Adventures in life and photography out West

Cycling photography/photography while cycling

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!


Stoke the Fire

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So, I love food. Just in general. I have a sweet tooth, but I also love Mexican, Mediterranean and Italian. I love French pastries and cowboy cookies. I love breakfast.

I once dated a wonderful, beautiful, smart young woman, but knew it was ultimately doomed. It was getting to be late in the day and I asked what she wanted for dinner, thinking that we could go out that evening. She showed absolutely no preference. I started quizzing her on her favorite cuisine. She said, “I’m just not that in to food.”

What?!?

By contrast, the first big family function I attended with the woman to whom I am now married, was Passover. It’s a big, really big, meal commemorating the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt depicted in the Torah, or Old Testament. I think it was her mother who informed me that the basis for all Jewish holidays was “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

Amen.

So it should be no surprise that a major part of my Instagram feed is the stuff I get to make in my kitchen. I spend a fair amount of time finding yummy stuff in uniquely athletic places. I made egg cups of two varieties today. One was based on a recipe from the fantastic Scratch Labs cookbook, Feed Zone Portables, the other I stumbled across on line. Both are easy, both are tasty, both recipes are great for active, age-group athletes.

Eggie goodness in a muffin cup.

Eggie goodness in a muffin cup.

I typically spend Sundays cooking. I get up early to make breakfast for my family. Today I made baked oatmeal with bananas and berries. I took the extra step of adding a scoop of vanilla protein powder, just so it wasn’t all carbs. I cooked up some uncured turkey bacon, as well. It was filling, tasty, and made my family happy.

Next, we usually get started on lunches for the week. Egg cups for me, and we usually make a batch of chocolaty fiber muffins for our daughter.

The first, a variation from Allen Lim and Biju Thomas, the minds behind Scratch Labs. I change the recipe slightly, so If you want the original, go to SkratchLabs.com, or go out and get ahold of the Feed Zone Portables cookbook.

Pre-heat oven to 350

Chop desired vegetables for a dozen cups

I will also find some lean meat, like a turkey kielbasa, left-over turkey bacon, if I’m lucky we’ll have some ground bison

Distribute these evenly into a dozen muffin cups. We happen to have the silicone muffin “tins”

Then add one egg-worth of liquid egg whites into each cup

Put in oven, middle rack

Bake for about 20-30 minutes, turning every 5-8 minutes

For a sweeter option, pre-heat oven to 390

Mash three ripe bananas

Add two whole eggs, three more egg-worth of liquid egg whites and mix

In the muffin tins, place berries

Pour in egg/banana mixture

Bake, again, for 20-30 minutes, turning the tin every 5-8 minutes

I honestly don’t remember where that recipe came from, other than my Facebook feed. I look for great food everywhere. I read Peloton magazine knowing that they will have some great meal they discovered somewhere on their travels. I have a small sleeve on my book shelf of recipes I’ve found in Bicycling or Triathlon magazines.

Chocolate, date energy balls from Bicycling magazine.

Chocolate, date energy balls from Bicycling magazine.

When I travel, whether on vacation or on my bike, I try to find some local gem, like Pandor, a French pastry and breakfast place in New Port Beach, California. If you don’t know, there is a little pastry and coffee shop in the La Fonda Inn in Santa Fe. Some of the best cookies I have ever enjoyed were from the little breakfast restaurant in Hygiene, Colorado.

I suppose that the point of this post, more than anything, is to enjoy. The vast majority of us will not get to be pro roadies. We don’t have to season stone soup in order to be happy skeletons and climb ridiculous European roads like mountain goats. Most of us have jobs and families. While I want to drop some holiday weight, I won’t do it at the expense of enjoying my family and my life. I exercise lots, and very hard. I will stoke my engine. I will taste the flavors that this short, wonderful life has to offer.

I hope you will, too.

Skratch Labs chocolate-chocolate chip cookie!

Skratch Labs chocolate-chocolate chip cookie!

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding . . . right after this cookie!

 


Get Ready for the Ride!

New friends from California and Texas.

New friends from California and Texas enjoy dinner in Gunnison, one of this year’s RTR host towns.

Ride the Rockies has announced the route for their 2017 tour, and it’s a grand one. RTR will travel 447 miles and climb 37,337 feet in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. The route includes some of the most stunning and legendary terrain the state has to offer, including the famous Iron Horse race route, Million Dollar Highway, Wolf Creek and Monarch passes.

