The Emergency Commute

I frequently commute via bike to my job…it’s only a 3 mile trip, so there isn’t really a good excuse not to ride to work!  Because North Table Mesa sits between my house and work destination, sometimes I’ll take the dirt around the base of the mesa.  When I opt for this route, I usually select either my mountain or cyclocross bike.  Most days, however, I ride my road bike in the hopes that I’ll have the opportunity to tack on some additional mileage to my commute.  I’ve written in other blog posts about how I like to be prepared for the unexpected when I ride.  However, I found myself dreadfully unprepared last week when my phone rang and my husband informed me that he was on his way to the Emergency Room at St. Anthony’s Hospital.

a + cMaybe I should clarify… I was prepared to fix a flat tire, or to use the multi-tool I keep in the pouch under my saddle to adjust something, or to ride for 40 miles if the opportunity presented itself.  I was not prepared to go to an ER.  Where would I put my bike, especially since I didn’t have a lock with me?  Would it take longer to ride there than to pedal home, get the car, and turn around and drive right past where I was sitting to get to the hospital?  The biggest question of all was whether Motoman was experiencing a blood clot in his lungs and if so, could I get there in time?  My mind was racing with questions.

I quickly used google maps to find a bicycling route from where I was to the hospital where Motoman was going.  Fortunately for me, I had chosen to ride the road bike on this day.  I knew my way through Golden by bike just fine, but riding through Lakewood was completely new to me.  I got a general idea of the way I wanted to go and good ole Google was showing it would take me an hour to ride there.  I was confident that on this occasion, Google was wrong.  I stuffed my crocs in my backpack so I’d have something besides cycling shoes to wear when I arrived at the ER, strapped on my shoes and helmet, and pedaled away.

I arrived at St. Anthony’s ER 42 minutes later.  Security was kind enough to watch over my bike for the few minutes it took to track down Motoman and get the key to the car he’d driven to the ER.  I’m sure they would have held onto the bike indefinitely, but I’ve never trusted complete strangers with any of my babies.  I locked the bike in the car and spent the next couple of hours with Motoman.  He was later discharged with a diagnosis of Atelectasis – a complication of the surgery he’d had two days before.

Since that day, I’ve toyed with the idea of carrying with me a locking cable no matter what kind of ride I’m taking – leisure or commute.  But the reality is that I’m not sure I want to be prepared for a trip to the ER.  So for now, the lock will stay in the garage until my next commute to the grocery store.

Riding the Beartooth Pass

Riding the Beartooth Pass

The Beartooth Pass is on US Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana.  The highway meanders along the borders of Montana and Wyoming high on the plateau of the Beartooth Mountains and eventually leads right into Yellowstone Park.  It’s closed in the winter and occasionally on other days throughout the year, given the right weather conditions.  The day before I pedaled up the pass on July 30, it was closed due to snow.  At its summit, this road is the highest elevation highway in both Montana and Wyoming.

I’ve driven over Beartooth Pass several times on my way to or from Yellowstone Park over the years.  The views never disappoint despite the wind and cool temperatures on top of the plateau.  When I started this cycling journey four years ago, riding up Beartooth Pass on my bike was  always a thought in the back of my mind.  I guess you could say it was on my “ride bucket list”.  Yes, cyclists have such a thing as I suppose motorcyclists do as well.  However, each summer when I returned to Montana, there was always some reason why I couldn’t do the ride: last year, I brought a mountain bike, the year before I was too busy… the list goes on.  This year I was feeling overwhelmed with all that is involved with moving from one home to another and felt a sense of urgency about returning to Colorado.  However, after seeing the weather forecast for the remaining week of my visit, I decided to stay just long enough to fit in the ascent.

I got up early on the morning of July 30, loaded my bike into the car, and departed Billings for Red Lodge.  As I

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

approached the mountains I realized there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I unloaded my bike, suited up, and pedaled away.  I had done better research for this ride than my previous ride on Alkali Creek Road and knew that I could expect to pedal for about 25 miles to the summit on a paved road.  I could expect the ride to take me approximately 2.5 hours based on the results of other cyclists I had seen on Strava.  I also knew that the climb to the summit would be gradual, at about 4% on average.

