Friday, July 17, 2009

Surviving the Third Leg Plague (Escalante, UT)

What happens when 26 people are eating, sleeping and biking together 24/7? That's right, the "plague" has hit the 4K team. Riding into Escalante, UT yesterday there was the suspicion that several riders had received food poisoning at our last stop in Green River. However, as the hours passed and more people were hit with the bug, it became a general mystery as to what exactly was the root cause.
Fastforward 24 hours to yesterday afternoon. The climb into Escalante turned out to be a 30 mile gravel/dirt road that wound up a mountain before descending down into town. After several hours of a rather grueling climb, only a few of us decided to truck on and see how far we could get until the summit. As Raffi, Tom, Anne, Craig and I worked our way up the trail, we came across people off-roading on their ATV's and quickly realized how sadistic we were acting. After reaching the summit, Mary-Lacey sped up in front of us and warned us of the steep descent and basically threatened us if we didn't get into the van to be shuttled down like everyone else. We complied.
By the time we got to the bottom, I couldn't tell if I was car sick...but a sudden wave of nausea hit me as soon as I exited the van. I heard mumblings from others that a couple people couldn't stomach the bumpy ride down from the top and had to stop the car several times before reaching the campsite. Before I knew it, I found myself in the same predicament. Luckily, the campsite we stayed at last night was kind enough to bring us up to the cook's apartment and relax on the couch while we set out on the road to hopeful recovery. Christine took on the role of mother hen and kept us comfortable throughout the evening, bringing us ice chips (the only thing anybody could keep down), covering us with blankets and generally keeping a close eye on us.
As terrible as this 24 hour bug has treated the team, you could probably credit it as one of many experiences we've had along the way that have brought us closer together. With the arrival of a new day, we all had the very exciting and congratulatory moments of eating food! Nicole kept down her cookies (literally) and I ate an entire half a bagel successfully.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fulfilling my Dream of being on Public Radio (Paonia, CO)

The KVNF "green" Radio Station in Paonia

Paonia, Colorado is where we have our day off today. I will admit that I didn't understand the point of taking the day off of cycling to stay in a small no-name town when we could be continuing our journey throughout the scenic landscape of this beautiful state. However, I can quickly and safely rescind my thoughts now that I've fallen completely in love with this place! Paonia is a small Colorado town bubbling with life beneath the surface. We spent yesterday being introduced to the members of the United Methodist Church where we're staying. It's a little upsetting to see that the church community itself only consists of mostly senior citizens. From the conversations we had during dinner, there are no younger generations within the church community. Throughout this trip, there's been a growing cynicism that some of us have developed for the more conservative Christian regions. (This is not to say that just about every community we've entered hasn't shown us a deep appreciation and generosity, no matter what religious affiliation people may have on the team.) However, Colorado (and Paonia in particular) has proven this prejudice wrong. The library at the church here, for example, is filled with books of authors from all different cultural and religious backgrounds...I even spotted my favorite book, Three Cups of Tea, on their shelves!

Another surprise that quickly surfaced once we came to Paonia is the absolute humility and generosity of one particular community member, Felix Belmont. Mr. Belmont is actually a graduate of the Johns Hopkins class of 1940! This makes him 91 years old...and still kicking! He attended our dinner yesterday evening and was kind enough to share his story of graduating from Hopkins and coming to Paonia about 30 years ago. Despite his wife's passing from cancer six years ago, his involvement in the community is still astounding. After speaking with him yesterday, he invited Caitlin, myself and a couple other members of the team to visit the station the following morning. Of course we jumped at the opportunity and at this moment we've just returned from a tour of KVNF Public Radio, as well as a group interview! As geeky as this may sound, it's been one of my biggest dreams to be on Public Radio. Caitlin and I share a passion/obsession for NPR and it was like Christmas walking through the KVNF's (GREEN!) studio building in town that was dedicated and named after Felix himself. Of course, being the gentleman that he is, he would never own up to his amazing generosity and accomplishments that have helped create the face of this town. We also were lucky enough to bump into some musicians at the local coffee shop this morning who offered to play a small concert for us this evening!

I feel like I've ridden right into the beautiful epitome of small town shops where everybody knows your name and where you're from, openness and hospitality to all who enter and real human connections made in a place where you'd least expect it. While the interview was being recorded, it was a perfect moment to re-connect with our diverse reasons for joining the team and taking this 63 day journey across the country. In particular, it was a suddenly touching point in the trip for me. As we went down the line and each described our adventures along the way and what we've enjoyed most about the trip, I suddenly realized that this is going to be an adventure I can have with me always. As we near the end of our second leg and come closer to the last third, I'm hoping to squeeze every ounce out of the surprises that pop up in the coming weeks. It's easy to deem certain things as frustrating or detrimental to having a perfect cycling day. However, isn't the perfect day one that is filled with those moments you least expected?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Climbing the Rockies

Our last day off was spent in Boulder, Colorado. If it weren't for the beauty that awaited us in the mountains, I could have stayed much longer...possibly a year or two? The atmosphere is extremely liberal and the plethora of things to do is endless. (above: students from the university parade the streets on Thursday night)

sitting at an outdoor cafe in Boulder with some yummy mint iced tea and a berry scone. I visited this awesome used bookstore, Trident, which was in town (see below)... a key place to go for book and coffee enthusiasts alike.