If I seem excited, there’s a reason for it. In the ’90s, I had heard of the Iron Horse, a short and intense ride from Durango to Silverton, paralleling the narrow gauge railroad between the towns. I have dreamt of the climbs and descents for 25 years and so I’m very excited to see the route in person.

The ride begins in the San Luis Valley in Alamosa on June 10. If you can’t wait that long, you can bypass the lottery and sign up for the eighth annual Prologue, which begins with a VIP dinner on Friday, June 9, in Taos, New Mexico. The prologue ride, the next day, takes riders south from Taos, through stunning Southwestern landscapes to Rancho de Chimayo, where participants will enjoy a massage and dinner. It also includes a lift to the start line, back in Alamosa, on Sunday, June 11. Click here  for more on registering and making a donation to the Denver Post Communities Foundation.

Sangre de Cristo Range towers of the highest sand dunes in North America, just northeast of Alamosa.

Sangre de Cristo Range towers of the highest sand dunes in North America, just northeast of Alamosa.

The ride, proper, starts with registration in Alamosa, on Saturday, June 10. Alamosa is surrounded by the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains, near the border with New Mexico. It features a short rail line that takes visitors into downtown from their community center, south of town. Just to the northeast of town sits the tallest sand dunes in North America in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Show up early and spend some time exploring the contrast of the dunes against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristos. If you are lucky, you may see some of the park’s wildlife, including elk and bison, at Big Spring Creek.

The first day takes riders out of the valley, west over the formidable Wolf Creek Pass. The pass climbs to 10,856 feet, and comes late in the day, at around mile 68 in the 93-mile ride. Total climbing amounts to 4,296 feet, but the pay-off is the 25-mile descent into Pagosa Springs and a dip in the natural hot springs that flow into the San Juan River. The ride came through here, in the opposite direction, in 2013, and will be a welcome stop after the long-day’s ride.

Day Two is a relatively short affair from Pagosa, deeper into the San Juan Mountains to the cycling Mecca of Durango. The route is 68 miles with 4,048 feet of climbing, spread over three bigger climbs, including Yellowjacket Pass at 7,800 feet, and a few smaller challenges. The route takes riders away from the highway at Bayfield for the last stretch through farmland outside of Durango.

Durango resident Bob Roll had the cycling seminar croud in stitches after the second day of riding in 2013. Roll rode for 7-Eleven and is now a cycling commentator for NBC Sports

Durango resident Bob Roll had the cycling seminar crowd in stitches after the second day of riding in 2013. Roll rode for 7-Eleven and is now a cycling commentator for NBC Sports

Durango is home to writer, commentator, former cycling pro and all-round funny guy, Bob Roll. Roll entertained crowds during RTR’s last stop in his hometown back in 2013. He is expected to return again this year, hopefully with some of the same stories and a few new ones about his travels and experiences with the professional peloton.

Day Three is the loop day, this year. Last year’s loop was the decidedly non-relaxing, 78-mile, Copper Triangle loop. This year will be a much shorter 38.7 miles into the Southern Ute reservation with one notable climb, the 8,212 foot Hesperus Hill. It’s relatively steep, with ramps of better than seven percent, but it comes about 11 miles into the ride. The rest is a descending stair step back to Durango.

The short loop day encourages riders to enjoy a little more time in the host city. Durango, founded in 1880 to serve the San Juan mining district, is home to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Fort Lewis College, a cycling powerhouse, in their own right. The town boasts amazing mountain biking and has been home to such legends as 1990 mountain bike world champion, Ned “The Lung” Overhand and Missy “The Missile” Giove, world champion downhill mountain biker in 1994. The town hosted the first mountain bike world championships in 1990.

Durango is also a short drive from UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde is a collection of about 600 cliff dwellings that were stumbled-upon by a pair of brothers who were searching for lost cattle in the area in the late 1880’s. While photographer William Henry Jackson had noted the existence of the cliff dwellings, and the Ute tribe of the area were certainly knowledgeable, it took the Wetherills to bring attention to Cliff Palace, and subsequently the many archeological sites of the park.

The Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park.

The Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park.

Day Four is the beast! Eighty-three miles with 7,792 feet of climbing over three passes; Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain passes. The day starts with the route of the Iron Horse Classic bike race, following the narrow gauge railroad north to Silverton. Riders will continue over the Million Dollar Highway, through the state’s ice-climbing capitol of Ouray, on to first-time RTR host town, Ridgeway.

