Adventures in life and photography out West

Walt Out West

These are my musings about photography, cycling and life and their intersection. I used to write about politics quite a bit, but I'm trying to get away from that, as it only frustrates me, and often anyone who reads my views. Real life is much more entertaining than politics, anyway.

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Just real quick

Not a lot of time, today. Let me just say, I have some reviews based on taking stuff out on multi-day rides in the last six weeks. I write about the beautiful Ride the Rockies, but did not hit upon the equipment.
I also hope to talk with Wayne Stetina about the newest Dura-Ace wheels used to win both the TdF and Le Course. Hopefully, we may get some insight on the latest in Shimano equipment, beyond the gorgeous top-of-the-line stuff.
In the mean time, have fun, be safe. I'm going riding.

The Rest Day

Me showing off a bit on Monarch Pass

It’s now been a couple weeks and I have had a bit of time to reflect on the 2017 Ride the Rockies. I stick by my assessment I made to one of my fellow riders; I think our brains work similarly to those of mothers. If we remembered all the pain as well as we remember the pleasure, the food and scenery, we wouldn’t do it again.

I wrote after our third night, a short spin around the Ute reservation west of Durango. The next day was the hardest. We pushed for 84 miles over Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass and Red Mountain Pass, about 7,792 feet of climbing. After an easy roll-out from Durango and the thrill of the narrow gauge rail road, the road tipped up. The next 20 miles was almost all up hill. We laughed as we came upon the Purgatory Ski Resort. “This is Purgatory, I’ll take it.” Then the road tipped up again.

The pleasant scenery along the easy warm up ahead of Day Four’s climbing.

The first pass, Coal Bank, was the steepest of the day at an average of 5% with pitches of 8%. After a very short descent, riders head up Molas Pass, relatively short at eight miles, and again an average of 5%. These were enough to sap the legs. Plenty of vistas to enjoy both on the climbs and the descents. Riders dropped down into the old mining town of Silverton, which is also the finish of the Iron Horse Classic race.

The famous Iron Horse, the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The last climb was not the longest nor the steepest, but as the last climb and the highest, it took riders all their will and energy to finish the 11,018-foot ascent. The view and the venders made the ride do-able. My legs burned, my body was protesting most of the way. After stretching and taking a few photos, it was back on the bike for a thrilling 14-mile descent into Ouray.

The view of the mountain meadow at the top of Red Mountain Pass.

Fast, worn, serpentine roads with lots of traffic and no guard rails was quite the experience. Luckily for me, still sporting the scars of a high-speed crash from last year, a lumber truck paced many of us out of the mountains. Riders had multiple opportunities to pull off and photograph the beauty that we wished to remember. That is the point; the joy of seeing Colorado by bike.

A small aid station full of happy, friendly residents awaited us in Ouray. Many riders decided that this was far enough for the day, and took rooms here. My riding buddies and I hammered the last 13 miles into Ridgeway. This was the point where I really understood the challenges of putting together this annual tour.

Imagine 2,000 tired, hungry cyclists cruising into town, sporting the thousand-mile stare, finding that much of the amenities were spread out over a square half-mile, or at least that’s how it felt. I was so short of energy that when our luggage handlers put my bag a mere one isle over from where I had expected it, I was nearly reduced to tears.

The beauty of having been a journalist is that I was able to find at least a little poise. I young man from the Good Samaritan Shelter tent, whom I had met earlier in the week, spotted me and gave me some food and helped look for my bag. Once I got some calories,found my bag and got my massage, I was able to enjoy Ridgeway. The view was the first thing we noticed.

The view of the Sneffles Range from the outdoor camping area in Ridgeway.

The little mountain town set up entertainment in the middle of their town park. The town, itself has made the transition from mining to art. Lots of public art, galleries and little eateries bordered the park, allowing riders to stroll easily to alternative dinner options. This would be a short night for many of us, after a punishing, though picturesque day.

Day five was a relatively easy, though pretty warm day. Former cycling pro, Olympic medalist and big-hearted fund-raiser, Nelson Vails, led a few riders to a special breakfast in Ridgeway before all embarked on the 33-mile ride to Montrose. While there was an option for riders who had not suffered as much the day before, an additional 19 miles and a small climb, many simply took the opportunity of a recovery day. All of my riding buddies stayed together on the mostly-downhill ride. This also gave us plenty of time to sample what Montrose had to offer.