As I pedaled along, traffic was minimal on this beautiful late July day.  I saw many more motorcycles than cars.  The switchbacks started at nearly 7 miles into the ride.  As I approached the scenic overlook turnout, I passed 5 other cyclists, all of whom pulled off into the overlook parking area.  I kept going because I knew it was about halfway to the summit and I don’t like starting and stopping on prolonged climbs; it’s hard to get the legs going again.  Besides, there was no need.  I had plenty of fluids and food tucked in my pockets.

At about 19.5 miles into the ascent, I came to a place where I had to descend and then climb again to reach the summit.  I’m not going to lie, I was cold and considered calling it good and turning around.  But then that little voice in my head chimed in with “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now, especially when I can see the summit in the distance.”  I got as aero as I dared and

Elevation 10,947 feet

Elevation 10,947 feet

descended as quickly as possible, so as to minimize how much colder I would become before the final climb.  My garmin showed about 23 miles at the summit.  I took turns with all the motorcyclists taking pictures in front of the summit sign.  Then I slipped on my wind jacket for the descent.

What I didn’t realize when I had done my ride research was exactly how much climbing the ride would entail.  The total elevation gained was 5,262 feet… just 18 feet shy of a mile, give or take.  Hmmm.  That’s interesting considering the fact that I now reside in the “mile high city”.  A city known for more than just it’s elevation,  if ya know what I’m sayin‘.

On the descent, I stopped and took some pictures along the way…Enjoy!

So many motorcycles up there!

So many motorcycles up there!

IMG_4407

The Beartooth Mountain range. Look closely for the triangle shaped precipice on the horizon over the upper right corner of the sign. That’s the bear’s tooth. The next picture zooms in on it.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

The Importance of Researching a Ride Route

While Colorado is my home, I remain a Montana girl at heart.  Every year I make it a priority to visit my family in Montana, where I spent most of my adolescence.  This year I brought my Cannondale Evo along to ride during my visit.  Billings is just large enough that there are parts of the town that I’m not familiar with.  I grew up on the west side and rarely ventured to the other parts of town.  Therefore, I wasn’t exactly sure where each of my rides would take me.  This “from the saddle” discovery is one of the funnest parts of riding and has the potential to turn each ride into a fun adventure ~ or not.

The view from Molt Road.  The wild turkeys didn't make it into this pic.

The view from Molt Road. The wild turkeys didn’t make it into this pic.

On my first ride, I decided to take the Molt Road out of Billings.  I was planning to ride out and back and expected at some point I would see a sign indicating how many miles it was to Molt.  Since there was no sign- or because I missed it – I just rode until it was time to head back to Billings for other commitments.  I could see Molt in the distance, but would have to save the complete ride for another day.

On the next ride, I went to the Billings Heights part of town.  I happened upon a bike lane and followed it until it ended.  I ended up riding in a big loop.  I then came upon a pretty nice bike path along Alkali Creek Road and decided to see where it went.  After a few miles, I caught up to three women out for their morning training ride.  I rode with them for a few miles and it turns out one of the gals was on the committee that plans the Billings bike path.  She was a wealth of information on the bike path system and gave me some helpful directions and ideas about where to ride in Billings.

The route for my next ride was inspired as I drove down Highway 3 northwest of Billings. IMG_4388 It had been a long day in the car because we had decided to drive from Banff, Canada back to Billings all in one day.  As we neared Billings, we passed a street sign out in the country that read “Alkali Creek Road”.  I had just ridden on the bike path along Alkali Creek road the other day when I rode through the Heights.  At that time, I had wondered if it connected with another road, and here I had just driven by the intersection of Highway 3 and Alkali Creek Road.  My ride route for the next day was planned!

As I set out on Alkali Creek Road the following morning, I started my ride on the bike path.  Eventually the bike path ended and the houses became fewer and further between along the road.  I wondered how far of a ride it would be until I hooked up with Highway 3 – a detail I had neglected to look up online before departing.  I came upon a man walking toward me and figured he was a local who might be able to tell me how far I had to go to Highway 3.  I slowed, said hi, and then asked him if he knew how many miles it was until Highway 3.  Instead of answering yes or no to my question, he looked at my bike and said “you’ll never make it on that bike with those skinny tires.”

