NAHBS

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I can’t not go.  I’ve got two days off work and it’s really not that far away and it sounds really exciting.  Thus, I’m up to an alarm at 3:30AM, on a flight that is cheap, but about $150 more than I spend on anything else.  I’ll be in Denver this morning as the sun rises for NAHBS; this evening, I hope to attend this smaller second show of Bruce Gordons and Rene Herse bikes, among others; and hopefully,I’ll find something fun this evening.  Looking forward to seeing a lot of people, and a lot of great bikes.

If you are in Denver this weekend, look for me at any of these events.  I won’t be connected via internet much at all, so you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way (make a sign, like a limo driver at the airport).

Oh yes, and I’m riding the Cannondale Hooligan to the airport, stuffing it into a thick black plastic trash bag with some duct tape, and riding around Denver this weekend.

Biking to the trailhead

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Slowly pedaling past Pathfinders and Passports, past Colorado Trail signage and past day-riders descending the broad dirt road of Waterton Canyon, we make our way to the rest of Colorado.  I leave behind a wake of states and provinces, mountains and colorfully named highways.  A faint dotted line on a figurative map marks my progress, but we’re not looking back, only forward.  As the present become the past, the journey retains a specific character– the good times are served well by memory and the bad, mostly severed.  The last few miles to the start of the trail from Fort Collins to Boulder, to Denver and south through the suburbs along the Platte River Trail and Chatfield Reservoir are the easiest, but it’s been a long road, a detail which will not soon be forgotten.

Lumbering out of Anchorage on a repurposed “snow bike” into late spring was wet, yet spectacular; the Yukon is expansive and the midnight sun as relentless as the mosquitos and headwinds; the Cassiar Highway is a haul, and a means to lower B.C. and the States; the Icefields Parkway swarms with tourists, encouraging me off-pavement for the remainder of the summer; and the Great Divide Route is heavenly, as always.  All of this has been a means to this end– the Colorado Trail.  I’ve lost sleep over this trail, worrying that it is too steep or too hard, yet dreaming of the alpine scenery and the rewards of sitting atop mountains, and riding down their backsides.  The crux of this journey is this trail, and from my mid-winter vantage in Alaska, biking to the trailhead was the only way to get here.  As the future becomes the present, dreams become reality.  I’m here, finally.

Andy, our suburban host, provides a home for a few days and a convenient jumping off point for the start of the Colorado Trail.  Better known on the internet as Big Dummy Daddy, Andy holds a PhD in public health with a focus on urban bike-sharing; he has also earned an advanced degree in suburban family transport, to the credit of his Surly Big Dummy, the Snap Deck Xtracycle attachment, and a two-wheeled baby trailer.  Scout the dog follows alongside, and Piper keeps watch form behind.

Andy’s new Surly Pugsley is a gift to himself for completing his dissertation, and is blowing minds daily on the local canal trail and outside Whole Foods.  On this morning, our Pugsleys escort Stella’s little pink Kona to school.  This is suburban cycling, summa cum laude.

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Andy shows us the way to the trailhead.  Lael is back in the swing of things and her new Giro helmet is supremely photogenic against Colorado skies, and a little reminiscent of 1985 mountain bike culture.  A couple hot dogs and sodas send us off at the trailhead.

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Beyond the gates to the Colorado Trail follow six miles of graded access road, gently ascending the South Platte River.  At the dam, the road turns upward and the trail narrows.  The following few miles are supremely rideable singletrack and confirm the allure of the trail.  Soon, hiking through cobblestone rubble up steep grades confirms the challenges.  The rumor of challenges, like bad news and gossip grow with wildfire ferocity.  Tune out the naysayers who say it’s too heavy, too steep, too hard and too far– you can do it.  You can transport yourself!

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The list of colorfully named highways is fun: the Yellowhead, Icefields, Cassiar, Klondike, Glenn, Richardson, Top-of-the-World, Denali, Parks, Alaska, Taylor, Diagonale and Peak-to-Peak.