Former elite track sprinter,Nelson Vails.

Montrose is not usually what tourists seek out, but with it’s charming downtown and enthusiastic festival, I would consider returning some time. It’s out on the Western Slope, north of the Sneffles Range, just southwest of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The sixth day had a few climbs, but it was the descent and long false flat into Gunnison that I remember. We followed the river and Blue Mesa Reservoir into Gunnison, making for a relatively easy day. There were plenty of rider trains along the route. Cruising between the last two aid stations, we averaged about 28 mph. It was a beautiful thing. I had the chance to test some wildly-deep aero wheels. The whole day was great.

The sixth day finishing town of Gunnison welcomed the ride for the third time in six tours.

Gunnison has some great restaurants. All were full of hunger riders that Friday evening. El Paraiso was our choice. This was also the third time I had eaten here. It was for good reason. Everything was tasty as could be, including our sopapillas for dessert. As always, the host town had activities set up, but we had one more hard climb ahead, and a long drive back to the real world.

Breakfast at the first aid station on day seven.

The high-point of the RTR was waiting for us on the final day. Half the day was just the warmup. We rolled for 33 miles to the base of RTR’s final climb, 11,312-foot Monarch Pass. The pass averages about 5.2% with a maximum grade of 7% for 10 miles and 2,750 feet of ascending. It was unmatched in beauty. We had lots of time to enjoy it after seven days of riding.

Donald on the Monarch Pass climb.

After the top of the pass, it was literally all downhill into Salida. Once again, the tour rolled into Salida amid sunshine and the FIBArk whitewater festival. Again, Salida was all-in, hosting the finale for Ride the Rockies. Their park was jammed full of venders, great causes and riders looking for food and shade. The only thing that could have been better would be if my buddies and I had more time in town. Salad has always been a great host.

Renee Wheelock put on and admirable tour for her first RTR effort. I don’t envy her position, having to deal with cranky, hungry, tired riders, though I have a feeling she took it in stride. I look forward to seeing her and the rest of the RTR crew next year.

Next week, yes I am giving myself a schedule. I will review some of the equipment I got to use this year. Until then . . .

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.

On the Ride again

So here we are. Three days in to the 2017 Ride the Rockies and we are already telling ourselves, “I survived this much, I can keep going.”

This is saying something. Wednesday morning, the mobile RTR community will tackle More than 83 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing from Durango to Ridgeway, Colorado. The first day was 93 miles, all into a headwind, including the climb of 10,856-foot Wolf Creek Pass. 

While the riding is challenging, many of us do it for the memories and friendships we acquire along the route. I met Greg and Donald on the 2015 ride. Last year, I got to ride with Donald, again, and we were able to introduce one another to our spouses. This year, Greg returned to the Ride from the much flatter Dallas area. We are eating and joking and have the time of our lives on bikes. 

We’re also meeting both new and old RTR friends. I’ve found all three of the ladies who helped run the ride last year, one of whom is riding this year, rather than organizing. We’ve been helping Clark, the smoothie vender make a little money. Clark is always quick to help out, extend a little credit, when we’re tired and a little spacie coming off the route. We’re making new friends like the young lady with the space/polka dot kit. And then, there is the scenery. 


While the climbing is tough, the long hours on the bike gives one lots of time to reflect on Colorado’s natural beauty. Tree lined highways and grand vistas are around every curve. Historic architecture decorates each stop along the route. The towns hosting the ride go all out to entertain and feed the worn and occasionally dilirious riders. What more could a rider ask?

The current situation, as I’m writing, is that I’m on a sleeping pad in Durango, preparing for the long climbs of Wednesday. So . . .

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding. 

Rollin’ with Wheelock

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Me with the new RTR Tour Director, and all-round great lady, Renee Wheelock.

Grand Tours have begun, one-week tours and the Spring Classics have come and gone. For mere mortals, like me, the cycling season has just begun. Without a doubt, the biggest of the multi-day rides in Colorado is Ride the Rockies. I had the pleasure of speaking with the tour’s new director last week.