“Really.” I replied.  He went on to say that the road turned to gravel around the bend.  The gravel was so treacherous that he had a difficult time with it on his mountain bike.  I told him thank you and said that I would go see this gravel for myself and pedaled away.  I was annoyed that I hadn’t done proper research before embarking on this ride and was left to ask a stranger a simple question that he refused to answer.  When I saw the gravel, I agreed that it was in fact deep.  Deeper than I would have liked to have ridden under normal riding conditions.  But I’ve ridden on gravel roads before, and if it was only a short distance, it was certainly doable.  But now I wasn’t riding under normal riding conditions; I had been challenged.  And  nothing makes this girl more determined to do something than a boy telling her what she can’t do.

Shortly after embarking on the gravel, I remembered to check the mileage on my Garmin.  After about two miles, I bagan to wonder if I might be better off turning back.  And then I remembered the challenge.  The gravel was unlike any of the gravel roads I had ridden in Colorado.  It was more like I was riding through someone’s deep landscaping rock, rather than down a dirt road with the occasional washboard and rocky sections.    I kept creeping along the road and thought I may have seen cars moving along Highway 3 in the distance.  As I pedaled along, I became more and more annoyed with my failure to research the ride more thoroughly; with the fact that I didn’t notice the road being gravel as I sped by the other night; and with my stubbornness that wouldn’t allow me to turn around.  I considered letting some air out of my tires so that I might have some traction, but I didn’t want to have low pressure for the remainder of the ride after reaching the highway.  Onward I went.

After about 4.5 miles had slowly passed, I finally reached Highway 3.  There wasn’t anyone around to witness my superior dance, so i kept right on pedaling onto Highway 3 and back to Billings.  Will I do better research for my next ride in unfamiliar territory?  Maybe.  Finding your way is a big part of the adventure.  And if it takes a little longer to get there… that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re on a bike.

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon.  More on that adventure coming soon!

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon. More on that adventure coming soon!

Ridge at 38 Crit – a Race Review

Last year I missed out on this race due to a travel conflict, so I was very excited to race this criterium this year.  Wheat Ridge Cyclery and the entire Wheat Ridge community came together to put on a top notch race.  This was apparent from the moment I arrived early on the morning of June 7th.  I had pre-registered for the race and was able to quickly pick up my race bib from the registration tent.  I saw a couple of team mates on the way back to my car.  Just as I pulled my bike out of the car, one of my team mates pedaled over and mentioned the course was open for a quick pre-ride before the next race began.  I quickly grabbed my helmet and set off to ride the course with her.

The start/finish was right in front of the Wheat Ridge Cyclery main entrance.  From there, the course went south up a shady, Ridge at 38 Course Mapslight hill and then took a left.  There were two more left turns that brought racers back to 38th Avenue, followed by a quick series of right, left and left turns that brought you back around to the front of the store again.  This course was sure to be fast and fun with all the corners.  The pavement was smooth and swept clear of gravel.  Aside from the occasional man-hole cover, you couldn’t have asked for a better race course.  It was a clear, sunny morning (finally) so wet streets would not be a factor in today’s race.

Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty

Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty

I lined up at the start line with 16 other category 4 women and 7 women from the 50+ masters division, for a field total of 23 racers.  We were scheduled to race for 40 minutes.  When the whistle blew, we took off in a sprint up the hill.  I knew if I didn’t stick with the peloton, I’d get dropped shortly after that first turn as the speeds increased on the downhill.  I put forth whatever effort was necessary to ensure that the peloton didn’t pull away from me on that first corner.  After a couple of laps the peloton began to settle into a very fast pace averaging 23 MPH.

In the midst of one of these laps, we heard a noise reminiscent of a shot gun blast.  I had heard this sound one time before when a tube popped mid-ride, which is precisely what had happened to one of the racers in our peloton.  Fortunately, she didn’t go down, was near the outside of the peloton, and was able to safely pull to the side of the road and stop.  Eventually, the race officials put up the number of laps remaining and the countdown began.  I tried to find as much shelter as I could as often as I could during the 15 laps of the race.  My team mates had not been able to stay with the peloton, so I didn’t have anyone I knew to work with.  When we lapped the gals that had been dropped, my team mate slipped back into the peloton on the second to the last lap.

