Saturday, September 13, 2014

Days 12, 13, and 14—I did it!

Friday, September 13--I did it, we did it!

“When will I be in shape for this trip,” I asked the tour operator last January.  I explained that with my scheduled March elbow surgery and other travel plans, I wouldn't really be able to start training for it until mid-July. “You’ll be in shape for it at the same time as everyone else--on the last day of the ride,” he answered.  He was right!

Air pollution concern?
I woke up in Taos after my most restful sleep of the trip, and nothing hurt.  I felt great and anxious to hit the road, but with some trepidation because we were cautioned that it would be a challenging day.  The group, looking at my huge order of eggs and beans, suggested that I ride at the back of the pack, but I was determined not to be last on this last day of riding.

Earlier in the day, we came from the other side
Ron and Barb Douglas huffing up he "hill" from Taos
 The 78-mile ride to Santa Fe on the Historic High Road to Taos had its ups and downs--literally.  We started off in the absolute best of spirits, climbing for 20 miles.  The scenery was beautiful and varied.  We rode through several artist communities, historic missions, and cemeteries.  The weather was cool.  We had some good downhill runs—sometimes as much as a 13% grade--according to my Garmin GPS.
Our lunch stop

What a view, what a ride, but watch out for crosswinds!
On the flip side, we had 6,200 feet of climbing, headwinds, crosswinds, traffic and rough roads. The cross winds nearly blew us over, taking the joy out of the steep downhill runs and making the flats and the climbs challenging.  Above all, we encountered some either clueless or complete A-hole drivers that nearly ran us off the road a few times.  If this had been the first day of the trip, I wonder if I would have continued.  With elaborately-decorated roadside memorial crosses every 2-5 miles along the curvy and narrow road, I wondered how many of them were for bicyclists.  

Cross wind country
The mother of all cattleguards
Dan fixing my 3rd flat
The last 20 miles in the strong crosswinds and steep climbs were probably the longest and hardest I ever experienced on a bike, except for Day 5 with the vultures circling above me in Glen Canyon in 104 heat. I wanted to see what this 63-year old mind and body of mine were capable of doing, something I haven’t done since I had retired from running and sprint triathlons 11 years ago.  In that sense it was a twisted form of fun, especially with my three afternoon riding companions.  Dan, Liz, and Debbie, you rock!

After nine hours we arrived at our Santa Fe hotel, cold, starving, out of water, exhausted, but elated.  I did it, we did it! 

Liz, Debbie, me, and Dan  Time to party!
We started with 15; 5 left us at Durango, leaving 9 of us for the final week.  Only 3 of the 15 made it the full 885 miles.

In 13 days, with one day off, I rode 825 miles, an average of about 70 miles per day.  I climbed 49,000 feet, with our highest elevation going over a 10,400 foot pass. I had three flat tires, including one during my last three hours of riding. And—if you can believe my Garmin again—I burned 27,000 calories.  I know I consumed far more than that, and way more beer, eggs, potato chips, and beef than I consume in months.  

It Wasn't All About the Bike

Although we talked a lot about bikes a little too much, the trip was not about the bike.  It was about the fun people in the group,  our meals together over local brews and wine, teamwork, the friendly and helpful guides, the breath-taking scenery (and breath-taking hills), testing our ability to carry on, and above all the sense of common purpose and adventure.   

Three weeks ago, recuperating from pneumonia and trying to get some altitude training at Paulina Lake, OR I really had my doubts.  And those doubts continued through our first day of only 16 miles of climbing the hills out of Zion.  But I took daughter Skyler's advice:  shift early, rest often,  drink lots of water, eat a lot, and promise yourself 'just one more mile.' It worked.  Thank you, Skyler!

Thanks to Ron and Barb Douglas for encouraging me to sign up, and especially to Dan (DeRuyter)--the-man-lead-sled dog--for making the winds easier on all us.  And certainly to our guides, Ben, Bertrand, and Joe, and Lizard Head Cycling for making it a wonderful experience for all of us. 

I’m glad I did it—at least once.

I'll miss you guys!  Please stay in touch!

Now Backtracking to  Day 12 Thursday, September 11  Ojo Caliente to Taos

A beautiful easy 42 miles to Taos.  We were all high energy and pedaling at a good clip with nice tail winds part of the way.  We stopped for lunch next to the Rio Grande Gorge.  Got caught up in some road construction about 10 miles from Taos.

About 10 miles from Taos
The Rio Grande Gorge

On the gorge bridge

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

I got run off the road by an 18-wheeler gravel truck. With only two feet of clearance, oncoming traffic, and no shoulder it created a cross wind that sucked me right next to it.  Fortunately it was a controlled "exit" into a large U-shaped weed-filled ditch, and there was no harm to my bike, me or my middle figure.  My first real close call of the whole trip.  Unfortunately, it wasn't the last (see Day 13).