Rollins Pass

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Diverting from the Divide toward the Denver area, I seek a new route over the mountains.  Last year, I crossed the Front Range through Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road.  Another option crosses further south at Loveland Pass above the Eisenhower Tunnel and I-70, while a third option crosses Georgia Pass and Kenosha Pass on the Colorado Trail from the Breckenridge area into Waterton Canyon, about 20 miles south of downtown Denver on the east side of the mountains.  Trail Ridge Road and Loveland Pass are both paved, while the Colorado Trail is mostly singletrack in this section, with some steep rocky pushes.  A final route crossing Rollins (Corona) Pass offers the most direct route and a pleasant ride on dirt roads over 11,666 ft.  A portion of the route follows an old railroad grade called the Moffat Route which is now partly maintained as a Forest Service road, but to the benefit of the hiker or cyclist the entire route isn’t passable by motorized vehicles due to the dilapidated and barricaded Needle’s Eye Tunnel, which limits traffic.  Several small rockfalls near the top of the east side further inhibit motor vehicle traffic.  Continuing in the spirit of the Great Divide Route, Rollins Pass is the perfect detour into the Denver/Boulder area.

From County Road 3 on the Great Divide Route south of Kremmling and the Williams Fork Reservoir, turn toward the east on Keyser Creek Rd/FR 139 (County Rd 32).  The Divide maps identify that this spur is the way to Winter Park (and Fraser), and from this intersection you are about 19 miles from the town of Fraser in the adjacent valley.  Climb away from the Divide on the main road for 8.6 miles until the intersection with the Beaver Creek Road at the top of the unsigned pass.  Several signs are missing along the way, however, selecting the more-traveled path will get you to the top.  Intersecting the signed Beaver Creek Road (County Rd 50), turn right toward Fraser and begin a fast ten mile descent to town.  At the intersection of paved Hwy 40, the main route in the valley, turn right onto the bike trail alongside the road for several miles to the town of WInter Park. Two miles further as the road begins climbing more moderately toward the ski resort, a sign will direct you to turn left onto the Rollins Pass Road or the Corona Pass or Moffat Hill Road– a road of many names, with a storied history.  From this point, the surface turns to dirt and climbs 14 miles to the pass, almost entirely through USFS property.  Turning onto this road at night, I ascend a thousand feet to a campsite overlooking the lights of Winter Park.  Amidst an old clearcut, I light a fire in an existing fire ring for some hot tea and ambiance.  Cool, clear Colorado skies send me to sleep.

Soon after entering the Arapahoe National Forest on County Rte. 3, turn left away from the Divide Route onto this road:

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Intersecting County Rte. 50/Beaver Creek Road, turn right down to Fraser:

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The west side of the pass is a little rough, but not atypical of USFS roads.  Sandwiched by wilderness to the north and south at the top of the pass, continue toward the east on the obvious railroad grade, barricaded and signed “Tunnel closed…”.  Several small rockfalls in the first mile are rideable, if a little rough.  Two wooden trestles are in good shape, and within a mile from the top of the pass the Needle’s Eye Tunnel is encountered as Yankee Doodle Lake is visible below on the left.  The tunnel is in disrepair and is impassible, although two short trails lead over or around the tunnel.  Riding over the top of the tunnel, I hike down the back side which is loose and steep, but passable.  Back on the main Rollinsville Road, continue downhill for about 15 miles, passing the east end of the railroad tunnel that replaced the overland route.  Unfortunately, the several thousand foot elevation loss is not a fast descent, as the road is impregnated with angular cobbles.  Picking your way through and around potholes and rocks is fun, although tiring.  In Rollinsville, intersect the Peak-to-Peak Highway: turn right for Arvada and Denver, turn left toward Nederland to descend into Boulder.  Riding north on pavement toward Nederland, turn right onto the unpaved Magnolia Road for a low-traffic alternate to Boulder Canyon and Boulder.  Continuing to Nederland, you can ride north on the Peak-to-Peak Highway toward Estes Park and Fort Collins, or down the paved Boulder Canyon Road into town.

Climbing out of the trees on the Moffat Hill Road/Rollins Pass/ Corona Pass Road, Winter Park is visible across the valley.  A consistent mild grade makes for a quick ride to the top.

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Expecting a rapid descent into Boulder, I quickly realized I’d be picking my way through rocks and riding the brakes.  Although this is an unimproved trail, this is the most inspiring “rail-trail” I’ve ridden.  With trestles and a tunnel, as well as some brief hikes, the ride over the pass makes for a fun day ride and a great way to connect the Divide with Denver.