The speed picked up for the last lap to close to 30 MPH and I began to drop off the peloton with a half a lap remaining.  At this point, my team mate pulled in front of me and led me back to the peloton, enabling me to have a sprinting pack finish.  The tactic was executed flawlessly and I’m so proud to have been a part of it.  Thanks Jen!!

This race was by far the funnest of the season.  The course was fast and curvy, just what this gal needs to fulfill her need for speed!  Well done, Wheat Ridge Cyclery, well done!

The Joyride

Spring riding can be so elusive with Colorado’s wild spring weather.  The last couple of days had been warm enough to melt some of the 18 inches of snow that had fallen nearly two weeks before; during that time, I’d spent more time on the trainer than I like to.  I had been out each afternoon this week doing intervals at Lookout Mountain in anticipation of the hill climb coming up Saturday.  As I sipped my morning coffee and contemplated riding into work, I heard the birds chirping outside and didn’t see a cloud in the sky once the sun came up.  I decided it would be a good day to ride – perhaps a bit chilly on the way in, but the ride would be worth it, especially on the way home when it was warmer.   I froze just enough to build a little character on the way into the office.

When it came time to ride home, I decided to take a different route just to add on some additional miles and be in the sunshine a little longer.   I needed a joy ride!  As I pedaled along, I saw lots of other cyclists, dog walkers, and runners out enjoying the sun just like I was.  I said hello or waved to everyone I encountered, just like I do on every other ride.  Sometimes I get a return wave, but most of the time I don’t get any response.

As I turned from the Ralston Creek Trail onto Virgil Way, my chain became tangled as I shifted from the big ring to small.  I was unable to take a single pedal stroke as I began to pedal up the hill and quickly came to a stop.  Here’s what I saw upon inspection:

An attempt to downshift resulted in this tangled mess.

An attempt to downshift resulted in this tangled mess.

Fiddle as I might, I could not get the chain unstuck.  During the few minutes that I was kneeled in the grass alongside the road with my bike upside down, three cyclists pedaled by ~ 2 men, 1 woman.  Not one of them said a single word or paused their pedal stroke as they went by to inquire whether I needed or wanted any assistance.  That annoyed me more than the fact that I might be walking home in my Sidi’s.  So much for my joyride… and just when I had been contemplating which detour to take next.

As I mentioned before, I’m the kind of cyclist who greets and waves to other cyclists that I encounter on my ride.  I make a point of slowing and interacting with cyclists that are stopped along the roadside dealing with an obvious problem, especially if it’s a woman.  Most of the time I simply confirm that they have the tools they need for the job, but on occasion I’ve provided assistance.  At the very least, I can offer moral support or to make a phone call if I’m unable to help.

Clearly the standards I hold for myself are not shared by every cyclist.  As I started the long walk home, another cyclist pedaled by without a word.  Then my phone rang.  I got lucky that my husband (AKA Mr. Fixit) was nearby and able to come and pick me up.  When he arrived, he was able to untangle the chain so I could resume the joyride home.

On my way home, I came upon a little Asian lady who was holding an empty dog leash in the air and looking distraught.  I slowed and circled back to her, remembering ALL the people who had ridden by me without a word.  Through her broken English, I understood that her little yellow dog had gotten away from her and was now missing.  She would sit on the curb and wait while I rode ahead in search of the little guy.  Instead of the dog, I came upon my neighbor who was heading in the opposite direction back toward the Asian lady.  I asked if he had seen the yellow dog in the direction he had come from.  He had not and agreed to tell the Asian woman when he came upon her sitting on the curb.  I turned around and continued my joyride home.

Whether you decide to help another person clearly in need speaks volumes about the character of your person.  More importantly, I’m a firm believer that you get back what you put out there in the universe.  So I’ll continue to smile, wave, and offer help to those in need, even those that choose to ignore me.  It’s just the way I roll, even on this joyride.