My brother Neal says that there are only about 10 or so truly unique cities/towns in the world that cannot be replicated, such as Paris, New York, Venice, Wash DC, Las Vegas, Kathmandu, etc. Taos is one of them.  This place is the oldest living city in the US, well established before the pilgrims landed.

The Historic Taos Inn
We stayed in a 200-year old historic hotel that used to be the town square.  My room's walls were 18 inches thick.  We enjoyed the afternoon exploring the shops, then had a Mexican dinner where Dan and Liz presented Bertrand, our French guide, a crepe pan.  Dan and Liz--you should have done so at the beginning of the trip!

My Room
Guide Bertrand & his new crêpe pan
Barb and Debbie, with Debbie's visiting husband, Larry

Now Leaping Froward to Saturday, September 13, Day 14--Homeward Bound

Fun final meal with everybody last night in Santa Fe.  I was almost too tired to enjoy it.  Hoping to sleep in until 7:00, I woke up at 6:00 after only 7 hours of sleep.  I felt fatigued most of the morning, but got energized at the airports and on the flights working on my photos and this blog.  Best of all, nothing hurts!

I'm so looking forward to being home with Kathy, eating her's and my cooking, and going back to my regular routines, including work.  Maybe I'll convert my office chair into a bicycle seat, and get a high-speed fan to blow wind in my face.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day 11--Chama to Ojo Caliente, NM

Wednesday, September 10

What I love so much about this trip is that every day is different.  The only commonalities are being on a bike, the rest stops, and the camaraderie among us nine riders and two guides.  Today was a 95-mile ride that included a 3,000 foot climb to the top of a 10,400 foot pass.  What made it so different? The alpine beauty!

We had breakfast in the parking lot.  Barely 30 seconds into my 7:00 AM start, I had a flat.  I couldn't have picked a better place to have one, with two very mechanically adept guides right there. However, I was basically the last or next-to the last rider, and rode alone much of the day.  

View from near the top.  We came from way down there!
I made it!  10,400'
After 15 miles of riding in 40 degree fog on a flat busy highway, the 15 mile climb from 7,000 feet to the top of a 10,400 foot pass began.  From sagebrush to aspen, forests to meadows, we were treated with beautiful variety at almost every turn.  The cottonwoods in the ranchlands were just starting to change to golden.
Ranchland and contented cattle

The final 30 into the wind
Lush ranchland
Except for two more  "hills" the remaining 65 miles were a gradual descent back down to sagebrush country to Ojo Caliente, our destination.   The last 30 miles were a grind with headwinds, but well worth it when we arrived at this oasis.

The long, gradual descent
 Built in 1896, but used for centuries by native Americans, Ojo Caliente is on the national register of historic places.   It is the only non-sulphur hot springs in the US, with four different pools with different minerals--including arsenic!  The soak,  the food, and the camaraderie were great!  All in all, a very memorable day.

Debbie, me, Dan, and Ron
On to Taos, tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Day 10--Mostly Dodging the Bullet--Pagosa Springs CO-Chama, NM

Tuesday, September 8

It poured inches of rain last night.   When we woke up, it was cloudy and calm, but the forecast called for heavy rains around noon.  We packed for rain, then headed to a nearby bakery for one of our best breakfasts ever---aka, no hotel buffet of eggs, bacon, hasbrowns, no fruit, etc.  Today I resolved to eat lighter, and it paid off, especially on the hills immediately after breakfast.  The double late helped, I'm sure.

I rode with Debbie, from Alberta, Canada most of the way.  The scenery was beautiful, but as the morning progressed, the storm clouds threatened.  I should have put on more sunscreen.

Beautiful scenery an hour before the rains.  
Looking North, at the Colo-NM border
Does this really need a caption?
Shortly after crossing the border into New Mexico,  we enjoyed a nice rest stop with hot coffee, then, right around noon, the heavens opened up with torrential sideways winds. Fortunately there was no lightening, and it lasted for only five miles, then tapered off for the remaining 12 miles.  Water was oozing out of my new bike shoes.  I was glad it was only 49 miles.
Che Berrand with his chicken and ratatouli

Liz, Dan, Wayne, & Mary

Debbie and I were the first to arrive in Chama, in the middle of Nowhere, NM.  We're staying at the Branding Iron Motel with a number of bow hunters and construction workers.
Barb, Ron, Debbie, & Robert
Our guides, Bertrand and Joe had hot soup waiting for us in the parking lot.  I zoned out and enjoyed a comatose 1.5 hour nap.

Later Bertrand, who owned a French restaurant in Telluride fixed us a delightful meal of ratatouille, chicken, and rice. We enjoyed it with the wine we purchased last Friday.  And then, the Lena and Ole jokes started....