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A local rider directs me to the lower portion of the Jenny Creek Trail which eventually connects to the town of Nederland.  Enticed by a sign marking the upper portion of the trail, I cut left in search of a nice forested descent.  Instead, I find slow-speed rock-crawling.  A highly specialized red Jeep admires the Pugsley, remarking that it seems like a good idea to have big tires.  City people don’t often understand, while rock-crawling country folk never try to highlight the shortcomings of fat tires.  They get it.

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At once, my saddlebag is hanging near my rear derailleur.  Replacing worn leather straps, two nylon gear straps are hiding in the bottom of my framebag for such an occasion.  The thin steel bag loops on most leather saddles places extreme stress on the straps used to support and stabilize the saddlebag.  These leather straps have attached the bag to the bike all summer, but failure due to the design of the bag loops is inevitable.  Spare straps are a necessity on a longer trip.

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Back on the Rollinsville Road, conditions are still a little rough.  Even on suspended motorbikes, standing helps alleviate the discomfort of angular cobbles.

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Descending into shade and smooth roads.  Finally able to let loose of the brakes, I pedal on to Rollinsville.

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I miss the turn for the Magnolia Road and find myself in Nederland, so a quick descent down Boulder Canyon shuttles me to the big city.  The first Friday night since students have returned to town ensures a vibrant scene downtown, and a lot of curiosity about the bike.  Downtown Boulder is a world away from Rollins Pass.

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T-minus: fun in the big wide world

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The neverending list of things to do before leaving the metro area is now a short list of loose ends.  Need to puts Stan’s sealant in our tubes.  Need to install a new SRAM PC-870 chain on the Pugsley.  Need to install the Surly 1×1 bar with shifters and brake levers.  Install another water bottle cage on Lael’s Raleigh.  Swap stems and seatposts on the Raleigh; a little lower up front with weight forward over the bars might ride better– this is a bike fit.  Ride some more.  Is that better?  How about the saddle angle?  Reach?  The pedals feel forward of the saddle.  Slide it forward.  Now, descend standing on the pedals.  Climb.  Pedal casually.  It’s close to perfect but it still feels new.  It’s a big bike compared to the Hooligan.

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The task of finding an appropriate used bike and dressing it for singletrack touring isn’t entirely complicated.  Doing it on a budget between several cities with inconvenient transit systems is.  There isn’t a bus directly from Fort Collins to Denver, even though an interstate highway spans the 65 miles between the two cities.  It even requires two buses to reach Boulder, which is nearer.  I was lucky to find a Craigslist seller that would meet me in the middle.  I walked to the bus in Fort Collins, walked four miles in Longmont, and upon returning to Fort Collins in the evening I was forced to “velocipede” the bike several miles back home in the dark.  I lowered the saddle and propelled the bike in a seated running motion.  I now have a deep appreciation for the development of the chain-drive system.

To meet Lael last week at the Denver airport required similar transportational creativity.  First, to attend a meeting of the Denver Surly Owners Society (S.O.S.) I jumped on the bike in Fort Collins with a light load for the 65 mile paved ride to town.  The Pugsley doesn’t fit on the bike racks found on many buses, so this was my only option.  Leaving a few hours later than planned, I diligently sat on the bike to reach my downtown destination by six.  Fifteen, sixteen miles an hour had me on track to arrive in time, when a headwind halved my progress.  Pushing through the wind and the suburban armor of Denver, I finally crossed the Platte River into the heart of the city.  A visit to a city’s center is essential, but the surrounding sub-urban layers have as much to say about the city as the core.

The S.O.S. is a small crew of Denver’s cycling elite, with a healthy association of bicycle advocacy and bike-sharing.  Denver’s B-Cycle bike-sharing program is the first of it’s kind in the country, and I was hosted for the evening by Philip who manages the fleet of 500 bicycles involved in the program.  Philip recently tackled several days of the Colorado Trail on a 1×9 Surly Karate Monkey with a Salsa Enabler fork and a fat tire up front– half-fat.  The S.O.S. group rode to Salvagetti, a hip local shop specializing in transportation cycling and featuring a host of Surly bikes, custom built to finer specifications than the standard builds offered.  Salvagetti hosted a grand re-opening party at their new location; on display was the singlespeed Kona that local rider Justin Simoni rode in this year’s Tour Divide, finishing first in the SS category.

