Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Time to Go

The autumn school term started this week, not only for my wife, but also for my daughter, who started kindergarten on Monday. So not only do I need to be home from work early twice a week, but I also have to get my daughter to school in the mornings. And as will happen with the year waning, sunrise has been gradually coming later and later each morning. These things have necessitated some major adjustments to my schedule.

My routine throughout the summer had been to get up at 5:00, eat breakfast, and get out and ride for an hour or two after the sun was up and my food had a chance to start digesting. Recently, I've been trying to get out of the office for an afternoon run a few times a week.

But now, by the time the sun is coming up, my daughter needs to be well on her way to getting ready for school. And she needs to be there earlier than I was typically returning from my morning ride. Running in the afternoon cuts into my work productivity and sometimes conflicts with my ability to get home to watch the kids so my wife can go to class.

It has been tempting to complain that there are just too many obligations and needs competing for my time. But I'm not the only one having to make adjustments to accommodate the changes we're experiencing. So I've just got to try to figure out something that will work. The best plan I've come up with is to turn my whole work and exercise schedule on its head.

  1. Get to work earlier. After dropping my daughter off at school, I'm going straight to the office. Heretofore, I've enjoyed coming in a little later, but that's going to have to change.
  2. Leave work earlier. I have to do this some of the time anyway, so I'll make it part of my normal routine.
  3. Daily morning rides are out. The weather is too nice for me to resign myself to spinning on the trainer in the basement. Since I don't want to ride on the road before sunrise, this is just going to be a fact of life for a while.
  4. Daily morning running is in. I like pre-dawn running, and right now my mileage is low enough that I can get back to the house at a reasonable time. This morning I set my alarm for 4:45, started running at 5:30, and was back just in time to wake my daughter. I think I can do this five times a week.
  5. A few afternoon rides during the week will have to do. On evenings that my wife doesn't have school, I should be able to squeeze in a ride after work but before supper. They can't be long rides, but an hour or so of intervals will serve just fine to keep me in shape.
  6. Weekends are for longer, more enjoyable rides. If cycling were just about getting a workout, I'm not sure I'd be able to keep up my motivation. Hopefully I'll be able to do at least one fun ride each weekend to help me relax and recover from the higher-intensity work during the week.
Between these changes and some help from the rest of the family to keep things going smoothly, I just might end up in better shape that I have been all summer. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bike Camping

All summer I have been hearing the siren song of the open road urging me to get back out there and ride to places I've never been. While I have not had the time to take another long tour this year, there are ways of squeezing adventure into tight schedules.

A colleague and friend of mine, who left Colorado to live in London, was in town this week. He invited my coworker Jim and me to go out for some mountain biking on Monday. So we met up that morning at Betasso Preserve and rode the trails for a while. It was my third time mountain-biking, and it was a blast.
Riding with friends at Betasso
Afterward we had an excellent lunch in Boulder at Leaf vegetarian restaurant and a beer at Mountain Sun before heading back to the office for a very productive afternoon.

As fun as that was, it was merely a warm-up for what was to come later in the week. For months now, Jim and I have been talking about doing some bike camping in the mountains west of Nederland. Indeed, that was the entire reason for buying a mountain bike. After a drawn out series of negotiations with our work and family schedules, we decided to make it happen last Wednesday and Thursday, August 17th and 18th.

My daughter told me that I was going for a hike-and-bike. I told her that we weren't planning to do any hiking, but as shall be seen, she has once again proven herself the wiser.

The goal was to ride from Nederland to Winter Park, camp overnight, and return the next day. But that itinerary wasn't set in stone, and we went out with the understanding that we'd be winging it to some extent. What we actually did looked something like this:

View Bike Camping, August 2011 in a larger map

After parking at the West Magnolia trail head, we consulted our map and chose to take Forest Service Road 355, which becomes 105 and 503, to Tolland Road. We got our bikes and gear ready, and headed out.
At the West Magnolia trail head
That forest road barely earned the right to share the same title as its civilized counterparts. It's like calling a yard with a few chainsaw sculptures a museum. But while it was more of a semi-navigable trail than a road, it served us reasonably well. And when we made it out to Tolland Road, we were rewarded with a view of the lovely valley that stretches west from Rollinsville.
Looking toward Rollinsville
Although it is dirt and a long, gradual climb, Tolland Road was pleasant. Once we got to County Road 117 (marked Rollins Pass Road on the map), we were ready to stop for lunch.