The best rural motel dinner ever!
Tomorrow we climb over a 10,000 foot pass on a 95 mile trip to Ojo Caliente, again in the middle of nowhere.  But I hear it has hot springs and mud baths.  The weather forecast is looking much better.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Day 9—Durango-Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Monday, September 8
High meadow.  Photo courtesy of Dan DeRuyter

Overall, a very nice day, and yesterday's day off did us all a lot of good.  We left at the crack of dawn to avoid potential thunderstorms on the passes and rains on a busy highway with a lot of 18-wheelers.  But, as it turned out, the weather was just perfect and the scenery was beautiful.  We climbed for about 15 miles, then and a series of similar downs and ups for a total of 67 miles and 4800 feet of elevation gain.  My new bike shoes made all the difference in the world.  I was so afraid four days ago that my feet were going to sideline me for the rest of the trip.

Ron  & Barb Douglas
A much-needed rest stop

 We had a couple of construction delays along the way, which were good excuses to rest.  We even got our own private escort by the pilot car.

One of our riders, 70-year old Mary, hit a pot hole and crashed on her head within the city limits of Durango.  It split her helmet, but fortunately not her skull.  As luck would have it, two paramedics on the way to work were right behind her.  She was briefly unconscious, but soon recalled everything by the time she got to the hospital.  The ER doc released her, and with a newly purchased helmet by our guide, they caught up to us in the van by mile 20.  She and husband Wayne rode the rest of the way with us, and even went for an optional 20 miles after we got to Pagosa Springs.   They were also two of the five who made the whole 125 mile distance on Day 5.

Mary and Wayne--Role Models!
By the way, she is literally a rocket scientist, overseeing the engineering firm that got the Mars Rover safely landed on Mars.  We had a fascinating dinner conversation about the competing rocket companies and the intertwined complexities of US and Russian rocket components for sattelites and the International Space Station.  Husband Wayne, is a nuclear physicist at USC.

Pagosa Springs is a nice little town with some fantastic hot mineral (mostly sulphur) springs.  Three hotels jointly run a series of pools of varying temperatures from 80 to 112 degrees (the “Lobster Pot”).  The soak felt really good, and made my post-ride stretches much more pleasant.
The springs and our motel
Melting the stiff quads away
The springs and hotels from across the river

There must be something in the water in the general area, causing some of the men in big pickup trucks to have some adequacy below-the-waist and ego issues as several of them passed us and flipped the switch to “burn coal” and blast us with thick black exhaust as they passed us.  But other than that, a good day. 

Our plans for tomorrow are indecisive.  The storm system that hit Phoenix is expected to hit here tonight and possibly continue on tomorrow.  So far, we've hit the jackpot on weather.  Let’s hope it continues!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Days 7 and 8--Durango, Colorado

Saturday, September 7

What a difference a day makes.  The scenery changed dramatically from desert mesas and sagebrush to lush green mountains.  And unlike yesterday, we were all feeling a little sorer and less energetic.  We enjoyed a more relaxed pace over 70 miles.  
Out of Cortez, close to Mancos, CO
 Lunch was in the Mancos Absolute Bakery, and I paid the price of my pasta Florentine immediately afterward as we ascended about 2,000 feet to the top of the 8,000’ pass.  Big lunches and 15-mile hill climbs in 90 degree weather don’t mix well!
Descending the 8,000 foot pass to Durango
The 10 mile steep descent into Durango on new pavement was a delight.  Even more delightful, is the college town of Durango (Population 17,000) and our stay in the Historic Strater Hotel
The Historic Strater hotel
Parking Meter Adornmen

It’s nice to have a variety of restaurants (Asian, French, Tibetan, you name it), coffee shops, ATMs cell coverage, bicycle shops, and even traffic lights.  Best of all, it has a music store and a fantastic newsstand with  a huge variety of magazines and newspapers.  It is unbelievably bicycle and pedestrian friendly.  The median age is 30.5, which makes me stand out as an old guy.

I spent an hour in one of four bike shops getting new bike shoes.  My other ones were completely trashed about three years beyond their life expectancy, hence all the painful feet problems I have been experiencing on this ride.   The new ones are so comfortable, I feel like I could sleep in them!

Our two guides and a girlfirend
We enjoyed our first of two last dinners together at a Southwest/Asian fusion restaurant.  Six of the group headed home today, and I already miss them.  Now we are just nine. Our two guides and their spouse/girlfriend joined us.
Some of the gang

Four of the superheroes who did all of Day 5

Today was a vacation within a vacation.  A leisurely breakfast, a pilgrimage to the laundromat, reading the Sunday paper, exploring the shops, a burger at Grassburger, and cool jazz at an outdoor coffee shop as I wrote much of this.  Dinner tonight with Ron, Barb, Liz, and Dan, who have helped make the trip so fun.  In Ron D's words, "The apres ride activities are even more enjoyable than the rides." 

We start at daybreak tomorrow, 69 miles to Pagosa Springs over a 10,000 foot pass with major thunderstorms threatening around noon.  Hopefully we can ride the whole distance.