% climb next 3/4 mile
1.05 35.10 LEFT onto South Heath Rd – super steep (so what was the 15%?)

0.20 36.40 Continue straight – road becomes gnarly

Anyway, it was an experience but extremely difficult. Unbelievable displays of strength, skill, and confidence by people riding the dirt on road bikes like it was smooth pavement.

Oh yes, beautiful area, hours without seeing any cars (or pavement). Beautiful Greek Revival houses in the middle of nowhere, friendly people, long drive to and fro.

I think this is a unique event to test yourself on, still small and friendly, but do not underestimate it.

Kelly Smith

Tubus Disco Disk-compatible Rear Rack

Rear racks have been problematic for those of us who like disk brakes. If your bike has the disk mount on the chainstay, most if not all standard racks will fit. But if the mount is on the seatstay, as on our Co-Motion and Cannondale tandem, then the only really good racks have been the Old Man Mountain Cold Springs and Sherpa. We have used a Sherpa with good results on both bikes. The drawback is that both mount via the skewer which makes wheel removal cumbersome. They also have an unconventional look if that matters to you.

I’ve posted more photos at my Flickr page.

Topeak also makes disk-specific rear racks, the Explorer and Tourist, which use built-in offsets at the eyelet to space the rack beyond the disk caliper. I have used the Explorer and it’s OK for a $35 rack, but not elegant. There are some threaded spacers out there from Jandd and others that allow you to mount a standard rack outboard of the disk caliper, but the rack ends up off-center and is dependent on the spacer.

Venerable rack maker Tubus recently came to the rescue with their Disco rack. It uses curved tabs at the lower legs to position the rack behind the caliper rather than outboard. Tubus includes a skewer to mount the rack through the hub if needed, but the rack mounted normally to our Co-Motion dropout eyelets. I mounted the fender stays to the same eyelet between the rack and frame for now.

The only downsides to me are the top shelf, which is narrow for a large racktop bag, and the $154 price tag (at least until Wiggle starts stocking it). The Disco is rated to a maximum of 20 kg. or 44 lbs., which might be a problem for some folks. We’d rather not carry 44 lbs. in the rear panniers so it’s fine by us. We’ll still use an Old Man Mountain Ultimate Lowrider front rack, by the way.

We’re going to test this rack on our upcoming honeymoon tour of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I’ll follow up. For now, here’s a review from Bike Radar.

Wet here, wetter at the PA 400K

While later finishers on the D.C. Randonneurs 300K last weekend were blasting through driving rain and sheltering from lightning, our randonneuring brethren faced the same conditions, over another 100K, on Tom Rosenbauer’s PA Randonneurs 400K.

DCR members Kelly Smith, on tandem with the unstoppable Mary Crawley, Chip Adams, and New Jersey’s own Bill Olsen were among 23 finishers. Tom reports on his excellent site that later finishers were out in the rain for six hours or more. He calls it “a gritty, character building experience, to say the least,” and who’s to argue?

I like that Tom posts his own report and adds comments and reports, so we can compare the organizer’s view with the experiences of the riders. Invariably, the riders are a lot more descriptive of the hills!

Tom’s doing a great job and it’s worth the drive if you can get to one of his rides.

Here is an excerpt from a story on the ride by John Dennis:

Leaving Pottstown, we still had a tad under 36 miles to cover, which at 12 mph would take us another 3 hours or well after 3am. It was not a happy thought. I was running on fumes and I wrongly assumed that Dan was using the back-up copy of his cue sheets. If I had known, he was still using his first set, I would have asked for his second copy. Dan had programmed the course into his Garmin GPS and he explained that once on a given road, we could ride willy-nilly until the Garmin warned him that the next turn was coming up, whereupon he could then read the details from his Garmin or on his cue sheet or both. It all sounded like technology at its best. But then we arrived at the intersection of Smith Road and Swamp Pike. The cue sheet instructed us to turn left onto Swamp Pike from Smith. The problem was we had reached Smith while already traveling on Swamp Pike. In our fatigued state, we were totally flummoxed by this development. We had no map and the one or two cars that passed us by were clearly not stopping. We dithered and I felt a bone-numbing tiredness start to creep into me. Finally, I mustered up the imagination to pretend we had just reached Swamp Pike from Smith. Duh! I made the indicated left turn, traveled the 0.0 miles indicated and, voila, there was our next road waiting for us, Steinmetz. We could practically have swung a wet dead cat to it from where we had been dithering.

DCR Urbana 200K, and a special Cherry Blossoms Report

D.C. Randonneurs held its first ACP brevet in two years on Saturday, following a reorganization year in which Bill Beck was named the new Regional Brevet Administrator and the club staged RUSA brevets. The club had a terrific day despite wet conditions. Some 47 riders undertook the Urbana 200K and another nine went out on the 100K Populaire. There were more than a few sporting the new Woolistic DCR wool jersey. (Well done Michael Scholten!)

Chuck and Crista, sporting those new jersies (Courtesy Maile Neel)

Chuck and Crista, sporting those new jersies (Courtesy Maile Neel)

Ron and Barb Anderson came south for another fun day on the tandem. (Courtesy Bill Beck)

Ron and Barb Anderson came south for another fun day on the tandem. (Courtesy Bill Beck)

Bill has posted photos and preliminary results. See his recap of the ride below. Maile “24” Neel has also posted photos at her Flickr page.

Congratulations to everyone who rode, and to DCR for coming back with a full ACP schedule this spring!

MG and I could not be there, and certainly missed the excitement of the beginning of the ACP season. (Why do French-certified brevets mean more than RUSA brevets? Beyond their status as qualifiers for PBP and some other 1200K randonnees, there is still something that makes them special. That’s a topic for another time.)

My excuse? My daughter DF was in town. On Sunday the sun came out and she and I grabbed the tandem and met MG down at the National Mall to check out the Cherry Blossoms around the Tidal Basin and Hains Point. It was crowded with cars and tourists, but the bikes made it all manageable. See a set of photos from our jaunt at my Flickr page.

DF takes in the beautiful cherry trees.

DF takes in the beautiful cherry trees.

Here’s Bill’s recount of Saturday’s brevet:

What an impressive bunch showed up in the rain at Urbana on Saturday: 47 riders for the 200K ACP brevet, and 10 for the 100K populaire! The riders pedaled a challenging route through light rain for pretty much the whole day. But there seemed to be nothing but smiles around the course.

The populaire riders went half the distance of the brevet, but they had some bragging rights of their own because they rode over MarLu ridge and South Mountain in the hard direction (as well as the easier direction). All of the populaire riders finished the course, five with official finishes. All but one of the 47 who started the 200K brevet completed the full course, 44 within the time limit. Everyone who showed up gets credit as being certifiably hard-core.

Special congratulations to Erik Ewald who completed his first brevet and Maile Neel who completed her second consecutive R-12 award (which we have been calling R-24). Maile’s streak started with her very first brevet! If there were any other notable firsts that I didn’t hear about, please let me know. And thanks to Bill Arcieri and Maile Neel for volunteering to help at registration, and to Jan and Nick Bull for volunteering at the finish.