The road up toward the pass is rocky and bumpy, but not at all inappropriate for mountain bikes. As it climbs up the side of the mountain, sweeping vistas of the valley below are sometimes revealed.
View of the valley from CR117
Since we were out there in the middle of the week, only the occasional 4-wheeler or pickup disturbed the meditative focus which accompanies all long climbs.
Yankee Doodle Lake
In time, we came to Yankee Doodle Lake, above which the road terminates just before the Needle Eye Tunnel. We stopped to rest at the road closure where a nonplussed marmot chattered at us in the most threatening little bark it could muster.

Needle Eye Tunnel
The Needle Eye Tunnel is blocked off, but there is a foot path that goes over and around it. This was the first time the weight of my bike and gear became a serious problem. I pulled the panniers off and we brought them over separately.

Beyond the tunnel, the road is quite bad. While it may have been rideable by the less-encumbered, we found ourselves walking our bikes most of the way. It was approaching 4:30, and we began to question our ability to get over Rollins Pass and down to treeline before dark. So we decided to turn back.

Rather than lugging our bikes back over the tunnel trail, we decided to take a path that cut down and connected to the Jenny Creek trail near Yankee Doodle Lake. It probably did save us some time, but it was more of the same harsh terrain that had been plaguing our progress on top of the mountain.

Home for the night
Near the junction with Jenny Creek, we decided to start looking for a place to camp. Immediately Jim said, "Hey, look! There's a place." And sure enough, there was a clearing just off of the trail with a nice fire circle and a big log to sit on. We set about getting our sleeping quarters arranged, and then built a fire to chase away the numerous mosquitoes. Supper tasted great after a day of tough riding.

If I lacked certainty before, the next day convinced me that the trails through this area were actually built by clearing some of the forest floor to connect the scree slopes, glacial deposits, and creek beds that were there already. It felt like we spent at least half of our time walking the bikes. There were several times that streams and creeks crossed or overflowed onto the trail, sometimes requiring a portage around the water. In time, we made our way back onto CR117.

Muddy Me
When we got to a point where we could see the valley below, Jim pointed out that there were trucks spraying Tolland Road with water. This turned out to be an entertaining turn of events. By the time we got to Rollinsville, we were covered in mud, and the brakes and deraileurs on our bikes were beginning to act up.

We opted to take Highway 119 back to the trail head rather than scramble up the forest roads again. Before returning to the car, we stopped by the Kelly-Dahl campground to wash off a little bit. Trying to avoid getting the car seat too filthy, I made the trip back to Jim's place in nothing but my bike shorts. Back at the house, we cleaned up and hosed down the bikes while drinking one of the best beers I've had in a while.

We learned a lot on this trip and have been discussing what went right and what we will do differently next time. Jim took more of a bike-packing approach to his gear, while my own was more like road touring. While I don't like riding with a lot of weight on my back, I think Jim had it right.

What appears to be ideal, packing-wise, is to put clothes and camping gear in two waterproof compression sacks, lashing one below the saddle and the other on the handle bars. Food can go into a medium-sized hydration pack.

Jim also opted to forego hot food and just brought pre-prepared fare. Tofu scramble for supper and oatmeal and hot tea for breakfast were nice, but I think I can do without such luxuries for two days. I had some "Nature's Burger" mix, available in bulk from Sunflower Farmer's Market, for lunch the first day. I'll be packing that again. It tastes pretty good uncooked, especially with a little nutritional yeast and cayenne pepper powder.

We had a SteriPen with us for treating stream water. Since we haven't gotten sick, I'll assume that it worked as advertised. It was definitely faster and easier to use than a filter pump, and those don't kill microbes. So that's a piece of gear that I'll consider essential on any future trips.

I took this trip as an opportunity to try camping in a hammock instead of a tent. I never sleep very well on the first night of camping, so it's hard to say whether my sleeplessness was due to the hammock or not. But I think I would have been more comfortable in a tent.

We'll see how things go next time. For now, I'm enjoying the joys of riding unladen on carbon fiber and smooth pavement. It's good to be home.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Whirlwind Weekends

The last couple of weekends have been packed full of little things that add up to a whole lot of fun.

August 6th was the (rescheduled) Lookout Mountain Hill Climb race. As expected, I came in toward the front of the middle of the pack (15/40). But I'm pretty pleased with my time: 21:25, which is a new PR for the course. My family was able to get up to the top and cheer me through the finish line. All of the other riders I talked to had similarly positive experiences.

Later that afternoon we went to the Adams County Fair, where we looked at the chickens, turkeys, rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs, and horses. I didn't want to spend a whole lot of time on the rides, but the kids did get on the carousel and a boat ride, and my daughter and I went on the ferris wheel.

The next morning I got in a nice recovery ride on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Loop. That afternoon I attended the volunteer orientation for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge - the new stage race here in Colorado starting on the 22nd of this month. I'm going to be working security on the Denver end of the final stage on the 28th. I wish I could take the whole week off of work and see more of the race, but it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to squeeze in much spectating.