Renee Wheelock was the Ride the Rockies tour intern when I first met her in Gunnison, the start of the 2012 RTR. In the intervening years, Renee has climbed to the position of Tour Director.

“It’s pretty exciting,” she said about her promotion. “It’s a unique perspective that allows me to provide some leadership.”

Wheelock started in March of 2012 with RTR as an intern, helping out where ever she was needed. It was just a single season before she moved into the role of Community Relations Manager, and three more before landing on the big saddle. But change is nothing new for Wheelock.

“I’m from all over,” she says.”I was born in California, lived in Tucson, moved to Australia for a while and went to college in North Carolina.”

After earning a degree in Elementary Education, Wheelock took a bike trip across the country when she first discovered Colorado. After finding energy bars in the convenient stores, she decided Coloradans enjoyed the lifestyle she wanted. But spearheading Colorado’s premier tour is not all sunscreen and wind through your helmet.

“We are already gathering ideas (for the 2018 RTR). Usually, we start up again between August and October, talking with the communities, taking trips to meet with them. In December we start working out the details of the route, organize the Route Announcement Party (which happens in early February). As a team, we all have different projects, but it’s all a small team.”

She adds, “I think it surprises people when I tell them there are only three people working full-time. This is a full-time job and it takes all year to put an event like this together.”

Wheelock pointed out that her degree has been helpful in running RTR.

“When you look at teaching, it’s planning and adjusting on the fly. Teachers also tend to be pretty detail oriented,” she says. “When I was teaching abroad, I also discovered my passion for the outdoors and fitness.”

Adjusting on the fly has been a hallmark of Wheelock’s time with RTR. In 2012, the route was detoured on the last day to avoid smoke from wildfires around Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins. In 2013, the route detoured again, creating the longest RTR route in its history. This time, the Royal Gorge park was in flames. Then, in 2014, the first day saw snow on Berthoud Pass, a closure by the State Patrol, and a huge sag with help from the Winter Park ski busses.

“We always have contingency plans,” Wheelock points out. “The beauty of the event, with such long-term partners, makes it special and rewarding when we see all hands on deck to make it work.”

Wheelock plans no major changes with RTR this season, though, one new thing will be a mobile app, which should promote even more of a community spirit within the tour. Wheelock acknowledges that at 32 years in, it’s getting hard to create new routes. In fact, riders have seen much of this year’s route before, but not all at once.

The 2017 route visits many of the towns and cities that Wheelock saw in her first year. Alamos, Pagosa Springs, Durango, Gunnison and Salida were all on the route in 2012 and 2017, though not in the same order or direction. Riders will travel over the east ascent of Wolf Creek Pass, this time. Riders can enjoy a short ride through the Southern Ute Reservation on the third day, then head north from Durango on Day Four over the picturesque Million Dollar Highway through Silverton and Ouray toward Ridgeway. The next day, riders head a short way into Montrose, with an optional “Challenge Loop.”

“Each day gets better and better,” says Wheelock. “Some riders might take the day in Durango off, but (the route through the Ute reservation) is beautiful.”

Wheelock continues, “The day into Montrose is quick and downhill, and the challenge loop, there’s not much traffic. The towns have all really come together.”

The last day between Gunnison and Salida includes the ascent of Monarch Pass.

“You never know how you will feel from one day to the next,” says the director. “Monarch is a slow, steady climb. Climbers might feel dog-tired, or they might feel really strong after six days of riding.”

One way or another, riders will likely enjoy the first Ride the Rockies under Wheelock. Her passion and that of her staff and army of volunteers, should create yet another beautiful tour, and years-worth of memories and stories. Hopefully, we will have Renee to thank for years to come.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going trainer . . . for Ride the Rockies.

 

Enrichment

I restarted my life writing about the emotional connections we make with food. I was a sophomore in college and was forced by the university to take a composition class. I wrote about my maternal grandmother’s funeral and my best friends wedding and all of the food, friends and family. It’s funny to look back and continue making the connections. 

I met my wife years later, though we both attended my buddy’s wedding. My wife’s family is Jewish and explained early on the basis of all Jewish holidays: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat! Now cooking is something we do with our teenage daughter. 

This morning, my little girl and I made Liegé waffles from the Feed Zone Portables cookbook by Allen Lim and Biju Thomas. We made cowboy cookies from the Skratch Labs web page last night. Now the kitchen is full of sweet goodies in celebration of the “cobbled classics.”