2014 Cycling Year in Review

I was recently inspired by Heidi Rides Bikes to take a look back at my 2014 racing season.  I competed in 12 races:

1 Road Race

Carter Lake Road Race - photo credit to Shawn Curry

Carter Lake Road Race – photo credit to Shawn Curry

2 Hill Climbs

2 Criteriums

2 Circuit Races

3 mountain bike races

2 cyclocross races

All but one race was finished – see more about that here.  I was involved in two crashes.  The first crash was in my first crit of the year.  After the injuries healed, I did another crit and was involved in yet another crash.  Smashing into the pavement was beginning to take a toll on my body, and I wasn’t interested in totaling my new Cannondale ride.  By this time it was nearly June, so I turned my attention to other kinds of races.  I did the Guanella Pass Hill Climb again, which is one of the few races that make a cyclist feel bigger than life.  I did my first endurance mountain bike race on Independence Day.  I finished off the racing season with two super fun cyclocross races.

Strava stats indicate that I put nearly 3,500 miles on my Cannondale since I got her in January.  While I rode outdoors in every month of the year, I raced in 8 of 12 months of the year.  On the non-racing side of the fence, I participated in my first Triple Bypass.  I also started using my bike as a mode of transportation rather than solely as a recreational or training vehicle, all be it sporadically.

While the racing season didn’t turn out as I had hoped in the criterium category, I was pleased with my results and the number of races overall.  But most importantly, I’ve come to respect what my body is capable of and learned to listen when it tells me it’s time to try something different.  I’m the first to say that it’s important to have a plan; but it’s equally important to allow those plans to change when the time is right.

For 2015, I’m looking forward to more crits and more commuting; to continuing to improve my cycling fitness; and to sharing cycling joy wherever and however I can!

2015 bike

What’s that Noise??

I was out for a ride on July 6th on my Cannondale SuperSix Evo, when I began to hear a clicking noise emanating from the bottom bracket.  I recorded this video:  and sent it to my personal mechanic for his input.  After watching the video and doing some online research, his conclusion was that the bearings in the bottom bracket were going bad and would need to be replaced.  Having just gotten the bike in January (less than 6 months ago), we were shocked that bearing replacement would be necessary already.

The next day I went out and turned the cranks on the bike and there wasn’t any clicking.  So I decided to go for a ride.  25 miles later, I returned home without any clicking from the bottom bracket.   On each ride that week, the clicking would sporadically appear and disappear.  I finally decided that I needed to get the bike in to Treads for service.  When I called, they were unable to fit my bike in until the following Monday.  This was unfortunate because I was riding in the Triple Bypass on Saturday.  I went ahead and scheduled the appointment and decided to take my chances on riding the Triple Bypass.  The worst case scenario would be listening to that clicking for 120 miles… but because the clicking had been so sporadic all week, it was possible that it would not make any noise at all.  Fingers crossed!!

On the morning of Saturday, July 12th, I began the Triple Bypass in Bergen Park on Squaw Pass Road.  As I pedaled along, the only noises coming from my bike were the occasional sounds of shifting and the normal noise the chain makes as it moves along the cogs.  However, after remounting at the first Aid Station at the top of Squaw Pass, I heard a couple of clicks as I pedaled away.  I began the descent into Idaho Springs shortly thereafter and hoped that by the time I got to the bottom, the noise would resolve itself.  This was not the case.  As it became necessary to begin pedaling after the descent, the clicking continued to get worse; eventually it became more of a grinding noise.

The silver lining to having my bike make this noise was that I no longer needed to announce to anyone that I was “on their left.”  In fact, I had a few people actually begin to look around in bewilderment as I approached.  I was told on more than one occasion as I passed that they thought the noise was coming from their own bike.  How I wished that were the case.  That noise went on for 90 miles.  90!!!!  I had people make jokes about it as I went by, others just shook their heads in dismay.  Still others were certain that they knew just what was wrong with my bike.  One person suggested that I get off and check my cadence sensor because her bike once made the “exact” same noise and that’s what it was.  Another suggested I had a stowaway cricket.  My favorite was that I just needed to lube that chain!

The wonderful mechanics at Treads had my bike back to me within a couple of days.  The issue, you ask?  It was indeed the bearings in the bottom bracket and not the cadence sensor, not the chain in need of lube, and not a cricket.