Day Five continues north out of the former mining town of Ridgeway, on a mercifully short 32.4-mile, 490 feet of climbing ride to Montrose. If the legs are still fresh, riders can opt for the Governor Springs out-and-back challenge, adding 18.9 miles and 1,875 feet of climbing. It’s not mandatory, however.

Montrose is the gateway to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the backdrop to Day Six of this year’s RTR. Sheer cliffs give way to the Blue Mesa Reservoir as riders head east, 65 miles, to Gunnison. The ride will take cyclists over 6,691 feet of climbing, jammed mostly into the first half of the day. At almost exactly halfway, cyclists will be done with the serious climbs and will get a descent and a relatively gentle, rolling ascent into Gunnison.

At 7,703 feet, Gunnison has the reputation as one of the coldest towns in Colorado. The stop will be a welcome cool down on the penultimate day. Gunnison has hosted Ride the Rockies two other times in the last six years, including 2015, most recently.

The final day will seem like a visit to an old friend as RTR heads to Salida, once more. Salida hosted stops in 2013 and 2015. This year the small arts and outdoors community hosts the finale. First, however, riders must negotiate the fearsome Monarch Pass.

While Day Seven is not the longest, at just under 66 miles between Gunnison and Salida, the bulk of the climbing involves the ascent of the highest pass in this year’s ride. Monarch Pass crests at 11,320 feet at around mile 43. The pass is also the jumping-off point of the famous Monarch Crest mountain bike trail.

Salida, the final destination of this year’s Ride the Rockies, is home to white water rafting on the Upper Arkansas River, near-by hot springs and 12 of Colorado’s famous 14’ers. It is a friendly, creative, outdoorsy community and a great little town to host the final party of this year’s RTR.

Entertainment awaited the riders in most towns, like these dancers in Salida.

Entertainment awaited the riders in most towns, like these dancers in Salida.

This year’s Ride the Rockies also marks the beginning of a new era, as Renee Wheelock takes the helm. Renee was an intern with the organization when I met her in Gunnison in 2012. She spent four years as Community Relations Manager, and now takes the job of the tour’s director. Congratulations, Renee! If this year’s Ride the Rockies is any indicator, the tour is in good hands and I look forward to many years of great rides.

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

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

 

To register and find out more about this year’s Ride the Rockies, click here! You will find information about the host towns, maps of the route, information about lodging and other logistics, and information about the sponsors and supporters. I hope to see you on this year’s Ride the Rockies!

 

 

 


Regrouping

It’s the time of year when cyclists are evaluating the season past and attending to injuries, aches and new tech for the bike. I am lifting heavy and paying attention to the aches I have accumulated over a frustratingly truncated season.

I had the chance to test my health insurance, more than once, and the chance to truly appreciate ER doctors. I also have to say that I love good helmets, an ample supply of bandages and positive negotiation within a marriage.

I did get on the track.In July, I found myself sliding across new chip seal on my way to a pancake fundraiser near my town. After an ER visit, many stitches and three chest x-rays, I slowed down for about four weeks.

In August, I found myself bouncing off of the boards on my local velodrome. I won the sprint, patched myself up, then won another match sprint before the race director told me that I was done racing. No new stitches, but an angry rib and an angrier wife, when all was said and done.

It’s been rough, honestly. I’ve never been good at balance. Life balance, that is. After the second crash, my wife declared an end to my season. At the time, it sounded like an end to all racing, and possibly cycling, EVER. This would never stand, and I think she had known it. I understand, to a degree.

I tend to go all-in. If I decide to do something, I want to be immersed. If I actually commit, this is the thing over which I tend to obsess. I’m not really a dabbler. This can cause problems, even neglect, in other areas. Occasionally, my wife feels she and our daughter fall in this category.

It does not help that she does not understand why any middle-aged person would want to compete in anything, much less ride a bike without brakes at break-neck speed in circles. It’s also not helpful, to my point of view, that the nearest place to compete, in any discipline, is more than 20 miles away. The velodrome, one of only two in Colorado, is an hour away. The big, competitive Olympic velodrome, which is covered this time of year, is more than 100 miles, about three hours, from us. I don’t dare to dream of getting there to merely train.

I realize that this is not something that is going to help my family, other than making me smile and satisfing my competition cravings. It will take creativity to pursue racing, of any sort. It will take a bit of thought and planning to strike a balance between the sport I enjoy and the family I love. This will cause bumps, but they are bumps I am willing to suffer. I’m sure that I’m not the first cyclist to have these issues. I will let you know if I figure anything out.

In the mean time, have fun, be safe. I’m going riding . . . on the trainer . . . at home.