Food is a big deal, to me. My early memories involve dad cooking oatmeal and mom making monkey bread. I remember my dad’s mom, Gramma Marge, cooking bacon. Her whole house had the familiar, savory smell on early Sunday mornings. 

I irritated the day lights out of my step-dad when I made banana, egg white, protein powder shakes as a teen. I irritated my step-mom when I ate dozens of her chocolate chip cookies, leaving none for the rest of the family. My wife now buys chocolate . . . and hides it from me. I can’t really blame her. 

I love cooking for my family and friends. I would occasionally make lasagna for friends. I loved collaborating with friends in the kitchen. I truly enjoy making treats for my Courage Classic teammates and, every so often, for random strangers on group rides. It’s how I bond. It’s how I create memories. 


The side benefit is I know what’s going into my jersey pocket and what, precisely, is fueling my ride. I recommend finding a cookbook or web page for your own ride treats. You know what you like. Find a recipe and customize it. You will enjoy the snack all the more. If it gives you a chance to connect with a loved-one, it’s all the more sweet . . . or savory. Whichever you prefer. 

Have fun. Be safe. I’m going riding . . . With homemade cookies. 

I Have Issues

So there are two, diametrically opposed trains of thought within cycling, these days. These are the stealthy fitness and the showy fitness. The first has been around for a while, and the second, a …

Source: I Have Issues

I Have Issues

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So there are two, diametrically opposed trains of thought within cycling, these days. These are the stealthy fitness and the showy fitness. The first has been around for a while, and the second, a more recent event linked to our modern, mobile, social media age.

For as long as there has been competitive cycling, there has been stealth fitness. This is best illustrated by an e-mail that was circulated about a decade ago, and attributed to one of Chris Carmichael’s CTS coaches. The old e-mail stated that cyclists were the biggest fitness liars and stealth trainers. We say one thing, but it quickly becomes evident that we mean something completely opposite.

We say “This is a no-drop ride.”

We mean “As soon as the first hill comes, I will grind you into dust. I will attack every hill, I will contest every town-limit sign until you are left in a weeping heap on the side of the road.”

We say “I’m not in race-shape.”

We mean “I’ve been spending every waking moment on the trainer/rollers. I have more miles in my legs than the Interstate System.”

We say “I’m not feeling it, today.”

We mean “Hope you have your race wheels on, cause this is going down.”

My personal favorite, “This is my beater bike.”

We mean “This bike was made of Unobtainium. The frame was blessed by the Pope. It is lighter than a fart and more expensive than a divorce.”

This has been the prevailing attitude for generations of cyclists. Everything is very secret. Every play is close to the chest. Sunglasses on cyclists were not to protect one’s eyes, there were to hide any tells, hide anything that might indicate fatigue. Or, possibly, hide just the opposite. Exhibit A: Lance fakes being tired during the ’01 TdF stage of Alpe D’Huez. Lance and the Posties pretend The Boss is suffering, prompting Jan Ulrich’s Team Telecom to drive the pace to the base of the storied climb, basically tricking the German team into doing all the heavy lifting for the day, before the Texan’s famous “Look” and the trademark  attack to grind Ulrich down and eventually win that Tour.

But these days, there is another cycling saying. It makes secret training much more difficult. “If it didn’t happen on Strava, it didn’t happen.”

I want to keep track of my miles and my workouts, but now there is no hiding from my sea-level buddies who will join me on Ride the Rockies this year. My California friends ride every chance they get. One commutes through Orange County, while the other trains for marathon rides, like the Breck Epic and Leadville 100. Our friend from Texas is an Ironman. I’m a giant track sprinter who happens to live at 7,500 feet.

I can’t let these guys embarrass me in my home state, in spite of the fact that I out weigh each of them, some by significant margins. I’m Altitude Man. But I can’t hide the training, either.

I suppose it will keep me honest. They can see what I’m doing, and I see the miles they are putting in. It’s more positive, even inspiring. We can cheer each other on. Give each other kudos. We can recognize the efforts and the KOMs. We can act like teammates.

Of course, there are still the rollers . . .

Have fun. Be safe. I’m going riding!