Monday, May 31, 2010

Long weekend

Amid the final preparations for my trip to the Grand Canyon, we had a 3-day weekend full of small family adventures.

Saturday morning we went for a walk down to a green belt near our house (F. rode her bike), and we did a little bit of exploring near the creek.

Sunday morning I got out by myself and went to Golden for a quick ride up Lookout Mountain. On the way up, I saw 4 elk cows, a Nordic blader (inline skates with ski poles) going up the mountain, and a lady on a bike with a child trailer coming down. Assuming she had already made the ascent via the normal route, she must have been the awesomest person out there.

Later that day we met with a friend of the family at Confluence Park. I took F. down beside the South Platte river and showed her how to skip rocks. We crossed over I-25 and walked up to Little Man Ice Cream and had various frozen treats.  That place was great - I thanked our friend for showing it to us.  We sat for a little while and watched people on wheels of every description at the skate park.  Then we went to Pappadeaux for supper and ate alligator for the first time (yum!).

Pappadeaux, by the way, do not publish nutrition information for their food.  But by my best (probably modest) estimate, my meal was at least 1800 calories!  All said, it was the first time I've consumed over 4000 calories in a single day since I started paying attention to such things.  But I could stand to put on a few pounds before I head out on my trip.

On Monday, being Memorial Day in the US, we all got on our bikes and rode to a nearby open-space park and did some bird-watching.  We put both of the kids together in the trailer instead of using M's bicycle seat, and they did pretty well in there.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Planning my route to the Grand Canyon

It wasn't always easy to get a conversation going with my granddad.  But one thing that was sure to get him talking, any time we drove out to Arkansas for a visit, was to bring up the route we took getting there.  In his lifetime, he had been all over the country, it seems, and he knew a dozen ways to get from any given point to another.  So he would begin weighing of the various merits of I-40 vs. I-70, or any of a number of US highways which could cut off miles or add interest to the trip.

Waxing philosophic about routes for travel seems to be a universal, if perhaps masculine, tendency.  It make me wonder if, when I get old, I'm going to look back on life and decide that one of the few truly important things in this world is our nation's highway system.  But more likely, we gain an affection for the roads which have led us to all of the experiences we accumulate over the course of the years.

There is also something romantic about poring over a map, and planning a route makes the pending adventure become more concrete in my mind.  Reading the names of the places along the way makes me imagine what I'll see and do when I get there.

This is the route I've devised for the Grand Canyon tour.  The map also reflects other preoccupations, like making sure there will be a place to sleep for the night or to take on provisions.

View Grand Canyon Bicycle Tour in a larger map

I have never been on any of the roads I'm going to take on this trip.  But the national forests, mountains, and lakes along the way promise it will be a wonderful experience.

One fact of life is that, if you want to go west from Denver, you have to cross the mountains.  And while I've gained an appreciation for a good climb, doing it on a loaded touring bike is a completely different story from doing it on a 16-lb. road bike.  So there will be some difficult days, but I find that focusing on the beauty of my surroundings helps to ease the pain of burning muscles

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My touring rig

Over the course of the last several months, I have been getting things together for my trip to the Grand Canyon.  I recently did a test fit of my bags on my touring bike.  Here are the highlights of what I'm using.

The bike is a 2008 Fuji Touring (it's name is Alan, but I never actually call it that).  It's my daily commuting bike, and until recently was also my weekend recreational ride.  In general, it has been very reliable.  I'm using the stock rear rack and mostly stock components (Shimano Tiagra/Deore drivetrain, Tektro breaks).  The pedals are Shimano PD-A530s - SPD on one side and platform on the other, which is nice when you sometimes need to ride in normal shoes (like during winter commutes).

The one persistent problem I had with the Fuji was breaking spokes on the rear wheel.  So I replaced the stock wheels with Vuelta Corsa HD wheels.  They weren't my first choice, but they were more economical than a pair of Velocity Dyads from Peter White.  So far, the Corsas have performed well, but Nashbar sent me wheels with a 125mm rear hub.  I decided to just make it work, even though my bike has 130mm spacing.

The front rack is made by Jandd Moutnaineering.  I wanted something that could take some gear on top as well as hanging my panniers nice and low.

The kickstand is a Porteur double kickstand from Velo Orange.  When a bike is really loaded down, it's nice to have a kickstand that keeps the thing upright on its own.  That said, this kickstand has proven a little bit difficult to fit onto my particular bike.  I'd prefer a bit more clearance on both sides for the cranks and chain.

The front panniers are Axiom LaSalle bags.  I've been using these every day for commuting for about a year, and they've performed admirably.

On the rear I've got a pair of Axiom Champlain panniers.  They're very big, so fitting my sleeping bag and tent in there is no problem.  This will be my first time taking them out, but if they're anything like their smaller siblings, I'll have nothing to worry about.