Since the Lookout Mountain race was the last one I signed up for this year, I'm trying to get back into running. I got in three runs throughout the week, but I'm having to start at low mileage and work my way back up. Back in the winter, I was up to about 13.2 miles, but now I'm doing 3 to 5. That's no surprise, though, and running in the heat is a pretty different experience.

On Saturday the 13th, F and I took a canoeing class at the Boulder Reservoir presented by Avid4Adventure. It was pretty terrific. I've been wanting to look into canoeing or kayaking for a while now, and this was the perfect opportunity to learn more about it. And it was my daughter's first time in a small boat.

The class started at 8:30, and my wife and son were coming along for the ride. Since there wouldn't be much time for fussing with breakfast, I made some steel-cut oats overnight in the slow-cooker. Steel-cut oats take forever to cook, but they have some nutritional advantages over rolled oats. This is one of my favorite ways to have a hot breakfast waiting for me when I wake up.

  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 apples, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 or 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp Truvia sweetener
(Note: I don't actually measure the salt, cinnamon, and sweetener, so those amounts are just guesses.)

Before going to bed, spray the slow-cooker bowl with cooking spray to reduce sticking. Then mix all of the ingredients and cook on low. Get a good night's sleep. In the morning, stir well before serving. This makes 4 pretty good sized bowls full.

Obviously, there are endless variations on this theme. You can use chia seeds, blackstrap molasses, carob or cocoa powder, any kind of fresh or dried fruit, etc. And the leftovers taste good cold too, so don't feel obligated to eat it all in one morning.

Today (Sunday) I got up early and did one of my favorite rides in the Broomfield/Superior area which will soon be appearing in my Road-biking Denver's Northern Suburbs series. While I didn't get to do everything else I planned on doing today, I got some yard work and other errands done and made some salsa after supper. I'll wait until it has had a chance to sit and let the flavors combine before declaring it a success and posting the recipe.

The coming week has some more adventures in store. More about that later.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Road-biking Denver's Northern Suburbs, Part 4: Rocky Mountain Arsenal

For much of the latter half of the 20th century, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal was a site for the manufacture and storage of chemical weapons. In more recent years, it has been converted to a wildlife refuge. It features a nice visitor's center with activities for children and some walking trails.

The fourth cycling route in this series is a loop around the Rocky Mountain Arsenal lands and its surrounding rural and suburban areas.

View Rocky Mountain Arsenal Loop in a larger map

This is a ride I like to do early on a Sunday morning. A major reason for that is SH2 (the diagonal road on the map) is not a good cycling road. It has no shoulder and can have quite a lot of industrial Commerce City traffic. But on a Sunday morning, while everyone else are still in their slippers and drinking coffee, the roads are almost empty and even highway 2 isn't so unpleasant.

The route begins at the park next to Themmig Elementary School, just off of Peoria Street. From there, head south on Peoria, take a quick left on 104th Ave, and then right on SH2. South of 96th Ave, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal flanks the road to the East.

Turn left on Quebec Pkwy (called Rosemary Street when turning right). My experience has been that Sunday morning traffic on Quebec is actually heavier than on SH2. But the road is much wider, so it still feels safer. There is a convenience store at the corner of Quebec and 72nd Ave, should you need any refreshments.

56th Ave starts out as a sub-par biking road as well. Dick's Sporting Goods Park can tend to bring in a lot of traffic, but that doesn't last very long. Soon traffic dies down and the road widens, and you're rolling along with the open lands of RMA on your left. A left-hand turn onto Havana would take you to the RMA visitor's center.

Heading north on Tower Road, you will soon come to a cluster of hotels and restaurants which serve some demographic related to Denver International Airport. Presumably there is a demand for these places, but it seems like an odd location to me. Farther up the road, around 104th Ave., is the community of Reunion. There are some businesses around that intersection, probably including a convenience store, but I've never looked closely enough to be able to say exactly what you'd find if you were to turn in there.

At 120th Ave, the RMA route overlaps with the Adams County Loop, so you could keep going on Tower Road and head up toward Brighton. Turning left on 120th takes you westward, back to Peoria and the beginning of the loop.

The beginning and ending point on Peoria is presented here because it's the closest public parking I've found for those who might be driving to get there. But when I'm approaching this loop by bike (heading east on 120th), I actually prefer to take Chambers to 96th Ave, and then head west to get back to SH2. That reduces the amount of time spend on the highway and increases time spent along side the Arsenal. This alternate route is marked in purple in the map above.

Road-biking Denver's Northern Suburbs: