Monday, July 20, 2009

Trail Ridge.

Day 45 - July 18, 10:00pm
71 miles. Estes Park, CO to Granby, CO

Crazy day. No. EPIC DAY! Most likely because we spent 20 miles climbing non stop uphill along the highest paved road in America to 12,183 feet. Again, like yesterday it really wasn't super horrible. While the roads were never ending, they weren't that steep. The biggest issue was the thinner air. Have never had to pant that hard for anything. Even when running towards food.

The day started out kind of frantic as the new brakes i put on the night before were rubbing my tire, but i worked it out and then did an awesome shakedown warm up with the group that i headed out with. Changing 2,000 mile old brakes the day before an 11 mile descent = best idea ever!

Of course the scenery today was out of control. Just so much wild beauty and soaring mountains. Seeing the snow peaks took it to a whole other level. Even got to see these great Elk just chilling on the side of the road. Of course there was a massive slowdown of cars as literally everyone and their mother stopped to take a picture, or mostly fumble with their camera trying to do so.

We stopped only about a million times at each lookout point. They only kept getting better. At one i got to drape myself in a fox pelt and mount antlers on my handlebars!(i've been joking about doing the latter for like a week now and it actually happened!) Why that was so much fun i haven't really figured out yet. I vowed to never go hungry today and was eating at just about every stop. The climb was really pumping my metabolism. You know how food normally does that thing where it stays in your stomach for a while and fills you up? Well to understand how long it lasted in my stomach today imagine throwing paper into a fire. Yea, thats what was going on.

The many other cyclists climbing was encouraging. What wasn't so encouraging was the fact that they were all mostly twice our age which we noticed as each one of them passed us at twice our speed. In response to how often one 50ish cyclist did the Trail Ridge route, he responded, "Oh every morning"

Finding a patch of snow was awesome, especially as i sped up ahead to try and pelt those behind me. Unfortunately my accuracy failed and i had to suffer the consequences of a well aimed retalliation.

We got to the highest point in the road(12,183 feet) and interrupted traffic for a good 15 minutes as we took pics nonstop. Oh man, raising my bike over my head and screaming at the snow capped mountains in the distance was like injecting myself with pure adrenaline. The surge of life and accomplishment at that moment is one of those things you never ever forget.

We checked out the visitors center a little ways down and i picked up my first pin of the trip saying Trail Ridge. I really plan on wearing my Camelbak everywhere after this so it'll be cool to have it there. It kind of made me wish i had been more actively collecting more pins along the way thus far, but on the other hand if i hadn't felt compelled at that time, then it probably wasn't that that special. Trail Ridge is definitely a story that deserves to be told. Will definitely keep my eye out for more cool pins now that ive gotten started.

But even cooler was the local Harley Davidson club we came across posing for a group picture. After taking a picture for them, they invited us to pose with them! I was so stoked. All i"ve wanted to do this entire trip is hang out with other "bikers" for the sole purpose of how happy the really corny play on words would make me. They chatted us up afterwards and we're super nice and friendly. It just amazed me how loyal they all were to this company, or lifestyle really. So much fabulous leather... I actually couldn't stop staring at the awesome patches and pins some guys had on their jackets. It pretty much inspired my own acquisition of the trail ridge pin. While I've always thought motorcycles were cool, but ruled them out for being way too dangerous, I've gotta admit that the thought of roaring on a highway in a chopper does make me smile a little.

We super bundled up for the 11 mile descent which was great. Right before going down all the adrenaline of the climb had left me from chilling out so long and i was probably the most exhausted i've ever been while still being awake. But the 5,000 feet down definitely woke me up. At the bottom it was so hot and we immediately delayered. The temperature change was just so wild. Also got to see the Continental Divide marker which was pretty cool as well as a Mama and baby moose on the way back. The Audi party of 10 cars rolling in a row was pretty amusing also.

Getting to the host can always be tough since we're so ready to be done but there's usually a little climb which is annoying. Well I would've rather gone back up the Rockies than climb this ridiculous hill leading to our host today. It just kept going and going and was way steeper than anything we had done. Having just gone over 12,000 feet and complaining about a hill was a little funny but not in the moment. We're staying in a sweet cottage courtesy of Noah's friend Mika. And his parents brought Indian food which was delicious. Tomorrow we're camping! Apparently we're in three 8 person tents, which means fun!

All in all today was an amazing day of accomplishment and bonding for us. No road we will ever travel on in the US will ever be as high as what we did today. Seriously, after summitting 12,000 feet and crossing the country what is there left for us to do? Everyone's really proud of each other and of themselves and you can feel the confidence oozing out of our pores(along with massive amounts of dirt and grime and sunscreen). I would've never have done anything this crazy of my own will and now I have. I'm just really thankful for this huge opportunity of the trip in general to have pushed myself far beyond anywhere i would have normally gone.

O Two, Where art thou?

Day 44 - July 17, 7:58pm
40 miles. Fort Collins, CO to Estes Park, CO

If youve never been up close in the rockies, then you're missing out on a whole other world of beauty. Riding through today through the lakes and vallies and cliffs and rivers and peaks was totally mindblowing. Dan M and I could barely ride straight because we were too busy looking up at all of the soaring mountains. I've been around the appalachians plenty but this was seriously something else.

There were tons of cyclists out which was really awesome to see. You could tell that the cars were all really used to and considerate of cyclists as well. In a way though I'll admit that i may feel a tad bit less special in these parts(but not really) since we're so used to being the only cyclists in our previous towns and now there are a ton of them.

I found out today the gasping way that contrary to my dismissal of it, a lack of oxygen in the atmosphere really does affect your ability to exercise. Who woulda thought. Yea, lets just say that people were panting a bit harder than normal today but nothing too crazy. Just in case biking 4,000 miles won't put us in enough shape, some high altitude training can't hurt I guess. Can't wait to see what the next 5,000 feet up feels like.

The day really wasn't all that bad. There were definitely some struggles with the oxygen factor at points but with only 40 miles and no crazy climbs we all pulled through pretty well and mostly got in early. Totally not what i was expecting. We did get to see snow caps in the distance and got to an elevation of 7,500, meaning we climbed about 2,500. Dan and i found a sweet river to wade into in which we decided to one up the nearby fisherman by posing for our one handed fish grabbing pictures. Would've stayed in longer if the ice river hadn't made my feet go numb.

Unfortunately i did get super hungry when we pulled into the host. We got a burger in town but even then, with the tiredness and oxygen depravation kicking in, I was just totally out of it. I realized that once i get past a certain point of hunger, not even eating will get me out of the miserable rut that i get in. I really felt like crap and just wanted to curl up in a ball in a corner somewhere. We've all had our moments of crashing and its just part of a crazy adventure like this. I hate knowing that no matter what i can't be my cheery self because my body is just so imbalanced. I feel way better now though and really just need to get some solid sleep in. Hopefully i can really minimize those future occurrences though.

A definite highlight was coming across this huge ark called Estes Ark. This structure was literally a biblical ark that contained every species of stuffed animal ever. It was crazy! Flamingoes, penguins, llamas, you name it they had it. The lady in charge had been doing it with her husband for 25 years total, with this store being only 15 years old and she was really cheery. To think that a career could be spent selling stuffed animals. She at least was clearly loving it. It was one of stores that you know you'll never forget even if you tried.

The actual town of Estes Park was pretty large since it seems to be the central point for heading to all of the surrounding peak. We rolled through the main street which was hugely bustling. the sidewalks were bursting with tourists. Unfortunately it all just seemed so crass to me. There was no real town, just fast food chains and 7,000 different t shirt shops selling silly unfashionable memorabilia. Disgusting was actually the first word that came to mind but maybe thats a little strong. I dono, after all of the quiet communities and fun, flavorful cities we've been passing through this blatant commercial tourist trap just totally turned me off.

We're staying at this awesome alternative high school called Eagle Rock. Its literally in total isolation on a mountain which my quads didn't' quite appreciate. But its basically a boarding school for inner city youth totally funded by the Honda Corporation so tuition is free. Whoa! Its so cool and i totally dig it. Their focus is on really developing these kids as humans and individuals which is something that our black and white education system does not necessarily excel at. We got to eat dinner with the kids and they were really cool. Actually the first time i think we've hung out with so many people near our age. Had this awesome conversation with Melissa about "Threadless" t shirts which we are both obsessed with. You must remember, only second to food, purchasing t shirts is undeniably my major downfall. It was funny since we both saw that we were wearing one and immediately screamed in delight. We were literally trading names of our favorite shirt titles. It was pretty nerdy but totally cool to meet another hardcore fan like that.

Tomorrow we're climbing about 5,000 to Trail Ridge, the highest altitude road in America. It will no doubt be intense. So weird how we'll go from sweating in the morning to being totally layered up in the afternoon. Myself and a few others have probably been waiting for this one day the entire trip thus far. Its just one of those things that you know will be unbelievable but still somehow blows your mind. Yea, can't wait for the magic.

Bluegrass and Banjos!

Day 43 - July 16, 11:35pm
Build Day. Fort Collins, CO

Today we got to sleep in. 6:30 vs 6. We'll take it. Larry and I took the liberty of setting up a sweet flying V table formation in the dining area. Not the most apparent to all but appreciated by those cognizant few.

Headed to the build site which was in a pretty nice community. The house was basically up and actually set to unveil in 2 weeks so we were just finishing up. Not the most work for 32 people, but a healthy amount of roofing, landscaping, painting, and electrical work kept us moving. As for Steven and I, our task lay beyond the reach of mere volunteers. As we descended the ladder into the dark cramped abyss of the "crawl space" our initial enthusiasm became harder to muster. A crawl space is basically a basement but with only 4 or so feet of clearance and not meant to be lived in. For some reason, Steven and I, two of the tallest on the trip, thought it would be fun to hang out here all day. I mean i think the Czar's prisoms might have been less small.

We replaced the old wooden central support with a metal one and then sweeped the entire area clean. By replacing the support, we really mean we let Larry the guy in charge handle it, which given that it held up the house basically probably made sense. What didn't make so much sense was me immediately grabbing the drill bit of our impact drill to compare it to another just as it had finished cutting through concrete at like 7,000 rpm. Live and learn i guess, or more appropriately live and burn. It was nothing serious fortunately, but definitely not the funnest to touch scalding metal. Its definitely not as fun when we don't get to see the visible progress that comes with doing exterior framing, but satisfying nonetheless.

Back at St. Pauls, preparations were underway for our spectacular benefit concert. There were a decent number of people, a great stage and lawn, and proceeds all going to the local Habitat and us. There were a whole slew of bluegrass performers that Noah had all coordinated which was great. Just chilling on the grass with everyone and hearing that sweet soulful music was so centering. Things got a little wild(read: dancing time) when this amazing family bluegrass band called The Hartmans started playing some amazing stuff. The oldest of the five was just entering college!

Also gave our last presentation to the crowd with the Snuggle chore group. Definitely squeezed out some good laughs with a joke i had been saving up for a while. Even got to meet Julie's dad who is just super endearing. Love Love Love it when i get to meet people's parents.

Also, MAIL DROP TODAY! Love You Ava!!! Love You Mom, Dad, Theia Gina!

The 3 hour concert was so great and way better than anyone expected. Super props to Noah, whose whole family was out to celebrate which was sweet. it was really a great way to just mentally and physically unwind for the challenge ahead of us, that is, the climbing 3,000 feet in 49 miles challenge.

I know tomorrow is going to be horrible physically but im so pumped. So long as i wake up actually ready and knowing im going to have the hell beaten out of me by that ascent its all good. Again, the physical aspect of cycling is intense. It's wierd, I mean im really looking forward to being so miserable at times omorrow because i know its going to be just so utterly surreal and ridiculous how much we have to climb that it'll probably be hilarious. Not to mention salivating at the sense of accomplishment waiting for us at the top. Man, those mountains are going down.

See you at 8,000!

Bike Ride and a Movie

Day 42 - July 15, 1 day late
69.69 miles. New Raymer, CO to Fort Collins, CO

Colorado is unreal. Top speed I"ve averaged so far on the trip: 16.5 ish. Speed we averaged today: 18 mph baby!.

It was more of the surreal, neverending but beautiful prairies with a perfect riding temperature and blue skies. We might as well have been riding in air is what it felt like. 70 miles in 4 hours = easily the best riding day by far.

All was calm 20 miles in. And then. They appeared. Those that shall not be named loomed over us in the distance as they plotted our demise. Yes they are as crazy as people make them out to be. It was a really humbling moment honestly to see such natural beauty and magnificence from 50 miles away. Cheers erupted as they came into view but i doubt the same will happen when we get much closer, aka start climbing.

At lunch we realized that since we were in a town with more than 100 people, there would be a theater. And since we were riding like lightning, we could actually make it in in time for a 1 o'clock showing. Noah called ahead and arranged for a courteously donated free admission for all of us which was such a pumper upper. Needless to say, we booked it, stopping only for a sweet skate park and this ridiculous sheep farm. Seriously, like 3,000 of my furry friends all in one giant system of pens. It was so happy but disappointing at the same time. If only they could run free alongside us and trample the shackles of agrobusiness as they partake in our journey. Especially since i have yet to accomplish my goal of getting wildlife(horses ideally) to do that.

Larry, Carlie, Doug, Karina, Sean and I saw Public Enemies, where Johnny Depp plays John Dillinger the bank robber. It was an entertaining flick, i mean with guns and shooting and all, but nothing crazy special. The cinematography really struck me with its really gritty shaky feel. It was just more awesome to contemplate that we had busted an entire 70 mile day, are seeing a fun 2 hour movie for free, pounding back snacks, and are still going to get in to the host early. Though I can't say that i didn't contemplate the logistics of robbing a bank by bike for a good while after that.

We showered at this great gym named PULSE. I find it very personally fulfilling when a gym's name could also be used for a nightclub and vice versa. PULSE here and RAW in Louisville definitely fit the bill. Also, gyms just kinda weird me out, like i can't really understand them and their popularity, but mostly the way everyone is just such a zombie when they go in there and barely pay attention to all those around them. I dono, does anyone else find it odd that so many different people flock to the same place just to be alone?

Got to walk around a little bit of the town running bike store errands and its pretty happening. THERE ARE TONS OF BIKERS and so much good biking infrastructure which made me so so happy to see. Lots of bike shops also, all of which were really friendly.

At night, Dan M's friends hosted a small gathering for us which was an unexpected blast. It was great to unwind with each other as well as mingle with the Colorado natives.

Waking up tomorrow and not packing my stuff, best feeling EVER!

Wide Open Spaces(or Prairies)

Day 41 - July 14, 8:51
83 miles. Holyoke, CO to New Raymer, CO

Unknowingly woke up at exactly 4:59 today only to hear my watch beep as it does every hour. All i could do was clench in my sleeping bag and pray that it wasn't actually 5am and that I could sleep in for one more hour at least. The cacophony of approximately 25 different cell phone alarms that erupted moments later gave me my answer.

Was interesting to see the sun already so high at 6:30 am due to the time zone switch. What wasn't so interesting was the massive headwinds greeting us in our first 10 miles. Interesting but disturbing was the crazy old dude in a white beard who drove alongside us in a pickup only to yell at us in what seemed like slow motion to "Get off the road Goddamnit" as he then rumbled away at a blistering 30 mph on a highway that was completely deserted for a mile in either direction. These highway drivers lately have been really generous with the way they are passing us but it sucks to have such unfortunate treatment like that from some drivers. This guy today was honestly so ridiculous and absurd we couldn't even contemplate being upset fortunately.

The headwinds eventually died down and we carried along fine. Got to stop at my first Sonic ever. These things are crazy! There was no actual inside sit down restaurant. I never thought that actual drive through restaurants existed. The waitress coming out in roller skates was pretty gimmicky and tacky but a little cool I'll admit. My ignorance to their whole concept was made pretty clear by the way i was staring slackjawed into the kitchen before i realized that the window glare prevented me from seeing all the wierded out employees inside. Anyway, Sonics are a novel experience and you'll probably get a good kick out of trying it for the first time.

Swapped some great stories riding with Colin Hood today. He's such a character and quite possibly the best and most amusing storytellers Ive met in a while. It helps that he has no end to his always well inserted musings and anecdotes of Japanese culture. While I've had more than several "Where in the world am I" moments on this trip(mostly in Illinois) today was by far one of the most notable. The massive wheat fields soon transitioned into the wildest prairies you can imagine. I mean there wasn't even food, it was just gently rolling grassy land, land, and more land going on forever. I'd be lying if i said i didn't feel like a cowboy at some points. Though i think trying to herd cattle with a road bike might not be the easiest thing in the world. Seriously, it was just really something else. Makes you wonder when you are out there and pondering issues like overpopulation and lack of housing.

I've been well aware of my not so balanced relationship to food, but even I didn't think I was capable of such lack-of-food-induced crankiness and misery until dinner tonight. I've definitely gotten much better at realizing this tendency and making sure it doesn't happen but in a situation like this where you have to wait for food and ration it, things can get tough. I think so long as i have yet to eat live animals I'm probably still in a decent place.

On another personal note, I've noticed how totally different I look on this trip from my normal life due to not shaving and not styling my hair. Full Disclosure: Longest time ever without using hair product. Now i know why. In a way i sort of like it because not dealing with appearance as intensely as i normally do lets me get into the whole vibe of living a simpler existence. It also is a testament to how comfortable and genuine i can feel with this great group of people as opposed to how we are normally always putting on a show for others via our meticulous grooming of our outward appearances. All of this being said though, there is something to feeling good about looking good and that mentality is definitely seeking to slowly tempt me to my razor. At the very least I'd def like to find some kind of really cool funky hat along the way, ideally with an outrageous story behind it, to help attend to the hair situation.

No glimpses of the rockies yet, but they're apparently visible from like a mile down the road so thats cool. Oh, and by Rockies i really mean to say the Pixie Hills as suggested by Colin Hood. While I don't think giving them a sissy sounding name will necessarily make the grades less steep, its probably at least worth a shot. Other name ideas you might have are highly encouraged.

Last day of riding tomorrow before the build day is great. Fort Collins is super hip apparently so sounds like we'll obviously fit right in!

Colorful Colorado!

Day 40 - July 13, 11:14
100 miles!!! McCook, NE to Holyoke, CO

Nothing too wild today. We actually went 99.8 miles on the same road, good ol US - 6. I thought today of how its kind of cool to see how one road can change so much and all the different kinds of towns it can take you through(though not too many of those on this one)

More of the same great weather and terrain. The group is really starting to ride at similar paces which is great. We actually had everyone at lunch at one point today which isnt the norm for such a long day. Ended up settling into a groove riding with Noah today which is always fun. Especially when he shares the same, if not more, enthusiasm for frolicing and silliness as i do. Found our first ever unharvested wheat crop and had a "field day" messing around in it and having blind races and such with some others. Know whats not fun though? Pesticides. All over your legs. Didn't break out in hives fortunately but that was an itch like no other. I could definitely tell why they work after that little taste. Oh industrial agrobusiness...

Guess who's no longer in Central Time!... Again, funny how something so arbitrary can be at the same time so real for people's practical lives.

Stopped in a town around mile 60 and had some ice cream shakes generously donated by JJs, right after which i proceeded to pass out face first on the table for a solid 20 minutes. If there's anything I've learned on the trip, its listen to your body! While i can't always give it what it wants, it usually gets its way eventually. Sleep happens to be a very convenient example.

Rode into "Colorful Colorado" at mile 86 to an awesome huge wooden sign, which has been the best yet. It was super fun to see Noah's excitement at entering his home state. The last piece of riding out of Nebraska and into Colorado was pretty intense farmland. It was super flat and literally had crops(though not too much corn) for as far as you could see.

A kind of dilemma but not really that i find is that doing 100 miles is a pretty decent feat and in a way i expect a huge celebration of it. However on the other hand, we all did it rather easily and its sorta just another day in the life. I guess it bothers me that we've lost the initial enthusiasm of completing a day's riding, i can still remember how utterly wasted i was after our first 70 miler but also so simultaneously proud and happy. Now its just kinda routine. I think its inevitable though given how much stronger we've become and how easier the land has gotten.

A big reason im looking forward to the Rockies really is to re-taste some of that extreme "I need to get myself mentally checked out for doing this" struggle. Shared hardship like that is just awesome for bringing people together and im very hopeful for the bonding it should create amongst our group. Good thing we'll be glimpsing them tomorrow!

Also, did my first ever decent dive off of a diving board today! I've literally just spent almost no time in pools growing up where i would've been able to learn that skill so ive made a serious effort to pick it up now and its going well. Yes, except for the intense testicular pain caused when occasionally belly flopping the diving is going well.