(above) University Bicycle Shop in Boulder. One of the employees at the shop had done 100 miles of cycling (a century) in each state last summer.

The general store at the top of the Ward Cimb. AMAZING chocolate chip walnut cookies...and coffee.

We've spent the past few days climbing over the Rocky Mountains and through the extremely mountainous state of Colorado. Let me just say, that this state is damn lucky it is so beautiful...otherwise, these climbs would not have been finished by this particular amateur cyclist.
Our first day of climbing was out of Boulder and up the "Ward Climb," into the town of Ward. The climb was approximately 17 miles long (to be honest, I cannot remember the mileage...let's just say it was long enough). We quickly realized that climbing would be a much more individual feat to achieve, rather than teams doing their best to stick together. My team did a pretty descent job of sticking with one another until we hit the steepness of the last couple miles. I lagged behind a bit while the three guys on my team were out of their saddle and hauling along. Luckily, I was able to push through without stopping until the summit.

Despite warnings from a 2008 4K rider who joined us for a few days, we waited a bit too long to make the descent into Estes Park. On our way down we ran into a hail storm! You can wear as many layers as possible, but when hail is the size of peas, it stings whatever skin is definitely found its way to my eyelids and finger tips. The entire time, we were unable to enjoy the beauty of the descent, fearing that if we glanced over the edge of the road for two seconds then we would tumble down the side. Fortunately, we made it to the bottom in time for the downpour and found a restaurant lodge on a sidestreet that gave us some warm towels and good coffee. After the storm let up we continued on our way to a YMCA that was equal to a low-cost family resort.

Outside of the general store there was a fence made of skis...

The pictures following are from the second day while biking up Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the country! The photos really can't do justice to such magnificence...

We reached the tree line of the mountains, where not even trees can grow. It was approximately 40 degrees F. near the this point we still had another 5 miles to climb...

Coffee (above: Conor, aka the Unibomber) at the summit tourist store. This was my last cup of coffee for the entire trip!**

**Note: I've made a wager with my teammate, Chris. I will cease drinking coffee and he will go veggie until one of us breaks. The terms have yet to be laid out, so I'm looking for suggestions from people as to what I should ask for WHEN I win.

Elk! They were at the bottom of the mountain after we carrened through a rain storm as we descended from the summit. I was pumping my breaks like mad the entire way down. During the last few miles we were greeted by a dirt road scattered with pot holes. The only way to get through it was to create a game out of it...we decided on the idea of dodging landmines all the way to Grand Lake, CO.

Hail seems to follow us everywhere we go. On our way into Kremmling, CO we were surprised by a freak hail storm, with a bonus lightening and thunder combination. Stuck in the middle of two fields with a telephone pole lining the road, we realized it would be better to find shelter than duck in the ditch we were in at the time. Braving the weather, we rode back about a quarter mile to a barn. All 27 of us managed to cram inside. As the storm moved on, we slowly walked out and collected our bikes from alongside a fence. Little did we realize that we had only survived half the day's battle...the creek nearby had been disturbed by the storm and flushed out all of the mosquitos from their homes. SWARMS of these suckers were attaching themselves to the entire team as we ran down the dirt road towards the main road. Hopefully, West Nile isn't a huge issue here in Colorado.

Besides the little bumps in the road so far, we're making our way closer to San Fran. We have 3 more riding days until the end of the second leg of the only knows what awaits us in the desert...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rocky Mountain HIgh (meditation)

Tomorrow we begin our climb into the Rocky Mountains. It's a severe understatement to say I'm nervous. The entire team is finally (if they haven't as of yet) feeling the intensity of this trip. Tomorrow we will have a humbling ride up to Ward, Colorado...I'm hoping to keep a steady cadence while remaining focused on the task at hand. The climb itself is approximately 25 miles long, with a 35 mile "descent" into Ward.

On a sidenote, Boulder is phenomenal and if I could choose to live here I would. The people are down-to-earth, athletic, and an overall happy bunch. There are too many outdoor cafes to count and a day and a half is not nearly enough to explore the entire city. I will hopefully post pictures soon, either tonight or the next time I have computer access.