The handlebar bag is a Detours Shuttle.  It's also new, but for the short time I've been riding with it, it's working pretty well.  The rain cover has already been put through its paces, and the mounting system is user-friendly and sturdy.  My bike has an extra set of brake levers on the top position of the bars, so I was a bit worried about getting a bag to fit.  This one limits my access to those levers somewhat, but it seems like a workable solution.

The small bag on the top tube is also made by Detours.  I keep my camera in there for easy access.  I've had it for a while now, and I'm honestly not too impressed with it.  It mounts by way of a rubber strap that wraps around the tube, and the bag snaps onto that.  Getting the bag on and off of the mount is easy enough, but it tends to move while riding, rotating around to hang off the side of the tube.

Mounted to the down tube is my Topeak Road Morph pump.  I love this pump.  It gets up to road-bike pressure without any trouble; it braces on the ground during use like a floor pump; and anyone who has ever ripped a stem off of a tube when using a direct-attached pump knows how valuable it is to have a hose between the pump and the valve.  With a built-in pressure gauge thrown into the bargain, there's very little room for complaint about this thing.

Finally, the fenders are SKS Chromoplastic.  Fenders are indispensable for a commuting or touring rig, and these look nice and are light-weight.  I've attached an adhesive strip of red highly-reflective road sign material (donated by my good friend and neighbor, M.) on the back for better visibility.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Our eyes met, and we regarded each other curiously

I was riding to work this morning on a path which runs along a road that is closed for construction.  Suddenly something jumped up from the grass just a few feet away from me and ran into a copse of trees.  A fox?  No, too big: it was a coyote.

I went on a little way, got my camera, and doubled back to see if she was still there.

She certainly seemed just as curious about me as I was about her.  But we were both content to keep our distance.

I love being reminded - by flocks of geese in the autumn, fledgling red-tails in the spring - that this world is still a wild place.  And I love the opportunities that commuting by bike affords me to see so much of the world that is missed when viewed through a windshield.

[Edit, 2010-05-26]

By this morning the DOW had posted this sign nearby:

How I started down this road

I don't think I had ridden a bicycle since I turned 16.  But about 5 years ago, when my dad gave us a pair of garage-sale bikes, I immediately started telling myself stories about how my wife and I would go for all-day rides through the countryside.  We would have picnic lunches under a tree on the edge of a field or beside a creek.  We would explore dirt roads and escape from the drudgery of suburban work-a-day life.  It was very romantic.

Then I actually got on the bike and rode, maybe 2 miles, to return some videos.  I thought it was going to kill me.  Leastwise, it wasn't nearly as easy as I remembered.  Eventually I worked up the nerve to start biking to work a little bit during the summer.  Sometimes on the weekends we would ride to nearby parks.  It was hard, but the feeling of freedom, the feeling of having fun, made it worthwhile.  It turns out that after a while it gets easier.  And it never gets less fun.

Last summer I went with my good friend J on a bike camping trip in the Roosevelt National Forest. While we planned for it to be a two-nighter, it turned out to be more of an S24O kind of thing.  Except it was a bit over 24 hours.  We did another camping trip later in the summer, but this time with car support, as my wife and daughter came along and set up camp while J and I rode across the Pawnee National Grasslands.  It was always the plan that these rides would be practice for something bigger.

In less than two weeks, I'm going for it.  The inspiration struck me some time last autumn: I need to ride from my home in Denver to the Grand Canyon.  My family isn't up for making that kind of ride, so they will be meeting me there.  I can get my bike tour in, and we can throw a family vacation into the bargain.

The trip will take me through some 670 miles through Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.  We'll then spend a day or two at the Grand Canyon, and then make our way back home together.  My daughter is hoping to do some camping on the way back.  It's going to be great!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Riding the Road to Victory

This morning I rode along with a few hundred other cyclists in the Road to Victory ride in Boulder, Colorado.  It was a great time and benefited the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's.

The starting line.

The 60-mile route included a short climb in Rabbit Mountain Open-space and another climb on Lefthand Canyon and James Canyon Drives, going as far up as Jamestown before coming back down to return to the Boulder Beer Company for post-ride festivities.  It turned out to be just the level of challenge that I was looking for.

From the top of the Rabbit Mountain climb

This was the second organized ride I've done.  Last weekend I went to Loveland, Colorado, for the Community Classic Bicycle Tour.  That was a really fun ride with lots of route options, making it ideal for riding with the whole family (which I'll probably do next year).

My wife and two children met me at the end of both rides and shared in the post-ride meals.  Again, the Community Classic ride turned out to be more family-friendly in this regard; but that's only because my 4-year-old is a picky eater and liked the pancakes at CCBT better than the pasta at R2V.