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Denver’s new airport is about thirty miles from the city center, seemingly in Kansas.  I was able to put my bike on an $11 bus to arrive in time to meet Lael.  Rejoined and rejoiced with my traveling companion, we left the airport on bikes.  Very few airports are easy to access by bike, and Denver’s isn’t one of them, although technically it’s tolerable.  The two-three lane highway exiting the airport has a generous shoulder and some bike signage, except when road construction channels traffic into a narrow corridor, excluding the shoulder.  The responsibility to maintain the bicycle facility has been ignored through the phase of construction, presumably because very few people ride to the airport.  Bikes just aren’t that important sometimes. The Albuquerque airport is located only three miles from the main east-west boulevard in town; I was able to shoulder a large bike box for the three mile ride through neighborhoods, to package my bike for flight in the airport lobby.  I have ridden to or from airports in Paris, Boston, Seattle, Anchorage, El Paso and Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh will soon have a short connector trail from the airport to the Montour Trail, a main spur from the Great Allegheny Passage, which then connects to the C&O Trail and Washington D.C about 350 miles away.

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Riding through Denver in the morning is pleasant and a free bike map helps guide the way.  We rummaged through used outdooor gear at the WIlderness Exchange, and found a new helmet for Lael at REI.  With her new Giro cap, she looks like a short-track speed skater on a bike.  Cooking on the sidewalk outside of REI, we dined on breakfast burritos made with fromage et saucisons from France.  Lael also brought salted caramels, a kilo of grey sea salt, miniaturized homemade cornichons (pickles) and a bottle of calvados.  We have been eating well.

A bus to Boulder whisks us out of the city for a few dollars.  The immaculately organized Boulder Community Cycles provides inexpensive used chainrings, v-brake levers, and stems; a cousin in Boulder provided a mailing address, where I received several packages.  A friend picked us up to return to Fort Collins to begin building and rebuilding bikes.

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Back home, fixing bikes: derailleur hangers to transform the singlespeed to a geared bike and a new Velo Orange Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing headset replaces a worn-loose ball system; used Race Face stem, Surly steel chainrings, and Shimano Acera brake levers from Boulder Community Cycles; a hard to find 30.0mm Salsa seat post clamp; Velo Orange thumb shifter mounts will accept the levers from my Shimano bar-end shifters and the $20 gold anodized On-One Mary handlebar.  Lael loves her “Marys”.

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All work and no play is no good at all:

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The last few days have been a lazy parade of swapping parts, tuning the ride and dialing the fit.  However, there has been time for swimming and baking pies, visiting local breweries and bike builders.  Fort Collins has a veritable bike zoo between Panda and Black Sheep Bicycles.  More on that later.

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The bikes are riding, Lael is acclimating, and transportation to Interbike is in the works.  It’s been a busy week, but it’s all coming together.

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West above prisoned eyes

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Two thousand miles and 5000ft from my hometown in New York, the “Rockies” are every bit of splendor imagined. Composed of many narrow ranges, conglomerated into a whole– from a distance they become one. The silhouette, the names of places, the arid valleys and basins; all are iconic, and American as Kansas.

Boulder, and Denver and Fort Collins are all myths come to light. These are real places after all; I’ll no longer wonder how a city differs at a mile-high (it doesn’t), or how a city can be home to so many breweries (Ft. Collins, somehow), or why everyone loves to hate Boulder (because it’s great). Putting faces to names, I’m solving the Colorado puzzle. I’m looking forward to solving the westslope soon, back on the Divide.

I don’t think that Denver needs any more millions of easterners, but towns in decline and tollways and beltways make Colorado seem easy. There’s still lots of space here, and the air and water is clean. Who’s to blame for the Chesapeake and the Everglades?; if Colorado’d had east-coast industries and millions of people a hundred years ago I’d be telling you about the prettiest Superfund site in the country. In some cases, mining has made quick work of what easterners took decades to do.

With circumstance and luck, the people came later and some hard lessons had already been learned in the east. By the time the modern population boom
hit Colorado, Aldo Leopold and John Muir were resting below ground, and on bookshelves countrywide. And by that time we’d learned to appreciate inhospitable, rocky landscapes for their ecological and aesthetic value; or their property value.

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